Sat at my desk last summer, books and papers piled up to my ears, I caught myself counting the number of ‘o’s in the paragraph I had just typed. It was a humorously bleak, absent-minded moment amidst an intense month of dissertation writing and, embarrassed at the evident shutdown of my brain, I closed my laptop and left in search of tea.
I was deeply engrossed in my project, which concerned the works of the writer Doris Lessing (if you haven’t had the pleasure of reading her writing, I recommend you start at the beginning with her first novel, ‘The Grass Is Singing’), but right now I was tired of writing and my near-hermit existence. In a bizarre moment of self-belief earlier in the year I had signed myself up to run the British 10k for Action Tutoring. A student volunteer for the charity at the time, I felt motivated to fundraise so that tutors like me could help support even more pupils. But with the race just six weeks away and with me in no fit state to run to Tesco’s for a midnight snack, I was rather hoping I might break a leg. Dissertation-writing didn’t seem to involve the necessary occupational hazards, however, and I was left to shuffle back to my desk guiltily and nurse my cup of tea.
It turned out I didn’t have to look far for inspiration. Doris Lessing’s words, ‘Whatever you’re meant to do, do it now. The conditions are always impossible…’ had earned a place in my affections that week, and a cheery post-it stuck to my wall reminded me I should take note of them. They banished excuses, incited action, and gave an urgency to my purpose that stretched even to me dragging my trainers out from under my bed. With tea lukewarm and cursor still blinking expectantly, I found myself leaving the flat and running before I could muster an excuse. It would be the best decision I made that month.
Running along the river in the early evenings brought me so much more than a welcome break from essays: it brought rhythm, clarity of thought, energy (…and admittedly a lot of sweat!). I began running most days after the 30-degree heat had raged its last and made way for cooler evenings. Each time I would find myself resolving problems in my head, thinking about people I missed, finding words for things I had wrestled with for a long time. It wasn’t just the physical exercise that helped – it was the fact that, amidst an incredibly busy period of my life, for an hour a day all I had to think about was putting one foot in front of the other and breathing.
There were days leading up to the 10k where I was convinced I couldn’t do it. I had never run that far before, the forecast was scorching, and I felt responsible for all those who had kindly donated to my cause. It was one thing letting myself down, but it would be another letting down the charity I’d pledged to support. With the help of a few future colleagues and some serious pep-talks from my flatmates, I steeled myself to try. As Doris had wryly said, ‘the conditions are always impossible…’. All I could do was my best.
The day of the race couldn’t have been a more beautiful summer’s day. On the 15th July over 10,000 people headed to the start-line to begin the race, and thousands more lined the streets. The energy in the air was electric and infectious. I would be lying if I said my stomach was turning itself over and over, and I was indeed asking myself why I had scoffed at my mum’s suggestion that I wear a hat. After all, it was 31 degrees and 10 kilometers is a long way. But with careful water-planning, a last-minute toilet trip, and a whole lot of encouragement from the roaring crowd I began the run.
The next 59 minutes and 49 seconds were so joyous I hardly had time to feel sorry for myself. The crowds lining the streets, riversides, and bridges of the iconic London route made every kilometer worth it. Strangers read my name from the race number pinned to my t-shirt and cheered me on; my friends spread out to give me a cheer at all the ‘worst bits’ (like the 8.5km point!); live bands played music all along the route; volunteers handed out water at water-stations. The feeling of running together with so many others to raise money and awareness for a myriad of different charities was incredible, and passing the finish line on Whitehall I was overwhelmed with hugs and high-fives from friends and strangers alike.
There are amazing people who run marathons out there. People who scale mountains and swim Channels for charity. And our incredible Action Tutoring volunteers are among them. But running the British 10k showed me that I didn’t have to be superhuman to raise money for a great cause. It was a challenge that – slumped at my desk a month or so before – I would never have imagined I could rise to, but I exceeded my own expectations. When I rang in the new year with my family a few weeks ago, I reflected that it was one of the highlights of my year. It’s something I’ve revisited many times in the last six months – a journey that has seen me into a full-time role at Action Tutoring – and now I witness every single day what small proceeds like mine can facilitate for the wonderful young people we support. If I could, I’d do it all again this year.
If you’ve made a New Year’s resolution to give back to your community, to keep fit, or to do something you’ve never done before, I encourage you to think about pledging to fundraise for a charity like Action Tutoring. Whether you’re one of our seasoned tutors who wants to give back in a new way, or whether you’re someone who’s never been able to volunteer on a regular basis but are keen to support us, there are so many ways to get involved in our work in 2019. If you’re after a challenge or on the brink of a big decision this year, remember: ‘Whatever If you’re meant to do, do it now. The conditions are always impossible.’ And for anyone reading this who ends up running the British 10k this summer, I’ll be on the bend at about 8.5km cheering you on!