After a night shivering in our tent in some decidedly autumnal conditions (!) we set off for the penultimate marathon at 8 am. We met Bob Arnold and his wife, friends from Farlington School in which Hannah and I teach, at the start and I endeavoured to warm up my weary legs. I have told the old pins that there are only 52.4 miles left and that they need to behave themselves accordingly... Bob is a keen runner who has represented the UK in the past and managed an eye-wateringly fast half-marathon time of 1 hour 10 minutes in his younger years. With Bob for company on the road I decided to push-on today and see if we could break the four-hour mark. The marathon tomorrow will not be fast I suspect as we will be mixing with the bustling central London traffic so today was a chance to up the pace a little. Mindful of the fact that I was hobbling quite badly less than a week ago with a very painful knee, I hoped the legs would be up to a faster run today. Bob was in terrific form and we maintained a strong pace from the start. Navigating through Maidstone, Bob guided us expertly around bus lanes and on towards the M25 London circular. We caught a glimpse of the London city skyline on the horizon with a few miles to go and my eyes lit up –journey’s end within view! The huge drag up a steep hill near Brands Hatch racing track brought back memories of the Alps and although Bob regularly goes out on 8-mile runs his strength after 20 miles was unbelievable. I have huge respect for Bob for coming out with me today and I’ll long remember our somewhat punishing run (!) which we completed in 3 hours and 48 minutes including our drinks stops. I was thrilled to bits to see my parents at the end of the run today. It is 20 years since they have slept under canvas but they are camping with us tonight! I am incredibly excited about arriving in Trafalgar Square tomorrow. The marathons we have completed from Rome have blurred in my mind a little (it’s a dizzying amount of time treading the tarmac!) and things probably won’t sink in until we actually get home. Family and friends have been messaging with such support, encouragement and warmth and seeing everyone in London will be the icing on the cake and a cracking way to end our journey! I can’t quite believe that Trafalgar Square, which seemed so impossibly remote from our vantage point in Rome 49 days ago, is now just a few hours away!
Our stay near to Folkstone with Phil (who we bumped into whilst running yesterday) did me the world of good. It has been pretty cold at night in the tent in the last few days and sleeping in a proper bed was a treat! We will appreciate every home comfort after 50 days spent mostly sleeping under canvas… The cooler British temperatures meant that we could sleep-in until 8am (the 5 am starts we had in Italy in mid-July seem like an age ago!) and Phil made us a great breakfast. Instead of cereal in the car by the roadside we tucked into sliced English bread, bacon and cups of tea. Despite a sore first mile descending a hill next to the entrance to the Channel Tunnel, I felt surprisingly sprightly today. Just days ago I felt as though I could not put weight down on my right knee at all and today I could actually push the pace a little. We ran across the Kent countryside through Ashford to a few miles south-east of Maidstone in 4 hours and 25 minutes including our snack and loo stops. Hannah insisted on a little retail therapy in Ashford (!) and we have pitched our (still wet…) tent in a terrific site in a village by the name of Wrotham-Heath. The woolly hats are out in anticipation of a cool night under the stars! The penultimate marathon is tomorrow; only 50-odd miles to go; I can’t believe the end of our journey and Trafalgar Square is, metaphorically at least, within sight!
We slept rather fleetingly in our tent last night as the rain lashed down for hours. Thankfully no water came inside and it was dry when we put the tent down and packed up the car in the morning. I struggled for the first 4 miles; the knees felt exceptionally sore! After that I settled into a good rhythm and it was great to see the signposts for Calais showing us that the ferry port was within reach. We could smell the seaweed and hear the seagulls and we were elated to finally see the sea! Despite some heavy downpours we covered the 16.2 miles from our camp site to the port in good time and even squeezed onto an earlier ferry. The chap on the passport desk asked me, "Is there any reason why you are out of your vehicle?" and was taken aback when I said that it was because I had run to Calais from Rome. He shook my hand and wished me well for the journey to London. In the queue for the ferry a British family saw me in my running kit standing next to the car and shouted, "Are you still collecting?" before donating a tenner on the spot. The support and goodwill we have received has been simply unbelievable. On the ferry we picked up a map to guide us to London and gave in to the temptation to eat fish and chips! Upon arrival on home turf we headed up into the hills north of Dover and ran toward Folkstone. The remaining 10 miles passed without too much discomfort and I bumped into a fellow runner, Phil Tapply, who was carrying a huge rucksack and doing a 25-mile training run for a forthcoming endurance event in the Dartmoor National Park. Upon hearing about our escapades over the summer, Phil invited us to stay over for the night and we have been thoroughly spoilt this evening. I have had a soak in the bath (blissful for the legs!), a Chinese take-away and a gin and tonic! I hope I can still get up and cover the 26.2 miles tomorrow... Once again we are touched by the kindness and support shown to us and the journey continues to through up some terrific surprises.
The knowledge that the finish of marathon 41 would leave us just a few hours from the ferry terminal in Calais was a big motivation today! The old legs creaked into action without too much fuss today and the rest day certainly paid dividends during the first 10-miles or so. It was great to be more mobile and with cooler weather the miles passed steadily by. At the 15-mile mark the legs began to seize-up somewhat and by the end I was hanging on in there with a grimace! This is all forgotten pretty quickly though and you recover quite rapidly after you have reached the end... We pitched tents on a site not far from Calais and we are booked onto a ferry tomorrow. I'm really excited to run on home soil and I can't quite believe that Italy, Switzerland and France are so nearly behind us. It has already been a summer rich in experiences that we will never forget!
We treated ourselves to a night in a basic but friendly hotel in the centre of Arras. It was super to step briefly out of the camping routine and even better to have a much needed lie in! I rested the legs today and even ran freezing cold water over them in the shower for as long as I could bare in the hope that it would reduce some inflammation! Anything to keep the legs going for the remainder of the journey... We took the opportunity to visit the battlefields and trenches in Beaumont-Hamel where the Newfoundland and British troops faced the German forces at remarkably close quarters during the Great War. It was really moving to hear that, due to tactical and communication errors, the Newfoundland division bravely went 'over the top' with very little cover. Of the 800 Newfoundlanders, less than 200 made it out unscathed. The British memorial in Thepival was also very poignant; engraved into the wall of the towering monument are the names of some 72,000 soldiers missing from the Battle of the Somme. Upon our return to Arras we discovered that our car bike-rack had been stolen from outside the hotel where we had U-locked it to a post. After a rather expensive trip to a Decathlon store to replace it we had dinner and organised our kit for the final 5 marathons...
The 'run home from Rome' will end in Trafalgar Square (injury permitting!) on Wednesday 31st August at 4pm. PLEASE come and cheer us home as we complete our marathon journey in aid of Marie Curie Cancer Care.
Join us for a drink and a chat in the Chandos Pub on the corner of Trafalgar Square after the finish. We'll be there from 5 pm until about 9pm! Pub address is: 29 St. Martins Lane, Trafalgar Square, London, WC2N 4ER
The marathon today was exceptionally tough! The road was undulating and the weather relatively mild but my knee pain made the run a real battle of attrition. Normally after a creaky start I get in the swing of things and can keep the miles ticking over. Today, however, I felt as though I could not put any weight down on my right leg and I briefly feared that I had reached ‘the end of the road’ on the run home from Rome. It is one thing to get through the day’s marathon but quite another thing to be able to run again the next day and the next week… We had to make a decision about whether to abandon the run and return to Arras to rest for the day. I gave it one more try and after some hobbling along I warmed up enough to sustain a slow but steady pace. 5 hours and 30 minutes later I made it to the end, Hannah cheering me on and supporting me all the way. It’s almost more of a mental battle in these situations – when it hurts more than you thought possible and you know there are still 20-miles to go you just have to take it step by step and dig in. I was elated to finish today as it took a bit of grit and stubbornness to get through the distance. We know that a rest-day is now overdue and, with a day recouping in Arras, we hope that completing the final 5 marathons will be an achievable goal. Only time will tell.
Having now completed 1000 miles on the road from the Coliseum in Rome my legs are certainly feeling more than a little achy! Morning rain showers cleared and I set off trying hard to warm up my sore right knee. We passed numerous WW1 cemeteries; the hard-fought battles in which so many young British men died took place in this area, ‘The Somme’. Alarmingly, on the first day alone of the allied offensive of 1916, 60,000 British soldiers were killed or injured. The landscape today is filled with memorials and cemeteries – the sheer scale of the loss-of-life is hard to comprehend. The marathon today took 4 hours and 45 minutes and took us to the city of Arras. Hannah did a magnificent job of navigating us through the town centre and continues to be unbelievably supportive. We enjoyed some evening sunshine and a drink in the main square and I tried to keep the calorie count up with a pasta meal followed by a banana and chocolate crepe!
We managed to cook a fine bbq last night just before the heavens opened. It was a really typical summer storm; the rain came down in terrific quantities and the camp site was rather flooded! This continued throughout the night and the sound of thunder and torrential rain from inside our little tent seemed LOUD! After dodging a hail storm in the morning we started marathon 38 under fairly dry conditions. The first hour was marked by knee pain (now a familiar companion on the road!) and an inability to get the joint moving freely. For a couple of hours I managed to drag my thoughts away from the knee although I was hanging in there for the last 8 miles or so. I was lucky to have a dry marathon today and the cloudy sky was a god-send keeping the heat at bay. On the 23-mile mark, running out of Peronne, the road went up a huge hill... I got there in the end! A closer look at our map revealed that there is indeed 4 more marathons to Calais although I would very much benefit from a final rest day soon. Our estimated arrival day in Trafalgar Square (barring any worsening injuries!) is WEDNESDAY 31ST AUGUST. We will work out an arrival time ASAP in case anyone can come and cheers us in! Our run today happened to end just outside a vast French WW1 cemetery and we took the opportunity to visit it. We also went to the Commonwealth War Cemetery and a graveyard in which over 11,000 German men were laid to rest. The front-line was right here from 1914-1918 and the numerous lines of graves bear testament to the great losses suffered on all sides in The Great War.
Our tent was packed in the car swiftly this morning and we set off to the start point at 7 am. Fortunately it remained a cloudy day today and this made the running easier. The road we followed was very straight, pretty hilly and full of fast-moving lorries. At times I had to jump onto the verge to avoid the trucks and the wind they create as they speed by is ferocious! It was tough to look a few miles ahead and see the hills I’d be working my way up…My right knee continues to misbehave. Unlike the muscle pain I experienced in Italy, this niggle does not feel like it will go away very quickly. I am coming to terms with the possibility that I’ll be nursing the injury for the remainder of the journey. The prospect of running 200 or so miles in pain fills me with dread and we’ll have to see just how things unfold! Whilst I certainly do not want to risk long term knee damage, it would be a crying shame to stop now with Calais a mere 5 marathons away! I kept the legs going today and hung in there to finish in 5 hours. Hannah kept me going with snacks and water and after finishing and stretching my leg muscles we drove ahead to a campsite in Peronne. Having run past several WW1 memorial cemeteries so far we were keen to visit the Great War museum in the town. Much of the brutal trench warfare of the Battle of the Somme took place in this part of France and the figures of the death toll are simply horrendous: there were in excess of 1 million casualties and it was one of the bloodiest military operations ever recorded.