On Sunday I achieved my training goal as I continued preparations for the Stirling Marathon at the end of April. For the first time I reached twenty two miles. But something else happened during my morning run that has had a far greater impact and will likely stay with me for the rest of my life.
Aberdeen has two rivers that run through it – the Dee and the Don. My route took me down from my house and over the River Don, just a few miles from where I live and a bridge I cross on a regular basis. Not unusually for a Sunday morning it was very quiet with little traffic and as I approached the bridge I had not passed any other pedestrians or seen any other early morning runners.
I had been out for about forty minutes or so, and to be honest, I wasn’t feeling too great. I was planning a long run, around twenty miles, and was still trying to find my rhythm and concentrate on the task ahead. A poor run I had had the previous Tuesday was still on my mind.It was a beautiful day, such a contrast to the unseasonably cold and wintry weather we have been enduring these past few week with bright sunshine, with just a hint of warmth, blue skies, hardly a breath of wind and barely any clouds. In fact, it was a perfect Spring day for running. As I ran over the bridge, which straddles the river at Persley, I saw a young guy ahead of me to my left, standing looking into the water. I run without my glasses on but I thought it was really odd that, as I approached him, I could not see his legs and I thought, “Blimey, he must be standing right up against the railings.”
As I got closer I suddenly realised he was standing on the other side of the bridge railings, on a narrow ledge with nothing between him and the river about thirty feet below. I ran up to him and asked if he was ok. He was looking down at the water, but he turned his head to look at me and nodded and I ran on about another 20 yards. For some reason I noticed he had some cigarette papers, tobacco and a lighter beside him. I don’t know why I noticed that but I did. But as I moved away I just had to stop. This was not right. I couldn’t run any more with him in my head. I got to the corner of the bridge and the road I was preparing to run along and called the police.
I spoke to the police on my mobile – which I only take with me to track my distance on my Fitbit app using the phone’s GPS – and I explained what I had just seen. The controller said he would send officers immediately. He asked me what the guy looked like, how old he was, what his hair colour was, how long his hair was, what he was wearing. As I talked, I turned around to look at the guy and he had disappeared from view. My heart totally sank. Still on the phone, I ran back towards where I had last seen him and was relieved to see that he was now crouching on the ledge, his head below the level of the railings, which was why I could not see him from where I had been standing. He had not jumped.
I came off the phone with the controller but there was no sign of the police, so I ran back to where he was. As I approached he had his head in his hands. I went up and spoke to him. I asked him what was wrong. A young lad, twenty one years old, but feeling at the end of his tether. In tears he spoke about his problems, and I tried to persuade him to come over the right side of the barrier and back on to the pavement. All I could think of was to continue speaking to him, hoping that the police would get there as soon as possible.
As we talked, I kept looking around wishing for a police car to show up. I know that it was not long in reality but it felt like ages before the police did arrive. I explained to the guy that I was worried about him and that I had called the police to come and help. Three female officers got out of the car, came over and began to talk to him as well.
Another officer approached me and asked me to step away and allow his colleagues to talk to him alone. As the officer took a brief statement from me and got my details, I kept looking around. One police officer was carrying a life jacket. The guy lit a cigarette as he was talking to the police officers – for some strange reason that gave me a crumb of comfort – and other police cars arrived to block the road to any passing traffic.
After a few minutes, thankfully, the young man stood up, went over the railings and came back over onto the pavement. After speaking to the police for a little while longer they said I could go as they had all the information they needed from me and the guy was safe. By this point, he was much calmer, not crying anymore and no longer in danger so before I left I went back, spoke to him briefly, shook his hand and wished him well. I told him to make sure he looked after himself.
As I resumed my run I had to keep telling myself to slow down. Everything was racing through my head. I had so many things spinning through my brain. I ran for three more hours, the furthest I have ever gone, reaching just over twenty two miles in total. I kept thinking about what had occurred on that bridge.
Throughout the rest of this week I have tried to process what happened. I can still barely believe it. I am filled with lots of “what ifs”. What if I had chosen another route to run (I had not run that particular route for around a month)? What if I had gone out earlier or later? What if he had jumped when I was on the phone to the police? What if he had jumped when I was talking to him? What if I had chosen to carry on my run?
I could not have it on my conscience if I had done nothing, if I had been so self-absorbed about my run and my time to ignore a young man in his time of need. I will not lie. I almost kept going. But I did not. And maybe that made a difference. I would like to think everyone I know would do the same thing if faced with the same situation. Walking on by was the easy choice. I could not have lived with myself had that been the choice I made. Maybe he would have come back over the barrier on his own. But maybe he would not have.
I will never know the answer to any of those questions. All I know is that I did what I felt to be right. I never expected to face anything like the situation I found myself in on Sunday morning when my training run took an extraordinary course.
For anyone feeling bad, believing that things are not going to get better, thinking that no-one cares or that life isn’t worth living. Talk about it. Get help. Speak to friends. Spend time with your family. Things can change. Things will improve. Nothing is worth what this young lad was thinking about doing.
My running this week has continued with a few treadmill sessions while in the US. Looking forward to getting home and being with my family before my final long run this weekend and heading into the taper in advance of the race itself itself.