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 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 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, 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 reply on the generosity of others.
I told my girlfriend as 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 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 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 and after a brief meeting was told Polar were onboard and before long after chatting to a few of the staff of Up and Running was being passed around 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, I 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 our 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 their part-time too. It serves awesome burgers and beer in other words THE perfect place to finish but it wasn’t open on the 14th August so 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 had 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.
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 being affected. 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, now another good friend, offered to host #TheRunofGratitude page on his Up and Running’s Social Running Group page (SRG) if I was happy for it to be hosted there and 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.
The page went live and ALL I had to do now was run from SW London to Aberdeenshire…GULP!