Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Diane works her magic again

MORE than a week has passed since the devastating disappointment of my marathon debut in Rotterdam. And it’s been a time of soul-searching and reflection.
It has been time well spent.
I needed to process what had happened and what was to happen next. I had already decided only minutes after failing to finish what was to happen immediately after. I knew there and then I had to find another marathon quickly to prove I could do the distance and to honour my commitment to the many generous people who had supported the Running With Diane appeal for the cancer support charity Breast Cancer Care.
So in less than five weeks, I take on the Liverpool marathon and it is hoped that the first part of this journey will come to its conclusion round the streets where I grew up instead of Plan A which was to do it round the streets of Rotterdam where Diane spent her childhood.
I still feel disappointed, still feel like I blew it on the day it mattered most. But that is because of the reason I was running it and the reason why I was running it in Rotterdam.
I knew it would be an emotional day. But I expected that emotion to be elation, not despair.
Back at the hotel, as I gazed out at Diane's beloved Rotterdam, I also made another promise – to her mainly. I will return next April to tackle it again - and every year until I conquer it. And every year after that, if truth be told, because this weekend will become an annual tribute to the woman who still guides me every step of the way despite losing her to breast cancer in February last year.
It will be a kind of pilgrimage, I guess. And when my legs won’t carry me round anymore, I shall go just to 

watch, to be a part of it, to cheer on the runners – including the ones who, like me now, will be trying to achieve what they never dreamed possible.
As I had predicted, Diane was with me every step of the 20 miles I was allowed to run. And she was with me afterwards helping to console me.
As were my friends. The messages of support I got from my fellow Burnden Roadrunners, relatives, friends and work colleagues were staggering. I felt I didn’t deserve such kindness at the time, but they convinced me otherwise. I couldn’t have got this far without their support and encouragement. And they still have their work cut out to get over that finish line at the Pier Head!
The first thing Diane told me as I sloped back to the start/finish area in Rotterdam, head bowed and feeling defeated, was that no-one said it would be easy. Nothing worth having is ever easy.
That’s why when I do eventually conquer Rotterdam, it will mean so much more.
People have reminded me where I was a year ago and how far I have come. That’s true, but the problem is I can’t let myself look back to a year ago until I have finished my first marathon. I will not shrug my shoulders and say I have done my best. I will not accept that I have come as far as I can. I will not let myself come up short. I have loads more to achieve. More adventures.
Hopefully, the streets of Liverpool will now be where I will finally reach the finish line. Then, and only then, will I look back and see how far I’ve come.
I will never pause and pat myself on the back while I am still short of where I want to be. Diane knows that, although she’s as bemused as I am where this mean streak in me has suddenly appeared from.
Wherever I was a year ago doesn’t alter the fact that I wasn’t where I wanted to be that Sunday in Rotterdam.
Don’t get me wrong. I am now grateful for what happened in Rotterdam. I perhaps needed to be reminded that I had come a long way, but still have a long way to go. It reminded me that it’s a journey that will go on for many years.
I had a magical weekend in the company of some wonderful friends and I saw loads more of this fantastic city than I did on my first visit at the beginning of the year. The crowds were awesome, the occasion was wonderful and I took away far more happy memories than that one sad one.
I have learned a lot from this. A lot about running. And a lot about myself. I know now this wasn’t failure. It was just another twist in the story. It was the marathon gods telling me I wasn't yet ready to earn that finish line elation.
Hopefully, they will smile on me in Liverpool.
I have emerged stronger from this setback. I am more focused, more determined and, most importantly, wiser. I feel a better runner for it. And, most importantly, it has given me fresh goals in life.
And it has made me a better person because I know more about myself now than I did when I lined up with the other 13,500 runners at the start line.
Diane has worked her magic again.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

My unique and beautiful Rotterdam medal

I might not have earned a finisher's medal, but I have one more special than all those handed out.
My medal is unique. No-one else went away from Rotterdam with one of these except me.
It was given to me by my closest friend. It reminds me that this weekend was about Diane and not about me.
It was about enduring love and her incredible courage. It was about how one person can make a difference.
Diane showed me 20 miles of this beautiful city and it left me wanting more.
Zo dank je wel voor mijn mooie medaille, Els. Het is erg lief, en ik ben zeer gelukkig om je als een vriend.

Now I must honour my commitment to the many people who have donated to the appeal, who have coached me, run with me, supported me and encouraged me. To Burnden Roadrunners, to all at Smithills Sports Centre in Bolton, Lancs. They still have their work cut out.
I promised to run a marathon in memory of Diane in aid of the charity Breast Cancer Care and is important I do that quickly.
So I am off to Liverpool to run the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon to complete the task I couldn't manage in Rotterdam.
From the streets where Diane grew up to the streets where I spent my teenage years.
And the good news is I'll still be Running With Diane.

Just try and stop me next year!

Five things I have learned from the Rotterdam Marathon.
1: I must train harder
2: I must train harder
2: I really must train harder
3: No, seriously, I must train harder
4: For the last time, I am telling you, I must train harder

Five things I have really learned from the weekend.
1: The people of a city determine how great the marathon is not the organisers.
2: Even the runners slugging it out near the back are doing more than they ever dreamed possible.
3: Running is about joy.
4: Memories are the real prize for taking part.
5: I really must train harder.

Thank you, Rotterdam. See you next year.
Just try and stop me!

The Day of (Bad) Judgment

I think it's fair to say the weekend did not go to plan. After four hours and nearly 20 miles into the race I was advised to turn back as I was going too slowly to finish inside the cut-off time of five-and-a-half hours. So the dream of crossing that finish line with Diane evaporated.
It was a shame. There were thousands of us who were prevented from finishing by a cut-off time so harsh it seemed to suggest the organisers cared only about the elite runners and were embarrassed by the slow ones.
The people of Rotterdam were not so discriminatory. My race was one of the most magical experiences I have had. The people lining the route loved the way runners like me who were defying the odds rose up to the challenge as best they could.
While the organisers were having their precious pictures taken with the winners, people like me were still out there, responding to the fantastic crowds, joining in the fun with the bands along the route and high-fiving scores of joyful kids and their mums and dads along the route who were still cheering me on at 20 miles just before I was told to stop. The people of Rotterdam loved the fact that us tryers had come to their city to give it a go and do our best.
It is a pity some of their incredible generosity didn't rub off on the organisers.
Yes, I am slow and yes, the unusual heat that morning made me a bit slower still. But I had just over 10k to go and was feeling very capable of finishing - to be stopped at that point was devastating.
When I got back to the hotel, people were still being allowed to finish in London and they started half an hour before us in Rotterdam. So there is a message there.
It is lucky the people of this great city made it a weekend I will never forget.
And next year, I will be back. And I am determined the organisers won't get the satisfaction of thwarting me again.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

The final countdown...

I WRITE this with less than a week to go to the big day, the culmination of a pledge I made just seven months ago to run a marathon to honour the life, and praise the courage, of my wife Diane, who died of breast cancer in February 2013.
When she lost her fight, just a few weeks after thinking she’d beaten this terrible disease, she made me promise her that I would not allow myself to go downhill. I was in a shocking state health-wise. I weighed 24 stones, had mobility problems and suffered from Type 2 diabetes.
I couldn’t get up a flight of stairs without struggling for breath. If I hadn’t done something quickly, I could have seen myself in a wheelchair within a very short space of time.
Now, here I sit, just over a year later, looking forward to next weekend. I now weigh 15-and-a-half stones (so still plenty to work off!), I have lost eight inches off my waist and dropped five shirt sizes. My diabetes is now undetectable and I am desperately hoping I can finish the 26.2 miles round Rotterdam next Sunday, the city where Diane grew  up and learned to be the wonderful woman I was lucky enough to share more than 20 years of my life with, in under five hours.
She never got to take me to the city, although she always wanted to. She wanted me to see where she laughed, cried, played, went to school and lived.
A lot of you will think I’m repeating myself, but the only point I’m making is that this is now a time for reflection. A time to take stock, before I fly off to realise this dream.
Life without Diane to hold, to hug, to kiss and to just be with, has been difficult. You put on a brave face, you try not to cry when anyone’s around. You try hard to cope and you have days when you don’t quite manage it.
But my life is not without Diane.
She is in heart and my head, especially when I run. That’s our personal, private time together. When I run, I think of nothing but Diane. And I want to think of her for as long as possible, so I want to run for as long as possible.
I think that’s why I’ve taken to this distance running so quickly. I can’t get enough of it because I can’t get enough of our “us” time.
People often talk about longing for some “me” time. I say cherish the “us” time. I have more “me” time right now than I know what to do with. What I crave is going back to all the “us” time I had with Diane. Make the most of yours. Before you know it, you might find yourself sitting like I did a year ago struggling to cope with how empty the house felt.
But my life isn’t empty. Diane fills it still. And she’ll be with me every step of the way on Sunday.
My biggest challenge on the big day could be to keep a lid on my emotions until after the race. It won’t be easy. Standing on the start line with the other 13,500 runners will be emotional enough, let alone running the race. Heaven only knows what the last 200 metres will feel like.
One thing is certain. This is not the end of this story. This is merely the end of Chapter One. I have begun to write on that blank piece of paper I mentioned in a previous post. Now we are on the brink of starting Chapter 2, and just like when I began to write Chapter 1, I have as yet no idea what it will reveal or where it will take me.
There are certain to be more marathons, more adventures, more ways to celebrate the life of Diane, the most wonderful person I have ever met or am ever likely to meet.
Cancer took her body away. But it could not take away what she means to me. I am aiming to show the world just how much she is still a part of everything I do on Sunday.

Someone is looking after me (Part 2)

I WAS one of those 6,000 runners who lined up in vain to run the Sheffield Half Marathon on Sunday, the one that was infamously cancelled 50 minutes after it was due to start.
No-one had delivered the water for the on-course water stations so the race couldn’t go ahead. But that was not the most remarkable thing to happen on such a strange day.
I was due to run for Breast Cancer Care and wore, for the first time, the charity running vest I will be wearing at next week’s marathon in Rotterdam. I’ve had it modified with the Running With Diane logo and the name of the marathon.
So there am I, in among 6,000 other runners randomly thrown together from various parts of the country and a young woman standing near me sees the wording, leans across and says, incredibly, that she too is running next Sunday in Rotterdam.
What are the chances of that? An unbelievable coincidence, given that I only confirmed I was entering Sheffield a month ago and only picked up the vest on the Friday before the race. Then what are the chances that in the middle of 6,000 people I happen to be standing near the only other runner in the crowd who is also running in Rotterdam?
And what are the chances that this young woman’s name would be Diane?
Someone is smiling down on me and wishing me well. I will not let them down...