WOW! I’m actually lost for words. As the end of 2011 draws to a close, and I reach the one year anniversary from when I started [21:21] I’m so pleased to have finished the year with such a stellar challenge – run a Christmas marathon (26.2 miles) on a treadmill outside The Midland Hotel. Sounds simple when you write it like that, but trust me when I say it was far from simple.
Saturday morning started just like any other race day. Up early, shower, 2 course breakfast (I always have eggs on toast and think that I can then eat oats with blueberries – I only ever eat 2 spoonfuls), and then get my kit ready before leaving the house. However, this time was slightly different. There was no timing chip or running number. I didn’t need to register at an expo, nor did I arrive to meet with thousands of other runners. Instead I headed off to The Midland Hotel, who had kindly allowed me to run my race on one of their treadmills. And to make matters a little more public, I wasn’t doing this in their gym, but instead at the front of the hotel, on Peter Street, in the centre of Manchester.
And so I started my 26.2 mile journey to nowhere.
Before I carry on, I feel that I must tell you a quick secret (do not tell anyone at the Chorlton Runners). I broke one of the cardinal rules of running a marathon, or running any race for that matter. RULE: Do not change anything for race day. This covers types of drinks, energy gels, what you eat for breakfast, trainers, kit etc. Obviously I wasn’t dumb enough to run in a new pair of trainers, however, I did make a last minute decision to run in new running tops. I felt the black vest I always ran in wouldn’t cut it in the cold December air, and it wasn’t going to do the charity any justice. Plus Help for Heroes had just recently sent me a new running vest, so it would have been rude not to use it.
Two amazing supporters of [21:21] and great friends of mine, Sarah & John, were armed with buckets asking the generous people of Manchester for any kind donations in support of my crazy Christmas challenge. In fact, it was these two collecting pennies, pounds and even a few notes during the first hour, that really boosted my motivation & morale from the word go.
As the miles started to go by, and the sweat started to pore, I was really getting into the swing of it. I would flit in between, being in the zone and checking out the fabulous people who were walking past and speaking to Sarah & John about the challenge, what I was doing and why I was doing it. Then after about 8 miles, my right leg started to acquire an annoying twinge in exactly the same place as where I’d fractured it only 3 months previously. I was thinking to myself, “please don’t, not now, do NOT do this now”. After the disappointment of not completing Hell Runner, I really didn’t want an even more public display of failure. Luckily, my leg did as it was told, and by mile 10 I was back to normal. In fact, around mile 10 was a double hit of good news, as my cousin Lara came down to take over from Sarah with bucket duty.
After hitting the half marathon point, I was really starting to be amazed by the generosity of the people of Manchester. Both people coming and going from the hotel, and passersby on the street, were stopping to find out what was happening and giving very generously. One of the memorable donations was from a group of lads walking on the other side of the street, who actually crossed over just to drop their hard earned cash into the buckets. The young, the old and everyone in between were really getting behind me, but more importantly they were getting behind Help for Heroes and getting behind our troops. It was clear to see that the change in public opinion towards the Armed Forces over the last 10 years had definitely taken hold in Manchester, as everyone was getting involved. Having complete strangers cheering you on, and coming up to shake your hand was really good for motivation to say the least. The best bit was when John was telling people about the challenge project, only for them to say that they already knew about it, as they’d read about it on the website.
And while I’m grateful to all the public who all came along to support, I have to say a HUGE thanks to those friends who made it down too. Helen, Andrew & Sara, Tony (Chorlton Runners) and the guys from work that all came witness my feat of endurance.
Mile 16 was when things started to look a little dicky. I have to admit that I’ve never been stabbed in the back of my calf, and had said knife pulled down to my Achilles, but I think I got pretty close with the pain that I started to feel in my leg. Again, the thoughts and worries from Hell Runner started to creep in. Running a normal race would have allowed me the opportunity to stop at the side, stretch a little and carry on, with minimal people noticing. Obviously with people coming to see a guy RUN on a treadmill, stopping wasn’t really an option. So I decided to try and run through it and hope for the best. And the best came about 6 miles later when the pain finally subsided.
Hitting mile 22 was such an amazing thing, as it was the furthest I’d ever run in my life. Ever. It also meant that I only had just over 4 miles left to run. I was sort of in a semi state of shock to be honest. I couldn’t actually believe that 1) I was still running, and other than maybe 4 lots of 30 seconds of walking, I hadn’t stopped running, but 2) I was nearly approaching the finish line.
With only a mile to go I had given Lara strict instructions to press skip on the iPod for any Christmas songs. I know it was titled as a Christmas marathon, but after nearly 5 hours of listening to the bloody Jingle Bell Rock, I was close to breaking point. As I got to the last .3 miles, on came Kings of Leon “Use Somebody”, which definitely started to pull on the emotional heart strings. While it was a great song to finish the marathon on, it was also one that nearly brought a tear to my eye. I don’t know if it was the song, the fact I was about to finish my first marathon or the fact we’d raised a load of money or maybe a bit of each. Either way, the joy that I felt as the treadmill ticked from 26.1 to 26.2 was indescribable.
CHALLENGE 12 COMPLETE !!
4 hours, 47 minutes and 18 seconds after starting, I completed my first marathon. Maybe not your most conventional marathon, but considering I had fractured my leg exactly 3 months ago to the day of the challenge, I was pretty damn chuffed with myself. As the euphoria sunk in, I was also really chuffed with John, Sarah & Lara for their brilliant collecting efforts, and even more chuffed with the amazingly fantastic staff of The Midland who had been so accommodating and supportive throughout the day – and who had also arranged for champagne to be brought out for us at the end. A special thanks has to go to Paul Bayliss (Resident Manager) and Amanda Gray (Leisure Manager) at The Midland, who were instrumental in pulling off this Christmas feat of marathon proportions.
But the best bit is yet to come. After getting home, showered, fed & watered, I started the job of counting all of the donations given during the day. The two buckets were really heavy and when emptied, covered most of the table. As I started counting I was first taken back by all of the paper money that people had given. I was then reminded of this amazing guy who gave at least a tenner mid way through, to then come back at the end saying “gutted, I wanted to be here to see you finish”. As he was saying this, he dropped in a further £20.
I’m so proud to live in a city filled with so many generous people – especially at Christmas, and at a time when budgets are tight. The counting took some time, but I eventually finished. The total has now been counted & verified, and I can tell you that the grand total raised for the 2011 Christmas Marathon at The Midland was £776.07 !! A MASSIVE thank you to every single person gave so generously throughout the day. This is a huge boost towards my grand total for Help for Heroes.
And while I’m extremely grateful to everyone who cheered me on, and supported me during the run, I want to bring everyone back to the real reason for the Christmas Marathon and all of the other challenges.
I cannot be grateful enough to have Nick back home for Christmas, safe and in one piece. But while Nick was one of the lucky ones, not everyone is so lucky. While we very rarely see them in the news, there are countless marines, soldiers, airmen & sailors that don’t come home in one piece, often with horrifically life changing injuries. Then there are the guys that we hear about in the news; the ones that give their lives, fighting for their country.
Lance Corporal Martin Gill was sadly killed in action in Afghanistan on 5th June 2011. Gill was one of my brother’s close friends during their training to become Royal Marines; training that is seen as the toughest and longest of any Armed Forces in the world. While I never had the pleasure of meeting Gill, from what Nick has told me he was an amazingly brave Marine and someone who fought valiantly for his country. If I didn’t have enough motivation already to get off my arse and ‘do my bit’ for those that give their all, then men like Gill make sure I keep on going.
To all the men & women of the Armed Forces, both at home and away: you do such amazing work that is often never recognised by the masses you’re fighting to protect. Please know that we’ve all got your back, and all appreciate all the blood, sweat and tears you put in day in, day out. Finally a special shout out to everyone in Royal Marines 45 Commando who spent this summer out in Afghan, especially any that fought alongside my brother. Thank you for keeping him safe and getting him home in one piece. I owe you big time.
Help for Heroes [21:21] Challenge