Last autumn my mam came to watch me run the Cardiff Half Marathon. I had been really looking forward to her watching me run for the first time (I was very much a ‘thrower’ on school sports days, rather than a runner). Unfortunately she didn’t manage to spot me during the race despite being at the barrier at the finishing line. However she did manage to spot all the female veteran runners.
“Hannah – there were all these women who are older than me and running faster than you!” she exclaimed, as I nursed my ego after missing a PB. “Do you think I could do it?” she asked. I put my bitterness aside for a moment: “Of course you could.”
Full of beans we set off for a run the next day, jogging for a minute and walking for a few more, over and over again until we had looped the neighbourhood and dispelled her fears of being seen in public in sweatpants. We’d covered over a mile and she was over the moon. During the next few weeks she bought a new pair of trainers, downloaded the Couch to 5K podcast and dedicated herself to the beginner’s training programme. 3 times a week for three weeks she ran around our hometown of Hereford until disaster struck in the form of such excruciating knee pain she couldn’t even go to work.
She swore off running for months. It wasn’t until I visited over Christmas and she watched me run in a New Year’s Day 10K race (horrible, horrible race…) that she was once again overwhelmed with the urge to join the other V50s and pulled her trainers back on. But alas, once again after a few weeks the pain crept back…
She didn’t quit again this time though. Instead she went to Cardiff’s Run and Become shop and was fitted with a proper pair of trainers. And she hasn’t looked back since. I have had almost weekly updates ever since on her progress and was thrilled when she completed her first continuous 20 minute run, even more thrilled when she first ran a whole 5K, chuffed when she signed up to her local running club (the Wye Valley Runners) and so, so incredibly proud when she phoned me to say that they had taken her on a 6 mile run through cow fields, over stiles, past ponies and to a country pub.
When she first got into running her goal was to run Hereford’s 5K Race For Life. It seemed like a mammoth task back then and she struggled to believe me when I told her again and again that she will manage it just fine. When the day came round she knew that she would finish the course – she now runs almost 6 miles a couple of times a week with her club and is training with me for the Cardiff 10K. She also knew she stood a chance of coming in under 30 minutes as she had been timing herself on carefully measured routes around her local area (I found out that she’s been driving around our neighbourhood measuring routes on the car’s mileage counter…). I wanted to pace her just a little bit faster than was comfortable though and show her just how far she’s come on. She crossed the finish line in 28:25 by her watch – a smashing effort from my 52 year old Ma, who just 9 months ago could only run for 60 seconds at a time.
Before and after
Now I just wanted to add a few words about the Race For Life, those annual events that invite hoards of women in pink tutus out to their local playing field to run, jog or walk 5km. These events are not officially measured or timed and so in recent years I’ve not joined in. But taking part in the Hereford event reminded me of a lot of things:
It was the Race For Life events that got me into running in the first place, those emotive telly adverts that made me think that sweating my way round a 3.1 mile course would be an appropriate commemoration of my grandparents, both of whom I was very close to and both of whom died of cancer; how difficult running that first 5km was and my ecstatic squeals when I crossed the finish line in, like, 38 minutes or something; the dissipation of any embarrassment about being a very unfit and rather unhealthy woman in sweatpants in public because suddenly your were surrounded by women in jogging bottoms (and tutus) of all shapes and sizes.
If I hadn’t confronted my fear of running in the company of all those other women I doubt I would have started exercising regularly or signed up for my first 10K (also a Cancer Research event).
Being at the Hereford event and being surrounded by women who have as varied motives for taking part as they do levels of fitness was hugely inspiring. It doesn’t matter that the course isn’t accurately measured and you don’t get a chip time. What matters is that you are running, jogging or walking with lots of women who wouldn’t normally exercise in public. There is a distinct lack of women involved in grossly sweaty outdoor activity, and if we do exercise our motives are encouraged to be aesthetic. This irritates me greatly and is something I have written about and will continue to write about. But for now, in the spirit of getting women into the habit of being sweaty and gross and enjoying every bloody second of it I have to commend the Race For Life organisers. The women’s only race franchise has done great things for getting women running – you only have to read the forums at womensrunninguk.co.uk to see how many women are inspired by these races to start running regularly. And so while I dedicate this post to my wonderful mother and her sweaty new hobby, the Wye Valley Runners who have been supporting her training, and my stepdad who patiently waits in the pub for her to return from her club runs, I’d also like to dedicate it to all the Race For Life participants who got sweaty with us, regardless of how long it took them to cross the finish line, and have pulled their trainers back on since.