HF Mencap Warriors Meet 10K London Challenge

Time to get up yet? Struggling in the darkness of the Holiday Inn bedroom I see it is 1.45am. Plans to enjoy a good night’s sleep before the run are in ruins as I toss and turn through the long hours until I can finally get up.

Showered and dressed I cross over the road to meet up with Sophie, my daughter, at Colliers Wood tube station. The morning is cool and I wonder whether it was wise to dress only in T shirt, shorts and trainers. Too late, choices have been made.

At half past eight we join Dean and his merry band of MENCAP runners outside Charring Cross station. After introductions we share tales of training schedules that we had failed to meet; injuries that might strike us down mid race; and the generosity of sponsors for the MENCAP cause.

Moving off to the start two of the girls express a desperate need to join the toilet queue. The queue is endless but in true Brits fashion there is no “pushing and shoving’ as runners wait their turn. Will they still be there at the start of the run… at the end of the run?

Off to the start and here runners talk to one another as nervous energy and a shared sense of experience overcome the normal reticence to talk to strangers in the City.

Finally we are off. Or at least some people are and we watch as they run past us on the opposite side of the road. We wait … and we wait… before we are finally released in a crescendo of noise as we pass the starting line.

At the start of a ‘mass run’ there is always the desire to run faster than you should and faster than is possible as you often find yourself running on the spot or into the back of the runner in front. In time the space in front opens up and you can see the road. It becomes safe to look aside at spectators, who might be clapping and cheering or staring intently seeking out loved one.

The London 10k route is different from last year and we appear to be running towards and away from Trafalgar Square as if we were tracing the outline of a five pointed star. As we pass by Nelson’s Column I am surprised to pick out of the crowd Marilyn, my wife, and shouted and waved frantically. She has time to snap a picture as I wave excitedly.

I am working hard to keep up with Sophie as we weave away through the field. People’s starting positions in the run are determined on a ‘first come, first served’ basis so in a field of this size there are plenty of slower runners as well as those who always intended to walk the course.

Oops, there’s Marilyn again and this time she managed to get both Sophie and myself in the frame. We have covered most of the course when things nearly go badly wrong as a large group of Chinese tourists rush across the road with the determination of lemmings going over a cliff edge.

Less than 2 kilometres to go and the calf muscles are beginning to tighten. Sophie suddenly starts moving like cattle on a prairie trail who have got the smell of water. I attempt to move up a gear, but realise I am already in top gear. But then the finish line abruptly arrives and it is all over. Pleased, released, proud…runners become pedestrians as we head in a long column towards the bag pick up points and collect medals.

Just like the primary school kid to receive a star in his book, I am proud top collect my medal and drape it around my neck. Our group of MENCAP warriors partially reforms ( I hope the two other girls are not still in the toilet queue). We congratulate one another, say our goodbyes and go off to join the anonymity of human motion around the city of London.

Thanks to our leader Dean and the MENCAP charity for giving me the opportunity to take part.
Neal Sheppard ( aged 64)



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