I was shaking when I read the email. I had to re-read it four or five times before it sunk in. “Hello Cathryn,” it said. “I’m so pleased to be able to offer you a place on Team Tommy’s for the London Marathon 2020 on Sunday 26 April.”
The London Marathon. The one I’ve seen on TV so many times. The one I once watched for real while visiting friends in the capital. The one world-class athletes take part in because it’s so renowned. The ultimate dream race for so many runners. The one I never in a million years thought I’d take part in myself.
Tommy’s – the charity which researches into miscarriage, still birth and prematurity and provides support to so many women and their partners – were offering me a place on their team. And suddenly I was petrified. “I can’t do this,” I said to myself as the tears started to fall.
I’d applied after the excitement of watching so many of my friends taking part in this year’s event. The ballot opened immediately after the 2019 run, and all my running friends were applying. I got a bit caught up and found myself filling in my details on the website too. I knew the chances were slim – one in 20 runners get a place through the ballot. And so this lead me to apply for a charity place. I still didn’t actually think I’d get a place though – there’s around a one in eight overall chance of getting a London Marathon place and competition for charity places is tough, despite the huge fundraising targets required. I didn’t tell anyone I’d applied, not even my husband, mostly because I didn’t ever expect to be successful.
And then, a few months later… the email.
We were on holiday when the message arrived in my inbox. I read it a few times. Freaked out. And then told my family. My children had seen several friends and relatives running marathons and had asked me repeatedly when I was going to do one. I’d always brushed it off. The kids were so excited for me, and as much as I didn’t want to let them down, I didn’t know if I could do it.
As I struggled to run even 5K in the Italian heat I was filled with self-doubt. The furthest I’ve ever run is a half marathon and I’ve only done that once (tomorrow will be my second). How would I even fit in the training, I asked myself. What if I struggle and have to walk half the distance? What if I hate it?
And then a few days after that email something happened which stopped me in my tracks and made me realise that absolutely I could do it.
My dear friend Rosie went into labour very prematurely and sadly her baby Evie was too small to survive. Rosie’s first baby Lily also died tragically and I couldn’t believe that life would be so cruel that this would happen to her again.
Around the same time, a friend messaged me to say she’d had a miscarriage. She’s since had two more and as yet has no answers as to why.
Another friend, local parent blogger Chantele of Two Hearts One Roof has bravely been documenting the death of her son Ebben, who died during labour. You can read her beautiful words here.
It made me realise that no matter how many blisters I get on my feet, how achy my legs are afterwards, if I need to walk parts of it or crawl across the finish line….no amount of physical pain will ever come close to the emotional pain and heartbreak of losing a baby.
My heart breaks for these women.
And this feels like the least I can do to honour their babies and to support them, and others facing the same difficult experiences.
As I’ve written previously, my first pregnancy ended in miscarriage and it was all kinds of awful.
Although all our experiences are different, I empathise with the pain these women and their partners are going through. It makes me so sad that 10 years on from my own experience, there is still so much we don’t know about what causes miscarriage, still birth and prematurity. In fact, a shocking 71% of parents never find out why their baby died or was born prematurely. Often doctors simply do not know why. Like many women I blamed myself. Was it something I did or didn’t do? Platitudes like “it’s just one of these things” were said with good intentions, but didn’t help.
As dark as that time was, I sometimes think the reason it happened to me is because through my work as a journalist and blogger I am in a position to raise awareness. I have shared my own experiences and those of others too, in the hope that this will provide a degree of comfort to other women and their partners going through such devastating experiences, as well as raising awareness among those who haven’t experienced it themselves as to how it may be affecting someone they know. I am always humbled by the number of people who comment on these posts and who contact me directly because my words have resonated with them.
As well as supporting parents through their grief, Tommy’s fund research into reproductive health. In fact, their target is to halve the number of babies that die during pregnancy or birth by 2030. You can read more about what Tommy’s do here.
I would be happy to lose a few toenails if it means less parents knowing the heartbreak of losing a baby, and better support for those who do.
And that’s why I’m proud to put on my Tommy’s vest and to run London Marathon 2020.
I’m also inspired by the amazing women I have met through the running community here in Cardiff and beyond who I have cheered on tracked on various apps as they have run marathons in the UK and abroad. They’re all regular mums, fitting in their training around work and family life and they made me realise if they can do it, there’s no reason why I can’t either. Myfanwy, Tanya, Caroline, Kate, Nia, Rhian, Emily, Laura, Beca, Ironwoman Janet, Sarah, Jane, and in particular Kerrie, one of the ‘back of the pack’ runners from London 2019 who showed the most incredible strength and courage in completing the event, despite the awful treatment she experienced along the way (read her story here).
I’m not just going to be running London though. I’m dedicating all my running between now and then to Tommy’s, starting with Cardiff Half marathon tomorrow morning. I won’t be wearing my Tommy’s race vest – I’m wearing one of these beautiful t-shirts created by my amazing Cardiff running friends and dedicated to Rosie and her angels. Sadly I was unable to make the official photoshoot, but seeing these photos brought tears to my eyes. If you’re watching the half tomorrow and see any of us, give us a cheer!
Next month I’ll be taking part in the Tough Runner Cardiff Trail Half Marathon, and in January 2020 the 10K Afan Valley trail run. My hope is to run two more half marathons in the first quarter of 2020, as well as three more 10K races. I’ll be documenting it all here on Cardiff Mummy Says.
My children are also going to be running their own marathon. Not in one go, obviously! As soon as I told them the news about London, they started telling me all the things they wanted to do to help me fundraise and have decided to set themselves the challenge of running 26.2 miles between now and London. This will be made up of official running events and Junior Parkruns.
They did their first 1.4 miles today at the Festival of Running family fun run, which precedes tomorrow’s Cardiff Half Marathon.
I will be organising a series of fundraising events over the coming six months to help me hit my fundraising target. More information on that to come. If you’d like to sponsor me, you can do so here. If you can’t sponsor, then any likes or comments on my social media posts would be so appreciated and an amazing way to help me help raise awareness of the work that Tommy’s do.
London 2020 – I’m coming for you!