I remember in my early running days, when 2 miles felt like the absolute limit of my possibilities, how I day-dreamed about being able to run a full marathon. It seemed completely out of reach.
I love running. I'm not very fast, so the real feeling of achievement comes from battling with the distance. Gradually, the magical barrier of 2 miles was broken and I progressed from 5 km to 10 miles and beyond.
Since then, over the last few years, I had run two marathons in Warsaw, but THE marathon for me has always been London. I love this beautiful city and the marathon’s charity focus always makes me proud to be a human being. I had run one race for charity before, and I wanted to give it another go on the marathon distance.
Being a medic, a natural choice for me to consider would be one of the charities fundraising for neurological disorders like dementia or Parkinson's disease. However, when I heard about Cats Protection opening application process to run for them - the decision has been made.
I have two cats, Elgar and Nora, who came into our life and turned it upside down, giving all of us so much joy and affection in return. Yes, I am a crazy cat lady (though I dislike the stereotype) and my cats are much pampered and loved to bits. I am acutely aware though how many other cats and kittens are in much less privileged circumstances and no matter how many of them I would consider giving a home, it will never be enough. I totally admire the work of Cats Protection and its volunteers and all they do to help felines in need. I decided to run the marathon to raise the funds in their support.
My application was successful (though I was on the waiting list at the beginning) and I had started detailed planning of my training and fundraising. I chose for it to go to my local branch, Epsom, Ewell and District.
As with many precise plans like this, life tends to make various adjustments along the way. In my case, it was a variety of obstacles including a back injury, an extremely busy time at work at the beginning of the year and a particularly nasty flu in March. My training plan changed from a mix of professionally designed speed-sessions and long runs to just trying to get the miles in, focusing on the weekend high-mileage plods along the river through Kingston, Richmond, Twickenham and Kew Gardens. I have been adjusting my projected finishing times, from a very optimistic under 4.15 through to 4.30, 4.45, finally settling on wishing to finish the race alive.
The fundraising was initially slow, miraculously picking up when I promised home-baked, cat-shaped biscuits to all prospective sponsors. Posting my pleas on Twitter and Facebook helped, but I also managed to get a number of pledges off-line at work and through friends, so I am nearly at the target of £1400.
In the run-up to the race I also needed to consider the kit - this time not only bothering about whether the shorts will chafe or the top will be moisture-wicking enough, but also about the colour and the level of fluffiness of the tail and ears… Following careful research I chose a set of black ears and a black tail with a white tip.
The race day inevitably came, and I was ready in my kit at 6 a.m., feeling a mixture of excitement and anxiety relating to sub-optimal training. The weather forecast was not ideal either, promising rain along the way, and an unseasonally cold temperatures.
I set off on the trip from Richmond to Greenwich, meeting a lot of fellow runners many of whom nodded approvingly at my costume. After getting off in Greenwich from a very crowded train, my cat’s ears and tail seemed a very unadventurous choice in comparison with runners sporting a heavy-looking rhino costume, a group of army lads in full combat gear with backpacks looking like they weighted a ton and a variety of mankinis.
The start couldn’t come soon enough - I was really itching to get running, partly because of being half-frozen. When we sarted, all the anxiety seemed to ebb away and I really enjoyed the warm up through welcoming streets of East London and Canada Water, drawing energy from the crowd support, fellow runners and of course energy gels. The relative lull of the long marathon plod was punctuated by the points of incredible mass support around obvious places like Cutty Sark and Tower Bridge but also less landmark ones like Jamaica Road. It was much needed - there were moments of crisis when I felt my energy flailing, and this is when the support makes the difference - especially when people directed it at me personally shouting: ‘Go, cat!’ (though one person went ‘go, mouse..’)
The last 6 miles, typically the harder ‘half’ of marathon, was for me probably the best. It was close enough to the finish to give me confidence I could do it, also it has probably the best scenery and crowds along the route. Running along the Embankment was one of the most exhilarating moments of my life, and the emotions that I felt at the final stretch of The Mall are difficult to put in words. Finally, at the finish, I felt extremely happy (mostly relieved), so that the rather unimpressive finish time (4.47) did not really matter. I was a London Marathon finisher, a charity runner and it felt great. I even met another CP ‘cat’ at the finish - a young lady from Devon, who sported a very fetching set of whiskers that miraculously stayed on despite the effort of these long miles.
I had to take some time to recover and now I am rounding up the pledges of sponsorship to hopefully exceed the target.
You can still donate if you wish, by going to the justgiving page https://www.justgiving.com/Gosia-Raczek-cats/
or send a cheque to Renee Long at 5 Preston Drive, Ewell, KT19 0AD and mark the envelope and/or the back of cheque ‘’London Marathon/Gosia’’