Well, I finally did it!
I finally ticked ‘finish first as a female competitor at a running event’ off my bucket list!
On Saturday 11th September 2021, I took part in the Tatton Park 10k, organised by RunThrough (https://www.runthrough.co.uk/).
Although I hugely enjoy all of the running events I attend, I do have to say that RunThrough are my favourite hosts. No matter the weather, turn-out, venue or crowd, they always put 100% into their events, with no detail left unattended. Their lovely team of staff and volunteers are a cut above the rest, and if you ever go to one of their runs, look out for Josh - he's a total legend!
I have totally fallen in love with the buzz of race day! I think I am starting to develop a serious addiction to signing myself up to these events, but hey, I guess it’s healthier than that bizarre Jelly Tot addition I developed last year (sure I’m the sole reason Rowntrees survived the pandemic...).
I can’t think of a more fulfilling way to spend a Saturday morning than out on a run, be it a solo half-marathon down the country lanes, or a 10k event somewhere. There is no better feeling than completing a run alongside the rise of the sun while the rest of the world is still asleep.
The past seven days haven’t been great. My anorexia generally binges on a hearty spread of stress, worry and self-doubt, and last week, it had a feast. By Friday, I was sick of bickering with my anorexia and felt both mentally and physically drained. The Tatton Park 10k couldn’t come quick enough. The thought of passing under that start line and losing my anorexia somewhere in the crowds kept me sane.
Who’d have thought that I’d find such a home and a purpose in the thing my anorexia used to use against me as a form of punishment?
I still don’t think my anorexia has quite grasped the liberty of the situation I now find myself in.
It’s all like, “Oh, you’re unhappy and worried and feel like the control you have over your life is spiralling away from you? You need to get some of that control back, quick! Go for a run! Burn 1,000 calories and miss tea and you’ll feel better. Wait- What do you mean you’re already running?! And what do you mean you’re not counting calories, but running for a ‘PB’ instead? AND OH MY GOD WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU’RE HAVING FUN AND ENJOYING RUNNING?! THIS WASN’T PART OF MY PLAN!!!”
I really don’t think my new found love of running was part of anorexia’s plan to be honest, but it’s one of the tools I have snatched from it and used against it, and I don’t intend to stop anytime soon.
I was right, by the way: as soon as I skipped over that starting line, the stresses of the past week just... Disappeared.
Tatton Park is a place that beholds an abundance of beautiful memories for me, so it felt very special to be sharing it once again with something that means so much: running.
I spent many summers as a teenager riding my favourite horse in Tatton Park, chasing the sun and learning the meaning of freedom.
It felt as though the remnants of those long ago summers were fuelling my passion and elation as the familiar scenery burst with the promise of new memories in the making.
Woodland pathways created a tunnel of ecstasy as the branches snagged and tugged at any remaining melancholy. I was running free, my every footstep crushing the grappling fingers of anorexia.
So much was I basking in the stunning setting that I hardly noticed 4, 5, 6, 7k whiz by.
A favourite moment of the run for me was when I passed a lady coming up on the other side of the track, and she raised her arms above her head and clapped for me. It was such a fab moment, and one that just showcases that unbreakable bond of runners, and in particular female runners. In this remarkable community that I have found a place in, I feel so protected from my demons.
When I got to the 8km mark, one of the event staff called out that I was currently the first place lady!
But a part of me so badly wanted to believe it... So I pushed on. I was hit by an overwhelming rush of runner’s high, which carried me towards the finish line, where my dreams were confirmed...
“The next runner coming towards the line is number 2248, Cara Jasmine Bradley. A big smile on her face – she has won the female race here!”
Had I not been thanking everybody for their lovely praise as I pulled up, I really do think I would have burst into tears of sheer disbelief and happiness. In fact, I did have a little weep to myself on the way home. (I mean, I’m sure that looked totally normal... A grown woman with the physique of stick insect wandering through the woods wearing a medal, crying, while eating an onion bhaji...) 😂
The awesome Dad who came in just before me – WHILE PUSHING A PRAM CONTAINING HIS CHILD – congratulated me, and I thought, I struggle to climb the stairs carrying the washing basket half the time, and this man has just ran 10k in under 40 minutes while casually pushing a pram! What a hero!
So, how did I celebrate? I took a leisurely, cool down jog back through the park, weaving my way over the paths alongside the lake, stroking as many dogs as I could en-route. I walked through the beautiful village of Knutsford and stopped off at Booths and bought out their entire deli counter, plus quite possibly half of their bakery section, too. Might have to re-mortgage the house now as a result, but what a triumphant banquet my husband and I had when I got home!
I was, and still am, so unbelievably happy.
Coming 1st out of 101 females and 5th overall out of 221 runners with a time of 40 minutes and 30 seconds was exactly the remedy I needed, at just the right time. Every single pang of self-doubt has perished, and in its place is an enormous sense of achievement.
Anorexia sneered that I was 6 seconds outside of my personal best, so therefore had no right to feel proud. In response to this, I simply flashed the mirrored side of my medal in its face, before tucking into a slice of cake.
Anorexia is hard. It’s time consuming and it controls your every decision and mood more than anybody will ever realise. Whether your battle is ongoing, dormant, or in recovery, that voice is always there prowling around in the darkness, gathering strength from the smallest flecks of despondency. Some days are tough – like, really, really tough. Silent screams snake their way through your every vein, restraining you in the straightjacket of mental turmoil.
But then something like Saturday happens and that voice of anorexia gets extinguished under a handful of pride. Because as I always say – recovery isn’t a quick fix, but years of little victories, and today was just one more to add to my armour.
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Cara Jasmine Bradley ©
Run Through Events: https://www.runthrough.co.uk/