Since joining the JRS staff team over three years ago, London Marathon day has been one of the highlights of the calendar for me. Being part of the groups going along to cheer on our fearless runners fundraising to support our refugee friends has always been great fun. A large part of this enjoyment has been the fact that I have been on the sidelines and not actually running the Marathon!
Every time I would say: “that will never be me”.
Well I have always been fairly sporty and kept reasonably fit playing various team sports but I always hated running. If I was playing a match, no problem, but just running for a long period has felt mind numbingly dull – and painful! However, during lockdown going for a run for my ‘daily exercise hour’ became a great way to unwind and rather than being something that had to be endured, I actually started to find myself enjoying the runs. We all know crazy things happened during lockdown! I also now live on the marathon route and not too far from the start line in Greenwich. So, when we were recruiting runners to take on the challenge of this year’s London Marathon for JRS UK, it felt like there would never be a better opportunity to bite the bullet and sign up.
That does leave out the main reason I am putting myself through the 26.2 miles though: our wonderful refugee friends. During my time at JRS UK, I have been truly blessed to meet so many amazing people and be able to get to know them better. I have learned about cultures and places I might not otherwise have encountered, shared meals, received advice and words of wisdom, spent hours talking about the most recent football match and shared many laughs.
I have also encountered the great sorrow and adversity that is part of our refugee friends’ lives. The things that have forced them to flee their homes, the way they have been treated with hostility since arriving in the UK, the life of destitution and homelessness they are forced into by an unjust asylum system and the accounts of detention in immigration removal centres.
Being away from our centre and missing the times spent accompanying our friends in person has been one of the toughest parts of this last year and a half. I hope by running the marathon I can do something to ensure the tireless work of staff and volunteers can continue.
It’s now only a few days left until the big day and I have actually enjoyed the process of training far more than I thought I would. Living close to the Thames, running along the waterfront has meant less time negotiating traffic lights and being so close to central London has allowed me to see some sights and check out bits of the course.
We also spent the summer going to weddings and catching up with family meaning there was a welcome change in scenery to break up the monotony of the many hours spent racking up the miles. Highlights included a trip to Oxford during which I stumbled across the sign commemorating Roger Bannister’s record of the first sub-four minute mile, a sign in equal parts inspiring and dispiriting! Staying with my in-laws in the Mourne Mountains made for stunning views and challenging runs up and down hills, something that will be very helpful come the weekend – or at least I told myself as I slogged up hill in traditional Irish summer conditions, rain. Running in Cornwall saw my stupidly fit younger cousins push me to run fast and back home in Manchester had me treading familiar pavements.
I’m hoping my fairly laid back approach is not going to come unstuck when it matters but I’m sure the mix of adrenaline and crowds cheering will get me over line. That and our refugee friends. Each time I cross a mile marker I am going to think of one of our refugee friends to push me on. If I can channel even an ounce of the perseverance they show on a daily basis in the face of the challenges they face, 26.2 miles should go by in no time.
Nick and Andrea will be running the London Marathon on 3rd October for JRS UK. The money they raise will will help JRS to continue to accompany destitute and detained refugees in a spirit of hospitality, welcome and love.
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