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  • Writer's pictureLou

Falling Starfish

We are just under 11 weeks out from the Brighton Marathon.

And I am bricking it.

Suddenly this thing is very, very real.

The panic is a light dusting on tummy butterflies that have made me feel unexpectedly nostalgic.

We moved to Canvey Island in September 1989. I was enrolled at Canvey County Junior School, most of my primary school life was a bit of a blur which is probably because it was almost 31 year ago.

I vaguely remember a supply teacher that once threw a chalk board rubber at a pupil, my teachers voice when raised was so loud is rattled the window pains and being hit in the face with a football on my very first day.

The things I do remember with any kind of clarity was being put in a special art class, a class that was open to any pupil in the school displaying a creative talent. It was a lot of fun, I made art with potatoes, learnt the colour wheel and generally just got to spend a morning a week pissing about and drawing. Unlike the rest of school, this class was not only enjoyable to me, but I found it easy.

I didn’t lose myself daydreaming and I didn’t try my very best to be a people pleaser. In normal class I wanted to be the one with all the answers, I always thought it was because I was a needy kid who wanted to be a know it all. I don’t think that’s true anymore. I was a needy kid, but not to be a know it all, but to get the attention I wasn’t getting at home.

Mum worked hard, and she worked nights. Father would come in from work, turn off our tv programmes and sit in his chair barely acknowledging out existence.

I looked forward to this class because it was the only time at school that I felt like I fitted in.

And then I discovered running and gymnastics.

We had been going to dancing classes for a few years, I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t something I was fanatical about. Then mum’s friend told her about a gym club at the leisure centre. I loved it; the coach that ran it also worked at a proper gym club. After a few months he invited us to go to the proper club instead.

This changed everything.

South Essex Gymnastics Club. For roughly 5 years we went there every Friday evening and Saturday morning. I loved it. I was mediocre at best, I did a few different competitions with neighbouring gym clubs with varying levels of success and even though I was only ok, I would daydream about being the elites like Lilia Podkopayeva, Simona Amanar or Svetlana Khorkina.

I loved the gym, it was what I looked forward to and even though I was mediocre whenever I accomplished a new move I felt great. I know I’m not alone in this feeling great when achieving something. But for me, this was the only time I felt good.

In the summer at school we would do athletics. Turns out I liked to run and was ok good at it and doing well at it, like gymnastics made me feel good.

Both things we’re huge to my self-worth and confidence.

Our first ever PE lesson was running 3 laps of the back field. I loved it. I did well and the teachers invited me along to cross country training.

My flouring of butterflies was bringing up memories of cross country races and gymnastics competitions, that adrenaline rush right before.

I absolutely loved Cross country races, we would get on the coach and arrive at random fields along with a bunch of other schools in the district. It was always freezing, and a fantastic atmosphere. The older more experienced kids would be preparing for the race by taping their trainers to their feet. Which I thought was curious, until I would, during the race run, through the muddiest parts to see discarded trainers left in the mud and kids running wearing just one shoe. We would get so muddy that our teacher would insist we sit in and on bin liners on the return trip. So as to not piss off the coach drivers.

I then started thinking about some of the stranger/funnier runs I have done in the last 12 months.

When I started running beyond 5 miles, I started to branch out and run further afield. I chose to run south, to the seafront then left.

I would run on Marina road towards Rottingdean and then turn, go down to the underpass and run back. It is such a lovely run.

Especially when the tide is out. I hadn’t really been paying attention to my immediate surroundings, was looking out to sea.

I had got into the running zone and I’ve no idea where my head was when something dropped out of the sky and nearly hit me in the face. I carried on running but returned to the moment in time to dodge a starfish.

It took me a couple of moments to realise I had just dodged a falling starfish, then another one hit me on the shoulder, and I did the running into cobwebs dance. I paused momentarily to try to figure out what in the world was going on, when I saw a gul swoop and grab a starfish which he almost immediately dropped.

And suddenly it all made sense. The tide was out, the starfish no longer had the water as protection. The guls were capitalising on this but they weren’t good at gripping the ones they snatched.

I must say this was disappointing because for a few fleeting moments I thought starfish had learnt to fly. Well learnt to jump and then fall. Sad times that the explanation was boring and normal.

After a couple of months of running the under pass I got a little bored. So, to mix things up I started turning right at the pier instead of left.

Hove town.

It was a well needed change of scenery. I would run out to the fancy pants Western Esplanade, turn and run straight back.

The run back is the last stretch of the marathon, and I really enjoy running it during training because I immediately get into the zone and the miles just melt away with ease.

Quite often I try to put my head in the race, and imagine I’ve just run 22 miles and just have 4.2 to go.

I was well into this zone when I passed a couple of people who clapped and cheered. I thought it was weird and kind of assumed it was in my head, or if it wasn’t then it was a massive coincident that they clapped and cheered as I ran past. Then it happened again, more people cheered me.

I was exceptionally confused, and then another runner passed me, at speed with a number on his back.

Looking around I suddenly noticed there was marshals and tape and lots and lots of other runners. I was in a race. Completely unintentionally.

Several marshals cheered as I passed them, as did a bunch of spectators. This went on for about a mile before the race route took a sharp left turn and I was going straight. Two of the marshals tried to shepherd me to turn left, it was a very weird moment of me saying no number, not a competitor one of the marshals understood, but the other was hell bent on me turning left.

I then got caught up twice more in the same race as it was snaking in and out of the promenade. People continued to cheer me, which was nice but also weird.

When I got home, I checked it out, I had unintentionally run in the 10k Hove Prom.

For a little while after this, I thought perhaps I would do shorter races after Brighton 2020, then I thought nah……Beachy Head Marathon in October……bring it.

I was working on my pace, so running to The Level, then around the level twice then up the hill of Ditchling road and home. I reached The Level in good time and immediately got distracted by the Christmas tree graveyard on the north east side of the park.

I was so distracted about being sad about the graveyard that I lost my footing and literally fell arse over tit. Face first into the discarded Christmas trees, bum sticking out.

A passer-by, walking his lovely German Shepherd did his best to help but he couldn’t stop laughing. The fact that his dog was sniffing my bottom didn’t help.

Eventually after we both stopped laughing, he helped me out. Awkwardly trying not to touch my bottom in the process. Arguably the funniest bit about it.

The dog obviously found the smell of my bottom very agreeable because he tried his best to run along with me, in the end I had to give him a little cuddle before continuing with my pine fresh run.

When I got home, Flash smelt the other dog and ignored me for an hour.

I don’t like the butterflies. It is making me question myself a little bit because the butterflies are also the first sign of anxiety. Thing is, I know the difference in the butterflies, I just need to keep reminding myself of this because of all the good stuff my running has brought me.

I am the fittest I have been since I was a kid, and the best part is I feel like I have regained the confidence I found when I started doing gymnastics and running in the first place.

To put it another way I have finally realised why Drop Dead Fred is one of my all time favourite films. Rik Mayall is one of the funniest people ever to live, but the reason is that scene towards the end of the movie when present day Elizabeth sees her 7 year old self, tied to the bed, unties her they cuddle. I feel like I’ve done that with my 14 year old self. Untied her from the narcissism, given her a cuddle told her everything is going to be ok and now I am awake in my own world feeling confident, strong and above all happy.

Brighton Marathon....I’m coming for you!!!

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