On Friday I headed out for a run in advance of a get together with my folks. It was my Mum’s 81st birthday the day before and as I began running I was thinking of the influence she has on my life. She is a formidable woman in every sense, from humble beginnings she worked most of her life as a barmaid before going back to school in her fifties. College and university followed from which she became a dyslexia specialist which she still works as full time. I won’t lie, we’ve had a very complicated relationship but in our own way we get on and as different as we are that doesn’t alter the fact that her strength of character and resilience is a huge inspiration to me. As I ran through Bootle where she was brought up I thought about how much she had seen and achieved and I felt very grateful to have such a bold figure in my life.
As I approached Bootle Strand I thought about another mother, Denise Fergus (formerly Bulger). It’s 25 years since James was abducted and murdered from pretty much the exact spot I ran past. I’m not going to be macabre, it was sunny and peaceful there and the canal was aglow with sunlight as the Canada Geese sailed by and it was hard to believe that anything bad could happen amidst such beauty despite the urban setting. I thought of Denise (and her family and James’ Dad, Ralph) and of what she’s had to go through. Then I thought of Cleo, my daughter, fast approaching 17 and full of excitement and hope for the future.
As I stared at the reflections on the moving water I considered how incredibly fortunate I have been in my life. Yes, I’ve had my share of ups and downs but when you get down to it I have a brilliant partner, a fantastic kid and a lovely home. We’re not loaded but we don’t want for much we don’t already have and what we do have in bucketloads is happiness. Any crap in my life I’ve had to live with is balanced out by the freedom, love, joy and damn good fortune I have.
In that moment I was reminded of one of the things I love most about running, the thinking space. I’ve found this world to be chaotic and scary and confusing at times but when I run it gives me space in the middle and whilst it hasn’t always answered my questions it’s given me room to breathe. I’ve met loads of runners over the years and my general finding is that they’re amongst the best of people. Ok, you get a few monumental bellends but you’ll get that in any strata of society. On the whole, runners are fun, kind, supportive people with a love of nature and a dark sense of humour. I believe that the main reason for this amiability is because of the opportunity for thought. Yes, it’s often rambling, disjointed bollocks but that doesn’t matter. It’s meditation, reflection, prayer, whatever you want to call it and it’s so good for the soul.
What isn’t good for the soul is ill fitting pants and I feel you should know that amidst my musings I became aware I’d come out in my civilian knickers. Normally this wouldn’t present anything more than a vpl situation but today I was in something rather more frou frou than my usual utilitarian trollies. Maybe it’s because Valentines Day is on the horizon that I had ended up in an abundance of lace frills but in reality I’d just thrown on the first to hand that morning and forgotten to change them before I ran. Either way they I felt they were attempting to amputate both my legs at the join.
You’d think that on a blowy day on an urban canal there’d be ample opportunity to whizz your kecks off but not today my friend, today every bleeding person in Merseyside was walking on that sodding towpath. So I trundled along in seven shades of agony until the figure of Marc running towards me created a temporary distraction. He was on the return leg of a half marathon and looking relaxed.
After a brief but ludicrous discussion about the possibility of me running a mile in the opposite direction then catching up with him, we parted ways. As he went off in the distance I shouted him to put the kettle on and he retorted with something about wind but I didn’t quite catch it.
After escaping every soul in Liverpool I found a quiet side road at my halfway point and unceremoniously disposed of the offending underwear amidst much profanity as I surveyed the raft of chafe lines. Then I turned for home. Within nano seconds I joined the dots between the fast moving canal water by The Strand and Marc’s muffled warning. There was a insane headwind which was bad enough but it was also ass crackingly cold.
The return leg of my run was spent in a similarly contemplative mood, this time wondering how I was going to run six more miles in shorts without dying of hypothermia. By the end of the 13.1 miles my face had frozen into a desperate grin and I feared my thumbs would forever remain pointing upwards. Both thighs had turned into corned beef.
I ran again today, this time with Marc and considerably slower and more reluctantly. I was dealing with a self induced case of amoebic dysentery last night and neither my stomach nor ass was in the mood. It was also horizontal hailstones, minus three degrees and 45mph winds but I’m an easily led idiot. He said ‘go on’ and I said ‘ffs’ and that was it. We headed out once again along the canal and rumbled out another steady half marathon, again into the bastard of all homeward bound headwinds. This time I thought largely about food, but we also chatted about our different niggling injuries, how we’re crap at checking the weather properly and the importance of helping people when we can. We came across a bunch of people far worse off than we have ever been and it reminded us of our warm house, full fridge (full of shit, arguably, but still full) and comfortable lives.
Over the past couple of runs I’ve thought about so much; happiness, wonder, grief, sadness, hope, the past, the future, pain, love and peace. These thoughts encourage me to not only appreciate what I have, but to cast my eyes and heart out beyond myself to the world and those around me. I’m so glad that running gifts me with the time and space to allow this. I think the closing thought of any of my runs though, no matter how difficult or painful, has to be of only one thing that dominates my thoughts, my days and my life.