Why I’m running the London Marathon again this year

When I completed my first ever London Marathon last year – at the age of 45, in a time of 5 hours 31 minutes – I thought it would prove to be my last.

Yes, it was a great feeling running down the Embankment with the crowd cheering, and up the Mall to complete the course. But the euphoria only lasted so long before the pain really set in.

My whole body ached for days. My left ankle was clearly injured and my right knee – which had seized up at the half-way point and nearly stopped me finishing – was agony to move.

No surprise, then, that in the days and weeks afterwards, the phrase ‘never again’ was constantly on my lips when I was asked how it had been. Even the prospect of taking part in the Great North Run over half the distance made me shudder.

And yet, one year on, I’m ready to run the Marathon again. After all, when the charities for whom I ran last year – raising almost £70,000 in the process – asked me if I’d do the same again, I just couldn’t say ‘no’.

Action for Stammering Children is a charity and a cause very close to my heart given my own long-standing struggle. With the help of ASC, the Michael Palin Centre in London and the new Stammering Support Centre in Leeds are helping children and teenagers to deal with their stammer and be themselves.

And I’ve been supporting Whizz-Kidz for over seven years, a charity that provides vital mobility equipment to disabled children. It’s a brilliant charity and I have seen many of their Young Ambassadors thrive – like my friend Jamie who, with the support of Whizz-Kidz, is now doing well at York University and will never let his disability hold him back.

This year I’m aiming to raise at least £31,317 – which would be enough to break through the £100,000 barrier for these two great charities. You can sponsor me here: www.justgiving.com/teams/EdBallsMP

If you want to really understand what Whizz-Kidz do, just look on their website and hear the story of Shea from Greenwich. Shea has quadriplegic cerebral palsy, and was unable even to crawl unaided as a child.

His dad, Mick, describes how – before Whizz-Kidz entered their lives – other children in the playground at school regarded Shea as “a passing interest…rather than a peer or a friend who could join in.” His mum, Vivienne, said that – lovely young boy that he is – he would always apologise when asking her if she would mind bringing him a particular toy to play with.

The new power chair the family received from Whizz-Kidz changed all that. Shea was able to move around independently for the first time; he could play properly with his brothers and was able to make friends at school; he could move from one toy or book to another at home without having to ask for help from Mum or Dad.

“Before I had this chair, I used to do nothing,” says Shea, “I had no choice.” But – with a beaming smile – he explains how what he called his ’spaceship’ arrived and transformed his life. And today Shea, now 15 years old, is thriving thanks to Whizz-Kidz and the support of his loving family.

Shea’s power chair cost £6,000, outside the scope of what most NHS Trusts can provide. That’s why charities like Whizz-Kidz exist: to provide the expertise, dedication, and sometimes the resources that the State can never hope to match. Whizz-Kidz has so far supported more than 4,000 children like Shea, but they estimate that 70,000 other children with similar needs are still waiting to be helped.

70,000 boys and girls who should be smiling and moving around freely, just like Shea and any other child their age, but whose young lives are being held back by a lack of mobility and independence.

When you think that’s almost double the number of people who ran last year’s London Marathon, you can picture the scale of the need, and the urgency of the charity’s fundraising efforts.

Training for this year’s Marathon has been tough. The legs don’t get any less stiff in the morning at my age – and over this winter my love of cooking has too often trumped my ‘love’ of exercise. Add to that, it feels like there hasn’t been a single day in the last six months when it hasn’t been either freezing cold or pouring with rain when I’ve gone out for a run. The recent Arctic weather – when, relatively-speaking, I’m supposed to be approaching peak fitness – has been quite a struggle.

But the good news is that my training is on track, my ankle injury seems under control, I have a 19 mile run under my belt, and I am hoping to do a faster time this year.

When I told my father-in-law I was running the Marathon again this year, and – after telling me I was mad for trying again – he said he’d back me and give a donation to the two charities if I made it round the course again, and he’d double it if I knocked 31 minutes off last year’s time and got home in under 5 hours.

I think – even for a competitive soul like mine – that would be pushing it. But if you see me sprint-finishing down the Mall, that will be why – to help one more young boy or girl get their spaceship.

To sponsor me for Whizz-Kidz and Action for Stammering Children please go to www.justgiving.com/teams/EdBallsMP.

To find out more about Whizz-Kidz and see Shea’s story, visit www.whizz-kidz.org.uk/why-we-need-your-help/sheas-spaceship/ and to learn more about the brilliant work of Action for Stammering Children go to www.stammeringcentre.org.

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Posted April 1st, 2013 by Ed