Mel’s Marathon

Shutterstock © Uplifting short story illustration of Mel running at night time


In this uplifting short story, Mel might not get a medal for completing her night-time runs, but the rewards were actually way better!

When she’d agreed to run this marathon, Mel hadn’t expected it to end like this. Jogging along the seafront. Alone. In the dark. Thirsty. All a bit of an anti-climax.

She had always known there’d be no spectators lining the route, no cheering crowds at the finish line, but she’d expected a little more interest from Mark and the kids. After all, they were the ones who’d persuaded her to take on this marathon as her New Year’s resolution.

However, fifteen-year-old Josh had been busy with a project – presumably, a costume for his drama course because last night her son had turned the linen cupboard upside down looking for an old sheet. And when Mel left the house tonight, she guessed seventeen-year-old Ivy had been roped in to help as the two of them were rummaging through the sewing basket.

Even Mark, who usually offered to run with her, only gave a cursory wave, and called, “Have fun!” without taking his eyes off Emmerdale – a programme he never watched!

Mel couldn’t help feeling miffed that her husband was cosy indoors watching TV while she was out pounding the pavements. It was Mark who’d brought up the subject of New Year’s resolutions during the family’s New Year’s day dinner, declaring he was going to run the Brighton Marathon.

“I’m proud of you, son.” Mark’s dad, Ken, had beamed at his family gathered around the table.

Ken had suffered a heart attack last summer. Thank goodness, he’d recovered well, but heart disease ran in their family, so it had been a wake-up call for Mark who’d joined the leisure centre and started running. He’d lost ten pounds and was fitter than he’d been for years. Flushed with success and spurred on by wanting to do something meaningful for the British Heart Foundation, Mark had decided to run the Brighton Marathon.

“You signed up for the marathon last November, so it doesn’t really count as a New Year’s resolution,” Mel had protested.

“It counts, Mum,” Josh said decisively, “because Dad’s never run a marathon, and he’s doing it this year.”

“Thanks, mate!” Mark beamed.

“What’s your resolution, Mum?” Ivy had asked.

“I suppose I should try to get fitter. Your dad’s set a great example.” Mel smiled at Mark to make up for her previous comment.

“You say that every year,” Ivy said.

“And I break it every year,” Mel admitted with a rueful grin.

She’d never been keen on exercise, and her career as an English teacher meant lots of sitting while marking students’ work. She wasn’t terribly overweight, but she was far from fit.

“Why don’t you run the marathon with Dad?” Ivy suggested.

Mel burst out laughing. “There’s no way I could run a marathon!” She turned to Mark for back-up.

Their eyes met as they remembered how she’d set out with him on one of his early runs but was so out of breath by the end of their crescent that she’d insisted Mark go on without her.

“It’s too late for Mum to train for the Brighton Marathon now,” Mark told Ivy, then turned to Mel. “But you probably should think about getting fit,” he said, laying a gentle hand on hers.

“You could still do the marathon,” Josh said, full of enthusiasm. “A virtual marathon! Look!” He pulled up the British Heart Foundation website on his phone and thrust it towards her. “I could set you up a page like Dad and –”

Mel held up her hand.

No. I’m not signing up for anything. Everyone we know will sponsor Dad, and we can’t expect them to sponsor me as well. Besides, it’d be too much pressure.

“Not if you ran the marathon a bit at a time, and you can do that with a virtual marathon. It’s good to have a specific goal,” Ivy said, sounding so grown-up and sensible that Mel couldn’t say no.

“There are loads of running apps that’ll record your progress. I’ll download one for you,” Josh offered.

“You could run on a treadmill at the leisure centre and clock up your miles there,” Ivy suggested.

“I don’t think so,” Mel said quickly. One of the downsides of teaching in her hometown was bumping into students at inopportune moments. The last thing she wanted was to see one of them when she was red-faced and sweaty.

So, instead of the gym, Mel had taken to the streets after dark, when most people (in other words, students who might recognise her) would be at home.

She’d started slowly – she’d had to. All she’d managed at first was a slow jog to the end of their crescent, followed by walking the rest of the route.

Gradually she’d built up her stamina, jogging a little farther each time she ventured out. It was slow, but she progressed from the end of the crescent to the post box a little farther on, then to the end of the next road, and so on, always aiming for a new landmark. It had taken her over a month to be able to run without stopping from her house to the seafront, and she still hadn’t been able to jog the full circuit all the way back, although last night she’d almost made it.

Tonight, Mel was sure she’d achieve her goal to run the whole way and complete her marathon miles!

She was a little disappointed it had taken her so long. The kids said she could count miles walked as well as run, but Mel was adamant she’d only count the miles she’d actually run, and now, the end was in sight. She felt a sense of satisfaction knowing she’d run every step of the 26.2 miles, and it was fitting she’d complete the challenge in February – Heart Month!

A quick glance at her app showed her heart rate was steady, which was encouraging because when she’d started on this marathon journey, Mel’s heart had spiked easily. She might not get a medal for completing her marathon, but a healthier heart was a better reward.

Although happy to forgo the medal handed out at a “real” marathon, Mel couldn’t help wishing there was a water station along the prom. Tonight, of all nights, she’d forgotten her water.

Flagging a little as she approached the end of the beach huts, Mel heard a bicycle bell dinging behind her. Instead of passing her, the cyclist drew alongside and held out a water bottle.

“Saw you’d left this on the counter,” Mark called out with a grin. “Thought you might need it – dinner was a bit salty.”

Without breaking her stride, Mel took the bottle gratefully, flipped the top and took a swig. Before she could say thanks, Mark was off.

“Looking good, by the way!” he yelled over his shoulder. “I’m going for a cycle. Cross-training,” he added, speeding away along the deserted seafront.

Revived, Mel made it to the leisure centre, around the pond, through the park, and back into the residential estate. Slow and steady, but still strong.

Then she saw them, and her pace faltered. Outside the Tesco Express, a group of teenagers, and standing in the middle, holding court, was Alfie Atkins. Alfie lived with his parents three doors down from Mel and her family. He was a nice enough boy out of school, but he’d given her a tough time when she taught him in Year 8. Class clown on steroids.

A few weeks ago, she’d have taken a quick detour to avoid being seen jogging by Alfie and his crew, but there was no need for her to feel embarrassed tonight. She wasn’t huffing and puffing, and she was maintaining a respectable pace.

“Is that Josh’s mum?” She heard one of the boys ask. Raising a hand in acknowledgement, Mel jogged on.

She was on the home stretch when she heard the pounding of feet and raucous shouts. Turning, she saw Alfie and the boys bearing down on her. Above the noise and laughter, Mel heard one of the lads shout, “Go Miss!” and for one awful moment, she thought they were going to run with her, but taking the first entrance to the crescent, Alfie and the other lads peeled off and ran towards his house.

Relieved, Mel continued, plodding now. At last, she took the second entrance to the crescent.

Up ahead, she saw the outside lights on at her house, and people gathered on her driveway. Was that Mark’s parents? Alarmed, her heart flip-flopped. Had Mark come off his bike and called them to ferry him home? Willing him to be OK, she picked up her pace, and was relieved to see Mark unhurt.

Catching sight of the garage door, strung with a painted banner – which Mel guessed was the old sheet Josh had seconded yesterday – all traces of Mel’s earlier disappointment evaporated as she read: Congratulations! Marathon Mum!

Ivy and Josh stood on either side of the drive holding taut a makeshift finish line. Alfie and the other boys were gathered around Josh, and as Mel drew nearer, everyone started clapping, whistling, and whooping. Caught up in in the joy of the moment, with arms raised victoriously, Mel burst through the tape.

“You did it, Mum!” Ivy looped a homemade medal threaded onto a shiny red ribbon over Mel’s head.

Glowing, Mel clasped her medal. “I didn’t… think… you’d noticed…” Mel’s words came out staccato style, as she tried to catch her breath.

“It’s not every day you complete a marathon, Mum!” Ivy said, throwing her arms around Mel. Josh, Mark, and his parents joined in the group hug.

“Thanks for your help, lads!” Mark turned to Alfie. “The boys saw us putting up the banner, and volunteered to be our look-out,” Mark explained.

“Thanks guys!” Mel smiled at the boys.

Alfie shrugged.

Didn’t know you were running a marathon, Miss, or we’d have got a bigger crowd to show up

“I was keeping it quiet,” Mel laughed. “I wasn’t sure I’d actually do it when I agreed to this in January,” she admitted.

“I never doubted you,” Mark said.

“I might not have made it if you hadn’t brought me water. Thanks!”

“You’re a great team!” Mark’s dad said, beaming at his son and daughter-in-law. “And it’s good to see you both getting fit and taking care of your hearts.”

“Yeah, but it’s a shame Mum didn’t let me sign her up officially for a virtual marathon,” Josh chipped in, adding, “It’s not too late for you to do the marathon with Dad in April.”

“No, Mum wouldn’t have enough time to train properly.”

“What about the 10k?” Ivy suggested. “Aren’t they running a 10k on the same day? I bet Mum could do that. What d’you think, Mum?”

Perhaps she was experiencing runner’s high, her system flooded with post-run endorphins, but suddenly Mel felt invincible.

“10K? I think I could… but everyone has sponsored Dad already…”

“I’d sponsor you, Miss!” Alfie shouted cheerfully.

“Me too!” said another Year 10 boy whose name Mel didn’t know.

“And so will we! It’s a cause close to our hearts,” Mel’s mother-in-law said, slipping her arm through her husband’s.

“I’d love us both to run, but it might be too late to sign up now,” Mark cautioned.

“Well, if I can’t get a place to run the race in person, I’ll do it virtually!” Mel said, smiling at Josh. “You better set me up with that online page after all!”

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Allison Hay

I joined the "My Weekly" team thirteen years ago and, more recently, "The People's Friend". I love the variety of topics we cover both online and in the magazines. I manage the digital content for the brands, sharing features and information on the website, social media and in our digital newsletters.