Learning to run, Race For Life and thank you.

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THANK YOU! I realised only shortly before the event, that the entry fee for Race For Life, covers the cost of running the event and does not raise funds for Cancer Research. As this blog post explores, I was keen to raise money for this cause close to my heart, so opted at the last minute to ask for sponsorship. Despite the seemingly tiny distance of 5K, the running element was not something that I was doing for fun!

I have been completely overwhelmed by the level of support that I have received. At the time of writing, I have raised nearly £400 for Cancer Research and cannot thank those who donated enough. Thank you so much and let me know if I can polish your halo!

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I have never been one for running, in-fact, I used every excuse imaginable to not to run at school (those cross country days filled me with horror) and since then found the thought of me running fairly implausible. I am also a touch dyspraxic combined with my total lack of spatial awareness (thanks to my dyslexia) thus I have always considered myself to be a completely un-sporty person. Nor did I grow up in a family where there was any emphasis on enjoying sports (even watching, let along taking part), in-fact sporty types were viewed with great suspicion. Unless of course, that said sport involved shooting, owing to a bizarre family trait whereby at least three generations are unfeasibly good with guns (I’ve yet to discover whether this latent gene resides within me, some may be relieved to discover).

In my case, as a young woman, avoiding sport was not because I was worried about how I look or getting sweaty, but because I was so incredibly bad at any sports, it simply wasn’t worthwhile. This did start to change however, when I was at University and started a lifelong love with gym based classes. Still to this day I am hugely entertained and (sort of) enjoy a range of what I can only describe as comic activity involving bikes, steps, weights, oversized elastic bands and the odd transvestite (only in Bournemouth). I have also had a life-long love affair with walking and find nothing more satisfying than a day spent on the fells or clomping along a coast-path.

In trying to overcome the symptoms of endometriosis, I have done something of a lifestyle audit since my diagnosis in 2009; I’ve always had a strong interest in nutrition and found altering my diet hugely useful. I also read a lot about the powerful impact that increased fitness can have on controlling your symptoms, so I realised that I had to increase my fitness. And this was to involve running, which painfully started at about a minute a pop. I still remember the first time I ran for ten minutes (possibly ever in my life).

Fast forward a couple of years and I still hate running. But I can now sort of run, at a very slow pace – so slow in-fact that the dog (with her 10cm long legs) can walk quickly and keep up with me. I am still, memorised by marathon runners and how they endure such a feat, let alone the serious endurance runners. The distances those guys and gals cover leave me marvelling at their super human powers.

Having improved my fitness and finally got around to learning to run at the grand old age of 30, it was time to put these skills to the test and raise some money for a great cause, Cancer Research UK, and be part a huge fundraising and awareness raising event – the Race For Life. It is a cause that is very close to my heart; I lost my mum to cancer and more recently my step-Dad. Too many of my friends have lost parents too young to the disease. Whatever your age losing a parent to cancer is a profound life change experience that means you will never be free from grief again. However, research into the disease is stopping loss of life, meaning there is much to be optimistic about. We now benefit from better, speedier treatment which has transformed what having cancer means, especially to one very dear friend of mine last year.

So, I signed up to do the Race For Life. Then roped in the girls (it is amazing I have any friends left really), including Perfect ‘PT’ Poppy, Super Sarah, Lovely Liz, Amazing Amy, Awesome Ali and Yummy Mummy Jeenes. My training did not go fantastic well, although on I plodded along the beach during the freakishly hot May narrowly avoiding footballs, barbecues, alfresco drinks and lacrosse sticks strapped on the back of bikes (strange and highly hazardous). I topped off the training with a walking holiday in the Lake District. Foolishly I thought I could potter out for a run each morning and then walk up a mountain. Clearly, that didn’t happen and I chose the likes of Scarfell Pikes and smaller cousins instead of jogging.

The night before the race, Awesome Ali and I carb loaded (ate lasange and garlic bread) with my husband (who took to this part of the race with enthusiasm) before news of freak weather than endangered the race. Evidently, a sandstorm had closed the 10K route and we would all now to run 5K. Many thanks to the council workers that were clearing the beach promenade at 4.30am and the event managers that enabled the event to go ahead. If you’re interested you can learn more here and here.

After breakfasting on bagels, baked beans and poached eggs, followed by bananas (I don’t really like bananas but apparently they make you go faster) the team assembled on Bournemouth pier fully carbed up and ready to go. With us we had the awesome support of our other halves, one small child and a Jack Russell – what more could you ask for?

The scale of the event was staggering with every imaginable shade of pink, absurd costumes (the sumo wrestler suits were a personal favourite) and a very, very enthusiastic local radio producer. Probably, we had got a bit over excited about the carbs, and ended up in the ‘elite’ running group as Super Sarah downed some sort of high energy gel.

And then we were off, and seemingly most other runners over took me. Fortunately, Perfect ‘PT’ Poppy helped keep me at a steady pace (which must have been fairly tedious for her) and off I trotted merrily along the seafront amazed by the displays of speed, costumes and the messages carried on people’s backs that brought tears to my eyes. On reaching the half-way point at Boscombe and coming back towards Bournemouth, I was able to get a good look at the participants that were behind us and I was just amazed by the spirit of all those taking part. Especially the dog in a pink tutu, much like my own. Sadly, cancer is one of life’s levellers.

Having ‘paced’ myself at the start of the race, I was now overtaking the whippets that had sped past me at the beginning and then with new running confidence (and the end in sight) picked up the pace. And ran and ran, finally finishing with a time of 32 minutes – which I was really shocked by; I was expecting more like 40! I realise that this is not an especially good time, but it was a long way from where I started my running journey.

Post-race we were reunited with our fabulous support team before celebrations involving more carbs ensued. We also enjoyed a few moments of relaxing on the beach, dipping our toes in the sea and taking in the spectacle as the walkers finished behind. A fantastic, moving and thought provoking event to be part of and I would really encourage anyone to take part. Thanks so much to Alex for helping me train, to the girls for being awesome, Nigel for his brilliant pictures and my incredible sponsors. If you want to see how the fundraising has gone, you can see here: https://www.raceforlifesponsorme.org/rebeccasianedwards

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NERC – Future of British Antarctic Survey

I am delighted to hear that rumours that funding for the British Antarctic Survey will be majorly cut are not true – but this press release does indicate worrying rising costs that may impact on the ability of the BAS to carry out its essential work. Although the Antarctic is a very long way away for most, research there reveals much about our changing world. The press release from NERC can be found here:

NERC – Emergency press note.

I do hope that a way will be found to protect the BAS’ work in the future.

More information about the BAS can be found here: http://www.antarctica.ac.uk/

Times Higher Education – Ethical and time constraints equal network failure

This is a fascinating article the difficulties that researchers have in networking – indicative perhaps of the strong sense of hierarchy apparent in many universities. Does this mean that the ideas of our up and coming researchers fail to be heard? See the article here: Times Higher Education – Ethical and time constraints equal network failure.

Endings, new beginnings and making the transition

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Easter is for me, as for many, a time in the year which makes me stop and think about how things end and begin again. This is, largely thanks to my late mother, who as a Quaker/Anglican (that’s a blog post in itself) would mark Easter in a number of ways which remain far more poignant in my memory than, say, Christmas. She would attend several services across the Easter weekend, including the dawn Communion on Easter Sunday and was always deeply moved by the time of year. In our household, hot cross buns to symbolize the death of Christ would be baked and eaten, only on Good Friday. Easter Sunday, after the early start, would entail an Easter egg hunt – which I found beyond exciting as a child.

It has been many years since I have attended any sort of religious service at Easter; mainly because the bank holidays associated with Easter afford an opportunity to spend time with friends and family. I had thought this year of attending a dawn Communion on a local cliff top… but after a Saturday night reunion of my husband’s university friends, the 5am start proved utterly unfeasible.

But I always find that Easter, given what the festival symbolizes and the importance of it to my late mother always brings up feelings of grief. Although my mother died over seven years ago, I still have moments that where the grief is an intense as it has even been. Time is a great healer, but my experience of grieving for someone has been that it still hits you as hard, just gradually less often. There is also a certain sadness as life moves on, and you leave your loved one in the past when they died. For me this has been especially poignant over the past year having turned 30, got married and become Godmother to my mother’s Godson’s first born. I am very happy with where I am at, but of course, she will always be missed.

This makes me think about how, as a society, we struggle with acknowledging the feelings that endings inevitably bring, even if they allow us to begin something else – the story of Easter perhaps resonates with this. When I was preparing for our wedding, one of my colleagues kindly lent me a pile of books she had been using for PhD research on wedding traditions. One of the messages that resonated with me was that in order to move forward to a state of marriage, it is important to ‘grieve’ for the end of your single life. This struck me as very wise; no matter how delighted you are to be getting married it seemed perhaps wise to acknowledge a huge chapter of your life ending and your identity changing for good.

I am a fairly, relentlessly optimistic (which I am sure my drives my friends bonkers) but Easter time makes me reflect on how important it is to acknowledge endings more generally and the difficulties that they bring up. As a society, I am not sure how well equipped we are to do that. When a relationship ends, we tell the broken hearted that it is for the best and someone better will be around the corner. What we don’t tend to say is that the whole process is utterly miserable, but we need to honour that misery to get through to a brighter future. When we buy our first, much longed for homes, we don’t always acknowledge the passing of a chapter of our lives free from DIY and mortgage companies. The birth of a new baby (especially a first child), celebrated widely as it should be, does not acknowledge the loss of the life that went before becoming a parent. Which I understand from friends can be especially hard, especially at 3 ‘o’ clock in the morning and up to your armpits in vomit!

I am not saying that we should dwell in the past, regretting what we no longer have. Instead, perhaps, we should consider how acknowledging endings and the complex feelings that they create can allow us to move forwards. Easter, perhaps, seems like an opportune time to do this. Even for those not religiously inclined, a bit of time and a lot of chocolate perhaps gives us the opportunity to mark the past and move on towards the future, albeit a fatter one!