Harriet McGrath knows about lung cancer. As a doctor, she sees how lung cancer can affect anyone and what a huge impact late diagnosis has on survival. As a daughter, she lost her father to the disease five years ago, so when it came to choosing a charity to support, she wanted one solely dedicated to improving the lives of people with lung cancer and finding more ways to detect it early.
“Dad taught us to be grateful for and to enjoy the small, simple things in life. He taught us how to be mischievous, to have fun and to never take life too seriously.
He was a friend and listening ear to so many – always perfectly impartial, always with perspective and, whenever possible, with a joke and a laugh thrown in too. I miss him for many things, but his sage advice and ability to make me laugh are high up on the long list.
He was the main reason I chose to fundraise for Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation. By the time Dad was diagnosed, he was already at stage 4 and his cancer had spread to his spine, so it was important to me to support a charity that funds research into not only treating the disease, but also the early diagnosis of it.
The second was the cancer patients that I’ve been treating throughout the pandemic. Watching the resilience and poise with which they have faced their cancer, whilst being admitted to hospital during a pandemic and thereby being separated from their loved ones, has been a deeply humbling and inspiring experience.
I thought of them often when I didn’t want to go out for a training run or when my legs tried to trick me into stopping – if they could do what they’re doing, I could certainly enjoy a little run outside.
Time for a challenge
Originally, I had planned to complete five events throughout 2020 to mark the five years since Dad died. Obviously, that couldn’t happen now; not only international travel was at a standstill (some of the events were overseas) but I was working the emergency Covid-19 rota at work and even caught the virus myself.
That’s when I decided to create my own, somewhat personal, challenge, running the 250km in five days from my hometown of Leek Wootton in Warwickshire to Battersea Park in London where I now live and work. It was certainly going to be a challenge; running was new to me and aside from the odd 5k Park Run, this was going to be my first race. A friend of mine stepped in as my coach and with his guidance, I mainly just ran and ran, very slowly for the next six months with regular yoga and cycling to balance things out. Thankfully, that was enough to get me to the start line!
The first three days went by better than I could hope for. Despite the Thames bursting its banks in excitement of my arrival, and the mud and bogs that followed, I got through them just as I’d trained to. Day 4, however, brought a whole new challenge.
I woke up with more pain in my tibialis anterior (a muscle I had neglected to concentrate on in my strength sessions) and a whole host of the emotions followed. 203km in, I had to accept that it was walking only from now on. This meant that day 5 was much longer and much slower than I’d planned. It was a beautiful day however, spent with kind and loving friends and family who, on rotation, plodded along with me keeping my spirits high and my feet moving.
With a rainbow in the sky and the most beautiful of sunsets, I crossed the finish line in Battersea Park with tears in my eyes, a heart full of love and seemingly very, very little left of my lower leg muscles!
It was an extremely special five days with so much support and love from my friends, family and from complete strangers. My mum had followed me every step of the way and, together with a gang of kindhearted and willing friends and family, had met me every 10km to top up my water, feed me carbohydrates and lift my spirits.
Other friends met me along the way to keep me company for either a few kilometers or for more than a marathon at a time. They each brought enthusiasm and patience in abundance, helping me put one foot in front of the other to make it to the finish line. When I initially finished the 250km I think I was in complete disbelief. I felt utterly overwhelmed.
The gift of time
You certainly have a lot of time to think when you train for and run a 250km race. It was a unique opportunity to have the time and space to think about my dad.
Throughout my training and the run, I developed a renewed sense of gratitude for everything my dad had given me. For all that he had taught me that I carry with me day to day and for the time we had together, even if I do feel like it was cut short prematurely.
Whilst for many others, 2020 was a year to forget, for me those many hours plodding the empty streets of London throughout 2020 will always hold a special place in my heart and I hope the money raised will help someone like Dad get diagnosed earlier.”
Harriet raised over £6,000 for Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation. You can still congratulate Harriet on her incredible achievement and donate to fund research into the early detection of lung cancer here.