Blogging from the other side...

Posted on: 30 Nov 2017

Well I have no idea how long it is since I last blogged.  And I’ve only once or twice looked on here very briefly over the past year too.  I’ll get round to blogging about me at some point soon hopefully but this one is not about me.  However, I feel compelled to blog after what I witnessed a couple of weeks ago from 3 (yes 3!!) incredible men during the escape from Meriden.

I’ve always enjoyed spectating/supporting at a running event from parkrun to a marathon.  There is something about seeing people giving it their all that often makes me feel emotional.  But this was an altogether different experience supporting Jim and David doing Escape from Meriden.  And I mention 3 incredible men as HOBS deserves the upmost praise for his sterling support on the Friday night/Saturday too.  More of which I will come on to later.

So Jim and David were setting off at 12.00 midnight on Friday from the centre of the country – Meriden.  The aim was to run all the way home to Manchester in 24 hours.  David has meticously plotted the route and recce’d  most of it in sections over the weeks beforehand.  HOBS had very kindly offered to provide support from them through the night stopping at various agreed points to feed and water them.  I was due to take over the supporting baton in Stone at 11.30 ish at which point HOBS would drive back home and I would follow the boys up the rest of the country again providing sustenance and support at agreed points where needed.   Once they got past Congleton I was going to drive home and friends of mine were planning to give me a lift back to the Macclesfield meeting point where I’d run the last 10 miles or so with them back home.

I set off on Saturday morning and drove through the beautiful Cheshire countryside with the sun shining and I was feeling excited about the day ahead.  I met HOBS at the rendezvous point with around 20 minutes to spare and got a full handover briefing from him.  I then set off down the canal to find Jim and David.  I found them quickly and guided them off to where our cars were parked where they had lunch and a stretch etc.  They both seemed in surprisingly good spirits and good form.  David needed to put blister stuff on his feet and it did take him forever just to get his socks off and back on again! They had a stretch and then they were off.

The next stop point was 12 miles away, however HOBS suggested that I check in on them somewhere else in between to make sure they were OK.  Great idea in theory although they were running along the canals of Stoke-on-Trent by now and it was surprisingly hard to find a point to park and access the canal amongst the dual carriageways and ring roads etc!  I decided to go to the meeting point first of all so I at least knew where this was and then try to work backwards a few miles so that I could check in on them earlier.  After a couple of failed attempts to find an access spot to the canal I managed to find one!  I had my running gear on so again set off down the canal to find them.  Again when I did find them they were in good spirits but were walking by now.  David was injured and was struggling to run therefore they figured that quick walking would make more sense.  I think that I was with them for around a mile before getting back to the car and leaving them to get to the ‘official’ check point.

By now they had decided that getting all the way home wasn’t going to happen, therefore they were going to aim for the gold medal instead (60 miles as the crow flies but around 78 miles in total).

I got a text a bit later saying they thought that they’d be at the next checkpoint by 3.45 and wanted to get away by 4.00.  Therefore I got everything ready that I thought they’d need and got the car as near as possible to the canal.  They again seemed well but obviously very tired when I saw them.  They wolfed down bread with peanut butter and jam; coffee; coke and crisps and applied anti-chaffing cream in appropriate places.  They were just about set off HOBS called to say that he had found a way that they could shave off around 6 miles to get the gold medal.  But it would mean taking a different route for the last bit than they had planned.  HOBS said that they had to go the same way for the next couple of miles still during which time he would work out the route properly and send them and me all the details (along with suggested stopping points for me).  This man had only had around 2 hours sleep but was still looking after them.  From this point HOBS effectively became race HQ whilst I was ‘ground staff’!

The problem facing the boys now was that the next couple of miles were the only ones that David hadn’t been able to recce and he was worried about getting lost as they had to come off the canal for a bit and make their way through a park.  The canal started again in Kidsgrove, therefore we agreed that I would drive to Kidsgrove and wait there so that I would be nearby and on hand if there was a problem.  It was now dark.  I found that the access to the canal was by Kidsgrove train station which was lucky as it was well lit and I felt safe parking there.

I was in my car blob watching and those blobs were going very slowly.  They seemed to take forever.  Then David called to say that they were lost and wanted me to help navigate them.  My problem with this of course was that I couldn’t speak to him at the same time as look at the map on my phone.  I called HOBS to see if he could look on his computer and speak to them and was also about to message you guys to see if you could help.  But luckily David called back to say that they’d found their way.  When I saw that they were close I got out of my car to find them so that I could point them to the canal entrance (I don’t think they ever would have found it otherwise!).  When I found them this time I was immediately worried.  They had had an awful couple of hours and were both clearly very fed up.  I hope they won’t mind me saying that they were also delirious by now and ‘out of it’.  They’d not slept for 36 hours or so were obviously exhausted and were also physically battered.  I guided them to the canal access then they asked me a question that I wasn’t expecting “which way do we go?”.  I told them it was left and they were both unsure and questioned if this was correct.  I’d not even given this any thought as it was obvious to me as I’d been staring at the map on the phone a lot over the preceding hour and had slept during the past 24.  However, suddenly I doubted myself and felt an enormous sense of responsibility!  On the outside I stayed calm and showed them on my phone to reassure them but inside I was thinking “f**k” what if that’s the wrong way!!! 

Then they had to walk down a flight of steps to get onto the canal path and alarm bells were ringing for me as David needed help getting down them.  Then they were off.   My heart sank for the two exhausted and broken men setting foot along a canal path in the pitch black.  I didn’t share this with them but I was very worried by now.  They had 11 miles from this point to the gold medal.  David suggested that I could drive to the finish point and meet them there, however, I wanted to check in on them more often than that.  I drove to a pub car park around 2.5 miles away thinking that it might take them an hour to get there.  David phoned me within a couple of minutes after I left them to apologise (not that there was anything to apologise for!) and reassure me that they were both feeling better now that they’d got back onto the canal.  This reassured me greatly and I sat happily in the pub car park waiting for them.  They wouldn’t have known where I was parked so my plan was to pop up and check on them as they got very close.  However, very annoyingly I kept losing my internet signal so couldn’t tell where they were (I didn’t want to wonder down the canal in the dark to meet them if they were still miles away).  Once again I called in help from HOBS to ask if he could have a look and get a sense of how close they were to me.  He thought that they were still some distance away at that point.

Then I got a call from Jim.  They had decided that they needed to stop.  I have to say that I was relieved.  I assumed that they would be pretty close to me by now so I set off looking for them.  Now this probably wasn’t the wisest decision I’ve ever made but I got onto the canal path on my own in the dark with just the torch on my phone for light.  After what seemed like ages I still hadn’t got to them so I called Jim to check that they were still on the canal.  Eventually I came across them and oh my goodness it was not a pretty sight.  David was wrapped in a foil blanket; shivering like crazy; and it’s no exaggeration to say that he could barely walk.  I put my arm round him to try and warm him up and also hold him up (which apparently Jim had been doing before I got there).  He was shuffling soooo slowly that he was getting colder.  I even tentatively said at one point that I was sure he’d already thought of this but if he could just walk a tiny bit quicker he would warm up a little.  I talked crap to try and take his mind off things and  Jim had dropped back a bit behind us.  There was one comedy moment when I turned round to ask Jim a question and he’d disappeared!!  Thankfully he’d just stopped to do something on his phone rather than had fallen into the canal!!

After what seemed like an age we got to where my car was parked. We had to cross a tiny bridge to get to the car.  Once we got to the bridge I went ahead (a few yards) to get the engine on to warm the car up.  I turned round and poor David had come to a stand still as he couldn’t walk down the tiny slope to the car.  I literally had to go back to get him.

We set off home and David fell asleep in the back on the journey home.  Jim remained surprisingly chatty!

I asked David to promise me one thing before he did this run: that if it got too much he’d pull out.  In the end it wasn’t even a choice for him as it was clear to me that he couldn’t go a step further and should have stopped miles before he did.

So it was a long day for me with many hours sat around in a cold car; driving around; and running along bits of canal but I truly loved it and was very happy to be there for them.  I’m very very humbled by what they did that day.

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