Announcing our final total

A plan was hatched

And so it all began on the morning of 18th September 2011, when my wife and I sat and watched the Bupa Great North Run in our dressing gowns whilst having a relaxed Sunday morning.

Before the race started, as ever in true BBC style, wonderful tales of heroism, courage and support were told by everyday people, all running for their cause – all running for something they believed in passionately and all doing something positive to help that cause.

Listening to their stories and watching them run put me to shame that morning.

We’d just come back from a pretty special summer holiday. We live incredibly privileged lives and it hit me squarely between the eyes that it was time to take some action, raise some money and generally give something back to the charity that in an indirect way had saved my life 15 years’ ago.

That morning we hatched a plan for me to run four half marathons in a month. Not ground breaking by any stretch of the imagination – but challenging enough for me. What would make it even more special however would be to run it with a group of friends and persuade them to do the challenge too.

On 17th November 2011, after much research, thinking and fine tuning of my pitch, I assembled 10 “dad’s” in our local pub and waited till pint #3 before pitching the challenge.

So, how did we get on?

Our challenge is now over. 6 of us ran every race, one of us kayaked two half marathons and 10 others were involved in single races, which was no mean feat. Somehow I managed to run 4 personal bests in a row and am now fitter than I’ve been for a long time which was the icing on the cake really!

So – quick report on the last month…

We then had a week off

  • 30th Sept Bristol – 10,000 people, went off way to fast, horrible small hills, great city atmosphere,
  • 7th Oct Windsor – the hardest – closest to us and arrived late, the hills hurt a lot, the children running the home straight with Paul was a real highlight
  • 14th Oct – Henley – I was somewhat surprised by us being joined by 7 of my school mates, stunning weather, gorgeous scenery, the hardest mile of the 52 in Henley Hill, a great celebration afterwards.

Wind forward to Friday 19th October 2012

We celebrated the end of our challenge by gathering runner and supporters at the Thames Riviera Hotel in Maidenhead. It was a great night to reflect on the last few months of training and the pain of racing 52 miles across that month. Everyone had their own stories to tell and everyone had a lot of special memories. Some of us were even sad it was over!

I did stand on a chair and make a speech I’d spent most of the day writing – it was predominately to say thank you to everyone, and to award some certificates – I’d even laminated myself…

I also wanted to announce a total (which is still going up)… across 242 individual donations, including gift aid, we had exceeded our target of raising £10,783.20. However, in addition, I was delighted to announce a matched donation from BP (thanks to Simon Hodgkinson – one of their employees was part of the team )of £2,783.

There were gasps from the audience…

But even better than that, Paul Johnson then stood up… he’d applied for a grant from the foundation of his company Allergan (Allergan International Foundation) and had been successful. He proudly handed over a cheque for £10,000, making our total raised so far £23,566.

Donations on the night took the total to £23,758 – which we were all thrilled with.

And so what a journey it’s been. What a lot of fond memories and most importantly, what a lot of money raised.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Let the next adventure be as fun…


PS Proof is below (less the gift aid!) and will you look at the last donation on the entries…

Race #4 – Henley

And so after 10 months of thinking about it and the last month of running, the last race was upon us. Notice how I called this one a ‘race’. Despite the miles already put in – there was a sense of determination amongst Team Awesome, as I now refer to them. Everyone was tired, but everyone wanted to keep striving to knock off a few seconds off their personal bests and go for broke – right until the end.

Saturday night involved texting who could eat the biggest pizza. I’m fairly certain I won – because I struggled to get up the stairs that night – I felt a little like Augustus Gloop and needed rolling into bed. But I didn’t care – it was my last night of guilt free eating for a while.

Our final challenge had an air of notoriety about it. Mainly due to something called Henley Hill. The profile had been circulating on email for a while. It didn’t look pretty. Turned out that was the truth. We liked the flat bits – but not so the steep climb and the run/gallop/hobble down the other side.

So the alarm went at 6.30 and it was the first wake up call in the dark. Porridge was made and consumed and the sun still hadn’t shown its face. Turns out the temperature at that point was 1.3 degrees centigrade. Ouch.

After picking up ‘Gels’ Johnson as he’s become affectionately known to the team, my wonderful family made their last pilgrimage to watch me run, with the aim of high fiving as many runners as they could and for Matthew to hand over my bottle of Lucozade at the desired moment – just like an elite athlete…

It was a beautiful morning by the river in Henley – fog and blue skies and lots of VERY fit looking people in serious running gear set the tone for the day.

I was looking forward to meeting a couple of additional runners in the club house – joining the Awesome Team on our final endeavour. One of whom has recently cleaned out the NHS in operations, drugs and physio on his legs over the years. He was welcomed with open arms into the team and a liberal amount of strapping applied.

As we entered the Henley Rugby Club clubhouse, imagine my surprise when I spotted some other familiar looking faces.

To cut a very long story short, 8 of my oldest friends had been secretly ‘training’ for the last 3 months and had decided to join the team on our last outing (although Jim had completed the Sydney half marathon on the day of our first run – he had a good excuse not being there). At first as I spotted them I thought they were there to support. I was wrong – they were going to run it with us. It’s not often I’m overwhelmed and speechless. Today I was.

After much man hugging, the grand total of 16 of us were going to be running together. Brand new branded “Spud-based” shirts (don’t ask) and newly printed existing shirts were donned, and I made do with my felt tip penned scrawl.

The gun went and we were off. What with the commotion, warming up was somewhat of an after thought. Mr Carpenter my awesome pacemaker was at my side again, Mr Lycra and the Machine had taken their celebrity start positions and Gels Johnson and the Honorary Lad, Mrs Carpenter settled into their pace, with Henley Hill very much in mind.

The course was tricky – cross country at times, with little room for manoeuvrings. The Thames looked stunning and the small, occasional crowd mainly drunk tea. I was forced at one point to ask for a cheer, and made another man wave his union jack slightly more vigorously. It was Henley after all.

After a loop, we were back into town for much support, and Matthew handed over my Lucozade perfectly. We were then to be faced with the hill from hell. Less said about it the better. It was steep and winding and never ending. As I got near the top, I spotted two of our new team members – C Fink and L Fink and we ran down the hill together on the other side like a cross between a wounded gazelle and and a malfunctioning robot. There’s no right way to run 0.5 of a mile downhill quickly. However you do it, it hurts.

Chris and Lucy turned into my new pacemakers for the last 4 miles. I’d taken a look at the watch and decided another PB wasn’t on the cards. That wasn’t going to stop me trying and to say I was pleased when I looked at my watch after I’d crossed the line, was an understatement. I was knackered and somehow had indeed managed another personal best time.

It was then time to cheer the remainder home. Pricey and Simon The Machine lead the pack, with Harvey Lycra and Mr Murray next. With myself and Mr and Mrs Fink next – we then had the great pleasure of cheering home (in no particular order) Wilco, Fairchamp, Gorzy, Lord Jones, Jockey, Godba, Mr and Mrs Carpenter, and with yet another PB, the legend that is Gels Johnson.

Truly amazing – everyone did themselves proud. A lot of DNA swapping ensued through sweaty man (and woman) hugging for the next hour.

Whilst this was all going on, it’s sometimes easy to forget why we were doing it. A quick look at the Just Giving website reminded me – our total was around the £10,100 mark.

My idyllic afternoon of buying the Sunday Times for the first time this year and putting my feet up was then thoroughly spoilt by the surprise hosting of 54 people for carb replacement chilli (and an occasional beer).

I didn’t mind.

It was a day I will never forget.


Race #3 – Windsor

So, it doesn’t get much closer for us – Windsor is a stone’s throw from base – so you’d think we’d get there on time, there’d be no queues and it would all be nice and smooth?

Not so much – the traffic wasn’t great and the mile walk to the start? Well – let’s call it a good warm up.

The awesome team (TM) joined 4,00o others for a lunchtime ‘kickoff’ this time. Porridge had to be postponed. Routines were confused. Some had had double breakfast or early lunch. Some had brought extra gels in their activity belts.

I felt nervous. This was always going to be the hardest psychologically. The third one – hot off the heels of the second one. People were tired. Fortunately, no one knew the profile of the course, or I suspect few (including me) would have turned up!

Windsor (apparently) is notorious. Basically, you know flat bits? well, Windsor doesn’t have any. Flat wasn’t part of the plans for the Great Park, when they errrr built it 100’s of years ago. They thought it would be funny to put loads of long hills in. So they did. Unknown to us.

The start line was great – lots of crowds lining the Great Walk. When I managed to get a few of them cheering and being ‘non-Windsor’ like – it was even better. It starts with a run up to the Copper Horse at the very top of the hill. From there, it’s a couple of circuits of the beautiful (but did I mention, hilly?) Great Park.

My pacemaker Mr Carpenter had agreed not to be quite as ‘ambitious’ as the previous race and we started together, a little slower. The Lycra one and the Machine were ahead. Mr Gel Johnson and Mrs Carpenter were in our rear view mirrors – but battling.

The hills hurt. A lot. I’m not quite sure how, but I managed to overcome them – I felt good and I was making the most of it. I even managed to get the crowd ‘whooping’ a couple more times, which felt good for confidence. Scrawling “MARK” on the front of my running top was also a big help. People like to cheer on people with real names so it seems.

Once again, family and friends were out in support. Children were high fiving and they’ll never know how much it means – we got to see and hear them twice – which was great.

The race finishes down that hill from the Copper Horse. You can see the finish – it’s literally in front of you. But – you can’t touch it… and basically, it doesn’t get any closer, despite running as fast as you can for about 12 minutes. I set another new personal best – and was literally over the moon. I was so focused, I didn’t even see or hear Simon, The Machine cheering me down the last 400m. (He’d finished a couple of hours earlier ;-)).

Once again, everyone did themselves proud. Mr Johnson excelled himself by overcoming the hills, (how about that for an awesome photo?!) and in one of the highlights of this challenge, various children (who we own) accompanied him down the hill to the finish for the last mile – giving him the lift he needed. Superb.

Three quarters of the way there… one to go – Henley. Next Sunday.

What a month.

The Kayak half marathon

Mr Birchmore joined us in the pub on that ‘fateful’ day back in November 2011, where I pitched this ridiculous Autumn challenge to the team.

He’d signed up for the Great North Run – got his place, but after weeks of training (ahem) his knees just stopped working and he had to admit defeat. Running was never going to happen.

Not one to give up, he decided to contribute to the challenge, without much use of his legs – and go with the arms only tactic instead.

On Saturday, the day before Race #3, Windsor, Steve decided to paddle up (and down) the Thames, in his kayak and do a half marathon on the water.











For those of you thinking that’s straight forward. It’s not. When the current is flowing at 5 mph one way, and you want to head upstream, guess what? You need to paddle at 5mph to stay still. You know where I’m coming from I’m sure…

Steve completed his half marathon in twice the time the rest of us do our walking ones -in 3 hours, 58 minutes.







Another legend to add to our hall of fame.