The Refuge Tree

It’s that time of year again! When I don trainers and a variety of clashing neon sportswear bargains and ask you to support my London Marathon fundraising efforts for Refuge, a brilliant charity which helps women living with domestic violence. Except this time, instead of just asking you to sponsor me, I have bigger and more exciting plans afoot! Mainly, this:

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A glorious collaboration between lots of amazing women artists and illustrators and all round good eggs which has had me positively skipping with delight the last few weeks, as my vague idea has taken root into something bigger than I could have imagined possible.

I’ve collaged the silhouetted branches of a tree (currently 90cm wide x 115.5cm tall, and growing), cut it up into over 90 postcards and sent these out to the aforementioned wonderful, all-female crew who are going to draw anything they like on their own section. The tree will be reassembled for International Women’s Day on the 8th March and the individual postcards auctioned off on Ebay, with all proceeds going to Refuge. The auction will run here from Thursday 7th - Sunday 10th March - follow me on Twitter and Instagram for updates.

*UPDATE* I’m very excited to announce that the wonderful London Review Bookshop is going to display the tree in their shop window! I’ll be installing it on the 1st March and it will stay up for about 2 weeks. Head over to 14 Bury Place (near the British Museum) to see the finished Refuge Tree in all it’s glory!

This charity is so important to me. One in four women in the UK will experience an abusive relationship in their lifetime. I didn’t realise how real this statistic was until I started talking more openly about my own experience, which makes me all the more determined to continue raising awareness. You can read a bit more on my fundraising page here. Helping those who have experienced violence and abuse is at the core of everything Refuge does, and their work includes aiding women experiencing domestic violence, sexual violence, ‘honour’ based violence, forced marriage, FGM, human trafficking and modern slavery.

I really want to raise as much money as possible and hopefully this tree will give my marathon fundraising a fantastic start!

So I’m very excited to reveal the names of the artists taking part:

I’ve been so overwhelmed by the positive response. Thank you so much everyone for your support! You can follow the tree’s progress by searching #RefugeTree on Instagram and Twitter. I cannot wait to see it take shape!

Shorts, Sweets and Serotonin Songs

When the London Marathon emails you a couple of days before the race to tell you that although it's likely to be the hottest on record, the actual Fire Brigade will be on standby to hose you down, you know you'll probably need to ditch the snazzy new tights you bought and go on a last minute, two-day long, short-buying expedition.

I felt so much more nervous this year. I was checking the weather forecast as often as my dad used to before harvest and I didn't sleep for more than an hour at a time the night before the race. The running short fandango would have finished me off altogether if it weren't for the total heroes in Covent Garden Lululemon, who were wonderfully kind as I lunged around the changing rooms in every style they stocked, trusting my sister (hero x a million) to be brutally honest as I tried each pair on nine times. They even gave me a second pair for FREE as a pre-marathon treat! LuluLemon, I love you (I used to think you were intimidating and a bit pricey, but I'm totally won over).

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I have now (and I cannot impress upon you how insane this sounds to me, because in my head I'm still 10, don't even understand how to play rounders and have sneaking suspicion my PE teacher thinks I'm an idiot) run three whole marathons. This one was definitely the hardest. I was tired, hot and slathered in enough vaseline to swim the channel because I was so worried the new shorts would rub (they didn't - have I told you how much I love Lululemon?).

I'd still do it again though! There is nothing like the London Marathon for making you feel utterly invincible and optimistic; a little bit overwhelmed by the wonder of humanity and the power of the mile 19 jelly baby. So far, I've raised £2500 for Refuge - THANK YOU for all your support. A huge thank you to Refuge too, for letting my don that pink vest once more and for the best post-race massage in all of London!

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I'm just going to link (again) to Refuge's page on recognising abuse and this brilliant Woman's Hour programme all about coercive control. If you're going through something similar, or know anyone who is, please listen to it. It really helped me, especially to know that it's normal to still struggle to make sense of it all, long after the relationship is over. One of the women interviewed said, "I know when I left I felt completely inadequate and worthless. I went from being somebody who was relatively confident, to the end of the relationship when I couldn't even look in a mirror." I know that feeling so well. I used to think I might have lost whoever Kate used to be forever. I felt like I was floating above myself somewhere, watching everything through a haze and I had no idea how to get back in again.

Running quite a bit and yoga-ing quite a lot has been my fightback, my way of reclaiming my body and allowing my brain to come home to roost. It doesn't always work, sometimes it hurts so much to just be here... roosting (I feel like I've started a really odd metaphor), but sometimes endorphins can make you sing for joy, or maybe it's serotonin? Either way, it's like magic, especially when you've run 17 miles and it's gone dark because you set off too late and you're thinking it's a good job you know your way round these lanes and that you're not afraid of bats.

I didn't want to write a blog telling you that you can and should run a marathon (even though there's a weird, running evangelist part of me that really, really wants to), because the internet is already too full all that stuff. What I do want to say is this:

There are a million things in this world that tell you your body is not good enough. Whatever it may be, I think everyone should do something that makes their body feel like home.

If you're looking for help or advice about domestic abuse, Refuge is a really good place to start.

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The Great Inktober Auction

I’m seizing this International Women’s Day to give my London Marathon fundraising for Refuge a boost. I loved running the marathon so much last year that I rashly signed up to Team Refuge again, the freezing February training runs a hazy memory when I filled out my application back in May (this past week I’ve clambered through two snow drifts in an attempt to keep my legs on track, that’s worth a couple of quid, surely?).

Anyway, my main news is that I’ve listed lots of the #inktober paintings I made last year on Ebay, with 100% of the profits going to Refuge. Refuge is committed to a world where domestic violence and violence against women and girls is not tolerated and where women and children can live in safety. Please take a look, spread the word on social media and bid, bid, BID for your favourite. The auction will run until Sunday evening. Good luck!

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The same way that the #inktober challenge spurred me on to push my work in a new direction, training for last year's marathon gave my brain the boost it needed at a really difficult time. 12 months ago I found it so painful to say that I had experienced an abusive relationship. Fundraising for Refuge has really helped me talk about it more openly. It shouldn’t be this hard — 1 in 4 women in the UK will experience domestic abuse — but I still occasionally have days when I give in and blame myself for failing. My strategy for those days (which are happily much, much fewer and farther between than they were 12 months ago) is to replay things that my incredible, no-nonsense therapist told me until I can hear my own voice again (that and do some yoga). Thanks to the support of extraordinary friends and family (and the aforementioned incredible therapist) I have rediscovered who I am and I know why I want to stay alive. This probably all sounds a bit self-indulgent, but I just wanted to try to explain what abuse does — it will take away everything you thought you knew for certain and turn everything you thought was good about being you into something unbearable. And it can happen to anyone.

This is why women and children need Refuge. I am shamelessly asking you to sponsor me again, or to bid on a painting, or just to share this on Twitter / Instagram / Facebook / anywhere, to help other women who aren't as lucky as I am.

There are many forms of violence and abuse. Refuge offers specialist support to women and children who may be experiencing a variety of forms of gender-based violence including: domestic violence; rape and sexual abuse; forced marriage; so-called ‘honour’-based violence; human trafficking and modern slavery; prostitution; and female genital mutilation (FGM).

You can find my sponsorship page here and the ebay auction here.

Thank you so much for anything you can give. London Marathon - here I come! x

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Running for Refuge

It is astonishing, the speed at which it's possible to go from idly browsing Refuge's website, looking for fundraising inspiration, to receiving a London Marathon running vest in the post.

Because the amazing thing about running is that even when you're completely stationary, sitting at your desk with a mug of tea, the endorphins can still get you. Like the rhythm got Gloria Estefan. Like listening to Nina Simone sing Here Comes the Sun can make it feel like the sun has come up in my heart. I only had to imagine I was running down the Mall, the crowd cheering wildly, and, before I knew what had happened, I'd not only submitted the application form but actually got a place!

I'm so proud to be running the London Marathon for Refuge. Refuge is committed to a world where domestic violence is not tolerated and where women and children can live in safety. They aim to empower women and children to rebuild their lives, free from violence and fear. They provide a range of life-saving and life-changing services, and are a voice for the voiceless. I'd be so grateful for any donation you can give, you can find my fundraising page here.

I've been running fairly regularly since the Bournemouth marathon last October (although rarely more than 10k), but I still definitely wouldn't call myself a runner. I fling my arms in the air for fun when I'm going downhill, sing/gasp along to Taylor Swift (judge me if you will) as I go, and fantasise that I'm being interviewed on Woman's Hour when I probably should be focusing on... who knows? My gait? Nutrition strategy? Instead I listen to Girl on Fire and pretend that the actual spirit of Maryland is calling me or Modern Love, which transports me to New York, where I zig-zag the streets like Frances Ha.

In reality, I'm mostly zig-zagging round horses and tractors while desperately trying to stop Gladys from dragging me into the ditch on the opposite side of the road.

So, only when I'd got my vest and sponsorship form, taped a training timetable over my desk and bought myself some jazzy new leggings did I realise how much harder this marathon business would be this time (besides the February sleet and soggy trainers), because now, I'd need to ask people to sponsor me, just for me.

I've written and re-written my fundraising blurb a MILLION times. I wake up in the middle of the night to do it. I tweak it over breakfast. I move commas at lunch. I email it to friends and family to ask them and, if someone does make a donation, I panic about which version they've seen and what they will think. I've been trying to write this blog for a whole month.

But now there are only SEVEN weeks to go til marathon day and it's time for action!

So, basically, this cause is very important to me because, like plenty of other women out there, I know how it feels when a relationship becomes abusive, no matter whether the abuser does it consciously or not. I know how hard it is to identify what is happening, how impossible it is to explain. That's why I'm doing this, because I want it all to have been useful for something. I want other women to know they aren't alone. I want to raise lots of money for this brilliant, life-saving, awareness-raising, attitude-changing charity.

Every woman should be aware of the warning signs of an abusive relationship and know when to trust her instincts. This is why the work of Refuge is so important, they can give a woman the strength and support she needs to leave an abusive partner, when she feels at her most worthless and powerless. And they'll be there to help her rebuild her life, too.

Something I'm working on, inspired by  this interview . Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says women must "reject the idea of likeability ... you have girls who are abused, but they're thinking about the feelings of their abuser."

Something I'm working on, inspired by this interview. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says women must "reject the idea of likeability ... you have girls who are abused, but they're thinking about the feelings of their abuser."

In their lifetime, 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence (this doesn't just mean physical abuse, but controlling, manipulative behaviour too). This seems almost incredible, until you slowly start talking to people and then you begin to understand how real that statistic is. Which is really why I want to try to talk about it, because domestic abuse affects women of every age and background. Every week in England and Wales two women are killed by a current or former partner, and recent research by Refuge indicates that over half of young women (18-21) have experienced at least one violent incident from a partner.

Refuge can help. Not only do they provide safe, emergency accommodation and run the National Domestic Violence Helpline in partnership with Women’s Aid, they also offer services for children, individual and group counselling for abused women and community based outreach services. Refuge runs award winning media and advertising campaigns to raise public awareness of the issue and lobbies for better provision of services for women and children experiencing domestic violence.

So, this is why I'm giving this marathon thing another go. Please give anything you can. I have other fundraising plans too - so watch this space!