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13 Miles and 13 Milion Women

September 17th was the day of the Bristol Half Marathon and I was taking part to raise funds for Advantage Africa. With little time for training due to the demands of two young children and a recent house move, I was filled with anxiety about it. I was sure to make a complete fool of myself and drag myself in last alongside those dressed as dinosaurs walking backwards on stilts.

I hadn’t exercised for years and as the day approached, I thought of numerous reasons to drop out including lack of sleep, dodgy knees (in both appearance and mechanics) and a low embarrassment threshold. But then I would metaphorically slap myself with the reason why I had agreed to take part in the first place. I was aiming to raise £2,000 towards our work to support women affected by HIV in Uganda.

It didn’t actually matter how stupid I looked. What mattered was that I gave it a go. I was doing this because of women like Justine Nalongo who we featured in our last newsletter. Justine is a widow who looks after five orphans in her own home, spending half her day by the roadside sewing to earn enough money to feed and send them to school. She spends the other half making bricks for the poultry house that her single parents’ group is building in an effort to work themselves out of poverty. Things that a grandmother like Justine would never have to do here in the UK.

'As long as it’s not a baking hot day for the race, I’ll manage’, I thought. ‘A bit of drizzle would be good.’ Sure enough, September 17th dawned clear and warm with one of those spectacular, breathless blue skies. I appraised the other competitors as we walked to the start area – muscly, with stringy, lean physiques, clutching their water and energy bars with steely-eyed focus. I felt like a wildebeest who’d lumbered into a gazelle-only party.

The start was utter chaos – 10,000 runners jostling to find their right places behind the line. I made my way towards the back and found myself beside a man dressed as Superman. When he saw the three-foot high barrier we had to negotiate to get into the runners’ enclosure, he wailed loudly, ‘How are we supposed to get over that?’. Disappointing for a superhero.

Finally, we were off. My strategy for completing the 13 miles was to ‘power walk’ as fast as I could, let gravity help out by running down any hills and make sure I jogged at least 200 steps in every mile. The weather was scorching, and as the miles melted away, ambulances whipped past and competitors slumped semi-conscious by the roadside; I learned later that more than 70 runners collapsed from heat exhaustion.

I eventually completed the half marathon in two hours and fifty minutes. I didn’t come last but I did trail behind a man awash with sweat in a rubber ballerina suit and another competitor swaddled in an overcoat with a crocodile tied to his back.

With unsightly blisters and a shiny medal to show for it, I did each of the 13 miles in almost exactly 13 minutes. I did it for women in Uganda like Justine Nalongo and Betty Kizito, whose work we feature overleaf. For any of the 13 million HIV positive women battling for their own and their children’s lives across Africa, I’d do it again in the blink of an eye.

Jane Betts, Co-founder and Trustee

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