THIS June Bank Holiday Weekend, I am running Cork City Marathon’s half marathon for the Mercy Hospital Foundation, in the hope I can make a difference and make somebody else’s struggle that bit more bearable. I realise that my struggle yesterday is somebody else’s struggle today.
I know what its like to sit by a hospital bed and helplessly watch your loved one take their last breath. I also know how it feels to open a door one day and find that someone you love is gone, just like that, without warning, without any goodbyes.
I had my first encounter with loss at six years of age when I lost my brother; at 19 I lost my mother who left behind five children aged between 12 and 21. Shortly after, I lost a close friend through suicide. A number of years later I lost my grandmother with whom I shared my room and was very close with. And only eight weeks ago I lost my dad.
I’ve got three children and a busy life. To me, the only time I have to grieve is either when I run or when I should be sleeping.
To be able to get up in the morning and run, and take in the world and gather your thoughts, is invaluable. It’s a distraction from that pain you feel when you have your heart broken inside your chest. It helps that fog to lift for a while, and you become grateful that you have your health and the ability to get out there and do what many others would like to, but can’t or won’t. You can organise your thoughts and come back with a more positive mindset.
I started running about six years ago with a group down in Source Health and Fitness.
My baby was about three months old at the time and I wanted to get back into shape. I was no stranger to the gym and well able to pass an hour on the treadmill, but had no idea how to run on the road. What pace could I keep? Could I keep up with anyone else? Could I talk and run? Could I manage hills? These were just some of the questions I had going around in my own head.
I fell in with a nice bunch of mums here and would put the kids in the crèche while I ran with these ladies once a week. It didn’t take long to learn that this was a great outlet — to have a chat with the girls, have a break from the kids, and clear the head.
I did this for a few years, and never raced competitively, but it was a nice variation from tipping away by myself in the gym.
Three years ago, a few of my friends asked me if I’d be interested in joining a running club, Watergrasshill AC with them, and to be honest I thought “no way” at the start because I didn’t feel I was a good enough runner to join a club. But with a bit of persuasion I went to a few club runs and quickly found it wasn’t as intimidating a place as I had perceived it to be. I fell in with a gang and very quickly found myself increasing my miles, and before I knew it I was going for a marathon.
My first was in Manchester and the training was going well until the weekend before when I went out to do a leisurely few miles and twisted my knee.
Now, if you’ve ever run a marathon you’ll know that as the weeks progress you begin to feel niggles and it becomes more difficult to distinguish those niggles from a real injury the nearer you get to race day, because, let’s face it, you’ve put in hours of training and you don’t want to throw that all away before you ever reach the start line.
In my case, this was no niggle, I had properly done myself an injury and was told to forget Manchester. I had put in months of training, juggling work and family life, making many sacrifices in my life to get out and train. The flights and hotel were booked, I had the sterling in my pocket, we had got customised club t-shirts which had the Irish flag printed on them, and my three children honestly thought that their mum was a legend who was going off to run for Ireland!
I was in a major dilemma. I got on that flight still undecided as to whether or not I would actually run. I turned up at that start line so nervous, sleep deprived, hungry, and sore that I have no idea how I ever moved off. Before I had even reached the first half-mile, the pain had set into my knee as predicted, and with every bend of my knee I could feel a sharp pain. I got to mile 13 blinded by pain and ready to collapse before I got talking to a guy at the water stop who encouraged me along, and somehow, instead of heading for the ambulance, I found myself at mile 20. At that point whether I had to run, walk, or crawl, I wasn’t going to quit, that was for sure.
I hobbled to the 26.2 mile finish line and by some miracle I had completed my first marathon.
I have completed three marathons without any of them turning out as planned, yet all of them have thought me invaluable life lessons:
1. How to keep going long after you think you can’t.
2. How to push yourself through the pain barrier and out of your comfort zone.
3. How to keep positive thoughts to the forefront of your mind, and how much it’s down to mental strength as much as physical strength.
People ask me all the time where I get the time to run, but the answer is simple, I don’t get the time, I make it.
To support Aisling’s Cork City Marathon fundraising campaign for the Mercy Hospital Foundation visit www.idonate.ie/ash2016.