The last leg

I must have started writing at least three or our four blogs this year with words along the lines of “I don’t even know where to start with this one” or “this is one of the hardest blogs I’ve ever had to write”, but this time it’s truer than ever. It really has been. The fact that it’s taken me until nearly the end of the year to report back on September’s Great North Run tells its own story but I mean, seriously. How can I adequately sum up all that’s been achieved this year?

Last autumn I began working with Jonny and various people at the Motor Neurone Disease Association putting this mad plan together. As we went along and the scale of the thing rapidly escalated we began to worry if we were taking on a bit too much. How on earth would we be able to fit in all the training for all these events around our already busy lives? Was 1,000 miles a ridiculous figure to aim for? Was £3,000 a realistic total to try and raise? Would we even hit the £1,400 to ensure we covered our golden bond places for the events we were entering through the MNDA? Were we all absolutely bloody insane?

So now, over a year later, with the ground frozen, the trees once again bare and those warm summer evenings on the bike but a distant memory, we can all sit here and reflect on exactly what the bloody hell it is that we all went and did. To sum up: we achieved all we set out to do, and then some. Our band of brothers (and, literally, a sister) have signed off for the year with 1085.77 miles in the bank and a grand total of £8095.89 raised across the two fundraising pages. It is, safe to say, far beyond any of our wildest dreams how it all panned out.

Even trying to sum up that singular, final event is a challenge in its own right such was the high emotion of the day, as Jonny and Hayley completed their first (and almost definitely their last) half marathons running The Great North Run in tribute to their old man on the very roads he trod when he took part back in 1991. Fittingly the last few steps of the year were those of Hayley, proudly wearing the medal round her neck that Neil had earned on that day 25 years ago.

Along with a big crowd of MNDA runners taking part (around 300 according to the charity themselves, their biggest ever showing), the four of us running for Team Neil were the same four from the Great Manchester Run back in May as I joined Jonny and Hayley along with their friend Steve, although due to a late transferred entry he ran this one as a female veteran under the name Debra. Not a bad thing in all fairness as “she” came home in 119th in her category and I’m sure we’re all now looking forward to her appearance at the World Championships in London next summer.

From my own point of view, I had a cracking day out. I’ve always said a half marathon is my favourite distance, providing a good but manageable challenge rather than the full-on six month mental commitment of the whole 26.2 mile job. And yet I’ve only ever done three, and none since Liverpool over three and a half years ago. I’ve done two bloody marathons since then (well, nearly). But if I was going to do any half marathon to get back into it, it might as well be the Great North Run. Not only for the hugely significant reasons mentioned further above, but also because quite simply it’s a fantastic event to be a part of. The weather is usually decent (if a little too warm for my liking on this occasion) and the crowds are amazing, pretty much from start to finish. This year was even better than I remember from my last race here in 2009, with almost every stretch of road teeming with supporters clapping, cheering, shouting your name or trying a low five. The kids with water pistols and hoses were extremely welcome running in the middle of this late summer’s day, easily the warmest race I’d ever run, and there was never a shortage of sustenance on offer: jelly babies, oranges, ice pops, sports drinks and most importantly of all, water.

Best of the lot were these lads who’d set up a beer stop around mile 10 and although I’d personally have preferred an icy cold lager on such a warm day, the logistics of them managing that probably weren’t really feasible and in the end the cup of stout provided was still a surprisingly satisfying option ahead of the final 5k. It did the job; after this brief splash and dash pit stop I felt suitably invigorated and put in probably the strongest ever final stint I’d done for a half marathon, absolutely mullering the last mile along the coast and finishing with a huge Mo Farah sprint finish over the line. I was left to reflect on a race I’d enjoyed rather than endured, savoured rather than struggled with. Yes it was hard work at times (SO WARM) but for once it was great to run without the usual horrible pressures of trying to hit a time target or whatever. I took my time to appreciate things on the way round; bands, spectators and, er, beer. And it was all the better for it, probably one of my favourite ever races, although finding out later on that I’d finished four places outside the top 1000 made me rue that beer stop somewhat but there we go.

As with the Manchester 10k back in May, I tried to head back down the last mile to try and catch the rest of the crew come in but by the time I’d got my bag from the baggage buses it had all gone a bit hectic around the finish area so I just sat in the sun for a bit getting burnt and waiting for them all to roll in one by one. I was so absolutely delighted to see each of their little (red, sweaty) faces after they’d finished, especially Jonny and Hayley as they both achieved something they had never, ever done before. A half bloody marathon. 13.1 miles, in 20 degree heat, all the way from the A167(M) in Newcastle to the coast in South Shields. They had done their old man proud, an absolutely huge effort from both of them to round off the 1,000 miles for motor neurone disease challenge. Bringing it all home in absolutely epic style.

It’s frankly unbelievable what’s been achieved this year. The sums raised are mind boggling and go so far beyond what we ever thought could be possible, well over double that initial target of £3,000. I remember Jonny grabbing me earlier this month, late on my wedding evening after a few beers, and saying how grateful he was for everything and how much it meant to him what we’d all achieved together for his dad. I said then what I’ll say here now – it was an honour and a priviledge. It’s easy to say nice things about people after they’re no longer with us but it’s not merely a simple platitude to say that Neil Scott was one of the best blokes I ever met. One of the lads as much as my mate’s dad. An absolute gent in all walks of life, you only had to see the numbers that turned up at his funeral last summer to see just how many people thought so very highly of him, the church packed to the rafters with friends and family stood in the aisles with all the pews full to the brim. It’s terribly cruel and sad what happened, but as Jonny wrote earlier this year, “if there is any good to have come from this crappy situation it’s that I feel motivated to try and help sufferers and their families in similar situations. This can only be achieved by raising funding for technology, care, research and raising awareness.”

Hopefully we’ve done that. Aside from the incredible generosity of everyone who has chucked into the donations pot, I’d like to think we’ve done our bit to highlight to as many people as we can just what a shitty disease MND is, which in itself will hopefully help generate more awareness and subsequently more fundraising in the future. I’ve had many, many conversations with various people over the course of the year about what happened to Neil and about what they know about MND in general, and certainly now the one thing I realise above all is how common it actually is, with several friends and work colleagues since coming forward to say they too know of someone suffering or having passed away.

As Jonny highlighted in his first contribution to this blog, the cruellest thing about this absolute knob of a disease is the fact that there’s no cure, and that’s why it is that we did all it is that we did. Since very early on in the fundraising we’ve been members of a Facebook group with people who regularly run events for the Motor Neurone Disease Association (some of them taking part in many, many more than we have this year), and their slogan is simple: there’s no finish line until there’s a cure. People will continue to do what they do for the MNDA because it needs to be done. For a disease which affects so many more people than I ever realised (I think the odds of developing MND can be as low as 300/1 or something terrifying like that), the MNDA are a relatively small charity and so hopefully all the money we’ve raised this year will make a real difference and help them continue to keep doing their thing.

So that’s 2016 then. A lot of people will go on about what a shite year it’s been, as the entire political landscape shifted towards some sort of bizarre apocolyptic nightmare, not to mention celebrity after celebrity popping their clogs, but I can’t help but feel immensely pleased with how everything went in all other aspects of life (and not just because I finally got married four weeks ago). An absolutely incredible year with so many people involved in what we did, from those who took part in events, to those who supported us, clapped us on, carried and fixed our bikes, fed and watered us and drove us to the pub after 70 soggy miles in the saddle. The fantastic fundraising team at the MNDA who always made an effort to contact us before, after and sometimes during our events to encourage us and thank us for all we were doing. Our friends and families and my beautiful lady friend wife who put up with us all droning on all year about cleated pedals, tyre pressures and energy gels, who never said anything when we pulled out of social events or left early due to training commitments. Those of you who’ve donated and helped us raise this mammoth total. Every single one of you have had a hand in this amazing year, and it just goes to show what can be achieved when you have a great bunch of people all pulling in the same direction, aiming for a singular goal. It’s been an absolute pleasure being a part of it.

And so with that, it’s only right that Jonny should close the year with his final contribution to the blog. See you all in 2017. x

“There’s no way I can match how eloquently Joe has captured the feelings of completing these challenges through the last year so I’m not going to even try. All that’s left for me to say is a few much deserved thank yous.

“Thank you to all the donators throughout the year for making such a massive contribution. Thank you to the MNDA for all their support and encouragement towards every event. Thank you to Dan, Si, James, Gaz and Steve for willingly and so enthusiastically being dragged into all this. Thanks to the extended team of Dave, Joanne and Lee for their efforts at the duathlon. Thanks to my sister Hayley, who I know needs no thanks because completing this years fundraising is as important to her as it is to me. But mainly thanks to her for sharing the experience. Thanks to my wife Jill for the same reasons Joe was thanking his wife, but also thanks to Lucy my daughter who arrived right in the middle of all this madness and had to put up with me disappearing to train fairly regularly. Finally I’m not exaggerating to say that the biggest thank you has got to go to Joe. None of this would have been possible if it weren’t for him. I recently got the opportunity to spend some time with Joe’s dad at his stag do and wedding and we chatted a couple of times about all the events that we have done. I grabbed this chance to tell him how much help Joe had been and how much I appreciated everything he had done and I could tell that it’s something that he is really proud of Joe for doing. I bumped into a lot of old friends from university at Joe’s wedding and had a lot of conversations about the fundraising and what cropped up time and again is that I’m so happy that we actually did it. I think a lot of people talk about doing this stuff then one thing comes to another, life takes over and it never happens. But we actually did it! This is in no small part down to Joe. If it wasn’t for his persistence pushing me in the right direction this year and keeping the whole thing on track I would be one of those “I always wanted to do” people.

“The thing that I am going to take with me beyond this year is that there were some really dark times during the challenges. Times where everything hurt and you were just inside your own head trying to convince yourself take one more step or turn the pedal one more time when all you want to do is stop and curl up in a ball till someone rescues you. But it was during those times that I just had to think what it was all about and why we were doing the whole thing. I swear I got such a boost from that thought that I could almost feel a hand in the small of my back pushing me along. I don’t ever want to lose that drive, determination and motivation to achieve whatever it is that I set out to do and it’s something I hope to pass on to my daughter Lucy.”

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