The day that Anna has been dreading had arrived. Race Day. Sunday, May 22nd – Manchester. The stage was set for her first ever half marathon. Sleepless nights, despairing days. “I hate running,” she would say to herself as she laced up her running shoes for another practice run. Her only motivation to continue doing them was the knowledge that she was raising money for an amazing cause – The Christie, where I receive my cancer treatment. The primary source of solace for her comes in the form of a vow… a vow to never run again once she crosses that finish line. Half marathon achieved; Anna Running Corp dismantled. All aspirations achieved and no interest in drawing up any news ones within the confines of awful running, the worst activity known to man (according to Anna).
With a start time of 8:40, it was an early wakeup. The alarm wailed at 6:00. Anna was up straight away, but I was not so eager. Neither was Lucy. The two of us refused to rise to Anna’s ‘I want to be on time’ game. We performed a dirty protest… the sleeping kind, we aren’t animals. Well, Lucy is, but you get it. By the time we got out of bed, it was 6:30. We had all agreed to leave at 6:45 the evening before. Anna wasn’t impressed.
We left at around 7:00 in the end. The sat-nav kindly informed us that we would be getting there at 7:53. That meant that Anna had plenty of time to meet her partner-in-crime Sophie (who is also Maid of Honour at our wedding) and make their way to the start. Any tension was dispelled – things were going to work out. We decided to bring Lucy the puppy along to see the city. After establishing herself as a beach girl in Whitby, we knew we had a difficult task convincing her that city life is worthy of consideration. It is a mountain that we must climb with her, though, as Anna and I usually live in London in normal life. This cancer malarky led us to move back in with my parents, in the much-smaller town that I grew up in. Lucy was then purchased for me by my lovely family as a surprise gift to help support me through the awful journey. She is now 8 months old and very much likes having a garden to run around in and fields to go walking in. It’s a huge problem as we won’t have either of those things once we’re in London. Also, due to her tiny size, she’s a little scared of cars. There are a lot of cars in London. Lucy won’t approve of any of it if we don’t start trying to convince her now.
We arrived at roughly the time the sat-nav told us we would. Anna jumped out of the car and went to meet Sophie. My mum, dad and I found a parking lot and didn’t question its credentials. There were white lines, other cars and a machine to pay – it seemed legitimate as they come. Unfortunately, it wasn’t legitimate. Or I am assuming it isn’t legitimate. My dad returned from the parking machine and informed us that it cost just over 25 of his well-earnt-British pounds to leave his car on this piece of land for half a day. Now, I wish I could say there is nothing remarkable about this car park which would make it cost such a price but there actually are plenty of things that are remarkable about it. Here are some of the things that the car park did NOT offer for that price, making it remarkable – A barrier, a surface free of crater-sized holes or EVEN CCTV cameras (other than the cameras making sure those who entered and left had paid). Perhaps the fact that Britain has the second most cameras per person in the world, losing the title only to China, makes those who run it think that they don’t need to bother buying their own (stats supplied by random people in the pub and not verified; also the ‘China’ part of that fact may be British government propaganda to make us look better). Or perhaps, the company that own and manage this car park are just a bunch of money-grabbing twats. They can’t even pay someone to clean up the excessive amount of broken glass which was strewn around the place like spilt glitter on a carpet. Remarkably rubbish, but we paid for it. The joke is most definitely on us.
To be fair to the car park company, one of these problems actually seems endemic in the entire city of Manchester – broken glass. I studied for my undergrad in Manchester and lived in the centre of the city in my final year. It has always been the nearest city to my parent’s house, so when I was younger it would be where we’d go to go shopping, see bands live, etc. What I’m getting at is that I’ve spent a lot of time there in my life. Perhaps my memory is getting worse, but I do not remember the city having this much of a problem with broken glass when I frequented its streets. It is EVERYWHERE. I’m wondering if the local council have started trying to charge households for recycling glass or something. There must be some incentive driving people into yeeting their every bottle on a public walkway as opposed to putting it in a bin. It doesn’t even have to be a recycling bin. In fact, you don’t even have to put it in a bin, just don’t actively smash it on a public walkway, turning it into a trap for any innocent dog, child or adult that happens to be strolling down the road, not realising it is punctuated by jagged fragments. As me and my parents made our way to the spectating spot that we had picked out on a map, I feared for Lucy’s paws as we navigated the walkway – more glass fragments than concrete, and decorated with half-eaten food and rubbish. Lucy was a huge fan of the half-eaten food and rubbish, and my mum had to wrestle a couple of chicken bones out of her mouth over the day. Occassionally she’d pick up a bit of a polystyrene case which was left on the floor and proudly run along like she’d won the lottery. Good job shes cute because she’s also absolutely disgusting.
We saw Anna and Sophie twice at our little viewing point – once just before mile 2 and again around mile 7. They were running side-by-side and were smiling ear-to-ear both times. They were enjoying it, no matter what they claim to the contrary. Both were sporting The Christie shirts, and Sophie even had a temporary tattoo of their logo on her arm. I’m hoping she will consider making it permanent in future but I suspect she won’t. She isn’t that committed to the cause. Despite it being quite overcast as they ran, the weather was proving near-perfect for running, remaining largely warm but with a cool breeze. The two stuck together all the way until the end, and the next time we saw them was on the run into the finish, with approximately 200 meters left to go. We cheered at them as we saw them emerging around the corner, and could see the smiles on their faces widen as they spotted the finish line in front of them. Music was banging, people were cheering and the voice of a woman announcing finishers was ringing out. They had done it. We made our way through the busy crowd to meet them.
Anna’s aunt, uncle and cousin were also waiting at the finish. Maureen, Anna’s aunt, also received treatment at The Christie for cancer. It was really lovely to talk to her about what an amazing place it is. There’s so much benefit in talking to someone who has beaten cancer and who understands the difficulty of going through chemotherapy. I have an incredible amount of respect for anyone who has withstood all of the struggles that come with a cancer diagnosis. The fact that I know they must be a strong person to be able to do such a thing then allows me to feel good about what I am doing. In turn, it makes me acknowledge that maybe, just maybe, I must be quite a strong person too. I haven’t survived, but I’ve made it through twelve rounds of chemotherapy. There’s a lot more coming my way so I need to try and celebrate every win. Finishing twelve rounds of Folfirinox is a significant win, no matter what the results of the scan are on Thursday. Celebrate it.
Anna and Sophie got to celebrate a significant win today too – they finished their first (and last, so Anna claims) half marathon. They also get to celebrate raising money for an incredible cause. Anna in particular has two people close to her who sing the praises of The Christie, and for good reason. Raising over £1,500 for them is incredible. It was great to see so many other participants running for them too. The hospital truly deserves it for everything it does. I’m so grateful to Anna and Sophie for choosing to raise money for them.
Being around all that running got me riled up and desperate to run myself. I’ve not been getting out of the house much these past few days. My body has been fighting back against the infection(s) and I’ve felt incredibly tired. After spending the day walking around Manchester, watching large swathes of people pushing themselves physically, I decided to try and get out running again once I got home. It’s funny when you get motivated to do something in this way – you watch people do something and convince yourself it’ll be easy if you just get out and do it too. It rarely is.
Between the age of about 8 and 13, I used to skateboard. If you have been reading this blog for a while, you may have remembered that I used to play the guitar a lot too at this age… Yes, Avril Lavigne must have been inspired by me to write her hit song Sk8er Boi. You’re welcome, Avril. I was never very good at skateboarding, unlike guitar, but over time I managed to learn a few tricks. Enough to go out with my friends and have fun without totally embarrassing myself. Me and my friends used to sit and watch professional skate videos together, where professionals would do mind-bending things on a skateboard and make it look incredibly easy. That is what is so impressive about people who are that proficient at a skill – you can watch them do it and be fooled into thinking it is easy, but you don’t appreciate how many different things the individual is accounting for to manipulate something in such a way. Skateboarding is one of the best examples of this I can think of. We’d get ourselves amped up watching these people throw themselves down huge sets of stairs, doing tricks that I couldn’t even do when slowly rolling along on a pavement. You’d then go outside, feeling incredibly motivated and ready to do whatever it takes to land that damn trick. You step on your skateboard, give yourself a small push so you’re slowly rolling, pop the board and the same thing that always happens happened – you’d enthusiastically gesticulate with your legs in mid-air whilst the board spins a bit, falls, and your feet land clumsily back to the ground either side of the piece of wood. You remember that it just isn’t that easy.
I felt that familiar feeling as I set off running in the early-afternoon heat. Witnessing so many people running a half marathon gave me a false sense of my current abilities as a runner. I headed out thinking that I’m only doing 5 – it’ll be easy! I used to routinely run a lot further than this and wouldn’t struggle at all. Of course, the run was horrible and my body just wasn’t playing ball; I knew it within minutes of setting off. My heart rate was rocketing despite my lungs feeling fine. Your body just isn’t the same on chemotherapy, and the infections a few days prior probably weren’t helping.
Things aren’t normal for me at the minute from an exercise point of view; they may never be again, with me needing a major operation, more chemotherapy, and maybe other procedures that I don’t know about yet. Who knows what I’ll be like in the end. I’m used to loving going running and being quite good at it. I’m not used to having to walk several times whilst running 5K – I’m not used to having to walk at all when running. I am used to pushing myself, though, and despite feeling absolutely crap, I forced myself to keep going for an extra kilometre. It isn’t a lot, but it’s something. Hopefully I’ll be able to enter a half marathon and push myself like that again soon. Maybe even a marathon, but I’m sure that is a while away from where I am right now.
As I ran along a familiar country path next to an overgrown patch of land, I remembered my mum telling me that the only time she has seen a snake in this country was in this area. She said it was dead with some of its body poking out onto the path, I believe. Running along, I looked into the overgrown wilderness and wondered how many snakes may be in there. That overgrown mess is their entire world. Nothing else matters. Their life is hunting, resting and trying to find a mate. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. They don’t care what is outside of this area – it is totally irrelevant to them. Every day is a fight for survival. One of those days they don’t come out on top of that fight, and they die. I wondered if I’d ever see one as I ran along. For a second I convinced myself that there was one ahead of me. As I approached, I realised it was just a stick. Shame, maybe next time.
I thought about cancer and how arduous it all is. The long spells of treatment, the constant berating of statistics and the palpable uncertainty that hangs over everything in your life. I almost felt jealous of the snakes in their little wilderness. Then I wondered if we are in our own little wilderness and some higher power is looking over us, pitying how simple we are with our cancer, climate change and petty wars. Maybe they’re juggling much bigger priorities with much deadlier consequences. Suddenly I felt a bit better about the whole cancer thing. I’m still managing to run a bit, how bad can it be?
Anna and Sophie are still taking donations. If you would like to donate, their page can be found here. A big congratulations to both of them for challenging themselves and for absolutely smashing it! Can’t wait to support you both at the next one (hehehe)!