The morning spring tide was high and we were sat on a clifftop bench, overlooking Woolacombe sands in North Devon. We had risen early and had made our way to the seafront to watch the North Atlantic breakers. We sat quietly, taking in the motion of the waves as they gradually rose, before breaking and crashing onto the dunes. Despite the grey clouds and the chilly north-easterly breeze, there was a single brave soul in a swimsuit and bobble hat taking a dip, along with a lone surfer clad head to toe in neoprene, making their way out into the swell. We huddled together and Kerry wrapped herself around me like a duvet. We sat, breathing the sea air, enjoying the stillness of it all. It had been quite a month, and we had been fortunate to get away, albeit it briefly. It was a much-needed escape, and as the waves thundered onto the shore, I could feel the knots in my rope untie.
Twelve days earlier I had been speaking to a doctor at the Covid19 control centre. Almost a year-to-the day previously I had spoken to the very same doctor about my symptoms, relative risk, and treatment options. They had called me the day after a positive Covid19 test, an outcome that had then sent me into a tailspin of panic. This occasion was different. The Covid19 control centre is both a machine of moving parts, and a clubhouse for those agencies with a common goal; to care for the vulnerable and to help prevent the likes of me from becoming seriously ill. And so, it was it relative calm that I discussed potential treatment options, eventually settling on a course of anti-viral medications which were delivered to my door by a local hospital. Another reminder that a large part of success in recovery is about accepting our vulnerabilities and allowing the universe to do its thing. I was in safe hands, and I held onto that.
This dose of the plague hit me a lot harder than the last; and not only was I physically exhausted, but I was also emotionally spent. A few weeks prior I had received another letter from the family of my kidney donor. It had taken an age to get to me, as Royal Mail had somehow destroyed the original. They had informed the transplant liaison centre in Liverpool – who had fortunately kept a copy of which they were able to forward to the local renal clinic, who then sought my permission to send it on to me (a necessary step, due to the letter containing personal information). When it eventually arrived at my door, to my joy it contained photographs and a telephone number. I was with a sense of both comfort and sadness that I was able to see the face of my late donor, Chris. He was not dissimilar from the image I had formed in my minds-eye, and having since spoken to his sister (Hi Sammie!), have learnt that he was a man of great kindness and humility, who gave selflessly to other people. I am humbled to be the custodian of his final, life-saving gift, and he will be forever in my thoughts.
There is an story to tell you about Chris, but I will leave that for another time, after I have completed the emotional gymnastics and can give it the dedication it deserves. For now, it is important to acknowledge that it is only thanks to his kindness that I have been able to train, and train well, for the London Marathon in April. There are precisely seven, no, EIGHT weeks to go, and I have breached 18-miles on my training runs. I have enjoyed the training a lot, but have been taking care not to run myself into the ground. Despite being hit by another bout of illness, I have dispensed with the usual marathon-based goals, and I have been allowing myself to enjoy the ride without expectation or targets. As I have often said, it’s difficult to enjoy something if you’re only interested in getting something out of it. Not only has this been a departure from my ego-driven goal-chasing of yesteryear, it has been a welcome escape from the confines of winter, which has not been kind to my nervous system. Despite affirmations to the contrary, I have felt the cold more keenly this season than in any prior. I am not sure why this has been so, safe to say, I am very much looking forward to the spring.
I intend for this marathon to mark both my triumphant return to, and retirement from marathon running. I am using my efforts (as I did in 2019 when I ran Race to The Stones with my friends Ali and Sarah) to raise money for Kidney Research UK. Despite my love for distance running and the fine running company I keep (the mighty Trentham Running Club), I am finding the training for this event particularly tough. One day you can be running with the wind, and the next the wind does what the wind does, and it changes direction. When it gets a little harder, you don’t give up, you just add a little more effort and adjust your strategy to compensate. Admittedly, this latest Covid19 experience has set me back, but I will not be defeated. My tired and tested technique of ‘running a long way without passing out’ seems to be serving me me well and despite this set-back, I am confident I will be ready on the day. Nevertheless, I am having to pick my way carefully through the process – every run is a learning experience.
Finally, I would like to say a huge ‘THANK YOU!’ to everyone who has sponsored me so far. Kidney disease – for which there is no cure – can affect anyone of any age, the treatments are gruelling, and it destroys lives – not only of those afflicted but of those around them. Those of you who know me personally can testify to the very real mess I was in when my kidneys failed. I was enormously fortunate to be given the gift of a transplant, and it has transformed my life. But millions of people are not so lucky. The only real hope for new, progressive treatments and a possible cure, is continued investment in research. I am one of the lucky few, having been afforded the enormous privilege of both receiving a transplant and recovering to a point where training for a Marathon is even a possibility. But many others are not so lucky.
If you are able to spare anything for this worthy cause that is very close to my heart, please know that you will be helping those less fortunate than us, and that I will forever be in your debt.