Well I did it! The idea that came to me in September 2011 finished at 10.35am on Saturday 7th April on Tynemouth Long Sands beach. In the 7 days that have passed since I finished my #100mile24hour run for #CHUF (Children’s Heart Unit Fund at the Freeman Hospital) I have thought of little else, as I try to come to terms with what I achieved and what it required of me to finish it. This is the first time I have tried to put those thoughts into any sort of logical form (so please be patient with me).
Thursday 5th April:
Everything became very real when I was sat in the studio of ITV Tyne Tees with Kenny Toal (Twitter: @kennytoalitv) and Philippa Tomson (@piptomsonITV) about to film a live interview on the eve of the run. Following this I headed off to BBC Radio Newcastle to chat with Simon Pryde (@Simonpryde) on Total Sport and finally back to home to a house full of friends and family all manically preparing to support my run. I think I was in denial that an event 6 months in planning and training was now a matter of hours away; was I really ready, had I done enough miles, was my core strength good enough and what the hell was I going to do about this nerve in my back that was causing my quadriceps to spasm? As you can imagine my sleep was a little disturbed!
Friday 6th April:
7am – My alarm sounds, didn’t need it as I’d been awake for hours thinking about the route and weather. After getting my kit on and a final check of my nutrition, I managed to force down my breakfast. It was at this point I realised quite how many friends were donated their time to support me on this crazy run: Nadine my amazing wife, my Dad, Sarah (@jonesyjones00), Steve (@Lurve_Machine), Emma (@Emzcardwell), Andy (@curtisstigers), Michelle, Rachel (@RachFarrier), Gemma (@IrishWidget), Peter, Elaine, Alan Noble who was filming the entire challenge (@Alan Noble91), Nick Gilks who would be providing sports massage throughout (ngmassage@) and Gareth Johnson our photographer (@GMMJohnson). Apart from being blown away by the generosity of some of the best friends you could wish for; this only served to add to the already huge pressure I was feeling.
8am – I’m live on Metro Radio with Stu and Kelly (@kellyhinch) and trying to articulate my emotions with just a few hours until the run starts. They have listeners phoning in motivational tunes to get me in the mood, which starts off with a Rocky classic (my choice)! As we drive up the A1 to Eyemouth it dawns on me how far I was about to run, this was going to be the hardest thing I have ever taken on and I was in deep.
10.30am (Eyemouth) – A few photos’, chat to camera, quick massage from Nick and the start time raced towards me like a rocket. I managed to have a few minutes to myself followed by the most important cuddle with Nadine and Seb (the next one of these I’d get would be Tynemouth).
11am/0 miles (Eyemouth) – Accompanied by Andy, Steve and Emma we set off from Eyemouth and finally got this thing started. You can imagine my despair when 5 minutes into this 24 hour run my left quadriceps starts to spasm. I thought the nerve problem would be an issue but felt sure I would at least get a quarter of the way before it flared up and here I was barely out of sight of the water front. There was no opportunity for negativity as I was due on air with Metro Radio at 11.15 and then ITV Tyne Tees at 12pm, so tried to stay positive. Having the guys with me during these early miles really helped take my mind off my quads (both had gone into spasm by 11.30am) and we probably had too much fun during those early miles as we started to get a bit behind schedule.
1.30pm/10 miles (Berwick) – We arrived into Berwick about 10 minutes behind time, which wasn’t too bad considering our slightly jovial attitude during the first leg. We managed to get a quick massage, cup of Nadine’s fantastic homemade soup before we headed out of Berwick and onto Spittal. It was Emma who first noticed my running style as I tried to get going again; basically where my quad muscles had been in spasm they had seized up during the stop. This made it particularly painful to start running again and as much as I tried to cover it up it was clear to all. This leg saw us take in some of the most beautiful scenery Northumberland has to offer as we followed the Coastal Footpath along Cocklawburn Beach and Goswick Sands. We even had time for Andy to bet Steve he wouldn’t swim across a lake (£100 for CHUF); which Steve duly took on! Butt naked and swimming across a random Northumberland lake/pond you wouldn’t have thought we had another 85 miles to run! The real problem we faced on this section was the realisation that the footpath route may not be possible. In daylight it was proving a challenge as we had to climb almost vertical sand dunes and negotiate barbed wire fences; all the while trying to maintain a pace to hit each checkpoint. I started to worry what the hell we were going to do at 2am if the entire footpath was like this. Luckily we had a couple of friends (Paul and Mark Eden) who provided some local intel and got us to a more suitable path and Beal Point where we said farewell to Emma (who would be running London Marathon for CHUF in a couple of weeks time). My next focus was a telephone interview with Tyne Tees for their tea time broadcast and a reminder why we were doing this. We continued on and tried to pick up the pace into Fenwick Village, unfortunately our frolics in lakes and navigating of sand dunes had led us to be over an hour behind time.
5.30pm/23 miles (Fenwick Village) – In Fenwick I met the most amazing little girl called Jenny (who had heart surgery at the Freeman last year), she donated her Easter money to CHUF and gave me all the inspiration I needed. Andy, Steve and me left Fenwick across fields and woodland paths to head for Belford. This should have been a nice short 5 mile section, but a wrong turn ended up making it closer to 8 miles and ruined any chance we had of making time up. We decided to abandon any stop at Belford and with the now quite heavy rain quickly got the appropriate gear on, took a couple of pain killers (my quads were getting progressively worse and now Andy’s knee was playing up) and headed off for Seahouses and a 12-13 mile section.
6.45pm/28 miles (Belford) – To say I left Belford with the bit between my teeth would be a slight understatement. I knew if we didn’t start to make up some of this deficit it was only going to get worse through the night; we needed to smash it into Seahouses. I started to increase the pace once the pain in my quads had levelled out and got into a nice rhythm at about 8 min/mile pace. Before I knew it I was on my own with Andy and Steve maintaining a steady pace slightly behind me. It was at this point I thought I needed to phone one of my C2C buddies Russ. Anyone who has ever met Russ (he is the cockney chap speaking at the end of our C2C video from last summer) will know he has a fantastic way with words. The support car must have wondered what happened to me as I passed Bamburgh Castle, phone in hand, and tears streaming down my face and running close to 7 min/mile pace! Russ reminded me why I was doing this and the level of support willing me along. I ran the last 10 miles into Seahouses in under 80 minutes (something I may regret later); but very quickly my biggest concern became Andy, he was obviously starting to struggle and things were only going to get worse.
9.15pm/40 miles (Seahouses) – We left Seahouses and made the decision we would follow the Coastal Road Route rather than footpath; even though it would make the run a bit longer, it meant we would have the support car with us throughout and could maintain a better average pace. Unfortunately the mood was a bit low as we left Seahouses, I started to obsess about being behind time (it’s funny how you start to fixate on certain things) and Andy’s knee was starting to become a problem. In fact his knee had become such an issue that we needed to walk sections of the route into Craster and the guys in the support car were becoming increasingly concerned about his physical state. It was at Craster my mental state started to drop; I was worried about Andy, my quads were getting increasingly more painful and felt like someone was firing constant electric shocks through them, but the issue of our time was consuming me…we were now 100 minutes behind schedule!
12.20am/49 miles (Craster) – Andy decided he was going to carry on, but told me I should run at the pace I needed to and he would see how he coped. It was a few miles into this section where he decided to call it; words don’t express how emotional this was. To run over 50 miles off the back of the small level of training he had put in was a huge achievement and I just felt so low watching Andy climb into the support vehicle. It was now just Steve on the bike and me heading off into the darkness, with a renewed urgency to start to claw back some time. My memory of this section isn’t great, I just tried to maintain a good running cadence of sub 9 min/mile pace and switch my brain off; I knew the next few hours would be the toughest I’d ever experienced, with a pair of trainers on.
2.50am/63 miles (Warkworth) – In Warkworth we were lucky enough to have the use of Ann & Dave Burke’s house (their daughter Kate has exactly the same CHD as Seb and was mended at the Freeman over 20 years ago). My legs were really seizing up and just getting on and off Nick’s massage bed was proving almost impossible. I decided to start this section on my own as I didn’t want everyone to see how much pain I was in; I don’t think even I was prepared for what was to happen over the next few miles. People always warned me about the tricks your mind plays with you when sleep deprived and exhausted, but it’s very difficult to prepare yourself. I knew I was in the heart of the run now and this would be the point where it would fail or succeed; I never doubted for one second that I would finish, but the pain had become so great and lack of any visible targets dropped me into a new level of personal darkness. Knowing you can’t bail, but feeling like you have nothing left to give is a feeling I never want to experience again. I found myself starting to walk for sections and being unable to communicate with Steve anymore. This continued for a few miles and around Druridge Bay I just stopped! This couldn’t go on, I had to sort myself out but I just didn’t know how. Then quick as a flash Nadine got out of the support car and gave me the biggest hug in the world; for what seemed like an age we just held each other and I felt myself crying on her shoulder. Had I bitten off too much with this run, was I going to let everyone down? Then Nadine showed me some photos of Seb, we laughed at his cheeky little smile and looked each other in the eye; this run was not too big for me and I was now running for every single ‘heart’ child and parent. For the first time I put my iPod on and locked out the world, this was where those hours of training in solitude would be required and where I would beat this run into the ground (I never walked again).
6.30am/80 miles (Newbiggin) – Running out of Newbiggin recalibrated my understanding of pain. What used to be 9 out of 10 had now become 1; this represented something quite new and almost unbearable! The pain in my quads had increased and now my hamstrings and calf’s were tightening up. It was at this time I was required to communicate with the outside world as I was about to be on air with Dan from Metro Radio. It was the point that Dan asked me to remind the listeners why I was doing this that I broke down in tears. I recalled all of those parents sitting by their child’s bedside in Intensive Care watching the most precious thing in their lives hang by a thread; I remembered that was real pain, real helplessness and suffering. I had 20 miles to go and any amount of physical pain was not going to stop me finishing this damn thing! The run into Blyth seemed to take forever, but finally I got to the beach and collapsed into a chair for my final rest. At last I had managed to get back on schedule, the first time since we’d left Eyemouth and I now just had 8 miles to run before it was all over.
9.15am/92 miles (Blyth) – You would think having run over 92 miles and only 8 left to go I would feel able to relax; quite the opposite, in fact the pain seemed to increase as I made my way towards Seaton Sluice. I went through the usual excruciating pain of getting going again when all of a sudden a blood blister that had been sore for about 25 miles popped! If there was a benefit of this it was that I no longer cared about the pain I was experiencing in my legs and had something new and far more exciting to think about. Luckily almost immediately a car pulled up alongside me, it was Nadine’s Mum and Dad with Seb in the car and I got to have a quick hug and kiss from the bravest little boy in the world. This was exactly what I needed as I got going again and even managed to wind up the pace a bit. For the final few miles towards Tynemouth my entire support crew cheered me every step of the way; I tried to smile, but was aware I needed to keep my focus for a little bit longer.
With 1 mile to go at Cullercoats I stopped the support car and got rid of my CamelBak, iPod and jacket, sending everyone on to the finish; I needed a few minutes to gather myself before Tynemouth. The reception at Tynemouth was fantastic, with so many people turning out to celebrate, but all I cared about was stopping and getting a hug from the 2 most important people in my world.
10.35am/100 miles (Tynemouth) – Well that’s it, I managed it and sort of in one piece! I probably ran closer to 110 miles with all the wrong turns and extra bits added on and even had 25 minutes to spare.
Was it worth it many have asked? I think so, but I’m not sure it’s up to me to say that. So far it’s raised over £8,000 for CHUF, generated a fantastic amount of awareness for the charity and hopefully inspired a few people to do something for this wonderful cause. Personally it was the hardest thing I have ever taken on, it almost broke me and took me to the darkest place I ever been, but I did it!
Thank you for staying with me.
Watch the short film of my run here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sa3N3Fvur2M
To donate: visit www.Justgiving.com/Seb4chuf or text ‘CHUF99’ and ‘£5’ or ‘£10’ to 70070.
Thanks to my sponsors:
2XU Compression Clothing My Sports Physiotherapy
Kinesio UK Richard Hardie Motors
Nick Gilks Sports Massage Alan Noble
My amazing support crew:
Nadine, Dad, Steve, Andy, Gemma, Michelle, Rachel, Sarah, Peter, Elaine