With the London Marathon looming, it got me thinking about the motivation behind all the runners, and the stories behind the charities they are running for.
I go to watch the marathon every year, and I’m amazed at the level of commitment and determinations that the runners display. Over the last few miles, you see gritted teeth, contorted faces, legs sapped of all energy, sweat, pain, sometimes even blood. Its something that no-one would do, unless that had a very particular reason for doing it. It is these stories, that makes the marathon special.
I have a friend running this year – Ben Evans. He was an elite marathon runner, then had to take a year our of competition when he was diagnosed with cancer. His story is one of the most remarkable of this year’s race.
Returning to running after having time out is one of the hardest parts of the sport. As much as you try to prepare yourself for that first run back, you can never be ready for the weight that hangs over you when you realise you are nowhere near where you used to be.
It can be extremely difficult to confront this, especially if you are told you can start running, but you won’t be as good as you were before. For most people, this wouldn’t matter that much, but for a runner with goals, targets, and aspirations, this is very difficult to deal with. Running is what we do. Our lives are driven by it.
When you are forced to have time out because of illness, this return to fitness can be even more complex. Your whole body is a lot weaker than it used to be, not just a sole area as when you are injured. This is when the struggle is even harder. This is the struggle Ben Evans, knew all too well.
Ben, a member of Guildford and Godalming AC, was all set to train for the 2018 race, but then received his a shock diagnosis of stage 3 bowel cancer.
‘I woke up with stomach-ache and went out to try and run it off. Then, 24 hours later, I was in surgery having a tumour removed.’
The cancer had spread to his lymph nodes, and Ben was prescribed 6 months of intensive chemotherapy. There was no certainty that he would be cancer free again.
'I thought my running days were over for good,' he concedes. ‘As a marathon runner, I was used to feeling exhausted, but this was nothing compared to the harshness of chemotherapy.
Since receiving the all clear, Ben slowly regained his fitness, and through the help of a local gym, got back into running shape. Within a few months he was back winning the local parkrun and has then moved up to training for the marathon. He admits that running is harder now, but is still aiming for a good time, close to three hours for the 26.2 mile race.
'Many people think that cancer is the end. I want to show them that it is just the beginning, and the experience can make you stronger in body and in mind.'
Ben talks of how he struggled to find a role model to look up to whilst going through chemo. Someone he could admire and say ‘they’ve come back to running fast, so can I.’ Of course, people have run marathons after cancer, but had anyone run a fast marathon? He wanted someone he could look at and see that it is possible.
‘I know in many ways I should be thankful that I can run at all,’ he says. ‘But imagine being a musician, becoming sick, and then being told that you can go back to playing, but only really badly. How would that make you feel?’
Inspired by his own experiences and wanting to inspire others, Ben has helped to create a charity – ThriveFit – that provides free fitness classes to people going through cancer. He is running to raise funds for the charity, and is keen to raise awareness of their work.
‘It can be hard dealing with everything that cancer throws at you. Without the help of the others, I don’t think I would have made it back. Through ThriveFit, I want to help everyone get back to activity after illness, and make this accessible to all, whatever the level of fitness or mobility. I’m not saying that everyone should be able to run a marathon, but they should be given the chance to attain a level of fitness that gives them a happy and healthy life, whatever that means to them.’
When I’m watching the marathon this year, I’ll be thinking about Ben’s story. Who are all these people? What have they gone through to get to the start line? What’s their motivation to push themselves to the limit and beyond? How fortunate am I to do the sport that I love?
It is these stories that make the marathon special.
Good luck to everyone running.
ThriveFit offer free fitness classes to people disadvantaged by, age, ill-health, youth, disability, and financial hardship.
Please head over to their website, www.thrivefit.uk for more information.
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I love to run and I love to write, so I write about running!