Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Now what have we here ..?

Countdown Clocks

A dream finish

I had crossed that finish line a thousand times. Maybe more. First of all in the weeks leading up to my first marathon attempt in Rotterdam, then, over the last month, I dreamed about the final few strides of the Liverpool Rock N Roll Marathon instead.
This time it happened for real. I crossed it with my head filled with thoughts of Diane. I could feel her hand in mine and hear her voice in my ear, encouraging me and giving me a reason to believe I could do it.
She was there the whole 26.2 miles of the city where I spent my teenage years. I recognised many places I had not been to for decades and on this special day they became unforgettable landmarks on the route of a journey which began just over a year ago.
A journey that started with a promise Diane made me make. During the years of her battle against breast cancer, she would occasionally speak about how I would cope without her. It was never a conversation that lasted very long as I refused to even contemplate such an empty world and talk of death was off the table.
She was worried about my health. Typical of her spirit of generosity. She was fighting cancer and she was worried about me. But I couldn’t talk about it. I might have been 24 stone, suffering mobility problems with my weight and having Type 2 diabetes, but I didn’t have cancer. How could I harp on about my health while she was courageously fighting her life-or-death battle. What I was suffering paled into insignificance next to her struggle.
Yet still she worried about me.
I would be fine, we would be fine, everything would be fine, I said, once this terrible disease was driven out of our lives. Everything would be all right, just wait and see. Then we can worry about me. Not before.
There was no need for her to worry, I told her, no need to discuss it. She was not dying. She was not going anywhere. There would never be a time when I was without her. There would never be a time when I had to go to bed alone, to wake alone, to live life alone.
At least, that’s what I told myself. It’s called hope, and it is the bedrock of the human spirit. It lives in all of us and it’s what drives us on when times are tough.
If Diane thought I could calmly sit there and rationally, logically, almost coldly, plan a life without her, she was wrong. I couldn’t even imagine such an existence, a life without the woman with whom I had shared the happiest 21 years of my life, so no, no, no. No need to discuss this because we will be fine.
For her to be brave enough even to mention what would happen if cancer took her life shows the kind of selfless person she was. And why she was such an inspiration to me from the moment I first met her.
Then, in February 2013, cancer consumed her body and our lives changed forever. But wait. Cancer didn’t win. It didn’t take her from me. There hasn’t been a moment since then when we haven’t been together. Our relationship is simply different now, but not less strong. She is still always here. Just not in the way she used to be.
It was her idea for me to look up and not down, ahead and not behind. She didn’t tell me this during those conversations about life without her. Like I said, I couldn’t, wouldn’t sit and talk about losing her like that. No, she told me later, after cancer thought it had won.
She told me in the unspoken way soul-mates instinctively know what the other is thinking or wants. She didn’t tell me to go to the gym. I just one day got the notion to. A notion she put there without me realising at the time. From there she kept prompting me further.
Why else would I take up running after 40 years of not doing a tap, decades of being the poster boy for couch potatoes everywhere? Why else would I take up running when the furthest I ever ran was for a bus?
Not only that, but why, after years of being the least driven and competitive person you could wish to meet, did I suddenly become energised with some steely determination to do anything that people told me I couldn’t
Because Diane wanted me to. She did it as her side of The Promise. So she was the one who got me to the start line in Liverpool last week and she was the one who held me tight as I crossed the finish line.
And she wants me to do it all over again. And soon. And more besides. She hasn’t finished on her promise to me yet.

One special member of the Running With Diane story

There are many people to whom I owe a great debt to for getting me to that finish line. I’m not going to fall into the trap of naming them all individually – partly because I might accidentally forget to include someone and partly because there isn’t enough room on this computer’s memory to list them all anyway.
But I cannot go without mentioning Bev Walker. She has asked to stay in the background in all this, but I can’t allow that. She was the person who got me round on the day in under five-and-a-half hours, that magical target which was the Rotterdam cutoff time.
Maybe I could have dragged myself round but not in that time. She was simply awesome.
Her offer to run in Liverpool with me lifted my spirits enormously at a time when the doubts were creeping in and with her managing my race, I knew my chances of success had suddenly shot up.
She has a special place in the Running With Diane story now. And she has my undying thanks for making it happen the way it did.

And to see my running pals Dave Pearson and Lesley Fisher at the finish line – as well as my closest and most treasured friend in the world Pam McVitie - to cheer me home was the icing on a very wonderful cake.

Hang on. Did I say cake, Maria?

Thursday, 22 May 2014

My turn, Diane

NOW it’s my turn to show Diane round the streets where I grew up.
The Liverpool Rock N Roll Marathon promises to be another hugely emotional experience for the two if us. This time, I hope we cross that finish line together, hand in hand, like I’ve dreamt it and lived it over and over in my head.
As I write this, there are just three days to go. Three days until the day I write the closing lines of Chapter One in the story of this life-changing experience.
I’ve tried to keep a low profile and avoid making rash predictions, like the ones I made as my first attempt in Rotterdam approached last month. I've learnt my lesson there. But I’m getting just a little bit excited as the next big day draws near, so I can’t keep quiet any longer.
After all, this is not about whether I do this or not on Sunday, it’s about honouring the life of a very special woman, whose bravery as she stared death in the face was extraordinary. My Diane.
It’s also about raising awareness of the charity Breast Cancer Care and the incredible work its staff and supporters do for families going through the same day-to-day hell that we did.
Since I started running last August, around 30,000 more women have discovered they have breast cancer. They – like the already 500,000-plus families in the UK living their everyday lives under the cloud of this terrible disease - endured that moment, that single moment when it is confirmed, when your worst fears are realised and your hopes are dashed. The moment which changes your life forever.
The moment you uncross your fingers, and stop believing in miracles.
Breast Cancer Care is there for all these families right where it matters, helping to rebuild lives shattered by this one moment. Miracles still do happen, and gradually you restore the belief that one of them could actually happen to you. For some it will, for others – like Diane – sadly not.
I run with Diane for all of them, whether or not a miracle is on their way.
That’s why this Sunday is so important. Perhaps even more important than Rotterdam. I need to honour my pledge to the many wonderful people who have supported the Running With Diane appeal, for all the heroes who work for Breast Cancer Care and for every person going through what we did. Whatever the future holds for them.
Diane and I did our best in Rotterdam but I guess we just weren’t quite ready. Now I feel the time might be right. And Liverpool still holds a deeply personal meaning for us both.
She showed me her beloved Rotterdam where she spent her happy childhood. Now it’s my turn to show her where I grew up, places she never got to see when she was alive.
I never got to show her, but I wish now I had, where we lived just outside Woolton Village on the way to Hunt’s Cross. Where I went to school at Liverpool College in Mossley Hill. I wanted to show her Penny Lane Records round the corner from school where I snuck to one day to buy the single Roundabout by Yes the Monday it came out in 1972. You weren’t allowed out of the school gates during school hours in those days but I decided to risk it that lunchtime. I made it back without being spotted. Just.
Sadly the marathon route doesn’t quite reach that far south, but it does course through streets I’ve trodden many times and there’ll be plenty of memories for me to share with her.
I would have wanted to take her on a No72 bus out of the Pier Head homeward bound for Hunt’s Cross, just as I had caught the last one home so many times way back then, after another good night with great friends, a belly full of Higsons and Bass and a smile as wide as the Mersey.
One night, the driver of the last bus home hadn’t bothered to scroll round his destination so as he headed past Lime Street on his way out of town the front of the bus still said “Pier Head”.
A man put his arm out up ahead and the bus pulled up. After three attempts to focus on where the floor of the bus beside the driver was, the man asked to go to the Pier Head.
“I’m not going to the Pier Head,” said the driver. “I’m going to Hunt’s Cross.”
“I want to go to Pier Head,” said the man, “it says Pier Head on the front.”
 “It says India on the ****ing tyres, I’m not going there either,” said the driver. And the man retreated and headed back off into the night.
It’s made me smile then and it still does over 40 years later. I think they call it rapier wit.
A little further on, the driver’s radio played Baker Street by Gerry Rafferty. It was the first time I’d heard it.  This week, I’ve had another of his songs in my head. Get It Right Next Time.

No use complainin’, don’t you worry, don’t you whine
Cause if you get it wrong, you’ll get it right next time.

I got it wrong in Rotterdam but can't complain. And though I worried, I promised myself I certainly wouldn’t whine. There would a chance soon to get it right next time.
And here we are.
Back at the foot of another mountain, looking up, saying “Bring it on.”
The race starts at the Albert Dock. When I was living in Liverpool back in the 70s that was all it was. A dock called Albert. Grim, unloved, an eyesore. Now it is transformed, home to galleries, the Tate, cafes, craft shops, designer outlets, the Beatles Story, quayside apartments and sailing clubs.
Ah, The Beatles. More song titles spring to mind. Help! would probably have to be the first, if I’m honest. Then maybe The Long and Winding Road? Or how about Run For Your Life
In the end, only one sums out how I got here, how I made it to the start line and how it became possible to even dream this moment, let alone achieve it.
With a Little (it ought to say ‘a lot of’) Help From My Friends.