We did it – and we’ve got the medals to prove it!
My seven year old daughter Laura asked me last summer whether she could join me on a Race for Life, the 5km fun run in aid of Cancer Research. These runs are held all over the country and I’ve run one every summer since Laura was born. There are many venues. At Lydiard Park in Swindon I ran through mud in pouring rain. On the runways of Kemble Airfield there was a cold fog, and I kept my fingers crossed that someone had warned air traffic control. But on Clifton Down in Bristol, there’s always scorching sunshine, and I have to pour my water bottle over my head to keep cool.
So I was delighted when Laura showed an interest in taking part, and not only because it would provide a good excuse if my finishing time was a bit slow.
We did a little bit of preparation. Hearing the bell ring while we were still half way to school, Laura would break into a trot and pipe up “This is good training”.
Even more important than training is making sure you have a pink race outfit. (Well, this is a women’s only event.) For any man standing on Clifton Down on Race Day, it must be intimidating to see ten thousand pink clad women converging purposefully on the starting line. It’s like a very camp episode of Doctor Who – the Pinkonauts. Though not quite as scary as a 10k race I did pre-Laura, at the Moreton-in-Marsh Fire Services Training College. That route included startlingly realistic plane crashes, train derailments, motorway pile-ups and burned-out office blocks. Running that race was like fleeing from a holocaust. I’m sure the dramatic scenery triggered an adrenalin rush, so we all finished that bit faster.
One other key point on the Race for Life dress code is that every runner puts a pink sign on her back by way of a dedication. This makes for an emotional run. You oscillate from hope to despair and back again, running behind “Me! I survived!”, “Dad, who lost his brave battle”, “my five-year-old son, now fully recovered”. For a little while we ran behind someone who had her mother’s dates on her back, as on a tombstone. I realised with a start that she had died the day before the race. Yet knowing we were raising so much money, that we were united, that we all cared, so, so much, made it on balance a life-enhancing, uplifting occasion. Girlpower, indeed.
But as with any race, there are those that treat it first and foremost as a competition. Laura was initially disappointed to learn that I’d never actually won a Race for Life. I thought she’d taken on board my explanation that taking part and raising money for Cancer Research was the point until half way round she declared “You know, Mummy, I don’t think we’re going to win.”
5km is a long way when you’re 7, and for the second half of the run, it took a bribe of a Love Heart every half kilometre to lure her to the end. I was proud that she rose to the occasion and managed to produce a dramatic sprint for the last few hundred metres. We crossed the line hand-in-hand, beaming broadly. We definitely earned our medals and I was as proud as she was. I wore mine to the supermarket that afternoon. And as for the pink goody bags – well, as the sponsor likes to say, every little helps.
(This post originally appeared in the Tetbury Advertiser, July 2010)