Today was not the London Marathon, but I did run up Birdcage Walk and it allowed for great memories and reflection.6 major medals … 1 Not the London Marathon medal!
Don’t say the I word…
Those who know me best will tell you that I’ve always been uncomfortable with the tag of being inspirational. It’s never been through a sense of false humility, I realise that my journey takes some comprehension from the outside looking in.
From suicide attempts to mental health campaigner, from 19 stone to 36 marathons, from death to life. And it is the latter which defines my aversion to the said tag. You see, it’s not me who has achieved all of this, but this is the work of God using me as a vehicle.
Listening to the Reverend Tim Jones, at today’s online church gathering at Holy Trinity Clapham, really resonated with me as to what had driven me in this regard. In unpicking Philippians 2, he describes Christ as the ultimate example of humility and obedience to God, and God exalted the name of Jesus above all others.
Whilst I am far from being exalted, it struck me that my role on this journey had been exactly that of obedience and humility, and God had rewarded me with so many moments of joy and also given me the opportunity to change lives.
I can never take credit for pulling myself from the jaws of death on the evening I attempted to take my life for the third time… that was God’s work.
I can never take credit for being involved in a number of groundbreaking mental health campaigns… that is God’s work.
I can never take credit for transforming the body He gave me from 19 stone into a marathon runner… that was God’s work.
What I can take credit for is that I have humbly accepted every gift He has given me and given every sinew of my being to impact on the lives of those around me.
The reality is this; in trying to impact those lives, the one life truly transformed beyond recognition is my own.
It’s the journey not the destination
This will have been a difficult day for so many who should have been running the London Marathon. Crossing that finish line is, of course, the culmination of an amazing journey. Or is it?
That is certainly what I thought prior to Sunday 13 April, 2014. That was the day of my first marathon and truly one of the most special of my life. The photo of me crossing the finish line is one of the most special in my possession admittedly but I have learnt and reflected much over the years since then, regularly speaking to the incredible groups of runners raising money for Mind, the mental health charity.
The poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson, is credited with the quote, “life is a journey not a destination”; whilst attribution is not easy in the online era, whomever said this had it absolutely on the mark.
The destination is a constant variable but the journey is what equips us to continually grow. When I look back at my first marathon, the journey didn’t start in Greenwich and it didn’t end at The Mall.
It had started with the pipe dream of running a marathon, it had gone through the months of growth, through doubts and confidence, through fear and joy. It had taught me the type of discipline, determination and resilience that I never thought myself possible of having, it had given me a drive and purpose to raise my fundraising targets and change lives, and to get into a physical shape that the hitherto 19 stone me would have found unfathomable.
Those 26.2 miles took up 205 quite exhilarating and wonderful minutes, but that was a mere coronation. The journey getting there is what had changed my life and that journey continues to transform me six years, a wedding, thirty-five marathons and several mental health campaigns later.
We were not made to stand still, we were made to grow. So my message to all of you runners who have missed out today, and on other spring marathons, is this…
- You are already champions
- You have already transformed your lives just by being ready to get to the start line
- You are defined by the journey not the finish line
I do understand that I say this from the comfortable position of having 4 London Marathon medals hanging up in my back room. However, I am convinced you will have your moment of glory, whether it is in October or next April, and it will be all of the sweeter because of the pain endured by not being able to do it now.
When I crossed the finishing line in New York last November, I could quite happily have crumpled in a heap. It was, by some distance, my slowest marathon to date and I had been running in pain for months leading up to it.
Even in the, nearly, six months since, my running has been stop and start, punctuated by a long break to finally have the ongoing hip and groin problems assessed, recuperation from an extended period of burnout and depression, and more recently a period of illness which was almost certainly the Covid-19 virus.
Running over this past few weeks has suddenly become fun again. Whilst acutely aware and respectful of the desperate situation in the world around us, I’ve been using the allowed time of exercise, usually in the early morning and almost deserted streets of London, to get out and run.
And for the first time in close to two years, I’m pain free. I am also free of physical or mental illness and grateful for the part that injury and illness has played on my journey.
That may sound weird but I had actually stopped enjoying races and running. By hard work and God’s grace, I actually became good at running and achieved goals way beyond my wildest dreams – essentially, I hit the grand-slam (for me) of sub-3 hour marathon, sub-90 minute half, sub-40 minute 10k, and sub-20 minute 5k.
The problem was this… I started to continually strive for more, to get quicker. I forgot that running was the gift that had transformed my life, my mental wellbeing, my physical wellness. Running was defined by time and not by how God had used it to transform my life.
The humility I talk about earlier was no longer the epitome of my running, and in striving for more it was no longer benefitting me mentally and I was hurt physically.
I was trying to run for my glory and not that of God. Earlier this week, I realised that running was again a gift, a way to be outdoors during lockdown, a way to look after my health, a way to be free and outdoors. Without any races to worry about, I’m just running for pure freedom and wellbeing, and I’m loving it.
Yesterday I completed the Not the London Marathon (well Not the London Half in my case!) I did actually have a thought to run the full 26.2 and maybe would have done if I lived somewhere slightly more deserted. However, even with all of its Parks and Commons, London is still limited for space and it felt right for me to get indoors so others can be outdoors and enjoying that space.
Less of me and more of you
These were the words that stand out to me from this morning. It is not about me but about God, it is about me using the gifts I have been given to change the lives of those around me.
And for all of you runners for whom today should have been so special, please remember that you will already have inspired so many, and your commitment will have transformed the lives of many through the charities you have supported.
Above all you are almost certainly not the same person who started on this monumental journey and you will reach your Everest and it will be magnificent.