Almost two years ago I challenged Naomi to do 16 "Man-ups" to raise money for Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, using their superb PledgeIt fundraising platform.
A few months later, having completed not 16, but 20 man-ups, the tables were turned, and I found myself cycling around the south-west, and Wales, in all sorts of weather to twenty-six towns. My revenge would be sweet: I challenged Naomi to run the Cheltenham Half Marathon.
Even in April, when I set up the challenge, the little pink one was a little bit nervous. A self-confessed non-runner, she wasn’t particularly enamoured with the prospect of a structured training programme that would run through many of the summer months.
Sadly, injury took her almost completely out of action for nearly 10 weeks; she was able to go to the gym, and to ease-up on kickboxing sessions, but there was no way she’d be able to put in the road-miles most of us do before reaching the start line. Then the asthma hit - badly, and made running, even short distances, very difficult. On Thursday the doctor’s advice was simple: don’t do it. This was a blow.
All that aside, on Sunday, 7 September, I stood at the start-line with my little pink hero. With almost overwhelming nerves, but anxious determination and the knowledge that Jasmine and Lily would be waiting at the finish, Naomi knew that she at least had to try.
At 09:00AM the gun fired and we were off. The plan was to run through the start then ease off to a walk so that we could see how far we’d get before a sign of an asthma attack hit. The start is quite difficult - it’s uphill almost right off the line so there’s little time to warm up properly.
Two kilometres in and we were still running. I offered the chance to ease off, but Pinkie was determined to keep going. I offered the same choice at 4KM, 6KM, 8KM, and so on. The going got tough at 11KM in, but she ran on for 13KM, the longest distance she’s ever run. We eased up, but were still running at a steady pace.
As we carried on Naomi’s determination to complete the challenge might have waivered, I don’t know, but she kept going. The amount of money pledged had almost doubled during the race alone, so the opportunity to quit was fast disappearing.
By the time we got to the racecourse at around 14KM, the sun was bearing down on us, and we realised the lap of the course was longer than we’d dared imagine - surely people were heading in the wrong direction! We had a little walk to let the puffs on the asthma inhaler do their thing, but we could almost smell the bacon baps at the finish line.
When we approached the last climb, out of the racecourse, I muttered those most-memorable lines from “The Little Engine That Could”: “I think I can! I think I can! I think I can!” I’m sure that the engine should have been chanting, “I know I can! I know I can! I know I can!”, but the book was a success anyway.
Coming out of the racecourse people were still cheering us on. The end was nigh. Or very near, at least. The guy in the sumo suit was still with us - fair play to him - he looked worn out long before then.
As we approached the finish line we spotted two gorgeous little faces, quietly sitting on the kerb with their mum & dad, watching the runners go by - I’m pleased to say that they were excited to see us! A few metres from the line we picked them up, joined hands, and then sprinted for the finished with their mum, Ev! Dad, Spike, was looking after the gear, so he, too, had a very important job to do.
Not only was had it been a hard race for Naomi, the training had been hard - to the point of depressing, I guess, but she did it. At times she lacked belief that she’d make it. I’d often joke with her: “I think you just need a little bit of, what’s that thing? Oh yes, faith!” Then she’d know she could make it. At least she now realises how stubborn I am.
We’d live-tweeted our progress, with photos of landmarks and our amazing supporters as we went, so we’d have easily come in under two hours if we hadn’t dawdled to do that, of course.
We must offer our thanks to the team at Cheltenham Half Marathon for very kindly giving finishers’ medals to Lily and Jasmine - they really were excited to receive them. Special thanks, too, to Al, Dan, Emily, and Luke who ran in our colours, and to JT, MJ, and George who proudly cheered us on from the sidelines.
Hywel, Naomi, Jasmine, Lily, and Luke (from PixelPin, one of our totally awesome sponsors)