I, as ever don’t do things by halves. Last weekend saw the end of something I’ve been leading for years, and the start of a new journey, something I thought I would never have in me, let alone earn a medal to say I bloody well did it. The two are intrinsically linked.
As most people who have followed my life will know, I have dyspraxia, and with that I’ve spent time confused, trying to understand myself and others, had people make assumptions about my abilities and be generally inconsiderate about a diagnosis, that for years I didn’t really understand myself, let alone be able to explain to others. I was 7 when I was diagnosed but it didn’t really start to make sense until I hit 25. Four years ago I decided to set up a dyspraxia support group, primarily for young people, given my background in youth work, that has now developed into an intergenerational group welcoming everyone. I didn’t expect anyone to turn up, and I definitely didn’t envisage the young people, who I first met four years ago, still coming along once a month. I’ve realised that once you start something that benefits people in more ways than you’d imagined, it’s very hard to get rid of them! I’ve seen them pass exams, learn to drive, run 10K’s, go to university and get jobs. I’ve listened when things haven’t been so great too, and talked about my life, not as “an inspirational story” but as someone who can begin to understand and empathise with their experiences. It’s helped me as well as them, something I didn’t expect it to. Watching a group of strangers develop friendships is a brilliant feeling, as I am told time and time again, “I brought them together.” In my determination to understand myself more, I added something to other peoples lives.
Since the group has grown and I’m doing new things myself, I have decided that it’s time to hand over the local coordinator reins to someone else. As I have just been elected as Adult Representative at the Dyspraxia Foundation, now seems the time to move on, and I was delighted when two people offered to step into the role, and continue what I started four years ago. This Sunday saw my last meeting as Coordinator. It was the end but also a beginning. As a group of now mainly young adults continue to meet and do things together, they enter the next phase and transition in their lives. I’ll still remain in touch, of course you can’t get rid of me that easily, as my friends will know, but the day to day organisation and admin with be down to someone else. It has been a pleasure watching these young people grow into young adults, and I am sure in the future they will be our leaders, facilitators and organisers, supporting the next generation of young people.
A few weeks ago I joined a running club , something that I certainly didn’t envisage happening four years ago, and definitely not a future I saw during school sports days as I desperately tried to fade into the background. On Sunday I ran in my first 5K race, before I went to facilitate the last Dyspraxia group meeting. Talk about fitting a lot into one day. I think in hindsight, I was running purely on runners adrenaline during that last meeting. I had, alongside the other Couch25K group members been working towards this race day for six weeks, with three runs a week. Gradually building up what we can do. There were medals, and official photos. It was all pretty fancy, but we all did it.
As I joined to become a Red Kite Runner, I worried “will I be too slow?” “Can I be a runner?” “What if I get lost and can’t find my way back?” Images of not being good enough at school, etched on my brain. After the first few sessions I quickly realised that I could run too, and there wasn’t “too slow”. Doing what you’re comfortable with is what mattered here. And if that means having a little walk half way, then that is what you can do. They also have front runners and tail runners, so no one gets left behind. So, as I kept going back week after week, I felt less nervous and more confident in my abilities as a runner measured entirely on myself. I stopped looking at others thinking I should be like them and started to focus on myself. I understand now why people have PB’S, because racing yourself feels far more friendly, motivating and reassuring, than measuring yourself on others.
Sometimes I feel like the slowest runner in the world, and when you run with others its easy to compare yourself. After a run, especially early on I always felt exhausted. Coordinating my body to stay in a straight line, judging the speed and distance of dogs, bikes and small children on scooters in front of you is apparently hard work. But I keep going, and slow down or walk if I need to. A clumsy woman, with no spatial awareness can be a runner. This is what I have learned.
I almost forgot that I had to race on Sunday, until it was Sunday. As I approached the pub where the start line was, I felt excited more than nervous. I knew the route like the back of my hand and I knew how hard we’d worked as a group to get here. Some runners were faster than others, but we can’t all be Mo Farah. This introduction to running in races was lovely, and the kind of support I would have hoped to have at school, but I’m glad to have it now. Other runners from the club came down to cheer, my parents and sister were also there. It was a big deal. And how far we had all come was recognised. As the whistle was blown and we set off, throughout the run members of club popped up, to give us encouragement, hand out bottles or water and take photos. “Go on you’re nearly there” “Just another 1K to go” “You can do it” “Just round the corner to go now” were words we wanted to hear. Words of encouragement as we raced ourselves. The top path looked longer than it was before, but as I got into a rhythm, cracked my breathing and smiled at everyone I passed along the way, it didn’t seem so bad. One man and his dog said: “I bet you’re wondering why you’ve bothered,” as I trotted on past. I pondered for a moment and then remembered exactly why I’d bothered; because I’m doing something that in the past it was assumed I couldn’t do, I’m bothering because it does wonders for my mental health and I got out of bed that day to run because I can, when some days I know going downstairs to make a cup of tea would have been impossible, let alone running 5K at 10oclock in the morning. Instead though, I nervously smiled, because justifying ourselves to other people is something we shouldn’t have to do.
My thoughts went back to the runners who had come out with me today, and the club, all ran by volunteers, who had supported us to get there. We all bothered for our own reasons. We were all, who were once complete strangers at that first meeting six weeks ago, now running together. And whatever our story was or the reasons we were there, we all won our individual race that day. Everyone finished. And everyone more than earned that medal. If one thing I’ve learned from running to date is that given an inclusive and supportive environment anyone can give it a go. It’s all about the encouragement you receive and not judgements made about your abilities. If I’d discovered running sooner, had the encouragement earlier, just maybe my mental health would have benefitted. I would have developed another strategy. I went for a run in the pouring rain yesterday because going to the gym triggered my anxiety, but as I was out in the fresh air, the fog lifted, and I felt that runners high I first experienced when I took up running. And I saw what others saw. That I could be a runner too.
The start of this running journey feels pretty special. I already have aspirations to do a Great North Run one day, but we will see…