Dr Julie Carter



Running with Sarah, Cat and Jo through the night of our High Peak Marathon


"I would rather walk with a friend in the dark than alone in the light." Helen Keller.

5.30pm on a cold, wet and windy January day. It’s already pitch dark as I tie up my laces, zip up my jacket and adjust my headtorch. The house is warm, tempting me to stay in. But I have an arrangement with a friend, the first advantage of which is that it removes the question - “should I go out or not?”.

It’s a mile and half to our rendezvous, and I start jogging at an easy pace. I’m meeting my friend so we can run some intervals together. It’s this thing called training, which has not really featured in my life in any meaningful or consistent way since I broke my pelvis a few years ago. The healing has been a much more protracted process than I bargained for. I still have ongoing physical issues from the accident but slow progress is better than no progress. Through the dark I can see my friend’s torchlight bobbing along to the end of the old railway line towards me. In order to take my next steps forward in my running journey what I need most isn’t more physio, more time or more knowledge; it turns out what I need most is a friend.

I’m almost sixty now and for most of those years I have been astonished by my friends. Some are reassuringly constant, and with others the relationships wax and wane which is natural and fine. I have learnt that it’s not fair to place too many expectations on each other. My friends are my privilege and not my entitlement. But as much I love my own space and time to be alone, I’d be lying to myself if thought I could survive, let alone flourish, without my friends. This may seem such an obvious statement. But the thing is, for me it was not obvious, not in the beginning. The fact that my life, that any life, is a team effort is something I have at times struggled to accept.

Jan 24 2

One of the clearest memories I have of early childhood is of coming home from primary school and sitting on the brick wall of our front garden, feeling anxious because I had lost my door key and nobody was home. My worry was twofold. First the pending telling off for loosing the key. Second the edginess of wondering if I was going to be safe sitting on the wall for an hour or two. There were some scary characters in our street. Then I had this thought - that no matter what happened I would be alright. I would be fine, because what ever happened on the outside, I would keep my feelings to myself, protected and safe within. I made a choice, at around age eight or so, that no matter what happened to me I would be alright because I would keep myself to myself. There was no one in my life who I wasn’t scared of to some extent, and no one I felt it would be wise to trust. My choice wasn’t a bad one at the time, and it got me through the next decade and more, but in the longer run it proved laughably and spectacularly wrong. Throughout my adult life arrows of friendship have reigned down upon my armour, and decimated my defences.

Jan 24 4

 This evening along the old railway line the dark seems to have condensed as my friend and I do another mile of easy running before the hard work begins. We can hear and smell the gushing water of the River Greta down to our left, and there is a vague sense of being towered over by the fells, not because we can see them, only because we know they are there. While we can still speak, we briefly check in with each other. The conversation could be endless but we stick to our purpose and cut the chat when the time comes. Warm-up drills completed and watch set - we have a job to do and soon my friend pulls away ahead into the blackness. All I can do is think about my body, my breathing, my stride, my posture, and to concentrate on the effort. Full focus is required. She is faster than me and my job is not to lose her too far ahead. Her job is to run at the pace she has set and keep going until she turns back towards me and signals the end of that effort. The words exchanged between successive intervals get fewer and fewer as the session progresses. It’s still wet and windy and cold but we don’t care. And as the last hard effort is completed it’s not just our headtorches which shine but the glow of satisfaction, I would even say pride, in our own and each other’s effort. I ask her about the pace – was it quick enough? It’s taken me a while to get over the fact that I cannot yet run a mile at the pace I could once run a whole marathon at. It doesn’t matter. That really isn’t what matters most.

My friend and I go our separate ways, trotting off to our homes, and as I open the front door into the warm house, anticipating the hot shower, the warm fire, the nutritious dinner and a quiet evening in the company of the love of my life, I remain amazed. I still feel I have a lot to learn, about love and about friendship and about that insecure but joyful process of placing my trust in other people. When, with whom and how to trust. There is danger in it; it’s a risk. And it’s a source of wonder; something which feels miraculous.

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