Whitehaven News column – 17th April 2014

Running with Wombles
Preparing to run a marathon for the first time is a strange, discomforting experience. Months are dedicated to training prior to the event and in some ways the participant’s life is given over to running and resting. In a selfish and unsettling way, the runner becomes the centre of his or her own self-obsessed universe. This is unusual, even for a politician (or at least for this politician). But in my case, the person who suffered most was my wife: working and looking after four young children with a husband who works away for long periods; only for the husband to disappear for hours on end as part of a training regime when he does finally return home.
So when I’m asked if I’d like to run another marathon, the answer is yes. I don’t know when that will be, but it will only be with my wife’s permission…
The overcast weather never materialized. It was a warm day and I was running with a foot injury. The distance monitors I was wearing showed me that dodging and weaving through the pack meant that I ran just over 28 miles, not the 26.2 that were advertised, so a time of 4 hours 38 minutes wasn’t too bad… but my training programme had me doing half marathons in under 1 hour 50 minutes.
The last six miles were hard and slow. I never hit the ‘wall’ that so much is made of and I never felt the sense of euphoria that I was promised would engulf me a few miles from the finishing line. Three specific thoughts defined the day for me.
Firstly, I cannot conceive of running a marathon in a novelty costume. Every time I passed a rhino, a banana, or some other invention, I imagined having to train in that costume in the sleet, in the wind, in the dark.  I was genuinely impressed by every one, but most of all, I was determined not to be beaten by somebody dressed as a Womble…
Secondly, the London Marathon really does bring out the best in some people. It’s a horrible cliché but it’s true. To see soldiers in full bomb removal kit, to see Paras carrying life-sized and weighted dummy soldiers on their backs, to see people of all ages, races, genders, shapes and sizes running to raise money or awareness for diseases that had taken their parents, their children or their partners is moving and motivating. The response of the crowd to these people is genuinely great and it dissolves the months of isolation and self-obsession as you genuinely begin to feel pat of a greater, collective effort.

Finally, the small matter of type 1 diabetes. I ran to raise money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and to help improve understanding and awareness of the condition. But I also wanted to prove to myself, and to everyone else living with the condition, that it cannot stop us from achieving whatever we want to achieve in life. Job done, I think.
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