5 years of 5K Your Way. Who would have thought it?
Certainly not us!
Back in May 2018, when we put up some tiny posters in the hospital promoting a meet up for people affected by cancer at the local parkrun Gemma and I wondered whether anyone would come. We certainly never planned for our idea to be anything more than a local support group and quite honestly had no idea what we were starting.
5 years down the line and we have 85 groups across the UK and Ireland, a quite incredible 5KYW manager (Georgie) who joined in early 2020, and a network of over 300 volunteer ambassadors who champion what we do, including our marvellous volunteer leads Lizzie Paddock, who joined the very first Nottingham meet-up as a participant after completing her own cancer treatment and Tony Collier, who launched his own group in Wilmslow in early 2019 (and raised £20k for us last year running 5k a day with prostate cancer). Georgie started working with us two weeks before lockdown and is the person who enabled 5KYW to not just survive the pandemic but be better for it. Without Georgie we simply wouldn’t be where we are now.
The idea for 5K Your Way first came from a young man I met very briefly on the teenage cancer ward as a trainee oncologist. He had hopefully been cured of his brain tumour, but, in the process, had put on huge amounts of weight, had lost his job and was spending all night awake playing computer games and most of the day asleep. I had just nipped onto the ward to give him a prescription, but walking away, I remember thinking ‘what’s the point in curing cancer if that’s the life we leave people with after?’.
At the time I was vaguely aware that there was accumulating evidence that being active for people with cancer might be helpful. I was already aware, from personal experience with a friend, of the huge body of evidence to support exercise as a treatment for depression. And I loved parkrun. And so I asked myself, could we perhaps try and encourage a group of young people with cancer to perhaps build up over a 3-month period, towards walking a 5km at parkrun? Might that be a way to combine the physical benefits of exercise with the psychological benefits of working towards a goal, amongst people who understood what it was like to have cancer as a young person?
I touted the idea to some of my hospital colleagues, none of whom thought it would work. But I needed a partner in crime, so reached out to Gemma Hillier-Moses, who a year or so previously had founded Move charity and at the time, was facilitating some walk and talk sessions at the local park with young people with cancer. We had a coffee and realised straight away that we shared the same deep-seated belief that movement could be a powerful antidote to the physical and psychological impacts of a cancer diagnosis. We also realised that neither of us feared failure, neither of us liked unnecessary red tape and would both rather give something a go than wonder ‘what if?’
And so, amongst other ideas that didn’t work (including after several months of trying, ultimately unsuccessfully, to bypass the NHS bureaucracy to run exercise sessions for young people in the hospital environment*) we decided to trial a local cancer support group in Nottingham, linked to the Forest-Rec parkrun. Some ideas flop, others fly. You won’t know which unless you give them a try!
Over the last 5 years I’ve lived and breathed 5K Your Way, and, since we merged in 2019, Move charity as a whole. I believe with every fibre of my being that what we do matters and that what we do makes a difference. I believe that we’re changing the perception of what it means to live with and after cancer. I believe that we’re challenging the myth that ‘rest is best’. And I know that we have an incredible team for whom Move is far more than a job. Our team choose to work for Move because they know that what we do changes lives.
5K Your Way was part of the reason that I was able to retire from triathlon. One of my last pro races was in Mallorca in October 2018 on a 5KYW day. I won the race unexpectedly. But I remember so clearly getting back from the race to my hotel and scrolling through social media looking at the 5KYW pictures from Nottingham and the launch of the second group in Cambridge and realised that, deep down a big part of me wished I hadn’t raced and was instead back in Nottingham at the 5KYW group with Gemma. A couple of days later my sister said to me ‘You’ll never retire from triathlon Lucy. How can you when you love it so much?” But I knew then that the time was right because I’d found something that I could believe in and love as much as I loved triathlon.
Move has taught me so much, both personally and professionally. It’s shown me that the fear of failure that I battled with as an athlete can be overcome in other aspects of life. It’s shown me that if you surround yourselves with people with a ‘Can Do’ attitude and an open mind there really are no barriers. It’s reminded me to dismiss the naysayers. And it’s shown me that sometimes the craziest ideas are the best.
But it’s also given me an insight into what it might be like to be diagnosed with cancer that I would never have had from just being a doctor. The friends I’ve made through 5KYW have taught me more than I would ever imagine; how to deal with adversity; how to endure the tough times; to embrace life and to celebrate the small wins. I’ve reflected on these friendships here.
As an organisation we’re not yet where we want to be. We don’t have a sustainable funding model. We struggle sometimes to overcome the misperception that we’re just a running club. We’re not reaching minority groups in the way we want to. And we’re a long way from finding a way to encourage all health care professionals to tell their patients about the benefits of exercise.
We’re not yet where we want to be, but we’re on the right path.
It’s humbling to reflect on everyone who has supported our journey over the past 5 years. The thousands of people who have joined a 5KYW group. The hundreds of volunteers that believe enough in what we do to donate their time to support it. Every single person who has donated or fundraised for us; most of our income to cover core costs comes from community fundraising which is mind-blowing. Everyone who has messaged us to say that, even though they’ve never joined a group, simply by existing we have changed their perception about what is possible with cancer; these messages help me to realise that the ripples we make spread far beyond the 5KYW groups themselves. And most importantly, the friends I’ve made through 5KYW who have enabled me to continue to believe.
Thank you for being part of the first five years of 5KYW. Here’s to the next five!
If you’d like to make a small 5 year birthday donation you can do so here
Check-out 5KYW on BBC One Show in Jan 2023 here
*Subsequent to these frustrations, Gemma, supported by her treating haematologist Fiona Miall, launched the life-changing Move online exercise programme for young people (we’ve actually just recently had an evaluation of this programme published, https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00520-023-07758-8).