by Angelique Jurd
One night back in June – it seems an eternity ago now – The Man of The House (TMoTH) suggested I enter a half marathon. “Good exercise and you could raise money for cancer at the same time.” At the time, if memory serves me correctly, I was drinking a glass of bubbly and a half marathon that raised money for a great cause seemed like a good idea. No – it seemed like a brilliant idea and within days I had signed up, paid my entry fee, and broadcast to the world that I was running a half marathon. I should never make decisions when drinking bubbly.
Of course, there was one problem. I had never ever in my life participated in a race of any description. Not a 5km race, not a 10km race, not any kind of race. So maybe – just maybe – 21 kilometres was a little …..ambitious. Not that a minor detail like that would stop me, but hey….it’s worth mentioning.
Which is why, boys and girls, on November 15 I could be found in the car with TMoTH and The Offspring heading north for the weekend. After an unscheduled stop so I could throw up my breakfast (don’t ask – seriously, you have all the details you need), we arrived in KeriKeri at midday. Lunch with TMoTH’s mum and then off to pick up the registration pack. Yes, they had me on the list. Yes, I was in the hybrid runner/walker category - although nobody in their right mind thought I was going to be running. Yes, this was going to happen.
After dinner I suggested it might be sensible to drive out to the start line – just to be sure we knew where we were going. We drove and drove and drove and drove. With every kilometer, my panic grew a little more. Where the hell was the start line? Surely we’d find it soon. Surely, this was further than 21 kilometers. Nope. I am here to tell you boys, girls, friends, neighbors and pussy cats – 21 kilometers is a Very Long Way. It was, I decided, entirely possible I had bitten off just a teensy bit more than I could chew.
“You know, mum,” Master 15 ventured from the back seat, “there’s no shame if you can’t finish it, at least you tried.”
Not finish it? I wasn’t sure I could even start it. The problem was, I had started it and with The Offspring looking on, the time to bail was long past.
And so, the next morning, TMoTH dropped me at that start line – way out in the middle of nowhere in Northland, NZ – and drove away. I didn’t know a single soul there; I couldn’t see a single familiar or friendly face. Just a couple of thousand people who, like me, were shivering in the early morning air. Lines snaked away from the Portaloos as nervous bladders took over. Expert runners stretched and bounced. Most of us wandered around looking like the proverbial bunny in the headlights as we realized the only way out of this nightmare was to walk back to town. And trust me – we all knew just how far that was…
The start signal was I have to say something of an anticlimax. The hooter, well, hootered and we moved off. The more enthusiastic surged forward ready to greet the adventure; most of us dragged our feet like little kids trying to avoid a maths test. Dressed in black tights and a blue singlet, my number pinned on front, my ‘I’m stepping out for cancer’ proudly displayed on my back, slathered in sunblock, and clutching my bottle of Powerade as though it were a blankie, I plugged my earphones in and began to walk.
I would just like to say here that my iPod generally does one of two things – it either gives me a perfect setlist or deliberately attempts to goad me into tossing it as far away as possible. No I”m not kidding – my iPod is possessed by some smart arse spirit that likes to mess with my mind where music is concerned. However, that spirit must have decided I’d got myself into quite enough mess on Saturday and therefore it would cut me some slack by kicking things off with Springsteen’s Land of Hope and Dreams. If you’re a regular reader, you know I have ‘dreams will not be thwarted, faith will be rewarded’ tattooed on my right arm. Thank you iPod: perfect choice. By the time I lifted my head, I was nearly a kilometre in and had decided this wouldn’t be so bad.
I simply had to take it one step at a time. HA!
According to the course information, ‘the first 7km is a gradual climb with two distinct hills. The remaining 14km is mainly downhill.’ With all due respect and if you’ll pardon my language but gradual climb my arse. The first five are a gradual climb. Kilometer six to seven is more akin to Mt Everest and is made worse by the fact that, thanks to the lay of the land, you can see what is ahead of you. You can see how steep it is, how slow everyone is going and how insane you must have been to have got yourself into this in the first place.
All the way up that hill, I could hear Kate telling me “stick to the plan, just keep swimming, you can do this.” In fact at one point I may have invited to Kate (sorry Kate) to STFU and leave me in peace to die on this stupid hill. Happily, not long after that, the road flattened and to my delight the hill was behind me.
I had conquered the hill. I could do this. I contemplated a little Snoopy Dance just for the hell of it and decided against it (look we know I’m nuts but those folks next me to on the road didn’t need to find out about it). As it turned out, it was a good thing to have shown some restraint since yes there is a second hill and at 9.30 in the morning, when you’ve been walking for an hour in the hot sun and you’re not quite sure why, that damned hill looks like Kilimanjaro. I kid you not. I have never in my life been so pleased to be at the top of something – and if I never climb another hill again, I won’t be sorry. Nor will I trust a course description again I might add – gradual climb. Pfft.
From there it was, quite literally, cliche or not, just one foot in front of another and keep watching for the little signs that showed another kilometer was behind me. I realized quite quickly that if I stopped at the drink station for water or to use a portaloo, no way in hell would I ever move again, so I just kept moving. When a drink station came into view I let myself have some Powerade from my drink bottle. Happily I din’t need to use the Portaloo anyway or I might be telling a completely different story right now (actually anyone who knows me well, knows I wouldn’t be telling any story involving a Portaloo or the activity that goes on inside – so we’re pretty safe).
I just kept listening to Springsteen and Jennings and Etheridge and Scialfa and putting one foot in front of the other. Anybody watching would have noticed that from time to time my pace picked up – Ramrod, Come to My Window, Looking for Elvis – and other times it slowed – Amanda, It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way and actually come to think of it, Jennings might not be the best choice of music for a half marathon….
At the halfway point I began to smile. I was hot, I was sweaty, I was sure I had lost what few marbles I had left but dammit, I was half way through. I just might pull this off.
At 12 kilometres, with less distance ahead of me than behind me, something began to change. Maybe, just maybe, I could do this thing. And as I strode past the 13 kilometre marker I began to get a little defiant. I was going to finish this half marathon with my head held high and nothing on earth would stop me.
All the people over the years who had told me I couldn’t, shouldn’t, wouldn’t, wasn’t good enough, would never be good enough, wasn’t pretty enough, was too fat, was too uncool, was too smart, not smart enough could all go to hell. Not only could I - but I would.
And I did.
When I crossed the main road at 18 kilometers, TMoTH’s brother was one of the marshalls. It was the first familiar face I’d seen since 7am and I got a huge burst of energy from seeing him (thanks Wayne). There were only three kilometers to go until the end. Until I saw The Offspring and TMoTH and could stop.
And sign up for another half marathon. Wait? What? My mind kicked this around for a moment and I admitted to myself, yes, I would be doing another event as soon as possible.
At that moment – right there and then – I knew I had beaten something in myself. It wasn’t about anybody telling me what they thought I was or wasn’t. It wasn’t about the race or the training. Or about the fundraising. Or trying to teach my kids how we should behave. Not that those things didn’t figure in it – they did and they were important – they just weren’t the most important thing.
The most important thing was I had proved to myself I could do something Big. Something so far out of my comfort zone, I had no idea what I was doing. If I could do this thing, I can do anything. Run my own business. Write a novel. Maybe even a best seller. I can set myself a challenge and see it through.
At the 20 kilometre mark I saw TMoTH’s mum and Miss 13 and burst into tears. In fact I was crying so hard, I couldn’t speak to either of them. Or to TMoTH and Master 15 who were a bit further down. They cheered me on and walked a few paces with me, then let me finish the final kilometre. As I crossed the road to the final stretch, Olivia Newton John sang “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo” in my ears, and then faded out to Springsteen belting out “Jacob’s Ladder” as I crossed the finish line. It was perfect.
On November 16 I competed in my first half marathon. I walked it in 3 hours and 25 minutes. I walked it for my Dad who I miss and for my kids, The Offspring, who I adore. I walked it for my siblings who are my best friends and my mother who taught me everything important there is to know in life and to whom I owe everything. I walked it for Dennis, TMoTH, who makes me smile and feel safe every single day. I walked it for the people I work with who work so hard to make a difference - and the people for whom they are trying to make a difference.
But most of all, it turns out, I walked it for me.