When I saw Anthony running his Ultra Marathon last week, I had to message him to show my admiration. The ‘Running Dads’ initiative is hugely inspiring and a way to focus on mental and physical strength. What struck a chord with me was Anthony’s words, “Challenge isn’t something to be afraid of… pressure, upset and pain- they’re allies, they’re not things to fear”.
My running story began in early January 2017 when my Dad got his unimaginable diagnosis on the 4th January - a grade 4 Globlastoma brain tumour in the left thalamus (an inoperable cancerous tumour). Words cannot describe that day and the overwhelming feeling of devastation. He then had chemotherapy and radiotherapy at The Christie from 25th January for five days a week until 7th March. I knew his battle would be so mentally and physically exhausting that I had to find a way to support him through the rest of his cancer journey the best I could. I wanted him to know that I was willing to fight with him, to push through the pain barrier and to show I wouldn’t give up because I knew he wouldn’t.
So, the very next day after my Dad’s diagnosis I rang up The Christie hospital and asked for a charity place on their Great North Run Half Marathon team. They signed me up there and then and that was that. It gave me something to focus on other than the inevitable decline in my Dad’s health. Right from that moment, I was going to make this whole situation as positive as it could be. There is a famous Stoke City football song which they bellow out from the stands, ‘We’ll be with you every step along the way”. That was my mantra and my mental strength throughout - that I would be with my Dad every single step along the way. My Dad was and will always be my idol and inspiration and I was going to show him!
Running for me was not just a hobby to go out in the sun, rain or snow. It was a form of therapy. Running helped me to find a slight form of peace and space to think through what was actually happening. It allowed me to slowly process my Dad’s decline but it also helped me to cry and feel sad. It allowed me to release my emotions in my own way away from others that I didn’t want to share my heartbreak with. It helped me to push through pain when I was hurting. It gave me the strength to carry on going knowing my dad would carry on with me. Running was part of the reason I stayed strong and kept going because I knew it had so many connotations towards my Dad and what he was going through.
Not only did running itself help my mental and physical wellbeing, it was the love and support that was generated through this one event. It was a half marathon, nothing in comparison to a Marathon or an Ultra Marathon but it was the message it sent out which was so powerful. In a matter of a week, people had donated over the £1000 target I originally set. By the time of the event, my wonderfully generous friends and family had raised over £6000 for The Christie hospital. All of this to honour my Dad and his fight against his tumour. Every time I went to see my dad at home, hospital or East Cheshire Hospice he would always say to me, “How we getting on Rob? Where are we up to now?” My Dad knew that people were supporting him they were cheering him on through me and through this event. He was so proud of the generosity of so many people from far and wide.
Not only did we manage to raise such a phenomenal amount, my Dad now has a special silver coin displayed in the Christie hospital to honour him and the amount of money raised. My brother and I also attended an end of year celebratory evening at The Christie where I was handed a special pin badge as a gift for the money donated. When I first set out on this challenge, I never ever imagined any of this would happen but then you remember how truly amazing people are. No matter how tough life can be, you always have people around you who love and support you.
Sadly, my Dad passed away on 12th May last year and The Great North Run wasn’t until 10th September. He never got to watch me run in person but I knew he was watching over me running with me every step along the way. My mum, brother and Amy (my fiancé) were all there to wave me off at the start line and my best friends, Huw and Chesca, were with me, side by side, until we crossed the start line. The minute I crossed that line, my body was pumped with adrenaline. We started at the very very back of the crowd (the last row); I spent the entire race dodging past people, jumping through hose pipes and grabbing bottles of water. My legs ached on mile 9, the hill on mile 10 nearly saw me off but I kept going because I knew I had to!
When I crossed the finish line, I was so emotional, I burst in to tears because I knew that I’d done it and I didn’t give up just like Dad never gave up. I knew that he pushed me on and kept me going right until the end. I managed to complete my Half Marathon in 1hr 56mins – sub 2 hours. My aim was always sub 2 hours and on that day, I have never been more determined to reach a goal in my entire life. That is why running is so important, like Anthony said during his Ultra Marathon, as it shows others that you can do it, that no matter how much pain you are in you keep going, you keep going because you are a metaphor for so many different reasons hope, pride and determination.
Running helped me to partly deal with the most tragic ordeal of my life and I am very proud to say I did it with the love and support of all my family and friends as well as my Dad looking down on me at the finish line.