I was that girl in P.E. who always forgot her kit. On purpose. I detested physical exercise. It was so boring and regimented, and getting undressed showered and dressed again for about 20-60 mins of doing something boring in the rain, whilst being dictated to by some barking little jumpy woman was just plain ridiculous in my book.
The minute I left school for 6th form and P.E was no longer compulsory, I started swimming a mile a day before school. I started to love exercise. But running was not and had ever been my thing. Especially long distance.
I was 20 and in my second year of a law degree. My house-mate Ali was probably the most persuasive girl I’ve ever met. She suggested we train for and run Sheffield half-marathon. So we did. To my surprise we would do 5 miles out to the peak district and back to our house. Once I did this twice in one day. It was fun. Fun-ish. After the run we’d do some sit-ups and some other crazy stuff (I swear that Ali invented) at home. Then, we fell off the wagon.
I was turning 21 and had two birthday parties, one at home with family and friends and one at uni. Tom Farmer came up from home with another school friend to stay for my Uni 21st. I loved Tom. Something about the fact that he was born with Cystic Fibrosis, seemed to influence his character. In that, he was the most fun-loving, easy going, relaxed and happiest of all of us. I never saw him hung-up about any of the things that stressed the rest of us from time to time. He was an awesome and infectiously positive guy to be around. And very funny.
Tom knew I’d ‘started’ running and at that party he suggested we run the New York marathon together the following year to raise money for CF (Cystic Fibrosis) Trust. I agreed that we could and should do that.
However, when the morning of the Sheffield half-marathon rolled around, I hadn’t ran for more than a month. In that month I had been on holiday to Cyprus, had two 21st birthday parties and spent the day before the race lounging in the park with chips and beers, laughing with friends about how we weren’t doing the race in the morning.
Ali tells me we made an arrangement to meet under the action-man clock in our living room with a tin of baked beans and a spoon (my favourite student fuel) at 7am. This obviously slipped my mind…
Ali knocked on my bedroom door the next morning at around 7. My boyfriend was staying and I was quite comfy and happy where I was. But Ali said if I got up she would make me a cup of tea and, I believe, beans on toast. That sounded nice and luxurious. Once up I saw she was in her running gear. She wanted me to go and do the half. She said look, the course goes to our house and back, you know you can run half the distance (6-7 miles) so you can just drop out then and come home. I couldn’t really argue with her logic. I was up now, I may as well go for a little run.
So, dressed in (I kid you not) a pink satin push-up bra under a black vest top (which I got free with a 99p magazine), nike cortez fashion trainers I’d had for about 6 years and Umbro shorts I had owned for 10 years, hair pulled back in a bobble. No water bottle, no watch, music, nada. (Ah look! I found the photo and added it!) Ali and I hoped into a taxi. I told my boyfriend we were going and would he come to watch, as we’d run past the bottom of his road. He said he doubted it, he was going home to sleep some more.
The taxi driver was positively entertained by us. He said he’d been dropping people off at the course start for hours, and joked that he’d come back in ten minutes to pick us up. I had my number but Ali had forgotten hers. So despite it being close to race start time, we had to run around at Don Valley stadium to get her another number. We got to the start line as the countdown was already being. We were laughing at ourselves. I think I recall feeling nervous only when I saw how kitted out everyone was. Not much time to panic though! There was no warm up or stretch, then off we went. Ali’s got a much more competitive nature than me and was more athletic, she sped off (convinced another friend was in front of her the whole way round) trying to catch him. He was behind her.
Somewhere near the train station some guy offered to half his mars bar with me. I declined. Luckily. I told him chocolate had got me into this state. We got to Hunter’s Bar, which was the half way point near my house, and I felt fine, so carried on. When we got to about mile 9, I noticed some really more prepared looking runners, in proper gear etc, dropping out due to injuries. I felt fine, a bit tired but no injuries. I started walk running, and then (what I always seem to do near the end of a race) invent a little competition with someone I give a nickname in my head. This woman I nicknamed ‘the viking’. She was quite huge with ginger hair, and I decided I was going to beat this viking. Even though I was run/ walking, she had a steady slow pace so when I walked she overtook me, then when I ran I would take the lead. As we came into the stadium for the final two laps, the viking disappeared off ahead, but I knew I would make this. I saw Ali sprint finish, I believe that push did her knee in and she wasn’t right again for ages. I’ve never been a sprint finisher in long distance runs, but I crossed the finish respectably in around 2 hrs 33.
We were in fine spirits when we got home, having walked most of the way. Two of the boys we shared the house with were just getting out of bed. ‘Morning! We just ran a half marathon!’ We chirped. Jon was rubbing his eyes in disbelief at our medals. Ant (who Ali went on to marry) said, ‘Why would you do that. when you could just have got the bus?’.
I went off to my boyfriend’s where he kindly cooked me dinner. Having not stretched my ill-prepared muscles post-race, when I went to stand up after dinner, I could not move. I contemplated sleeping on the sofa, but with his help I made it up to bed. It was an awesome feeling of accomplishment, and not one blister or injury.
I remember thinking, if I can do that with no real training, with training I could maybe do a marathon after all? However, I didn’t keep up my running. I took a year out from uni and went to Indonesia to work with orang-utans. I went for one run around the road there, but being strictly Islamic, I had to be fully clothed. Half the village joined in with me though for parts of it. However, I found smoking clove cigarettes (sorry mum!) and playing cards with the locals more enjoyable and relaxing.
I returned from a few months in Indonesia to hear Tom was in hospital. He had been there quite a while this time and was quite poorly. I went with some friends to visit him there. I remember him being smiley, despite in obvious discomfort, and his already slight frame was slighter.
Tom passed away on May 5th 2005. His favourite Oasis song was played after his funeral, and sobbed at the loss of a great friend that we’d all not see again. It felt unjust. He had such a lust for life and such an appreciation of it. It felt plain wrong he was gone.
I remembered our chat about the marathon. So in Nov/ Dec 2005 I entered and got a place through CF Trust. Friends were really supportive. Although collecting the sponsorship money was hard, I was featured in the paper and I started to get beeped at by cars when I was running around our town. I started to feel a little bit famous. There were collection pots in local pubs, and altogether raised £2,596.26.
It’s now 10 years since that first half marathon and 2015 will mark ten years since Tom passed away.
I want to run the Malta Half-Marathon in memory of Tom.
Tom was a legend to everyone that knew him and brightened the lives of anyone that met him. I really don’t know much about CF, as Tom and I never spoke about it, we were always too busy having a laugh to get serious. But I know raising funds for the CF trust was a cause dear to Tom, so if you would like to donate anything, here is the link. https://www.justgiving.com/hannah-marie/
Thanks for reading, H x