This wasn’t the blog post I planned to write tonight. Like many people worldwide, I spent most of last night (when I should have been thinking about my next blog post) gazing blankly at the TV in disbelief at the devastating news from Boston.
I first heard of the bombings on Twitter and periodically checked the hundreds of tweets expressing anger, condolences and admiration for the many acts of kindness that emerged from this appalling tragedy throughout the night. All acts of terrorism are horrifically irrational and unfeeling. But there is something especially senseless about yesterday’s atrocity. As David Baddiel tweeted shortly after the news broke: ‘Who the f*** blows up marathon runners?’ (And their supporters, we might add.) Who indeed?
I started running a month after Mr Boo was discharged from the NICU. I have never been, or even aspired to be, particularly fit and the last time I had a gym membership was early 2007. I had meant to try to get more active after Sissyboo was born, but the combination of a young and wonderfully distracting child, a commute, a job and a botched caesarian, put paid to that. But something changed after having Mr Boo. As he got strong enough to come home I started to worry whether I was strong enough to look after him and his sister. Physically and emotionally I was running on empty after six weeks in two NICUS. My children needed me to be healthy. Getting fit wasn’t about getting into pre-maternity clothes or looking a bit more like seemingly every other Surrey mummy when I picked up Sissyboo from nursery. It was a responsibility.
More than that, though, I needed to do something positive to counter the difficulties that we had faced as a family and the challenges, it was becoming all too horribly clear to us, Mr Boo would likely face for the rest of his life. I wanted to commemorate the determination he’d shown as he overcame oxygen dependence, terrible silent reflux and meningitis to get home to us. I needed to show how proud I was of him and I wanted to thank Bliss, the UK’s charity for babies born too soon, too small, or too sick, whose leaflets, website, phonelines and training of medical professionals had helped us (and continues to help us) more than I can say. If I could raise money, maybe I could help make a difference. Maybe other families might not have to go what we and so many others have gone through. I entered a half marathon. If I could push myself to the end of 13.1 miles, I figured, then maybe we could all get through anything. Maybe it would all be alright.
My first ‘run’ was a full 30 seconds before my first walking interval of a minute. Never has 30 seconds seemed so long. But over the weeks and months between June and Christmas, I managed gradually to build up my running times and mileage by sneaking out 2-3 times a week, usually after the children were in bed. I was still breastfeeding and I was sleep deprived. But it made me feel good, nonetheless. Then Mr Boo started having seizures and on Boxing Day was admitted to hospital where he was diagnosed with infantile spasms. I’ll write more about this devastating and thankfully relatively rare form of epilepsy in a future post. For now, it’s enough to know that we were admitted to hospital and discharged subject to daily blood pressure and blood sugar tests in the Children’s Assessment Unit to monitor Mr Boo while he was on a dose of steroids that adults with severe arthritis might be prescribed. On these visits to the germ factory, as I not so fondly call it, he contracted RSV and bronchiolitis. He was still fitting a week after treatment started and we were readmitted to hospital.
The steroids stopped the spasms a day later (please, please let them be gone for good…), but there followed another 5 long weeks of steroid treatment. These were the worst 5 weeks of my life. Apart from the constant anxiety caused by the fear of the spasms coming back, we had to deal with Mr Boo’s uncharacteristic irritability and incessant hunger (I lost 7lbs in 5 days while eating normally). Worst of all, though, was the acute insomnia. For the next month or so, Mr Boo was only able to sleep for a maximum of 3 hours A DAY in chunks of 50 minutes of less. His sleep is still not back to normal.
I nearly lost my mind. I have never felt so ill. I couldn’t run. I could barely stand. With 6 weeks to go, and a longest run of 6 miles some weeks behind me, I knew wouldn’t be able to do the half marathon.
But I did. Because I wanted to. No: because I had to. For me, for Mr Boo, for Bliss. (I clearly had lost my mind!) Over the next few weeks I ramped up the mileage (a little too quickly for comfort) and was forced to run less frequently than was sensible as Mr Boo’s steroid-suppressed immune system failed to battle a constant stream of illnesses.
I think I was the only runner fundraising for Bliss at the event. But the sea of brightly coloured vests I saw ahead of me, and sometimes passed, showed that the vast majority of the field was also running for worthy causes. It was clear that for most people racing that day, the 13.1 miles was the easy bit. This was the part of the journey that was manageable because unlike the illness, tragedy or grief that had inspired us to run in the first place, it was finite. The race would end.
When I crossed finished the line, I burst into a flood of tears. So did my partner, my Dad and sister. Sissyboo screamed like a wailing banshee and Mr Boo looked bemused. I hadn’t just run 13.1 miles (I still can’t believe I can say that). I had got through 11 of the most difficult months of my life. And now I knew that, no matter how hard it got, I could get through whatever else was thrown in our way.
For all the sadness that had brought people to the start line that day, the overwhelming emotions I felt during the race were hope and optimism. It was completely exhilirating to see how far people were prepared to push themselves, how much they wanted to help others through their fundraising and the words and expressions of encouragement that strangers shared as we willed each other to the finish line.
And this is yet one final reason why yesterday’s atrocity is so utterly senseless. Because what yesterday shows, is how resilient we are and how the most appalling tragedies only make us stronger.
Our optimism cannot be suppressed. Our determination knows no bounds.