Race #2 – Bristol

So, not quite as far for us all to go this time… The Great North Run really was quite a long way to go, just to run between two places.

Bristol is my old university town, with a lot of fond memories. To run round it, for me was very special.

The Awesome Team (TM) assembled on College Green on Sunday morning – Bristol seemed quite relaxed. 10,000 others assembled around us, and before we knew it, the Machine and the one with Lycra on bounded off to their celebrity start line (towards the front of the pack). The rest of us mere mortals joined the throng, near the back.

There were no red arrows this time, but no rain either – confidence was high, having had a full 14 days’ rest! My pace maker, Mr Carpenter and I therefore decided it would be a great idea to head off at sub-8 minute miles. A plan I quickly ducked out of and let him go on his way.

The first 7 miles head out along the Avon, under the Clifton suspension bridge… and back again. Few crowds, but as flat as it gets. It also means you get to see the fast guys coming back on the other side of the road, which meant high fives, various, across the central reservation as team members went past. Nice.

The course then heads back into Bristol City Centre, where the crowds are waiting, including our very own support – awesome families with boundless energy, who’ll never really know what it feels like to hear and see their support when you’re struggling at 10 miles.

Bristol threw in a curve ball with some small, but rather annoying hills between miles 9 and 13. They hurt, Bristol – it wasn’t really what we had signed up for. Cobbles too made for an interesting end to the race.

Everyone did incredibly well. I somehow managed a new personal best, fresh off the previous race’s personal best and the legend that is Mr P Johnson smashed 5 mins off his best time too. Most of his arms and legs remained strapped to him too and his gels activity belt did the job.

I’m afraid to say there were a few tears at the end – these things do get a bit emotional, especially when Mrs Carpenter gives you a hug. It’s my feminine side – I just can’t help it. It makes you realise how special the people are, who are doing this with me.

2 down. 2 to go – but the next one’s in 7 days and as I write this on the Monday, I still am avoiding stairs.


The Maidenhead Advertiser features our challenge

Click on the image to read the full article.

The story – featured on BBC1

Moments after I finished the Great North Run, the BBC played out the piece about the story and our challenge. I didn’t actually see it for about 24 hours – but thought I’d capture it for prosperity.

My son, Matthew was rather pleased to see himself on TV – even if he was only a day old!

Race #1 – The Great North Run

A weekend to remember

I’m embarrassed to say that despite making it to the ripe old age of 40, Friday was my very first trip to the North East of the UK.

After picking up the children from school, 3 of the challenger families hit the road and convoyed to Durham. Some of us stopping at a rather splendid American Diner, somewhere on the A1 to begin the process of carb loading, without feeling guilty. Even then, we were surrounded by tables of runners and families – the scale of the event began to hit us.

The Saturday was spent in Newcastle, under blue skies with hundreds watching the Great North mini-run. My son Matthew making his debut at the 1.5km distance along with dozens of other children – some being chased by ‘accompanying adults’, whilst some were some way ahead, leaving their so-called ‘accompanying adult’ for dust.

Matthew, Amelia, Dominic and Jessica from our team all did a fantastic job and enjoyed their receiving their medals.

It was then onto the pasta party. The lengths us Brits will go to for a free bowl of pasta is amazing. Fortunately the 30min queue wasn’t 30 mins – and the process of carb loading for the next day continued. The sky remained blue as one of the older children, Lewis entered the 4.5km in the afternoon, shortly after the legend Mo Farrah competed in the City Games – also being held on the quayside.

Our first experience of Newcastle was a good one. Today we were standing under the Tyne Bridge spectating. Tomorrow we would be running across it on the way to our first half marathon.

The challenger team continued to join via train throughout the day and even more carb loading took place in Durham in the evening at the very accommodating Zizzis.

After debating whether beer contained carbs, we all agreed one wouldn’t hurt (like any group of elite athletes). Simon “The Machine” Hodgkinson opted for a second, to much tutting. It turned out he knew what he was doing.

Sunday started earlier than planned with an unscheduled 5.25 alarm call (sorry again Paul). One day I’ll learn how to use my iPhone. At 6.30, we got up and can I just give a massive thanks to the Premier Inn, Durham – they started breakfast early for us runners. I would imagine the Quaker Oats factory had been working overtime that night – a lot of porridge was consumed, not to mention a handful of cheeky fry ups – Mo Farrah would have been proud.

Without any form of plan b, we then took the very last possible train to Newcastle. The weather was perfect from a running perspective – not so from a crowd perspective. We were early to the start line and only then did it dawn on us all the scale of the Great North Run. 55,000 runners is a lot of runners and a lot of baggage and a lot of water bottles and a lot of toilet queues!

The magnificent team were now assembled….

  • Carol was walking – she was injured and had planned to revise for her interview on Monday by studying postcards on the way round.
  • Paul was heavily loaded with gels – carefully positioned around his activity belt.
  • Simon downed a litre of Castrol GTX shortly before putting his baggage in the bus.
  • Murray mainly worried about whether there was enough time to get changed and get his kit on the bus.
  • Harvey wore far too much lycra, mainly obscuring the cause we were running for.
  • Jonathan was lucky enough to be selected by me as my pacemaker.
  • I continued to maintain I wasn’t interested in running a good time. I was there just for the fun. I lied.

The start line was amazing – the Red Arrows, the warm up and the Mexican Wave will remain with me for a long time.

At 10:40 the gun went. At 10:59 it started raining. At 11:00 we went over the start line!

Before we did though, I was lucky enough to ‘high five’ the legend that is Mo Farrah who held the starting gun. His hands must have been seriously sore by the end.

The rain came down, the crowds came out and the first 5 miles literally flew by. We were running a good pace.

We were helped at 4 miles by the Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research team bus – much cheering and support from our families from a very wet top deck.

At around 6 miles, I had to stop for a rather special experience with Denise Lewis:

The remainder of the race got harder and hillier. Murray was a legend – he took over as ‘my pacemaker’ – and really forced the pace.

The last mile was pretty special – not only did it feel like it lasted 3 miles, the crowds grew, we were finally on the flat by the beach and we could taste the Powerade and chocolate miniroll cocktail we were about to enjoy.

Massive respect to Simon The Machine, who finished in an incredible 1’32.

Huge respect to everyone else too – everyone did great times. Particularly Carol, who obviously did run, despite being injured and Paul who by his own admission hates running and will be hanging up his trainers when this is all over. That’s what makes all of these people very special in my eyes.

We were all greeted at the charity tent by our families who had covered almost as many miles as us around the course. The children had been fantastic – on ferries, trains, buses and on foot.

Wind forward a mere 10.5 hours and we were all home safely in Bray.

We were happy. We were exhausted. We were slightly achy, but we were ready for the next half marathon in Bristol.

And the total kept climbing…

Denise Lewis to interview Mark half way round!

I was absolutely thrilled to get a call from the BBC this week and find out Denise Lewis, the gold medal winning legend is going to be interviewing me half way round the Great North Run. Somehow, at the half way point, I need to stop, say something sensible, not dribble in front of a celebrity sports star and then carry on for another 6.5 miles!!

With a bit of luck, they’ll then show it at some point during the broadcast on BBC1 on Sunday morning.

To inflate my ego even more, Denise sent me a nice little message…

Alastair Campbell backs our cause

In another scoop retweet, Alastair Campbell, Chairman of fundraising for Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research backs our challenge:

Sir Ian Botham gives his seal of approval

Always rather special when a celebrity gets in touch. When it’s a knight of the realm and a sporting legend to boot – it makes me very proud.

Here it is – fresh off the Twittersphere. Click for full screen.