Lockdown Running, Cancer Crushing

It started with a walk, under the stars, with a team of wonderful women trying to crush Cancer. That was two years ago when we were living the old way, before Covid19. So much has changed in the world since then, except so much for those living with Cancer hasn’t. The big takeaway here is that Covid19 doesn’t stop Cancer.

Knowing that walking is not really my favourite thing, I tend to do most things at pace, I decided to enter the Tauranga Marathon and raise funds to support the NZ Cancer Society in the best way I could. The event date was the 19th September 2021. Who knew it would land in the middle of Auckland’s fifth Level 4 lockdown?

I’d followed a self-designed training programme, ramping up to running over 30km in some of my training sessions. These longer runs took me all over Auckland before lockdown, and to a very different place in Level 4. I was training early in the day when I hoped to avoid pedestrians. The Prime Minister expressly said that runners didn’t need to wear a mask. That didn’t stop me from paying heed to distancing myself from others. I’d made the mistake of reading some online trolls ranting about unmasked runners in a neighbouring suburb. I’d also been abused one day while out running for not wearing mask – it was from a passenger in a passing vehicle. Ironically, some of the quiet training mornings proved to be anything but.

I’d regularly pit myself against runners looping under the harbour bridge at sunrise, playing human dodgems to avoid young parents with prams and steering clear of the fishermen lined up with their pungent buckets and sturdy angling rods, cast out over the sea wall. Some days it got lonely…. passing the port and the endless red wrought iron fence, missing human contact as we all followed some kind of code to look the other way when other humans approached. But then I reminded myself of the loneliness of going through hospital treatment in lockdown, unwell and alone.

One day I ran to Titirangi to change it up. Someone had fashioned a mask out of a recycled bread bag, covering up face on the Henry Atkinson statue. A mark of the times. I like to lose myself on a route and that day I ended up on a narrow one-way, kauri lined lane. A local resident looked up in surprise. Probably wondering where this runner came from. I ran up the Zig Zag track that day. A steady vertical climb through native bush. I groaned as the lactic acid coursed through my legs, everything was in pain. In that moment my friend was waiting for her delayed operation, hoping to finally get on top of bowel cancer. Another friend is living with multiple myeloma. My pain was easy.

I mapped out my marathon route. Knowing that the Level 4 rules and continued community spread of the Delta variant would make it harder. I couldn’t go anywhere that meant driving more than 5km from home, and while not strictly in the spirit of the rules, a socially distanced 21km run out to St Helier’s Beach was all going to be achieved on foot. Saturday the 18th September was forecast to be a glorious spring day. I was wrecked with nerves, knowing that my best option was to bring my virtual event forward by 24 hours to channel that adrenaline.

When I set out from my driveway at 8am I didn’t expect the level of support waiting for me in the streets. That wonderful group of ladies and their families who’d walked to crush Cancer 2 years before, were out in force in support. The team were dotted along the roadside at distanced points, each with a message of support. My bubble were waiting at the harbour bridge, the fishermen out in force. I had a way to go.

The long run past the red fence felt easier with the lure of Auckland’s Eastern Bays ahead. The Waitemata, loosely translated as sparkling water, was kissed by sunshine, sparkling indeed, nature was cheering me on. Friends passed me on bikes and I used the space on quiet roads to avoid the throngs on strangers on Tamaki drive. Fortunately, I didn’t get caught in the camera shots for the lockdown bulletin on the 6pm news.

I reached my halfway point on St Helier’s Cliff Road where Sarah George was waiting. She was joining me in running 21km, she too raising also raising funds the Cancer Society. Greeting her at the halfway point put the magic into the event and unmeasurable support to keep going. I watched as she set off fresh, her familiar form rounding the bays ahead of me, running like me for the cause.

The return route got harder. My hip flexors and feet started to burn as I rounded Auckland’s waterfront. The shortcut over the bridge was closed for lockdown. The Rowan family were there in Wynyard Quarter to cheer me on. They too have had struggles with their son’s health. I was doing it for them too.

The final leg got harder, climbing hills that wouldn’t have been in the mix had I run the Tauranga event. My regular running buddies ran ahead so I could follow. It was hot for an Auckland spring day. I felt nauseous, trying my best to acknowledge the calls of support from friends lining the street. Sarah was back to join me on the home straight. It was hard. Once again I reminded myself that my pain is easy.

As I reached the driveway I was met with fanfare. My girls had chalked a colourful finishing line, balloons, and each holding an end of a ribbon for me to push through as I crossed. My neighbours were out on their lawns, my friends gathered in separate bubble spaces on the road. I had no words as I lowered myself to the pavement, looking around me in wonder.

I raised close to $2,500 for the Cancer Society, between us Sarah and I raised over $3k. I’m enormously grateful to everyone who supported me with such aroha, and to those who donated to help the Cancer Society get people to their appointments, provide accommodation for families going through treatment, provide invaluable support programmes, and conduct world leading Cancer research to crush cancer.

Ngā mihi nui

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