Hated PE? Race For Life is a revelation

This perky, pink, all-women race series gave me a life-changing love affair with running, says Ronnie Haydon

Hated PE? Race For Life is a revelation

How many keen female runners out there, I wonder, owe their devotion to their sport to Race for Life. I always attribute this perky, pink, all-women race series to my life-changing love affair with running. It was in the roseate, endorphin-fizzing glow of a Race for Life that I first Googled my local running club and made a date to try a track session the following Tuesday. That was seven years ago. Now my husband accuses me of loving running more than him.

Race for Life raises millions and millions of pounds for Cancer Research UK. It’s a summer series of national 5K runs (with some 10Ks and, latterly, ‘Pretty Muddy’ challenges thrown into the schedule). The timing coincides nicely with the would-be fit woman’s New Year’s resolutions. According to tradition, she vows in January to address festive flab, then joins a gym. By the middle of February she has tired of the sweaty apparatus and treadmills stuck in front of Eastenders and noticed a three-month couch to 5K programme. The evenings are getting lighter and running outside in the park looks a little more appealing. The Couch to 5K plan proves quite do-able, especially if she has joined a group organising some. Someone suggests they need a goal, and suggests a Race for Life in June. The rest, as they say, is history. Millions of women start wondering if they love running more than their husbands.

‘Intoxicating races’

Some women may baulk at the very pinkness of the organised races, yet none of that stuff matters when you take part. If you’ve never participated in a mass sporting event, if you always hated PE at school, the Race for Life can be a revelation. The support is sustained and positive, the party atmosphere intoxicating. The people you meet are inspirational. You don’t even have to run: walking and dancing are alternative ways to cover the 5K.

Participants are encouraged to wear a back number, stating who they Race for Life for. For most people it’s for someone they love who has had cancer. Often they’re running in memory of people who have died from cancer. Many have an image of their loved one printed on to their t-shirt. It chokes you up (even while you’re gasping for breath mid-race), seeing a poorly toddler’s face peering out at you from their aunty’s back. It can also make you dig deep, both in terms of running effort and raising sponsorship money.

Running for a heart-tugging cause

I was a member of the Women’s Running Race for Life team on 11 June, in Battersea Park, London, scene of the first ever Race for Life, back in 1994. After the race, when we’d accepted our medals and mopped our brows, we listened to talks from representatives from Cancer Research UK. One woman, Fiona, still wearing her racing number, told us why she raced that evening. Her six-year-old son, Rufus, had been rushed to hospital a year before and eventually diagnosed with leukaemia. He then endured a year of distressing and intensive treatment. While she described the experience, and tears welled up among her captivated audience, her son sat with his three best friends and his sister, grinning mischievously. This merry little band had all shaved their heads when Rufus lost his hair. Now they were running around the park clutching Cancer Research cupcakes and kicking Cancer, We’re Coming to Get You balloons about.

It’s easy to feel a bit cynical about the huge, pink, marketing steamroller that is Race for Life, but don’t knock it until you’ve taken part. It might just be the kick up the backside that your fitness needs, but most of all it represents the funding that scientists need to give this horrible disease a right kicking.

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