Shelley Silas is not a runner, well that was until she realised that maybe she is…
For years I’ve told everyone never to run because it’s bad for you. I’ve encountered many runners with strapped knees and brightly coloured tape, ankle supports and sore hips all bemoaning the fact that running did this to them as if they were not in charge of their bodies. But I had no interest in running so never paid much attention.
Exactly three years ago today on March 30th, 2016 I went for a run around my local park. Bored with the gym and not wanting to be inside on a glorious spring day, my wife suggested I go for a run. Yeah, why not. I had trainers, a quick couple of laps and I’d be home. I was 56. I ran about 2 metres and stopped. I couldn’t do it. I was out of breath, my legs wouldn’t work, it was absolute torture. I couldn’t understand it. I was fit, I thought I was fit. Didn’t gym and yoga and Pilates and swimming all make me super fit? Er...no. Toned, well-stretched, with good balance, but as far as my cardio went, I was totally rubbish. I couldn’t even blame my dire attempt on my mild asthma. I stomped home filled with despair.
I don’t like not being able to do something, it’s not in my character. Facebook came to the rescue with loads of recommendations to do the NHS couch to 5k. The walk-run method has worked for thousands and it worked for me. In 9 weeks I could run 5k without stopping. I remember my first 5k race, I was overjoyed yet I couldn’t imagine running any further distance, a 10k was unimaginable. But 5k wasn't enough. I wanted more. And so it progressed. My first 10k was on Clapham Common, I was ecstatic. That year I also slipped in two triathlons. I’m still not sure how I managed to finish them. A 10-miler around Richmond Park followed, and then a half in 2018 and I loved it. The spirit of the crowd, the other runners, the super speedy and the slower among us, running for ourselves and often for charity. A 31k ultra-marathon came next in July 2018 but I wasn’t prepared and I walked a lot of it, trail running was new to me. But this was a test to see how body and mind responded. I couldn’t walk down stairs for 4 days but my mind was okay. Then I ran a dreadful 15 miler because yet again, I wasn’t prepared, I didn’t do the work and my legs knew it. Two friends helped me cross the finish line. I knew I had to be prepared next time. Looking back, I really enjoyed running and walking in the Chilterns, often alone as others were ahead and behind, time to think about everything, getting lost and then getting found. Prior to that I didn’t even know what an ultra-marathon was. It’s anything over 26.2 miles!
Some people said, what about a marathon? To which I laughed in their faces. Don’t be ridiculous, I’m never running a marathon, I have never wanted to, I have no interest in it and most important of all, I do not want to get injured.
This weekend, on Sunday April 14th, I am running the Paris marathon (because I didn’t get into London, not because I am fancy!). As I said, this is something I never dreamed of, it wasn’t on a bucket list, I didn’t watch Mo and Paula and Eliud and Mary and think, I want to do that, I want to be them. I still don’t want to be them, which is just as well because it’s never going to happen. Now I watch them in awe, the speed, the focus, the determination, the keeping on going. They are remarkable. Keeping on going is hard. But I have kept on going. I’ve been training since November 21st, four runs a week, comprising of a longer run each week and three shorter. I’ve completed all but one run due to being unwell. And I've had help.
A runner (he’s run more than 60 marathons and ultras and super-ultra 100-milers) called Michael has been with me all the way. He sorted my training schedule and has run three of the longer runs with me at my pace and has always mapped the route. He texts me weekly to find out how my legs are and how I am. I couldn’t do this without his guidance and belief – because right now, I am absolutely terrified that I won’t be able to complete it, or feel faint, or get heat stroke, or fall into the Seine, or trip over the many cobblestones, or hurt so badly I’ll have to be stretchered out, or spend all my time in the portaloos. Yes, I am scared because it has been hard, getting lost, running up hills without Kate Bush’s help and scrambling down them, fitting in training with work and life and my magnificent, supportive wife (I did remind her that this is all her fault), and my 90 year old mum and the cold and hot and fuelling properly and falling over and bouncing back and hurting and the good runs, so many good runs when it all comes together – but mostly, it’s been hard. But the satisfaction of having run outweighs everything else.
I’m running as a 60th birthday present to myself but also to raise funds for a charity, as I have been doing since I started running. This year that charity is MS-UK.
MS-UK does the most vital work, with people having to cope with multiple sclerosis (MS) on a day-to-day basis. Unlike other MS charities, MS-UK does not receive government funding or money from pharmaceutical companies, it is there to provide direct care for people having to adapt their lives to MS. My friend Jim, who is in the later stages of MS, suggested MS-UK. It's smaller than the well-known charities, but small is as vital and significant and needs our help too.
I’ve reached my target but more donations are always welcome. I have been overwhelmed by the generosity and kindness of family and friends and total strangers, especially when times are hard and the world is in chaos. I will run my best, not my fastest, I will take care while taking in the sights and smells of Paris, and I will carry every good wish lightly on my back. And I will acknowledge my immense privilege and good fortune. And I will wear my t-shirt and medal when you next see me.
For more information about MS-UK – www.ms-uk.org
If you’d like to donate to my Just Giving Page – here it is www.justgiving.com/fundraising/shelley-silas5