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Have you ever done a 'bucket list'? A list of all the things you would like to do or see before you're too old? Well, I was visiting Canada for work a few years ago, and a colleague and I stayed a few days after the meeting was finished and decided to go and visit the Niagara Falls. There, standing in the Maid of the Mist, being sprayed by water and contemplating the falls, I shared with my friend that it was one of the things I had dreamed to see since I was a child and learned about the falls in a geography lesson. That is when she asked me if I had ever done a bucket list...
That evening, several cocktails later, we had both got a pretty good start on our list. I told her that running a marathon was one of them. Clearly there were some far more pleasant ones on my list (seeing the sunset behind the Taj Mahal, walking the Great Wall of China, etc.). She looked at number two on my list (After visiting New York), and said cheekily: “Really, a marathon? Well, you might want to not leave this one for too long!”
I lost my mum to leukaemia less than two years ago. She was 62 years old, and very healthy until she was diagnosed with the illness. It was terrible news for all of us. Although I live in the UK, I am French and all my family lives there. When mum called me to tell me the news, I got the first plane to come and see her. She was extremely unwell at the time and had undergone a lot of tests at the hospital. Her two sisters and brother were unfortunately not a match for bone marrow transplant so she started a cycle of chemo. I came to visit as often as work allowed, seeing her in a completely sterile environment in hospital was harrowing but she always kept positive and optimistic. Although the results looked promising after the first round of chemo, unfortunately the illness came back with a vengeance, and by that time, she was too frail to undergo another chemo treatment. Within nine months, leukaemia had taken away our mum so unexpectedly.
When registering for the marathon, Leukaemia CARE naturally was the charity
I wanted to run for, in memory of my mum and also because I saw all the great work they do with patients suffering from the illness. I wrote a letter explaining why I would like to run for them and got accepted. I was delighted but also realised the responsibility I had taken on: training for this very long race and raising the money I had pledged to collect.
Training was hard. As the London Marathon is in April, all the training happens in the winter and the British weather is a challenge. It takes motivation to pull away the duvet every Saturday morning and go running for long periods of time, come rain or snow! But coming back home after a 10, 15 or 20 miles run is in itself a great achievement and I felt good every time it was over!
Raising the money was also a concern. My pledge was £2,500 and I had never done such thing before. I got lots of help and tips from the fundraising team. I set up a Just Giving page and sent a few emails/Facebook messages to colleagues and friends, and the donations started to come in. I was really surprised and touched by everyone’s generosity. People also shared personal stories of having lost close ones to the illness. All in all, and with the help of my employer Microsoft (who operates a matching scheme), I managed to raise just under £6,000. This was a great achievement too and I felt really good to be able to contribute in some way.
The day of the marathon arrived (it was also my son's 9th birthday that day!) and I got to the start point early enough, nervous but also excited. The scale of it was mind-blowing: over 40,000 people getting ready for a very, very long race. The camaraderie, the support, the atmosphere was incredible. I spotted a few other runners who were running also for Leukaemia CARE and we exchanged words of encouragement. The start was slow, you only really get into your running space 20 minutes after the race has started, but from the beginning to the end, the support of the crowd was incredible. I had my name on my vest and heard random strangers shouting it and encouraging me all the way. I spotted friends and family along the route, which is always such a boost. Yes, after 18 miles or so, my body was knackered and the mental fight started: this is when you run for all the people that sponsor you, that I started to talk to my mum in my head, anything to keep myself going and not stop.
Finally I arrived in St. James. Park. I took my headset off to hear the crowd, which was screaming so loudly. That last mile is by far the best one. I felt renewed energy and knew the end was close! I crossed the line in the British sunshine, after 4 hours and 36mins of running, too tired to remove my time tag and hobbling to get my medal, which is one of my most precious belongings, an reminder of an amazing accomplishment, in memory of my mum and which I will treasure for the rest of my life.
I don't know if I will ever run another marathon (the next day when I woke up, my body felt like I had been in a car crash!), but I will certainly continue on running and supporting Leukaemia CARE. I am so grateful for having had the opportunity to accomplish something that only very few people do in their lifetime, but also to do it for a great cause and in the memory of an amazing woman.