The last time I spoke to Russell was when he called me during a run through Regent’s Park. Those who know me know that I have quite the love/hate relationship with running (not very unlike the way in which my relationship with Russell manifested itself!). So I was quite relieved by his interruption. This led to us bickering about whether I was allowed to stop or whether we should speak later. The compromise was that I’d slowly jog and we would talk – he wouldn’t let me stop.
Russell was a really supportive friend, and was incredibly supportive of my masochistic desire to pursue something at which I am, for the most part, TERRIBLE. He was his usual generous self with donations and there were a couple of awkward conversations from the bath, where he would demand that I tell him how a 10k or half marathon race had gone.
When Russell died I stopped running. For a while, like most of us, I just simply stopped the basics of a routine.
It took a while to get past the tidal wave of grief, but part of the recovery was the repeated message that “Russell wouldn’t want you to live your life like this”. Now, that’s obviously true – he would always tell me to “man up, Brains”. Eventually it was time to do something, and so, not one to do things by halves, I signed up for a marathon.
At first I was largely in denial about what I had done. The weeks slipped by with me merrily telling people about it, with me innocently continuing my usual training – because, after all, that had got me through a half marathon.
A half marathon IS NOT a marathon.
Christmas came and went and all of a sudden my training runs had become stupid distances. I more or less lost the love part of my relationship with running: I lost my first toenail; I nearly got run over in the dark at mile 8 of a 5.30am run; I got stomach cramps from the god forsaken gels I had to drink (eat? – disgusting things); and finally my knee gave way.
This was when the tears came. Yes, I hated running, but it had also become my therapy and not least my homage to our lost friend. It required no small amount of money on physio appointments and hours looking like a total t!t running lengths of the swimming pool. In fact, my newly heightened addiction to carbs meant that I now looked like a fat t!t in the pool.
I’ve said this before, and no doubt something will surprise me and I will say it again: Russell inspires an overwhelming amount of love, and this served as a mass of positivity and support that helped me to keep going. Soon I was back on track(ish), my final long run came around and, after vomiting for good luck at the top of a massive hill at mile 18, I was ready for the marathon!
So many people were there on the day that all of the time I thought I would get to remember and witter away to him and myself in my head was taken up by looking forward to seeing family and friends every couple of miles (thanks for all of the jelly babies and pharmaceuticals everyone!).
It was a hot day and it took a while to get over the line, so I ended up sharing my story with people in the pen. A girl about my age told me about the loss that had inspired her to run and so I crossed the start line in tears, holding a stranger’s hand. We quickly let go – it became sweaty super fast. The first half went and by the time I started to think about the mentalness of what I was doing, it was mile 18. This is roughly where the stupid running mottos kicked in. I thought about writing one of them here, but I can’t bring myself to do it – Russell wet himself when I told him my favourite.
So, with sunburn, what felt like a broken knee (can you break your knee?), a state of delirium and some pretty epic chaffing – I got to the finish line! I had 147 notifications on my phone, a mother in tears, a charity who were pretty chuffed at the £3,000+ that I had raised and, importantly, a pub full of prosecco.
I don’t kid myself; every penny of that money was in Russell’s memory rather than in support of my athletic prowess. Today, as I write this, I am (as well as in tears) still so grateful to everyone who donated, trained with me, everyone who cheered me on, listened to me moan, got me drunk afterwards and those who got me on the last train home. I guess most of all I am grateful to Russell for all of the support and friendship he gave me in his life – support and friendship that enabled me to pick myself up and run 26.2 bloody miles.
What will Russell’s memory inspire you to do?