As the London Marathon approaches, I am reminded of an anniversary…..
Can you, during a one and a half hour run, encapsulate a life? Yesterday I cried until my body reached drought levels. Why? I’ve known for months that my oldest friend, Caroline, would be heading off to live, with her family, in New York. We said our farewells, full of hope and excitement. However, when I saw her ‘last’ picture in England, posted on Facebook, I was totally overwhelmed. What I had been avoiding for months suddenly bubbled over, inside and out. My great friend would now be an ocean apart, flying a new trajectory into her future.
For a day I felt stunned. I thought about our 30 years of life; similar yet completely different journeys marked by a spiritual quest, creativity and adventure. When we were kids we toed the line in the school athletics team, Caroline achieving first, second and thirds at the 800m effortlessly, me throwing the javelin, or filling in the spaces where someone was needed. We were the netball and hockey teams – always there, always believing we were going to win! When we were 15 we went running together, then in our late teens and early 20s we hit step classes and aerobics along with every other woman in the 80s. We had a common love of exercise; Caroline excelled in anything requiring rhythm and flexibility whereas I relied on fiery energy.
Today, a new week began and I knew I needed to go for a run, however slow and hard; going out was better than not. And so I steadily warmed-up as I ran past our old school. Madonna’s Immaculate Conception clicked in on my iPod and memories began jumping out of nowhere. I felt suddenly present, jogging past our secondary school, which had been its own warm-up for our lives; we had sat next to each other at the age of 11, 30 years ago. Relaxation set in, I lost the sense of having to run, and my head rose. Get into the groove, the music told me. Caroline and I had ritually humiliated ourselves in the village disco to this song, as well as Bananarama’s ‘Venus’; our endless bobbing up and down on the stage wearing our Port Maid stretchy skirts, dog-toothed tops and white stilettos – we must have been a sight.
As I continued to run I decided to step off the path onto a local trail; how many times had we both stepped off our paths in the last 30 years? We had wanted to move away from our home village, live in London, act, write… unconventional for village girls. And the more I followed the trail, the wetter, muddier and boggier the ground beneath my feet became. Separation and divorce has muddied both our lives, and diverted us down rough roads until we too found our way back to our own paths. Who else, but your oldest friend, would drop everything to listen to your sobs of pain as you sit in your car, on the side of a road, facing the brutal reality of divorce; just listen, reassure and not judge.
No off-road run would be complete without some form of hill; big, small, medium… Today was a slippery, short hill that burnt quickly and brightly. But what of the mountains we’ve had to climb; geographical isolation, unemployment, miscarriages… the toughest of challenges, yet climb we always have, sharing that same innate drive to carry on, succeed, be counted and recognised. The short climb finished me off quickly. It was time to make my way back. As I ran along the promenade a thick, stubborn mist sat heavily on still water. And in times through our shared lives we have both felt stranded in such mist, yet, growing up by the sea, we’ve always known that however long the grey weather lasts, eventually the sun burns through.
Ironically, I even got the proverbial fly in my eye. By then, my fingers were sticky from my gel, and I was incredibly aware of how messy, at times, our lives had been. Yet, whatever happens during a run, when you finish, you have a small achievement, regardless of how hard the run felt.
Caroline and I have many things in common and many things that set us apart. We’ve had to climb many hard hills, and make our way back to our own starts. We’ve gone from giggling together in History lessons to living as far apart on the planet as possible. When Caroline first told me that New York was going to be her new home there was a pause before we both said: “We can run the New York Marathon…”
It is a goal we can work towards from opposing continents. Our lives will continue onwards until we can, hopefully, collide in the biggest marathon on the planet.