Tuesday, December 22, 2015


My writing buddy Isha's early morning run
 through Lodi Gardens in New Delhi, India. 
Since moving to America, I have become a fan of Facebook. I love checking in at the start of the day and finding posts from friends and family about their exploits. Many of these include running in some shape or form. Two of my brother-in-laws are experienced marathon-runners, another - Stephen Corke - will be running the London marathon in May to raise funds for Arthritis Care (if you'd like to sponsor him, please let me know!). Photos are posted from training sessions across the world, and I've cheered friends and family along when races post virtual real-time updates.
My brother-in-law, Sam Ainsley, preparing for the starting line of the
Grindleford Gallop (21 miles, with a 3,000ft ascent), in Derbyshire, UK. 
Since school, I have only participated in one race, although the term 'race' is altogether too impressive a term for the small collection of writers and poets who gathered together at the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference in August 2015. The course had been sketched out in pen on the back of some recycled sheets of paper and fitted closely into the genre of fiction. Eventually, after heading off in different directions, we reconvened at the Conference Center to discuss and compare our routes. Prizes were given out at random to people whose stories were closest to the 4 miles they were meant to have run.
Su Nutton, one of my best friends from my school days, after completing
 the London marathon. She lives and trains in the UAE. 
I take pride in the running achievements of my friends and family, and celebrate their every success. After my accident it seemed I would be unlikely to run again: there were concerns about the impact on my neck and the risks associated spinal cord damage which has left me with limited sensation down my left side. For a while I worked with a physical therapist - let's call him the Doctor - who voiced concerns about my involvement in any physical activity. During each hourly session I was required to lie on the therapy couch and tense my left hamstring repeatedly while the Doctor told me my body was out-of-synch, unbalanced, and non-symmetrical. He is a large man with a booming, authoritative voice; he wears expensive waistcoats and likes to put a lot of letters after his name. Perhaps I would be there still if I hadn't met another of his patients in the waiting room who whispered to me, in a deeply worried voice, that she had to attend twice weekly physical therapy sessions because her body was out-of-synch, unbalanced and dangerously non-symmetrical.
After a break of 8 years from her marathon running, my writing buddy Sharon is racing again. Here, she has just crossed the finish line of a 5K in New York, her first in many years. Since I began this blog, she has run in her second.  
I wanted to start running again this summer. We planned a huge family holiday across Europe, and I imagined running with my daughters in cities in Italy, Germany, the Netherlands and France, but it didn't go well. For a while it seemed the Doctor was right: I strained my left calf and struggled with the increase in the pain in my neck. It was tempting to think about returning to the Doctor's couch, from where I could have announced the impossibility of running again. But running isn't easy for any of my friends, wherever they are in the world: they battle injuries and days when they lack motivation, they struggle to fit training sessions into busy lives. Motivated by the Facebook posts and blessed by a little serendipity, I found a formidable trainer called Nakeeya who runs Spartan Races and believes our bodies can be wonderful things. She's doesn't share the Doctor's fascination with my left hamstring, but is interested in how my body can move as a whole, both because of and despite my broken neck and nerve damage.
My trainer and friend, Nakeeya, doing what she loves. 
Recently, I've started running by stealth. I put my running shoes by the front door in the evening so that, in the chaos of the morning, they will end up on my feet. I trick myself into thinking my running bras are the only ones which fit well. I put my jeans away in their drawers and leave my running pants on the floor by my bed so that they become the things I'm most likely to wear. And then, after dropping the children off at school, I find myself on the dog walk fully kitted out for a run and, even if my neck hurts and I feel stiff and sore, I find it easy to convince myself to just run a few strides. And then a few more. And so it goes.

I love running. I run for the sense of space between the foot falls when I am suspended in the air; I run so that the sounds of the world become muted by the rhythm of my breathing; I run because it slows my thinking until I hold only the thread of a single idea in my mind (perhaps other runners can think about lots of things when they're running - I can't. When I try, I fall over.) I run because I love the sensation of having been thoroughly cleansed, inside and out, at the end of a run; and I run because sometimes there are moments of magic. This morning, I ran through the woods and a red-tailed hawk swooped above me through the trees: just me, the dog, and a red-tailed hawk. We were all looking for something, I guess, and while I love seeing it written into the faces posted on Facebook, it feels great to be out there looking for myself.