Helen & Douglas House Pasta Night

If you have been following my blogs you will know that I am running the Silverstone Half-Marathon on 3 March 2013.  What you may not have picked up is that I am running it for charity, and the charity I have chosen is Helen & Douglas House, who provide respite and end of life care for children and young adults with life-shortening conditions.  I consider myself fortunate that I have not had to make use of their services, but it is very easy to see what a wonderful service they do provide and I consider them to be an excellent and worthwhile cause.  I have previously donated items to their shop in Amersham, and been pleasantly surprised by how much they have been able to sell them for, so when the opportunity to run for them came up I was delighted to take it.

I had been in contact with the lovely and charming Annaliese Taylor, one of their Community & Events Fundraisers, and she told me about the pasta night they were holding at Douglas House for all of their runners.006

They have 45 runners entered in the London Marathon this year, and others like me running in various half-marathons, including some who are using the Silverstone Half-Marathon as part of their preparation for the London Marathon.  I managed to find a parking space close by and arrived at Douglas House on the dot of 7pm.001

Annaliese was on reception, and it was great to put a face to a name, and then I was shown upstairs with a few others who had arrived at the same time and very soon we were all chatting away, exchanging notes on how training was going, and trying to pick up tips for the day.002

Once everyone had arrived we were told by Annaliese and her colleague, Kate, that the evening would begin with Live Deep, a short film regarding the work of the charity, followed by talks from a personal trainer and a previous runner, then pasta and a small tour of the Douglas House facilities.

Live Deep – This may be a short film, but it is very moving nonetheless, and includes informative details alongside personal tales and comments from staff members.  Here are some notes I made while watching : Helen House opened as the world’s first children hospice in 1982, while Douglas House opened in 2004 and is specifically for young adults.  They are both set in walled garden in Oxford and part of their ethos is the inclusion of parents and siblings, who also need support in these circumstances, and many choose to come at times of crisis.  Respite care can most often range from 3 days up to one week.  The end of life support includes the Little Room, a bedroom open to family members where the child can be laid to rest before funeral arrangements are made.  It looked very peaceful and there was a testimonial from one set of parents saying how much they had appreciated the facility.  Something else which is provided and is much appreciated is healing time.  Of course, because of the advances in medical science, young adults is an increasingly growing group and they are accepted from the age of 16 up to 35.  It all provides a break from regular carers, and many see it very much as a holiday.  They receive very little public funding ( up to 20% of their annual costs) and Helen & Douglas House costs £5 million per year to run.  If you want to know any more than that then you should go to their website and read their FAQs.

Next up was Adam, a fitness trainer who also works at Helen & Douglas House, and who has trained people for marathons.  He began by having us consider the following two questions : What am I doing well in my training/preparation ? What would I like to do better ?  He then considered the second question first and we came up with the following points : rest, doing something rather than nothing, longer distances, stretching, and nutrition.  He suggested that at this stage we should focus on doing one long training run each week, together with a short run of half the distance to build up the pace of our running.  Make sure to rest the day after a long run, although it can be active rest, which would include something like yoga or swimming.  Make sure to take in an increased amount of calories for the training being done, and in terms of eating it would be advisable to up the protein against fats.  Plan to start carb loading two or three days leading in to the race, and on race day have a good breakfast a comfortable time before the start.  The last long run should be at least a week before the race, and two days later do a short one, then concentrate on resting and eating.  I was picked to answer the first question and spoke about sticking to my training plan…at least until my tooth got in the way.

Sarah spoke next, and she was a former runner for the charity.  She was able to give many excellent insights into the London Marathon, including : Don’t panic about how far you are in your training, just keep it going.  The race atmosphere gives you miles on the day.  It is a mental thing just as much as a physical thing, so break the distance down in your mind into manageable chunks.  Do your training runs using all kit you will use on the day.  Plan meeting at the end in advance because phones will not work, and place supporters at the end of the race, where you will most benefit from their encouragement.  Take a change of footwear for the end.  Do not start too fast, it is the biggest thing you could do wrong which could totally ruin the day.  Look out for the wall of orange from the Helen & Douglas House supporters.

One very important thing I learnt about Silverstone is that the parking is about half an hour from the start.  I will be exhausted before I even begin the race !

We then moved along to have a meal of pasta in the green room, which is the staff canteen. 003

There was the option of lasagne or macaroni cheese, and while most people seemed to be taking a bit of both, there was still more than enough for seconds.005

There was also coleslaw and salad.  And after all that there was chocolate cake and a selection of sliced fruit for dessert.  We all sat down to eat and continued sharing experiences and tips.  Everyone was very friendly and happy to give advice.004

We walked downstairs for a quick tour of Douglas House.   It has a very deliberate hotel feel to it, to add to the sense of it providing a holiday, and the overall feel is a bright and vibrant one.007

I am not sure if  Annaliese was entirely joking when she said that the wide corridors were to allow wheelchair racing, because that seems like precisely the sort of thing they would encourage here, where the emphasis is on living life to the full, even when that life may be short.008

I have to raise at least £200 for Helen & Douglas House in return for them giving me a place in the Sliverstone Half-Marathon.  I would like to raise a lot more than that, and I believe it is useful to give an idea of how the money could be spent :

· £10 could pay for a trip to the cinema or wheelchair ice-skating for one of their guests

· £30 could pay for a relaxing session with their music therapist

· £60 could pay for one of their nurses for 4 hours

The £200 sponsorship will pay for a carer for two days at Helen & Douglas House and is an invaluable contribution to the families, who really appreciate the chance for break.  So if you can, please make a donation on my JustGiving page.

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