Marathon Woman

A few weeks ago I watched the London marathon. I particularly like the ‘fun’ runners, those who do this not to try and beat everyone else, but perhaps to improve on last year’s time, or even just to finish: and to raise money for charity. How some of them manage in the fantastic costumes they wear I cannot imagine!

One image that stood out for me this year was the finish of the women’s elite race. Edna and Florence Kiplagat – no relation, apparently – broke away from the rest and entered The Mall together. Then Florence put on a bit of a spurt and went ahead by a couple of yards, before Edna responded and powered past her to victory.

It’s tempting to look at Florence as she was left behind and wonder why she didn’t push herself on a bit, to catch up with Edna; surely just a bit more effort would have done it? Or was it a case of willpower, just needing to tell herself that she could do this?

The reality is, of course, that neither of these was true. I’m sure she was running as fast as she could at that time, and to push further would have simply not been possible, or would have caused serious damage to her muscles, or even resulted in a collapse. And anyone who had made it this far round the course, in sight of victory, is surely not lacking in willpower or belief. It was simply that her body could not do any more than it was.

And from the sublime to the ridiculous – it’s the same for us who suffer from ME or other chronic illnesses that sap our strength. Our energy levels are right at the bottom of whatever scale the Kiplagats are at the top of, and even to compete as fun runners would be beyond us; for many of us, just being able to walk down The Mall would be quite an achievement!

So when people tell us that we can do better if we just push ourselves a little further, or if we believe in ourselves a bit more, let’s remember Florence Kiplagat. We need to listen to and respect our own bodies, and recognise when they’re already doing as much as they physically can.

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