So as I said in part one of my blog, my next challenge was always going to be to run the Thames River which is 184 miles and significant to me because it starts not too far from RAF Brize Norton where I spent almost 7 years of my life stationed and passes within a mile of my house in West Molesey in SW London.
However, a good (and bearded) friend, Craig Heron announced he was doing it this year and I had mixed feelings. Pleased that it was a challenge that he felt he wanted to do too but it also made me realise that I had been either treading water or sinking by not having a goal to aim for. Now it may sound like I’m being a bit hard on myself as it has been a difficult time for me however I do find that goals really help you progress and in basic terms I haven’t been.
I watched from the sidelines whilst Craig did his challenge in 5 days as best as I could as around the same time I was absolutely honoured to be MCing the OCR Series – World Finals in the Netherlands and the European Obstacle Course Race Championships in Denmark. My confidence, mood and mental health were definitely on the up!
Watching all these top athletes compete then afterwards hearing or reading them say how much I (and my co-MC Brian) had made their championships, blew me away. When I am on the microphone at any event, my mission is to do the basics to the best of my ability but then make sure everyone has fun, doesn’t take life too seriously and also leaves with a smile on their faces…with these two events I had certainly achieved my aims.
Craig achieved his goal in completing the challenge but he’d also managed to give me the kick up the ass I needed…I was thinking of a new challenge that was even more personal to me.
I thought for a second about running the Thames too but that would now be seen as copying Craig so thought about running from Paris to London but that didn’t flick any switches as it meant nothing to me. The next few minutes rushed by as I thought of The Proclaimers’ song I’m Gonna Be (500 miles) and what was 500 miles away from me…my girlfriend Sara lives over 500 miles away…
Now part of me thought OH NO as it was just too perfect not to do but another part got really excited because again, I had found a challenge that was just too perfect not to do.
I have always been grateful for what I have in life, even more so after becoming a father and having come through the recent hard times so when people enquire about how hard my long distance with Sara is, I always think about how much worse my situation could easily be.
Four male friends over the past year have lost their partners to illness and I cannot imagine how difficult that must be for them so whenever I am questioned about Sara and I and the distance between us, I think about my friends.
Running from my house to Sara’s seemed like the perfect challenge to show thanks for what I have in life…my health, the ability to run, family, friends, support from Saucony and hopefully my followers on social media as I couldn’t really afford to take time off of work but more prominently, pay for accommodation during the trip so this challenge would greatly rely on the generosity of others.
I told my girlfriend and she was shocked and said as I mentioned in the first part of this blog post, “Yer aff yer heid”…
My mum thought it was brilliant, also agreed that I was aff my heid but loved it.
When I announced it LIVE on Facebook it went down well…everyone was positive and loved it. Next was to get the backing of Saucony.
Nick, my Saucony rep had asked me to run a bootcamp session for the managers and staff of the England based sport shop Up and Running at their annual 2 day sales meeting at St Mary’s University in Twickenham and as per usual, especially now, I said yes. Another opportunity for opportunities I thought, so I adjusted my schedule and made it work. It went down really well as I received praise from the 20+ staff members before heading off to have breakfast with Nick and discuss my challenge.
Nick and therefore Saucony were in straight away and on deciding the name, #TheRunofGratitude, my challenge was gathering speed. I asked him if he had any good contacts in the GPS watch world as my current one had a big crack on the screen that happened on a run when my wrist accidentally hit a post on a recently. He said I’ll introduce you to Kirsty from Polar who would be at the Up and Running meeting tomorrow.
I went along the next day and after a brief meeting with Kirsty, was told Polar were on board and before long, after chatting to a few of the staff of Up and Running, I was being passed around to more senior members of staff as they too were interested in my challenge. Before long I was chatting to one of the HQ Staff and she said they would help me in the ways that Saucony couldn’t…in other words providing me with socks, a backpack, waterproof jacket and nutrition. Simply put, by saying yes to an early morning bootcamp, I was now not only being supported by Saucony but by Polar, Up and Running and Montane!
I was now adding people/companies to the list of things I was showing gratitude for…all I had to do now was actually run over 500 flippin miles.
My next mission was to plan the route. I researched online the many different ways to plan the route. I text my friend and adventurer Sean Conway and he said he uses ordnance survey maps on his phone which I tried but conveniently I found that Google Maps seemed to give me what I needed. You can click on the vehicle icon, the bicycle icon or the walking icon and it gave you all the details you needed…map route was sorted.
I then had to plan the dates. Last year (2017) I spent the first two weeks of August recovering from my tonsillectomy then had another two in Scotland with my kids at Sara’s house so with some cooperation from my kid’s mum, Kirsty, it looked like I could start my journey north on Monday the 30th July but when would I finish?!?
Sam’s birthday was on the 15th August and I had already booked return flights to Aberdeen for me and the kids for the evening of the 15th so I had to at least be back in London for then so could I do it all in 16 days and finish on Tuesday the 14th? What if things went wrong and I needed more time? I was genuinely worried but then I decided to use the 15th to fly back and pick up my kids so they could see me finish giving me at least one more day but the also possibility of having anything up to another two weeks even though that would be eating into my holiday with Sara and her kids. The other contributing factor is that I wanted to finish at Lil’C’s BBQ which recently won the BEST EATERY in SCOTLAND award AND the place where Sara and I first met as she works there part-time too. It serves awesome burgers and beer in other words THE perfect place to finish but they are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays so Thursday, the 16th August it was.
My route was almost set and I managed to include visiting some Up and Running stores too as it passed through York and Darlington however it did have me on the A1 for quite a few miles which I deemed too dangerous so I went back to Google Maps and came up with a great idea.
My route originally had me stopping & starting at pubs or restaurants so I could eat or drink as I finished each day but then, as I again thought about the name of my run and the fact that Up & Running were being so helpful, I decided to alter my route to avoid the A1 but also to visit as many of their stores as possible to show my ‘gratitude’. Genius…this way I could see welcoming faces, replenish my nutrition stock and also give back to them. I also looked at the North East Scotland leg and changed it in favour of the coastal route via Aberdeen instead of the slightly shorter but very hilly more direct Cairn o Mount route.
So by starting at my local Up & Running store in Surbiton, I was able to visit 10 stores between there and Newcastle and with fingers crossed, able to take 16 continuous days to get to Aberdeen by the 14th August, fly on an early Fly Be flight back down to Heathrow, spend the day with my kids and their mum for Sam’s birthday, fly back on the pre-booked British Airways flights back up to Aberdeen then finish the run by completing the final leg from Aberdeen to Lil’C’s BBQ in Oyne on the 16th August leaving exactly two weeks holiday in Scotland…BOOM!
I decided quite easily to raise money for Mind – The Mental Health charity because it was something that I wanted to raise awareness of plus I feel no matter what illness someone suffers or unfortunately dies from there is a big risk of it affecting someone’s mental health. So I set up my Just Giving page then a good friend of mine Ross, who runs the epic London to Cardiff 24 had a contact who deals in trackers so I could be tracked along my 17 day challenge…all I needed now was somewhere to house this all. Jonathan who’s the manager of Up and Running, now another good friend, offered to host #TheRunofGratitude page on their Up and Running’s Social Running Group page (SRG) if I was happy for it to be hosted there…I was over joyed…what an easy way for me to give back to them as it would help drive traffic to their brilliant free weekly runs from their stores.
In terms of training, I didn’t actually get out and run that much before the 30th July but what I did do is take part in quite a few F45 Training classes at the Kingston venue where I’d just started working. F45 is a functional fitness class lasting 45 minutes and I love it. However, I have been having quite a few tightness issues in my back and hamstrings ever since my Run 10 miles every day in September and have been cautious about lifting heavy weights ever since and on one of the sessions I chose a weight that my body didn’t cope with and pulled a muscle in my back…yes, even a PT can get it wrong sometimes. This happened within two weeks of the challenge starting and I had to get help. I called Sam my physio and arranged a session asap. Sam was brilliant and I wished I had seen him much sooner. Everything happens for a reason and I feel that lifting that weight was fate and I was meant to see Sam as after two sessions with him I felt the best I had felt in ages.
Nick from Saucony called me up asking which trainers I was going to wear and I replied with “the White Noise Ride ISO ones”…he was over the moon as these were the trainers Saucony were currently launching. That was part of the reason for my choice as well as the fact that they fit well and were great to run in but also the message behind the white noise campaign is closely linked to stress and the benefits that running can have to escape. “Running is one of the best ways to clear your mind and activate all the senses, like a warm bath for the brain.”
The days & weeks before the run were a mix of stress and worry to be honest however Sara and I did go on a day trip to Paris and spent a few days at a client’s retreat on the Norfolk coast…beautiful. It was a great trip where we ate and drank loads but also got to run and just relax before the biggest physical challenge of my lifetime.
Read Part Three Here – The Start – From Surbiton to a Pub somewhere north…