Mike is yet another outstanding individual produced by America and I am sure his family back home are incredibly proud of him.
Simon always biked up front to see where we had to go. At one point for some strange reason I stopped as I felt me and Mike were running in the wrong direction. After checking my phone, my instinct was right. Not to run any unnecessary miles chasing Simon, we decided to shield from the rain&wind under a bridge and wait for him to come back to us. It took around 20mins for Simon's penny to drop....
It was Sunday morning on the 21st December, I receive a text message from Marcia asking me to get some bits and pieces for the day.
When the rest of the guys got back to the pub car park, there were a couple of locals outside having a smoke. Soon there was a crowd outside So i asked the crew if we should actually ask the land lords permission to be in his car park. Then i noticed this big lad outside in a red T shirt he looked like the landlord, so I walked over and asked if he was the landlord, which he said he was , once I explained what was going on he offered to make us all a coffee.
It goes without saying that Simon picked the worst weather forecasted weekend to do this crazy run, but in a way the torrential rain brought us together and made the experience a lot humbler as we relied on each other a lot more.
For those who know me, rain and any exercise are words that simply don't exist in my vocabulary but this was not only something that Simon and Mike were doing, I had my own demons to face hence me agreeing to be part of this.
It is worth mentioning almost every aspect of this charity mission, like:
* Simon's repetitive social media demands (yes Simon I knew what I was doing lol), Mike's hilarious running soundtrack ( which results in my more than ever weird taste in music).
* Anne'a incredible calm and focus during her 50 miles, one of the coolest chicks I met last year.
* Rosa and Johnny (Karl) incredible photos and patience in documenting every breathing moment, good or bad.
* David and Peter's outstanding sense of direction, without those 2 we would not be able to make all the way there.
* David's calmness and control under a very stressful situation, not only he had to deal with 2 men running and cycling 175 miles but he also had to deal with a crazy girlfriend in the car for 40 hours without sleep, this has definitely made us closer (if that was possible), now I know why you did this the first time and I know why you needed at every single one of them.
*And last but not least the 2 warriors, the legends Mike and Simon, you made me realize that when somebody else is in need, the human being goes on automatic "mother" mode, to feed, to water, to change socks, to smile, to hug and not to feel tired when your energy is probably is all that is left to help them carry on.
I will never forget this experience, for all reasons and I applaud you both for such an amazing achievement, and here's hoping that the next one is somewhere fabulous like Greece or the Bahamas!
Now off to hospital you two and make sure you look after yourselves!
We set off at 9am.
Everything was going well for the first 3 hours or so then at the second checkpoint the whole run almost came to an abrupt end.
As the hours go by you don’t realize how many miles have been covered
but after 4 hours they had ran a marathon and were all still looking fresh.
We waited it out. I can’t say for how long, maybe an hour but buy the time the rain and hail had stopped it had started to get brighter and it was getting close to morning.
We’d arrange checkpoints 2 miles apart until they started to feel comfortable with their condition.
Unfortunately the delay was down to Simon taking a wrong turn when he had to bypass a tunnel without a footpath. It took up valuable time and energy but thankfully at least we didn’t need to repair any punctures.
It took us 45 minutes to get to the arranged location and just as we arrived the heavens opened. The sky was dark grey and the sound of the hailstones hitting the roof of the van was like standing next to a tall waterfall. I sent Simon a message hoping that he wasn’t in the middle of it and to warn him that a heavy shower was on its way hopping that he’d take shelter under a bridge until it passed. I didn’t get a reply and after 30 minutes Simon emerged from the canal soaking wet and looking severely pissed off. We got him out of the rain and contemplated what to do next.
He was itching to get going again but we had to stop him and wait for the bike lights.
After roughly 30 minutes and a few phone calls, Chris, his wife Diane and Phil arrived with the essentials, lights, thick gloves and a bit of food plus the all important morale boost just by their
We fixed the lights and sent Simon off towards Nuneaton.
We decided to reduce the distances between legs to 8 miles instead of 13 and that Phil would
leapfrog Simon at every opportunity there was to park his car. He’d wait for Simon to pass and then Phil would drive a mile or so down the road and stop, continuing to do so until they reached Litchfield train station.
It was at Litchfield station where we’d arranged meet the all-important Oatcake Man, James Lea, affectionately known as Jimmy.
Miraculously we hadn’t had any more punctures thus far.
We got Simon going again and he headed towards Rugely along the A51.
I don’t remember the exact time but I estimated it to be somewhere around 11pm on Sunday 22nd. We’d been on the road now for almost 40 hours with little to no sleep. Everyone was starting to feel very tired.
It was much colder the further north we traveled. The sky was crystal clear so we knew it would be frosty and icy road conditions were inevitable. There were more hills in this part of the country too and things were getting really tough.
The rest of the support crew set off with Simon whilst my vehicle stayed at the Litchfield checkpoint for 30 minutes to have a little break.
After our break we set off to catch them up.
We had literally only driven 2 miles out of town towards the next checkpoint.
As we drove up the hill in front of us in the distance we could see several cars stopped with hazard lights flashing.
As we got closer I didn’t recognize one of the cars and straight away I thought there had been an accident and that perhaps it could be Simon.
Karl, one of the Photographers traveling in our vehicle confirmed that it was in fact Simon’s bike in the middle of the road.
A feeling of dread and shock made the adrenalin kick in and it woke me up immediately. We pulled over just in front of the commotion. The car, which I hadn’t recognized was just leaving when it drove up next to ours.
A woman got out and came over. I was expecting the worst.
“He’s all right!” “He’s all right.” “He’s just felling a bit dizzy.”
Thank God for that! It was an instant relief but I knew there was still a problem.
In normal conditions Simon would have covered this 2 miles in 10 minutes but he had left Litchfield more than 30 minutes ago. He’d obviously been here for quite some time.
We decided to put him and his bike in the vehicles and drive to a pub just at the top of the hill so as to get off this dark frosty country lane.
We pulled up on the pub car park and I went over to see him.
He was sitting in the car looking dazed and exhausted.
The Pub landlord came out to see what was happening on his car park.
As soon as he heard what we’d been doing he offered us all hot drinks.
By now it was close to midnight and the temperature had dropped considerably.
The wind chill from riding downhill would be hard to take.
Mike had a chat with Simon in the car. Mike knew exactly how it felt to be in this position having run 110 miles in the last 30 hours. He’d been through this earlier in the day. Besides, Mike had run several 100-mile events in the past so had lots of experience.
Simon needed some time on his own to think about whether or not he’d carry on.
By now we’d been at the pub for almost an hour.
Simon emerged from the car and announced that he’d give it another go.
He still didn’t look great and I was thinking that we couldn’t leave him cycling on his own in the dark, frosty lanes, especially as he was still trying to recover from the last drama.
If he were to continue, we would have to follow him closely in the vehicles with hazard lights going. It was simply too dangerous otherwise.
We all set off at a slow pace with 2 vehicles in front, Simon in the middle on his bike and two more vehicles at the back with the hazard lights flashing.
Even though it was getting on for 1am there was a surprising amount of traffic on the road. Our progress was very slow and we were starting to cause tailbacks. Cars would speed past, driven by frustrated people.
It was getting too dangerous on these narrow roads.
We had to call a stop to it straight away.
We pulled up in a parking area and all got out of our vehicles.
I could see the disappointment in Simon’s face but I would imagine also a sense of relief that this was where we would stop.
He’d covered 175 miles in 40 hours by both cycling and walking with Mike through thick mud, rain, hail, wind and freezing temperatures.
Our parking spot couldn’t have been more apt as just 10 yards ahead lay a signpost announcing that we were next to the river Trent.
We all had a laugh about it as we had our photo taken.
By now everyone was feeling tired and relieved although we still hadn’t completely finished.
Simon’s mother’s house was still 25 miles away.
We made a plan to drive to the local pub where Simon and Mike would get out and walk the last mile across the finishing line.
We arrived at the pub by 1.45am.
Simon and Mike got out with Karl the photographer.
Once they’d gone we got in the vehicles and drove to his mums house.
Simon’s mum welcomed us with a big smile, the heating on full blast and most importantly my first bottle of beer.
We sat in the warmth for 20 minutes until the three arrived.
We’d made it.
To describe how it felt would be that it was amazing.
Even if you’re not the one doing the running you experience almost every emotion there is.
Exhaustion, frustration, despair, stress, disappointment, fear, courage, hope, amusement, pride, relief, satisfaction to name but a few.
I can also tell you that it is extremely addictive.
Do not go where there is a path. Go where there is no path and leave a trail"
Thank you, really, THANK YOU. You are all amazing selfless human beings and should be very proud for what you have done.
THANK YOU also to all the people who donated money to such good causes.
As for me, here are my thoughts on those 41 hours:
Life is about choices.
At mile 78, near Trenton approx ¾ of the way from New York to Philadelphia in April 2013, after running more than 24 hours non-stop, I had the choice to succumb to my pain, fear and exhaustion or not. Succumb and quit, or not. Stand up and keep moving forward, or not. I couldn’t move any further. I had already suffered sun-stroke during the previous day, severe hypothermia during the previous night, I was sleep deprived, my feet were swollen, my blisters were bleeding, my quad muscles were ripped, my breathing was very irregular and my heart was beating out of tune.
Exhaustion had brought me to my hands and knees and I could not continue. Mile 78, I sat crying on the lawn of a gas station, with “quit, loser, quit, loser, quit” playing on repeat in my mind. I had a choice: STAND UP OR NOT. If I did not stand up at that point then it’s probable that round 2 of Simon’s Rocky Road would never have happened. But my choice was to stand up. It was one of the most difficult things I have ever done, but I stood up. That was my choice, in the moment of one of the biggest battles mental, emotional, and physical of my life. I stood up. I kept moving forward. I reached the Rocky Steps, by hook or by crook, some 6 hours later.
What touches me most about the experience of Round Two of Simon’s Rocky Road – 175 miles from London to Stoke at Christmas time – is the choices that all the team made. Every single person made positive choices: Johnny, Rosa, Anne, Jimmy, Phil, Pete, Dave, Marcia, Mr & Mrs Bragg, Mike and Me (and even the dude who fixed the bike at mile 50!). We all made positive choices. We all moved forward, not sideways or backwards. We were all very brave. We were all very selfless. Perhaps this is why the feeling at the end of it is so rewarding. And yes Pete, it is goddamn addictive!
Everybody involved made the choice to step forward and help. Mike made the choice, like he did in round one from NY to Philly, to run with me – but this time he would not just help me thru the night time he would run all the way from start to finish: 175 miles (his previous distance best was 100 miles). I got injured during training, but I made the choice to do it anyway by walking and biking. I chose not to quit. Mike could have pulled out at this stage, because this meant him being the only one running. But he refused this excuse that would have been easy for him to take. Instead, he chose to run. He refused to quit. He chose to take a flight, alone, at Christmas time, to the UK and to run 175 miles for charity. He stood up.
Johnny read my blog and choose to email me, to offer to document the whole journey together with Rosa. They stood up.
Anne made the choice to run, to push herself beyond her comfort zone to help us, to pace us, and to do her first ever ultra marathon (her previous distance best was a marathon). She stood up.
My cousin Phil, Jimmy and Mr Bragg made the choice to help us in our hour of need, bringing vital supplies that Sunday evening. They stood up.
Marcia, Dave, and Pete made the choice to be in it for the entire duration – however long it took – to support the human beings who would battle against exhaustion. So self-sacrificing, so noble, so magnanimous. Really incredible, and brings me to tears. It would not have happened if it were not for them. They stood up.
At a time, just a few days before Christmas day, when things often seem so frantic and no-one has any time for anyone or anything, all these human beings came together and offered themselves so selflessly to a cause outside the realms of their usual daily activities, for the greater good.
Everybody stood up.
Anne had the choice to quit after 26 miles, after 30 miles, after 35 miles, after 40 miles, after 45 miles. But she chose not to quit. She kept moving forward, and finally only chose to go home after 50 miles because it was getting late and she needed to catch the train to London! 12 hours running non-stop. 50 miles. What a way to achieve your first ultra marathon. A true warrior.
One of the most beautiful moments of those entire 41 hours was biking behind Anne and Mike, and Anne singing whilst listening to her Ipod. It was raining, we were soaked, it was boring, I was cold, and there was Anne running along singing “START ME UP!!, YOU START ME UP I’LL NEVER STOP” by the Rolling Stones. It was genius, a real treasure.
Mike had already faced his choice after I had told him I couldn’t run it because of injury. He chose to do it anyway. He stood up. THAT was his choice. He inspired me to continue with round two of Simon’s Rocky Road, otherwise because of my injury it was possible that round two could/would have been delayed – or worse never happen at all. Mike’s choice, his energy, his raw determination, the force of his sheer will ensured that round two of Simon’s Rocky Road became reality.
During the run, Mike’s choice was not even a choice. He had no choice. I watched him tip toe mile after mile after mile thru rain, sleet and sludge, agonising from the pain shooting thru the tendons and ligaments in his feet and ankles. Mike ran over 100 miles, some 26-27 hours thru some of the most disgusting, brutal English countryside winter weather that could have been thrown at him. Mother Nature was not kind to him that night. Some of the sins of both of us were washed away during those storms I believe. Because of the conditions Mike was slipping thru the mud for hours and hours. He could not get a grip on the ground. It was like running thru sand, or worse: quick-sand. It was wet and freezing on the feet – we were at serious risk to develop trench-foot. This is what damaged the ligaments and tendons in and around his feet and ankles. He reached the point where he could not run, and even walking was torturous, agonisingly slow. He couldn’t move his feet upwards – he could only point them horizontal or downwards. After 110 miles, 29 hours he had no choice but to withdraw due to injury.
The next choice I was not prepared for. I’d envisioned in my mind to bike/walk next to Mike while he ran/walked for first 100-125 miles or so. I’d pictured then that the last 50-75 miles would be the both of us in some 30-40 hour warrior-like-brother-moment-death-march-slow-walk-to-the-finish-scenario. But, with Mike injured it meant what the hell to do now.
Quit, or keep moving forward?
I chose to bike it. But, I was not wearing biking gear. I was wearing big clothing to keep warm. You see, while Anne and Mike were running I was freezing. I was biking but biking slowly on the canal-paths next to them. Many times I needed to bike quickly ahead of them for a mile or two then bike back just to keep warm, just to increase my body temperature. This is how I got hypothermia I believe.
Plus the bike I had borrowed from Dean was a mountain bike, suitable for biking along the canal paths in the summer time, but not suitable for the several inch deep freezing puddles of water and mud of the winter-time. This meant that often during those first 30 hours I was actually carrying the bike on my shoulder and walking with a ruptured ligament in my right foot and a toe like a black grape on my left foot. This is how we almost got trench-foot.
The first leg I set off on bike I got immediately lost because the canal path stopped and I needed to go on road. This meant no more level ground. Up and down hills, against sometimes sideways horizontal rain, sleet and hail storms, and me wearing several layers of clothing, none of which water-proof, including fleece jogging bottoms on a mountain bike. PERFECT. Since day one this goddamn Simon’s Rocky Road has been a disaster I swear to God. You gotta laugh or else you’d die cryin’.
It’s true we could have been better prepared but Dave, Mike and I were in the pub all Friday afternoon. Oops.
I soldiered forward on bike for another 8-9 hours, kept going by tins of baked beans, oatcakes, Gatorade, ginsters pies, chocolate covered Goji berries, and gallons of water. Luckily, the Sunday evening it kept dry from any extra rain.
Between hour 30-37’ish I felt great on that bike. I felt as fit as a fiddle. I couldn’t believe how good I felt. I was peddling hard, as hard as I could just to finish the next lap and look forward to more food and warmth. Every time I would stop, like every hour, I would get into the front seat of the van with heaters on full blast and just start viciously shivering from hypothermia. But when back out on the bike for another 10-12 mile leg I felt totally fine. All those hours cross training on bike and in the pool helped me a lot.
But after around 38-39 hours non-stop I began to wobble. I began hallucinating. I was seeing the shadows of rabbits, and foxes, appear amongst the shadows of my bike on the road. I saw half of the road as water, like I was still on the canal. It was becoming dangerous. I was getting angry and frustrated. It just felt that around every corner there was yet another huge uphill. Everything was uphill. I began to get all goddamn depressed. After a while I had to stop. I just stopped. My heart beat and breathing were becoming irregular, and I was becoming dizzy. I texted someone, I think Marcia, and just sat at the side of the road. Then I remember some panic and pandemonium, and I think there were other people, strangers who had stopped to see what was wrong and if they could help.
I couldn’t really talk much. I just felt like I couldn’t go on. I felt like all the will had been drained away from me. I was battling myself inside my mind because I knew I had to finish this, but I didn’t know how. I couldn’t move any more. I had pushed myself hour after hour after hour on that goddamn bike, and this on top of 30 hours walking and biking and sleep deprivation the previous day.
I sat in Phil’s car. Some of the team, and Mike I think talked to me. I cannot remember it, I swear to God. I don’t know if I slept or not. I did not want to succumb to sleep in case I did not wake up. We were maybe 25-30 miles away, maybe only 3-4 hours biking to do to reach my Mum’s house, but I was just battling inside the voices that come “quit, loser, quit, loser, quit, loser – look at you how pathetic you are, quit, loser, quit, loser”. My mind was really playing tricks on me. I realised it was a battle against the beast, but still I couldn’t move my body or speak.
After a while, I don’t know it could have been 15 mins, or 45 mins, I got up and battled down the voices – “I’m going to do it” but I was swaying and staggering and dizzy when I said it. I made my choice. This was the point I was fighting almost 40 hours to arrive to. The point in life when you should quit, but you do not. The moment when everything in your life can be summarised in the question: will you stand up or not?
For me, at this moment, when I should have quit I stood up.
I got on the bike, still wobbling, but didn’t even have goddamn lights or something, I didn’t really know what I was doing, I just remember someone shouting something and that I needed my lights or something. I really have no idea. I felt like a punch drunk boxer who carries on when really the fight should be stopped. What was scaring me at that stage was to be alone in the middle of the pitch black countryside roads riding a bike at hard as I could with cars zooming past at 70mph. So, the convoy began and the cars of the team, with their hazard lights flashing, would go in front and stay behind me to protect me. I could sense a lot of worry in the team during this period.
After a while, I still felt terrible but just tried to focus on drinking water thru the pipe on my shoulder from my Camelbak and to keep peddling forward to try to reach the car in front of me, uphill, downhill, goddamn uphill again. I figured this would take me home however long it took.
But then something happened which took me by surprise. The cars stopped and then the team were around me. And then I think Mike was talking to me. And they were telling me to stop. Because this is not what we planned, and it was very dangerous. Half of me wanted to keep swinging punches, to keep moving forward. Half of me was relieved the pain would stop and I would be safe. To me I felt some panic and pandemonium, and I wondered if I was alright or not, if something had happened that I didn’t realise. By co-incidence this happened by the sign of the River Trent, which of course is the “Trent” in Stoke-on-Trent. Quite symbolic.
The reality is that it was dangerous, and that whoever made that call to throw in the towel for me made the correct call. It was pitch black. It was a single lane road with lots of twists and turns, and cars were whizzing past over 70mph. I was dizzy and cycling in a line as straight as a curly-wurly chocolate bar. The team had calculated that we had done over 175 miles by this stage, in a time of 41 hours, and that we had reached Stoke-on-Trent. A choice was made in unison.
We all drove to within 1 mile of my Mum’s house. I drank a can of Stella Artois, in the car next to Phil. Then Mike and I walked the final mile, shivering, really goddamn shivering, and I drank another can of Stella Artois. I don’t know why I did, but I did.
Then we finally reached home, and my Mum was outside in the freezin’ cold wearing only her dressing gown ‘n’ slippers to welcome us home for Christmas.
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