While thousands of people were lining up to take part in 2009’s Edinburgh Marathon I was setting out on a marathon of my own. This was to be no mere 26.2 miles but an odyssey of 208 miles. In the Scottish Year of Homecoming I decided to put a twist on it and to travel from my house in the Scottish Borders to my Mum’s house in the suburbs of Manchester on foot.
I was raising money for the Arthritis Research Campaign, something of a personal cause for me as my Mum suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, but to be honest the real reason that I was doing it was just to see if I could. What’s more; I very nearly didn’t even set out.
Running in the Dunbar Boundary Race earlier that year I tore my Gastrocnemius in my right leg in the second mile of the race. A lot of physiotherapy and even more patience saw me through but I had missed out on almost three months of training, and so I stepped out of my front door and headed on my way on 29th May with more than a little trepidation.
My route took me over the Lammermuirs and down to Kelso on the first day. My support team of my wife and baby daughter met me on the road a couple of times for water refills, food and to keep my spirits up. The weather was glorious and all was going well.
Somewhere in the depths of the Scottish Borders I turned down a narrow road and headed past a farmhouse and some barns and kennels. The dogs were baying and howling as I wandered through. A few minutes further down the road I heard a car heading towards me. I stepped out of the road to let him by, and watched as it inched slowly towards me. The car stopped next to me and the driver wound the window down and asked me where I had come from and where I was going. It was a little unnerving. I was wondering where he had come from and why he had stopped, but I told him what I was up to and to my surprised he handed me a £5 note! He then wished me luck, drove a little way down the road, turned around and headed slowly back the way he had come!
Day two started where the previous day had ended, outside Kelso Abbey. My feet and legs were a little sore as I headed to Jedburgh before cutting across and through Wauchope forest. As I turned into the road that would take me up and through the forest to the day’s end at Saughtree Farm I found the way blocked by a Police car. The Constable told me that the road was closed because there had been a road traffic accident. He agreed that I could carry on but to be careful for fast moving emergency vehicles.
I trotted along the leafy lane for a while until I heard the unmistakeable sound of a helicopter. Looking up I saw the bright yellow rescue helicopter from RAF Boulmer. I got my camera out to try to photograph it and then as I was putting it away, while still running, I lost concentration and came crashing onto the tarmac as I turned my ankle on the unmade edge of the road.
I bounced back up onto my feet, looking around to make sure that nobody had seen me fall, dusted myself off and carried on. I followed the road uphill for miles until I came to an S bend. There in front of me was the reason for the road block that I passed earlier. Another Police car was sitting off the road. On the verge next to it was a smashed up motorbike and a set of race leathers. Obviously someone had come around that set of bends too quickly and ended up in the verge. The leathers had been cut off the rider and left by the side of the road. Sobering
On day three I headed from Saughtree Farm down to Newcastleton, across Kershope Burn into England and then across country via Easton to Carlisle. Somewhere near Easton I looked out across the low country ahead of me and felt absolutely exhausted at the thought of getting into Carlisle. The going over the next few miles was easy but I was so tired it was all that I could do to keep going.
The support crew met me at Blackford and I took the opportunity of a few minutes rest while I filled my water bottle and had some food. They left me to my own devices again and I walked the rest of the way into Carlisle. From Blackford it is a straight shot down the A7 into the centre of the city. The weather was still hot and sunny and for the first time I had to walk for miles along a busy road at rush hour. This seemed to take an age but I eventually reached the railway station and my stopping point for the day.
By now I was sore, tired and a tiny bit blistered. Undeterred I set off on the fourth day, straight down the A6 to Shap. This was the most tedious section of the route and the most dangerous in terms of traffic. My right foot was giving me some problems early on but it eased and I plodded slowly on in the baking sun grinding out the day’s mileage.
Not surprisingly I met very few people on the road once I left Carlisle. Passing through Penrith I was surprised by the number of young women walking around pushing baby buggies. For some reason there seemed to be a disproportionate number of them. I plodded on through Clifton (which claims to be the site of the last battle on English soil, a claim that is disputed but they’ve got a nice sign) where we were staying for the night. Unfortunately for me I had to push on through the village and slog another 7 miles to Shap.
That evening as I went for my dinner I couldn’t put weight on my right foot. A bruise had formed the length of it and I was left hopping around. Things were the same the next morning and I decided to forego the morning’s plodding and go to the local hospital to have it checked out. The good news was that it wasn’t broken and there were no stress fractures. The bad news was that it was badly sprained from a fall two days earlier and that I was not going to be able to cover the remaining 88 miles.
The question that was begging to be answered was should I retire gracefully and return one day to face the challenge again or should I find some way to complete the remainder of the route under my own steam? Perhaps I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer but I decided that the best thing to do would be to cycle the remaining distance in one day. But I didn’t have a bicycle.
After quickly retracing my steps in the trusty support vehicle I returned to Shap with my neighbour’s mountain bike. Not the ideal type of bike to use to cover 88 miles on the road as I was to find out. The weather had turned nasty and I spent the day labouring under leaden skies. The perceived wisdom is that what goes up must come down but it felt as though I spent most of the day climbing. From Shap to Kendal, through to Carnforth.
From there I headed to Lancaster and over to Preston. Between Preston and Bolton I had to contend with the West Pennine Moors, at one point being overtaken by a fell runner, before the final blessed relief of heading downhill to the Trafford Centre and the last few miles to my Mum’s house. I crossed the finish line to the damp and muffled cheers of my family. The heavens had opened as I passed through Bolton and the roads were awash. Some soggy barbecued chicken was thrust into my hand along with a well-deserved beer. As for me I was tired and my backside was sore and swollen but I had done it.
208 miles in seven days, and a good chunk of money raised for charity.