On Sunday, I will run the Loch Ness Marathon to complete 1000 miles of running and cycling as part of my Paris to Loch Ness fundraising challenge for Macmillan. It’s been an amazing journey with many highlights from the races to the people I’ve met and the experiences I have enjoyed. Today, I want to share with you the reason why I have done all these miles and why I thought running 4 races in 2 days including a half marathon back to back was such a good idea.
I can comfortably state that without my dad’s inspiration, I would not be the man I aim today or doing the things I am today.
My dad was a wonderful man. He was always the life and soul of every party, would be up dancing with everyone at every function we went to and went through life with one simple motto, enjoy yourself. He never wanted much out of life other than to make sure his family were happy and everyone else was happy too. He never let anything bother him and if anything did, he hid it well. He never owned a car, walked everywhere, was never into any gadgets and liked nothing more than going for a coffee and reading his latest book that he got from the library.
Football was his main sport, playing regularly for several teams up until he was in his early forties and then began coaching a number of teams. He once received a letter from the then West Ham manager, and former England manager, Ron Greenwood sharing thoughts and ideas on coaching methods. He was also approached by the legendary Dundee United manager, Jim McLean, to coach the United youth players but he turned him down as he would find it difficult to combine with his day job and being there for his family.
His main exercise was running. He would often run up Kinnoull Hill to keep fit long after he gave up football and in 1983, when I was 12, he took me along to take part in the inaugural Fair City Fun Run (it evolved into the Perth 10k, which I now organise). We did this race every year and little did I know then that this would turn out to be my favourite sport. Growing up in Gannochy, I used to play football regularly with my friends Mark, Barry and Ian, who all stayed in the next streets from us. Dad would often join us for a kick about and give us coaching lessons. His philosophy was that everyone should get outside and exercise and do something they enjoy.
My dad wasn’t the person you could go anywhere in a rush with as he would inevitably bump into someone he knew from years ago or it just felt like he knew everyone! My mum was always asked if she was Harry’s wife when she was somewhere and had to give her name. She eventually answered “Why, what has he done?” before she would commit to answering! It would seem that I have taken on this mantle as my wife, Allison, now says the same when asked the same about me!
Dad became a member of every gym I worked in (largely because he got a cheaper membership!) and we used to go for coffee regularly after I finished or if I was on a break. I loved these times as I began to learn about him as a man as much as him being my dad. What was obvious was that he made a point of speaking to everyone he met, even if it was just a ‘hello’ in the passing. This resulted in people constantly asking after him on the occasions when I wasn’t with him.
He always kept himself fit, never smoked and hardly took a drink and so it was a huge shock when he was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer in April last year and told there was nothing that could be done to treat him. When I went to visit him in Ninewells the day after he was diagnosed, it was the only time I ever saw him cry but this was only briefly as he instantly stated that he wasn’t going to lie down to it and that he wanted his funeral to be a celebration of his life and no sadness. The courage, bravery and dignity in which he fought his short battle was testament to the man he was. On the day he died, the responses we received to a post my brother and I shared on Facebook were overwhelming. While we knew he was popular, we were stunned at the comments from all the people who he had touched the hearts of each with a story of how they knew him, many that we never knew about previously. The post generated over 1,700 ‘likes’ and over 400 comments.
My dad was always the first to phone and ask how I got on with every race I ran, was always handing out my business cards and telling everyone to come and ask my advice on fitness training. He was proud that I had started my own business as a Personal Trainer and once told me he would have loved to have done that job when he was younger had it been a career back then. There are many memorable moments but nothing beats the time when he told me how proud of me he was just as I was about get married to Allison. Nothing gave me greater pleasure than running the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon the week after he was diagnosed and being able to give him my medal afterwards as a way of saying thanks.
I have learnt so much by doing this challenge this year. My running has changed a bit also where I am now going for quality in my training and going into races with no expectations compared to training hard and being focused on chasing certain times as I was previously. This change has actually seen me running faster times than ever before and so it is proof that quality is definitely better than quantity!
I have also found myself switching off my iPod for a while during runs to connect with my dad to say thanks and share all my news, as I used to do when he was with us. I have also found myself saluting him at the end of every race, again to say thanks and to share that moment with him.
He was the man who taught me that anything is possible and to enjoy everything in life. Wise words that I’ll never forget.
I am also aiming to raise, between myself, my wife and others who have supported us throughout the year, £10,000.