By Helen Missen, F.E.A.S.T. Volunteer
Reading the news this week, I have been challenged by the amazing feat of Kevin Sinfield. You most likely won’t know him; he’s a British rugby player. He has just run 7 marathons in 7 days, raising £1.1m for a Motor Neurone Disease charity. Why did he do this? One of his close friends and colleagues now suffers with MND. (see https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/rugby-league/55215041)
My first thought was: “crazy man, why on earth would you do that??” I mean all that pain, that anguish, that determination. Then my second thought was: “what an incredible act of love!”
When I thought about it further, I reflected that we use the analogy with parents first encountering eating disorders: It’s a marathon, not a sprint! My epiphany moment came from thinking through the fact that Kevin has undertaken this out of love.
In my head, I’ve always given this analogy from the perspective of the fact that the diagnosis of an eating disorder is not going to be over in a blink. It takes time. However, there is more depth to it than that.
Marathons are run at entirely different paces, right? Some people run it in an extraordinarily fast time. These runners generally have an entire team around them, checking them and training them, day in and day out. They are over the finish line before some of us get into a jog, right back at the starters whistle. It’s still a marathon they’ve run. It’s still hard.
The majority of the runners are actually just people doing the marathon out of love, determination and sheer grit to cross the finish line safely and alive. They train themselves, read up on the how to’s, may not have done a marathon before, and may not want to do another when they’ve finished.
There are those that start off running, then they have to walk a bit, maybe stop at the side of the road to catch their breath. There may be those who actually run back over their own steps to pick up their fallen friend, and then run alongside them, carrying and leading them to the finish line.
Then there are those who have a big old heavy suit of armour on (yep they do that in the London marathon), and they take days and days to finish, but they do…they plod on. Every day they put on that suit again, and long after everyone has gone home they are still plodding. Hot, uncomfortable and often alone in that space. I bet that they don’t want to carry on, but they do.
The thing is, at the beginning, every single one of those runners faces the same challenge: to reach their goal. They’ll feel scared, they’ll feel determined, overawed, undertrained and all the rest that comes with standing at the starter line. There will be various terrains, times they need to take breathers or even stop, legs shaking, tears rolling and then dig deep to start again.
The crowd though! The crowd is there cheering on every single one of those runners. They are willing them forward. They may have done a marathon themselves, they may have been part of the training team or just family, even strangers.
They are ALL there to support, encourage, wipe away tears, celebrate the best bits and will us on through the awful moments. Those moments when we can’t run another pace, all our determination has gone, and frankly our legs won’t take another step…even our sense of humour has failed…They are the ones that will sit next to us, catch us, instill the strength into us…..and that’s the point!
We are the crowd, as well as the runners.
Our voices become shrill and hoarse from shouting encouragement, but we do it still. We go back to the beginning, and are proud of those who even undertook the challenge of a marathon (I mean why would anyone sign up to this….speaks a woman who can’t bear running!) If push comes to shove, we have to sign up and we do run…but we also shout from the sidelines.
We are advocates for those we love, we are advocates for those who are running, we are advocates for the marathon itself, we are advocates for the wider community….we champion each other wherever we are on that marathon course, or next to it.
Back to Kevin and his amazing feat. He is more like us than we, or he, realise. Seven back-to-back full marathons! He has achieved what he aimed for.
We also get up each day, and we run that marathon again for our loved one. Not seven times, but many, many more. We are also there cheering each other on, every day. We are doing this out of love, determination and grit.
Kevin ran heroically for his friend, whom he loves and respects. He also, I suspect, cheers his friend on in the daily fight he endures with the diagnosis of MND.
It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Grit, determination and love drives us all, on whichever side of the marathon rail we can be found.