When I took my place on the start line of last month’s Virgin Money London Marathon, I joined 40,000 others with a shared goal. To complete the 26.2-mile course.
Many were running for causes close to their hearts. Others wanted to win it. For me, it carried slightly more significance. For thirty-six years earlier, my father, along with his friend John Disley, dreamt up and organised the first ever London Marathon.
I’ve always run to keep fit. I have a sporting heritage that quite frankly can only be described as ‘ridiculous’.
As well as being one of the London Marathon co-founders, my father, Chris Brasher, won gold in the 3,000 metres steeplechase at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne. Meanwhile, my mother Shirley Brasher (née Bloomer), was a former world No3 tennis player. She won the singles title at the 1957 French Open – one of three Grand Slam triumphs in her career.
I’d always thought the marathon would be a great thing to do, especially as I know how hard my father worked to create it.
I remember him coming home from a trip to Manhattan in the late seventies where he saw the New York Marathon. He said he wanted to create something similar here in London. But being the type of character he was, he wanted to make it bigger and better.
At the time his plans weren’t always very well received. I can remember him making constant phone calls and having people around all the time, as he tried to get his plans off the ground. My father and John had to get the Greater London Council, as it was then, on board. And then there was the police to convince, too. My father was a bit of a swearer, and so the air turned blue quite frequently back then.
But their determination won through in the end, and it was a major triumph when 7,000 people lined up for the very first London Marathon on March 29, 1981. I was too young to run then – I was only 13 years old – but I vowed I would do it one day.
When my father died of pancreatic cancer in 2003, I thought it was the worst thing that could happen to anyone. But I soon learned Alzheimer’s disease was on a completely different level.
My mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s two-and-a-half years ago, but it probably took me two years to get her to the doctors. The symptoms were showing many years before that. It was shocking; my mother was so fit, never drank and looked after herself better than most. And yet here she was, struggling to remember what she’d said moments earlier.
Her short-term memory has completely gone, yet she can tell you who played in the 1979 Wimbledon final. And if you are struggling with your forehand, she will still get you to demonstrate your swing and within seconds will have corrected your technique. But she won’t remember having met you a few hours later.
My mother has always been fiercely independent, and so there’s lots of white lies and subterfuge to keep her happy. It’s so important to try to minimise conflict and confusion. She believes she’s visited by a district nurse who delivers hot meals. In reality, it’s a carer we pay for. Alzheimer’s teaches you to be inventive. It’s a massive learning curve.
Having seen the effects on my mother, I decided to run the London Marathon for Alzheimer’s Research UK. I don’t want my children or any future generation to deal with the heartache I have.
The race was incredible, and an emotional one for me. I was so proud to be taking part in an event my father created. My brother, Hugh, is now the Race Director of the London Marathon, so it remains a huge part of our lives. It always will.
The London Marathon has never been about winning or losing, but simply being the best you can be. It’s about your own personal goals. In my case, it was all about just crossing that finish line. Beating a giraffe and a Stormtrooper was a bonus.
While I finished around 20mins after I’d planned to – sickness at mile 15 really affected me – I did manage to sneak in under the 4hrs 30mins mark. It helped that my friend and running partner was badgering me to keep running, and ignoring my assertions that I didn’t care! But that’s what the London Marathon is all about – supporting each other to succeed.
While it’s an experience I probably won’t be repeating, I’ll always be eternally proud of taking part in a race my father helped build, and running for Alzheimer’s Research UK – a charity working tirelessly to find a cure for people like my mother.