From runner with love: Firefighter completes tribute marathon mission

 

http://www.aboutmyarea.co.uk/Hampshire/Portsmouth/PO6/News/Local-News/305542-Firefighter-Runs-20-Marathons-in-One-Year-in-Tribute-to-Late-Wife

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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 ……

No.17 – New York, New York

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Seventeen down, three to go

New York and I have a lot in common ….. it never sleeps, it’s busy, a little rough around the edges and it loves marathons ….. and oh man what a marathon.

I was so lucky to secure a ballot place at the first time of asking for the biggest road race in the world, and I’m so glad I did, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

I caught the train up to New Yoik a few days before the big day after having had such a good race and a lovely time in Washington at Marine Corps. Having come out of Marine Corps fairly unscathed and with the knee doing pretty well, I was looking forward to sharing this one with some of the BCRC.

Arriving into Penn Station in central Manhattan mid afternoon on Thursday left me plenty of time to drop my case at the hotel by south ferry and head up to the Expo on the metro.

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I collected my race number and headed into the merchandise area to meet up with the lovely Karen and James. I emptied the store while they took a look at the more important stuff like course maps and race day information, ….. well as long as you get to the start line right ?! ….. and I guess the finish line.

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2016 was to mark the 46th year of the New York Marathon, and the 40th year of the race weaving its way through all five boroughs of Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx and Manhattan. Organised by the New York Road Runners and attracting around 50,000 runners, New York as I was soon to discover is quite possibly THE marathon.

Karen, James and I, now fully laden made our way out onto the streets of Manhattan to enjoy a little more carb loading in preparation for Sunday.

It turned out that my wonderful new friend that I’d met in Washington ‘knew people’ in New York !, and had kindly forewarned them of my impending arrival. It turned out New York knew I was coming to join them for, as they describe it, the biggest block party in the world.

http://nypost.com/2016/11/02/firefighter-running-20-marathons-this-year-for-late-wife/

https://www.firerescue1.com/international-firefighting/articles/140968018-Firefighter-honors-late-wife-by-running-20-marathons/

Thank you Suzanne.

Having visited New York a couple of times with Sharon in the past, I tried to keep off of my feet as much as possible on Friday, but always feel compelled to pay my respects to those lost on that terrible day.

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With reminders of previous visits with my girl on my mind ……

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…. I made my way back uptown to meet Jim, a speedy BCRCer looking to run his 5th ‘major’, and to hook up with Karen and James again for yet more sustenance !

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With Karen and James planning on some fine dining for the evening, Jim had to drag me kicking and screaming to a pub and something to eat !

We didn’t go for our planned run the next morning.

Instead we got a bit of sightseeing in, and obviously more carb loading was very much on the cards.

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I know I’ve used a fair amount of space on this blog thanking people for their invaluable support this year for what I am trying to achieve, but I feel it’s worth re-emphasising the impact this has on my ability to complete this year.

I’m afraid I don’t feel so comfortable with the way people have described me this year, I certainly don’t recognise some of the descriptions in myself. After all I’m just trying to find a way that works for me to come to terms with my situation and make sure Sharon is remembered ….. I think I may have achieved that, and it probably means more than most will know.

I’ve met some amazing people along the way who I am sure will remain close forever, and am lucky to have the amazing support of existing friends and family. I am very conscious that others are trying to find their way of dealing with their own problems often in more difficult circumstances.

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So, thank you !

Right enough of the love in …… I’ll try not to repeat it too often, only three to go.

Race day –

Up at the normal ridiculous hour of the long distance runner, I met Jim and a friend Marco, in the lobby of the hotel and we made our way the short distance to The Staten Island Ferry for the 6.15am crossing to the starting area.

Manhattan was looking glorious from the ferry on a bright and relatively mild day for the time of year.

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After a quick bus ride on Staten Island we arrived at the start with plenty of time to spare, so soaked up the atmosphere with a spot of tea !

The excitement in the air was palpable as first timers and veterans of New York exchanged stories of races past and races to come, and of course of what was to come this day.

Jim and I parted ways close to the starting time, as he made his way into the super speedy corral, and I made my way into the not so super speedy corral. I found some poor unsuspecting people to nervously chat to whilst we waited for the howitzer to go off signifying the start of the race.

Despite making my race photos look even stranger than they normally do, I was so glad to have recorded MCM and was doing the same today to try to help people get a feel of why I love doing this.

Shortly after starting on the amazing Verrazano Narrows bridge we dropped down into Brooklyn to this …..

It felt like everyone was there just for me ….. and high fives became the order of the day !

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I ran well ….. but most of all I had a blast ! The crowds just lifted me along the whole course. The bridges were a little hard going, but honestly, I didn’t care as I knew something good would be on the other side ….. this race was special, so very special …..

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I ended up getting so distracted by the amazing crowds, that I forgot I was supposed to be hitting a wall at some point ! ….. the tiredness from last weeks race never really kicked in and leaving The Bronx arriving onto Manhattan I approached 21 miles …..

Superlatives continued to elude me …. I just loved every minute of it ….

The crowds through central park were as good as anywhere with people hoping to meet up with loved ones. I finished pretty strong despite being in bits ! and paced the whole thing evenly to finish in 3 hours and 35 minutes, the atmosphere helping to take five minutes off of last weeks time.

I was interviewed by ABC7 Eyewitness news at the end …… I haven’t seen it, but rest assured as well as everything else and despite post-marathon brain …. I thanked you all.

I’ve run faster marathons, I’ve possibly run prettier marathons ….. but never have I run a marathon that made me feel like this one did. If you run and you haven’t run New York yet ……. just do it.

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When I caught up with Jim and Karen later, they had pretty similar experiences and both ran brilliantly ….. we celebrated and we celebrated well !

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Learning points –

  • I love New York and it’s people
  • Beer and Mexican food isn’t so bad to run a marathon on
  • Getting up early can be a pain, but not when the reward is so great
  • The world is a crazy place, but if you want to see all that is good with the world, go run or watch a big city marathon
  • I have to be able to run
  • It’s all about managing the niggles
  • I’m afraid Kent won’t live up to this

As you know this year is for Sharon. Every race I’ve run so far I’ve run with her in my thoughts. I dedicate every race to the inspiring, courageous, beautiful person she is …… just a little bit of these last two ….they were for me.

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“It’s not all about getting a good time, it’s about having a good time”

No.16 – Marine Corps Marathon, Washington DC

Sixteen down, four to go

Well things did go a little nuts over in the states …. but thanks Barack !

I never originally intended to run Marine Corps. This ended up being a late addition long after I’d planned much of the year. I cancelled another race to squeeze this in, partly due to the fact that it fell just one week before New York which I was fortunate enough to get a ballot place for, and partly due to the glowing reports of some fellow BCRCer’s who ran and supported last year.

The MCM is one of the largest marathons in the US and the world and stands as the largest marathon in the world that doesn’t offer prize money, earning its nickname, “The People’s Marathon.” It was inspired by an idea back in the 70’s by US Marine Corps Col. Jim Fowler. He outlined a unique plan for the Marine Corps Reserve Marathon (MCRM) to promote community goodwill, showcase the Marine Corps, serve as a recruiting tool and also give Marines an opportunity to qualify for the marathon in Boston. Col. Fowler said at the time “After the Vietnam War, popularity of the military services declined in the eyes of many. At the same time, distance running was gaining considerable positive attention,” Shortly afterwards, and following the increased popularity of the event MCRM became MCM and also became one of my all time favourites, for many different reasons.

I was a little apprehensive as always travelling to another marathon on my own, not helped by the fact that my knee had been troubling me again in the lead up to the race. I was however looking forward to meeting up with good friends in New York where I was to travel to directly after MCM. I’d also made contact with some fellow MCM runners via social media prior to travelling, and whilst initially unsure if we’d be able to meet out there, it would soon transpire that running Marine Corps and subsequently arranging to meet fellow runners would be one of the better decisions I’ve made this year.

I travelled out a couple of days before, the crew of my flight having been tipped off about my exploits this year by a lovely friend from the infamous BCRC !

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I arrived at Dulles International a little weary hoping for a smooth transfer to my hotel in central Washington, and hoping to get to the Expo that day to free up Saturday …. some hope ! My phone died pretty much straight away, I hadn’t made any prior arrangements to get to my hotel and I had little option but to jump in a cab and get stuck in traffic for an hour or so.

One very expensive cab ride later, but thankfully having squeezed in the Expo to collect my bib just before they closed …. I made it back to my hotel and crashed.

I was hoping to free up Saturday as a friend had told me that parkrun had just started up in DC, and I’d arranged to meet some fellow runners later that day. I made it to Theodore Roosevelt Island parkrun on Saturday morning, arriving along with a few other parkrun ‘tourists’ hoping for a shake out run before the big event the following day.

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The spirit of parkrun and excitement about MCM was truly in abundance. I arrived pretty early on a chilly morning and so offered my services in setting up ….. I put together a flag and they registered me as a volunteer as well as a runner !

I took a slow plod around the island with a fellow MCM participant, and it felt good to chat about the race and blow away the experience of the previous day. A big thank you to the very kind DC parkrunner’s who kindly made donations to my fundraising page.

After a busy 36 hours I ended up trying to get myself together, grabbed some lunch and a little sleep before heading out to meet a fellow runner who had a spare ticket for a pasta dinner hosted by the amazing charity Semper Fi (the equivalent of our Help for Heroes).

I arrived not really knowing what to expect other than a load of pasta ! …… the whole evening was amazing with not only carb loading aplenty, but a full programme of very emotive speakers, from veterans who had benefitted from the charities services talking of their often harrowing experiences, to the amazing fundraisers, to General John M. Paxton, Jr. giving a rousing closing speech to inspire us for the race.

I was so pleased to have accepted the invitation from someone I now consider to be a great friend …. I learnt so much from the evening and had a lovely meal with equally lovely and inspirational people.

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So after an early end to the evening I made my way back to my hotel to try and catch some sleep before an early start the next day to avoid the awful queues reported by friends who ran last year.

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I made it to the start pretty early …..

but got through security and the bag drop with ease !

Having been told how special this race was I decided to run with a camera strapped to my hat both for posterity and to be able to provide a feel of what it’s like to do what I love to do.

A couple of hours later and having soaked up the atmosphere of the gathering crowds I made my way up to the start line along with about 30,000 other runners. The anthem was next …. and the goose bumps soon appeared

The race starts between Arlington Cemetery and The Pentagon and weaves its way through the streets and hills of DC, taking in such sights as The Lincoln, FDR, Jefferson, Martin Luther King Jr, and WW2 Memorials, and many of Washington’s museums and monuments.

MCM though true to its military roots has something else, something I was told about before entering ….. MCM has the blue mile. The blue mile comes at you between miles 10 and 11 and hits you with a wall of silence. Set up to create a living memorial to the service and sacrifice of the American military, it allows runners to pay tribute to service members who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Emotions running high as always and amplified by the mile, I continued on soaking up the atmosphere and making pretty good progress with the knee holding out well ….. in fact it felt easier to run on than walk on !

The course did become sparsely supported at times, but the quiet areas were more than made up for by the amazing support around the rest of the course. The Marines acting as marshals were brilliant and certainly got you going if you started to lag !

The further I got in to this race the more I loved it, and I’m thankful that I was fit enough and advised to run it. I would recommend it to everyone, and would certainly love to run it again.

I finished in pretty much the same time as number 15, Kent Coyote in three hours and forty minutes, and more than happy to go well under the four again.

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After a quick massage and a beer ……

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I recovered enough to make my way back to my hotel, and after donating my still warm trainers to the homeless, post race celebrations were carried out in style and with a cake that just kept on giving it was so huge !

Learning points :

  • Washington DC is a beautiful city and one which I plan on returning to … if Donald lets me !
  • Never hail a cab from the airport though …. especially post-brexit !
  • I need a new phone
  • I’m a sucker for Expo merchandise
  • parkrun tourism is great fun
  • Surrounding yourself with awe-inspiring people provides inspiration
  • A sore knee at a Semper Fi pasta meal kind of loses importance when people around you have lost limbs – perspective
  • I am so lucky to have made such good friends on my marathon journey
  • Being called Noddy in the states can cause confusion and much amusement !

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I’ve made no secret about the fact that some races I’ve run this year have been quite soul-destroying. MCM was soul enhancing ….. I learnt a lot in Washington. I’m well aware that life can change in an instant, the people I met at MCM reaffirmed that belief.

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Semper  Fidelis  – Always Faithful