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A song for Sharon

I’m proud to say that my very good friend Math has become a commercial recording artist and has his latest album listed on some popular music sites.

Math and his family have been a great support to both Sharon and I over the years, and I was completely overwhelmed (again) to learn that Math has included a track on his album dedicated to Sharon.

You can listen to it here …….

http://www.plexigon.co.uk/song/s0055

 

No.20 – Portsmouth Coastal Waterside Marathon

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Twenty down, all done

When I originally decided I would run twenty marathons this year I had no idea whether I would be able to complete them all, I had little clue of the journey they would take me on, and no comprehension of the multitude of emotions they would elicit. The majority of which resurfaced over the weekend of The Portsmouth Coastal Waterside Marathon.

Right from the initial planning Portsmouth was always going to be the final marathon of the challenge. Some marathons during the year fell by the wayside, thankfully to be replaced by others which led me to amazing new experiences and lifelong friendships. Portsmouth was never going to be replaced. I had supported friends here during previous editions of the race so knew that the timing would be ideal, and even with the knowledge that it was a relatively small affair and the weather, judging by previous years, was due to be pretty awful it was always meant to finish this way.

Sharon and I were both born in Portsmouth, we grew up there, met there, married there, made our home there for many years and experienced both love and heartache there ….. this was home turf.

I was lucky to have company for this race in the form of good friends I had run other races with this year. In addition Sharon’s brother Mike was dusting off his trainers in memory of his sister, colleagues from work were running and supporting and this would also be a special race for River who’d accompanied and supported me for much of the year, as we were being joined by his dad who was running his first marathon at the young old age of ….. just trust me when I say this would be a massively impressive achievement !

Now when I say I was lucky to have company for this race, little did I know quite how much company was due to arrive in Portsmouth over the weekend, or the amount of planning and deviousness that had gone into preparations to bring the year to a completely overwhelming but beautiful conclusion.

As I understand it there were two main protagonists in River and Abi ….

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….. both of whom I’d run with this year, both of whom I’d spent plenty of time with, and as it turns out both of whom are damned good at keeping secrets … ably assisted by a multitude of accomplices from around the world !

The goal throughout this year was always just to be in good enough condition to make it to start line of the next marathon. Most of the time I achieved that through training, supportive physio’s and other professionals, and occasionally by holding my body together with tape and alcohol !

Training never really came into the equation for Portsmouth. Recovery following the double in Kent a few weeks earlier took a little longer than anticipated and once again life kind of got in the way.

Nevertheless, with race day approaching the goal of just making it to start line again looked achievable enough. And so with friends staying for a couple of nights over the weekend, and River having kindly planned a pre-race carb fest at a local restaurant for a ‘few’ friends and family we made our way to dinner early on Saturday evening.

Much of what happened after this point left me shocked, stunned, overwhelmed, but also feeling very fortunate and most of all loved.

I walked into the restaurant with River, Natalie, Phil and Maria expecting to meet a few others only to be greeted by over forty wonderful friends from the BCRC that I constantly rave on to anyone and everyone about ! From as far afield as the US, The Netherlands, France, Scotland, Wales and all over England, each and every one of them as devious but as wonderful as the next.

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It was an amazingly unexpected way to start the weekend, and from that moment, despite some of the amazing races I’ve run this year, it dawned on me that this race with these people was likely to become one of the most memorable that I was ever likely to run.

After a lovely evening catching up with everyone and finding out how much effort everyone had put in to keep things from me for over six months, we went our separate ways to prepare for an early start the following morning.

With River’s impeccable planning we were ferried to the start courtesy of work colleagues supported by Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service, colleagues kind enough to forego their time to ferry supporters around the course for the duration of the race.

As if I hadn’t had enough surprises the previous evening more unexpected supporters / runners arrived at the start.

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At this point it wouldn’t have surprised me if Ms Radcliffe herself had jumped out from behind a bush hastily pulling up her shorts ! I was properly all over the place emotionally. I didn’t really know what I was going to do for this race, especially now.

Being unable to choose any one person to run with and secretly wanting to keep my average race time over the year under four hours, I decided to run my own race and just see what happened.

Unlike previous years the conditions were pretty much perfect, it was a dry cool day with very little wind. Considering the route would hug the coast all of the way around Langstone harbour including some muddy and shingle beach sections we’d been dealt a pretty good hand.

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New York had been a stand out marathon for me this year. In fact it was probably the best I’ve ever run anywhere with tens of thousands of supporters lining the route. My little hometown of Portsmouth ended up doing a pretty good job of holding its own against New York, and that was purely down to the people out there supporting me, whether it be running, flag waving, cheering, handing out mulled wine and mince pies or just hugging. It was an outstanding finale in so many ways.

This was the right way, probably the only way to finish the year, surrounded by people who had either known Sharon or had come to feel like they knew her. To me this was the perfect ending.

I ran well in a fog of emotions, trying not to stop too often through fear of not getting started again. I paced well, helped out by a colleague for much of the race, I lost the feeling in my fingers around half way leading to some (with hindsight) amusing situations with salt tablets and gel sachets !, but I finished strongly to the best reception of the year in a little under three and a half hours.

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I didn’t know how to feel about finishing this race, I kind of knew it would be a bittersweet moment. I was obviously happy to have completed the challenge after such a rollercoaster of a year, but I knew I was going to miss the year enormously, I knew my running would never have quite the same purpose again.

I took a few moments to collect myself after finishing and reunited with friends, family and people who have helped me throughout the years from both The Loss Foundation and Fire Fighters Charity. We then watched and cheered on the rest of my friends and family as they finished their races.

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After sharing our experiences of the race and after a brief recovery we all made our way to the place where Sharon and I began our journey together over twenty-five years ago for a memorial evening to round off the challenge and an opportunity to thank people for their amazing support.

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Learning points –

  • I have some very devious friends …..
  • ….. and yet I still love them all !
  • We have raised over £10,000 for three amazing charities
  • I’ve run for over 162 hours this year
  • Much of it on hardly any sleep
  • I’ve run over 1160 miles
  • I’ve run 20 marathons …… and one sneaky ultra
  • I’ve climbed over 25000 feet during those runs
  • I’ve lost toenails
  • I’ve torn ligaments
  • My mind has been endlessly tormented
  • But …. I’ve learnt a lot about myself
  • I’ve learnt a lot about other people too
  • It’s ok to ask for help sometimes
  • Asking for it doesn’t make you any less of a person
  • People run to forget
  • People run to remember
  • But probably the biggest thing I’ve learnt this year is that love doesn’t end, and because of that it is still worth it

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I couldn’t have done it without drawing on the pure strength, determination and courage Sharon always showed …… and I couldn’t have done it without you.

‘The real purpose of running isn’t to win the race, but to test the limits of the human heart’

 

 

 

 

(Photo’s mainly credited to Nick Kershaw with thanks)

No’s.18 & 19 – The Saxon Shore Double, Deal, Kent

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Nineteen down, one to go

I just find it so hard to comprehend those few words.

The year, in fact the last few years have been a rollercoaster. It’s often felt like such a long year and yet it hardly seems possible that I wrote one down, nineteen to go almost eleven months ago. But here I am having followed Washington and New York, quite possibly two of the most memorable marathons I’ve ever run, with a real tester to leave our home marathon to finish the year.

I travelled to Deal in Kent, the venue of my third marathon of the year with River, a constant support throughout. The guys at Deal Fire Station were kindly putting us up for the weekend as they had done for me earlier in the year. River is accompanying me on what is advertised as the toughest footrace on earth next year, and so in our wisdom we targeted this weekend as one to test back to back marathons and some of the kit we’ll need when racing across the Sahara in April.

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Graham-river-Dance

After settling in at the station and preparing to slum it on the floor for the night after eating our freeze-dried ‘rations’, we thought the best way to simulate dehydration the following day would be to pop in to the local for a couple of swift pints !

A sleepless night later, we were up early to make our way down to Deal seafront to get started on number 18.

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Just to make things a little more challenging we were running with the packs we plan to use for next year to see how we’d cope with the extra weight and to test comfort.

I remembered from February that the course wasn’t the most inspiring, especially as we had to complete five out and backs of Deal promenade on Saturday and two longer out and backs on Sunday, so it was good to know that some fellow BCRCer’s would be joining us for the weekend. Ken and Darren joining us on Saturday, and Louise and Natalie on Sunday.

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(Thomas, along with his sister Elly, came along to provide entertainment, much as they did at Richmond Park !)

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Saturday went pretty well, the weather whilst cold wasn’t too bad and we’d planned to pace just under four hours in preparation for the following day. River really toughed it out suffering with flu type symptoms that left me doubting whether I would’ve been able to complete the day in the same condition. It was good to see both Ken and Darren running strong and ‘enjoying’ the day. River and I finished, as planned in around 3 hours 52 minutes, but with some doubt as to whether River would make the start on Sunday.

Ken and Darren weren’t so far behind, and so we made the most of that evening by eating proper food in a local restaurant and having a couple more pints of course !

Sunday was a slightly different proposition. It may well have been running back to backs, lack of sleep, the aforementioned pints, the horrendous weather or a combination of all of these, but to sum it up …… it was brutal.

River was still feeling rough, but we made it to the start which meant we’d make it to the finish somehow. It was great to see everyone at the start despite the strong winds howling in from the north, but that turned out to be the best part of the day.

We managed to get through the first half at a fairly decent pace with Natalie and Louise keeping good pace too. It was a boost to see Darren out supporting around this point, and he joined us for part of the run as a leg loosener after yesterdays efforts. At around 16 miles, on the second out and back heading back into the wind I just wanted to sleep ! From then on in I spent most of my time wondering how one week I could be having such an amazing time in Washington and New York, and a few weeks later just hoping to survive another 10 miles so I could just go home. I’ve had some tough races this year, but at that point I couldn’t think of many tougher and vowed never to return to Deal again.

Eating Jelly Babies and a Jammie Dodger at the final aid station didn’t do much to improve my mood either …… a telling sign I wasn’t enjoying myself !

But we finished. In a little over 4 hours 13 minutes we’d both completed our first back to back marathons wondering why we’d just completed our first back to back marathons !!

The finish line photos kind of sum up how I’d felt about each day ….. Saturday …

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and Sunday …..

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Done Deal …… Deal Done, never again.

Learning points –

  • Sleeping on a Fire Station floor on a thin air mattress is never a good idea
  • Cold freeze-dried food isn’t the best pre-race carb loading plan
  • A couple of pints of Guinness the night before a race worked pretty well
  • I’m not sure I’ve mentioned it before, but the people of BCRC are pretty awesome
  • Deal seafront isn’t so much, well not in the winter anyway
  • I have a huge amount of respect for anyone that can get out there and run a marathon, for those that run multi-day events ? After April next year, they’re all yours !
  • The Kent coast can get very windy in November
  • You learn a lot about what you can put up with on weekends like this …. I even ate a burger in a dodgy high street café !

Massive kudos to River for fronting up when most wouldn’t have gotten out of bed, and thanks for your support. And a big thank you to the BCRCer’s for making it slightly more bearable. I guess I can’t expect to love every race. Weekends like this just make the special ones all the more special.

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And so to Portsmouth, our home town. Where we were born, where we met, where we were married, where we lived and where we loved ……