Why I’m running the London Marathon

The short answer

Because it’s there.

Alright, there’s a bit more to it than that.

The slightly longer answer

Because I used to be unfit and a bit fat, and then I took up running. In two years or so I’ve lost five stone and turned out to be quite good at jogging. I need to keep finding new goals to challenge myself with, and the London Marathon is the next logical challenge.

Alright, there’s still a bit more to it than that.

The long answer

Hopefully I’ll try to avoid making this sound too much like one of those sob story ‘journeys’ that contestants on reality TV shows recount while sobbing. But if you do want to listen to Coldplay’s Fix You while reading this to add a note of cliched sentimentality, you probably could.

Here’s the deal: I’m running the London Marathon because it’s the next logical running challenge for me and, more importantly, to raise money for the South West Children’s Heart Circle (who also provided me with an entry for the race). The SWCHC is a hugely worthy local charity that provides help and support to the families of children before, during and after they undergo heart surgery. It does that by providing experiences for the children and their families, and by helping hospitals such as the Bristol Royal Infirmary (BRI) to fund equipment not normally available through the NHS.

It’s a charity I’ve got a very personal reason for supporting.

I was born with a hole in my heart: an atrial septal defect, to be more precise. Put simply, one of the valves that helped pump blood around my heart didn’t work properly.

My condition was only picked up during a pre-school medical check, and doctors then decided to wait until I was a bit older and bigger before operating. That meant a few years of not growing much and of being short of energy a lot (it event meant regularly missing afternoons of school to rest).

When I was seven, I had open heart surgery at the BRI. Thanks to that, I’m now able to lead a totally normal life (although there was a very tiny hole they couldn’t patch up, leaving me with a very slight heart murmur just to confuse anyone listening carefully to my heartbeat).

In the period building up to and following my operation, the South West Children’s Heart Circle did a fantastic job of providing support to me and my family. Actually, mostly my family.

Here’s the thing: having open heart surgery is easy. You don’t even have to be awake for it. You just go to sleep, wake up with a bit of Teflon in your heart and look forward to a better life. Easy.

And honestly, it didn’t seem that odd to me: it was normal. Think about it. I’d grown up knowing I had a hole in my heart that would need to be operated on. In many ways it defined who I was: I was probably best known in school as that small kid who had a hole in his heart.

So it never really occurred to me to be worried or scared about having heart surgery.

For my family, it was different – because heart surgery wasn’t normal to them. My parents had to try to be strong for me, while also trying to shake the (daft but understandable) feeling they’d done something wrong because I was born with a heart problem. So it did occur to them to worry and be scared about it.

The South West Children’s Heart Circle members were on hand to provide much appreciated help and support to my family at what was a tough time for them. That included providing a place close to the BRI for my mum to stay – so she could be on hand in the early hours of the morning when I woke up in intensive care after my operation (I wanted ice cream. She arranged that).

My surgery went well, and I was in and out of hospital relatively quickly. Not every child who has a heart problem is so lucky. Some spend months in hospital. Some never leave. It’s a real strain on the families of those children – and the SWCHC is there to support them too.

In the years following my operation, I did lots of fundraising for the Heart Circle. But, gradually, life took over. As I left school and headed to university and then work, I stopped being ‘the kid who had heart surgery’. I could just be, well, normal. And, in some ways, I began to take my health for granted a bit.

Fast forward a few (alright, quite a lot) of years, and I found myself in my mid-30s, and generally a bit unfit and fat. I took my health for granted, despite the scar on my chest that really should have been a constant reminder not to. Which takes us back to when I took up running a few years ago, and jogged my way back into shape.

Ironically, it was the effort of losing five stone and getting fit that made me appreciate how fortunate I was to be in good health. Without my heart surgery – made far easier through the support of the likes of the South West Children’s Heart Circle – I certainly wouldn’t be running now. I couldn’t even dream of doing a Marathon now (and dreaming is all it is so far: I still have to run the thing. But that’s a problem for April…).

So that’s the long sob story version. Tears in your eyes? No? Darn. I’ll try harder next time.

Here’s the charity plea bit

I’m running the London Marathon because I want to, and to raise money for the South West Children’s Heart Circle. I’d very much appreciate it if you could sponsor me, to the tune of however much money you can spare. I appreciate lots of people bother you with sponsorship requests these days, but this really is a small, local charity that will do a lot of good with any money they receive.

You can donate via my Just Giving page here, and I’m really appreciative of any money you pledge. Thanks.

I’d conclude by saying that I won’t ask again, but this is just the start of my London Marathon build-up, so I rather suspect I will…

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5 comments

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