One of the best things about doing this grand year of events in a big group as part of our “1000 Miles for MND” challenge is that rather than have me drone on and on and on and on, as I’ve been doing for the last five years, you’ll get to hear a different voice or two every so often telling the story of our long and sweaty struggles. You’ve probably already read Jonny’s previous contribution as to why it is that we’re doing what it is that we’re doing, now you get to read the how. The Stockton Duathlon on April 24th 2016 was the second event on our calendar and Jonny’s first, and with four participants alongside him it means following their successful completion of run / bike / run a fortnight or so ago we now stand at 111.4 miles, just over a tenth of our mammoth total in the bag. So with that, I hand you over to him to tell you the story of how it all went.
When we started all the fundraising promotion I planned to contribute to Joe’s blog on a regular basis and to be honest I have no real excuse as to why this is the first time I have got round to do it. I would love to say I was too busy to do it, but let’s be honest like everyone else, we all have the time if we make it. Truth is I have been too lazy to do it. Like most people after work, after the gym, after my tea it has just being easier to watch the tele for half an hour before bed than to switch the laptop on and get going. I’m a bit annoyed at myself for not getting it done as one of the main positives that I have tried to take from this whole awful situation is that I’ve tried to be more driven in everything I do. I know that in many other aspects of my life I have achieved this enhanced drive, but I need to put more emphasis on keeping up with this stuff and I will try to do that as we move through the calendar of activities.
I am so proud of Joe for completing the first event in Manchester and in such a fantastic time. It gave me a proper buzz and an itch to get started when the Stockton Duathlon came around. The JustGiving fund took a massive boost in the lead up to and the time immediately after the marathon. So much so that we were able to increase the target from £3000 to £5000.
When the fundraising team first got together and discussed doing an event, the idea was to complete the Coast2Coast bike ride. This event was chosen because I had always planned to complete it with my dad and never got round to doing it, and because all of the team have a keen interest in cycling. I also inherited my dad’s old Raleigh racing bike and thought it would be appropriate to complete the events using his bike. Almost feeling like we got to complete it together after all. Anyway as you know the Coast2Coast evolved into a series of events trying to cover a combined 1000 miles.
Joe having completed the marathon made a fantastic start and then The Stockton Duathlon was the next hurdle to overcome. As most of you know I train at the gym pretty much every day any way, so I didn’t do any specific training for the event. The main preparation went into the bike. I put her in at the local bike shop the week before to get an overhaul and a service. While the bike was in the shop there was the small matter of discussing a name for the bike. A long Whatsapp conversation and many inappropriate suggestions later, we settled on “The Silver Bullet”. And with a name me and The Silver Bullet were ready to attempt the Duathlon.
The event had three separate races. A novice race, a sprint race and an elite race. Me and the others from the gym were entered into the sprint race which comprised of a 5K run, 20k bike then a final 2.5k run. Now some may think that this is easy and truth be told I was confident at being able to complete the event, others may think that an event like that sounds like a real challenge. One of those people was Lee.
Lee is a guy from the gym who over the last few years has become one of my closest friends and also got to know my dad really well. They spent time together on my stag do and have been to numerous Sunderland games together. The sprint event in the duathlon represented Lee running further than he had ever ran before, then cycling further than he had ever cycled before, then running the second longest distance he had ran before, bettered only by the previous 5k he had ran at the start. Incredibly brave!!! Or really bloody stupid? Bit of both I would have thought. Only two weeks before the event I taught Lee how to use his gears on the bike, how to get on and off the bike without toppling off the seat and how to gently apply the brakes so it didn’t almost spit him over the handlebars. A couple of days before the event Lee put a really touching status on Facebook that meant a lot to me and Jill, but more importantly added about £400 of donations to the JustGiving pot.
So I’m at the start line of the race. Silver Bullet checked in and waiting patiently for me. Last minute nervous poo done uncomfortably in a portaloo (we’ve all been there mate – Joe). And long footy socks abandoned on the off chance that someone gets an action shot of me and I want my calves to look good (an actual conversation I had before the start of the race). All morning I had been preaching about how it’s not a race, it’s about setting a pace to finish. Anyone who knows me knows that this approach is simply not in my nature and that it’s either give everything you’ve got or don’t bother in the first place.
The hooter goes and within 100 yards I’m picking my way through the crowd as best I can. Another 500 yards and I’m being passed by all ages and sizes of people like I’m standing still. Probably 1K in and the race settled. I found my level and pretty much stuck with the same people more or less all the way round. The route ran parallel with the river, over a bridge and back up the other side. Within minutes I could see the front runners already on the other side of the river, at least 1k in front of me. They were setting a blistering pace. One thing I was really struck by was that you cannot judge the abilities of any of the competitors based on what they look like. Some of the least stereotypical body shapes for this kind of event were completely putting me in my place and I consider myself to be pretty fit.
By the end of the run I was craving the bike section of the race. The run was something I endured, the bike was something I enjoyed. From the second I got on the bike it was an absolute pleasure. I could have done another 20k of that ride I was enjoying it so much. There were just under 400 competitors in the event, so you were constantly overtaking people and being over taken by people on bikes worth thousands, with helmets on with pointy bits at the back. On my way round I passed Mary who was part of our team on her Miss Daisy mountain bike. Her bike was an Apollo that was almost as old as me and was only held together with rust. When we put it in the van on the morning the front wheel fell off (not joking). Then I caught up with Lee (the most nervous cyclist I’ve ever seen) so I poked a finger up his bum on the way past. That was met with various swear words. Then I past Joanne who has the biggest mouth ever and screams “here Jonny I don’t know how I’m going to be able to run after this”. It’s safe to say that the proper athletes in this race were not warming to us.
Getting off the bike and setting off to run again was one of the strangest sensations I’ve ever had and one of the hardest things I’ve done in fitness. I literally felt like I couldn’t convince my brain that I was off the bike, so the only range of movement I had was a pedalling action for at least 500 yards. With the finish line in sight I put my head down and made sure that no one was going to overtake me at that late stage. I crossed the line in a time of 1:19:03 which was a hell of a lot faster than I had predicted. I was able to then sit back and clap my team mates as they completed the race and crossed the line with an equal sense of achievement. I want to say thanks to Dave who finished in 1:21, Joanne who finished in 1:31 and Steve, Lou, Gemma and Craig for coming to support us.
Finally back to Lee…and Mary. The sprint race set off at 11am and had till 1pm before the elite race started and at 12:58 there was still no sign of Lee or Mary. All the crowds had gone over to watch the start of the elite race apart from me, Dave, Joanne, Steve and Lou. Then we spotted them coming over the bridge in the distance. Lee and Mary finished dead last in a time of 2:05:34. But. They fucking finished. And I’m proud and really grateful for everything that they put themselves through for my dad.
So that’s event #2 in the bag and as soon as day follows night, the next event is already looming ominously on the horizon. May 22nd is the Great Manchester Run as I return to a race I have not run since 2009 along with Jonny and his sister, all running for #TeamMND as we continue in our challenge to hit 1000 miles for Motor Neurone Disease.
Photos © TriHard Events