Wednesday 14th December
Today was conceived months ago. The aim was to get as many people as possible to come out and join me for as much o
to go I really had no idea how many would come out and support. As we started to congregate, people of all ages, shapes and sizes emerged from all over the centre. As promised, at 14:15hrs the group of 55+ runners moved to the front door for the briefing!
We began as a large group skirting around the back of campus for the first 1km. On the crest of North Road the routes split with the 1 and 5km runners looping back up to campus and 10km and 1/2 marathon runners dropping down in Bath and out to Batheaston to meet the canal. The weather was stunning. The clear blue sky and bright sunshine caught your breath and penetrated the smoke from the chimneys all over Bath and those of the little log burners on the boats we passed. The group strung out along the canal path towards Bath. At Sydney Gardens the groups split. The 10km runners headed went left to campus via Bathwick Hill. The 1/2 marathoners went right down the architectural ornament of Great Pulteney Street before swinging back around to the station and back to the canal for loop 2. I hung back to find the trail group for the half. Tad and Caleb (2 juniors in our tennis academy) and Jamie (the placement student on the tennis programme) were chugging along. At the start of the second loop I offered to stay back with Tad allowing Caleb and Jamie to up the pace. This would double the furthest Tad had ever run and he was determined to get to the end. As we skirted the base of Widcombe and then Bathwick Hill the option was there to head back up to campus and call it a day but he refused to do so. There was glimpses of other runners as we headed around the 2nd, larger loop but we were mostly all alone!
r as little running as they felt comfortable doing. With days
Tad pressed on. Barely talking, he was in a pretty bad place with little energy left in his legs. As we approached the bottom of Widcombe Hill at 19.5km there was only one way back home. Up. Widcombe Hill is approximately 1 mile long, averaging 13% incline with aspects as steep as 20%. Not the sort of place you want to be at the end of a 1/2 marathon when you’ve hit the wall. Tad marched on. The December darkness closed in rapidly and the temperature plummeted. We counted the 17 lamp posts on the last leg as I’ve done so many times before on my bike in the mornings up to work. By the top it would all be over. Tad dragged himself up and over the last rise and as the incline dissolved into flat we made it to the end
This was a heroic effort from a guy a little over 17 years old and totally unaware of what he
was about to go through. He had many chances to take a short cut and make the suffering end but he didn’t. He crawled on as others pulled away and refused to give up. To have such grit and determination at that age is mighty impressive! I’ve definitely been in this that position this year and it’s taught me lessons about myself that you just can’t learn without setting out without knowing if finishing is even a possibility. I’m very chuffed to have made the opportunity available to him and very proud to have run it alongside and experienced it with him.
Friday 16th December
After taking a new job with Gloucestershire CCC in the Autumn they quickly caught wind of the fundraising that I was doing for the hospital. Immediately a group of the players jumped at the idea of finding a way to contribute to my efforts and run with me. There’s only one problem, 21.1km of pavement pounding is just not appropriate for professional athletes. The risk of injury is high and the fitness benefits (as I’ve found this year) are far from spectacular. We could work out the details later and we decided on doing something on the last day of training before Christmas. As the club’s media team got hold of it, the plan gained momentum. The club organised £500 worth of gifts and toys for the children of the hospital which the players would deliver after the run. Fantastic. The run even fell on the same day as the club Christmas party so afterwards we would all enjoy a Christmas dinner together before the holidays. The perfect plan. Just one problem for me… all of these fabulous plans were made for Friday 16th December, not Friday 23rd December as I’d assumed. Having built Week 50’s event at Bath University over many months I couldn’t move that and with so much generosity and enthusiasm for the run with Gloucestershire CC I wasn’t going to pass this opportunity for fundraising either. Sod it, week 50 I would run 2 half marathons less than 48 hours apart. And so I did.
We congregated at the hospital early on a crisp December morning. I felt the pressure to give the boys a good run out so had a good crack at each of the 4 x 5.25km loops. The interval nature of the efforts made for a good format and I felt strong throughout. It was a really nice way to get to know the players that I’d only met a few weeks previous or in some cases meeting them for the first time this morning. They kept me company all around the way and wanting to show good form along the way was certainly a healthy challenge. Arriving at the end I felt like I could have done another couple of reps and it was
lovely to finish one of these with something left in the tank physically! We gathered up the boxes of toys and headed into the hospital’s playroom at the very top of the building to deliver the gifts. Such a lovely way to finish a run and a truly fantastic week for the fundraising.
Saturday December 31st
I can distinctly remember the moment at which the severe lack of foresight at the half way stage really kicked in. It was around mile 16 and the squad of 10 half marathoners are just settling into their stride. It dawned on me that the energy was running out of my legs and that it would inevitably only get worse. It feels you’ve just slipped into a pair of tight jeans and are still trying to run. The bounce goes from your step, ground contact becomes sluggish and effortful. I get a stiffness starting in my right knee which crawls up my hamstring into my hip. The sensation is completely psycho-somatic. Confidence drains away. You go from offence to defence, challenge to survival.
The Grand Finale had finally arrived. The second I mentioned a full marathon to Matt Sealby he leapt at the idea and he would join me for the full 42km from Bristol-Bath-Bristol. Tom Reed joined us for the first half down to Bath. My preparation for 42.2km was much like my preparation for 21.1km, just eat as much as physically possible. The first half marathon felt great, the pace was relaxed and we chatted all the way. Tom departed as we passed his house after which Matty reminded me how glad I was that Tom was there to protect me from Matt’s pace! Arriving in Bath I felt energised and excited at meeting the group ready to join us back to Bath. At this point what I should have done was glug a litre or so of water, chin a can of coke and start eating sweets whilst grabbing another litre of water for the road. We did none of these things. What we did do was have a flat white. Idiotic is an understatement.
The group at Bath was fresh faced, keen and ready to go. Matty and I were joined by Louise
and Chilli (keen runners, first time half marathoners), Chantelle (building for London marathon, first time meet up through the charity), Ed McD (endurance athlete at heart, sprinter in physiology) with Sam (week 17) alongside on a bike. Earlier that morning Ellie and Attie (both paediatric doctors at the Children’s Hospital) had set off to complete the route ahead of us with a 2 hour head start. Also running remotely was Tash in London who I met some 14 years ago just after leaving school.
She got in touch to tell me that she’d love to complete a half in London to support the cause. Across the pond in New York City Louise’s friend Sadia completed a distance PB of
11.5km as well. My mum and dad even headed out to do a 10km walk in the wind and rain of Yorkshire. The response to The Grand Finale was just amazing.
We headed out from Bath Spa station straight onto the cycle path back to Bristol. While my wealth of experience this year hadn’t taught me to fuel appropriately, it did provide the insight that I was in pretty deep shit for the next 2 hours! Chilcott Junior and Senior both came to the rescue in quick succession. In the early signs of exhaustion Simon leant me his camelback full of water and Peter rode alongside us feeding me coca-cola. We came off the cycle path at Bitton where Dave Frayne joined us. The route was far from scenic as we trudged through city back towards home. Ed went missing, deep in The Pain Cave he found one pace which was decidedly faster than mine! We picked Parky up along the way for the final push. I planned a small diversion at the end to take us by the BT Tower. On so many occasions this year it has been a beacon of home to me. A place where I love to be. As we clambered up the dirt track with the tower on our right we surpassed the marathon mark. The last 800m back to the house were surreal. Regretfully I cannot elaborate on any distinct emotion really sticks in my mind. Relief I think. Maybe a tinge of sadness. Writing this I don’t think I’ve ever thought deeply about the magnitude of what I’ve achieved on personal level. I think I owe it to myself to. When I departed from Temple Meads this morning my fundraising page read £13,300. By the end of the day that total would hit £16,000.
So this day just crept up on me. With all the excitement of the massive weeks preceding it, getting to the end of another busy term in Bath, travelling home to Yorkshire and then on to Scotland for Christmas The Finish Line is right in front of me. I couldn’t be happier to have been joined today by Neil Martin. Neil and I are technically brothers-in-law but our bromance goes way back, before the Hustler-Wraight sisters came on the scene. Neil’s been injured for most of the year but with no time left to postpone, today he bit the bullet and came out to run with me.
Besides being the last of 52 1/2 marathons this year, this run had some sentimental
locations along the way. The start point was St Michael’s Church in Elie, Fife where Katie and I got married on a boiling hot summer’s day in 2011. It’s a beautiful tiny-tin-shack of a church tucked in besides the houses just a stones throw from a sandy beach and the natural harbour of Elie. Neil and I were mentioned in the Christmas Day announcements and the congregation wa whopping £90 to send us off. We stripped out of our Sunday Best, paused for some photos and headed out along the headland into a brutal headwind towards Lower Largo. The route was stunning. Sandy paths through forests, skirting the estuary down towards the bellowing North Sea. We skipped along the narrow track in single file the wind blowing straight in from the choppy sea forcing the
thick grass flat all around us. Absolutely epic. It was the type of conditions that leave your face numb and your ears ringing when you find shelter. The back half of the run was thankfully more protected from the wind but nowhere near as scenic. As we hit tarmac the pace was good, Neil stretched his legs but I was struggling to find any rhythm whatsoever. As we turned the corner at 9 miles the road ramped up and the first half of the run just smacked Neil right in the face. It would later transpire he’d been managing blisters since the first few miles. Heavy legged we both just kept moving towards the finish line. The run finished at Margaret and David’s home, the venue of Katie and my wedding reception.
As we limped up the track to the house the last few hundred metres of the year weren’t without the usual discomfort or complication. As we reached the house we were still 0.3 miles short of 13.1. We headed back out, away from the house. The Welcome Party would have to wait. The last 500m is always the easiest. It’s just so close to the end you can just burn everything to get to the finish line. And so here it was 0.3 miles to go to finish 681.2 miles of 1/2 marathons in 2016. Not sure I can describe my emotions. Some concoction of pride, relief, fatigue and probably a twinge of sadness that it’s done. The prospect of a marathon next weekend certainly numbs any emotional extremes of satisfaction just yet. But for now, it was a special day to finish the challenge surrounded by family running with The Butcher by my side. Can think of worse ways to spend Christmas Day!
Tuesday 6th December
The end is in sight. With 2 runs scheduled next week there’s a total of 5 half marathons and a full marathon to end the year. But that’s still 156 miles to go.
Tonight felt like a relaxed affair, not much pressure and a late start for an unorganised run around Bristol on a Thursday night. The PB attempts are actually easier to digest. It’s a bloody long way to run either way but at least if you’re attempting to go full throttle the struggle is understandable.After a few “no pressure” runs this year I’m acutely aware of how they manage to rear up and kick you in the face just when you’re thinking you’ll take your foot off the pedal. I scoped this run out a few weeks back as one that could be really tricky on my own, a lull between organised runs. Thankfully, Laura Bridge came to my rescue. I coached Laura 5 or so years ago when she played hockey at Loughborough University. She joins the list of Loughborough graduates that have run with me this year to six. The start time got pushed back later and later as I crawled my way from Bath to our start destination in Clifton and it wasn’t until gone 7pm when we bounced out into the darkness. We circled the Downs and 5km in we plunged down to the Causeway joined by groups of runners enjoying the uninterrupted pathway for their high intensity interval runs. Our half marathon pace was sluggish in comparison! An elite hockey player and keen runner Laura was happily managing the pace so we upped it a few notches back towards town. The surge for me lasted the length of the harbourside and then I longed to reach 21km. My legs couldn’t convince my head to make them run any faster. From Temple Meads we beelined for Putdown and home.
Another tough one under the belt.
Wednesday 15th November
Mark and I unfortunately share something in common. We’ve both owe a tremendous amount to The Bristol Children’s Hospital. Skimmo’s son Albert was born in April 2013, thirteen weeks premature at just 2lbs 10 oz. He spent the next 12 weeks in The Bristol Children’s Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit as Mark and his wife Joy took turns to sit by his bedside. Over the coming years Albert spent weeks at a time in and
out of hospital, his respiratory system left him susceptible to infection from his traumatic start in life. A cold can turn into Pneumonia and frequent trips to PICU. To date Mark estimates Albert’s care to have cost somewhere in the region of £300,000 and this year he has also taken on a challenge of his own. In September 2016 Mark completed a high altitude trek to Everest Base Camp. He chose the fundraising challenge especially as the thin air at altitude would replicate Albert’s ongoing respiratory suffering.
On my first day back at work after Autumn had been in hospital back in November 2015 Mark invited me for a coffee and a chat. It helped immensely given the traumatic weekend that we had experienced. Besides Autumn’s health, Katie and my relationship had been seriously stretched. Her maternal instinct was on full alert and there was little I could say or do to convince her that I needed to take her home to sleep after 48 hours in a hospital with no sleep. It’s completely understandable but pretty destructive. Mark’s experience and sympathy was desperately welcome and extremely helpful.
It was dark before we started running tonight. By 3 miles in the conditions were laughable. Pitch black, on a canal tow path. Skimmo illuminated the path with an offensively bright bike light as he scooted along next to me. The wind bellowed and rain slashed sideways and I was dodging, jumping and skipping around puddles that spanned the width of the path. Skimmo offered about as much sympathy as you’d expect from a swimming coach…zero. On a bright sunny day the towpath from Bath to Bristol Upon Avon is a stunning walk that cuts through the steep hills on either side. There are 2 gorgeous Georgian viaducts that we could merely sense in the darkness. Needless to say we were alone on the path. When Mark got stalled as the towpath narrowed under a bridge I was plunged into darkness as I ran ahead, forced to stop immediately in fear of ending up in the water. Having survived the hopscotch along the path I then twisted my ankle on the most innocuous of paths, under a streetlight on a concrete path as we switched sides of the canal… 5 minutes later I did it again! Coming off the tow path at Bradford we were greeted by some streetlights and a further helping of sideways rain. By the time we made it to Trowbridge I was well and truly done. Soaked to the skin, cold and shattered.
For future reference: The perfect way to finish a run is (and in this order): Chocolate Nesquik, water, warm shower, pub, pint, Caeser Salad (no joke), Eton Mess, bed by 10pm in a Lightening McQueen bed spread.
We both owe a tremendous amount to the hospital and it’s staff and I’m delighted to have shared a run with Skimmo, the conditions just added to the adventure! Good luck for the future mate.