Had we known we were going to be racing against Olympic gold medallist Mo Farah, we might never have agreed to run The Big Half on Sunday 10 March. In blissful ignorance, the three of us – that’s me, Julian Richards and Tim Cotton – enthusiastically took up the challenge to run 13.1 miles through south-east London to help raise money for Hope for the Young.
Training began in November last year, building steadily over 16 weeks. It started off very gently with a 20-minute steady jog combined with periods of walking if necessary. Each week, it got a little harder as the programme instructedus to run a little further and a little faster, peaking at 95 minutes of non-stop running at the end of week thirteen.
One of the things that kept me going was the knowledge that the more I ran, the more calories I could consume. I confess I took great pleasure, at the end of a long run, dropping in on my favourite café for a chocolate brownie and a flat white, plus a sausage for my dog, Taisto, who worked hard as my unfailingly enthusiastic coach. In fact, Antónia Chamo, the manager of the café beside the Lea River in Hackney, was so impressed by our training and what I told her about Hope for the Young, that she became one of our keenest sponsors.
As the big day approached, I felt increasingly nervous. My hamstrings had become so tight, I was struggling to walk properly in the mornings, despite spending more and more time stretching and bending in every way possible. The Monday before the race, I was so worried that I was going to go lame that I went for a specialist sports massage with Tatina Semprini, whose magical hands are also trusted on the Royal Ballet dancers.
I wasn’t the only one worrying about my middle-aged limbs. Tim was having problems with a tendon near his knee and wasn’t sure whether he’d be able to run at all.
But we all pulled through. The evening before the big run, the three of us sat down to huge plates of pasta followed by apple crumble and custard. We were all in bed by ten o’clock. The following morning, we woke before six for porridge and a strong cup of coffee before heading to Tower Hill in our Hope for the Young T-shirts.
The atmosphere was amazing. Even on the tube on the way there, we met other runners heading in the same direction. We shared information about the charities we were running for and anxieties about the blustery conditions. As it turned out, we needn’t have worried. We all had a fantastic day. The crowds lining the streets cheered us on. There were all sorts of bands and choirs playing music and singing songs at the side of the road. Members of the public held out Jelly Babies to passing runners, to give us a much-appreciated sugar boost. Most of the time, I felt like I was flying along. I laughed and smiled and clapped the public as I ran past. All the while, I was trying to catch up with Sir Mo.
Well… that didn’t happen. He won the race in one hour and one minute. Julian took half as long again, with a time 34 minutes behind him. I came in at one hour and fifty minutes, and Tim just a few seconds over two hours. But, boy, did we enjoy ourselves. Even the last two miles, which felt very painful on the old legs, were inspiring. Whenever I was flagging, I thought about the young people at Hope for the Young, many of whom have made incredibly arduous journeys fleeing conflict and hardship. When my thighs and knees were beginning to ache, I reflected on the charity I was there for – and the pain wasn’t quite so bad.
I also thought about Mo Farah himself, who was born in Mogadishu, the Somali capital, and came to Britain as a child. He is a wonderful antidote to the anti-immigrant rhetoric pumped out by too many of our politicians and media commentators. I felt lucky to be running in his foot-steps, inspired by his example both as an athlete and as a brave and humble human being.
We want to say a big thank you to Lara, Julian and Tim for running The Big Half to fundraise for Hope for the Young, and a huge well done for doubling their fundraising target! It’s not too late to support them: if you would like to make a donation, please visit their Just Giving page or donate through our website here.