At the start of June 2013 I was 31 years old and a busy, hardworking, fit and active junior doctor. Then one day I went to breast clinic with a lump I expected to be nothing and I came out with cancer.
I didn’t step back into a hospital as a doctor for over a year. Instead, I had two operations, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and hormone therapy.
As the treatments took their toll I got progressively more tired, lost my ability to concentrate and found myself doing less and less physical activity. I felt my identity slipping away.
By April 2014 it was over.
Except that it wasn’t. Because I was exhausted and broken, and above all afraid. Picking up where I left off just didn’t seem possible as I didn’t feel like the same person anymore.
Over the next year I slowly started getting things back on track. I got back to work and started trudging back along the career treadmill. I got married to my lovely husband Richard who had held my hand through all the treatments and had been endlessly patient.
But my confidence was still in tatters and I still felt like an invalid. Thoughts of cancer recurrence were never far away. I found it impossible to plan for a future I didn’t really believe I’d see. I missed the stamina and enthusiasm I had once possessed. I missed that person I had once been, who had ambitions and determination, and no reason to doubt the future.
Eventually I decided I needed to get my act together and get back in shape. We started going hiking, walking all 214 Wainwrights, then I started doing the couch to 5k. I eventually plucked up the courage to join Ramsbottom Running Club in early 2017 and then later started going along to club races which really helped me feel more confident in my running abilities.
I’d had vague ambitions to run a marathon for a long time and thought this would be a good way to mark the 5 year milestone.
The Coniston Trail Marathon fit the bill perfectly. I convinced a slightly sceptical Richard that I was serious about doing it and he agreed to run it with me. In typical supportive fashion he went out on progressively longer runs with me, never moaning about my slow pace.
Our marathon training mainly consisted of trail runs and I can honestly say I really enjoyed it. We worked long runs into days out or weekends away and had adventures running in beautiful places.
Not wanting to miss out on the road marathon experience we also completed the Manchester Marathon in April. Here my lack of experience at pacing and road running was demonstrated by a stupidly fast first half, a slow and very painful last 10 miles and a time that probably could have been better.
An experience to learn from, but overall my memories of that day are positive, with the highlight being the efforts taken by other club members to offer encouragement around the course.
The Coniston Marathon was everything I hoped it would be. Sunny and scenic with nearly 1000m elevation.
A bit warm for a fast time, but I’d long decided that this day was all about enjoyment and celebration not the time, so meandering in the sun suited me just fine. With the exception of a brief reprieve for a lap of the stunning Tarn Hows, the first 25km is predominantly uphill culminating in some spectacular views of the lake.
We took it easy on the uphill walking some of the steeper bits to conserve energy. Practice dashing down local trails has apparently made us quite sure footed because we were able to pass a lot of people on the predominantly downhill later sections and the energy conserved on the first half allowed us to continue to steadily pass many others on the final flat 5km.
I finished feeling strong, which was perfect considering my main goal was to prove that I wasn’t broken anymore.
Overall it took us about 5 hours 40 mins, which although well over an hour slower than our Manchester time was better than expected for a day where we’d walked steep bits, stood around eating flapjack, taken photos and generally had a jolly nice day out! Like most of the preceding journey Richard did the whole thing by my side.
Afterwards, an ice-cream, a soak in the lake, some pub grub and some local elderflower gin finished the day off beautifully.
This year has been pretty amazing, and my mindset has definitely shifted in a positive direction. This is partly the healing powers of time, but I’m also convinced that running and the support, encouragement and enthusiasm of RRC has played a huge role.
Being neither naturally athletic nor outgoing being part of a sports club is new to me and I’ve had some fabulous experiences.
I’ve laughed my way across Pendle Hill in the dark and I’ve slogged through bogs failing to find the Pilgrims Cross in the fog.
I’ve been pulled out of icy pools on snowy trails and run with the sun on my shoulders on mountains and moors.
I’ve plodded round marathons and dashed around 5ks. I’ve run laps at the running track for speed and laps at a relay for a picnic.
I’ve been cheered home with cow bells and I’ve celebrated the achievements of those arriving after me. I’ve worn my club kit with pride in groups large and small on countless race photos.
I’ve been utterly humbled by words of support and encouragement from my amazing team mates.
And what of that identity that was lost all those years ago as the poisons trickled into my veins?
Well, that’s still gone. I’ll never be that girl again. But those miles ran, those experiences shared, those friendships made – they’ve made me into something different, something better, something to be proud of.
I’m a runner!!!
Sarah Clarke (RRC086)