Friday, 28 September 2012

London 2012: A Month to Remember

Never before have I been so pleased to be living in a certain place at a certain time than the last two months. Typically, the British public judge the success of the summer by the weather; there’s nothing quite like a rainy August to stimulate that portion of the British psyche that is predetermined to have a good moan. Even when the sun does decide to make a cameo appearance and dares to lift the temperature above 25 degrees, we suddenly realise that we have to go on the Underground, wear a suit and go to work and that we actually loathe the heat and the snow in equal measure. As a nation, we do not cope well with change, be it climactic or otherwise and our coping mechanism is to ridicule ourselves in the media (leaves on the track, hosepipe bans) and to have a good old moan. This, as Britons, is what we do and quite frankly, we do it well.
Which is why this summer has been so surprising on more than one count. The British public, for the first time in living memory, have not been moaning or even talking about the weather. What is more, not only have we not been moaning, but we have actually been actively positive, led by the media, who have departed from their usual strong-points of amplifying failure and fostering negativity.

My Olympic mindset has been positive since THAT announcement in 2005, whilst many others have been expressing highly credible doubts centred on everything from finances to transport to medal counts. I even planned my holiday for the 16th August so that it acted as a slightly alcoholic filling to an Olympic and Paralympic sandwich. Even I, however, an eternal optimist and hopeless patriot, could not have imagined how truly incredible that sandwich would turn out to be. The Paralympics warrant a blog to themselves, so for now I will concentrate on the Olympics and attempt to pick 5 highlights that for me, define a truly unforgettable summer.

The Olympics started off for me with a trip to Hyde Park to watch the cycling Road Race on the big screen, full of the hope and expectation generated by Team Sky’s captivating success in the Tour De France. The atmosphere in front of the big screen was electric, but Cavendish and Co were just a few kilowatt short when it really mattered. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who, at that point, tried to ignore the familiar feeling that a summer of plucky defeats, sporting disappointment and anti-climax could well be just around the corner. The disappointment of yet another Olympic wound for Cavendish was not the only thing that started slowly sowing the seeds of doubt in my mindset of boundless positivity that the Opening Ceremony had harvested. The grim inevitability of Paula Radcliffe’s withdrawal from the Marathon did not make it any easier for me to take; if there was one competitor who I could guarantee a medal it would have been Radcliffe, for more reasons that I could possibly outline here. To those foolish enough to label Radcliffe a quitter, or worse, I challenge you to step onto a treadmill, set it to top speed of 20KPH and see how long you last before re-assessing your opinion on the greatest female marathoner the world has ever seen. Radcliffe maintains that speed for 26.2 miles- most of us would not last for 1. The fact that the world record she set in 2003 still stands unbroken cements her place as a true great of British sport. In a world where we idolise mediocre footballers, the best of whom would still probably not make the top 100 of all-time, the tag of ‘world’s greatest’ should command immediate respect and adulation. If I ever have the pleasure of meeting Paula, this is exactly what she shall get.

It didn’t take long for early disappointments, however, to be cast aside as triumph after triumph began to slowly reinforce an ever-growing belief that London 2012 might just prove to be something special. Previously ‘normal’ Brits were catapulted into the nation’s consciousness through a combination of their own strength and ability and the vigour with which the media embraced the success these athlete’s were providing. John Inverdale’s emotion, Burt Le Clos’ paternal pride, Colin Murray living every twist and turn of the Team Gymnastics; the TV and radio coverage was nothing short of exceptional.
1) Never before did I think that men’s gymnastics could be so thrilling, but for me this provides the first of my five carefully selected highlights of the Games. Watching Kristian Thomas’ final floor round felt like watching my beloved Wolverhampton Wanderers take a penalty in a big game and to see the sheer joy and emotion on the face of Team GB when they realised that they had won Britain’s first gymnastics medal in a century brought a tear to my eye. It was at this point that I realised the Olympic spirit had well and truly consumed me, stripping away any small semblance of masculinity at the same time; if voluntarily watching male gymnastics is bad enough, then having a tear in your eye surely permanently erases any man points that any amount of drilling, soldering or playing rugby can help amass. It may not have been gold, but the success of Team GB’s gymnasts really set the tone for what was to come. The rest, thankfully, didn’t fail to disappoint.

2) The second highlight is a predictable one, but provided me with my first of four visits to the sprawling Olympic Park and a day I will never, ever forget. The week leading up to ‘Super Saturday’ not only saw the TV in our flat permanently tuned to BBC, but our laptops, ipads and iphones constantly refreshing the London 2012 ticket webpage in an endless quest for athletics tickets. One of Mo Farah’s two finals was the dream and if I was DiCaprio and could construct my own, it would have been a Farah/Ennis double-header. The chance to see potentially two historic track gold medals would be fantasy stuff. Three was simply inconceivable.
As the week wore on, British medals continued to mount up and the F5 key on my laptop continued to wear down, along with my patience. Myself and my flatmate Matt must have spent more than 10hrs sitting waiting for the payment details page to load, to no avail. Never before have I been so keen to part with my credit card details. By 11pm on Friday night, following another exhilarating day including Ennis’ blistering hurdles success, our expectations were low. The feeling when, with only 19 hours to go until the evening session began, we managed to secure two tickets, was as good as winning a medal itself. Little did we know that, continuing the growing theme of this Olympics, the real thing was going to be so much more memorable than we could have ever imagined.
What Ennis, Rutherford and Farah achieved that night will go down as one of the greatest nights in British sporting history. Ever. Team GB won one athletics gold medal in the Bird’s Nest stadium in Beijing. On Saturday 4th August, the world witnessed three in less than two hours. For me, Ennis’ finish to the 800m summed up the attitude of Team GB competitors throughout the Games; why finish third, even if that’s all she needed for gold, when she could finish first. If Ennis had already captured the hearts of the nation going into that race, in the final 200m as she powered past her two rivals, she threw away the key. Farah’s 10,000m performance was similarly dominant, except instead of an electric final 200m, he provided an electric (and ear-splitting) final three laps. The atmosphere in the stadium for his final 400m was like nothing I have ever experienced; like hyper-extending those few seconds of ecstasy when your football team scores a winning goal into 52 seconds of sustained jubilation. The look on Farah’s face when he crossed the line said it all- he had created history and achieved his dream, with the potential of more still to come. Greg Rutherford’s seismic leap turned a truly great night of British sport into quite simply the greatest. To witness it first hand was genuinely an honour.

                3) If there was one arena that I was gutted not to have been able to visit it was the Velodrome. Those lucky enough to visit the Medal Factory, as the press began to dub it, were almost guaranteed to witness not only a British gold but also a world record, such was their regularity. Great Britain’s domination of the Velodrome makes my third highlight an unusual decision, as it stems from one of the only races that cycling’s General Dave Brailsford and his army of performance coaches would have been disappointed with. Amongst the loot of gold medals collected by Trott, Hoy, Kenny and Co, Victoria Pendleton’s first two finals made for bittersweet viewing, in that order. Bitter disappointment for Pendleton and her partner Jess Varnish with disqualification from the team sprint, followed by the sweetest of victories over arch-rival Anna Meares in the Keirin. Pendleton’s third final of the Games, in the individual sprint, was to be her last competitive outing on a bike and after a glittering career, including 9 world titles and two Olympic goals, we expected a glorious golden swansong. But it wasn’t to be; a controversial decision to overturn the outcome of the first heat swung the contest in the Australian’s favour and from then on, she never looked like letting Pendleton get close. We expected to see heartbreak, despair and anger from Pendleton as she dismounted, but the prevailing emotion, clearly evident throughout the tears, was sheer uncontained relief. For me, this was fascinating, giving us more of an insight into the story behind an athlete than any gold medal ever could. Those familiar with Pendleton’s story will know that her father’s desire for her to become a cyclist has been one of the driving forces behind her chosen career and at times, a force that has been overbearing. This, alongside the well-publicised friction and subsequent isolation following the post-Beijing revelations of her relationship with one of her coaches, perhaps explains her relief at her departure from the sport. What made it all the more remarkable for me, however, was how instantaneous and visibly powerful that relief was to anyone watching at home. Disappointment seemed to be entirely overshadowed by the escape that finishing the race provided her; I get the feeling that regardless of the colour of her medal, the reaction would have been identical. To witness such as high-profile sportswoman, a national icon, react in such a way provided a fascinating insight into the pressures of high-profile sport. For me, Pendleton’s release was one of the truly unique Olympic moments that will stay imprinted in my mind long after the furore over gold medals has subsided.

                4) For my penultimate highlight I am straying away for the first time from Team GB. As incredible as Bolt undoubtedly was, in my opinion there was one performance that stood out above any other as a shining example of pure athletic power, speed and grace. David Rudisha quite simply re-wrote the record books and tore up the 800m manual with both his time and his uniquely bold tactics. The 800m is a balance between pure speed and stamina- Rudisha had both in abundance. His race plan involved running the first 400m as fast as he possibly could, then simply trying to sustain that throughout the final lap. Not only did he succeed, but he succeeded in incredible style, smashing the world record in 1:40.91 and living up to his billing from Lord Coe as ‘the most impressive track & field athlete at these games’.
Such was the brilliance of Rudisha’s performance that he virtually pulled his competitors along behind him; only one of the eight finalists did not record a personal best in that race and no one has ever run faster to finish last in an 800m final than GB’s Andrew Osagie. Like Michael Johnson’s 400m and Bolt’s 100m records, Rudisha’s time is not likely to be beaten in quite some time- except perhaps by himself.

                5) My fifth and final highlight came on a night where Jamaica yet again proved that they are the undisputed sprint kings, blowing the USA away with a blistering performance in the 4x100m relay and ensuring London 2012 claimed yet another world record. I will keep my analysis of Mo Farah’s 5000m master class brief, as it is difficult to put into words the sheer brilliance of the first Brit to ever claim the 5k and 10k double. The pace of the race was slow (although it seems ridiculous to even think about writing that) which makes Farah’s tactical brilliance all the more impressive. Every athlete in that race was capable of running Farah’s winning time. Only Mo, however, was capable of running that final 400m. To hold his nerve for the entire race, confident that his finish would draw the strength out of his opponents’ legs, proved that Farah is not only an astonishingly talented runner but also an intelligent and courageous man. It is this blend of talent, fitness, guts and intelligence that forms something we Brits have always felt we’ve been desperately short of: a winner. London 2012 proved that if we broaden our search beyond the usual radius of football, rugby and cricket, we actually have an abundance of them just waiting to be discovered.

                You may be able to tell from having read this that I enjoyed the Olympics. The memories of both the sporting drama and the general atmosphere in London will stay with me for quite some time. Hopefully, the positivity and feel-good factor generated by the whole Olympic experience will be as enduring as the memories. The objective of London 2012, we were told, was to ‘inspire a generation’; quite frankly, if the events we were lucky enough to witness this summer do not inspire the youth of Great Britain into bettering themselves, be it through the sporting arena or elsewhere, then nothing will. Roll on Rio in 4 years.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Olympic Torch Relay

Monday 23rd July 2012- the 66th day of the Olympic flame’s marathon journey across Britain and the second of a frenzied 7 day finishing sprint through the capital, taking the flame to it’s eventual East London dwelling via the London Eye, Royal Navy Commando helicopter and Battersea Dogs Home. Monday also happened to be the day that I, a normal 24 year old bloke from West London, was transported briefly into a world of celebrity and frenzied excitement for the most surreal and inspiring afternoon of my relatively short life. Despite finding out months ago that I was lucky enough to be one of 8000 torchbearers, the reality of the true honour and significance of such a moment did not really begin to set in until Monday evening, when the torchbearer bus began inching it’s way through the thronging mass of people lining the streets of Tooting Bec. As I sit here writing this, my Olympic torch proudly propped up in the centre of the living room, I can’t help but feel a true sense of gratitude and almost embarrassment at having such an honour bestowed upon me. I ran 252 miles in 4 days to raise money for Alzheimers Society, which is undoubtedly a fine physical achievement and also probably a little on the crazy side, but I was truly humbled by the whole experience and the reaction of the crowd, who at times treated me like some kind of hero figure. Tim Lovejoy, someone I spent countless Saturday mornings watching on Soccer AM, and Tim Henman, quite frankly a British sporting legend, both seemed as awestruck by the crowd reaction as the rest of us on the bus. Their celebrity status was, for a few hours, largely irrelevant- the excitement of the crowds was focused on the individual carrying the torch, regardless of who they were, almost as an emblematic figure, a reflection of a nation’s excitement at staging the world’s biggest sporting event. Never before in my life have I been mobbed; however, from the moment I stepped off the bus with torch in hand, I was surrounded by a sea of people, all clamouring for the same thing- a photo with the Olympic torch.

Backtrack nearly twelve months, to the 8th August 2011 and the scenes in nearby Croydon were similar in some ways to Tooting on Monday night- police officers encircled by huge swarms of people joining together in a universal outpouring of emotion. Last year, during the worst riots seen in Britain for decades, the underlying emotion was rage; a venomous anger that Prime Minister David Cameron described as a result of a ‘broken society’ in ‘moral collapse’. The poisonous hatred that led to five deaths and more than £200 million in property damage was aimed almost solely at the police, who bore the brunt of the violence and faced media scrutiny for their subsequent attempts to control the situation. Not even 12 months on and in Tooting on Monday I witnessed the manifestation of a complete emotional reversal. Once again thousands of Londoners stood side-by side with the Met Police, yet this time, anger had been replaced as the prevailing emotion by pure, unadulterated joy. If the actions of the rioters last year were juvenile, the crowds lining the streets on Monday reacted with a similar immaturity- this time, however, borne from almost childish excitement at witnessing such a momentous occasion. The Met Police officers tasked with keeping trouble at bay guarded the flame with a comforting air of authority, but more significantly, smiles on their faces. An outsider watching the police bikes crawling along exchanging high fives with the joyous crowds would not believe that the same men and women, less than a year earlier, were facing petrol bombs and broken bottles in full riot-gear. This, to me, demonstrates the real power of the Olympics and proves that the 70 day torch relay truly has captured the imagination of the nation.
The feel-good factor is one of the intangible benefits that is difficult to quantify when assessing the ‘value’ that the Olympics are delivering to British tax-payers footing the astronomical £9 billion bill. There is no doubt that this is an obscene amount of money, especially given the current economic situation we find ourselves in. Yes, there will be benefits to the transport system, much-needed regeneration of large parts of the capital, not to mention the huge short-term economic benefits of the estimated 11 million visitors during the Games. Personally, I would have to agree with those who argue that these tangible benefits do not represent good value for money. However, looking at it incredibly simplistically, although the funding for the Olympics has ultimately come partly from my own pocket, I have in truth hardly noticed it. I have not been charged with a crippling ‘Olympic tax’. I have not noticed huge amounts of neglect in other publicly-funded areas crippled by government cut-backs; although I will concede that there are undoubtedly people out there who have. I view Olympic funding as almost the mother-of-all finance schemes, where the cost of a new car is spread across a ridiculously long-period of time and taken straight from your pay cheque before you have time to notice it was even there. As much as the staunch economists will (probably rightly) claim that this is not the sensible way to finance either a new car or a worldwide sporting event, it is the way that many of us choose to live our lives in order to get the maximum enjoyment out of them while we still can. Saving for a Ferrari for 60 years and finally buying one when you are eighty may be financially sensible, but it is not how I would choose to live my life.

Yes, the Olympics are expensive, but let’s enjoy them while we can and make the most of a feel-good factor that seemed a lifetime away back in August last year. If I was sceptical of the Olympics before I carried the torch on Monday (which incidentally, I wasn’t) then there is no doubt that in the aftermath I would be completely converted. Similarly, if you had suggested after last year’s riots that every Brit could donate £150, spreading the cost over a number of years, to bring our country back from the brink of collapse to a cluster of proud, joyful communities cheering the Olympic flame through our streets, then I would have snapped your hand off. I am no David Cameron, or Boris Johnson, but those who know me know that I love a good deal and for me, the Olympics might just turn out to be the most unexpected bargain of the lot.

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 least for a couple of years!

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Four days to go....

Its Sunday afternoon and this time next week I'll be celebrating Easter Sunday by running from Oakham in Leceistershire to Toddington in Bedfordshire- for the third day in a row, attempting to complete approximately two and a half marathons. This past week has been the last real week of training, as between now and Thursday I will be tapering off and trying to preserve my body from too much stress before the big day. I will still be running twice a day in order to get myself to work and back, but will be getting the train to Syon Lane and running from there (approx 5 miles) rather than running door-to-door. One of the highlights of any training regime is the carb-loading that comes the week before a race and this week will be no different- my flat mates and work mates are going to see something pretty special when it comes to meal times. Pasta, bread and bagels are the order of the day in an attempt to build up as many energy reserves as possible.
I have had another week of 100+ miles, with 12 runs in total this week. As usual, the brisk 5k on Monday with my training partner Matthew Bennett was the highlight- the admiring looks that we get running through the streets of south-west London really spur me on. What makes it particularly entertaining is that he believes these are in light of his towering physique and rugged good looks, whereas I happen to know that they're actually affectionate glances aimed at myself from those touched by a friend's willingness go jogging with his evidently mentally-challenged pal.
This weekend I have been taking it easy and not touching a drop of alcohol, having made the difficult decision to shun a trip to Amsterdam with friends from work. Despite the fact that those I was supposed to be going with are the most sensible of individuals, I couldn't risk jeopardising any aspect of the run given the months of preparation and incredible support from friends and sponsors. Although gutted that I'm sitting at home missing out on a brilliant weekend, I think the voicemail I received at 9am on Saturday morning informing me that a pint was waiting probably justifies my decision. I'm sure the coming years will present plenty of opportunities for visiting Europe's finest museums, bars and cafes with Messrs Shah, Bosworth, Kempster, Boulton and Tyers. For now, the focus is completely on the task in hand.

Today I decided to run into central London and watch the end of the London marathon. I set off at about 11am, with the elite women approximately 5 miles from home and the men nearer ten. By the time I had jogged down the Thames and up the Kings Road to Buckingham Palace (no further than 6 miles), the winners of both races had been and gone. The speed that these elite athletes run is simply incredible and watching them in the flesh really puts it into perspective. For anyone who doesn't appreciate the brilliance of marathon runners, I urge you to get down to the gym and set the treadmill at its highest setting (usually 20km per hour). See how long you can keep this pace up- if its more than 60 seconds I'll be impressed- and then try to comprehend that elite marathoners run at 20km an hour (or just under) for 26 miles. That any human being can run a marathon in 2hrs 4mins is for me, truly inspirational. London, however, is more about the commitment and courage of tens of thousands of ordinary people who attempt and achieve the extra-ordinary, year after year. I want to say a massive congratulations to everyone that I know who has completed the marathon today and encourage them to join me for a warm down on Easter Monday at some point ! Hopefully the guy in the snail outfit will still be going strong next weekend when i pass through London- I'm willing to bet that he'll probably be capable of overtaking me by that point!

Anyway, I am travelling up to York on Thursday and will be setting off from Haxby Road at about 6am, heading out of the city past the racecourse and along the cycle path to Selby. From there it is through the villages of south Yorkshire for another 40 or so miles, past Goole and Doncaster before arriving in Retford for the first nights kip. For those who want to follow my route, or even run or cycle any part of it with me, I am trying to work out the best way of publishing the map. I have one saved on mapmyrun that is not quite the final route- as it doesn't include a slight detour from Milton Keynes to Toddington via Woburn on the Sunday and is incorrect from Berkhamstead onwards. On the last day, we will be picking up the Grand Union Canal path at Berkhamstead and following it all the way to Kew Bridge, before crossing the Thames and heading down to Croydon. Go to or follow the link via my facebook page if it does not work from here.

For anyone wanting to run with my dad and I at any point, please get in touch and I will arrange specific details with you! For anyone who would like to sponsor us- please visit

Thanks so much for your support.


Wednesday, 13 April 2011


Right, I have finally decided to join the blogging revolution in an attempt to keep all of my sponsors (and those interested) up to date with my training and my progress during my attempted York to Croydon run. As I write this there are only nine days to go until Good Friday, the day I set off from Nestle House in York and begin the lond trek south.

Training has been going well, although my body is beginning to complain about the sheer volume of running. I started a new job in Hayes a few weeks ago and have since been running to and from work every day- 11 miles each way (unless I'm feeling lazy and get the train to Syon Lane, which is a mere five mile run from work!). 22 miles a day has proved very tough and my knees are at times screaming in pain, but not having many other transport options has helped with motivation! I have also been out for the odd run with the one and only Matt Bennett on the odd evening, which brings the daily total to 3 runs on some occasions. However, I try to avoid this too often as his supreme physique makes me look really bad in front of the ladies of west London.

Over the past 18 days, I have been for a sum total of 36 runs, covering an approximate distance of 350 miles. Not too shabby- however- still some way off the mileage ratio of 60 miles a day that easter weekend is going to bring!

There have been many highlights of my training so far, including the surprise sighting of one of my idols, Property Ladder's one and only Sarah Beeny, on the Thames Path last week. As I always explain it, anyone who can knock a wall down whilst pregnant is most definitely my kind of woman! I'm pretty sure she even gave me a cheeky wink as she jogged past, but I tend to think that its probably more likely than an insect has just flown into her eye.

 Another highlight has been the diet I've been able to maintain whilst training. I'm not the fussiest of eaters at the best of times, but recently I have been able to indulge myself to a pretty spectacular level- any increases in the share price of New York Bagel Co and KFC can be at least partly attributed to me. For the run itself, I am planning on eating as much as I can physically take on board (and as much as my dad can carry on the bike!). Regular trips to Tesco will be on the agenda for Bagels and other carb-filled foods, plus I will be taking a supply of Power Bar energy bars and Gatorade to last the four days. Water will be sought at every possible opportunity- after all, hydration is the key to success!

I will post a map on here so that anyone can have a look at the route we are planning to take- the first day is from York to Retford, where we have a hotel room booked, before running from there to Oakham and a slightly more comfortable hotel for the second night of unexpected cramping and Dalton senior's incessant, train-like snoring. Easter Sunday will see us run from Oakham to my dad's house in Toddington, before the final and longest day- Toddington to Croydon. Considering I spent three month's complaining about the one and a half hour train commute, this final 63 mile leg will undoubtedly be the toughest. By this point I am anticipating my body will be just about ready to give in, if it hasn't already, but as long as most of my vital organs are still working I plan to plod on, however slow and painful the progress might be. By this point I will probably want nothing more than to give up and go home- via KFC- to lie in bed and sleep until the cramp disappears. However, my plan is to push past the pain by constantly reminding myself of two things.

First and most important will be the pain and suffering that dementia patients and their families go through on a daily basis. The way I see it, no matter how difficult or painful running for around 48 hours in 4 days might be, its nothing compared to what millions of people worldwide are forced to go through every day with Alzheimers, a condition that in my opinion is arguably more debilitating than any purely physical illness. I will try to remind myself that if through the simple act of running I might be able to help improve the quality of life of just one dementia sufferer and consquently their family, then the whole thing will instantly be worthwhile. Hopefully, if I can keep this at the forefront of my mind throughout the four days, I will be able to fight of the undoubted temptation to stop and rest.

The second thing I will be reminding myself is less complex and one of the things that I am desperate to prove is true- that anything is possible. Even six or seven years ago, I struggled to run a mile without gasping for breath and would never have believed that anyone would be able to run 60 miles a day for four days. Since then, I have come to realise, often through reading about and witnessing the remarkable acts of others, that as Addidas put it 'impossible is nothing'. I aim to prove to myself that this is true and that anything, given the right level of focus and determination, is achievable.