On Saturday 18th September 2021, I took part in the Stockport Urban 5k. What an event, and what a bloody course!
The run was part of the Stockport Enduro & Cycling festival, and was organised by The Running Bee Foundation (https://www.runningbeefoundation.co.uk/).
Held in memory Will Garner and Dave O’Brien – two former colleagues from the Stockport Council team – proceeds from the race contributed donations to The British Heart Foundation and Beacon Counselling.
This was the first ever Stockport Urban 5k, and after the success of Saturday, I know I’m not alone in hoping that there will be many more.
The atmosphere at the event was one of the best I have ever encountered. I was privileged to meet so many lovely people – both runners and organisers. From the lady walking her dog in Vernon Park who yelled “GO ON GIRL!!!” at me as I ran past in a huddle of men, to the guy I ran half a kilometre with as we egged each other on up the hill during that 4k slump - I was just overwhelmed by the support, togetherness and kindness of everyone involved in the entire event.
It was just little things that made my spine tingle with the pride I feel for the running community, such as witnessing the ripple of applause for Will and Dave pre-race, and the organisers encouraging everyone to sing ‘Sweet Caroline’ as we lined up for the starting claxon.
The crowd was fantastic; such a great turnout for a sunny Stockport Saturday morning.
And the course... Oh my God! I’ve run marathons and not felt as knackered as I did after this 5k! ‘Challenging’ is an understatement! Whoever designed the course for this event must have had a right giggle to themselves... Jesus, I nearly keeled over!
Firstly, we had to navigate our way across the cobbled market place, which for someone as bandy and weedy as me was a rolled ankle waiting to happen! 😂
We crossed the motorway bridge and headed down the fully closed New Zealand Road, which was all fun and games... Until I realised that I’d have to run back up it at some point.
The road then led us into Vernon Park, where we endured multiple steep hills and steps.
By the time I was faced with the inevitable uphill ascent of New Zealand Road, I was absolutely gasping for breath, which is not like me at all.
It felt more like a boot camp or a torture method than it did a race!
But in all seriousness... I LOVED it! It was a proper challenge, and definitely not one I was expecting. I’d been so cocky an hour before the event, swanning around Primark, knocking back hash browns, absently waving my hand and proclaiming, “Oh it’s ONLY 5k!”
Yeah, only 5k of pure elevation!
I was more relieved to see the stand-by ambulance than I was the finish line. Can you die of calf cramps? Because that’s how I felt after the horror of those hills and steps!
I’ve genuinely no idea how I did it, but I got round with my personal best of 21 minutes and 2 seconds, making me the first female to finish.
A few weeks ago, being placed first as a female competitor at a run was just a distant daydream that I never expected to come true... I have now finished first place female two weeks in a row, in both a 5k and a 10k!
I was awarded my first ever running trophy, which was an insanely proud moment. Every single time I hang a finisher medal around my neck, a tiny part of my anorexia dissipates.
It has been a weekend of victories, both in and out of my running shoes.
As I so often mention, my anorexia is infused by my constant striving for my own unattainable levels of perfection and impossible self-discipline. My anorexia insists that I run three 5ks and a half marathon every week. Although my relationship with running has improved beyond measure since getting into the event scene, I still feel an enormous sense of pressure to pacify my anorexia. Ensuring that I stay in line with its unrealistic demands is stressful and exhausting. Sometimes, living with anorexia can feel like a full time job.
Last week, I ran my three 5ks, and then I ran 5k at the event on Saturday. Instead of congratulating me on my achievements, anorexia screamed that I needed to run at least 16k on Saturday night or Sunday morning to compensate for my missed half marathon.
Standing up to anorexia often blinds me with terror and it reacts to my disobedience by physically punishing me. I’ll quickly become agitated and anxious, unable to relax. My skin will prickle with sweat and my heart will become a rapidly swinging pendulum controlled by the beast within my mind.
‘You have no right to be proud,’ Anorexia sneered. ‘You’re 16k behind on your usual running schedule. You’ve lost control. You’re a failure!’
‘But I’ve just run 5k in 21 minutes and 2 seconds, and I was the first female finisher... Again. Why are you still not happy with me? I’m tired - I don’t want to go back out for another run this weekend,’ my body replied desperately.
But something miraculous happened... For the first time in months, I stood up to my anorexia.
I gave my body the rest it was craving.
My body courageously exceeds my expectations every single week; the very least I can do in return is listen to it.
Once a month, my husband and I have treat night whereby we make our own pizzas and buy in all of our favourite snacks to enjoy while we watch films. So that’s exactly what we did after my run - we settled down with pizza, jelly beans, gingerbread Diary Milk (try it, OMG it’s something else) and Netflix’s Sex Education series three, and it was perfect.
The voice of anorexia seethed in my mind, its hisses nails on a chalkboard. But it’s now half past seven on Sunday evening and I haven’t ran a step since the event.
I won’t lie and say that it’s been easy, but I’ve preserved with my decision. Nothing terrible has happened; my life hasn’t fallen apart overnight, despite the threats thrown by anorexia.
Anorexia is hard, because it blurs all communication between the mind and the body; the two forces that should work in perfect harmony. Slowly but surely, I can feel the dots between my mind and body connecting again as they dispel the toxicity of the force that has turned them against each another for far too long.
I fought over the controls of running, and won. After seven long years of it being my number one nemesis and anorexia’s most trusty alliance, running has now become my pride and joy.
The love I feel for this sport and the strength it is providing me with week after week makes me feel almost resilient.
As humans, we are so incredibly powerful, often beyond our own comprehension.
Cara Jasmine Bradley ©
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Beacon Counselling: https://www.beacon-counselling.org.uk
British Heart Foundation: https://www.bhf.org.uk
Totally Stockport: https://www.totallystockport.co.uk
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