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.
We enjoyed our stay in Reims, eating out in the main street and visiting a couple of Champagne caves. We left the town in humid drizzle and I set out on the run with a sense of trepidation, wondering whether my sore knee would hold out. Initially I felt well and truly ‘seized up’ and it wasn’t until the 1-hour mark that I began to limber up. Hannah continues to support me magnificently; she really is amazing! Despite the early starts, Hannah manages to navigate us through France, keep me hydrated and fed whilst on-the-run and take tons of lovely photos and video clips. She has so many super qualities and I am very, very fortunate to receive her terrific support over the summer. It’s safe to say that Hannah will be choosing the destination and nature of our travels next summer!! A key factor in the marathon today was the heat; the rain clouds cleared rapidly at the 10-mile mark and the heat arrived with a vengeance. Memories of Rome in mid-July came flooding back as I huffed and puffed up a big hill! I have been running at around 125 beats per minute of late but my heart rate reached 155 in the humidity today. With an aching knee and sweating from head to toe I really had to persevere for the last 8 miles or so and I was glad to finish the run not long before 1 pm. We have pitched up on the ‘Camping Municipal’ in the town of Laon and, perhaps due to the (relative!) proximity to Calais, there are a few Brits here. We have shared our tales of blisters, mountain roads and the characters we have met along the way and it’s nice to hear some familiar British tones. We hope the riots and looting that people have mentioned remain under control!
With a weather forecast predicting temperature of 30 degrees Celsius and cloudless skies, we struggled out of bed early to avoid the heat. I feared the worse as we had breakfast because I suspect my right cruciate ligament has been aggravated and I was experiencing shooting pains through my leg just walking down our hostel stairs! With heavy strapping I began to walk the first mile and eventually managed a gentle jog. To my amazement the knee seemed to settle down and just kept the legs moving. Despite the rapidly climbing temperatures we reached Reims in 4-and-a-half-hours and returned to the hostel for a much needed siesta. Despite my fears of the knee injury worsening today, it’s sometimes remarkable how the body adapts and you can somehow carry on. With only (!) 10 marathons to journey’s end in Trafalgar Square I really hope I can hold it together and make it in one piece!
My fingers were firmly crossed as we began marathon 34 as my right knee has been giving me some nasty pain in what feels like the area behind the kneecap. I gingerly set off and was pleased to find I could run with only an occasional twinge! Hannah biked the hilly, early miles with me and I loved having someone to chat to on the road. Dave, a good friend from University days in Bristol, joined me later for much of the 42 km and we spurred each other on. Half way through the run Patrice jumped out from behind some trees, running kit on and joined us for several kilometres! He had hidden his car behind a farm house and surprised us all! It was a muggy day with a strong headwind although the rain held off. I was chuffed to complete the 26.2 miles with two super companions and Hannah greeting us all with a big smile at the end. We crammed into the car (3 people, 3 bikes and 3 tents!), drove ahead to the city of Reims, had a quick shower and went to see Dave off as he had to return to London today. Reims is the capital of the Champagne region and Dave treated us to a glass of bubbly before cycling to the station. He has brought much to our adventure in the last week and his companionship on the road and his fun-loving spirit will be greatly missed by Hannah and I.
My right knee was tremendously sore towards the end of marathon 33 and we made the decision to take a rest day today in Bar-Le-Duc. After a lazy morning of croissants and cups of tea we visited a World War 1 memorial in Verdun. Thousands of graves lined the hillside with the names of young soldiers engraved on them. A short film with footage from the trenches served as a poignant reminder of how lucky we are to enjoy all the freedoms we tend to take for granted today. In the evening we loaded the car ready to get back to the marathons once again. Patrice, who joined me in yesterday’s run, visited us on the site with his daughter bringing some gifts. We have met some amazingly generous and supportive people on our journey from Rome!
After a good breakfast in a roadside lay-by, we set off to tackle marathon 33. It was sunny from the word go and it warmed up very quickly today. I enjoyed having Dave or Hannah pedalling along next to me, spurring me on. Hannah had to cycle up a huge hill and Dave has sore feet from his half-marathon with me a few days ago – it’s great to have people sharing my pain I must admit!! Dave managed to plot a route along a lovely canal and we enjoyed this shady path and car-free section of the marathon. At one drink-stop Hannah got chatting to a local French chap (a lorry driver by trade) who, inspired by the story of running all the way from Rome to raise funds for a cancer charity, popped home to get his trainers! Waiting where the canal met the main road in Bar-Le-Duc, Patrice joined me for a few miles. I was thrilled to bits as (with the exception of Dave and Hannah!) Patrice is the first person to accompany me on the road since leaving Rome in mid-July! Whilst running, Patrice told me that his wife sadly lost a childhood friend to cancer recently and that he was inspired by Lance Armstrong who overcame testicular cancer to achieve 7 Tour de France victories. I was really impressed with Patrice’s ‘get-up-and-go’ approach to life and his determination on the run today. He later even drove ahead to meet us and ran the last few miles with me – what a terrific guy! Hannah cycled the 17 miles back to our campsite after the marathon today and after a restful afternoon we tucked into a good old barbeque. I must have met my daily calorie target today as, under a star-lit sky we toasted marshmallows over the coals and ate them squeezed between chocolate digestives long into the evening! Thanks Dad for the recipe!
In comparison to the marathons in the first week or two, when I was hobbling and taping up muscle injuries day after day, I feel stronger at the moment. There are probably several reasons for this – I may have become a bit more conditioned to running the marathon distance, the temperature is a little cooler presently here in France and the terrain is less hilly. Importantly too, I have been lucky enough to have support this week from both Dave and Hannah and having some company whilst running has been terrific! Whilst one person drives the car ahead, the other can run or bike along with me. I have been in fits of laughter at times and we have a super spirit with lots of joking and ‘leg-pulling’! I have also been taking-on all my marathon food on-the-run and I have been trying to constantly keep moving during the last hour in particular as stopping for a drink makes my legs seize up and it is murder to get them going again! This has enabled me to complete the marathon distance more quickly in a little over 4 hours. Today we moved on to a town called Bar-Le-Duc and pitched our tents on the lovely ‘Camping Municipal’. Our pitch looks out over a former Chateau (now actually a library) and the town has some great Renaissance architecture and good views. Dave has mentioned he’d like to treat us to a meal and we hope to bike up to the ‘Haute Ville’ and find a restaurant with a terrace and a view this evening!
We had a few problems converting the video clips from marathon 24, a rainy run in Switzerland. Hannah has worked her magic on the internet and the video clips are now below!
Right people, John’s mate Dave here doing the blog for today. Aren’t they doing well John and Hannah? The fact that they’re still together after more than 30 days on the road living in each others’ pockets is an achievement in itself! Hard graft for these two. Today was just like so many. Up early to the chime of church bells and back on the road. The challenge for John is to keep his weary body going through the pain and discomfort of another 26.2 miles. The challenge for Hannah is to single-handedly ‘run the show’ by providing John with logistical support. Hopefully, I was able to break up their routine a bit today. I’ll be the first to poke fun at John (as every good mate should) for setting himself such a demanding challenge and then complaining when his body threatens to break down (if you set out to do 50 marathons in 50 days something’s gotta give - although I can back up one wall comment that John really is looking slimmer than Eddie Izzard!). However, seeing John’s determination and Hannah’s dedication first hand, and trying to run just the odd mile with John through the day, the gags go out the window and I’m filled with respect for what John and Hannah are doing here and the commitment they’re making to the cause. Like John says in one of today’s videos, if you haven’t already donated, please do, and if you’re able to spread the word to friends and family and encourage them to give too, I know John and Hannah would really appreciate it. I’m emailing a few friends myself right now. I better get off now as John’s just made me a cup of tea and I don’t want to drink it cold. Hopefully, he’ll be getting the dinner on soon!
I can’t really believe we have done 30 marathons in just 33 days from the Coliseum in Rome… I am not running completely free of pain in the legs (understandably I guess…) but we somehow seem to be able to carry on and we are slowly but surely working our way across France. I enjoyed the marathon today; I felt strong and found my stride and rhythm within a few miles. We got up early to run before the rain that was forecast for the afternoon arrived. Blessed with warm sunshine for 3 hours, I took on food (fresh croissants!) and water with minimal delay and kept the legs moving. Including a few food stops we completed the run in 4 hours 20 minutes. The heavens opened in the last few miles and, knowing I would be in dry clothes and in the car before very long, I found the rain really refreshing. Some days the last few miles of the marathon are just a plain old battle of attrition, today though I was whooping with adrenaline and grinning from ear-to-ear! My good friend Dave Behar arrived this afternoon to support us for a while. He hopped on a Eurostar to Paris, came by train to Bar-Le-Duc and then cycled 45-miles through rain showers to meet us here in Neufchateaux! We are camping nearby and plan to go out for a bite to eat and a beer (one only for me!) this evening.