My Mother passed away when I was 18. I remember literally catching her one day as she walked into the living room… she had hold of the living room door and it unexpectedly moved away from her. She visibly crumpled and somehow I managed to leap across the room and support her weight before she hit the ground. We stood there, hugging each other, both as terrified as the other.
No one had told me exactly HOW ill she was. I knew it was Cancer. And I knew it was bad, but it was at that moment that I knew, with completely heart breaking clarity, that my mother was soon going to die.
She did. After she left us, the doctor explained that the cancer had affected her spine, and at that second it pretty well disintegrated inside her. I’m now 45, and every day she’s there in my mind. She’s still clinging onto me. She’s still staring at me, trying to be brave and not let on, but with the fear of God in her eyes.
I would have been able to consider myself a very lucky man if that was the only time I’d run into Cancer – but within 6 months my best friend (himself only just nearing 18 at the time) contracted Hodgkin’s disease. I’m glad to say he’s still with us now, but his wife has also had Cancer again, fought it off). I have friends, relatives, and acquaintances who lost to it, others that have beaten it, and still more that currently have it in one form or another. It is the single most devastating illness out there –affecting so many people, so cruelly for so long.
Since that time I’ve been a great advocate of cancer charities – having done many daft things for the likes of Cancer Research or Macmillan Cancer Relief. Both hugely worthy causes, but I always felt I wanted to give something to a smaller charity – one where my work would really make a difference. Granted, all donations, to all charities make a difference – but I wanted to find a smaller charity that held the same passion for helping people be a bit more comfortable in their last days, or really help drive the research, prevention, or cure of cancer, then I’d be happy to do anything for them.
Throughout my life I’ve also been heavily into music. I can’t play for toffee (I have 6 guitars, and keep buying them until I find one that works – they all sound so awful when I play them, there HAS to be something wrong with them). My singing voice is worse than anything experienced
(I genuinely was given a detention by the Head of music in our school as he thought I was messing around too much when auditioning for a part for the Christmas production… I was actually desperate to get in, and was trying my level best).
So I can’t sing, I can’t play music. I can’t even dance (I’m 6’8″tall and dance like a triffid on rollerskates).
A while ago I went to Glastonbury Festival, and was overjoyed to see Roy Harper playing there. I beelined my way to the tent he was playing in, and during his set he introduced another guitarist – his son, Nick.
I had never seen anyone generate the sort of sounds that Nick makes from a guitar (or anything else for that matter). It carved its way into my soul, and I’ve been a huge (literally) fan ever since.
Having signed up to his newsletter, I was introduced to Love Hope Strength, and the ethos behind it… and for a rather strange reason – it came at exactly the right time for me…
2011 – Avebury Rocks 1
For a reason that will become obvious, the story starts just before Christmas 2010…….
On the 12th December 2010, I’d just picked up a rather fine Christmas tree. I’d gone through the somewhat ritualistic attempt at getting it into the Christmas tree holder (a process that involves shaving off bits of the stump of the tree for what seems like hours, in the rain) to allow the family to begin to task of ‘dressing’ the tree.
Now, I’m not sure if it’s just me, but it seems that this ask is best left to the lady of the household, and the kids. If a man goes near the tree with anything remotely ‘dangly’ to hang on it, he will be berated by the lady of the house… “You’re not going to put that THERE, are you???”
Therefore, being fully aware that this would happen, I decided to break open the Christmas spirit in the form of a fine malt whisky.
Having sat and watched the ornament adorning ceremony for five minutes or so, guilt crept over me as I was doing nothing, so I offered to get a nice fire going to help set the festive scene a little more.
Immediately, I came across a problem – no kindling. So off I trot to the garage to turn a few logs into kindling with a hand axe.
During the winter this happens every few days, so it’s nothing out of the ordinary. I selected a suitable log, knelt down in front of it (remember, at 6’8” I’m quite a way from the floor!) and cleaved it neatly in two. I then selected one of the two pieces that I had just created, and did the same again. Only this time I found there was a knot in it – the force wasn’t great enough, so I was left with a hand axe firmly stuck in the log.
Again, there’s nothing new there. I suspect everyone that has a real wood fire is very used to this. The course of action is to raise the axe (with the wood still clamped over the blade), into the air – and then swing it down with as much gusto as you can.
This is what I did. It was travelling at full pelt… when the wood fell off. I had tried to loosen it, before this swing, and must have been more successful than I thought.
Now, this course of events makes way for something rather interesting: until now, the axe head with the wood was probably just over a foot in length… and now without the wood, it was probably a little under 6 inches – meaning that the whole thing is around 6 inches too short – well, too short to connect with the floor.
So, the axe is heading down as fast as possible, and all of a sudden, it’s going to miss the floor… luckily there was something in the way to stop the blade… unfortunately, that was my knee.
It is very surprising how little pain an axe going into your body actually generates. Clearly, I dropped the axe, clamped my hand on my knee, and screwed up my eyes… waiting for the delayed rush of pain that comes when you stub your toe – but it never came. There was only the dull sort of pain you would get if you banged your knee on a doorframe, so I surmised that maybe it had somehow not actually broken the skin, and must have glanced off. I opened my eyes and looked down. Axe on the floor, hand on my knee – no blood. Whoop whoop.
I lifted my hand. Ah – not so good then. A great big hole in my new jeans, and a lot of dark red stuff flowing out of it. I had missed my kneecap by around a quarter of an inch – and the femoral artery by only a couple of inches. One would have been devastating, and the other potentially fatal.
So I hobbled onto my undamaged leg and hopped to the kitchen where I call my good lady wife – who (being in the medical game, is used to all this sort of drama) calmly told me off for wrecking my jeans.
To be fair, she was a saint, and she bundled me into the car and whisked me off to A & E. They sorted me out, but not before the orderly asked me if I was allergic to anything – he didn’t see the funny side when I explained that I have a rather odd reaction to axes.
So there’s the scene set. I was barely able to walk for the rest of December – certainly not without a stick. I’d been told that I wouldn’t be able to exercise at all for a couple of months….I hated this newfound immobility, and vowed that I would do something to get fit.
Having heaved myself onto the scales on New Year’s Day, I was aghast to see that I was over 18 ½ stone, and I couldn’t do any exercise other than a very slow walk along the road to start reducing this. When you are someone who is, to all intents and purposes, naturally fit… and that fitness is suddenly taken away from you, it is a very hard thing psychologically to adjust to. I hope that anyone reading this takes heed, and does what they can to enjoy every second they are in good shape.
So every day I went out – as the scar tissue had by this time formed and bonded, and was tough enough for me to start bending the knee more than just a few millimetres. Within another week I went for a run.
I imagine that first run was a very comical sight; thank goodness we live in the middle of nowhere, with no-one to see the spectacle of a 6’8” idiot running on one leg. The ministry of silly walks had nothing on this!
It was too early – no more damage, no splitting of the scar, but the pain in my leg was unimaginable. I managed probably a quarter of a mile, and hobbled back home.
However, a couple of days later, I put myself through it again.
I continued this, and watched what I was eating and drinking, until I happened to receive news of Avebury Rocks – the 20 mile walk around the most fantastic megalithic site in the UK.
Reading up on it, I realised that Nick had been through something similar to me, having lost his mother to Cancer. This brought back all my passion for trying to raise money, and I realised that LHS was the charity I’d been looking for.
Then I remembered just how much of a pegleg I actually was – I was able to run a couple of miles by this point (VERY slowly, mind you), but when I heard the event wasn’t until July, I thought it’d be an excellent wan of making SURE I got back into shape.
But, because I was loathing my sedentary self, I thought I’d raise the bar a little…
I emailed Katrina from LHS, and asked if I could possibly run the route to raise a little more. This was daft for every reason I could imagine; I’ve barely become mobile after ramming an axe into my knee, it would be the middle of summer, I weighed 18 ½ stone, and I could spend a DAY hatting to one of my musical idols – but instead I’ll be out front, on my own, while everyone else will be up on a hill having free gigs aplenty from him and a gaggle of others.
But deep down I knew it was the right thing to do. Moreover, once I had made a commitment, I had to stick to it – so I would either get fit, or end up in a wheelchair trying.
I got the reply – Katrina said yes to me – so I really needed to start getting going.
That was in March, so I trained and trained like mad, and soon realised that although I’m no Usain Bolt (More like Insane Lee Screwed) I would be able to scrabble around the map that I’d been sent.
On Saturday, 9 July, I rose at 5 am and had a cold. Wonderful, all this time getting fitter and fitter and today of all days I rise with a ‘bit of a head’. Still, nothing’s going to stop me, so I get up, and make sure I am prepared.
A sensible friend (I.E. one who’s walking the route) picks me up at bang on 06:00 – and we arrive at the Avebury Cricket Pavilion with plenty of time of the 06:45 registration. I am ‘walker’ number 34.
We have the obligatory coffee and bacon buttie, and mingle with the other walkers, Nick, and the Marshals.
I look around me, and see that of all the people there, it seems (certainly from the clothing and footwear), that I am the only one that will be running it. With a certain amount of butterflies in my stomach, we all set off over to the mound that is on the outer edge of the ditch that surrounds Avebury, and then stop on this ridge for photographs.
Then, with little warning, it seems we are off. I am stood still, waiting for movement, and fiddling with my phone. This device not only keeps me in touch with the world, but it monitors my location, updates my runs to the Internet, and plays me music so I don’t have to hear myself puffing like a steam train.
I realise that we have started – get the music going and the running software working, and I am away. By the time I get past the walkers I am about a quarter of a mile into the run – this is great – I’ve only got 19 ¾ left now!!
The course took me along the Herepath, which is the pathway from Avebury, up to the ridgeway, and across to the Valley of the Stones. It is from here that the Avebury Stones were taken. From the Valley of the stones there is a very simple trail known as the Gallops, which leads all the way to Marlborough Golf Course.
Cutting across the top of the golf course, I couldn’t believe how good I was feeling. Now in retrospect, I can see the elevation information from the run (also from the software on my phone), and I can see that at this point I’d effectively been running downhill for five miles! Unfortunately, as the start and finish were at the same point, that fact meant I’d got a lot of uphill to come, somewhere along the route.
I was concerned about the next bit, as I don’t know this area at all, but I knew that it was meant to be straightforward. Nick had told me to “simply follow the old railway track north, that runs parallel to the A346, until you reach Ogbourne St Something, then go under the A346 and get onto the ridgeway – from there it’s plain sailing”… I hasten to add, he gave me the full name for Ogbourne St Something, but my mind only picked up on the Ogbourne bit. After all, surely that’s the only bit you’d need to remember…
So I’m confidently striding out along the track, which all of a sudden ends in someone’s drive. A little surprised I jog down to the road, and look around. In front of me is Ogbourne St Andrew. Aha! I’m here.
Can’t see what he means about ‘go under the road’ so I decided to cross here, anyway. When I got across, nothing looked like the blurred photocopy of a map that I have. I realised things may not be right and managed to stop a builder – I ask if he knew the area, and he says he didn’t – however, as he was the only person around, I wasn’t going to let him off just because he didn’t know the area either – so I ignore his protests and try to get some directions out of him.
Thankfully for the builder, and me, one of the marshals just happened to be driving past, and saw me. It turns out that I cross the road at Ogbourne St George, not Andrew – I was two miles short.
I find my way back onto the track and continue along the railway track for the next two miles, I quickly found the right route, and worked my way onto the ridgeway.
The gizmo in my phone that works out where I was, also told me how far I’d run… I was expecting it to say I’d run about 6 miles by this point, but instead the voice said 10… I’d clearly missed a few announcements (very easy, when you are also listening to music). I was halfway there!!! I felt on top of the world – I knew I had a blister, but other than that I was feeling fantastic – lots of energy, and only a 10 mile run in front of me – every step now was closer to the end than the beginning.
Unfortunately, for the next SEVEN miles, I found I was running practically all uphill. This was the payback for the 5 mile descent. Having said that, it was only at worst a gentle hill – never anything too bad – but I think on balance, I’d have preferred it to be flat, or maybe a gentle downhill all the way!!! At the 14 mile mark I reached Barbury Castle, a fantastic Iron Age hill fort. It is huge, and I was the only person there. I stopped for a few minutes to text a couple of people, and listen to the wind – it was a very special place to be. The solitude, the silence, and the break from running bringing all the hustle to an immediate, and beautiful halt.
However, I didn’t want to stop for long, I had just 6 miles to go, and there was a pub at the finish line!
I crossed the rest of Barbury Castle, and then dropped back onto the Ridgeway, following the trail past the burial mounds and the white horse. This was weird – I know this section of the ridgeway better than any, and as such I was convinced it would be plain sailing, but it was heavily rutted by the 4×4’s and motorbikes that frequent it, so it was actually the hardest part of the route.
I finally reached the Herepath again, and dropped down from the Ridgeway towards Avebury. This last two mile section seemed to go on forever, but I finally appeared there, to a welcoming committee of my wife and one of her best friends – and with them they had my new best friend…. A pint of ale.
All in all I felt remarkably good having run this distance. I knew I had one small blister on my foot, but this was down to the fact the shoes are about 10 years old, and have now retired. There was no padding left on the back of either shoe – just a hard white curve of plastic. Therefore I should have been in a much worse situation, so it seems the training was worth it.
Pt 1 (Wild Swimming).
Having met another equally nutty person at Avebury (Lydia, you know who you are!! – Cycling to and From Avebury before and after the walk…. From READING) she asked if I was doing Snowdon Rocks as well. I’d considered it, having done the three peaks four years earlier, so decided I’d give it a go too… however this time I was going to walk it. For me, Snowdon is a 4 hour drive from home, so I decided to go up the night before. I’m very much an outdoor person, so any excuse to get up in the mountains is worth it – I decided this time I’d do a bit of wild camping, and wild swimming. I added these to my justgiving page as I had some friends that did similar things – so I was suddenly doing a ‘sponsored wild camp and swim’ as well to add a few more pennies into the coffer.
I arrived at a car park near to a lake hat I’d targeted, and strode off into the wilderness to find it, and somewhere to camp that I would put my tent.. all secret like (it’s actually deemed as a bit naughty to camp unofficially in England and Wales).
The Lake I’d chosen is one called Llyn Idwal. It’s a fabulous location, in the hanging valley of Cwm Idwal. A wall of rock at one end of the lake is nicknamed ‘The Devil’s Kitchen’ as the clouds always form and swirl, shrouding the top of the rocks.
This is a beautiful lake – and as such it attracts a lot of walkers. There’s a pretty good path around the lake, and as such I got a bit of a strange look when I left the path heading for a small hillock I’d spotted that I could hide my tent behind. I set the tent up, and proceeded to get ready to swim across this icy lake. During which time, all the walkers that had been there left, and a completely different lot arrived. No issue there, but none of them were therefore expecting someone to stride out from behind a small hillock.
Certainly not someone that’s 6’8” tall, sporting big hiking boot along with a wetsuit, swimming cap and goggles, and a towel casually slung over my shoulder. I could actually hear them laughing at me as I purposefully strode down the hillside, looking like I’d been walking miles in this getup. I reached the waters edge, removed my boots and walked into the water. Bugger – it was a lot colder that I was used to…. And a group of walkers had actually sat down, to watch this idiot do his thing, so there was no turning back. I walked out about 10-15 feet, and I was still only ankle deep.
Ah… thinks I… what if this is not a lake, but just a really big puddle? I carry on, ignoring various jibes being called out from walkers, and get to a patch of weed. I swipe my foot forward to brush it away, and realise that it’s not weed – it’s just… black nothing. I’m now stood on the edge of something. What, I don’t know. Do I sit and gently shuffle myself forwards to dangle my legs over the edge and see how deep it is (which would result in a cacophony of laughter from my audience) – or do I just dive in. I look round, and everyone back on the lakes edge is silent. There is a gentle wind biting at my face. And everything is incredibly peaceful. If my mum can look down on me, she was doing so then. I stood for about 30 seconds, loving the silence, then put on the goggles and dove forwards.
The overpowering feeling I got when I went under was one of amazement. The water was full of an algae or something – maybe it was just the peat that had been washed down the mountains… but whatever, it was 100% pitch black underneath. I could have been pot-holing without a torch. I know that this sort of darkness is disorienting so I kept my lungs full of air and let physics do it’s thing. I quickly broke the surface. A HUGE cheer had gone up from the walkers, who were already getting themselves together to leave.
They’d had their laugh.
I began swimming across the lake. It was insanely cold, even with a wetsuit. Also, being freshwater, the buoyancy is very different from seawater, and therefore it was harder work. I swam across the lake twice (only about 600m in all) before getting out, feeling absolutely on top of the world.
That evening I met up with Katrina, Lydia and some others before heading back to my tent. Only problem being that it was almost pitch black by the time I got back – and I had NO idea in that light where I’d put my tent. About ½ hour passed before I found it, crawled in, and snuggled into a very welcome sleeping bag.
Pt 2 (Err – Snowdon!).
The next morning I was packed and up ready to climb Snowdon, bright and early. I arrived and met up with other people that were clearly part of the LHS family, and we headed on up to the café where we were going to meet all the walkers. This in itself was a real surprise – I really didn’t think it’d take this much energy, just to get to the start – it was a vertical road!!!
Anyway, we did manage to get there, and had a very welcome cup of coffee before having a photo or three, and then set off. We went up the railway track route – this is the easiest route, being a gentle upward incline until the café called the ‘halfway house’. Even though I was walking, my long legs are ideal for this sort of thing, so I was with a bunch of walkers fronting the group. It was a very welcome stop at the halfway point I have to say. Now, I’ve never done this route before, but everyone tells me it is the easiest – and even though I was out of breath, this was far nicer than a) running round Avebury, or b) climbing any of the other routes I know up Snowdon – so I was in for a really big shock as we started on…
The footpath got steeper and steeper, until it went under a bridge constructed for the railway… and then the incline doubled. It was ridiculous. I’d already set off myself like a freight train, so didn’t want to be seen to fail at the first real steep bit, so motored on. My legs, lungs, heart and head were all screaming at me to “Stop, you blithering idiot” – but I’d started and now just wanted to get to the top – surely it couldn’t be that far!!
I was wrong. It carried on like this for an eternity. We were by now in thick mist (as is usually the way as you near Snowdon’s summit), and I suddenly found myself at a crossing – this is where all the tracks met, and where Mike Peters had said we’d all gather. I stopped, knowing some others had gone on, but also knowing some friends were close behind. I actually thought they’d be quite a way back, but they arrived in seconds, looking all fit and spritely, whereas I was completely exhausted. We waited there for a while, but up there it is very cold. When you stop pushing yourself like that and stand still, even for a few minutes, your core body temperature plummets and you also begin to seize up, so we decided to wander on, climb to the very top, then get a coffee from the Café at the summit. That has to be, by a long shot, the very best Latte I have ever had in my life. Having done all this, we walked back down to the meeting point, and within a few minutes everyone was there. Mike Peters looked fresher than me (not surprising as I was such a mess), got his guitar out and started singing – and as he did, the clouds parted and we had the most amazing views over the whole of Snowdonia.
This was really the end of my involvement with LHS for 2011. However, I realised that the people that run it, the musicians that support it, and the people that do these crazy things to raise money for it – are the most special people in the world, so I started thinking about what I could do for 2012…
I’m not sure when it was – at what point my brain decided that it would be a good idea. All I can say is I’m sure it must have been somewhat soaked in a fine whisky at the time…
My Axe injury was a thing of the past. I’d run a 20 mile off road route around Avebury, and climbed Snowdon, so my pegs were performing again as they should… and I reckoned I was pretty fit again, so it should be a breeze to do a ½ Marathon. That’d be a good way to raise funds in 2012!!
I checked around, but my local ½ (Bath) was fully booked. However, I was at a party, not long after the Snowdon climb, and a friend there explained he’d accidently applied for two runs on the same day – and the one he decided not to do was Bath. He was happy for me to run using his number – so my planets aligned – I helped him, he helped me, I could raise more moolah for LHS, all was good!
I then got thinking about it. People know I do these sort of things all the time. Therefore the sponsorship I get isn’t as good as others – people have simply seen me doing these things, year in, year out, and either stopped sponsoring me, or cut the sponsorship down – so I’m always trying to add a certain ‘wow’ factor…
So I changed the justgiving page to explain that I would haul my overweight frame through 12 ½’s in 2012…
A half marathon every month.
I researched the different ½ marathons available, and soon realised that there simply were not enough in the local area, throughout the year – so most of the runs I’ve done, have been on my own, with a big hydration pack weighing me down even further.
My logic was that it would help me get fit. It would also hopefully get people to dig a little deeper for LHS!
I worked it out – January and February would be cold and miserable, and involve a lot of training to get to the right level – after that, I could just top up with an occasional run and all would be OK. Problem is, I run a Computer Support firm – I clearly know nothing about the human body!! Instead of finding it easier and easier, throughout the year it has become more and more painful every time. My speeds haven’t got any better, and I’ve put on weight. No idea what’s going on, but I made a commitment to LHS, and even though it hurts like HELL – nothing will stop me
from doing it! Now, I’m afraid that I simply cannot make the 12 ½ marathon’s interesting. But below is a table of how I’ve done so far. I use an application on my phone to monitor me and log the runs – it’s not 100% accurate, but I’ll list what it says below – suffice to say, if the run has been an organised one, it’s been exactly a half marathon – if I’ve worked it out myself, it’s been further.
|January||29th Jan 2012||Local run||13.53 Miles||2:37:29|
|February||25th Feb 2012||Local run||13.18 Miles||2:30:18|
|March||11th Mar 2012||Bath Half||13.42 Miles||2:20:29|
|April||1st Apr 2012||Reading Half||13.29 Miles||2:15:47|
|May||12th May 2012||Local run||13.34 Miles||2:39:47|
|June||23rd Jun 2012||Local run||13.35 Miles||2:29:10|
|July*||25th Jul 2012||Local Run||14.75 Miles*||3:24:05*|
|August||28th Aug 2012||Local Run||13.24 Miles||2:39:06|
|September||30th Sep 2012||Bristol Half||13.39 Miles||2:24:47|
* Err – got hopelessly lost during this run – hence the distance and the time!
So, my times are awful but I still am in excess of 18 stone, and am NOT a runner by design! – also the speed isn’t the motivation for doing this. The real motivation is raising money for Love, Hope Strength.
At the time of writing, I’ve not done the October run yet. I’m hoping to run that tomorrow (Wednesday 24th October) – apparently Katrina and a load from LHS are meeting in Avebury – so I thought it’d be nice to do one of the ½ marathons and end up there for that. The work that’s gone into these runs, plus the huge amount of training in between to keep me going, is simply mad. Every week I am out
(well, I should be out!!!) training so that I can lug myself around the routes. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, by a long, long shot. It’s upset plans throughout my entire year, and it’s left me unable to bend my legs, with blisters on my feet, a bad back, and constant dehydration… It’s made my life very uncomfortable. And then I think of my mother. I think of her back. I think of the pain she, and so many millions of others go through when fighting their battles with cancer.
And I feel just a little bit proud that I’m doing it for them.
I’ve not reached my sponsorship goal of £1,000.00 yet – as I have said – people know I do daft things for charity and therefore even with this I’ve still not raised as much as many, many people raise with just one half marathon. To date, I’ve only had 26 people donate. Can you help? If so, please go to http://www.justgiving.com/mf-bathhalf – it’d mean everything to me, and Love, Hope, Strength.
Thanks so much