Dan Jarvis: 26 miles of hurt will help bring cancer to heel

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ON the face of it, running and politics should go quite well together. After all, politicians run for things all the time.

We run for election, for re-election, and most MPs will own up to having used the old cliché of “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

Well, tomorrow I’ll be joining thousands of other runners in a very real marathon. Despite the usual pre-race nerves, I’m looking forward to taking on the London Marathon and enjoying the camaraderie of the run and the breathtaking atmosphere that this iconic race delivers.

I’ll be joined on the start line by my fellow Labour MPs and friends Ed Balls, Andy Burnham, Sadiq Khan, Jim Murphy and Jamie Reed.

As well as a healthy rivalry between us, there are several Tory MPs running, including fellow Yorkshire MPs Graham Evans and Jason McCartney as well as Edward Timpson and the ever competitive Alun Cairns, who is the smart bet to be the quickest of all of us.

As we lined up for the pre-race photocall outside the Houses of Parliament this week, most of us admitted to not being in top racing shape. A strict training regime has been impossible to stick to as a Member of Parliament, and the occasional dash to get through the division lobby simply doesn’t cut it.

While I have managed to fit in a few longer runs around the constituency at the weekends, I’m nowhere near as prepared as I would like to be.

In spite of this, people still assume that because I used to be a paratrooper I’ll be able to skip round the 26.2 mile course without any problems. The truth is that my time in the Army will only get me so far, so I’m anticipating a fairly painful morning.

Thankfully, I’m going to be running the race with my dad, Bernard, who is turning 70 this year. Whenever I’ve mentioned this over the past few months people tend to assume that means I’ll be in for a gentle jog. They couldn’t be further from the truth.

My dad is a seasoned marathon runner to say the least, and has clocked up over 70,000 miles during his lifetime. With a personal best of 2 hours 46 minutes, I expect he’ll be the one pulling me round rather than vice-versa.

What will get me round more than anything though is the fact I’m running for Cancer Research UK – a charity close to my heart as my first wife died from cancer at a very young age.

Most people’s lives will be touched by cancer at some point, with someone in the UK being diagnosed every two minutes. If I can match my marathon time of 3 hours and 46 minutes from last year, around 113 people will have been diagnosed in the time it takes me to run from Greenwich to The Mall.

The day when all cancers are cured is getting closer though – not least thanks to the fantastic work of doctors and nurses in our NHS.

Pioneering research being led by Cancer Research UK and others is also making a huge difference. In the 1970s for example, only five out of 10 women would survive breast cancer for more than five years. That’s now up to eight out of 10.

Across all cancers, more than 2,800 people’s lives are saved by research each week, such as through new advances in screening that can identify, remove and prevent up to a third of bowel cancers.

This sort of early screening is crucial as far too many people are being diagnosed through emergency routes rather than by a GP.

None of this would be possible, however, without the £330m that Cancer Research UK invested in medical research last year. They don’t receive any Government funding, so every penny comes from their fundraising efforts and from the generous support of people sponsoring me and the thousands of other runners this weekend.

If you would like to make a donation to Cancer Research UK, you can sponsor me at http://www.justgiving.com/DJarvisMP

London Marathon runners have raised more than half a billion pounds for charities since the race started 33 years ago. It’s easy to take for granted the transformative impact that so much money raised by so many people has already had on so many worthy causes.

It’s a reminder of the positive difference sport can have in each of our lives – whether it’s bringing people together, fundraising for charity or just making us each feel a little bit better for having had a morning jog round the park.

I’ve got a slightly longer run ahead of me tomorrow morning, but I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

Dan Jarvis is the Labour MP for Barnsley Central.