It’s now a couple of weeks since my lovely friend Natalie called and asked whether we were still doing Race for Life that Sunday. Some months prior to that I’d pestered Nat into signing up for it when I realised that I really didn’t fancy the thought of running five kilometres around Southampton Common alone, in the midst of groups of women dressed as if for a hen night in hyped up party spirits.
As the date crept closer, I’d wondered whether I’d maybe, perhaps, be able to forget about it, duck out, go to church and just have a normal Sunday, but with Nat’s call I realised that wasn’t going to happen. So on the Sunday morning in question, I picked up my son’s friend, picked up Natalie who’d been up and drinking ‘til two at a wedding, took the little one to her auntie’s, picked up Nat’s cousin Vicky and her son and then schlepped everybody to the Common.
We hadn’t been entirely sure where the race started but we needn’t have worried as the throng of pinkness was visible from the main road. Approaching, Vicky went to collect her car and my son was left in charge of all my valuable items in a cross strap bag. With a fiver for junk food and clear instructions not to leave the field and to wait behind the ‘Hot Donuts’ stand, my son and his friend mooched off leaving Nat and I on the edge of the expanding crowd watching a local radio DJ and a group of male cheerleaders. I have the greatest respect for true cheerleaders but these looked like guys from a gym who had been drafted in to provide some eye candy for the ladeez. It was disappointing.
Every link was filled with random statistics about cancer treatment, cancer deaths and cancer survivors. Nat and I have both loved people who have recovered from cancer and died from cancer, but couldn’t help feeling that Cancer Research were piling it on with the ‘cancer’ stuff.
Eventually that gave way to a young woman who seemed uncomfortable and inexperienced in front of a crowd, and yet another speech about cancer. This time it was about a local two year old who’d died followed by an awkward and obligatory minute of silence. I hate collective minutes of silence. In formal situations I can cope with them as time to say a prayer, or whatever, but on the Common, wearing tatty old joggers and some trainers bought the day before for five pounds and surrounded by women in fancy dress, it didn’t seem to work.
Thankfully that was followed by a Ms Motivator style workout/warm up with another showing from the ‘cheerleaders’. That made us all feel like idiots in some sort of Eastern European-style outdoor routine, but with everyone feeling that way, it didn’t seem to matter. Soon it was all over and we could begin queuing for the starting line.
After queuing for forty five minutes, Nat and I finally got across the line. It was impossible to move at anything faster than a moderate stroll for a while but we eventually settled into a pattern of jogging, walking and chatting. I had never seen Natalie run before and I came to realise that she has one of the silliest runs I’ve ever seen, as though she’s trying to Riverdance in a forward direction at top speed. I aeroplaned behind her.
Still, the running, jogging and walking were incidental. The real deal was the chatting and the carping. When you sign up for Race for Life, Cancer Research send you a number to pin or stitch to your front and a sign for your back which says “I Race for Life for...” and you’re supposed to write something on it. Lots and lots of people, it seemed, were Racing for Life for their mums, grandmas and grandpas but outside that was the ubiquitous and slightly limp “EVERYONE WHO HAS CANCER”. Nat and I concluded that it was a bit naf. Like in church when you have to instantly name someone in need of a prayer, it seemed that it should be more specific than “EVERYONE WHO HAS CANCER”.
I had sarcastically written “CHARITY” on my notice.
“You better hope that they just think it’s someone whose name is Charity.” Said Nat.
As we made a last run to the end, Nat’s sister and her fiancé had come to see us in and caught us with their camera phones looking universally pink, sweaty and scruffy. At this point I would like to thank them kindly for recording the moment and urge them not to post their pictures on Facebook.
The boys had wandered off and it took a while to track them down.
We were left wondering what it was all about. The women-only aspect suggests it should be about women’s cancers, but it isn’t. It also suggests it’s supposed to have feminist overtones, but it doesn’t. If anything it was pseudo-religious, with its testimonials, minutes silence and prayers pinned to backs.
Many of those who signed up will not have raced. Some will do it because someone in their immediate family has had cancer. Many will have done it to get fit and then not actually got round to training. More still won’t even send their sponsor money. It’s a big gig, for sure, and hopefully Cancer Research will profit on the sign up fee alone.
A week after the Race here in Southampton, another location featured in the “Thought for the Day” on Radio 2. I didn’t get the speakers name, but she had found the event moving, talking about thousands of women running for people they loved, in hope or as a memorial. That would, of course, have been a more charitable perspective and it was my choice to critique the Race in Southampton the way I did, but I could help think that her view was a little rose-tinted and she hadn’t seen the sulky teenagers mooching round the course texting or the crowd of girls who reeked of vodka and looked as though they hadn’t managed to get to bed at all on Saturday night. And maybe she hadn’t found that the talks, screens and jumping around at the beginning hadn’t left her on cancer overload and completely inured to further tales of cancer stricken toddlers.
Obviously, cancer is very sad, especially for young children, but after all even if you beat cancer you can’t beat death.