Home. A place where you grew up? The town you spent the formative years of your life? Or a place that is neither and yet a place that you feel comfortable and secure, a place where you made memories to last a lifetime. Home is, according to the saying, where the heart is and my heart was lost to Plymouth of all places 11 years ago as a fresher on a sunny September day. The country was still reeling from the September 11th attacks in America, things were changing and I was brimming with excitement – my life was officially starting. It was nothing like where I grew up (in the middle of a field in darkest Kent) and there was nothing familiar around me other than the contents of my bedroom but for some reason I felt I had come home.
I fell in love with the sea views, the horrendous post war concrete monstrosities of the city centre, the torrential rain, the wind that whipped through the streets at an alarming speed, flattening us against buildings. Gulls the size of house cats that had no fear, sirens seemingly going off at all hours of the day and night, the air raid siren used at the dockyard for nuclear drills – all these were alien and yet familiar and are firmly cemented in my memory bank. The ultimate memory is one that starts before I even get into the city. It happens on the A38, on the brow of a small hill. It reads “Welcome to Plymouth – Spirit of Discovery” and I remember the sob catching in my throat and the soaring feeling of returning home, despite being 256 miles from the actual home.
It happened again yesterday. I’d been planning a week-long trip to Plymouth for about 4 months as I am running the Plymouth Half Marathon on Sunday (my 2nd half this year) and I had made arrangements to see old friends that never left or live there permanently. I arranged to stay with a very good friend who during the darkest moments last year after the breakup, was always there for me, whether on the end of the phone, at the end of an email or just for me to spew out all the angst and pain I was going through. She also happens to be runner and a very good one at that – so when I started running she was there for me again, giving me encouragement and advice from afar. As I drove down the A38 with the radio on, the familiar flutter started in my stomach. The miles slipped by and suddenly, there it was. That sign. The sign that said “Welcome to Plymouth” and I’ll admit I had a bit of a weep as it slipped past. The sobs gave way to a face splitting smile and the feeling of coming home solidified in my heart.
I left Plymouth 4 years ago under a rather big personal cloud. I’d split up from my then girlfriend and with it, lost my step-daughter. She was 4 the last time I saw her and I missed her 5th birthday. She turned 9 this year and part of me is terrified of bumping into her – not because she’ll recognise me but because she wouldn’t. This is a good thing for her though, but from a selfish point of view, I’m still not ready to see her. The pain has gone; the sharp edges of my grief worn down to a soft curve like a piece of glass washed smooth by the sea. What is left is an invisible bruise, one that if pressed hard enough still has the ability to make me wince, but no longer cry.
Part of the reason I wanted to run the Plymouth Half was a “homecoming” – I’d seen it run 8 times before, always with a degree of incredulity that people actually did this to themselves. This year, I’ll be one of them. But also because the route goes almost straight past the house I lived in with Kiddo – we walked through Saltram together, we played on the Hoe together and we ambled through town together, all ghosts that need to be laid to rest, for the last time. The race is in less than 24 hours. I’ve been looked after by my lovely friend Emma and her partner Alli – I’ve been fed brilliantly, taken for a little trot round the park yesterday, a toddle into town and then a nice 45 minutes in the gym and slow amble back home today (see…it’s that word again) and Emma is making sweet potato chocolate brownies as my post race recovery snack – worth the 13.1 miles just for the brownies in my opinion.
Tomorrow, I will be truly racing on home soil.