It was Laura who got me started, she of the NHS Choices Couch-to-5K podcasts. With her indefatigable, almost insufferable, bonhomie, she'd turned me into a "proper runner" within nine weeks and then set me off every other morning on her follow-up series for Couch-to-5K "graduates".
My pursuit of fitness, health and happiness trailed off, however, as movement became more difficult and my muscles began seizing up. Other normal activities deteriorated: my handwriting became minuscule, my voice hoarse, I fumbled with buttons and loose change, struggled to get out of chairs – and the effort of putting on my socks and shoes brought tears to my eyes.
The symptoms of Parkinson's Disease are often dismissed as signs of "getting on" and do not necessarily include the tremors that concerned Dr James Parkinson in his Essay on the Shaking Palsy in 1817. My diagnosis in February 2015 was confirmed five months later by a brain scan that showed that 80 per cent of my dopamine-producing cells are defunct. Dopamine is the all-important neurotransmitter that sends messages to your muscles to get them to work.
My Parkinson's Disease is idiopathic, meaning no one knows what caused it. There's no cure, as yet. But there are treatments and strategies to control the symptoms and retard its progress. Like drugs and physiotherapy – and exercise. Which is why I am up and running again. I regularly pound the Two Tunnels route near my home, or the Kennet & Avon Canal towpath further afield, or, once in a while, the Bath Skyline Parkrun. All in preparation for the Bath Half, when I shall be raising money as part of the Parkinson's UK Team.
I owe it all to Laura, of course, although on March 12 I shall have another young woman by my side. My youngest daughter Madeleine, who ran her first Bath Half ten years ago, is coming over from Germany where she now lives to lend me her support on her daughter Jasmina's first birthday. It's my birthday the following week. So please give Mina and me something extra special to celebrate!
When I heard Dad was set on doing the Bath Half Marathon for Parkinson's UK I thought he was a little mad (I ran the Bath Half in 2007 for Mum and for Cancer Research and it's *really* hard). But his reasons for taking it on were all completely sound, some might even say wonderful and deeply moving, and I figured the best way I could support him was to join him.
It's been difficult and upsetting to be a bystander as Parkinson's has made so many aspects of Dad's life a struggle (admittedly not as difficult and upsetting as it has been for him). Nobody knows how to cure it and the medication that exists to alleviate the symptoms seems woefully inadequate. Dad has explored all the options available to him, stayed positive and just tried to get on with doing his thing (you know - working, socialising, playing cricket, going to rugby matches, mysteriously pottering around in the garden at all hours, telling bad jokes, telling the occasional good joke...). Exercise is supposed to help. As an ex-200/400m runner, I'm not sure how running much further than once around the block can help anything, but if you give us lots of money and it helps to support people going through the terrible ordeal that is Parkinson's, then that would be something rather lovely and very helpful indeed.
Oh and not that I want to make this about me, but 12th March will also mark exactly one year since I had an emergency c-section and had to endure the longest break from running since I took it up aged 11. It's great to be back pounding the streets (somewhat too literally), even while severely sleep-deprived and having to restrict my post-run shower singing because of sleeping baby.
So that's my story - running for Dad, running for all the families affected by Parkinson's, running for me, running for exhausted new mothers everywhere, running for gorgeous Mina on her first birthday in gorgeous Bath. I'm looking forward to some birthday cake at the finish line.
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