Run 2 blog: Remembering why…

Mark thanking supporters at Fetteresso Parish Church for their support during a coffee morning organised to raise money for Iraqi refugees.

Why have you put the wind always in my face? Why is it never at my back? Why are you fighting me? Why are you not running with me?’

It sounds melodramatic now, a mere 48 hours later, but these were earnest, words, prayed out loud as I dragged myself up the A92 out of Arbroath. My inner voice had stopped giving any meaningful account of what I was experiencing, and collapsed into pure feeling-in-words.

I had been running into the wind all day, but it was between Inverbervie and St Cyrus that I could feel my reserves drain away as the coastal path left me especially exposed.

In fact, ‘path’ describes a sloping pebble beach for some distance, splashed with sea spray as the tide was in and a track that was badly eroded. Both made running impossible for long stretches and a slip on the inland path caused my lower back to jar.

By the time I stopped for food, I realised regretfully that I was not going to make it to the Compline service Dundee University Chaplaincy had organised for Running home.

A sense of failure crossed my mind. Then, en route into Brechin, I understood why the Way of St Andrews Duthac route doesn’t take the short detour to this town’s beautiful cathedral – the uneven road is hardly suitable for pedestrians. I am glad I made it there though and felt nourished by a pause at the ancient sanctuary.

But when I set off again night had fallen, the rain was heavy and my constant jumping onto grass verges to avoid oncoming traffic frayed my mood quickly.

Then my GPS watch, with the route map displayed, stopped working – I was now just hoping this road ended up in Arbroath!

A ‘reset’ was in order. A few miles further along that road, my support vehicle pulled up and my support team told me to get on board and be driven to Arbroath due to the deteriorating conditions.

They made the right call, but now my sense of failure grew. There was a ‘gap’ between Aberdeen and St Andrews.

Starting again near Arbroath I had to run a couple of kilometres back towards the town before turning to Dundee. So began a purgatorial couple of hours as temperatures dipped below freezing.

The headwind that had begun as a southerly when I was running south was now south westerly as I ran south west. I ran slowly, sometimes walking, and at times seemed to grind to a halt.

This is the point at which my desperate prayer burst forth from tiredness, pain, coldness, and the demotivating sense of having ‘already failed’.

‘Why have you put the wind always in my face? Why is it never at my back? Why are you fighting me? Why are you not running with me?’

I trudged on, and it must have been an hour later that I felt a change. The wind seemed to die down a bit, and the road began to descend towards Dundee making each step less of an effort.

I chuckled remembering the morning’s blessing when the Aberdeen University chaplain told me St Duthac was revered as a protector against inclement weather.

Thinking about my ‘why?’ questions it now seemed almost embarrassing to have felt such intense despair on nothing more than a run, and it was even more startling that I really did feel it.

In the quiet of midnight I reflected on why I was running. I thought about the sustained suffering of countless Iraqi people who have experienced unfathomable loss through war, especially those forced onto the road, unable to feel at home anywhere. I wondered whether the intensity of my desperation was just a little vial drawn from a much deeper, darker well.

I wondered how many people in Iraq have, over the last few years, decades even, prayed something similar:

‘Why have you put the wind always in my face? Why is it never at my back? Why are you fighting me? Why are you not running with me?’

Is it trite to draw this parallel? My struggle was pain without much danger, perhaps the equivalent of fasting in relation to hunger. But the fact that those words broke from me, in a voice that was mine but unrecognisable as such, point to an experience of true inner disruption, of actual sorrow that can only produce empathy for those who live with something similar daily.

This feeling had built up over many hours. It reached a nadir on the A92. But then it passed.

By Dundee, the gratitude I felt as I left Aberdeen 17 hours earlier had begun to return, and I had so much more to be thankful for.

Not least the generosity of chaplains the Reverend Marylee Anderson and Father Nicholas Kearney who had sent me off with a blessing.

At Fetteresso Parish Church that morning I had been greeted warmly by Embrace supporters, volunteers from Far & Wide charity shop and the Reverend Fyfe Blair, who had all gathered for a coffee morning as part of their fundraising for Running home. They fed me tea and cake before presenting a beautiful memento of the pilgrimage for me to keep.

Mark was presented with a flower made from a copy of Embrace magazine at the coffee morning organised by Fetteresso Parish Church.

At Arbuthnott, Bervie and Kineff parish I was given a delicious chicken broth and given a generous cheque for Iraq.

A member of the Bervie and Kineff parish handing Mark a generous donation of £500.00 to help Iraqi refugees return home.

I arrived at Leuchars shortly after 4am. In the morning, the Reverend John Duncan hosted us for a delicious breakfast, and the last few miles into St Andrews were a pleasure. As the skyline of the town appeared around a corner, two miles away, I reflected on the centuries of pilgrimage to St Rule’s Tower, where it is said St Andrew’s relics were deposited by the eponymous 4th Century monk, and where Stephen Gethins MP had arranged a welcome party.

Finally, I sat in All Saints church (the Eucharist with anointing for healing seemed eminently appropriate on my sore legs) and reflected on my complete lack of any sense of achievement. I really regretted missing the Compline in Dundee, and I found it hard to let go of the ‘gap’ in the map between Brechin and Arbroath. Although the mileage had come in at 97.3, more than the original plan of 95 that keeps me on course for the 1,725 mile target, I had become attached to the idea of the (unbroken) route connecting place to place. Despite having told myself throughout that a challenge like this will inevitably involve changes of plan en route, the lack of continuity troubled me.

I need simply to remind myself that this is not about me generating a feeling of achievement, or about me achieving any specific thing at all.

It’s about much more important journeys happening in Iraq, journeys themselves marked by levels of unpredictability, disappointment and pain of which my pilgrimages can only serve as a reminder.

With that thought, thankfulness returns: that I have my freedom, to live and to run. That I have the privilege of bringing people together behind an urgent cause; that my legs don’t feel too bad at all and that I get to do another of these next weekend!


Recent Posts

See All