Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Relentless. Forward. Progress.


I've been having a whale of a time starting this story and worse giving it some type of order because I am now absolutely certain that there really is no clear starting point and in my head it is not remotely linear. This is attempt number seven. Maybe I'll reach the end this time.

Better still, let's start from the end.

I DO know I've finished a marathon. A MARATHON. My God. ME. 26.2 miles. I've flitted between so many emotions in the past few days I cannot pin down which lingers but pride is usually on top. Close second is pain or maybe irritation. I'll get to that.

I am one in a million (or maybe one in the next million if that's how it pans out). That is no small feat and I feel an entire new shade of technicolor coursing through my veins for that and that alone. What a huge achievement. There aren't words.

No. Bullshit - there are too many goddamn words. Maybe that's been the problem. How to be succinct when you are trying to describe something that really and truly does mean everything to you? When you want to describe every second because you dare not let any of them escape your heart? I want to hold them all. I don't ever want to forget any of them. I want to feel them and live every minute as I lived those six hours nine minutes and eight seconds. Even the pain and the irritation.

Even that.

There aren't words and there are too many words. Which to choose? I will try and only begin with what I know.

I have finished a marathon.
I know there is a man who fell trying to do the same. I know this has made my own story feel so small and I thought about not telling it.
I know when I can run again, I will honor his memory by running 3.2 miles in tribute.
I know that is all I can do.

I know I still want to tell this story because it had a beginning and it had a middle so it has to have an end.

So here is that end. But you know it will only be another beginning. Still. Turn and turn. Skate and loop and begin like spring begins. New life from a void.

I know barring the finish, my favorite moment of that race was rounding the corner somewhere around mile 12 and seeing that beautiful Tower Bridge, clasping my Chicago-flag-covered-head with my hands and saying 'Oh my God, this is so f-ing amazing' the entire way across. I know I kept that up til the bitter(sweet) end.

I know I felt honored and moved for the full 26.2 miles last Sunday. From the minute I woke up, those steps through Greenwich with all the other foot soldiers ready to go to personal war on those streets. From the reception afterwards, the warmth from fellow charity runners and employee friends, gratitude for the fundraising when it is I who am most grateful for the opportunity. The chance of a lifetime to have the time of my life.

To support that charity with those words ringing through my head for the duration - speak of power and intensity and something that drives your feet forward and I will share with you that story. "Tell it right. Damn it, tell it RIGHT". Once I wept when those words came to my thoughts, and then the glory of the moment captured me again and with that renewed purpose sent my feet soaring along down the next curve.

I know the closer I got to the finish, the more my body weakened yet oddly my mind grew stronger and my will more purposed. It was the damnedest thing to actually feel personal power and mental endurance rising. It's as if every footfall was a power charge, revving up my mind for the rest of the battle.

I know I wrote on my arm that day what a dear runner friend suggested I remember: Relentless. Forward. Progress. And I know I had to ponder it well over a dozen times.

And I know just how much those three words helped me.

I know I wanted to stop cold and lie on the floor. Often.
I know I did not.

I know when I finally made that finish line I cried floods of tears in relief for all those days and months I'd feared I'd not make the start, but more so for all the hours in the midst of that 26.2 miles when I feared I'd not make the finish.

I know I did make the finish.

But let's back up.

I know I found an American quarter in my bag the night before and was thereafter without question that my Spirit Pops would run it with me. I know that moment cleared my entire body of tears and I found it hard to stop them falling.
I know hearing Frank Sinatra's 'My Way' over the PA next to the bag check took my breath away and nearly made me lose it again. Dad's all time favorite song then? There? You cannot be serious.
I know I ignored a call from the last possible person on the planet I wanted to talk to the night before my first marathon. I know how glad I am that I did.

I know I screwed up my taper by accepting the offer of a TV interview that never materialized - that full day's worth of house cleaning, on my feet instead of feet up.
I know I'm still livid about that. I know I will probably always be livid about that.
I know me.

(Relentless. Forward. Progress.)

I know I further screwed up my taper by dragging luggage half a mile to and from a hotel the night before and morning of the race.

I know that may have been the proverbial straw. Pop goes the calf at mile 20. Game over?


Relentless. Forward. Progress.

I know I finished that race with a seriously strained calf which felt like two ticks away from a serious tear every time I tried to keep running. I didn't want to lose London but I sure as hell wasn't going to risk losing Chicago. I hated that I had to walk the final six miles.

I do NOT know how I kept going. But walking didn't hurt as much so I did.
Even with the double vision that kicked in, I kept going.
As you do.
I was surrounded by people in worse shape who were still moving.
Such collective power at the back of the pack.
Such human dignity back there.
Such intensity and strength and conviction.
I know I was on my feet three times as long as the guy who won the race.
I may be slow but how bloody tough am I.

I know Blackeyed Peas 'Boom Boom Pow', Coldplay's 'Clocks' and Charlotte Churches 'Crazy Chick' are damn fine power walking songs. Even when you put them on repeat 17 times apiece.
I know I had a perfectly paced top 19 miles until that injury took over and that fills me with ridiculous pride and confidence that my training wasn't wrong. I lost five weeks and I was still well on pace for my original target til the calf went boom.

I know seeing that 'on a yard' sign and receiving those magnificent Realbuzzer hugs below it at mile 22 was nearly as beautiful as the sight of Tower Bridge ten miles prior.

So I finished.
Me and that injury, we made it home. I'd called it cramp but knew it was worse. But worse may have made me stop. Cramp is treatable mid-race. Lies lies and damned lies.

(What if I can't finish?)
That started building in my head.

I required a St John's Ambulance stop, a vicious calf massage and a 20 minute mile. All those people tracking me wondering why I had stopped moving.
(What if I can't finish?)
I required a stern talking to myself.
(What if I can't finish?)
I required angry lip syncing while power walking.
(What if I can't finish?)
I required a whopping motherload of gels.

I am deeply pissed off about all of that.
Because although I had been saying 'I just want to finish, that will be good enough.'
It's just...not. It's nowhere near good enough. I wanted more. I trained for more.
I bloody EARNED more.

(Relentless. Forward. Progress.)

I gritted my teeth and kept moving.
I never did recognize a 'wall'. I may have smashed it to crumbs with anger. Maybe I didn't see it through my double vision.
And the kettle boiled and the steam built up until there appeared an angel tapping me on the shoulder on the Embankment. My fellow Team 21-er, who had also worried in the dark of winter that she too would not make the start due to injury. We'd promised one another we'd walk together if we needed to.

We needed to.

She saved me from my own head and we laughed our asses off all the way down the Embankment. When all else fails, throw jazz hands. Stop and photobomb at six hundred metres.

And then we were at Point-Two where we agreed we'd run. Even that was excruciating.
And we crossed the line side by side. Two in a million. My hands shot up into the air and I threw my head back thinking I did it! I did it! Pops, I did it! I bloody DID it!!
Out of my throat comes this glorious tribal whooping and wahoooing, wild as the crowd at a Blackhawks game, every last ounce of joy escaping before I nearly suffocated on my sobs. Two million more tears.
Never such joy.
Never such pain.
The Yin and Yang of the journey returns for a curtain call at the most perfect of moments.

I will never again have a first marathon and I loved it all. Even the parts I hated - which was only the pain, because I really loved it ALL.

My mind has been a blank sheet for days. I am utterly spent.

I know this all happened but it feels like a dream.
I know I now have a grudge match with 26.2 miles.
I know I will now heal and train even harder for Chicago.
I will figure out what went wrong and banish it forever.
I will run in my home town this fall with pride beyond imagination.
I will run better because I will prepare better.
I will prepare smarter.

(Relentless. Forward. Progress.)

I know I am today equally proud and equally disappointed.

I know I am today a marathoner.
I know I will never be the same.
I know beyond the fundraising, that those two things are exactly what I was after.

Who says you have to descend the mountain once you've reached the pinnacle? I think I'll find a higher mountain and keep on climbing. With Relentless. Forward. Progress.

Like I do everything else.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

And so it begins.


I said it aloud as I exited today's London Marathon Expo, but I wasn't entirely convinced it was an accurate statement.

"And so it begins."

It. It, being the final journey to that start line and that grand tour of this big, beautiful, old city, on foot. For 26.2 miles.

It, being the first time I've road tested this ridiculous mental iron that has somehow built up inside my head. But I've now thought it through and 'It' didn't actually begin at today's expo. 'It' began in October.

Not the most recent one with those base training miles, either. This particular October happened in 1971.

My mom says I was the loudest baby in the hospital nursery. Yeah, I can see that. I can hear that. It comes out of the mouth of my son when he's on Captain Crabbo mode. For me, that noise has materialized in a fair few different ways over the years. In performing on stage as a kid, those dancing days. In my university degree art classes, just empty the noise in my head, spill feelings from guts on to page and it's *out there* and you can move on from it. Noise, noise, everywhere noise. I revel in expelling noise from my head.

Sorry to all you quiet folks out there.

In the absence of ballet, I silenced that noise with golf for a while. That's some sport, golf. I found it strangely similar to ballet - dead quiet internally, focused on one miniscule thing at a time, and that exasperating ball which never seemed to fly far enough. I kept smacking the crap out of it, had one hell of a drive at one point too. The golfing days.

Still those stopped and that silence was grating. As if someone had taped my soul closed and the noise was about to blow. And the purpose which didn't exist. But the purpose returned and with it came running. Years upon years upon years led to that first run, that first race, that first medal. It's not on display because it's saved with the 'Dad things'. I have a box of those, three years plus on from the day he left us, and I still can't bear to open it. I can't sort through it.

But Dad runs with me. From 'up THERE' he runs. We talk. He's a good running companion, my Spirit Pops, the best there ever was. I picture him hanging out with everyone else I've cared about and lost - family, old friends, ex boyfriends even. They're all there every time I crest this one hill. Sitting at some heavenly bar, Sinatra on the juke box, or maybe Barry White, shot-and-a-beer at the ready, the shot always Ketel One, the beer, if he's thinking of me, Old Style. Gnat piss of a beer to coin the phrase of a great Realbuzzer, but it's Chicago fizz and that's my original home town and so it always appears in this story.

So there I feel them all hanging out, watching, urging me onwards, urging me across the line, raising arms victorious with me, together we rise, we rise, we rise.

We all go on and rise. Life turns.

That life which is a funny old story. Every time you think you know where you will end up you round that last corner and find you are only at another beginning. This beginning says I am four days away from my latest goal, that first marathon.

That first MARATHON. Oh my lord, when, where, how did we get to MARATHON. Pride is a vice but damn it, I am proud. I am proud of myself for not only surviving the journey but embracing it. Enjoying it. Running with a smile on my face. Looking forward to all those miles which hurt but if they didn't make me so much better a human being for having endured them, well then I am a flat out liar and you may slap me around the head with a frozen trout.

I am proud of having those five weeks off ill and charging back into a return long run of 10 miles, two longer than I had planned. Start as you mean to go on. And man alive, so I did. Just like I did in that nursery in that 70s October, screaming until I couldn't scream anymore.

I started loud and I'll finish proud.

Proud of myself, indeed, but mostly proud of the boy for whom I am running. My son Rukai. This wonder of creation who is becoming such a magnificently independent, fierce, extraordinary human being. He came into this life screaming without sound, yet his voice is growing louder each day. I run every single inch for that child. I do not know how I came to be lucky enough to become his mother but my God, aren't I the lucky one.

My Rukai roars, and so too will I come Sunday.

Lace 'em up.
Eyes on the prize.
Dig. Dig. Dig.

And so it begins.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

And I could not love you more.

To my beautiful son. My best boy.

I'm not sure where I put it but I know there exist a few paragraphs of a letter I started writing you when you had yet to be born. You were growing in my belly, I was playing you Stevie Wonder via headphone in the navel and things were rosy until they weren't anymore. I stopped writing when They started frightening me. I couldn't do anything else but read up. Get ready. Stand tall. Worry.

Love you.

I should've kept writing then, but I guess all of that came out afterwards eventually, and still is. And that's a good thing. It's a good thing because somewhere on this big blue ball hurtling through the universe there is another woman going through the very same. As I type, she types. "What is an echogenic focus" into Google. "Nuchal translucency measurements" into Google. And she reads up and looks for stories like ours. Real stories. True to life stories. Not the ones in the science books filled with old stats. Stats used back when it was the norm to lock people away from society just for being different. No, not that outdated book-learned theory, but actual Fact. She may find a few stories out there.

I hope she finds this.

I stopped writing that letter to you, but I'm going to tell you now what I was going to say then. For four years now I've been telling you to your face, mid-cuddle, at the dinner table, in the car, on the carousel at the theme park, oh I've been telling you. But there's so much I haven't said.

You were and still are my heart. You were growing beneath my heart but you consumed it completely and it beat for you, with you, because of you. It always will. I did not know your face then but I loved it still. I couldn't wait to see it. To inspect your fingers and toes, to listen to you breathe while you sleep. To watch you dream as I was dreaming for you. To watch you imagine the angels watching over you. I saw that all, in my mind's eye. I saw every bit.

I imagined you taking a book up and climbing on to the sofa to sit beside me. But as it happens, you take that book, you climb up and you get into my lap. And we read not side by side but over your shoulder. And that, my son, is where I will always be, whether on this earth, in this life, or wherever it is that we go when it ends. I will be over your shoulder and inside your heart as you are inside mine.

I pictured you walking and jumping and running and laughing. For the most part I have indeed seen all these things. You laugh with wild abandon - a sound that could un Grinch the big green dude up in those frosty mountains, a smile that would melt those snowbanks into a misty river. You are light. You are a star. You are made up of elements like we all are and you are to be gazed upon and adored and wished on, same as any unearthly thing we spot out in the galaxy, out beyond those wildest of dreams. You are. You just are.

I'm not sure what those dire predictions made me expect but I have to tell you, dear precious boy, that you are all I expected before anyone said a word. You just are.

(And can. And will.)

My dreams for who you are, and who we will be together, and as a family with your Daddy, well, those are coming together too. Because there really is nothing that different about you as a son, as a child, as a person who I wanted to have in my life, which is anything other than what I wanted. You are all I could have imagined, all I didn't imagine, and every last bit in between.

You are. You will be.

As it was then in terms of today, there is nothing I can see beyond the here and now other than that which I can only imagine for you. But I see you. Who you are. Who you want to be.

I see your friends embrace your difference, not feel shame because of it but celebrate you.

I see your teachers tell me that you - a boy who does not yet speak - have a great sense of humor. I mused over this for a while because who knew it was possible? No. No - you don't actually need an audible voice to display humor, you just need a light. And my boy, you are light. You shine every minute. The naysayers have not dulled you. They haven't the ingenuity nor the power.

And you, who would have been set wouldn't feel any grudge. You'd brush it off, like you'd brush off a kid taking a ball off you, like someone bumping you out of the way on the slide because you're moving a bit slower than they are. You take life at your pace. You take life in stride. You walk. You dance.

You soar.

And I could not love you more.

With everything that I am, and will always be - all my love forever.


Friday, 1 April 2016

Of rice and men.


Mini Coach is out cold in bed, gifting us a 7:30 surrender after leaving the witching hour until just before midnight yesterday. He's usually stellar at the bedtime routine so this was particularly inconvenient, being placed on that special and important day called 'two days before long ass run when you CAN sleep because the night before said run you CANNOT.' Some coach. I want a refund.

He even made off with my resistance band round his ankle (he's probably doing more reps than I am these days) so I had to go back in after Daddy put him to bed.

Yes, BACK IN the toddler's room after he'd been put to bed. (Don't do it! Turn back! Turn baaaaaack!!)

This could have led to disaster but lookielou here, it got my band back and bubba into the land of nod. So that midnight rambling may have paid off in the end.

And now here I sit, happily digesting a plate full of what I'm calling 'deconstructed stuffed peppers' which involves lots of vegetables and tomato sauce and a Cho Oyu sized mountain of rice. Carbs is carbs and unfortunately pasta just doesn't crank up my engine. There I tested this same meal last Friday and lo and behold broke my 1 km, 1 mile and half marathon records on the next day's long run. The long run that was supposed to be 'only' 10 miles (oh my actual God did I just say that?) but I felt I had 14 in my legs (or that?!) These legs which got that unexpected February Fizzle but as I live and breathe, I think that was a total blessing in disguise. To hell with illness, this was niggles-be-gone! Fresh legs that got me through 104 miles during the month of March. That hundred another record. I'm on FIRE, and long may I burn.

And here we are at long last looking down the barrel of 20. There is a two in that number! Hello you beauty, where have you been all my life? On 2 April 2016 as it happens.

I got a most excruciating 18 in a few weeks ago some way, some how, my innards having been full of some weird quick bug that made the previous night's sleep non-existent. Tossing and turning and waking up feeling hungover does not a good quality 18 miler make. But I programmed that sucker on to a Sunday and wouldn't you know it - there were no other days left in the weekend to make up for it. I had to go. No backing out. I went. It hurt like a bastard.

As it happens, that bug turned that run from 'some walking' into 'if I don't lay down in a minute I will dissolve into a pool of half digested gels and they will have to chisel my sorry iron arse off this path'. I actually felt so rubbish at one point after I'd just finished walking up the 'big climb' in the middle that I had to sit down on a bench and rest my leaden legs. I still had 5 miles to go. So I turned on the mental psychobabble and pretended it was that last 6 miles on the day. Plus I couldn't stop at the top of a hill in the middle of a cycle path, I had to get home. So I got up. I got moving. And I got home... find hubby napping on the sofa with Mini Coach sat beside him, starkers but for a nappy. I opened the door and immediately knew said nappy was FULL and thank all that is good and holy that's where it stayed. Later discovered young son's top in the bin and a box of cotton buds in his potty. Had I been out longer he may have been ordering pizzas and we'd have reinstated our subscription to Sky Sports. So hubby jumped up, scowling at the fumes, and attended to Sir Stinky Bottom while I keeled over on the floor, not to move for a solid 10 minutes. I'm not sure if I was even breathing - not due to the stench, mind you, but because I had zero in the tank going out so was firmly in triple digit deficit when all was said and done. It was all so collectively un-pretty. But damn it all, I covered those 18 miles. And there wasn't carnage all over the living room. Result. And result.

So that 18 was the longest I've ever gone. Til tomorrow, that is. Tomorrow has a 2. What comes after that 2 will be decided at the junction to my road. Turn left for the 20. Keep going for just that little confidence boost and another half or so. Earlier this week I mapped out a route consisting of three familiar legs - approximately 13.5, 5.5, 1+. I've rehearsed and know my fueling regime. I know my pacing. I know the music I need for impetus. I've had a good loosening up massage today. Riced up. Kid sleeping. Kit washed and just about laid out.

I tell you, if I still had any lingering doubt as to whether I have the resolve to get 'er done, this is no longer going to be a problem. Come hell or high water or stomach bug or niggle I will start and I will finish. My February setback firmly in the past, my confidence building each day. I didn't expect to feel like this going in, but man alive I am so glad I do. I'm not scared, just excited. I couldn't ask for more...

But there actually IS more!

A while back I'd sent in the story of why I'm running VMLM and they've only gone and selected us as one of their 'runner's stories'! So a huge place of pride in the PDF of the same name (sitting on the 'media resources' page of the marathon website) and if you have a copy of the race mag, we are first listed in the story starting on page 184. There is a photo of me and my boy grinning next to Dame Kelly Holmes. Honored is not the word. What a grand adventure this has all been!

And there we have it.

15 minutes of fame!
5 - 6 hours of pain!
A lifetime of gain!

I wouldn't trade any of this experience for the world. T minus 22 days.