Running for my Nan

A couple of weeks ago my Nan – the wonderful Nellie – passed away. She was 97 years old. I was very, very sad and despite her amazing age, it came as quite a shock.

Born in 1915, my Nan has seen an awful lot and was an amazingly supportive, wise and thoughtful woman – a real role model if ever there was one. She lived through the Second World War staying the whole time in London while her husband was away fighting the war. She witnessed social and technological changes that must have been utterly mind-blowing for her – the advent of homes having electricity and the telephone, the birth of television, computing, satellites, mobile phones, microwaves, digital watches… digital anything actually. Fast food. The NHS. The United Nations.

In 1915 the Italian Umberto Blasi was the marathon world record holder with a time of 2:38:00 – that is how long ago my Nan was born.

My Nan and my sport

And it is fair to say that my Nan was not – as far as I know – a sporty woman. In fact I can’t remember her ever speaking about her own sporting interests. But she was interested in mine. In fact my marathon running prompted a unique event in the 38 years that I knew her: she asked me to do something for her!

My abiding memory of my Nan is as a fiercely independent woman, who certainly never asked me for anything. She lived alone in her own home until three days before she died. She cooked her own meals, collected and returned her own library books and did her own shopping for almost her entire life. She was, in fact, a very tough lady. And not one who asked for anything from anyone.

Running a marathon for Macmillan Cancer Support

So it was quite a surprise when Nan asked me if I would run a marathon to raise money for a charity that was very dear to her – Macmillan Cancer Support.

me and nanShe knew that I had run a couple of marathons for other charities – mainly because friends were running for them and I have said I’d pitch in – and Nan said that a number of her friends (she was in her 90s by this stage) had developed cancer and that Macmillan had been amazing in helping them. She wanted to see if there was something we could do together. Seeing as I was going to run the London marathon again, she asked if I would mind running to raise money for her charity.

I was delighted to be asked and really, really happy to do what I could to help. Even better in 2008, I had a Good For Age place so I didn’t need to pay for a Golden Bond place: every penny I raised would go to Macmillan.

I contacted the charity and told them what I would do. They were happy to have me as part of their team. They sent me a vest for me and t-shirt for Nan, so that we could pose in them for my JustGiving page. We set a target of £1,000.

In the end the race went well. I had written the fundraising total and the words “For Nan” on the inside of my forearm and when things got tough during the race, I glanced down and found my motivation to carry on.

I finished in 3hr 14min 36secs and Nan and I raised £1,254.60.

Now that Nan has gone

The last couple of weeks have been tough. I know that I won’t be able to see my Nan again, show her a medal and describe a race that I have done. But I know that she was really proud of me.

One of my favourite moments was running the 2010 edition of the Petts Wood 10k – the race in the village where she lived.

I was in reasonable shape and determined to do my best, so I gave it my all and finished in second place. The race finishes in a recreation ground in the village and I was so happy to see my Nan standing behind the barriers in the finish chute as I came in. I could hear her saying – to anyone who would listen – “that’s my Grandson, that’s my Grandson” It meant so much to me to make her proud.

I only found out later that to start with she was a bit miffed because she thought there’d be time to go for a coffee and cake while I was out running… sorry Nan – I was only gone for 36 minutes!

What I am going to do and what you can do

So here are my thoughts. I think that I will run a race in memory of my Nan. I will run for Macmillan Cancer Support. I’m actually grateful that she didn’t need long-term palliative care herself, but it was a charity that she cared about and I want to honour that.

I am going to use JustGiving again because I think that they make it really easy to run in loving memory of someone and in fact they have recently added some info for how to set up a page in memory of someone. You can see that here.

If you are doing something similar, please let me know. And I will update you on what I am going to do to honour the memory of Mrs Nellie Rosina Harrison, the most wonderful, supportive, bright woman anyone could hope to have in their lives.


  1. Firstly sorry for your loss and a lovely story. Also can relate to family coming to watch a race, until watching my first half my parents thought running to be a bit strange but seeing how proud they were at the end gave me a great buzz!

  2. I’m so sorry for your loss, Simon, she sounds like a remarkable woman.

    We lost my nan to cancer two years ago. Last year I did the Race for Life 10k for Cancer Research UK and this year I completed the Bupa London 10k for Macmillan. If I ever feel as though I’m flagging I remember how brave she was and how proud she be of me, as I’m sure Nellie would be of you. Do post when you choose a race, I would love to support you.

  3. What a lovely post. Your Nan sounds like a legend. And 97..? Phenomenal!

    I’d love to help out with your fundraising – Tim and I are mean in the kitchen, and I’m no stranger to a bake sale!

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