This morning somebody called me an inspiration, and for once I needed to hear it.
If you too parent a small and special individual of varying abilities, you may not appreciate this term.
It tends to be overused at the disability community.
“You’re an inspiration”said glibly, covers up the question of whether a person is getting enough support, is in need of extra help or indeed is managing to cope at all. If the Disabled and Carers are are all inspirations that in itself should be enough, and society at large, need not examine it’s responsibilities too deeply.
At the supermarket with a small non verbal personage having a meltdown (your fault you’ve utterly misunderstood a perfectly well executed Makaton sign, because you were busy looking at the waterproof mascara) “You’re an inspiration Mum”spoken encouragingly from beside the Tampax, (by someone who you are definitely not the Mum of) can have precisely the opposite effect the speaker meant.
I have a variety of ways I maintain my mental health. Punching well meaning people in supermarkets is tempting, but not sustainable. Running is.
Four years ago I decided I’d run a Marathon before I was 50. Just Because . I entered the ballot for the London Marathon. I got in. First time. It was on the day before my 50th Birthday. Meant to be clearly.
I ended up running the Marathon on my own on the 26th of April during our allocated exercise time in lockdown-because yes it was that year and I had prepared and I’m nothing if not pig headed.It was slow, it was hard, but I did it and my mum made me a medal out of a shiny button and a piece of gold elastic, because-well that is who she is.
Deferred to October last year, I picked up a hip injury.(Runnerspeak, non runners hurt their hips, but us runners, we ‘pick up’ injuries, tell all our running friends about them, and they can regale us right back with tales of when their toenails fell off. Nice)
Initially and in common with most runners I was going to continue with the acute stabbing pain in my hip, even if I had to crawl crying around the entire 26.2 miles. Fortunately sanity kicked in and reminded me that:
1.I still had took after a rather large disabled 16 year old and needed to be injury free
2. Running was a rest of my life thing, not something I wanted to stop because I’d accidentally broken myself.
The follow up to this massive introduction is that I am about to run the London Marathon in 5 days.
I have followed my training plan.I have been tired, I have stayed injury free, I have enjoyed some runs and hated others. All this is to be expected.
So now I’m tapering.[Runnerspeak -you don’t usually run the whole 26.2 miles before the race-you work up -one long run a week, shorter runs and speed runs mixed in-to your longest run (between 20-22 miles) about 3 weeks before then cut back (taper) considerably to give yourself your bounce back] What I really did not expect was to hit a mental block during my taper weeks. I don’t want to run, I”m fed up with routes I usually run, I’m absolutely shattered. All I can think about is the marathon but my inner voice is telling me “you can’t run a marathon don’t be ridiculous, and if you do finish (excuse me?!) you’ll be rubbish”
Somewhere I have picked up the idea that unless I am Eliud Kipchoge-and there are oh so many reasons I’m not-I probably have no business running.
I don’t need to tell you this is unrealistic. I know it’s ridiculous-but my inner cheerleader has somehow disappeared and sloped off to encourage another Marathon runner. I only hope they appreciate it.
I am a 53 year old woman. I have had a very difficult year. My mum who had been living well with dementia suddenly lost capacity, peace of mind and a sense of who I or she might be. I may have mentioned I parent an extremely strong willed individual with a variety of health and personal care needs, no verbal language and extremely strong self esteem. It’s exhausting.
I run for head space, for the runners high, to be outside in all weathers. I run for myself, and to make sense of my thoughts. I run to be less shouty, and to sleep better. I can generally place myself in the middle of the pack for my age group. I may not be an athlete BUT I am a runner.
And that should be enough,but this weeks voice says no. This voice insists you should only run if you are chasing a personal best, constantly improving and watching your spilts, which should be negative if at all possible (splits-how fast you run a mile/km-negative splits mean you get faster in the second half of the race)and if you don’t achieve this WHO EVEN ARE YOU? This voice is the sound of my schooldays, with a little bit of disordered eating speak thrown in for good measure (“if you ate more protein/less protein/more/less carbs you’d be better step away from the chocolate egg”)
So at the Optician to pick up some lenses this morning ( I figure I may as well see the sights mooching around the race route) the Optician asked me how I was. When I said fine she asked again (this what happens when you know people before they become your Optician) So I tell her. And she calls me an inspiration. And I don’t cry because she’s checking my contact lenses and they might wash away- which is bad form. It turns out she “used to do bit of cycling”(in an,’ I was on team GB’ kind of way) and that she knows exactly what the week before a race can be like. And then she hugs me and gives me my contact lenses and a pep talk.
So if you are running a race, doing a park run, starting out on a new venture, parenting an SEN child, slowly losing a relative with dementia, let me tell you that you too can do it. That you might have doubts, that your inner voice may be unhelpful, that you will have bad days -but everybody does. It’s normal. It’s Life.
The reason you are an inspiration is that you keep on keeping on during the bad days, not that you are some kind of photoshopped saint who’s already achieved inner grace; because let me tell you these people do not exist outside of your instagram feed.
One foot in front of the other. It’s that simple . It’s that hard.
Good luck to anyone else running the London Marathon this weekend.