It’s always so ridiculously hard to find the words to explain something that’s climbed straight into my soul and changed me forever. And some people reading this will find it completely cringeworthy and ludicrous that I always get emotional and wax poetic about running. They’ll stop here and never read another word. There is a type of person for whom a run is just a run; sometimes in rain, sometimes in glaring sunshine, but never more than bashing out a few miles, then put it aside, plan the next one, get on with your day. But when you’re built like me, when the pace of your entire world is molasses and your per mile is perennially riding shotgun and sipping a lukewarm latté, when you find success like I have this year, words feel so...ineffectual. I want to be able to draw fireworks and spray paint my surprising total emotional and spiritual regeneration in letters, but words on a page are little more than black and white. I want to define the revelations I’ve had from recognising the astonishing parallels in all parts of my life: mother and runner, daughter and worker—the discovery that all coincidence is cancelled and there really is balance in this life, whether we feel it or are spinning off kilter. The balance comes back. It always does.
Still, in a year that has been blissfully technicolour, black type on a white page is nowhere near enough.
But a story is to be told and tell it I shall. Read at your peril; there will be running and your own yearning to run by the end—even if you are tired. You will eye the shoes. You will consider them even if only for a moment.
A little over one year ago, I stood at the side of Llanberis High Street atop a metal box which was probably a utility covering of some sort, enduring the Welsh drizzle to clang a cowbell for all I was worth and see a group of ragged Buzzer foot soldiers home from their grand tour around Snowdonia. Their final turn spoke volumes – each pelting hell for leather on to the high street before charging home, faces either in grimace, agony, bliss. I drank it in. I wanted a taste of that. I wanted it all. Every clang of that bell buried the desire deeper in my guts and the only way to address it was to run it myself.
Come December, with a flourish and a bevvy of Buzzers beside me, virtually, all over Europe, I booked my place in that fabled race the following year. Little did I know how long that year would be. Little did I know how enduring that year would be.
That story is for another time, because this is about Snowdonia and her marvellous marathon.
Three hundred and sixty something days later, three weeks past the grand PB busting glory that was Chicago 2, I toed the line with sixteen members of this illustrious group of friends, a night after eating all the carbs Pete’s Eats could serve up. Surprised I hadn’t needed a stomach pump, particularly after the two day advance Marc Plan I’d undertaken on the Thursday, but there Emelie and I agreed to take it on together and penned our plan in the air. Run when we could, walk when we must, stay together, have fun, finish. The target time would be set, missed, lamented, forgotten, ignored. There would be sore calves and achilles, toilet stops and bird watching nutters showing us non-existent nests in tree stumps. There would be conversation and cursing, grumpiness and stupid songs like ‘cramping a**’ sung to the tune of Jingle Bells. There would be one runner parked in the bushes for an impromptu nap, jostled to his feet by a group of women who passed him jelly babies, a heat sheet and a shoulder to lean on. We all went our separate ways but the two Buzzers. Not us, we stayed together and for that I am so glad. What a run. (Walk) Run.
And in looking back amongst all the ‘bests’, some stood out: singing the Rocky theme song at the top of Pen-Y-Pass, the woman on the way down who’d run 26 times prior, giving us tips on getting out of Beddgelert without blowing up (it worked until we blew up!), our first spotting of Sir Bolty with his warmth and laughing eyes and magnificent treats, more hugs from Kat and Gaelle and more food in such quick succession (I am surprised we were able to pull ourselves away from that food to be honest). I remember looking down at the pan of energy bars and knowing with a glance how far back we were just by how much pan and how little bar I saw. And then soon thereafter, the magic happened – as I look back, it is the very best memory I have, the one which most fills me with pride and joy.
It is also the ultimate parallel in my world(s), and the very thing that has crystallised what I’ve long suspected is the message I should be delivering as an advocate for my son: slow is slow. Slow is not broken. In running—in existing—slow is not broken.
Some people get that and some people don’t.
By the time we’d made our way to the top of that middle hill, we’d just passed the drinks station and heard a car behind. We turned around to see the fabulous four Beddgelert support crew who smiled and told us they were headed out to the finish.
The entire support crew were leaving us to our own devices. They didn't see my grin as the car disappeared in the distance.
Whereas dozens upon dozens of marvellous strangers were driving by and clapping us, there were still more than I cared to count who were asking if we’d be finishing, or offered us unnecessary off the cuff advice about how to make it to the end. A fair few prompts of ‘just keep going! You’re doing great!’ – the verbal equivalent of the ‘look at the cute little disabled kid head tilt’.
Despite the fact that we missed the 18 mile cutoff by 25 minutes and the sweeper car and van had begun to circle like vultures, we strode on – even caught them up and leapfrogged a few times as they stopped other runners to take down numbers. We’d pass many of those runners later too.
Despite the drip feed of out of the blue and totally unnecessary coaching you always get back of the pack, our Buzzers knew better and left us for the line. And it was just before that line when we met again as we bounded around that final corner to that beautiful roar. The pain I’d had in my calf instantly gone on seeing you all, replaced with whatever is in that magic vibe you give off. If I could only bottle it, we’d all be retired by now. 'Never in doubt' to use a Hollywood-ism. Not in life.
I never wanted that day to end and I can see how people go round twice, three, four times. What is this? This running? What? I'm so ridiculously proud of our finish. That was so hard and we slayed it. I had such a blast running with a fellow Buzzer, Em you rock. So grateful for the on course support from Bolty and Kat and Gaelle and Clan Hollywood. So grateful to Nick for saving this shivering sweaty Buzzer in a tin foil dress. What a crazy crazy day.
I have so much to say about that weekend and this year and the glaring life parallels, and the gratitude I have for fate bringing me the friendships I’ve formed here. The total power I get from the encouragement you all give. How much better my life has become for having you all in it. How much more self-belief I have from the triumphs over adversity on every challenge I've undertaken - they've changed everything. How much being a part of this group has helped me parent from within a profoundly different scenario than I was expecting.
I’ve never won a race, but I am winning every single beautiful day.
I set out six races and a few climbs on the agenda this year and as of the 27th of October it’s all over.
But it’s not over really, not even close.
I’m just getting started.
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