In my introductory post on Mad Art Lab, I briefly mentioned that I was training for a roller-skating marathon (that’s 26.2 miles) in August, and will be raising money for Simon’s Singh’s charity Sense About Science, specifically their Report Dodgy Science campaign that encourages the public to send in misleading claims and get involved in tackling them.
Now the time is dawning ever closer, I’d like to take advantage of my blogging powers and raise awareness of what I’m doing and why. Let’s start with the “what”.
I first found out about the Goodwood Roller Marathon last Autumn. Goodwood is a famed motor racing circuit in the UK, and it sounded like the most amount of fun one could have on a set of wheels. I had not sported a pair of skates since I was around nine years old, but, whatever, I thought – how hard could it be? So I got on Amazon, found a funky-looking pair of quads for £25 and eagerly awaited them in the post. They arrived at my office a few days later, and I’m not ashamed to say I put them on straight away. That’s right: my first skating experience in 17 years was a across an open-plan office from my desk to the photocopier and back again. An awesome start, but my initial reaction was a little ridiculous: “Woah!” I thought. “These wheels are, like, really rolley!”
Having accepted the office wasn’t the best place to start training, I ventured outside for the first time that evening. It was late October so pitch-black at 7 o’ clock, and I stumbled outside my house and proceeded to roll up and down a 16-yard stretch of pavement while holding onto a fence for dear life. I wasn’t nine years old anymore. I had significantly less bouncebackability and that annoying adult inhibition about cracking open my skull, bashing my teeth out or breaking both my ankles. Suddenly, 26.2 miles seemed a whole lot further.
I made a promise to skate every day I could, and I soon upgraded from skating up and down the fence to around a small courtyard I discovered near my work place, where I began visiting most lunchtimes. I can still clearly remember the day I completed my first mile. It was November, freezing cold and my skates were caked in mud, but I felt golden. I remember the coat and jeans I was wearing. I remember what bench I sat on to unlace my boots, pink-cheeked and smiling. A mile isn’t far – it’s nothing really – but after wobbling up and down that 16-yard fence for weeks, it felt like quite an achievement. If finishing the marathon would feel anything like finishing that one mile, then I couldn’t wait.
And I still remember every significant distance I hit and the elation I felt every time. My first 2 miles in Shoreditch, chased half the way round by an excited bull terrier; my first 5 with my husband holding my hand for the first half an hour in Hyde Park; my first 10 alongside the boats at the Serpentine lake; the glorious day I managed my first 15, only to check my distance-meter to discover I’d miscounted and actually done 17. And my first 20 in Greenwich Park, when I kicked my boots off my sore, blistered feet, my knees stiff and my back aching, but with the emotional confidence that if I could do 20 then I could do 26.2.
I never anticipated quite how much I would fall in love with skating. As a general rule, me and exercise don’t get on too well. Gyms and cycling bore me to tears. I despise running with an intensity I find hard to describe. But then skating arrived and I found my soulmate, and I’ve found little in my life that compares to the bone-deep aching happiness that comes from finishing a goal you’ve set and collapsing down hard on the curb to free your feet. Sometimes, on the journey back home, I can barely walk. Sometimes, I can only spend the remainder of the day dozing on the sofa. But I’ve never before felt such a content, peaceful form of tiredness.
And now for the “why”. Traditionally, the Goodwood Roller Marathon urges its skaters to roll in honour of the NSPCC (the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children). Now, don’t get me wrong. I like to help the kids and all, but with over 1000 skaters raising money for this charity, I felt the need to branch out the generosity. I found myself thinking of one of the first skeptical events I had attended. Simon Singh was leading the 10:23 Campaign’s homeopathy overdose event, promoting his new book Trick or Treatment and speaking about his current court battle with the British Chiropractic Association who were suing him for libel. He also spoke at length about Sense About Science, a charitable trust that aims equip people to make sense of scientific and medical claims in public discussion. They do this by promoting respect for evidence and by urging scientists to engage actively with a wide range of groups, particularly when debates are controversial or difficult. There are a lot of great charities out there, and you could drive yourself mad with the decision of which one to pick. But this one stuck in my mind for some reason and so this one I chose.
Best of all, Sense About Science have been enormously supportive during the last few months. They’ve retweeted my frantic tweets for sponsorship, they’ve mentioned my marathon on their website, and emailed thanks profusely. Of course, I’m happy to undertake any charitable task anonymously, but having the charity your working hard for so graciously support you and thank you personally is a wonderful thing to take along on the journey.
I’ve got exactly three weeks to go, and I’m still short of my fundraising target by 25%. Needless to say, I’d be very happy to hit my target, and I’m confident (by calling in a few favours) that I will. But with the help of the skeptical community, I feel I can do a little better. In fact, I suspect I can smash right through it.
If you’d like to donate, you can do so on my Just Giving page. I’d be everlastingly grateful for every last penny .
Lastly, here’s the token emotive imagery that goes hand-in-hand with every charitable plea. A painting of my dear, battered, dirty roller skates. They’ve seen me through a total of 162 miles so far, and have at least another 26.2 to go.