Solidarity marathon: Running through the pain

Ben Lewis calls for more donations to support the solidarity efforts of Workers Fund Iran runners

I must apologise to readers if this report comes across as slightly downbeat or tired: I am typing these lines while wrapped up in blankets and drinking Lemsip. Ever since returning from Italy I have been feeling slightly under the weather. This is often known as ‘post-marathon blues’ - the effect on a runner’s immune system makes illness more likely.

Whereas I and my fellow runner, Jamie, essentially breezed through our first solidarity marathon back in April in Vienna, this one proved - for me at least - to be a rather arduous affair. They say that pride comes before a fall. But I certainly did not think that my lack of preparation (mainly due to the shorter winter days and a very busy work schedule) would have had such a negative impact on race day. After all, in total I have probably run something close to 450 miles over the last year or so, and am generally quite fit.

Indeed, 25 kilometres in, just over halfway through the race, Jamie and I were more than happy as we ran past the beautiful Ponte Vecchio alongside the river Arno, singing aloud and joking - in particular about a fellow competitor sporting a ‘With Jesus to the finish line’ T-shirt. But then at 28k things started going badly: my right hamstring felt as if it was about to snap. And, although the body adjusts accordingly by making other muscles take more of the slack, a few kilometres later these were starting to pull too. And by 36 kilometres things were really rough.

I had ‘hit the wall’: this is the point where your body runs out of energy to burn and so therefore turns on your fat stores. This may sound fun, particularly to those looking to lose a few pounds. But I can assure readers that it is physically and mentally akin to the kind of place where our Jesus-loving friend thinks us non-believers will ultimately end up. Dizziness, nausea and even hallucinations can result. How fitting it was that in these latter stages of the race we ran past a statue of the Florentine poet, Dante!

While I did not have Jesus to get me to the finish line, I was able rely on my old friend and comrade, Jamie, who had managed to put in a bit more training than me. He could not say much in the last few kilometres either, but he did manage to talk me through the worst parts of the race. I am very grateful: I certainly could not have done it alone.

We eventually crossed the line together in a new record time of three hours, 30 minutes, 40 seconds, shaving about three minutes off our Vienna performance. (Jamie also assures me that we overtook our bible-bashing friend on the home straight - good news, but slightly worrying that this completely passed me by!)

We did not have much time to relax after the race. After a shower and a bit of food we hobbled over to the Piazza della Repubblica to take part in a demonstration in solidarity with political prisoners in Iran, such as the lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh. She has been on hunger strike since October and is an increasingly unstable state. Here we were able to establish links with some Iranian and Italian activists from several campaigns and initiatives. It was a fitting reminder of the seriousness, and indeed the importance, of the cause we are fighting for.

The evening saw the traditional celebrations with our fellow runners and activists from across Europe - around 30 of us in total. Because Jamie and I were (once again!) the fastest runners from the group, we had to sing a song. We opted for a rendition of the famous Italian communist anthem, ‘Bandiera rossa’ (‘Red flag’). Much to the delight of 75-year-old communist Roberto, who also completed the Florence marathon with the rest of us. He stems from one of Italy’s ‘red cities’, Livorno, where the Italian Communist Party was established in 1921.

We set ourselves a fundraising target of £500 and our current total stands at £265. We thank those who have shown their appreciation for our efforts by parting with their cash. We understand that things are rather tight for most people at the moment, especially in the run-up to Christmas. But even just a handful of readers donating a fiver would really get us over our second finishing line. We have until December 25 to reach that £500 target, so make sure you donate!

Jamie and I will now be taking a well-deserved break over the winter, resting our creaking bodies. But the important fundraising work will continue: in the new year we will be organising a solidarity screening of This is not a film by the award-winning Iranian filmmaker, Jafar Panahi. He is still under house arrest and actually banned from making films altogether. Defying the censors, he shot his latest cinematic offering on his smartphone. 2013 will also see the return of our fundraising cricket match between Hands Off the People of Iran and the Labour Representation Committee, a solidarity gig with some East London bands, and - I shudder slightly when writing this - a few more solidarity marathons as well ... Oslo, Stockholm and Pembrokeshire have all been mentioned.

Please rush your donations to us via: www.charitychoice.co.uk/fundraiser/jamietedford/florence-marathon.

For more information on how to get involved, see: www.workersfund.org