We all stood huddled tightly together like Emperor penguins in the Antarctic trying to benefit from each others warmth. A blistering winter westerly wind whipped off the sea lassoing us with its bitter cold and sea spray. I almost instantly lost my fellow activist friends from Hastings against War in the throng of bodies.
I saw a friend involved in the Smash Edo campaign, another friend who'd been active within the animal rights movement. Before hand I had just bumped into the fundraiser for the civil rights campaigning group, Liberty. I had a sign pinned to my back against the arms manufacturers General Dynamics one of the main sponsors of the event. We exchanged comradely greetings, the sense of community and solidarity was high between the brave and somewhat fool hardy folk numbering around 5,000 who had turned out to run the Hastings half marathon.
The day before I had stood within a crowd of a similar size with a similar feeling of collective purpose yet mingled with a combination of feelings not often found together. Some folk were angry, some disillusioned, others celebratory about peace. I felt hopeful while I handed out leaflets at the demo for the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. I hoped that what we were all doing would make a difference to foreign policy in the Middle East and Afghanistan, hoped that we were building a stronger movement for the future and also hoped that people in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and Iran would hear about our protest and know there are people in this country who care about what is happening to them. More and more people poured into Trafalgar Square as speeches were being made. Grey rain clouds bubbled overhead as if energized by the growing feelings of anger the crowd was brewing.
The gun went off, there was a big surge forward as we transformed into stampeding Wildebeest charging across the rough terrain of Hastings. Folk of all sorts had turned out, old, young, tall, short, athletic types and like me - the not so athletic type. We had gone half a mile and the first of the notorious Hastings hills kicked in, Harley Shute. It was short and steep and thankfully short work. I accepted the fact that I was on this run now and I'd just have to get on with it. I braced myself for the next bend which led to the steady three mile ascent up Queensway. I hoped I had trained enough.
The Rhythms of Resistance samba band were large, their stirring rhythms felt menacing as they took the head of the march down Whitehall , the loud booms of the drums announced our presence to our “leaders”, telling them we were angry. I handed a leaflet to a protestor, he read the headline “We Nearly Won”. He looked a bit jaded: “Nearly” he bellowed, “nearly isn't good enough is it?” And that's what was at the heart of the rage and frustration people were feeling. No matter how hard we had tried, we had lost five years ago. Coming to terms with defeat, carrying on and feeling optimistic about the future is what the movement needs to do.
My sporadic yet consistent training for the half started in November. I passed the 10 mile point, there was no way I was going to give up now. I felt strong all over but in reality my legs were shattered, they felt rusty, like a bike in rain. It felt like I was dragging lead weights. My training stood me in good stead not to stop and had made me bloody minded, I was thankful I had persisted with it throughout the winter. I passed the line 2 hours 17 minutes after I had first left it. I felt a great sense of positive achievement, but it didn't feel over, I immediately starting thinking about next year and improving my time, more training, more gruelling hill work. I left the demo the day before with a similar feeling, what's next? How can I do more? Running and activism seem to require similar attributes, determination to continue even when your body is saying “it's not worth it”, yet wanting to stride further for improvement.