The last couple of weeks have been, to say the least, stressful. It started with me dashing home from work after a hysterical call from my 16 year old son. He’d been the target of a local gang of young louts who don’t like disability or difference, and think an adult sized person who’s as easily frightened as a small child is hilarious. Luckily a neighbour had seen this, called the police, and stayed with my son til family arrived.
The fact that this had happened on the day that most of my Facebook feed was applauding the country’s recognition that disabled people have talent rankled. I think Lost Voice Guy is great, he’s a local comedian who I’d seen before he entered Britain’s Got Talent. But his win is not a show of how well respected disabled people are in this country.
Sadly my son’s experience is more typical of what people with disabilities face on a daily basis than Lee Ridley’s acceptance by the nation. And it didn’t stop on Monday. I don’t want to go into details, but it’s ongoing, immensely stressful, the last thing my family needed during both kids’ exams, and utterly heartbreaking. I will say that the police recognise hate crime when they see it and are taking it really seriously, and everyone I speak to is sympathetic and supportive, but the damage one gang of stupid kids can do is immense. Even when they inevitably get bored and move to a new target it will take a long time to restore my son’s confidence and rebuild the small measure of independence we’d worked so hard to build for him.
It’s got me rattled too, since defending my son the same gang is yelling abuse at me when I see them around the estate. It’s had me questioning including photos on this blog, recording my activities on strava, even walking to the local shops on my own. I feel constantly on the verge either of tears, or of losing my temper so badly I’m afraid of what I might do.
It’s amazing how quickly long held values disintegrate when your own family comes under attack. I didn’t like the level of surveillance we all face day to day, now I want cameras everywhere. I’m firmly opposed to violence against children, but I want to retaliate to these kids violence against my son. I didn’t believe locking kids away was a solution, but I want these kids off the streets.
But mostly I want my son to feel safe and happy, and I hate that I can’t make him safe or happy at the moment.
The Saturday before all this started my son did his first parkrun. For a young man with his additional needs just getting around 5k is a massive achievement. Doing it in the crowded environment of Newcastle parkrun, on an incredibly hot day, was fantastic. I’m trying to help him hold onto the pride he felt that day during the challenges he’s facing at the moment.
The Saturday after all this started was the Blaydon Race. This was a run I desperately wanted to take part in, and was overjoyed when I got a place…
As a small child on a visit to London my dad and grandad convinced me they’d told the palace we were coming, and that was why the guards played the Blaydon Races during the changing of the guard that day.
As a small child witnessing my brother getting stung by a bee I insisted to my mother that the bee had flown off “laughing, and humming the Blaydon Races.”
When he was younger the Blaydon Races was one of my son’s obsessive interests, leading to many visits to local museums and my mum’s puppy getting the name Geordie Ridley.
The Blaydon Race is an athletic race, not a fun run, and despite the celebratory atmosphere it felt like a more serious event than any of the others I’ve done to date. This in itself made me feel closer to my grandfather, who won medals and trophies for running races in the 1930s, one of the many things I wish I’d talked to him about before he died when I was 13.
But I’d had a rubbish week and the stress was pushing me closer to an anxiety attack. I’d arranged to meet friends from running group to go to the starting point together, which got me through the initial “everyone here looks more like an athlete than me” worry.
My aim was to do the 5.7 miles in under an hour. The race started well for me, the first three miles went brilliantly. Then the sun came out, unexpectedly, and I started to struggle. I had to slow to a walk, and that was when the anxiety kicked in. “If you can’t run the whole way you shouldn’t be here, how are you going to cope with 13 and a bit miles if you can’t manage 5, you should just pull out now, you’re a fool to call yourself a runner…” And on, and on.
At one point at about 3.5 miles I was walking, struggling to breath, trying not to cry, unable to hear anything except anxiety lying to me.
“SALLY, YAY, COME ON!”
A shout from a friend on the other side of the road, with a grin and a wave, broke through, and I smiled back, took a few deep breaths and started running again.
I am a runner because I lace up my trainers and run, even when it’s difficult.
I am an athlete because I know my body, and I recognise when I’m pushing too hard and know when to take a break. That’s not failure, that’s strength.
I will do 13 and a bit miles, bits of it will be tough, but I absolutely will do it.
Crossing the finish line I felt like it had been a bad run, I’d had to walk too often, I really struggled with the heat and the few uphill sections.
But I’d achieved my target of under an hour.
When I looked at my heart rate I could see I’d needed to slow down, and looking at my pace I certainly hadn’t walked for longer I’d run.
Anxiety lies. It was a good run and I adapted as needed to the changing conditions. There was great support both from other runners and from spectators. Next year I’d like to do it again, in a more positive frame of mind, and with a more consistent pace, but for a first attempt this was a good run.
Since then I’ve run over 9 miles for the first time, completed my 30th parkrun, and kept running despite the stress. It helps.
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