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Sunday, 24 June 2018

Finish Line

It's taken me a week to sit down and write this post. Partly due to how busy life is at the moment and also because the news is still sinking in. I'm all clear. No evidence of disease. Five years cancer free.
Last Monday I travelled over to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham to meet with my specialist kidney cancer nurse to find out my scan results. I hadn't been expecting good news. Over the past few weeks I've been feeling unwell. I'd had a suspected water infection and then after routine cervical cancer screening had been referred for another scan due to bleeding.
My five year renal scan and chest x-ray came first and then a couple of weeks later a lower scan including bladder and ovaries. During this time I began to suffer from dizzy spells and was prescribed antibiotics. All in all I wasn't on form but had thankfully completed my marathon run.
I travelled to the QE by train having planned to meet my husband there. This gave me plenty of time to gather my thoughts which over the previous week or so had been far from positive. During the past five years I'd never felt as low and certainly hadn't worried as much about results. In fact I've been extremely optimistic for the most part. However, the combination of feeling unwell and the symptoms had me fearing the worst. Add to this not having received a letter of all clear and my mind was in turmoil. I couldn't get this far and not cross the finish line. The five year milestone had become my focus since training for the marathon, this story had to have a happy ending.
The train took me straight to the University station which is a short walk from the QE. As I was early I sat a while people watching in the large open foyer, like so many others there I suspected this could be a life changing day.
The traffic had been horrendous and parking wasn't easy which meant that Johnny met me with only five minutes to spare. We made out way down to the outpatients waiting area where we had only a short wait before being called through to another waiting room. Before long my name was called and the nurse, Susan greeted me with a hug.
When we last met - which was only our second time due to me having switched hospitals and our first without the consultant, I found out we had a lot in common. We were born on the same day a year apart and Susan was also a runner. I'd emailed in advance about my marathon and brought along both the half and full marathon medals to show her. We got chatting about running and Susan gave me a donation for the kidney cancer support network fundraising. I was so pleased John was there to meet her too and we talked about marathon training and how busy I was making wedding dresses. It then transpired that Susan had also been a dressmaker making holy communion dresses. The similarities kept on coming.
It was time to get down to business and most important, results. It was then that Susan read from the scan report which told me that everything was normal. My remaining kidney was a good size and the left side renal bed showed no evidence of metastasis. The relief that flooded me was immense, my tears were falling before she'd finished reading. I had held so much worry and tension inside and it began draining away as the news sunk in. As I mentioned at the start, I'm still registering it, I feel as though I've cheated somehow and I'll be caught out.
Better still, I was then told that I could be signed off from consultant care and go back to visiting my GP. This isn't to say that if I had any concerns I couldn't contact Susan in future but I wouldn't have to make the journey back and forth for scans and clinics. I confirmed that this was exactly what I wanted and it was time for me to say goodbye. First though I had to have some blood tests as my kidney function hadn't been checked for twelve months.
Susan walked us out to the waiting room and we hugged once more. It had taken nearly four years for me to see a specialist nurse. Heartlands didn't have one and I wasn't at Burton long enough to know. It had been worth the wait to meet such a dedicated and sincere professional, thank you Susan you made a dreadful experience so much better.
The blood test was straightforward and we were soon on our way home. I kept repeating the same thing, it's over. I am still saying those words to myself, I really am one of the lucky ones. I couldn't wait to phone our girls with the good news and my Mom and family. Johnny took me for a meal to celebrate and later I went through my contacts texting everyone my wonderful results.
The rest of the week was pretty normal. I've told a few more people and had plenty of hugs and well wishes but I haven't felt the closure I expected. It's like the cancer has left a scar that I can't seem to cover up. Maybe it's early days and kidney cancer is still part of my life - I'm writing about it now. Or maybe this is how it is, like grief. It leaves you but takes a little part away and that small piece leaves you questioning what might have been.
In my case I had a successful fashion business, would it have grown? Is it time to revisit that now? Did cancer take my confidence as well as my kidney or is that just my age? So many questions still remain. Was it something I ate? Did I drink too much? Is it hereditary? Oh and the big one, will it come back?
Who knows?
What I do know is that I've ticked off the marathon and crossed that ultimate hurdle of five years cancer free. I've set myself a task of putting this blog into book form, a job which has taken a back seat lately due to the small matter of a wedding dress and four bridesmaids to complete in the next four weeks for our youngest daughter. Add to that the wonderful addition to our family of a first grandchild, Rudy Francis who has of course needed a lot of cuddles.
When I started this blog I'd had a Rude Awakening. One day changed my life for ever. Not everything that kidney cancer has brought about has been for the worse though and if it's possible to make the best of a bad experience I dont think I've done too bad. I'm most proud of the marathon which, to date has raised £1535 for Kidney Cancer Support Network and Facing up 2 Kidney Cancer.
Thanks to everyone who's supported me throughout. I'd like to think my kidney cancer experience can offer a little hope.

Monday, 21 May 2018

My Unfashionable Cancer Marathon

It’s 8.57 on 13th May 2018. I’m amongst around 2000 runners waiting for the countdown to Shakespeare Marathon in Stratford on Avon. Alongside me on the other side of the railings are my husband, youngest daughter and her fiancĂ©, more excited I think than I am.
I’m wearing the same gear I had on for the Birmingham Half Marathon seven months ago, green vest printed on the back with the charities I’m running for and on the front Missfit, my business and social media name.  My leggings are a multicoloured design called Hip Hop that I made myself. The race number 1018 is attached to the front of my vest top with race clips that read ‘Run Like You Stole Something’ and my Asics trainers have a colourful graffiti pattern, I guess I’m quite noticeable. Normally I run in a cap but I’ve opted to wear sunglasses and hope the sun doesn’t make too strong an appearance, I overheat easily. The most important piece of kit I have on is my Garmin watch to help pace myself.

During training my pace has increased the further I’ve run. Previously I set an average time of 8.30 when running shorter distances. I’d ambitiously set out to run a marathon pace of 9.30, what a fool I was. The seconds ticked over into minutes the longer I ran until I hoped for a marathon pace of around 10.20. The bib number 1018 gave me hope that I may match that on race day.
As we wait in Stratford town centre I’m approached by a man who holds out his hand and tells me what an inspiration I am, he’s read the local news story about my marathon attempt. All around me are runners wearing charity vests. MacMillan used to be the most popular with Cancer UK always having a good show. Today it seemed that Mind, the mental health charity that came out tops probably to coincide with mental health awareness week. Next to me is a very nervous young lady, it’s her first attempt at a half marathon, both full and half start the course together with full doing a second lap. She’s envious of my support team who are encouraging me as we wait for the klaxon.
The guy starting the race is Steve Edwards, world record marathoner running his 822nd marathon this will be his 22nd Shakespeare Marathon the first having been in 1985. The start rope is lowered and we begin to move forward, slowly at first then momentum gathers. We cross the timing mat at the start line and the small chip attached to everyone’s trainers is activated, the race has begun. Some of us will be running for just over an hour others for more than six hours. The distances each have a different coloured bib, for the marathon mine is red, most around me seem to be white for the half.

For the first part of the run we skirt around the town centre where support from spectators is excellent. Stratford on Avon is the most picturesque town I’ve run through but my focus is on getting into a steady pace.  Negotiating bends and keeping away from the barriers takes concentration with so many runners for a while, I have a dread of tripping over and ending my race at the beginning. I’d been positioned relatively near the front of the crowd at the start which meant I was being passed by more experienced and/or energetic starters. Avoiding feet and elbows was tricky until the road widened and we ran out into more suburban streets then out for a short stretch on the Evesham Road.
By this time the field was evening out more. We reached the first drinks station just after mile two, I always run with my own water bottle.  For this race I added an electrolyte tablet as with one kidney I worry about dehydration. In a running belt I also carried two energy gels and some jelly babies. I don’t normally run with my phone but carried it so that I had contact with my husband – just in case. For the next couple of miles we wound around country lanes and then started to ascend to the village of Luddington. My hill training paid off as this barely challenged me. There was already a queue waiting for the loo at the first WC station just before the four mile marker, thankfully that urge wasn’t on me, yet. We wound around more country lanes and past houses whose occupants made the special effort to stand out and cheer us on. Kids holding bowls of jelly babies and motivational music along the route are always welcome together with the shouts of encouragement and there was no shortage here. My favourite resident was the guy spraying passing runners with a hose pipe, I was straight through that no messing.
By now runners had begun to settle in to their pace and small groups were forming. I’d run past a couple of people only to be overtaken by them a little further on. Faces and charity vests became familiar as well as running styles. Quite a few runners were ‘Jeffing’ by now, the run/walk method so called as it was taught by Jeff Galloway as a way to increase distance and endurance. I was overtaken by a guy dressed in full Shakespeare costume who must have been sweltering as the heat was really turning up by mid morning. Then I heard an odd squeaking noise approaching and turned to see a man carrying what appeared to be a large backpack heading past me. As he moved in front I could see it was a huge rubber boob complete with nipple, two hand prints and the slogan Cop-A-Feel, a breast cancer charity. I ran behind the squeaky boob for about 4 miles.
As we neared mile eight the hill appeared. I’d heard about Rumer Hill and my husband drove me over it a couple of weeks before the race to familiarise me with the course. Facing it on foot was another thing entirely but I kept running, reaching the brow was a real achievement. Just after this on the first lap we turned off and headed back picking up the Greenway near to mile ten which is a gritty surfaced trail along a disused railway line. This track had a slight incline and by this time the sun, which had hovered around all morning decided to come out and play fully. For me this was the toughest part so far, there was hardly any shelter from the suns rays and the incline was taking its toll. The worst part was knowing that shortly before mile twelve we would split from the half marathon runners and it would be game on for the big one. The cut off point for the full marathon was if the first 11.9 miles was not completed in 2hrs25. I passed this point at around 2hrs5.
We crossed an old iron bridge spanning the Avon before reaching another drinks station and WC point at the divide. The most welcome sight here were volunteers handing out wet sponges from a large barrel. I made good use of one on my head and back. It had dawned on me earlier as the sun beat down that I’d forgotten sun lotion and I could feel myself slowly frying. As we parted from the shorter distance and headed past mile twelve I felt like crying. It was the realisation I had it all to do again and more.
As we curved around back out onto the main road I knew I could take it easier as I’d reached the marathon stage before cut off. It wasn’t long before I stopped to take a walk and text my husband to let him know I was on lap two. He’d hoped to see me at the half way point so I’d presumed he’d not made it on time.  It turned out he’d been directed to the wrong place and saw only the half marathoner’s heading back.
I checked my Garmin as we reached the half way point 13.1 miles, my personal best had been 2hrs 8 minutes and I was falling behind this by over five minutes. I heard a couple of runners behind me discussing how it had taken us longer to reach this stage than it had for Paula Radcliffe to complete a full marathon. The thought of running the entire course again was now beginning to fill me with dread. The sun was getting stronger and shade we’d enjoyed earlier now all but gone. Approaching 14 miles we were leaving the town behind again and heading out on country roads.
It was now more apparent that more than half the field of runners had opted for the half marathon. Those of us still going were spread out along the undulating roads, at some bends I felt as though I were running alone. Climbing the hill at Luddington again was tough, I’d taken to Jeffing myself by this time and hills were a definite walk pace. I also took advantage of the portaloo, no queues now, not even another runner in sight. On we ran through picturesque villages, past pubs which were by now filling up with lunchtime customers who cheered us on. When the 18 mile marker appeared I knew what would be next, Rumer Hill part two. This time I don’t think I could’ve run had I wanted to, my legs were beginning to feel painful. I couldn’t even trot down the hill as my toes were also feeling sore. I took advantage of my more leisurely pace this time to take a photo from the top of the hill, it was a beautiful view.

This time around we kept straight on taking a longer route through Long Marston and down to join Greenway South. The 20 mile marker felt surprisingly good as I told myself it was just a 10k run to the finish, 10k’s nothing, I run it often, just not after 20 miles! What I didn’t anticipate was the ferocity of the sun by this time. I’d already topped my water bottle up once and by mile 21 had to stop to refill it again. There were very few running now, I think we were all Jeffing. Passing each other back and forth. I’d set my sights on a woman called Hannah who’d passed me earlier and was determined not to let her out of my sight, but as she edged out of view I knew I was fading.
Mile 22 was my wall. I’d text my husband to let him know how far I’d got and tried to remain positive but I felt beaten.  Although there was only just over four miles to go it felt an impossible task. The gravel pathway seemed to keep rising along the horizon and there was little shelter from the sun. I could feel my shoulders sizzling and my head was aching. As for my legs, they didn’t even feel as though they belonged to me. At mile 23 there came relief by way of another bucket of sponges, cold water down the back of my neck gave me a boost and I pushed on. I took a photo of the mile 24 marker so my husband would know I was nearing the finish line. Normally the remaining distance would take me around 15 minutes but with my pace dropping to a staggering (literally) 11 minute mile it was going to drag. Along this last stretch was the official race photographer who called for me to look across and smile. Surprisingly I look remarkably fresh in the resulting photo – obviously wasn’t pushing hard enough!
The final stretch took us off the Greenway and back along a road before a sharp turn down a small track that lead to the recreation ground and finish line. I managed to maintain a steady jog now, every muscle in my legs ached and my toes were very sore but I wanted to run to the end. As the main field came into sight so did my husband who, after shouting encouragement while I plodded towards him then ran alongside me till we reached the final stretch. I was on my own running down to the finish, my name was announced and I was  praised on my choice of leggings. Crossing that finish line was incredibly emotional. I’d imagined it over and over, from first applying through training and along the route that day. The finish line was hugely significant marking 5 years since my cancer diagnosis. My daughter and her fiancĂ© held up a banner alongside my husband as I crossed the line. The medal was hung around my neck and I collected some water and a much needed banana.

My tears came as soon as I met my family. It was such a huge achievement. I’d proved that a cancer diagnosis wouldn’t hold me back in any way. In fact I’d achieved far more in the past 5 years and was probably fitter now than ever. As for my time, 5 hours 15 minutes and 52 seconds. A far cry from my predicted 4.30-5 hours but a result I’m extremely proud of nonetheless. Things I learnt from running a marathon; there’s nothing wrong with jeffing, respect those hills, don’t forget your suncream, carry business cards – I’d have sold loads of my leggings and most important it’s tougher than you think. I said that this would be my one and only marathon and I stick to that statement. Many people have told me I’ll change my mind but I’m very sure I won’t. Long distance running is not for me. I ran a marathon for a specific reason, I trained thoroughly and ran it to the best of my ability. I chose Shakespeare Marathon because it was so well run with more than half the proceeds going to local charities. The marshals were all volunteers who along with the organisers made the race extra special. As I'm also writing a book it seemed the most apt marathon to enter and of course it's a beautiful setting - I'd highly recommend it.
Thank you so much to everyone who has supported and sponsored my milestone race. To date I've raised over £1400 which will go to kidney cancer research and patient care via Kidney Cancer Support Network & Facing Up To Kidney Cancer.
I am now a marathon runner and a cancer survivor.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

The Final Countdown

In 2 days I take a trip to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham for my 5 year scans. I’m hoping the results will mean that I can be signed off from specialist care.
In 5 days I run my 1st (and last) marathon to mark the anniversary of my kidney cancer diagnosis. I don’t believe fate should be tempted, especially when I’m so close to the final hurdle so I’ll wait for results before declaring myself a cancer free zone. Crossing the finish line will still be a huge milestone.

Over the past few weeks I’ve seriously doubted my sanity for taking on a marathon, the training has been gruelling at times. Coupled with the fact that I’ve had a couple of bouts of illness that have interrupted my running regime. I suffered with a cough over Christmas and New Year and most recently had an infection which took me off my feet for a couple of weeks. It began to look unlikely that I’d be able to run after all. Thankfully I’ve managed to bounce back from both and take up where I left off.
This weekend I finished my tapering runs and for the first time in ages felt the enjoyment of running once more as it was a gentle 5 miles. I just don’t think I’m made for long distance running. For one thing it drains me of energy both during and after. It’s boring, after mile 6 I begin to wish I was back home doing something more interesting. It makes me way too hot, a mile in and I’m cooking so by mile 15 I’m on fire! Apart from all that I just don’t see the point. Rather than keeping me fit it’s playing havoc with my joints and back. I’ve had to change my diet by increasing carbs then taking in protein. This in turn has meant my shape has changed, I’ve never had thighs this big! On top of that I’ve gained nearly a stone, how does that figure when I’m running for around 5-6 hours a week at least?
Today I was visited by a photographer from the local newspaper. I contacted them to see if they would cover my story and they wanted a picture of me in my kit. I’ve received a lot of support online from the organisers of the Shakespeare Marathon who are going to announce me at the start line. My Total Giving page has nearly reached £1,300.00 which is above and beyond what I’d hoped to raise and the support keeps coming. The KidneyCancer Support Network have sent me a teeshirt for the day and have been cheering me on from day one as have Jon & Sarah Birchall for Facing up 2Kidney Cancer. It only remains now for me to run that 26.2 miles.
Now, as the day gets closer I am reminded of why I took on this challenge. The fact that my 5 year scans fall only 3 days before the event makes this even more poignant.  I had hoped for those 3 little words prior to my run, No Evidence of Disease but I’ll have to wait until June for the appointment that delivers that news. Support from my family and friends has been tempered by the concern they feel for the task I have ahead. I know this isn’t going to be a walk in the park.
Thanks to everyone who’s sponsored me so far and given me so much encouragement. This final stage is all down to me...

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

5 Year Finish Line

Today marks 5 years since I was diagnosed with kidneycancer. Strictly speaking I didn’t actually hear the word cancer until the following day. What I did hear was whispering nurses saying, “She doesn’t know yet” and a doctor mentioned a ‘mass’ in my kidney. Either way Wednesday 13th March, 2013 was the day that turned my life upside down, a day of firsts and the last time I would be carefree about my health.
It would be my first (and second) ride as a patient in an ambulance complete with blue lights, my first CT scan and hospital admittance other than pregnancy. Before that day I was blissfully unaware of the 7cm tumour growing inside my left kidney. Plans that day had included completing a catsuit order for a Clothes Show customer and arranging a photoshoot for my new collection. The tumour however had other ideas and decided to make itself known by hemorrhaging, an action which in turn caused the excruciating pain which triggered my collapse.
I’ve made no secret of the fact my hospital care has been sketchy to say the least. It still upsets me when I look back as memories of my treatment are as painful to remember as the cancer itself. The decision to put my blog into book format has exacerbated these feelings as reading them over is like reliving it again. I’m currently on my third draft of the Unfashionable Cancer novel, there are parts I want to rewrite and others I want to erase but it’s real life and I can’t change what happened.
The way I chose to turn my life around has been through fitness. First yoga became a routine part of my week following physiotherapy sessions for nerve damage. A year later I began running, initially in Race for Life with my daughter where I rediscovered my love for the sport. An athletics club member in my youth I’d run regularly until my teens at middle distance. Getting back out there was a revelation, it not only improved my fitness but healed my mind. Running somehow gave me clarity and headspace that has helped me come to terms with all that’s happened.
I took part in a couple more races at 10k distance and then set the ultimate goal, to run a marathon for my 5 year cancer anniversary. Last October I reached the half way mark when I ran the Birmingham Half Marathon, I couldn’t believe how emotional it was crossing that finish line. On Sunday May 13th I will be taking part in the Shakespeare Full Marathon, Stratford on Avon. As I’m working my way through writing a book it seemed an appropriate event to enter as well as being one of the smaller marathons; I wasn’t keen on the huge crowds at Birmingham.
This evening I was back out after a break of a couple of weeks from running, it still doesn’t come easy but I’m determined to do this. I haven’t run more than 14 miles so the next 8 weeks are going to be full on but if I’m going to do it, I’ll do it to the best of my ability. It’s not just my 5 year goal I’m marking, most importantly I want to raise funds for early diagnosis of kidney cancer and patient care. My fundraising page can be found here An Unfashionable Cancer Marathon where there’s more info about the charities Kidney Cancer Support Network and Facing Up 2 Kidney Cancer.
Kidney cancer is still an unfashionable cancer but it’s on the increase and desperately needs more funding. I am one of the lucky ones and by putting one foot in front of the other I am beating this disease and can hopefully help others do the same.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Designed to Run

Marathon training was halted before it began as I started the New Year with remnants of a cold that had left me coughing uncontrollably. I coughed my way into 2018 and continued in this vein for four weeks before giving in to see my doctor.
The height of my concern that I was unable to run. I had tried a couple of miles which left me hardly able to breathe and leaving anyone who saw me cancelling their New Year resolutions to keep fit.
After examining me the GP said my chest sounded ok and temperature was fine but to be on the safe side he’d send me for an X-ray, more precautionary in light of my cancer history. I was fine with this but there is always a niggling anxiety when being zapped with X-rays, the what ifs.
The following day I turned up at the local hospital for my dose of radiation, one shot and I was all done. Wearing the hospital gown rekindled my creative desire to get rid of these dreadful NHS robes in favour of the one I’d designed a few years earlier. As such I’ve since recovered the gowns I made and will get back to you on progress shortly...

Not being able to run for so long has been incredibly frustrating when I have a marathon to train for. The only plus side to being ‘on the bench’ is that I’ve had more time to write. My book An Unfashionable Cancer Marathon is finally taking shape after 3 format changes, I’m settling back into a writing rhythm.
One of the things I needed to tie everything together; running, writing and business was a design, a heading. Something  that said exactly what I’m doing and why. For this there was only one person I could got to, Justin Robert Price.
Justin has been my go to designer for over 12 years now and from day one was able to turn what I wanted to project into the perfect imagery. Well he’s gone and done it again with a design to head my Total Giving page amongst other media. It projects my message loud and clear from fashion victim to cancer survivor through running. Love it.

Now I just need to get back out there and do it!

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Unfashionable Cancer Marathon

It's no secret that I applied to run the London Marathon this year. To be fair at the time I really did want to take part. I knew that ballot entry was a long shot but it’s not unknown for first timers to get in.
As October drew nearer and results of the draw were imminent I’d begun to change my mind. When the magazine finally dropped through the letterbox I was praying I’d been unsuccessful. On seeing the word ‘Sorry’ I breathed a huge sigh of relief, what had I been thinking?
My change of heart came about for a variety of reasons but it was running the Birmingham Half Marathon last October that really swayed me. Despite being proud of my achievement and enjoying taking part, I didn’t like the razzmatazz that went with it. Realising that I was amongst around 9,000 marathon runners and 12,000 half marathon competitors didn’t excite me. Knowing that for London Marathon there would be more than 40,000 filled me with dread.
I’ve already blogged about my half marathon so won’t go on but we were so packed in at times it wasn’t possible to run at a steady pace. Having trained so hard for so long I’d always intended to not only complete it but to compete in it. Therefore once I’d received my ‘No’ from London I set out to find the most suitable full marathon course for my first attempt at the distance.

In the meantime I was getting frequent messages of sympathy about being unsuccessful with a London place together with advice about securing one through the big charities. This however was another of the reasons I was now firmly against entering this event. I have signed up to run for two of the charities that mean most to me but they don’t have the kind of money needed to get charity runners into London. Why then would I turn my back on them and attempt to raise on average £2,000 for an organisation I have no affiliation with. This was a big deal to me.
When (or should I say if) I cross that marathon finish line it will be the end of a very difficult journey.
In March 2018 I will celebrate the most significant cancerversary, the 5 year goal. I’m careful not to tempt fate by saying 5 years free but rather since diagnosis and so far so good. Running has been my greatest escape and also given me a goal. I’m running away from cancer and towards a healthier future. Being able to complete a marathon will reaffirm my fitness level and further smash away those nagging doubts about stowaways. More than that I will cross the line knowing I’ve given something back to the charities that have helped and supported me through the past 5 years.
I had to give my full marathon choice some considerable thought; not too big, not too far away, not too commercial, at the right time of year. I needed it to be just about the run. I’d hovered over one particular location for a while, everything fitted the bill but there was one more plus. 
The Shakespeare Marathon in Stratford on Avon has an entry limit of 4,000, it’s run in May and organised by the Rotary Club who donate more than half the money raised to local charities.  All of these tick a box for me but the added extra is that as I’m writing a book about my experience, what better inspiration to follow than the bard himself.
There it is, I’m signed up and ready to train for the big one, my first full
marathon on Sunday 13th May, 2018

Wish me luck!

Thursday, 4 January 2018

My Half Marathon - half way to my Unfashionable Cancer Marathon

It has been so long since I last updated this blog, I didn’t even write up my half marathon so I’ll begin with that.
Fundraising continues for my full marathon which I'll be writing about next, here's the link to the Total Giving page - I'm aiming to raise £1000 for the Kidney Cancer Support Network and Facing Up 2 Kidney Cancer.

My 1st Half Marathon!

On Sunday 15th October 2017  I reached the halfway point of my Unfashionable Cancer Marathon journey when I ran theGreat Birmingham Run. It was my first half marathon distance and I ran every step of the 13.1 miles. Here's how it went;
The week before race day I discovered a new ailment, Maranoia. I was terrified of getting ill or injuring myself before the big day and so virtually hibernated. I did risk attending my yoga class although I asked anyone with a cold to declare themselves and move to one side. 
Apart from the obvious preparation; that six months of training I put in three times a week, there were other important factors that needed addressing. Top of the list what should I wear...? I checked out the new prints at my favourite fabric supplier  and after much deliberation chose the Hip Hop design, colourful, loud and with that hint of pop fashion I love.
I also needed a running vest, it had to be green which is the colour of my chosen charity Kidney Cancer Support Network and Facing Up 2 Kidney Cancer and it needed printing. The charity names went on the back and it wouldn't have been complete without my business monika on the front, MISSFIT!
My daughter sorted me out with some nice sparkly green gel nails which just left my hair but my maranoia was so bad (I was on lock down) I decided to wear a cap instead!
The morning of the race came around quickly and I was a bundle of nerves, it wasn't so much the run but getting there. I worried about traffic, parking, directions, getting in the right pen and the big one...needing a wee! Thankfully we don't live far from Birmingham so a short drive and we arrived with plenty of time, parked easily and got clear directions to the event.  First stop was of course the portaloos and then we headed to the start point, my husband and youngest daughter came as support so I had no baggage to sort.
The start was near the finish line where both the half and full marathon runners ended, the latter of which were coming through thick and fast at this point. The atmosphere was already exciting as those running the marathon were cheered across the line.
It wasn't long before I was parted from my family and had to find my way down to the Green Wave start point (after I'd found another portaloo). I was relatively early so managed to get near the front. It was remarkably subdued as we waited, quite a bit of limbering up and Garmin checking but not much chatter.
The first two waves had their warm up and moved off and we were edged forward, unfortunately I'd chosen this moment to retie my laces and so dropped away from the front as people hurdled over me. When I spotted my husband and daughter waving I got so excited, all nerves disappeared as it was finally time to run. We had a short warm up which no one seemed to be paying any notice of before the countdown and we were away.

I can't describe how it felt to be running down past the Selfridge building and out towards Digbeth. Routes I tread regularly but usually with a trolley full of fabrics. The crowds at this point were amazing, loads of whistling, cheering, people calling out our names. As we headed out of the city towards the warehouses the crowds thinned and I really enjoyed passing through these familiar buildings whilst running in a huge pack, it was so strange.
I think there must have been points where I zoned out and was simply running, that happens to me often I literally forget where I've been and just wake up and realise I'm two miles down the road. When we headed into Cannon Hill Park I had a minor panic as I saw the sign for 8 miles and knew this was impossible. 'I've joined the marathon route!' This thought flashed into my head so I had to ask another runner who laughed and explained that the signs are mixed around the course.
I soon realised that the talk I'd heard about the course having had hills removed this year was untrue. There were most definitely, 100% hills. The one we climbed up between mile 7/8 was a beast of a hill but I never once stopped. Since I began training I've always kept on running, no matter what. I feel that some bad luck will befall me if I stop so even if it's baby steps I run. If I have to wait at a curbside I jog up and down. Let me tell you, by the time I got to the top of that hill I was seeing stars! I thought I'd need oxygen!
The other disappointment on the day was how congested it got. I was in the green wave and pretty soon began meeting runners from the white wave. It wasn't long before we were in amongst the slower marathon runners and a few of the orange wave. At times it was so congested I had to do baby steps so I didn't stop still. I found myself going up and down curbs a lot to avoid breaking pace.
I'll get my final moan out of the way, the bottles. Why oh why can't people bring their own water? I always run with water, mostly because having one kidney means I can't afford to dehydrate but also it's easy. I understand that elite runners shouldn't have to run with bottles but for everyone else is it such a hardship? I have never seen so much waste! Not only were there nearly full bottles of water rolling underfoot but also gel packets making the road sticky in places. There must be a better more sustainable solution...oh yeah, carry your own water! The clean up must have been phenomenal (and costly).
It was a huge relief to reach Bourneville and turn, the support from the crowds there was great too and we were heading downhill! By this time we were meeting more marathon runners and passing the last wave of half marathon runners on the opposite side of the road. I'd avoided high fiving anyone around the course after reading Running Like A Girl where it results in the author tripping up a curb and landing flat on her face in the London Marathon. Running back through Selly Oak I did managed to high five a pug though.
One of the bonuses of wearing something I'd made was the great promotion I was giving my business. So many people called out about my leggings and many runners complimented them too which made me smile. It gives new meaning to 'running a business'!
Mile twelve came as a complete surprise as I think I must have zoned out again. The Pershore Road had been more congested coming back and as I hadn't set my Strava app going I had no idea what my pace was but knew it was slower than usual. By this stage I was feeling tired and the temptation to have a little walk was it's strongest. I kept on though, my legs were fine I was just a bit weary. Having never tried energy gels I'd carried six jelly babies in my running belt. I'd had one at miles three, six and eight and with just over a mile to go had one more.
Turning the corner onto Bradford Street was a huge relief, I knew exactly how far was left now, I'm a regular at Barry's Fabrics so it was a short stroll back past the Bull Ring and up Moor Street. Well...unless you've just run the best part of 13 miles! Never before has 'that' hill seemed as steep! My last jelly baby needed to give me one hell of a sugar rush to climb this.
There was a complete mix of finishers making their way up the hill, many walked but more pushed on spurred by the fantastic crowds. By the time we turned onto Moor Street and could hear the announcements as runners passed the finish line I was feeling very emotional. I was reminded of my reasons for doing this run, the finish line was a big milestone for me.
Over the final few 100 yards now I searched the crowds for my family, I knew they'd be there somewhere. I spotted my husband first and tried to get across to him but was blocked by a marathon finisher waving a large glass of gin and tonic. Further on I heard my daughter calling and saw her just as I crossed the line at 2.08.21
My tears came as I slowed down, I'd done it. I didn't feel too bad either but the relief was huge and I was glad to get a big hug off my husband and daughter. I followed the line of runners collecting finisher bags and headed straight off back to the car. I did of course get my medal out and put it on but I wanted to go home.
Would I do it again? Half marathon probably but not a large event like Birmingham. It was an enjoyable day especially being able to run around my second home town but just too big, I prefer smaller races.
I'm very proud to be a Great Run Finisher though and as such have worn my medal all week, including shopping, yoga and writing group. Training has started for the big one now 26.2 miles! First though, what to wear...? ;-)