Why I’m running the Brighton Half-Marathon in support of Terrence Higgins Trust UK

Craig Hanlon-Smith

Craig Hanlon-Smith

Gscene columnist Craig Hanlon-Smith explains why he will be running the Brighton Half-Marathon tomorrow (Sunday, February 26) in support of Terrence Higgins Trust UK.

The day is upon me. The decision some eight weeks ago to run The Brighton Half-Marathon is now an almost immediate reality. The training done, the carbs gorged and all that awaits me now as I thread my Stonewall Rainbow Laces through the eyelets in my training shoes is the 13.1 mile run itself.

The past few months have been unsettling and not on a small-scale. As political establishments and ideals I have for more than twenty years publicly shackled myself to are defeated, it is a challenge not to feel despondent, unnerved, destabilised. But as two friends have both pointed out to me over an anxious beer or five, there are some world events that you cannot take to heart or try to manage alone. And as unpalatable as I may find it, perhaps during those twenty years of my comfort, there were those on the opposite side of the political fence who were experiencing then, the instabilities that I feel now. That doesn’t mean that I suddenly agree with them but I do think I understand how they may have been feeling, and a little more understanding of how it feels to be in somebody else’s shoes can go a long way.

And so with the advice of friends ringing in my ear, earlier this year I looked to what impact or changes I could simply effect and help to make a difference however small. I can run. I can probably get a few people to sponsor me and I can lob a few quid at a charity – it’s not much of a stretch, it’s realistic, achievable, get to it.

What I was not prepared for was the degree of individual and personal support people around me would offer. To be one man, sitting on more than £2000 of sponsorship the evening before the run is yes overwhelming, but also encouraging, life affirming and frankly beyond my wildest imagination when I responded to a tweet from Terrence Higgins Trust in late December 2016.

I remember exactly who was the first person to sponsor me, and I know precisely who has been the most recent. And in between? support that has dropped into my charity giving page from as far afield as San-Francisco and Columbia (ah the positives of social media) to my next-door neighbour. I have sat gob-smacked as I have watched the tank fill up from people I have not seen in over twenty years and from people I have never met, from close friends to the anonymous and £500 in the past four days alone. My faith in humankind is restored and I am truly sorry that I ever let it leave for a bit.

To all those who have shown me the colour of their money, I take it to heart and I think you’re all f***ing brilliant. But as a friend most dear recently pointed out, this is not an entirely unselfish act my charity fundraising run. £2k to reduce the levels of social anxiety currently felt by Craig Hanlon-Smith is not much of a sacrifice for others and I admit, I feel great about my little charitable mountain climb, [Darren] you were right, it is not unselfish at all. But it’s actually much more personal than it first appears. Why HIV/AIDS and why Terrence Higgins Trust?

I am running on Sunday with a number of individuals in mind. I can’t name them all here as I have not sought their permission, nor that of those close to them but they will know who they are. When I make a new friend, I am emotionally committed from the off, there isn’t much of a warm-up period and if this is going to work out as a longer term arrangement I feel and therefore act as though we’re the best of friends immediately and throw myself in with forty-two feet – sometimes that approach has been a disaster, others amazing. This is as true today as it was in the early nineties when this story begins.

My new friend some twenty-five years ago instantly told me of his HIV positive status and of the miserable expectations that may bring. Freddie Mercury had just died and for a young recently out gay man such as myself, the news was devastating – much more so for him.

I watched from the side-lines as he was hospitalised many times, had part of his lungs removed, recovered from and then contracted pneumonia once more. I paced the streets looking for him for weeks not understanding where he had gone, only to run into his newly acquired partner to learn he was sick again and once more in an isolation unit.

I can think of two occasions when I thought he would lose the war. But he didn’t. He came back time and again and just in time for the treatment advances that were made in the mid 1990s that saved thousands of people in the UK alone and thankfully him. Time is a great healer but distance from events can sometimes render us forgetful. All those years ago, no matter how ill he was, I never once heard him complain, or show any signs of self-pity, anger, or tear filled sorrow. And two years ago on his fiftieth birthday he took me to one side and said “me, fifty! Who’d have thought it”. So on Sunday he will be the laces in my shoes and the wind beneath my wings, I owe it to him for being so brave and strong. What is a run along the seafront compared to all of that?

Of course not everyone was that fortunate. I have spoken to many people, much older than myself, who talk of the devastation of the mid-late 1980s and early 1990’s, of attending a different funeral everyday for a month as their circle of loved ones and self-made families disappeared. And when I think of my friends, my husband and however short or long the time that I have known and cared for each of them, the idea of losing them all one after another in quick succession all but breaks me. I cannot imagine nor do I want to, the horror of that and yet that is the experience of so many in our community. And so I also run this for a deep sense of love, respect and gratitude I have for them, each of them, and for everything they give without hesitation to me, but also for my community and what it has survived.

U.S based writer Larry Kramer said: “What are you without your history? You aren’t a people. You are nothing”.

Let us not be maudlin, or fearful. Let us celebrate the generosity and kindness that I, you, we have seen people bring, it is wonderful. But let us not forget. Everything that has gone before is part of who we are today. And whilst I cannot single-handedly reverse Brexit or put Hilary in The White House, I can get up off my DISCO arse and do something.

If you would like to sponsor me, click here:

@craigscontinuum

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