I have taken part in the Great Manchester Run every year since 2008 with only two exceptions. In 2010 I was training for a marathon just a few weeks later, and last year I was heavily pregnant with Tall Boy. On both those occasions I have been out to support the runners and cheer them across the finish line. It’s the largest 10K in Europe and the atmosphere in Manchester on race day is electric. The city buzzes with the excitement of a beehive, you can actually feel it.
Everyone runs for a reason, be it for charity, to remember a loved one, or to conquer a personal challenge. It’s the event that motivates me when I think about hanging up my trainers; it epitomises the spirit of Manchester.
In the run up to this year’s event I was driven by the desire to prove to myself that I could still train for and complete the race after having a baby. Tall Dad and I had the babysitters booked in as soon as the date was announced, before Tall Boy was even born.
And, last Sunday’s run was still about that. I am proud to say that I finished the run, as it turned out only 17 seconds slower than in 2015.
But last Sunday’s run was also about something bigger. When Manchester fell victim to a terror attack on 22 May (six days before the run) as a result of which 22 people lost their lives and over 100 people were injured, it was unclear whether the 10K would go ahead.
Sport has an important role to play in society, bringing people together as a force for positivity, and what better way to demonstrate the power of sport than to proceed with the Great Manchester Run. This was another example of Manchester pulling together, a city that would not be beaten.
I contemplated staying home this year, not wanting to take the risk because, since Tall Boy came along, it’s not just about me anymore. But, I gave myself a good talking to, reasoning that it was important to carry on as usual, because what would be the alternative?
If I decided not to run, how much time would have to pass before I could say that I felt safe enough to be part of a large group of people again?
Most importantly I didn’t want to give in to the very fear that terrorism seeks to create. And, judging by the turnout, the people of Manchester agreed with me.
This year it felt different
Arriving in to the city for the start of the run is usually a thrilling part of the event. Everywhere you look people wearing race numbers head for the start line on Portland Street and the sense of excitement carries you with them.
This year the day of the run was the first time I had been in to Manchester since the attack and I could sense the shift in mood. I visited St Ann’s Square before the race so I could take a moment to reflect on what had happened. Standing in a place usually so full of life and finding it so quiet brought unexpected tears to my eyes.
At the start line there was a sense of defiance, of not giving in, of joining together and putting on a brave face, but there was an undercurrent of nervousness. People were on edge and when a speaker popped minutes before our wave was due to start, the collective heart of Manchester stood still.
After the warm up runners fell silent to remember the victims of the Arena attack.
Tony Walsh read his poem ‘Do Something’. The words were loaded with a new significance for this year’s event. And then we were off.
…Do something to beat what you’re afraid of…
… Do something to make a city proud,
Do something to shout, ‘I will survive’,
Do something to show you don’t surrender…
Do something, the Great Manchester Run.
Lack of training has had the biggest impact on my mental stamina when running. My legs and breathing can feel fine but I have still found myself wanting to stop. On Sunday, when those thoughts crept in, it was thoughts of the victims that kept my legs moving. 22 people who will never be able to run again, and many more who will face unthinkable obstacles possibly even to walk again. The least I could do in their memory was ‘get over myself’ and keep on running.
Because this year, I wasn’t just running for myself, I was running for my city…the place I call home and the place I consider to be the greatest city in the world.
Manchester, this year, I ran for you.