Alison Crowther-Smith

Somerset Woman Concludes Half Marathon Training And Still Has No Idea If She Can Complete Course!

Snappy headline.  I missed my vocation as a sub-editor.

I am going to suggest that you chip in a few quid for a very good cause.  This is where you donate.  Below, is just one story of why.

So, it’s me, that Somerset woman.  Having achieved the great age I am now (reaches hand through mists of time), I swore – and I do swear a lot – that I would never do another half. I say this as if I did one a week.  But no, I have done two and they were both, in their own very different ways, awful.  Birmingham was the last and I did this for Cancer Research UK.  It was awful because about six weeks before the race, something really rubbish and personal happened here and this overwhelming something really threatened to knock me off course.  In fact, it proved to be the opposite as I used the really rubbish thing to get me out of the door and running – I now think I was literally running away from the really rubbish thing.  I am now going to abbreviate that to RRT.

Anyway, I started making pacts with myself or with someone who also lives in my head.  I’d think:  OK, if I (you) can run 10 miles today, the RRT will be alright, I will manage it;  or, if I can run the first 6 miles without stopping, the RRT will go away.  Then I’d be literally afraid of not running 10 or not running 6 without stopping in case the RRT-thing managed to get me.  Like a monster. It worked!  I also did this thing where I’d start running and the RRT would be all over me, in my head, in my body, on my shoulders, like carrying a heavy, scary thing on your back.  So I’d say (not out loud, not that mad yet and also, no spare breath):  you’ve got ten minutes, RRT.  I will grant you ten minutes of this activity and then you ship out.  After ten, I’d imagine shrugging off a great big heavy coat, like the way coats your auntie had used to make you feel when you were five years old and playing dressing up in her spare room.  It also worked.  Maybe, dear reader, I should have pursued that career in therapy?  No?

In March this year, my lovely sister-in-law died from cancer.  I loved Judith.  She, like me, obvs, is an out-law in the family that is Mark’s family.  As a longer-established out-law, Judith made me feel welcome and she was kind.  I come from a very small family and Mark’s family seemed too big to me.  But if Judith was there, it was fine.  I sound like I was about 10 years old.  But I was in my mid-20s.  I really looked up to her.  I don’t think she ever knew that and I wish I had told her.  She left the family that is Mark’s family a few years ago and to all intents and purposes, her ties with them all, other than those that lived on via her children then all grown-ups, also ceased.  She was no longer one of them.  But she was still one of mine.  So we remained in touch. Distance, time, life – and then illness for Judith in the last few years – often kept us apart but we were in touch.  She came here and we had a lovely time.  I think I loved her more than ever in those difficult times which she faced with slightly baffled stoicism.

The thing is, Judith’s cancer was one of the cancers that is, in universe terms, about 10 minutes away from a cure or a therapy regime that is as good as.  Sadly, in human cancer terms, that’s years.  But not that many years.  Judith’s sister Joan who I also love for her kindness and her strength, is a very clever woman.  She does all sorts of eye-wateringly hard things to do with medical research.  As a job, not just like me where I read about things on the leaflets in the packets of pills or on Goggle.  Joan is a mega-scientist.  In a University and everything.  At Judith’s funeral (more of a party) Joan gave an incredible talk about how close we are to that therapy that would have saved or prolonged Judith’s life.  It is just round the corner. We could catch it up, if we ran now, just for 500 meters, we’d be upon it.  I imagine it as a chase – in police dramas such as Vera (new obsession alert) where Joe chases The Prime Suspect and you think – oh no! he’s not going to catch them!  But he does!  We can be Joe!  We are so very close, I can almost touch it.

I know, being highly rational as you know, that my running the Windsor Half Marathon is not going to save a life and nor will it bring Judith back to us.  But, if we raise money and give it to CRUK, we will be closing in on that evil predator that is cancer.  So, and this is of course the point, please donate.  If you do, leave us a message and I will read them to Lily as we attempt this (her first, my last) half marathon.  And you will be with us, every step of the way.  I need you with me.  I am scared.  I am five years older and things hurt a lot more.  The training has been very hard too, with the hottest summer for many years.

We started strong with a training regime planned and a cool spring/early summer.  By mid-June I was back up to 8 miles.  Then the heat wave arrived and it went on and on.  I tried running very early but it was still boiling.  I tried the gym a few times but frankly, running on a tread mill makes knitting brioche seem attractive.  I ran some days just up and down own stretch of lane with deep shade on one side.  I picked up a hip injury (might just be age) and Lily has some weird stuff going on with her feet – they go numb and then they come back to life.  But in the last few weeks it’s been cooler and we have built to 12 miles, with several 10 and 11 milers in there and lots of 3 – 6 mile short runs.  We have also reached the stage where we can go non-stop running for 8 miles.  Then I really have to stop and stretch.

Can we do it?  You decide.

Judith died on the last day I saw her.  I cannot really describe that day.  But it was amazing because I almost went the next day.  Something – and I am not a person who usually goes in for this sort of thing, but something – told me to go that Tuesday.  Jack, who is the kindest, sweetest person, said as it was his day off, he would drive me as I wasn’t to drive my ancient Punto for 300+ miles.  We packed food.  What else can you do?  We drove, with Jack playing a special play-list, though the dull, murky late winter.  Where Judith lives, the rural east midlands, it is rolling and open and there are miles of Roman roads.

The house was almost deserted.  It’s a huge and beautiful home.  Judith was upstairs but since my last visit she was no longer conscious. My nephew was with her.  Now, if I say that this was a good day, please do not think me callous or unfeeling.  We all knew Judith was close to death and that despite her courage and all that her amazing family had done, cancer was winning this one. But to make food for the continuing to live, to see Jack and my nephew together – almost strangers then but friends now – and to sit with Judith in those hours was a privilege.

For some time, later that day, I sat alone with Judith.  She had been moved from her own bed into a special hospital bed and all round this, were cushions and duvets, lest she fall.  But the bed had sides and anyway, she was very still.  Asleep.  I sat in a little armchair.  Can you guess what I did?  Of course you can guess, for you would have been knitting too.  I was knitting a Moebius.  Moebius knitting is my go-to for travel and waiting.  I was working out a new pattern as it happened so there was a lot of counting forwards and back.  Sometimes I spoke to Judith.

Toby and Jack came upstairs and they sat with us.  Toby sat in Judith’s wheelchair, a new addition for me.  Jack lay on Judith’s double bed.  And there, with Judith asleep, we talked.  The house was warm and even though the blind was partly down, it was clearly darkening as this late winter day started to close.  In that hour, there was crying.  We held each other and we did cry.  Then we stopped and we chatted about holidays we had, days we remembered, and we laughed.

When it was time to go, we went with Toby for the eleventy-fifth cup of tea of that day.  I didn’t want to leave but we had to.  It’s almost 200 miles each way so it was time.  I went back up to kiss Judith and say goodbye as I knew I would not see her again.  I told her I loved her.  And I still do.

As soon as we got home, some hours later, Joan told me that Judith had died, just an hour or so after we left.

Her funeral was simply amazing, just like her.  Judith was a quiet person, but never, ever boring.  I think I could have spent many weeks with Jude and never tired of her.  She also had a gift of accepting silence – it never felt awkward.  Her vibrancy, wit, intelligence and warmth were all reflected in that celebration.  My niece, the oldest of Judith’s three children wrote an incredibly touching poem and asked me to read it.  Now, if you know me, you will know that rather like one of the Mitfords (I can’t remember which one – Debo?) who cried because she felt sorry for matchsticks, I am a howler.  I bawl at almost anything.  Once a crier, always a crier.  So, how to get through the poem without a catastrophic breakdown?  Practice, practice, practice – and don’t look at anyone you know or anyone who is also crying. And I did it.

Joan’s speech was inspirational and because of that, here we are, Lily and I.  On the verge of race day, with a chaotic and surreal summer behind us and 13 unknown miles ahead.  Please help us and please help CRUK to catch up with cancer.  It’s too late for my lovely Judith but it’s not too late for lots of others.

I love you.  Thank you.

 

 

 

 

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One Response to “Somerset Woman Concludes Half Marathon Training And Still Has No Idea If She Can Complete Course!”

  1. Samantha Williams says:

    I am with you, run like the wind lady x

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