When I first stuttered up one of the steep Chiltern Hills grouped menacingly around my Buckinghamshire home it was the first question on my lips: What on earth am I doing here? I must have resembled a pit pony on its last legs and image-wise this was doing me no good at all.

Since leaving university aged 20 I'd spent more than two decades as a journalist and looking back I suppose my unlikely ascent up the rickety ladder of the so-called Fourth Estate wasn't dissimilar to being a novice runner at the bottom of that first hill.

The crucial difference was that way back then the body was somewhat different. Long gone were the days where I'd literally worn out a pair of new shoes in three weeks as an agency reporter hurtling around London covering disasters such as the sinking of the Marchioness, the Cannon Street crash, and the Kings X fire.

Years of sitting in unergonomic chairs or in cars outside people's doorsteps, added to hasty takeaways, had taken its toll. I was literally within a short eating distance of a 40 inch waistline.

My excuse for not doing something about it earlier had always been that I was too busy or simply too tired, but things changed, the 2008 London Marathon  had just finished and entries were about to open for next year's race.

I had vowed to run the event because 2009 meant something very different to me - the 20th anniversary of my brother Barry's death. Rarely a week goes by without a flashback to being in the London Hospital and saying that last goodbye as he lay there brain dead on his 21st birthday following a road accident.

Besides the obviously important task of raising thousands of pounds for the hospital I wanted to run the race as a celebration of his life.

The only catch of course that a marathon is - as most of you will  know - a little over 26.2 miles. My longest run to date had been a half marathon four years earlier which I had grossly unprepared for (tip for all novices - if you plan to run 13.1miles don't only train up to seven).

Experienced runners will tell you all you need to do before a marathon is three to four months training. In my case, however, I knew that 12 months was more than necessary if I was going to cross the finishing line in anything other than an ambulance.

Thus those early runs literally began and ended after a mile, with me absolutely puffed out. After a couple of weeks I could do two miles, and after a couple of months four miles felt well within my compass. Quite by chance I heard about a 10k (6.1 mile) race and, on impulse, entered. Looking back it felt like a very long way but the sense of achievement at the end was fantastic.

As we headed into the autumn of 2008 I had run in more than a dozen 10ks and slashed my time but at least ten minutes. Running had made me more mentally alert and far from tiring me out it was giving me more energy.

I had gone from feeling jaded all the time to suddenly feeling focussed and it was then that I made the biggest decision of all. Work, which had been the excuse for me not running all of these years, was suddenly not all the Be All And End All. Of course I had to earn a living but why couldn't I do so as a freelance.
I discovered that instead of driving two hours to London every day I could get up earlier and attack work before most newsdesks even started. In my first month alone as a freelance I earned a fifth of what my old annual salary had been.
My running was also less prone to interruptions as I could structure my work around it. The addition of a Blackberry meant that I could keep in touch with my emails while on the move. That winter and into early spring I completed five half marathons.

Every time it seemed too cold outside, or too wet, or other temptations were being offered, I thought back to how I was running this marathon for my amazing brother.

My only real memory of the early part of 2009 is that it seemed to go so quickly before I suddenly found myself on the start line for the London Marathon. Thankfully I had run the Reading 20 mile and gone on a perfect prep running weekend with my running club, Purple Patch, in the Cotswolds. In contrast to the previous April I was ready.

Four hours and twenty eight minutes later I crossed the finishing line and with it came the tears. As they put the medal around my neck I looked to the skies and said "That was for you brother".

I suppose it could have ended there but running has given me so much that I have simply kept going. I ran the Nice-Cannes marathon in November and will run the Cliveden cross country six with my wife (also a keen runner) in December.

Dennis Rice is a former Investigations Editor for the Sunday Mail and is now a freelance journalist based in Marlow, Buckinghamshire who runs the website www.moneyforyourstory.com

 

 

www.moneyforyourstory.com

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