Sunday, 2 February 2014

ROUND TWO: Perspectives from the AAA-TEAM


It started with an idea, a plan, a dream- ‘Driving Home for Christmas’- Nope, they’re running it.

41 hours, 175 miles and a whole lot of exhaustion to plan out Simon Whitehouse’s dream of running home to spend Christmas with his mum and Paddy his dog became more than a dream when hotels were booked, friends got involved and baked beans were packed. This 175 mile journey started at Paddington and ended in his and our home town on Stoke on Trent in the West Midlands. Him and his brother ‘Marathon Mike’ both live overseas in Milan and New York and flew in especially for their epic journey.

This isn’t the first time Simon has totted up a staggering amount of miles, not so long ago he got a taste for ultathons when he started in New York and ran all the way to the steps of Philadelphia also known as the ‘Rocky Steps’. Simon makes it a tradition to run in his iconic Rocky balboa shorts and he did just this on the day of his run home for christmas.

Due to a torn ligament in his foot, Simon had to cycle the whole way and Mike ran the majority of it but both reached their destination in the end. The amount of physical pain and emotional breakdowns made it even more inspirational and with a great team behind them it spurred them on until the  very end.

If you’re wondering what kind of emotion encourages someone on to run this distance just look at yourself- love, passion, grief, loss, suffering, depression and blackness. Let’s be honest, we’ve all been there, why hide it? We all do weird and crazy things to cope with these very real parts of many lives but why not let those coping methods inspire others to be brave and amazing. The human mind can go through some very terrible lows but out of this there comes many highs too.

We can all do incredible things if you put your mind to it.

Thanks for letting me document this amazing journey guys

- Ro


It was cold and I wasn't even running it! So inspiring and would do it again! Totally shattering but amazing experience with some newly found friends. Hope to do it again sometime, hopefully somewhere more tropical! X


Despite the multitude of incredible claims to greatness including the Spitfire fighter plane, Phil Taylor, Slash and the Staffordshire Oatcake, Stoke-On-Trent is not a place known for outstanding achievement. Having been recently voted as the most depressing place to live in Britain today, Stoke is burdened with an unjustified label of negativity. However, from the ashes of a shamed city often rises a flaming phoenix to battle the slanderous opinions of many.

Simon Whitehouse, a proud Stokie currently working for Diesel in Milan, had an idea and dream for a charitable cause: A 175 mile (Seven Marathons) non-stop marathon from North London to his home in Kidsgrove/Stoke. Having completed a similarly epic quest of 100 miles (Four marathons) over in America from New York to the Rocky Balboa steps in Philadelphia, Simon was more than prepared for a greater challenge and decided to run an extra 75 miles in the harsh of British winter. At 08:00 on the 21st of December 2013, Simon and two co-runners (‘Magic’ Mike and Anne Paque) started a 175 mile physical and mental torture to raise funds for mental illness charities.

From start to finish, the British weather and terrain appeared to be challenging and daring the trio to battle on. With high winds and bone freezing rain, they battled hypothermia and extreme physical trauma. At 50 miles, Anne declared her limit and caught a train home. Having only intended to run part-way with Simon and Mike, this was an extraordinary achievement. At over 100 miles, the American-born ‘Magic’ Mike had suffered severe injuries and was forced to drop-out at an incredible distance from the starting point. This left only the Stokie to finish the ultra-marathon which was seeming an increasing impossibility in the harsh weather. Despite suffering from a ruptured ligament in his foot, Simon walked, cycled and damn-near crawled his way onwards. Having travelled non-stop for over 30 hours through the freezing cold night and soaking wet British canal-sides, extreme fatigue and the sheer length of the remaining marathon ahead threatened to end Simon’s dream of achieving such an increasingly impossible goal. Miles became themselves marathons. Minutes became hours. The cold became life threatening. However, with the ambition and drive of such an incredible man with the encouragement of an incredible team behind him, Simon reached the front door of his mother’s house an entire day ahead of schedule. He had made it home for christmas.

Simon had set out with one idea in mind, when pushed to your ultimate limit and your body wants nothing less than a total and utter shutdown, to give up, can you stand up? Can you keep going? Can you defeat that block and carry on walking towards your goal despite incredible pain both physical and mental? The lesson we must all learn from Simon’s journey is that no matter how difficult and daunting times may seem to us all, there is always the ability to choose to get back up on our feet and fight onwards. With the drive and passion found within the likes of Simon Whitehouse and his friends, any goal can be achieved…despite how impossible they may seem.

Thank you Simon and everyone else involved for an incredible journey and for the opportunity to document an incredible achievement.

Here is the visual story:

Witnessing Simon's adventure with Mike on the long, and bloody cold, road to Stoke was a pure inspiration. From effectively the word 'go' the cold rain and hard winds were fighting against them, daring them to continue this monumental task. Everything was against them from the challenging weather to the british terrain but they simply muscled on through until the end. Some may not truly appreciate the sheer strength and backbone it takes to accomplish this, to run/cycle 175 miles non-stop in the cold rain and wind when all your body wants to do is stop...each mile begins to seem like a marathon within itself. 

The team behind them were among the kindest and most genuinely amazing people I've had the privilege of sharing a journey with, I can't imagine a more suitable group of people to see Simon home. I had a truly amazing time documenting this display of humanity in the name of charity and I applaud all involved for their staggering commitment to a beautiful cause.

 Mike is yet another outstanding individual produced by America and I am sure his family back home are incredibly proud of him.

Simon, I raise an oatcake to you make me proud to be a Stokie!



Instead of my weekend morning run, I travelled saturday morning to paddington to support Simon&Mike in their 175mile expedition to stoke on trent. 

With no training, I had no distance in mind and I just wanted to see where my body would take me that day without holding them up.

I followed Mike in his run/walk strategy, a necessity in ultra's which was new to me. With the help of the good old iphone, we navigated along the muddy canal paths and roads and were meeting the crew at various points for drinks and food.

The day passed quickly with the weather holding up and some beautiful scenery along the way that kept you going. Late afternoon it was time to get the head torch out to make sure to jump around puddles instead into them! Very tricky and tiring on the legs.

 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....

My dream was to run to Leighton Buzzard and I did! In wind and rain, we arrived completely soaked and with the bike having a flat tyre! After changing into dry clothes, eating greasy kebab and some frantic phone calls to get the bike fixed with all the shops closed already, the guys were on their way again and I was on the train back to London.

Simon & Mike made my dream come true that day!!!  THANK YOU.  

It was an absolutely amazing day and will cherish this for the rest of my life. 

Two weeks later I am still on a runner's high!  So proud to have been a part of the team (even it was for the 1st day only) . And all for a great cause MIND!

Next time I will support all the way.



 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.

It took me a while to get the provisions as you can imagine the people that were doing their late Christmas shopping.

I caught up with the crew in Rugby, it was getting dark by this time and we were on the A5, we made our way from the A5 up the A51, we were giving Simon his refreshments and then setting him on his way and meeting him at a designated point so as he could refill his water bottle and maybe take some sustenance on.

We were getting on very well when all of a sudden Simon hit the wall and he sent a text to Pete to say come quickly. I jumped in my car and rushed to where Simon was, he was cold and illusinating. We had been waiting for Simon in a Pub car park, called the Red lion, so I took Simon back to the Pub which was only a couple of meters away from where he was and wrapped in a couple of coats to warm him up.

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.

I asked Simon did he want to stop it now, as it was always going to be his choice, as I didn’t want to stop it and after an hour he feels OK and wants to continue.

Once Simon had a little rest and got his act together he was raring to go again, I followed for a while and he went up hill at 12 miles an hour which was phenomenal as he was over 36 hrs into the challenge by then.

We then followed the A51 until the A34 all the way to Stoke.  
Cheers mate




Here we go again.... Rocky Road Part 2 December 2013

The Rocky Rocky Road vs 175 mile challenge vs Good Old British Weather

After being part of the team for the 1st Rocky Road I was signed up for the when Simon told me his plans for part 2 I was already signed up. Typical Simon always making the next one even tougher. Who else would choose to try 175 miles London to Stoke in DECEMBER! Only Simon would!

Part one was the glamour trip Champions league final NYC central park to Rocky Steps in Philadelphia. Part Two was third round FACup tie to a lower league team.

The big thing from this is when and if Simon decides on part 3 no one will doubt that it is impossible or that it is a crazy idea.

 It was great end to the year being part of the challenge and doing something different to the usual antics of December.

Congrats to

Mike - Flying from NYC and the next day running 110 miles non stop in the most disgusting British pissing down weather you can imagine . He pushed himself thru the worst conditions which in the end damaged his feet so he had stop.

Anne - Had only ran a marathon distance prior. That day ran over 50 miles non stop.

Simon - Even after getting injured in the run up to the challenge he stood up and decided to take on the 175 miles on a bike! Injured on a bike in pissing down rain along towpaths on the canals of the UK in during the day and night Simon did the 175 miles.

Thanks to the team it was great working with you all.

The Kind people along the way - gave us all Christmas cheer and a moral lift that strangers can still help each other out.

Everyone who has donated this year for both challenges.

So if you have yet to donate please go to and

Simon & Mike I am in for part 3 whenever that is but for me please choose a location with reasonable climate and no rain!


As I sit here listening to Miley Cyrus' Wrecking ball (courtesy of Marathon Mike) who made me obsessed with girly pop since the run, I try to describe the experience for Simon's blog.

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!


A support teams perspective.

When Simon completed the New York to Philadelphia somehow I knew that wouldn’t be the end of it. A month or so later he told me that he was planning to run from London to Stoke.

I had expected him to say he was going to do another 100-mile run somewhere, but when he dropped this one on me my first reaction was – well that’s almost twice as far.

I’d already heard how tough it was for him to run the 100 miles in America.

Then he told me the timeframe - 1 weekend before Christmas, December 21st to 23rd.

OK so let me get this straight…  He wants to run 175 miles in the middle of winter, 1 week before Christmas? Can’t be done! Don’t be silly. Leave it until spring or even summer.

Given the last 2 winters in the UK, I imagined he’d be running in sub zero temperatures with approximately 9 hours of daylight at best if it weren’t cloudy and raining.

He’d already suffered mild hyperthermia running across America in May so his chances of suffering from it in the UK in December would be a certainty.

This little event could put him and the support team at risk if the weather was bad.

To add to the potential problems the plan was to run along the Grand Union Canal.

We wouldn’t be able follow him in the support vehicles like we could in America.

That alone would cause all kinds of logistical nightmares not to mention the fact that he risked falling in the freezing canal water if he’d slipped in the pitch-black of a countryside towpath. I mean, how would we know until it was too late?

As the months went on and the date came closer Simon had been struggling with a few injuries. Torn ligaments and a broken toe meant that his training was limited. I thought perhaps now he might postpone it.

But Simon being Simon, he decided to go ahead with it despite not being able to prepare as much as he’d liked.

However, given the broken toe the decision was made that he’d be cycling to Stoke instead and that there would be 2 other people running with him, Marathon Mike and Anne. That put my mind at ease a little knowing that should anyone get into difficulties there were the other 2 there to help them to the next checkpoint.

Cometh the day, cometh the hour.

I turned up at the Paddington hotel at 7.30am in the van and Dave and Marcia arrived soon after. We would be the support team for the next 60 hours.

Our job was to keep the runners safe, give them checkpoints at whatever distance they wanted to run, provide them with food and drink and anything else they needed.

Marcia would also be tweeting on our progress.

It was an early start, weather reports had predicted heavy showers and high winds and it had already been raining for days previously.

It wasn’t the greatest outlook but at least for now it was just overcast, ideal running conditions.
I was excited and keen to get going but the thought of being on the road for at least 2 nights and 3 days without any sleep was playing on my mind a bit.

We set off at 9am.

Finding good checkpoints in central London was a bit tricky but once we were out of the city things would get a bit easier, well, at least for us the support team.

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.

Simon had just missed being knocked of his bike by inches as he came through a set of traffic lights not knowing that the lights had changed and the driver of the car had already started off across his path. It was a close shave and he was very lucky to have not been hit.

I think at that point everyone started taking things a bit more seriously.

We eventually got the guys back on the canal and out of London.

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 were making good progress. If the last 4 hours were anything to go by then we could easily make 50 miles by 8pm.
Apart from one or two heavy downpours the next 4 hours were un-eventful, at least for the support team.
We were making each checkpoint roughly 10 miles apart with whatever the runners requested for sustenance.
At roughly 50 miles the guys turned up and Simon was complaining about a puncture.
It was 9pm on the Saturday night in a small town called Leighton Buzzard in Bedfordshire.
Simon was getting stressed because the puncture would spell the end of the line for him.
There was no way he could run with a broken toe and walking was out of the question given the 3-day timeframe to complete it.
Everyone was tired, cold, and stresses and this was the last thing we needed.
There was a frantic effort to try and find someone who could repair the bike.
We weren’t having much luck due to the time. All the shops were well and truly closed for the night.
I had asked Simon to make sure he bought inner tubes for the bike or at least puncture repair kit two days previous.
The afternoon before the run, Simon and Mike had spent the afternoon in the pub and had forgot to buy inner tubes.
I was pretty pissed off to say the least.
Anne was on the case and constantly giving us phone numbers to try.
I sent a text to one of a dozen numbers pleading for help but with no hope of getting any reply.
Incredibly after 30 minutes of trying I got a reply from a guy called Sam.
Sam ran a mobile cycle repair business in the area and although he was in the middle of family dinner party he said that he could help us.
So the plan would be for me to take the Bike to Sam and Simon and Mike would carry on and walking. That would give me time to get the bike fixed and for us meet at the next checkpoint 4 miles away.
Anne would be taking the train back to London from here having just run 50 miles for the very first time. She didn’t even look tired. I think she could have gone even further if she hadn’t needed to get back home.
I met Sam at his place and he fixed the bike within a matter of minutes.
He saw that we were ill prepared to carry on riding.
With the prospect of getting another puncture he gave us an extra inner tube, 2 additional puncture repair kits, 24 patches, a pump and tyre levers.
I can’t thank him enough for what he did for us.
We were back in business.
I met up with everyone at the next checkpoint and we carried on through the night with Simon back on the bike.
When you are tired you tend to lose track of time.
I think it was somewhere around 1am Sunday morning when Mike had his first wobble. It was expected at some point but not at this relatively early stage.
It seems that the rain and the heavy ground had started to take its toll.
We had seriously underestimated how bad the towpath was.
It takes a hell of a lot more effort to run on mud than on dry dirt. It’s a bit like running on sand.
The conditions had caused Mike to pull tendons in his feet and legs.
We were roughly 65 miles/17 hours in and by this time it was starting to get really cold.
Mike needed a bit of time to rest and eat so we sat him in the car for 10 minutes to warm up while he ate a tin of cold baked beans. Simon seemed to be OK and helped himself to a can of beer.
We got them going again after 30 minutes. Mike looked to be in quite a bit of pain but insisted on carrying on.
We arranged another checkpoint for 5 miles down the canal.
In the cars it would only take around 20 minutes. We got there as soon as we could with a view to getting a bit of sleep before Simon and Mike arrived. I’d estimated it to be just over 1 hour.
I nodded off at the checkpoint having set my alarm to go off within the hour.
I woke up before the alarm went off and looked through the van window.
Half asleep I thought I could see 2 lights in the pitch-black heading up the road when all of a sudden they disappeared to the left around 30 yards in front of me.
It was pretty surreal as I was expecting them to make their way to the van.
I woke the others up and said I thought I saw Simon and Mike but that they had carried on, although I couldn’t be certain because I was still half asleep.
20 minutes later I received a message from Simon asking use where we were.
We worked it out that it was indeed them that had passed us in the early hours and that they had carried on to the next bridge.
It was only half a mile away so we were there in a matter of minutes.
By the time we arrived it had started to rain really heavily and it was close to freezing. They were extremely cold so we got them in the space blankets and into the warmth of the vehicles.
There was no way they could carry on in this storm without taking silly risks that could end up in tragedy, bearing in mind that they were only wearing their running gear with no proper waterproofs or thermal protection.
 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 all emerged from the van and started to prepare for the next checkpoint.
It was a frosty morning and still very cold. We had made the right decision to wait for the storm to clear. It gave Simon and Mike a bit of time to recover.
Mike however was having major problems with his tendons and his ankles appeared to be swelling.
Whilst a rest is good, it can sometimes cause more problems as your body starts to seize up. It’s at this point where a lot of people might choose to stay in the warmth but Simon and Mike got ready to crack on with it.
 We’d arrange checkpoints 2 miles apart until they started to feel comfortable with their condition.
It was a beautiful sunny morning in the countryside all be it a bit cold.
We couldn’t have asked for a better start to the day having suffered heavy storms the previous night.
The guys were feeling confident although Mike was clearly struggling with the pain. We’d give it a couple of checkpoints to see if it got any easier as he warmed up.
Things weren’t looking good. The timings were getting slower and it was taking more than an hour to do 2 miles.
We made a checkpoint at a place called Stoke Bruerne, a beautiful little canal side village on the outskirts of Northampton.
We waited for what seemed like hours before Simon and Mike emerged further down the canal path. We could see Mike was hobbling and in a lot of pain.
As they reached us there was a man walking with them holding a bottle and a small tray.
Apparently this man had passed them coming in the opposite direction.
He obviously seen these two cold, wet, dirty lads hobbling along and thought they might need a bit of help so he went to his house and came back with a bottle of home made Slow Gin and a tray of mince pies.
Everyone tried a bit and it was a great little morale booster.

We encountered many people like this along the way, offering us free coffee, food, repairing our punctures etc. It’s quite humbling to see a total stranger going out of his or her way to help someone in need.
We got the guys into the vehicles to warm them up and evaluate the situation.
At a rate of 2 miles per hour we wouldn’t make it to Stoke by the 23rd so we had to make a decision on whether or not Mike would continue.
The last thing Mike wanted to do was to quit but at this stage we couldn’t allow him to carry on. His legs were swollen above the ankles. Had he carried on he ran the risk of doing some permanent damage.
We all agreed that this was his finishing line.
The fact is the Grand Union Canal is not as straight as the M1 motorway.
Upon evaluation we worked out that Mike had exceeded his target of 100 miles and in the end he’d ran 110 miles in 27 hours, an amazing achievement by any standards.
We got him comfortable in the back seat of the car and prepared Simon for the next leg.
He would get back on the bike, so from now on we could cover more mileage in less time.
The rain had started again mixed with hail. It was still cold even by mid morning as Simon set off towards the next checkpoint 13 miles away.
I had a look at the weather report for the day and it was a mixed bag of sunshine and heavy showers.
We arrived at the checkpoint and waited for Simon. He turned up almost 3 hours later. He’d obviously had problems and I was selfishly hoping it wasn’t another puncture. We only had 1 inner tube left. If that were needed then we were down to the repair kits.
I remember Sam the Cycle repair guy mentioning that he had once participated in a cycling event along the very same canal and that his team had had to repair at least 28 punctures per day.
If we were to have the same problems we’d be out of repair kits by the time we reached Coventry.
 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.
Although clearly fatigued Simon was feeling confident so we set another checkpoint near to Rugby Golf Club, another 13 miles away. We prepped him and sent him on his way.
 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.
First things first, he got changed into some dry clothes but they weren’t proper running clothes and offered very little protection.
We were trying to get any spare wet running clothes dry by placing them on the dashboard of the van. We couldn’t dry anything quick enough. No sooner had the guys changed that they’d needed to change soon after.
I could see that Simon didn’t enjoy that last leg and the prospect of doing another 60 miles was weighing heavy on his mind.
The canal towpath was becoming increasingly difficult due to the sheer amount of rain we’d suffered. We needed to rethink.
By now it was 2.30 pm on the Sunday afternoon and it would start to get dark in a few hours.
It would be quicker but equally as dangerous to use the A5 given the volume of heavy traffic that used it.
If we were to travel along the A5 then Simon would need some proper lights at least.
His good friend Chris Bragg and Uncle Phil made their way to meet us with the essential lights.
I gave Simon a new route to get him to the A5, which was 2 miles away and up hill. We’d meet just before it and prepare him to ride in the evening along roads.
As he set off I could see that he was struggling.
We got to the checkpoint first and waited for him. I checked the A5 conditions and how far it was to Tamworth. It was 26 miles. There were one or two trucks but generally the traffic was quite light.
I checked the weather again and it was a relief.
Simon needed to hear something positive to give him a boost.
As he arrived I gave him the good news for once.
From now on there will be no more rain, the A5 is a straight, well tarmacked road with a small hard shoulder lane that he could use to keep a safe distance from the heavy goods vehicles. Furthermore it was only 13 miles to Nuneaton and then another 13 miles to Tamworth and the Staffordshire border.
You could almost smell the oatcakes that Jimmy was preparing for our arrival.

I could see that as soon as he heard the news he was a different person.

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.
It took us 20 minutes to get there and wait for Simon to turn up.
Soon after we arrived we could see his lights in the distance.
It had taken him 1 hour to cover 13 miles. Bearing in mind that this is the second night without sleep and approximately 120 miles in.
Chris had gone to get some hot food from the garage we’d passed 2 miles back and just as Simon turned up so did Chris with a bag full of hot Ginster pies.
The clear skies were very welcome. Knowing that there would be no more rain was a good morale booster. The downside of a clear evening is that it gets very cold, especially from the wind chill as you ride a bike.
Simon sat in the van and ate his pies as we filled his camelbak with water.
By now we were only 13 miles away from Staffordshire. Our next stop would be Tamworth.
We arranged to meet at the McDonalds on the retail park on the outskirts of town.
We got there early, grabbed a burger and waited for Simon.
The last leg took a bit longer and Simon was starting to feel the effects of the cold. He was obviously exhausted and was complaining that everything seemed to be all up hill. He had totally missed the long down hill ride into Tamworth along the A5.

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.
Jimmy’s arrival was an instant morale boost. He has to be the funniest, kindest most genuine person you’re ever likely meet and he’d brought the Oatcakes.
3 cheese Oatcakes and a bit of brown sauce later we were all set for the next leg.
By now we had a convoy of 4 cars and Simon on his bike.

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.

"There's not much to say about the run. While not what I expected terrain and condition wise, mentally was exactly what I thought. As Simon said on the BBC doing these endurance challenges is a great metaphor for life. You have to DECIDE if you are going to stand up or if you are going to lay down, if you are going to quit or keep going no matter how hard. If you know you are right, which means in your mind it's already done because you've already seen yourself cross the finish line, than the decision comes naturally, but not without significant struggle and self doubt. Yet, if you believe in your path, you will stand up.

Do not go where there is a path. Go where there is no path and leave a trail"

I ask the team to write their perspective for this blog to say thank you to them. This whole thing is not about me. It’s about living outside your comfort zone, doing something different, something extra, something selfless – giving back. It’s an incredible journey and thru the rollercoaster of emotions that everyone feels spending so many hours together the whole team becomes one unit and there is sadness when everyone departs at the end to go their separate ways, left only with the memories of an unusual way to spend 41 hours. This blog attempts to capture those memories so that we can all reflect on them as and when we choose.

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.


I'm doing this to raise money for Mind - the UK's largest mental health charity.

You could donate by clicking this link:
You could also help me by sharing this blog, and encouraging people to read it. Just copy and paste the link below:
1 in 4 people will suffer from mental illness.

It WILL affect you directly or indirectly at some stage of your life.

Let's help each other.


WE can save lives.


No comments:

Post a Comment