Tag Archives: Women Can Marathon

Great! Full! And Very Grateful!

Wow! What an incredible trip the 2017 New York Marathon was.

The pinnacle was meeting Kathrine Switzer my running heroine, and inspiration for the Women Can Marathon.

I was thrilled, honoured, “over the moon” to be able to run with Kathrine and some of her 261 Fearless team and be welcomed to a wonderful pre-marathon dinner with them.

Having kick-started the women’s running movement in 1967 by being the first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon, 50 years on, Kathrine is still inspiring and encouraging women to run through her 261 social running community.

She tirelessly promotes 261 through social media…

Their motto strikes a strong chord: Be Fearless. Be Free. Be Grateful.

Adidas are promoting 261 with their new campaign Fearless AF (which as I learnt means, as f***). The launch at the Adidas Flagship Store on Fifth Avenue certainly made a statement with Kathrine sitting alongside other women athletes and running celebrities, including the model Karlie Kloss.

Kathrine herself was utterly delightful, charming and interested to hear about this year’s Women Can Marathon and plans for next year, when more 261 Fearless runners from across the world will be joining us. It was great to meet some of them in New York and think about welcoming them to my home village of Tipton St John, in Devon.

Making the decision to travel so far on my own was tough. In 2011 New York was my 10th marathon, my husband John joined me for the trip and we had a fabulous time. Shortly after I returned, my dad was diagnosed with dementia, he died in 2015, my mum, who’d been in great health, died suddenly and unexpectedly in April this year, and John, having had two strokes in 2013, and now diagnosed with early signs of dementia himself was too unwell to accompany me.

So it was with a Fearless attitude that I signed up for 2017 just a few weeks ago.

I went with a sense of purpose and making the most of everything – visiting iconic landmarks, discovering hidden gems, walking the busy streets beneath the skyscrapers…

…buying pretzels and hot dogs from street vendors, fine dining, watching a beautiful sunrise, enjoying the night time clamour, taking in museum culture, watching a ball game – soaking up the city in every way and every second that I had. I think I ticked the “Be Free” box all right.

Sunday was marathon day. Myself and my lovely roommate Lea, who’s from Estonia, were never happier to get up at 4am, though clearly some preferred to sleep on.

The event is an awesome feat of planning and organisation – 50,000 plus runners, 12,000 volunteers and many thousands of the most supportive, vocal spectators a runner could wish for – creating an electric atmosphere that could not fail to impress.

My own running of the race was a thrill from start to finish. The first five miles I felt like I was floating on air, reaching halfway in a speedy time for me of 2:03, feeling strong, and managing a couple of 9 minute miles on the long pull out to the Bronx.

The hard work began heading back to Central Park and hilly mile 24, when fatigue and muscle cramp got the better of me, and fighting the inner voice of despair I slowed to a 15 minute walk. Somehow I came through it and squeezed out a 10.25 and a 10.04 for the last two miles through the park.

My Garmin NY data

I crossed the finish line 7 seconds ahead of my 2011 time, in 4:18:35 – cramp, exhaustion and emotion took over and in a bit of a daze I was whisked off to the medical tent, where two expert physios pummelled life back into my aching calf muscles. They really were incredible. Thanks guys!

Too tired for photos, the obligatory medal pic had to wait until I was back in the hotel and on return the following day when I couldn’t stop smiling.

Although I travelled on my own, I felt the support of friends and family from back home, and new friends I met on the trip, and that mum and dad were both with me.

As for the final part of the 261 motto – yes, it’s been Great. It’s been Full. And for the joy that is running and all it brings to my life, I am truly Grateful.

New York you rock!

Advertisements

Life Awareness Week

I feel caught in a perfect storm of life’s difficult-to-deal-with-moments.

Every seven days it seems there’s a new awareness week for something.

This weekend marks the end of Dying Matters Week and Mental Health Awareness Week and begins the start of Dementia Awareness Week – three topics on which I have a current speciality.

Get me on Mastermind this instant and I’d answer every question. That’s how “aware” I am!

Having lost my wonderful mum less than four weeks ago in sudden, unexpected and traumatic circumstances – yes I’m going through the numbness, the “it can’t be true” questioning, the guilt of feeling in some way to blame, responsible, at fault for not doing more to prevent it, mum having died at my home, in my care.

The knowledge that professional help was sought on several occasions and that paramedics were there when mum died, because I called them, does little to stop me going over the course of events and trying to change them.

I feel physically ill, my body is doing strange things – even down to drastic bleeding from my gums a few days later. I go into physical spasms of grief, screaming aloud in my sleep, sobbing in a supermarket car park. This is not about wiping the tears away with a tissue.

I’ve been totally lost for words, unable to string a coherent reply to a question. Bad dreams, nightmares, getting up in the middle of the night, forgetfulness, I can tick those boxes, that’s if I remember and focus hard enough.

And the flashbacks and intrusive thinking, that’s all part of it.

That side of it, I was pretty accomplished at already. For 25 years I’ve suffered from bouts of depression, including at times self-harming because of the mental agony I’ve felt. My recurring anxiety, spiralling, hamster-wheeling doubt was diagnosed as OCD four years ago, with childhood traumas recognised as being part of the root cause, leading to 20 weeks of intensive therapy.

It helped me a lot, in learning how to deal with it, but it never totally goes away, so yes, I’d say I have a pretty solid awareness of mental health issues.

Dementia, is one of my identified trigger points – the scary demon in my basement. It’s something I’ve been terrified of since a child, when my lovely grandmother’s increasingly eccentric behaviour was put down to being “senile” with very few people at that time bothering to try to understand.

Thankfully, dementia awareness has increased massively since those dark days and there’s been a shift in public consciousness, research and care.

I learnt lots more first hand about this cruel disease, when my dad was diagnosed in 2011 at the age of 70 with vascular dementia, dying just over three years later. It was a journey of mixed emotions, challenges, despair, anger, grief, but also laughter, compassion, enlightenment, and love.

This Dementia Awareness Week remains hugely relevant and important to me – my dear husband John having recently been referred by his GP to the local memory clinic. The appointment is in a few weeks’ time, 20 years to the day that we got married. Happy Anniversary Darling!

It will also be a few days after the biggest event of my life, a women only marathon, which I’ve taken a lead role in organising and aim to take part in.

It’s called Women Can.

I love the positive affirmation of that simple straightforward statement.

The medals arrived yesterday, 450 of them glistening in a box. They made me think about all those women out there, going through their own journey of awareness, issues affecting their lives, but still signing up to our event and taking part, because through running, endurance running in particular, pitting yourself against that challenge, you learn that women can, men can, we all can.

It’s about getting through the tough times yourself and helping others through them also.

About being life aware.

Thanks to all the special people who are life aware, who have been, and are continuing, to be there for me.

*Special thanks to Sue, a counsellor with the bereavement charity Cruse, for her recent clarity and insight and her recommendation to visit the website of the charity Sudden Death – awareness definitely helps! For information about mental health issues go to Mind. For information about dementia research go to BRACE.

Run, because We Can

Running has been high on my list of priorities lately – to the point that the obsessive compulsive tag is quite apt.

I’ve done pretty well in my challenge for the mental health charity Mind, to Run Every Day in January, notching up 26 out of 31 days, or an 84% success rate.

Ironically, one of the things that’s diverted me from the physical act of running, is in organising a running event.

womencan-logo_master-2The Women Can Marathon is an idea I had in the summer of last year, when I realised that a landmark milestone in women’s endurance running combined with the same year that outdoor sport took off in my home village.

1967 was the year that Kathrine Switzer defied the men-only rules in the Boston Marathon, to be the first woman to officially cross the finish line, despite a race official trying to rip off her bib. (Photo credit: Boston Herald).

MARATHON

This was at a time when women were believed incapable of racing that distance. The resulting publicity, and Kathrine’s own campaigning, opened up a future for women’s running, inconceivable at the time.

In my village the same year a farmer’s riverside meadow was bought by local people to become the well-used, much-loved Tipton St John Playing Field, the heart of outdoor recreation in our community and starting point of our popular Otter Rail and River Run 10km.

field-gen

The scenery around here is stunning and I’d often pondered a longer distance course taking in the spectacular nearby Jurassic coastline, a World Heritage Site.

peak-hill-looking-down-to-sidmouth-smaller

Walking my dogs alongside the river one day. Lightbulb moment!

Why don’t we organise a marathon from the playing field to mark this joint 50th anniversary?

Even brighter lightbulb moment!

Why not make it women only to give it a unique and special context, celebrating how far women’s endurance running has come in 50 years, whilst acknowledging that many women are still unable to access sport for a variety of reasons?

And so for the past few months, I’ve been part of small team beavering away to make the Women Can Marathon a reality.

jo-pavey-3The event is taking off beyond wildest dreams.

In November we received the endorsement of 5-times Olympian Jo Pavey.

Jo has pledged to be there if other commitments allow.

 

We also received a wonderfully warm-hearted personal video message from Kathrine Switzer herself.

In the last few days Women Can has been named as the first UK partner for her 261 Fearless organisation, which empowers women’s running around the globe.

When I told my husband John of my idea back in May last year, he paused, in supping his Sunday lunchtime pint of beer, and said: “I reckon you’ll only get about half a dozen people interested in that. But give it a try if you want.”

Yesterday our 200th runner signed up. This month our website hit a record high of nearly 5,500 visits.

gemma-langford-2We have women coming from across the country and around the world. We have women coming from the village, able to walk to the start from their doorstep.

We have women coming who’ve never run a marathon. We have women coming who’ve run dozens. We have women who are challenged by illness or disability. We have women who are trained athletes.

We have women taking part as paired and team relays and also women who are Nordic walking the 26.2 mile distance.

And we have men too, dozens of them pledging help and support in advance, and to act as marshals on the day – our runners may be women, but our event is about being inclusive.

We have businesses on board – our main sponsor, a telecommunications firm IP Office Ltd, our local gym network LED Leisure, and a host of others.

Dartington Crystal, which also celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, is making bespoke trophies. The energy bar people Luna sent two cases of 500 bars for our goody bags.

cakeWithin the local community excitement is building. People are pitching in to offer accommodation, provide transport, bake cakes, make the tea – pulling together at every level to make this happen.

The goodwill and enthusiasm is incredible.

Shortly we will announce our international charity partner, something we hope will further raise awareness and interest.

Marathons with a big profile are normally the big city events.

This is sport at grassroots level, where it happens in the heart of a community.

We may be small, but we’re equally passionate.

This is the Women Can Marathon from Tipton St John reaching out to the wider world – because by running this event together, perhaps one day all Women Can.

tipton-sign-small