Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Day 16 review - In the safety of the Peloton.

The Pennine Challenge run was due to start at 09:00 and the Northern Rock runners and I got underway just 10 minutes late after a few photos and a bit of a laugh and catch up.

It was good to see the one and only Jimmy Bell at the start. Regular readers will know that Jimmy has had to fight his own battle recently and is on the road to recovery following treatment for cancer. Jim turning up to support the team was, on its own, enough to give me a boost and I'm sure the other runners felt the same too. I had a further boost when I saw all the other runners including Ian "The Coach" Glasgow and John Brettell whom I'd been in daily contact with over the previous 15 days. I set off with Michael Dunn, Pete Maddison, Patrick Aynsley-Smythe, Jonathon Jobe, Colin Moore, Paul Jackson, John Mallon, Chris Cowan and, last but not least, Mike Lewis.

I had thought that everyone would run at their own pace (a lot faster than me) but it was obvious from the start that Paul Jackson, Chris Cowan and John Mallon were there to keep me company and ensure that I reached the finish line in one piece. It was akin to the members of a Tour de France cycle team ensuring that the leader in the pack stays safely in the peloton in order to keep the yellow jersey. This was quite appropriate as I was able to wear my new Oakley Lance Armstrong 'Livestrong' shades for the first time. They were a belated birthday present from Katy and Jack. All the gear and no idea! That's me!

We started the run at a pace that I'd not managed for a few days due to my painful shins. The pain killers had kicked in and the route seemed very level for a change. Although, this wasn't actually the case if you look at the elevation profile.

Jacko, Chopper, John and I had a good laugh on the route and this really took my mind off the pain I'd been in over the last few days and indeed would be in when the pain killers wore off.

We soon arrived at the first water stop on Waskerley Way after just 5 miles and we stopped for a few minutes to have a bit of a chat and a drink. Jimmy Bell and his wife Anne were there to wish us well.

The next water stop was at the 8 mile point. Again, we stopped for a drink and a chat with runner Mike Lewis's family who were doing a sterling job at water point 2. This was my kind of water stop with all kinds of goodies on offer. John Mallon took a particular liking to the fig rolls. Once again, Jimmy Bell was there to offer some encouragement. I told the ladies at the water stop that this had been by favourite water stop so far and we were soon on our way again.

We bumped into the first set of Pennine Challenge cyclists about half a mile down the road. Their challenge was to ride from Middleton to Rowley and then back again! Michelle and Mike Paul were helping Rob Caffrey to repair his 2nd puncture of the day. I later found out that Rob had 4 punctures in total over the course of the day and had to give up. A few conspiracy theorists reckoned that he had a packet of tacks in his back pocket. Of course, I refused to believe any of it. He does have a bit of a track record mind. On a recent walk on the Pennine Way he ended up having to get a taxi for 30 miles. That's how Rob got the nickname "Joe le Taxi". Anyway, that's the last we saw of Mike and Michelle until the finish line.

The decent into Stanhope down Crawleyside bank caused my shins a lot of pain. The pain killers had well and truly worn off! To make matters worse I had to try and get across Stanhope Ford where the water levels were very high. Thankfully, I made it across without falling in and it was good to see my mate Keith Parker and his family waiting at the 3rd water stop. Keith had been to the Carlisle/Newcastle match the day before and filled me in with the match details while I was taking on water and more much needed pain killers. There was chocolate at the 3rd water stop so I made a point of telling Gemma (the water stop person) that this had been my favourite stop so far. Gemma is the girlfriend of one of the other runners - none other than Ian "The Coach" Glasgow. Just as we were about to set off again, another Pennine Challenge cyclist, Jim Patterson, arrived. Jim started his journey near the A69 and his mission was to get to Middleton then back to the start point many miles later!

The next section is what I consider to be the business end of the run. There are 2 fierce uphill sections to overcome. The first is a 2 mile 550 ft climb starting with a 17% gradient. The second one is a 2.2 mile mile 700ft climb with a lesser gradient. I've ran up these climbs so many times in training that I no longer have any fear of them.

Still accompanied by John, Paul and Chris I asked them to take the lead at the foot of the first climb. I tried my best to stick with them and the climb was soon complete. Another descent into the next water station followed although not as painful this time.

I had a good feed at the 4th water station which was manned by my wife Katy and son Jack. As we set off again, Jimmy Bell joined the peloton for a few minutes and then I led the pack up the second major climb of the day. I started to feel really good and pushed on a bit with the others following close behind. I was very pleased with the pace I was setting and I think the others were a little surprised that I had it in me considering that this was mile 398 of the overall run.

Once at the next summit and 5th water station I stopped to take a photo and update the blog with news that I'd reached the 400 mile point on the run. How appropriate that the 400 mile point should also be the highest point on the entire 868 mile route. Yet another descent followed and my shins were starting to hurt again.

A few of the runners had gathered at the final water station. They had already finished though! Michael Dunn was there and he had finished the run with a lot of knee pain. So much pain, in fact, that he was unable to bend his knee and had to finish the run in a most parculiar style. His new slim, blond girlfriend was there and she whisked him off to give his injury some "medical" attention in an attempt to get rid of the stiffness (in his knee!!!!).

Mike Lewis joined the peloton for the final 3 miles and Chris, John, Paul and I reached the finish line in Middleton after 5 and a quarter hours of running. Just before we finished we passed Jim Patterson who was cycling back to the A69. Also, the other cyclists Michelle and Mike finished at about the same time as us.

There was a good gathering at the finish on the upper outskirts of Middleton and a most welcome round of applause was lapped up by all of us. After a couple of minutes I led all of the runners into the centre of Middleton and my official end point for the day.

What a day it had been! After thanking Jimmy Bell for his constant road side support during the day and a few more handshakes most of the team made their way to the nearest pub! Pictured in the pub are 2 of the peloton crew, John Mallon and Paul Jackson.

After about an hour in the pub, the final 2 cyclists, Hailey Hunt and Julie Rowles arrived. I got news later that Jim Patterson had finished too. So everyone had finished safely. And not only that, the estimate talked about in the pub was that the Pennine Challenge team had raised £3000 for St Benedict's Hospice as a result of their efforts today.

Everything went so smoothly today thanks to the efforts and organisation of John Brettell and Mike Lewis. Thanks must also go to Mandy Baker, the backup driver, and all of the personnel at the water stations.