The reason I decided to run 52 marathons
Good evening, all. I’m not sure how this blog will turn out, as I’ve been considering content for days. I think so much happens in the periods between blogs that I need to pre-blog my blog. I need to keep a diary! You’re going to have to forgive the solemn tone of this blog. They can’t all be jovial because at times, I have to remember that I an doing these runs to make a difference.
I did the Brighton Half Marathon on Sunday. I ran with a good friend of mine, whilst another followed on his bike. We ran from Worthing to the start line, where we started the run. Having felt comfy throughout the first 13 miles, and with a small wait at the start line (where my watch continued – I had to wait for the official race start), we plodded on. It’s so nice to be running with people around me, rather than on my own. It’s fantastic to see other people who are running for various reasons. Seeing the elite athletes come flying down the opposite side of the road is amazing – I don’t know how they can travel so fast. More amazing was seeing the Somalian amputee also go flying by, eventually finishing in something like 1 hour 22 minutes. Then there come the quick(ish) and keen – like my mate Rich, who afforded me a hug at mile 4. I had a fair few friends and acquaintances running the event and it took my mind off the act of running whilst looking out for them. Runners encourage runners, they spur each other on. This is easily demonstrated by a total stranger running past me with a massive grin on his face. His name was Tom and he was a medical student at BSMS. I caught him again later on and we talked – he even let me video him. He obviously wasn’t trying hard enough to be grinning that much! Thanks for the chat, Tom.
Unfortunately, Sunday wasn’t all roses. Come mile 11 of the half (and mile 24ish for me), a runner, Phil, had collapsed at the side of the course. Instinctively, I stopped. As did my close friend Elliot, who happens to be a doctor. We stayed with Phil as other runners went past and we helped as best we could. He was a bit unresponsive, sluggish in what he was saying and slightly incoherent. All in all, not a good day for Phil. One of the first things I learned about finding people in a bad way is to talk to them and find out as much as possible about them. That’s why I know his name was Phil, that he was 40 and was an experienced runner. He was carrying Jelly Babies (so must have known about energy), looked fit and healthy and had no medical bracelets or anything attached to him. So why did he fall down? Why couldn’t he talk and what made Sunday different to any other day? I guess I will never know – I don’t know his history and I’m not sure what drives him on. I just hope this doesn’t put him off, and after a swift recovery he decides to start running again.
It does make you question your mortality, though. It’s a daunting thought that death will catch us all, sooner or later. And indeed it is death itself that inspires people to take up running in the first place. A huge number of people choose to take on a marathon as a way of remembering someone. Dedicating yourself to the mental and physical turmoil of the event itself and the training associated with it is a huge undertaking.
First and foremost, I run because there is a part of it that I enjoy. I haven’t yet defined what this part is. Answers on a postcard please. I think I would run no matter what my life history is/was/will be. But I don’t think I would do it to the extent that I do now, had my dad not died. I wouldn’t be driven enough to hurt myself as much as I do when I run. I wouldn’t have the determination to carry on running when my heart beats so hard that I can feel my pulse in my ears, or when my legs cramp, my run becomes a shuffle and I can taste blood in the back of my throat.
I run in memory of my dad, Dick Betts, who took his own life on October 20th 2003. He committed suicide. It’s not something I shy away from and it’s something I come to terms with more each day. It’s not something that embarrasses me and it’s not something that I try to hide from people. I can empathise with those who have lost loved ones through suicide, though, and who do not want to talk about it. It’s a taboo subject. It has a stigma attached to it and many people see it as a selfish and gutless act. People are welcome to their own opinions, but before they form them I do wish they would find out the facts about suicide and mental health before passing judgement.
There have been times when I’ve tried to rationalise what my dad did; I’ve blamed him for my weaknesses, I’ve cursed him for bailing on us and I’ve tried to reason with his share of my spirit as to why he might have done it instead of snapping out of it – because that’s all he had to do, right? Truth be told, no one will ever know what exactly tipped him over the edge. And it’s that which helps to keep me sane – I may not know what it was that made him sit in his car as it filled with carbon monoxide from the exhaust, but equally – nobody else does, either. I have spent many an hour sat deep in thought trying to imagine what feelings and thoughts will have passed through him as he was party to a range of emotions and levels of consciousness before he took his last breath and his heart beat its final beat. The only thought that ever makes me choke (pardon the pun) is that despite a full family and the undeniable love of three children, he was on his own at this, his last moment in life.
If we’re in the game of telling truths right now, though, I should put my hands up and admit that I am surprised it took him that long to kill himself.
I, like many survivors of suicide, witnessed a number of attempts at suicide before it worked. I knew from the age of 15 that my dad was on borrowed time and that he would eventually die by his own means. It’s hard to describe what it’s like to wonder if today will be the day that he finally does it and that from this point on, you will be able to do nothing to change what has happened.
For me, one of the worst inventions of all time was the mobile phone. At school it took me a long time to get one, because I saw it as a means of my family communicating with me and telling me that dad was dead, that his body had been found and that he had taken his own life. I do not want to give the impression that every single day was like this. Like many people who suffered from severe depression, my dad often had times of normality and times where he felt things were going right and life was good. There were times when dad had moments of pure clarity, where he spoke all the sense in the world and could rationalise well and work through problems. These were the times that I cherish and are times that I adored – I hold every one of those memories so close to my heart that they’ll never be forgotten. What is equally never forgotten are memories calling him for a chat and not getting an answer. Where was he? Why wasn’t he answering? Was he on his own? Oh bloody hell what’s he gone and done? Only to find out that he was in the shower, or had left his phone in the car. You couldn’t very well say “Oh shit, I thought you were dead.” Despite you both knowing this is exactly what you were thinking.
One particular phone call does actually bring a smile to my face, despite the underlying darkness. Dad had gone off and I was desperately trying to get hold of him. He answered his phone and told me this was it, he was heading to Beachy Head to jump off. I was in no doubt he was serious. Now, we lived in Leicestershire at the time and generally he would have taken the M1 south to London, followed by the M25 and the M23 to get to the south east of England. When I cautiously asked where he was, he said he had just passed Gloucester and would be in Wales in no time. Telling a suicidal man that he was heading in the wrong direction to kill himself was a surreal but ultimately laughable experience. We laughed about it during some of his moments of clarity.
I was in my first month of university when dad died. I remember it so vividly that I could recall almost exactly what happened. I had rehearsed the sequence of events so many times in my head that the performance itself was faultless. I had returned from a day in Brighton with my gorgeous fiancé, having been to the pier and done the tourist thing. When my phone rang, I could see it was my sister and the hot flush that I got (and still get now) every time she called went into full flow. This was the time. I already knew it, but then I had known it so many times before and it was never the time. There’s no point second guessing – just answer the phone. “Hello?”
“Kev, it’s Milly. Dad’s dead. He’s killed himself, Kev”
“OK. I’ll come home”. I then put the phone down and told Amy what had happened. Calmly, I accepted her cuddle before going for a shower. I don’t know why I needed a shower, but it made sense at the time. I didn’t lose it, I cried a little and one of my first thoughts was that at least this time would never happen again. Is relief a wrong feeling in this sort of situation? Within about an hour I was headed to the station and would be home in hours. My mate Matt picked me up and we went for a beer. I played the fruit machine and won the jackpot. We then went to pick up my brother before the formalities kicked in. And that was that, dad was dead.
It’s a horrible feeling to know that despite your best efforts, you are not going to succeed in the ultimate goal of preserving life. It’s easy to control your own life (when of sound body and of sound mind), but you can only have so much influence over others. No matter how much you want to help them, at some point you have to realise that without their own help and effort, your work knocks on the door of the deaf.
I think I came to terms long before my dad’s death with the issues surrounding suicide. I’ve spoken frankly about my thoughts on why someone decides to die and I maintain that for many, it is the bravest thing they think they can do at any given time. I am not saying I agree with people killing themselves (save for those who are terminally ill and choose to die with dignity), because it is not something I could comprehend, but it begs the question that if someone knows what they are doing and chooses to do it anyway, then they must have spent a significant amount of time thinking about the consequences. My dad had tried to die a number of times, and throughout my entire life I can’t recall a single spur of the moment decision. I did not want him to kill himself, but I think I have to preserve his dignity in death and accept what happened and make as positive an impact as possible as a result of what happened.
That is why I run. Because I know how proud he was of me. And how proud he would be now if he could see that I remember him by challenging myself to achieve something simple like running 52 marathons in a year. He always hated sport (apart from rugby), and was never interested in taking part. But he watched everything I did. He traipsed around the county for cross country races (once chasing me up a hill in a threatening manner because I doubted whether I could do it), he drove me across the midlands for rugby training and he turned up to football matches to swear at me, call me a pansy and to get up off the floor and get on with it. Without this encouragement and selfless dedication, I would never have had such a passion for sport. He did it for no other reason than loving me and for that, I am eternally inspired by him.
The pain that occurs as a result of running can be reduced at any time, by slowing down or stopping. Some people aren’t lucky enough to be able to control their pain by choosing to stop doing whatever is causing it. It’s why I try not to slow down or stop – I want to show a certain level strength over the agony. I’m lucky that I can do that.
I hope you understand that I haven’t written this stuff for sympathy, or to gain some sort of recognition. I have contemplated for so long whether I should place my heart on my sleeve like this because ultimately it is human nature for you to now judge me. I want people to realise that we can all be inspired to do something – where we take that inspiration from does not matter, it’s what we do with it that makes the difference. Just because we can’t see mental illness doesn’t mean it’s not there. Tackle the taboo and have an open mind to any illness – mental or physical.
As for Phil, I dearly hope he is alright. He was clever enough to have emergency contact details written on the back of his racing number on Sunday. I haven’t done this for a long time now. I always forget and never thought I would need it. If you run, consider this a warning – take five minutes to fill it in, because you never know when you may become ill during a race.
It seems inconsequential that I also did a marathon in Portsmouth in horrible weather conditions with Rich. It was pretty fast, too. Below is the heart rate/distance measurement for that run. And below that, for the Brighton one.
If you can afford it, please donate to the cause. I have had some lovely messages of late – keep them coming. It drives me on. Rethink do an amazing job. They are one of many mental health charities who work in many great ways. I am particularly raising money for a group supported by Rethink called Survivors of Suicide here in Brighton, which has the second highest suicide rate in the UK. Please, take the time to donate if you can afford to do so. I’m also raising money for Passingiton. You can donate to either at:
Next time, it’ll be more fun. No death, just tales of men and their weight issues, my fiancé making me come out of a church £500 lighter and my dog, who is half shaved and eats everything he sees!
Much love, and thank for taking the time to read this.
Feel free to contact me with encouragement or (jovial) insults at email@example.com
And follow me on Twitter @52marathonman
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- I should really train for New York - October 1, 2017
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- Windsor Running Festival and Running4Women 10k - May 26, 2015
- Ultra 12 and Endure Hardcore - May 22, 2015
- Daisy’s Half Marathon Training – It’s Race Week! - February 20, 2015
- Endurance Season: nutritional tips - February 9, 2015
- Firefly Recovery Aid - January 25, 2015