It happened as I approached the 11-mile mark of my 41st marathon. It had never happened before. I had had a measured first half, testing my full-marathon pace for two weeks later, and then speeded up for the second half to see how that felt. I was just looking over to where the full-marathon runners split off for their second half, and wondering.
Then I saw it. A b-eat vest. I have worn mine like a billboard on my long training runs, and run many events, but never seen another one.
In a way, that’s kind of the point. I see countless cancer, and heart and children’s and disability and other vests from the big national and “corporate” charities… but eating disorders just aren’t fashionable. They are not talked about. They are not understood. Despite affecting somewhere approaching 2 million people in the UK; probably more, nobody really knows. Let me be clear: I have nothing against the big charities or their causes, on the contrary I fully understand that each vest carries a family’s story and probably a degree of pain. I wish them well. But they have their awareness, they have their share of airtime. Nobody is afraid or embarrassed or unsure how to talk about them, or where to turn for help.
That’s why I wear my b-eat vest. For various reasons I decided I couldn’t go heavy on the sponsorship this year; but I have worn my vest on my long training runs and will do so on The Day. Maybe, just maybe, someone will see it and find the website. Find they are not alone. Find some help.
Anyway: back to mile 11. It was a girl, early-20s maybe, and running with an easy natural stride, yet with the slight raggedness of someone who is tiring. I pulled alongside as we approached the chicane which takes the runners off the road and onto the Embankment of the Trent. She was not aware of me particularly, just another runner passing in the fog of her tiredness.
I said “Hi” and pointed at my vest; she smiled, her name was Hannah, and she is on twitter as @hannah_mcbrien. We talked a little, about where we were from, and running; and we spoke of our trials of recent years. Sometimes she was quiet, tiring; I said not to feel she had to talk. I hate it when people impose on the privacy and escape of my runs, and I checked whether she was ok for me to run with her a little; she said, yes, it might be nice to have someone help her along.
To make the distance, the Robin Hood Half has a U-turn just after 12 miles. There was a difference between my GPS and the 12-mile marker, but I said “There: you are in mile-13, and every step is making it disappear”. At the U-turn there is a short but cruel uphill from the Embankment to the road and the return leg. “Take a breather; short strides” I said, “just flat road from here and then…” but I was cut off by a yell and a shout and waves from the roadside. Hannah lit up, suddenly energised, a huge smile and waves back to the group now behind her: her stride stronger for a moment, her head and shoulders lighter. “My friends, they’ve been brilliant, I can’t believe it…!!” I wondered, did they all turn to each other after we had gone and say: “Who the hell was that old bloke…???”; and I wonder if they will ever really understand how much their presence and shouts meant.
I pointed out the runners ahead turning onto the grass for the final run-in, and as we drew near I said I would drop back and leave her in peace to finish her race on her own. She glanced across with a momentary – and touching – confusion… and then she was gone.
My first encounter with another b-eat vest; the first time I have ever willingly shared a race with a stranger. It was uplifting, and a privilege to share that mile or two. So thankyou for that, McBreezey; and my apologies again if I encroached on your first half-marathon.
Im not sponsoring this year but if you can manage a donation please go to http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-web/fundraiser/showFundraiserProfilePage.action?userUrl=HannahMcBrien
and say Johntleeds sent you 🙂