One of my childhood dreams started with a pack of Opal Fruits in the early ‘80s.
It was one of the first London Marathons and me and my brother stood at the end of our nan and grandad’s road handing out Opal Fruits to the runners. For those of you a little older than me, these delicious sweets are now known as Starburst!
As I stood there watching the elites and then the fun runners go past, I knew I wanted to be one of them one day. The race seemed ENORMOUS, even though there were only around 15,000 participants in those early races compared to today’s 40-odd thousand.
This dream never left me. We continued handing out sweets every year until our family moved out of London and then I continued watching in awe every year on the TV. Throughout my school years I did every sport I could, including long-distance running, and kept telling myself one day I would be a marathon runner.
But, as I hit my late teens, I stopped running and although the dream never left me, my determination did and the excuses started to make an appearance:
I was too busy. I’d never get fit enough. I wouldn’t get in anyway.
I half-heartedly entered the ballot a few times but with the secret hope I wouldn’t actually get a place.
Life went on and I carried on watching and saying, “I’ve always wanted to do that.” But did I really? My excuses were obviously bigger than my desire – I just didn’t realise it at the time.
I started running again when my youngest son started school, so I was around 38. This was a shock to the system! I could only manage to run from one lamppost to the next without needing to walk, but my lovely friend, Nicola, was so patient and encouraging that eventually I was running a few miles without stopping. I loved it, but still didn’t think I would be able to do a marathon.
When my youngest was around nine years old, one of his best friends was diagnosed with cancer. Watching this beautiful young boy and his lovely family face his diagnosis and subsequent treatment with such grace and determination made me want to do something to help. I decided to try (really try this time) to get into the London Marathon to raise money to help fight childhood cancers. His family told me they had been massively supported by CLIC Sargent, so they got in touch with their fundraising team and asked if I could have a place in the next London Marathon. And they said yes!
I found out I got a place a few months before the 2017 marathon, and at this point had not run further than five miles and had never taken part in any race at all. How on earth was I going to do this?
But there was no way I was going to let this amazing charity down – it just wasn’t an option.
The support I received through donations was fantastic; I didn’t find it easy asking for money, but friends stepped in and held fundraising events, and we did boot sales and stood outside supermarkets with buckets which people kindly donated to. The stories we heard that day from other people affected by childhood cancers were incredibly humbling.
Then there was the training. This took up a lot of time, but again, not doing it was not an option. Every time I thought I’d give it a miss I remembered my why. My son’s friend had finished his treatment and was now cancer free and was helping with the fundraising. How could I moan about the opportunity to get out in the fresh air for a run, when so many families were going through what he and has family had being going through this past year? I would have felt so ashamed.
Realising the dream
By the time Marathon day arrived, my longest run had been 18 miles. I barely slept for the week leading up to the big day – I was beyond nervous. If I did sleep it was filled with dreams of oversleeping and missing the start, the trains being cancelled and not being able to get there, or falling ill the day before. I can honestly say I had never known nerves like it. But, my god, how exciting! Not only was I about to realise my childhood dream at the age of 44, but we had raised over £2,000 for a charity I KNEW had a positive impact on families facing a situation many of us can’t bear to think about.
The race itself exceeded all my expectations. I did not stop smiling for one second, even when I was crying with the sheer joy of being there. I can still clearly hear one supporter shouting, “That’s it Kerry, keep smiling!” at around mile 20 when I was more hobbling than running but still with a big grin on my face!
To be honest, I can’t really remember crossing the line, or collecting my medal, I think I was in shock that I’d actually done it. But what I do remember was the overwhelming support and the amazing people of all ages that took part. Many were raising vital funds for a charity they or someone they loved had been supported by, and many were also realising their childhood dream that same day.
What I learnt
The whole experience made me realise the importance of having your “why”. It’s all very well having a dream, but excuses can be very loud unless you have a real reason why you want to achieve it. It doesn’t have to be some dramatic reason; it can purely be because you want to have that memory, or you want to have that sense of achievement. But you HAVE to really want it, for whatever reason, because when you have your reason why, not an excuse in the world will stop you!