Wednesday, 28 May 2014

A dream finish

I had crossed that finish line a thousand times. Maybe more. First of all in the weeks leading up to my first marathon attempt in Rotterdam, then, over the last month, I dreamed about the final few strides of the Liverpool Rock N Roll Marathon instead.
This time it happened for real. I crossed it with my head filled with thoughts of Diane. I could feel her hand in mine and hear her voice in my ear, encouraging me and giving me a reason to believe I could do it.
She was there the whole 26.2 miles of the city where I spent my teenage years. I recognised many places I had not been to for decades and on this special day they became unforgettable landmarks on the route of a journey which began just over a year ago.
A journey that started with a promise Diane made me make. During the years of her battle against breast cancer, she would occasionally speak about how I would cope without her. It was never a conversation that lasted very long as I refused to even contemplate such an empty world and talk of death was off the table.
She was worried about my health. Typical of her spirit of generosity. She was fighting cancer and she was worried about me. But I couldn’t talk about it. I might have been 24 stone, suffering mobility problems with my weight and having Type 2 diabetes, but I didn’t have cancer. How could I harp on about my health while she was courageously fighting her life-or-death battle. What I was suffering paled into insignificance next to her struggle.
Yet still she worried about me.
I would be fine, we would be fine, everything would be fine, I said, once this terrible disease was driven out of our lives. Everything would be all right, just wait and see. Then we can worry about me. Not before.
There was no need for her to worry, I told her, no need to discuss it. She was not dying. She was not going anywhere. There would never be a time when I was without her. There would never be a time when I had to go to bed alone, to wake alone, to live life alone.
At least, that’s what I told myself. It’s called hope, and it is the bedrock of the human spirit. It lives in all of us and it’s what drives us on when times are tough.
If Diane thought I could calmly sit there and rationally, logically, almost coldly, plan a life without her, she was wrong. I couldn’t even imagine such an existence, a life without the woman with whom I had shared the happiest 21 years of my life, so no, no, no. No need to discuss this because we will be fine.
For her to be brave enough even to mention what would happen if cancer took her life shows the kind of selfless person she was. And why she was such an inspiration to me from the moment I first met her.
Then, in February 2013, cancer consumed her body and our lives changed forever. But wait. Cancer didn’t win. It didn’t take her from me. There hasn’t been a moment since then when we haven’t been together. Our relationship is simply different now, but not less strong. She is still always here. Just not in the way she used to be.
It was her idea for me to look up and not down, ahead and not behind. She didn’t tell me this during those conversations about life without her. Like I said, I couldn’t, wouldn’t sit and talk about losing her like that. No, she told me later, after cancer thought it had won.
She told me in the unspoken way soul-mates instinctively know what the other is thinking or wants. She didn’t tell me to go to the gym. I just one day got the notion to. A notion she put there without me realising at the time. From there she kept prompting me further.
Why else would I take up running after 40 years of not doing a tap, decades of being the poster boy for couch potatoes everywhere? Why else would I take up running when the furthest I ever ran was for a bus?
Not only that, but why, after years of being the least driven and competitive person you could wish to meet, did I suddenly become energised with some steely determination to do anything that people told me I couldn’t
Because Diane wanted me to. She did it as her side of The Promise. So she was the one who got me to the start line in Liverpool last week and she was the one who held me tight as I crossed the finish line.
And she wants me to do it all over again. And soon. And more besides. She hasn’t finished on her promise to me yet.

One special member of the Running With Diane story

There are many people to whom I owe a great debt to for getting me to that finish line. I’m not going to fall into the trap of naming them all individually – partly because I might accidentally forget to include someone and partly because there isn’t enough room on this computer’s memory to list them all anyway.
But I cannot go without mentioning Bev Walker. She has asked to stay in the background in all this, but I can’t allow that. She was the person who got me round on the day in under five-and-a-half hours, that magical target which was the Rotterdam cutoff time.
Maybe I could have dragged myself round but not in that time. She was simply awesome.
Her offer to run in Liverpool with me lifted my spirits enormously at a time when the doubts were creeping in and with her managing my race, I knew my chances of success had suddenly shot up.
She has a special place in the Running With Diane story now. And she has my undying thanks for making it happen the way it did.

And to see my running pals Dave Pearson and Lesley Fisher at the finish line – as well as my closest and most treasured friend in the world Pam McVitie - to cheer me home was the icing on a very wonderful cake.

Hang on. Did I say cake, Maria?

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