When I was nine, I was briefly a member of the Brownies. You'll note I don't say I was a Brownie. That's because I don't feel that I was there long enough to do justice to the uniform. I managed twelve weeks in total - long enough to encompass the Hallowe'en party, the Christmas disco and the New Year pantomime trip. Then, with a long period looming that promised little but washing socks for the Housekeeper's badge, I left, adrenaline junkie that I am, to seek my kicks elsewhere.
Thirty-three years later, I am running, and it's going phenomenally badly, and for some reason the Brownie motto is going around and around my head: Be Prepared. I am not prepared at all. I am running a half-marathon in six weeks' time and I am not prepared for it. I am running to raise money for the National Autistic Society and to raise awareness of autism, because of the experiences of my daughter, who has Asperger's Syndrome, and my daughter is starting secondary school almost RIGHT NOW and I am not prepared for that either, at all.
I don't mean I'm not prepared. I mean I'm not prepared. I've bought her new uniform, and her new shoes, and her new schoolbag. I've bought her some stress balls, and an alarm clock that will wake her with light and natural noises to try to minimise the stress of getting up. I've talked through the transition with her countless times and I've emailed and spoken to the woman who will be coming to pick her up and travel in with her on the bus for the school's statemented kids. But I'm not prepared. My girl is going to a new school, with all the change and people and noise and bustle and smells and demands and schedules and people, people, faces, faces, talking talking talking that that involves for her, and I don't know how she will be and I don't know how to prepare for that. So I am running to get strong at least, but if the level of my running ability is any reflection on my current levels of core strength, then I am royally screwed on that front too.
I have run half a mile and already I am staggering and weaving. There is absolutely nothing in my legs. This is because I have overtrained and underslept, a killer combination. That week in France when I let myself go easy on the runs turned into another week in France when I only did one or two runs, which turned into another week in France (I know - jammy) in which I mainly ate and lay in the sun. And then that turned into a week at home in the sun, eking out the summer, in which I didn't really do much, and and and and suddenly I had seven weeks to get ready to run 13.1 miles and went mad with panic and now here I am and I've just looked at my watch and it's crawling and I'm crawling and I've still got another six miles to do.
Be Prepared. Be Prepared.
As I groan and stagger on I tell myself that the process of getting prepared is simple: I just have to put one foot in front of the other and keep going. If I keep going then hopefully at some point I will find that I am prepared. This is endurance training, after all. They call it that because it hurts, and it teaches you to endure.
So I keep running and though every single minute of the bloody run is bloody torture I am absolutely determined to finish it - because if I don't finish it then I won't have anything to point to and say 'look, I did this, which means I can do .. this', without which I won't get through the week - and so I do finish it. Then I hobble home to tick off the next box on my training plan.
Over the next few days as I chip away at the preparations for my event, and for Grace's event - interval runs, ugh, and sewing her school badge on her blazer skewiff, ugh - I realise that it's not just about being prepared, it's about how you act when the moment arrives. You can prepare all you like, but how you act when the pressure is on is just as important, and Grace, my Grace, always shows grace under pressure, at least in the big picture when you look at what she is coping with every day - what's a few meltdowns between friends and relatives - and so, so can I.
I may not be prepared yet, not really, but I am another step towards being prepared by having remembered that keeping going is important too.
So this one's for everyone who is starting school this week - children and parents alike. You can do it. We'll be right alongside you.
Just keep going.
Just keep going.
I am running the Royal Parks Half-Marathon on October 6 in aid of The National Autistic Society. I will be ready! Meanwhile if you would like to ease the pain of my preparations, please click here
For more information about me and Grace Under Pressure, please click here