Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Not the most relaxing long weekend I've ever had...


Unfortunately, in my slightly weakened mental state over the last four days, I was unable to remember my login details for this blog, which confined my updates to facebook and text. However, the details of this Easter weekend will remain etched in my mind for a long time to come- no doubt even longer than the pain and physical ailments picked up along the way, of which there are many. I am currently unable to walk from one room to another without the aid of a wooden pole and once I’ve sat down it’s at least an hour before I can bring myself to get back up. Picking things up from the floor is a total no-go, my stomach muscles cramp up into knots every time I lean forward and my feet have swollen to nearly twice their normal size. However, despite the pain, I’m just delighted to have finally finished what was undoubtedly the most gruelling and challenging four days of my life.

Before I go into any detail about the run itself, I want to say an absolutely massive thank you to everyone who has supported me in various ways along the way- I have had so many messages of support that it’s been quite overwhelming. Donations have been coming in thick and fast and we are well on our way to raising at least £4000 for a fantastic charity. The support of friends who have visited me, run with me, cycled with me and driven alongside me (!) really was the difference between finishing and not finishing. You know who you are and hopefully you know how grateful I am. But most of all I have to thank my old man, Garry, without whom I literally would not have been able to even consider this challenge. He cycled with ridiculous patience as I became slower by the day and never stopped encouraging, whilst carrying four days worth of provisions on the back of a bike and having to put up with my mood swings which became increasingly frequent! So thank you dad- it really was a team effort and having someone to share the whole experience with made it even more special.

Day One
We set off from Nestle House in York at 6am on Friday, although realistically we actually started half a mile earlier at my house. The first morning was deceptively easy going and we completed the first marathon in approximately four hours. The subsequent dreams of a 3pm finish and an afternoon of eating and sleeping were quickly proven to be delusions of grandeur- once we passed Doncaster at about 40 miles, the legs began to seize up and the cramps set in, whilst the stifling heat made staying hydrated a real struggle. A stop in a beer garden on the road through Bawtry lifted my spirits and gave my dad his first pint of the day.  A couple of local lads who had spent most of the day under the sun with the Amber Nectar couldn’t believe what we were attempting and gave us a fiver each for sponsorship. The generosity and support of a couple of strangers really did lift my spirits and help get me back on the road for the last 13 miles to Retford. We arrived at 6pm after twelve hours of running and having covered 95km (59 miles), leaving time for an ice bath and a large mixed grill at a local establishment with Rotherham’s finest son, Matthew Boulton. My ice bath involved so much trashing and cramping up that it reminded me of the scene in Seven Pounds when Will Smith gets in the bath with a jellyfish. The huge mixed grill and a bit of time to relax were much appreciated- little did I know that this was a luxury that I wouldn’t be experiencing for the next three days.

Day Two
Waking up at 5am the next morning, I could barely move and really struggled to even walk to the bathroom. The thought of running another 60 miles when I could barely walk was seriously demoralising. At this stage, I was really beginning to doubt whether my body was actually physically capable of running, or whether I would be forced to try and walk the whole way. However, I left Retford running- albeit very slowly and gingerly- and began to develop a technique that minimised the pain and allowed me to move at more than 2 miles an hour. With 60 still to cover, this was a bonus. Crossing the A1 at Markham Moor relatively early on Saturday was a positive moment, as it was the first glimpse of my familiar southbound drive from York. From there we passed through Newark and stopped briefly for lunch, before what was undoubtedly the toughest afternoon and evening I have ever experienced. We were heading for Oakham, in the middle of the rolling hills of Leicestershire, and progress was significantly slower than the day before. It was becoming clear by about 4pm that unless Dwain Chambers turned up with some of his supplements or I morphed into a Kenyan or Ethiopian, I was never going to reach Oakham before dark. To add insult to the ever-increasing injury list, I had to endure commentary of yet another late collapse by Wolves. A total contrast to the comedy run-dance-cramp-hobble that involuntarily took over when Stephen Fletcher had put us ahead. Quite a sight for any residents of Staunton that happened to look out of their windows at 3.24pm I’m sure. I have learnt that one of the common themes of running for such a long-time are the mood-swings that can happen so quickly and be triggered by the slightest of things. One minute I would feel like I could run forever, lifted by a message of support, or a song on the radio, then ten minutes later I would be feeling the lowest of the low, ready to quit, in total agony and asking myself why the hell I’d decided to take on this stupid challenge. Saturday evening was pretty much entirely dominated by the latter emotions- the hills were never-ending, illness set in, the pain in my left ankle was becoming increasingly unbearable and then darkness descended. At this point, we still had at least 12 miles still to cover, there were no pavements, no streetlights, no people and no sign of anywhere in the distance that resembled a town. Every hill that we crested brought a faint hope of at least some lights or some sign of civilization, followed only by crushing disappointment. The real low point was when the ‘Oakham Hopper’ bus trundled past me at about 8pm- if I was ever actually going to quit then this would have been the moment. However, I think the fact that we finally made it to Oakham at 10pm, after 16hrs of running, gave me confidence that I could actually make it to Croydon in one piece. We picked up fish and chips on the way to the hotel and I crawled into a hot bath in which I virtually fell asleep. In bed by half eleven with the alarm set for five and my movement even more restricted than the previous night. My dad even dared to suggest that we could ‘see how I felt in the morning’ and make the decision on whether to continue. Although I outwardly scorned such a suggestion, I’ll admit that a huge part of me wanted to just congratulate myself on running 118 miles in 2 days, get the train home and go to sleep.

Day Three
The third morning began with a moment of real comedy- I was woken up by my dad’s alarm, immediately followed by a screaming from next to me- dad had tried to get out of bed and had cramped up, apparently quite badly. The phone was plugged in on the other side of the room- my dad was stricken by cramp and I was laughing at him whilst totally unable to move and turn the alarm off. This charade continued for at least five minutes- screaming and laughing punctuated by the incessant alarm- until dad was finally able to stretch off the cramp. I can only apologise to anyone who had come to our hotel for a romantic bank holiday weekend in Oakham to be woken up at 5 o’clock by this bizarre cacophony of noise. After half an hour of sitting down and trying to stretch some movement back into my body, I managed to get out and start running, although by this point I was ‘running’ in the loosest sense of the word. If I’m being kind to myself, my running style resembled the legendary Ali shuffle; if I’m being realistic, I bore closer resemblance to Pingu. It had simply become a case of lifting one foot off the floor and moving it forward, before attempting to follow suit with the other foot. As long as I could do this, one after the other, I was moving. Curbs were becoming increasingly problematic, as my new-found penguin technique relied on barely lifting the foot off the floor. By this point my ankle was heavily strapped and extremely painful, whilst my feet, which to this point had actually held up remarkably well, were also starting to feel the strain of 30 hours of consistent pounding. However, psychologically, Sunday was more positive than Saturday, as I began heading towards places I knew on roads that I recognised. We passed through Uppingham, Corby and Kettering, before meeting my mum in Wellingborough for a quick lunch. Knowing I was meeting people along the way made such a huge difference to my morale when I was struggling through the pain. I had the privilege of running with BMS’ former Head Boy Sam Wills from Olney to Emberton- this was the first time in three days that I had actually run with another person and although he was only able to manage a mile (!), it made a massive difference to have some company and conversation. Similarly when I passed through Wavendon and Woburn Sands and had the joy of Matt Kay’s company. Those who know this action man will be surprised that he didn’t fancy a jog, but his company was very much appreciated (clearly a sign of my fatigue and loneliness!). I have a feeling that the motorists of MK didn’t share my appreciation as they were left crawling behind a Renault Clio, with its hazard lights on, travelling at 4mph for nearly 2 miles! Despite a psychologically preferential day, it was still approaching 10pm when we finally arrived at my dad’s house in Toddington, which meant that for the second day running, my body had endured sixteen hours of virtually non-stop running (or shuffling). Staying at my dad’s was nice, but presented a new challenge that I’d not yet encountered en route- stairs. As I crawled upstairs on my hands and knees at midnight, I tried not to remind myself that in five hours I would be getting up and trying to run the furthest of all four days: 105km (65 miles).

Day Four
I woke up on Easter Monday with one thought in my mind- get through the day and the next time I woke up I would finally be able to relax. I was actually making decent progress up into Dunstable Downs, before a long downhill completely obliterated my left knee. Until then, my knees had been pretty much the only part of my body that had held themselves together, but the previous three days had clearly taken their toll. Every time I tried to lift my left leg off the ground, a jolting pain shot right through the kneecap. For twenty minutes or so, for probably the second time in four days, I actually feared that I might not be able to finish. We decided to plough on to Hemel Hempstead and stop for a bacon sandwich and strap the knee up, which made the pain more bearable. From Hemel we picked up the Grand Union Canal and stayed on it for 32 miles, with the incentive of meeting friends at various points in London helping to ease the tedium of the canal path. We passed the 8 marathon mark at about midday- when I originally planned the run I called it ‘8 marathons in 4 days’- but somehow it had managed to end up being nearly 10! Once I got to Hayes, the paradigm of clean-living, Mr Gary Bosworth, was there to meet me and teach me how to run a half-marathon. The fact that he ended up running 13 miles from Hayes to Wimbledon having never run more than 7 miles is a testament to true northern grit. We were joined at Kew Bridge by Shaf, who proceeded in leading the convoy on his bike. Richmond Park brought some amazing cake courtesy of Mrs Willetts Snr and some much-needed encouragement from Kate and Sophie, who drove on to Croydon to meet us at the finish. All of this support, combined with the tantalising prospect of finally reaching the end, kept me going at a quicker pace than the previous two evenings. Two more natural athletes, Kempo and Sellicks, met us at Mitcham to run the last five miles. Sellicks thoughtfully tried to improve my spirits by pretending to be knackered after a mile and borrow Shaf’s bike. We finally caught sight of the bright lights of Croydon at about twenty to ten: I think I’m probably the only person who has ever actually been seen speeding up running towards Croydon. To have so many friends at the finish, including my uncle and his fiancĂ©e, made it even more enjoyable and the champagne tasted especially good! All in all, we covered 389km (252 miles), which works out at 11k short of 10 marathons. A total of sixty hours running, tens of thousands of calories burnt and to date, nearly £4000 raised. Definitely an experience I will never forget and never repeat...at least for a couple of years!

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