A marathon finish

This time last year I promised I would never run another marathon. 0n hearing this news, my small and perfectly formed readership sighed collectively in relief, believing my, ‘I am a marathoner’ running blogs would cease.

Although I have kept my promise, they were wrong about the marathon blogs. Stay with me, this time I am not banging on about my own marathon but if I have flouted my terms & conditions and you need to stop reading because of this, I direct you to : https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/michellesmarathonforryan
I promise it will be worth it.

For those who are still reading (thank you), my own retirement came after the Newport Marathon finish line last October; I collected my finisher t-shirt and medal in a downpour, pondered how to negotiate the four flights of stairs to retrieve my car in the multi-storey carpark and pledged – not to retire completely – but to allow myself a gentle regression to half marathon events. Running princess that I am, I also promised myself that in future I would only sign up for small and friendly races on the grounds that I am too old for the faff of large starting pens and lengthy queues for the portaloos.

Then, as I settled into this kinder running regime, on one of my regular four-mile bimbles with my Good Friend Michelle (we will call her GFM), she announces that after many years of being the world’s best spectator at the London Marathon, she is coming off the bench to run the event herself this year. ‘As a marathoner’, she wonders, ‘do you have any advice for me?’

I do not want to be a hypocrite, but as I haven’t told Michelle about my retirement from marathons (and she is too busy to have read this intel in my blog) I want to be both supportive and honest. My body still holds the muscle memory that marathons hurt mentally and physically but I do not want to be a fun sponge for her inaugural event. I channel the memory of my kindest marathon and remember that I do actually like the ‘goody two-shoes’ feeling of sticking to a marathon training schedule. I also know that Michelle’s reason for running this event (her ‘Why’) is sadly much more powerful and closer to home than any of my motivators ever were. (Yes reader, I have run more than one marathon but fortunately I have no time to go through my back catalogue here).

Let me explain how important it is that I stay positive and help Michelle to run her first marathon with a smile on her face. You can read the best explanation from Michelle on the following link: https://ryanbresnahan.org/michelles-marathon-for-ryan/ but I will also have a go.

13 years ago, the Bresnahan family lost their cheeky, athletic 16 year old son and brother to Meningitis B. The family had no time to say goodbye, but then as GFM always says, ‘how could we?’. Long story very short, the family set up A Life for a Cure to raise money for Meningitis Vaccine research; they believed that some good had to come from Ryan’s untimely change of postcode. They still do.

Through tireless work, GFM – with the support of her family and friends – has spent the last 13 years fund raising; this in itself is a marathon feat because Michelle weaves the charity work separately around the day profession that keeps the wolf from her door. Her charity working ‘day’ fills her evenings and weekends – the down time when most of us mere mortals are ‘out of office’ and indulging in some coach potato R’n’R. I personally believe that mentally this makes GFM an ultra-marathoner, but she argues that ‘anyone would do this’. Her only concession to the insertion of marathon training into her already rammed work/life spreadsheet is an occasional ‘disco nap’ after a 15 mile + run. It is good to know she is human.

More importantly, Michelle emphasises that Ryan would have wanted us to put the fun into fundraising; she doesn’t particularly care how much money each event raises – although over £563,000 is not exactly shabby and the family are grateful for every single penny raised for meningitis research. She knows how hard it has been for people to fundraise since ‘the Covid’ and she wants fundraisers to enjoy themselves, share their experiences and discover just how amazing they are as they come together to raise money to ensure that other young adults like Ryan do not have to leave us too early. Michelle knows that Ryan must be smiling his cheeky grin over the myriad of funsome events that have been organised in his memory. Mountains have been climbed, sky dives have been risked, hockey and rugby tournaments have created their own legacies and a lot (I mean a LOT) of cake has been baked and eaten to support this cause. All of this will be making Ryan very happy indeed and this is motivation enough for Michelle.

So, back to the London Marathon. Michelle has tirelessly cheered others wearing a ‘A Life for a Cure’ running vest through many a previous London Marathon. She has probably traversed more miles than any actual runner in her effort to ensure that each fundraiser receives maximum support along the route. If you want a spectator, you need to know that Michelle has the very best pedigree. This is in itself is amazing because, if you know the lass, you will also know that her natural disposition does not lean easily towards spectatorship; her default is to roll up her sleeves and join you for the hard graft, not watch you while you sweat.

But remember reader, until this point Michelle just did not see herself as a runner. This makes me laugh, because as any marathoner will tell you (did I mention that I have run a few marathons?) a marathon is not really about running, it is about hard grit, determination and putting in the hours and hours of training. Michelle has been in training for 13 years and she has never allowed ‘the wall’ to defeat her.

I am genuinely excited that Michelle’s head, heart and body have now aligned and that she has agreed to stand on the start line in Greenwich this October. It would therefore be churlish of me not to support her 100% and to say, ‘You will love it!’.

Michelle seems surprised that so many people have rallied to support her marathon training. I am not surprised at all because this is just friends at last being able to support her in the way she always supports us. One friend (thankfully a personal trainer, not some armchair expert) curates a personalised marathon training schedule and the fun run starts in earnest.

Michelle immediately treats this schedule as her oracle and has the pages laminated for her car, office and kitchen. She also gives me a copy, ‘just in case I fancy extending our 4 mile run on occasion’. She has got me by stealth. I notice that our runs start to become longer.

I find myself looking forward to these runs. Michelle also trains under the virtual tutelage of Chris Evans’ ‘How to Run and Smash Your First Marathon’. Sometimes it feels like Chris is running with us. I was always a Hal Higdon disciple ‘back in the day’, but you need to find your own running tribe and I find I still have much to learn from Chris, via Michelle.

Michelle comments that she may run without headphones on the big day ; ‘I never wear them when I run with you mate, but then you do manage to talk all the way so I am distracted’. I take this as a compliment, though many will not be at all surprised to learn that I can run at the speed of chat.

GFM starts to join us at BeMilitaryFit and on one occasion manages to coax me to join a boot camp session immediately after an 8 mile run. She knows that I am on school holiday, so she plays her joker knowing I can not squirm an excuse for having to rush off. I pass this test so she then invites me on her next 10 miler. My legs are ok, but more importantly I find I am buzzing after time in her company and I am enjoying longer distances again. I even squeeze a friendly half marathon into my summer holiday (thank you Severn Bridge Half, you were so friendly). Word starts to spread about GFM’s training mission and, like the Pied Piper, she attracts others to join us on some of our Saturday runs.

One morning Michelle persuades me to join her for some hill sprints (they are on her schedule and apparently Chris is also a fan, so who am I to argue?). Michelle is a human magnet and a chap soon stops us in the park to talk to her about her breathing technique, so impressed is he with the way she is attacking each hill.(he doesn’t comment on my technique #justsaying). He has also noticed Michelle’s ‘Ryan’s Mum’ t-shirt as she laps him on his dog walk. I take the opportunity for a crafty breather while she is distracted (hill sprints were not a ‘thing’ on any of my own training schedules); I am gifted a few minutes while they discuss the merits of nasal breathing and oxygen quotients and then Michelle readily shares the story behind the vest.

On the Bank Holiday, Michelle realises that her schedule commands a 20 mile run. Thankfully she does not need me to run the whole distance with her (frankly, she knows I would not be able to manage this these days, but she is ever the diplomat). Cunningly she has jigsawed friends from her Funday Friday Fitness sessions (strength work) to join her for various legs of the route. I am flattered into being allotted an 8 mile stretch and we get a big cheer as we run past the BeMilitaryFit session in progress on The Downs – turns out that Michelle has now got the whole BMF crew following Life for a Cure on social media. It would be silly not to.

Cutting to the chase, thankfully GFM is now tapering. This morning she has to run a mere 15 miles and I find myself asking if I can join her for the whole run even though I haven’t run this distance for 12 months. I wake up looking forward to the running chat ahead for GFM always has good banter. Michelle acknowledges that she is ‘a tad tired’ because she has just spent a week squeezing in two evening charity presentations and a Life for a Cure Fitness Day around her day job. She must be tired because she trusts me to organise the route and I choose one of my old favourites for she deserves a new vista.

I can see how boosted Michelle is to see her army of ‘Life for a Cure’ ladies rally to the cause again – as they always do; they help her host the fitness event knowing how tired she is and ensuring that they all have a blast in the process. GFM is touched to see new faces attending an event whose return has been over-delayed by Covid and she is buoyed to note a new generation of parents now supporting this cause. This is a real morale boost for the charity and nicely timed, just before ‘Ryan’s Rugby’ tournament this Thursday night. Be there, people:

“It is so heart warming knowing that people are still interested to hear Ryan’s story when there is so much else going on in the world, ‘ Michelle says. ‘It is lovely to see people gathering together again to fundraise – it’s not as if people have a glut of money or time right now’. If there was a marathon in modesty, Michelle would be up for an Ironman.

Running this morning, the September sun is shining and there is plenty to chat about. I do believe Michelle is starting to see herself as a runner – a marathoner in fact. We are jogging along a disused rail track and at one point we run a mile alongside two other runners who tell us they are running a virtual half ( this would have ranked as a small and friendly race in my book, but no-one bothered to tell me). They ask GFM why she has got ‘Ryan’s Mum’ written on her t-shirt.

Michelle tells her story and I am humbled to hear this again and to know that I am running beside this incredible woman. She will tell you that she doesn’t want to be strong or resilient she just has no alternative; we love her for not even noting her own grit and determination. She explains her motive for running and in return one of the runners shares her own story – one of losing a baby and fundraising herself in his name. We wish the other runners well in their endeavours and run onward in a different direction. As if I need a reminder, this is what I love about running; companionship, support and stories.

I still do not believe that I will ever feel the urge to run a marathon again, but it has been a flipping privilege to be part of the GFM support crew. Being able to spend more time in this lady’s company has reminded me why running a marathon does not hurt in the same way if you are running for a heart-felt cause. I feel it is no coincidence that when we run we often see Ryan’s initials appearing in car registration plates and we also see the occasional encouraging dragonfly. My love of symbols provides us with support even on the loneliest and longest running routes.

Michelle will have a blast in London and I will be excited to hear all about her event for she has been running her Personal Best for years not months. She is much stronger than the miles she has to cover even if she didn’t choose to build this strength. I may not be with her, but I will be tracking her virtually all the way; I may even bake some cakes – I would like to say that they will form a bake sale, but they are more likely to be the basis of my supportive sofa carb load.

If you would like to join GFM’s support team – even if you are not a runner – there is always space for new members and for new fun raising ideas. I know from first hand experience that you will get back much more in return than you give. I hope GFM trusts us enough to lean into her support team on October 2nd for a bit of crowd surfing. Knowing that she has her daughter standing there at key places on the route – the new best spectator in the world – and seeing Ryan’s big smile mirrored in the crowds who will shower her liberally with jelly babies, will ensure Michelle soon becomes a fully signed up member of the Marathoner Finishers’ club (1.5% of the UK population, so an elite club to belong to and a membership that will be particularly special to Michelle because of her ‘Why’).

Perhaps if we all agree to donate here: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/michellesmarathonforryan
we may even get Michelle to admit in public that she is now a runner – a marathoner in every respect. I bet Ryan and Charlotte never predicted their mum would become a long distance champ, but I do know that they will both grin proudly from her start to well-deserved finish. My GFM is going to smash her first marathon, so nice work Chris.

One Comment Add yours

  1. alifeforacure says:

    I am honoured to be the topic of your blog & choked how you have captured our chats, my world and my incessant reference to Chris Evans! You have been the best LMTB – London Marathon Training Buddy and I will cherish our hours & hours of running together as such a special part of my first and last marathon! I certainly pitched up with the biggest ‘WHY’ my heart can allow but you have made the ‘HOW’ enjoyable, fun and inspiring – and we’ve both got the best tan ever!
    LMBT is in my go-to Gratitude Role of Honour for race day 2 weeks today. Woohoo! Bring it on! Thanks doesn’t even slightly touch it – but thanks. Mx

    Liked by 1 person

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