Sunday, 17 June 2018

Day 11

The day got underway at 0630 today. I managed to get a lot of sleep thanks to being able to use John’s settee for the night.  As I left Pecica with Chappie, a car pulled up ahead of me and what was playing can only be described as Benny Hill music. At 0630! Very loudly! 

I used a bike track out of Pecica and then it was on to a busy road. I was surprised at how much traffic there was despite it being early on a Sunday morning. I found another bike track off the main road on the outskirts of Arad. As I left Arad a car pulled up and a man got out and handed me a bottle of water. He shook my hand and said “respect”. I think he was German. 

After 7 miles I stopped to make some breakfast. I had 2 portions of all day breakfast. I had to force the food down yet again. I’m finding it really difficult to eat. When I got going again I felt full of energy. The food had done the trick. After 12 miles of running eastwards I took a left hand turn onto the very busy E671. There were thunderstorms headed my way and I knew it wouldn’t be long before they were above me. 

The first thunderstorm hit at the 14 mile point. I found a perfect spot to pull over and climb inside Chappie.

I waited 2 hours for the storm to subside before continuing. I reached Zimandcuz after 17 miles and the next thunderstorm started. I put my waterproof on and it was another mile before I found a safe spot to stay. The “safe spot” wasn’t ideal because it was a muddy field. I emptied the 2 boxes out of Chappie, placed the cover over them and quickly climbed in head first. I managed to take my trainers off and put them under Chappie. By this point it was absolutely lashing down. I somehow managed to turn around in Chappie so that my head was at the hatch end as it should be. 

Chappie’s hatch door was covered in mud and I had to wipe a lot off to be able to close the door. I was exhausted and soaking wet but it was to get worse. Water was pouring into Chappie through the cooking chimney near my head. Thankfully. I was able to place a bag in such as way that the water would be caught. 

It continued to rain for another few hours. With not much daylight left I decided that the muddy field would be be camp for the night. There’s no chance of eating as all supplies are outside undercover. I now face a damp night’s sleep in Chappie. I’m not looking forward to a muddy exit out of Chappie in the morning. 

As I write this, I can see the Mosquitos outside through my window. The hatch is staying firmly shut tonight! The good news is that I’m on target to reach Satu Mare as planned next Sunday. I’ll probably make it to Oradea by Wednesday on this busy E671 then it’s 4 days of quieter roads. 

Today has been very challenging. I think tomorrow may be similar before better weather comes my way on Tuesday. I haven’t been able to treat my feet today despite working hard to get the miles done. 

It appears to be slow progress when you think that I was running 35-41 miles on the last stage of the run Around The World. There are still 1150 miles to the finish line in Moscow. 

Thanks to those kind people who sponsored me today. If you’d like to do so then please visit

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Day 10

I had a decent shallow sleep in Chappie and I was awoken at 0530 by two lorry drivers who were trying to figure out the coffee machine outside the garage. It had been reasonably quiet during the night in Periam but I always seemed to hear every little noise. Sometimes it’s quite nervy sleeping in Chappie. I felt pretty secure last night however. 

I got going at 0615 surrounded by fog. Breakfast was a fruit puree thing, a sesame bar and some nuts.    I was handed some money by an elderly gentleman on a bike in Satu Mare (not the one I’m running to in the north). I got this paid into my Virgin Money Giving page straight away. He spoke no English so he’s simply known as “Man on a bike”. 

The villages of Secusigiu and Munar were next. I decided to cook a ration pack of chicken sausages and beans in Munar. Chappie attracted a bit of attention and people asked me if they could “Make photo?”. The hot food tasted good and I was soon on my way again. 

I turned off the main road at Sânpetru German where another elderly gentlemen told me to “Achtung Thieves”. I had a good 45 minute break in a bus shelter and did my best not to nod off. I was so tired. 

As I set off again, I was accompanied by a man who spoke some good English but inserted Romanian words where he didn’t know what the English equivalent was. The result was a half decent conversation where I told him about my journey and he said that his son was a designer in London. His daughter worked 200 km north of London. By the time I’d had a guess at all of the potential places it was time to say goodbye. He asked if I wanted a drink in the local cafe. I had to politely decline as I’d only just rested. 

The road from Sânpetru German to the river Mures seemed to go on forever. There were lots of commuters on bikes and some families being chauffeured around by horse and cart. There was also the biggest swarm of dragonflies that I’d ever seen. I crossed the river and eventually found my way into Pecica. I stopped for an ice cream on the Main Street. The thunderstorm started soon after and I waited for an hour until it stopped. My schedule dictated that I should reach Pecica by the evering. I was there way ahead of time due to the additional mileage done yesterday.

I made my way out of Pecica and decided to setup camp. The spot wasn’t ideal but I was shattered. 

Just as I’d finished setting up, a man called John drove past and asked me if I’d like some food and a bed for the night. I politely said yes! I parked Chappie at John’s parent’s house and we drove back into town to his house. I met his wife and children before being fed delicious home made soup. Then followed some meat and cheese. John insisted that I have a cognac so, again, I politely said yes. 

I was able to have a shower and my 2 days worth of stinking running kit got a wash. 

The food offerings kept coming and I accepted just a couple of cherries. I’ve really struggled to eat since I set off from Belgrade last week. The downside to today is the state of my feet. I’ve never seen them in such poor condition since the run across Australia. I’m doing my my best to treat them but they are literally falling apart. 

I’m on target to arrive in Satu Mare next Sunday as planned. There’s 8 more days and 161 miles to go. It was 160 but John told me that the road surface on my current route is poor in parts. We replanned on better roads and I’m looking forward to continuing the journey in the morning after a night’s sleep on a settee. Luxury!

Friday, 15 June 2018

Day 9 (Day 5 of running)

I was very pleased to get stage 5 underway again this morning. I felt in really good condition and more importantly so did my feet with all signs of the infection gone. 

Today’s aim was to run 20 miles which would leave enough time to eat and soak my feet. 

Lucian, the friendly Romanian man that I met at the border crossing last week was at the hotel to see me off. His help during my time in Jimbolia has been invaluable. 

I soon made it out of Jimbolia and onto a long straight road towards Grabat. A lady on a bike passed me and warned me that the road was dangerous. She also warned me about the dangerous dogs ahead. I didn’t find the road dangerous at all or see any dogs. 

A man called Nicu offered to make me a cup of coffee on the road to Gottlob. I politely declined saying that I had a mileage target to meet.  

Soon after, I had a rest in Gottlob and coincidentally it turned out to be on a bench outside Nicu’s house. Nicu got to make me that cuppa after all. 

Nicu is a teacher and pastor in the town. It’s the school holidays now so he grows and sells watermelons during this time. 

After Gottlob, I passed through Lovrin and Pesac. During this time I was handed 2 huge tomatoes, 4 bottles of water and 3 sandwiches. The sandwiches were in exchange for a selfie with a pleasant couple who spoke little English. Their little lad was canny and I handed him a leaflet. 

My final destination was supposed to be Pesac but all of the good sleeping spots were occupied by stray dogs. 

I asked a man in the street if there was anywhere safe to stay and he suggested a nearby garage. 

The garage took me to 25.5 miles for the day. Way more than I’d planned to do. 

I asked permission from the garage staff in my best really bad Romanian combined with patronising sign language. They phoned for their English speaking daughter. She arrived and I explained to her what I was doing and that I was simply looking for a safe place to stay. 

She was very helpful indeed and the camping spot for the night is a garage forecourt with some local Romanian scrap collectors camped nearby. They’ve been eyeing up Chappie. Don’t be surprised if I get zero sleep. At least the stray dogs appear to be friendly. 

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

A new end point for stage 5

After looking at potential exit points from stage five of the run around the world I have decided to finish in Moscow. Other options such as Samara and Saratov in Russia were deemed to end too close to my visa running out. I'm not comfortable with that scenario at all. 

I'm scheduled to finish in Moscow on Saturday 1st September which will make stage five 86 days and 1300 miles long. Once I've found a suitable finish line in Moscow I'll update this site. 

The finish in Moscow will serve to setup future stage six to complete the Road To Astana.

Donna will be contacting the British Embassy in Moscow to help try and avoid the type of customs issues that we faced in Belgrade with Chappie.

By my rough calculations, the half way point of my run around the world (10,000 miles) will be hit as I pass through the border checkpoint from Ukraine into Russia. I'll get the exact location nearer the time.  

I'm relieved now, to have a clear vision of where stage five of the run around the world is going to take me. The journey resumes on Friday 15th June. It's going to continue to be incredibly difficult.

These are the key dates:

Belgrade, Serbia to Jimbolia, Romania
4 days. 84 miles. 07/06/18 - 10/06/18

Jimbolia, Romania to Satu Mare, Romania
10 days. 196 Miles. 15/06/18 - 24/06/18

Satu Mare, Romania to Kalush, Ukraine
8 days. 149 miles.  27/06/18 - 04/07/18

Kalush, Ukraine to Zhytomyr, Ukraine
13 days. 247 miles. 07/07/18 - 19/07/18

Zhytomyr, Ukraine to Kyiv, Ukraine
4 days. 85 miles.  21/07/18 - 24/07/18

Kyiv, Ukraine to Krolevets, Ukraine
9 days. 163 miles.  01/08/18 - 09/08/18 

Krolevets, Ukraine to Moscow, Russia
21 days. 369 miles. 12/08/18 - 01/09/18

A new plan needed for stage 5 (part 2)

This is the immediate change of plan for stage 5 of the run around the world. This new schedule covers the first 64 days. I am currently working on the plan for days 65 - 100 and will write about that as soon as possible. Click on each map to see the approximate route.

Belgrade, Serbia to Jimbolia, Romania
4 days. 84 miles. 07/06/18 - 10/06/18

Jimbolia, Romania to Satu Mare, Romania
10 days. 196 Miles. 15/06/18 - 24/06/18

Satu Mare, Romania to Kalush, Ukraine
149 miles. 8 days. 27/06/18 - 04/07/18

Kalush, Ukraine to Zhytomyr, Ukraine
247 miles. 13 days. 07/07/18 - 19/07/18 

Zhytomyr, Ukraine to Kyiv, Ukraine
85 miles. 4 days. 21/07/18 - 24/07/18 

Kyiv, Ukraine to Krolevets, Ukraine
163 miles. 9 days. 01/08/18 - 09/08/18 

A new plan needed for stage 5 (part 1)

I have found myself on many learning curves so far on the run around the world. The current one in Serbia and Romania has proved to be the steepest.

I've always tried to give each stage the best possible chance of success by building slowly, learning lessons and applying what I have learned to future endeavours. In 1993, I ran "around the block". That was successful so I built on that to do the Great North Run. Within 4 years that led to the London Marathon. The New York Marathon followed in 1999 and 2001. I then learned to run 20-30 miles per day for a week and then for 6 weeks with only 1 day of rest. That final effort saw stage 1 of what was to become the run around the world occur from John O'Groats to Lands End in 2007.

With 14 years of running experience it took another 4 years to learn how to increase the repetitive daily mileage to 31 miles. Those 4 years were also spent learning how to put together a running event overseas and also how to improve on fundraising and engagement via social media. Using all of that experience, in 2011, I successfully ran 3100 miles across the USA from California to New York. It was the toughest thing that I'd ever done and I learned so much during the 100 days it took to do it. This was the run when I learned a great deal about how a support team works.

In 2013, my plan was to run up to 41 miles per day across Australia. It was a huge leap in distance and I underestimated how harsh the Australian summer could be to a human being travelling across the country on foot. It was the hottest Australian summer on record and despite facing many issues (including flies and badly injured feet) I arrived on the east coast of Australia only 12 days later than I had originally planned. I really had no right to finish that 2384 mile run but somehow managed to find a way.

It took another 2 years to plan and prepare to run stage 4 of the run around the world. This was originally a 2600 mile route from Lisbon, Portugal to Istanbul, Turkey. For 52 days I was bang on target with the mileage. It was a unprecedented effort which involved a lot of climbing through the Pyrenees and the Alps. 

However, losing to finish line in Istanbul due to a military coup and various support team issues meant that a change of plan was needed. It was decided that the finish line would be in Belgrade which was where stage 5 would start in 2018.

So that's a brief history of my running. Slowly building experience, learning the lessons and putting everything into practice on future events. Since the run across the USA, the continued success of the run around the world has only been possible with support from the likes of SOS Group, Chapman Ventilation, Fresh Freight Group, D-Line, Brooks, Virgin Money and Northumberland Tea.

Back to the present day and here I am on day 7 of stage 5 of the run around the world. What has become obvious to me is that my initial plan to run from Belgrade to Astana in 100 days pulling a buggy while possible, doesn't give me any time to safely look after my feet and nutrition needs. My safety is the primary concern. There is of course, a bigger picture of ensuring that the entire run around the world is a huge success for me, the sponsors and ultimately St Benedict's Hospice.

Having taken delivery of Chappie last September, there simply hasn't been enough time to gain the amount of experience that I've previously needed to ensure success. I knew that I would be straight in at the deep end with this run. I was in even deeper due to the customs issues that saw me only have a couple of hours of preparation with Chappie before setting off during the middle of a day to meet the 72 hour deadline to leave Serbia. It simply wasn't enough time. Imagine, taking off on a long haul flight without doing all of the pre flight checks. That's the situation I was faced with. 

Of course, I was relieved to leave Serbia last Sunday roughly within the timescales imposed on me. The price I paid for that were badly damaged and infected feet. There wasn't any time on any of the three nights that I spent in Serbia to soak and treat my feet. I ran as long as I could each day before either darkness or evening thunderstorms called a halt to proceedings. 

On Sunday evening, in Jimbolia, experience gained from the trans Australia run suggested to me that I should stop running for a few days and give my feet the treatment they need. A combination of antiseptic and tea tree oil soaks have so far worked wonders here in Jimbolia, Romania and I'll be ready to start running again on Friday 15th June after 4 "recovery days".

I've used the recovery days to carry out the necessary preparation of Chappie and also to replan the route ahead. I have factored in enough time to be able to eat and treat my feet properly. There is some contingency in there also and I'm now happy that I have a workable plan to be able to safely continue this journey.

As I said at the start of this blog post, this current stage of the run around the world has without doubt seen one of the steepest learning curves that I've ever faced. So much to learn, endure and experience in such a short space of time. 

Thankfully, I've always been able to "find a way" to succeed. I've seen plan Bs, Cs and Ds put into action to ensure that my journey around the world continues in the right direction.

The next blog post (due in the next 2 hours) will detail the changes that I'll be putting in place for stage five. I just wanted to explain for now the issues I've been faced with and the need for change.

One thing that is certain, is that this 100 day event will continue to be challenging, difficult but ultimately beneficial for St Benedict's Hospice. There will be tougher times ahead and many more stories to tell. It's not going to be easy. When is it ever easy?

I think it's appropriate that I finish off with words from Mark Rowntree, one of the followers on the Run Geordie Run Facebook page. This sums up the situation very well:

"It seems like you are emerging out of a very difficult transitional beginning period, coming to terms with the fact that what you do is extremely difficult. Documenting your psychological journey throughout this time is a great benefit to others, showing the mental discipline, the trust in others, and the moments of doubt, that are all ultimately necessary components in the doing of a hard thing, a very human thing. Thank you and.......Jog on!".

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Meeting the mayor of Jimbolia

It was a great honour for me to be invited to meet the Mayor of Jimbolia (Darius Adrian Postelnicu) today. I talked to him about my journey so far and the reasons behind it. I was honoured to receive a flag of Jimbolia which I'll hang somewhere inside my buggy.

I also gave a short interview to the local media in the Town Hall.

Day 4 - Race to the border

It doesn't seem too unusual these days that I wake up in Chappie in somebody's garden. Day 4 was no exception and I quickly packed up and left to head north on route 12 just before 6 am. It was probably the coldest I'd been overnight so far. Once again, I didn't sleep very well with cats, birds and mosquitos moving around near Chappie.

I checked my messages on the first mile. There were a few panics from various ferry agents who had been in touch to remind me that I had to be out of Serbia by 1100 local time. I simply said that I would try my best to achieve that. At the pace I'd been moving with Chappie, I was on target to get there by 1800! I was happy to try and shave a few hours off that and suffer any consequences at the border.

Donna was alerted to the ferry agent's concerns and, as a result, made Igor (part of the family I met on day 3) aware of the situation. Igor and his father subsequently drove out to see if I was ok and if I needed anything. I told them that I was fine and all that I had on my mind was to reach the border as quickly as possible.

This is very much a solo effort and I'm happy to proceed without assistance of any kind. It goes without saying, though, that any help that I receive around the world is hugely appreciated. As has been proven so far, the unplanned support has been vital.

I gave a thumbs up to Igor and his father as I continued northwards towards the border.  

The roads were very quiet and, 10 miles into the day, I took the opportunity to listen to some music for the very first time on this tour. I simply pressed shuffle and, not for the first time around the world, a song played that was very much in keeping with the current situation. At this point, I wasn't sure that I'd be allowed to take Chappie out of Serbia which would mean the end of the run around the world without any doubt whatsoever.

The song that played was End of Everything by Mark Owen. The lyrics of the chorus started "Is this the end of everything we know?" which made me think that these may, indeed, be the final steps that I could be taking around the world. It could be the end of everything that I and so many other supporters had worked so hard for.

The final lyrics in the chorus "..or the start of something beautiful." immediately gave me some hope and I was able to find an increase in pace. I was determined to get to the border before 6 pm. I was happy to accept whatever fate was once again to throw at me. 

There is a link to the song below. Please have a listen, close your eyes, imagine a red hot sunny Serbian morning and try and put yourself in my position in your mind. Once you've done that, please continue reading.

By noon, I'd managed to do just over 12 miles. That seems to be the benchmark so far on this tour and I need to look to improve on that by a few miles if this run is to be a success. The quicker that I will be able to get the miles done, the more chance I will have to do 2 important things. Firstly, I must take care of my feet. Secondly, I must refuel properly. I haven't been able to do either of these so far  due to the timescales involved in getting to the border, extreme weather, being unable to properly set the buggy up and the late start on day 1. They are reasons and not excuses and I'm happy to move forward in the best way that I possibly can. 

I was pleased to see a sign for Srpska Crnja which is the last town before the border crossing. A man in a passing car stopped to ask what I was doing. I gave him a brief explanation and I was on my way again.

At the 16 mile point, I got talking to a cyclist called Boris as I entered in Srpska Crnja. He was a bee keeper and had been out of work for 6 years despite a masters in traffic technology. He seemed extremely well educated and had attended university in Novi Sad some years prior. His english was very good and he told me of his dreams to cycle far and wide through various countries one day.

I soon left Srpska Crnja and it was a further mile to the border crossing into Romania. The mile seemed to go on and on along a very straight approach to the checkpoint. 

I arrived at the Serbian border at 4 pm Serbian Time. I stood in a queue to get through customs and handed over the transit documentation prepared by the British Embassy in Belgrade. They had been expecting me and my friend, Branko, the customs police officer in Sid had previously given them the heads up that I would be arriving and what my mission was. The next checkpoint was the inspection and stamping of my passport by customs police and I showed them inside the buggy. It all went very well indeed. The staff were very professional, polite and interested in what I was doing. I was very relieved that I had been able to leave Serbia with Chappie without any problems and with a lot of good wishes.

I then approached the border crossing checkpoint into Romania. While I was waiting in the queue of traffic, there was a bus full of children and their teacher asked about my purpose and if it would be ok to take some photos. Naturally and happily I said yes.

A gentleman approached me and asked where I was going and what I was doing. He also asked if I had an injury as he could see me limping. This was due to the blisters on my feet. He looked like Hugh Jackman and spoke very good English. I also noticed another man in the queue, who was leaning in and listening to our conversation. He then joined the conversation speaking in Romanian with "Hugh" and some English to me. He was called Lucian. I asked them if they could recommend any accommodation in the town of Jimbolia which wasn't too far away. I hadn't originally planned to stay there but it was clear to me that my feet were in need of treatment.

Lucian said that I may be able to stay in a local Leisure centre and he would make a call and see me on the other side of the border.

Meanwhile, I presented my passport to the customs police at the Romanian border crossing.  Further questions came my way. These seemed to be very respectful questions born out of a natural curiosity and a genuine interest in this battered and sore Englishman and a buggy attached to him. Just like their Serbian equivalents, the Romanian customs police officers could not have been more polite and professional. I entered into Romania and immediately pulled over at the side of the road to wait for Lucian and "Hugh". 

Lucian told me that I would be able to stay at the Leisure Centre with Chappie and he would meet me there in the hour or so that it would take me to reach it. 

I later found out that "Hugh" had kindly agreed to give Lucian's friends a lift to Timiosara. The delay in getting through customs meant that they were going to miss their train from Jimbolia. They didn't know each other prior to our talks at the border so I was glad that at least someone else, other than myself, was getting some support in some way.

The 2 mile long straight road into Jimbolia was very reminiscent to me of the road into the Serbian town of Sid after the crossing from Croatia. This road seemed to go on forever. 

Relive 'Day 4 - Race to the border'

As I approached the town's sign I suddenly felt like I was dragging a ton weight. All of a sudden, I had to increase my effort 10 fold. Then I heard, a strange noise coming from the rear right side of Chappie. It was immediately obvious, that Chappie had a puncture.

"Ah, come on!" I shouted. I managed to literally drag Chappie into the Leisure Centre where Lucian was waiting for me.  

Lucian and I unpacked Chappie and loaded him into the Leisure Centre. It was deserted. It was very warm in there and there were a lot of flies buzzing around. I think that there had been a handball tournament held there previously that weekend. 

Lucian showed me the accommodation which was very basic, stifling hot and full of flies. However, to me, at that time, it felt like a five star hotel. Faur left me with some pork wrapped in cabbage that his wife had made and some bread. Once I managed to get a shower, I ate them very quickly. They were absolutely delicious.

The night that followed was possibly the most difficult that I have ever spent of any around the world so far. I opened a window to try and let some air in. It was as hot that night as some of those that I'd experienced during the run across Australia. Horribly and uncomfortably hot. I'm guessing it was around 33 - 35 celsius in the dormatory where I was sleeping. The room was full of mosquitos and if it wasn't for the protective net that Donna had insisted that I take on this trip, I would have been eaten alive that night. 

I took the opportunity at various points during the night to shine my torch around me and there were a vast amount of mosquitos just sitting there waiting. I could hear their high pitched buzz near my head all through the night. I estimate that I managed to get 1 hour of sleep.

Once the sun rose, there was no sign of the mosquitos and I packed up and waited for Faur to arrive. Lucian took me to get a Romanian SIM card and some breakfast. After that, we called in at a local hotel in Jimbolia and I managed to get their final room. What a relief!

I took another shower and gave my feet a good clean. Apologies for these photos (I've made them small) but the first one is a blister on my left heel. It's a blister that I always get in the early days of a run or where I don't manage to take care of my feet. I've seen it at its worst during the run across Australia. The next image is the worrying one for me. It's the main reason that I'm now having four rest days (more on that later) before resuming the run on Friday. 

I was able to get a few hours of much needed sleep on Monday afternoon. Faur returned later in the day to help me find some antiseptic for my feet and we were able to repair the puncture on Chappie with the help of a local garage. Thanks to Lucian for all of his help. It's been brilliantly kind of him to help me and I appreciate all of his assistance. 

For balance, I was sent the picture below by Danijela who was part of the family that I met in Klek on day 3. It was taken as I left the town accompanied by the children of the family. To me, it gives a very powerful and beautiful statement about my journey around the world and, in particular, the amount of love and support that I've received so far. I love the little girl trailing behind without a care in the world. I think others will be able to caption and interpret this picture better than I ever could. 

The video below are the above thoughts given via Facebook Live. I also talk here about how I feel that the journey around the world is changing and evolving.  

There'll be more to follow tomorrow about my plans for the onward journey which resumes on Friday.

Finally, thank you to everyone who has made a donation to St Benedict's Hospice via my Virgin Money Giving Page.  The £35,000 was hit yesterday which was brilliant. There is still a long way to go to reach my personal target of £50,000 but so far so good.

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Day 4 - Crossing the border

At the time of writing this, Mark has no access to mobile data so updates have been limited.  

His summary for the day is "I'm battered and sore but relieved to have made it into Romania. I arrived four hours after the customs deadline but I think the powers that be have been tracking my efforts."

While Mark has been out of signal and focused on crossing the border, I have been in close contact with many of the kind folk in Serbia who have continued to support him.  There are so many people who have followed with interest and have offered every ounce of support that they could. The level of hospitality and consideration for Mark's welfare and success has been incredible and certainly reassuring for me. We can't thank them enough. 

I've spoken to Igor a couple of times today. Igor and his family welcomed Mark into their home yesterday for a short break and some food. Igor was keen to check Mark's progress today and took a trip out to see him while sending me a quick update. 

It's safe to say that things have been fairly hectic in the short amount of time that Mark has been in Serbia. The delay in accessing Chappie meant that he didn't have sufficient time to unpack all of the boxes of supplies that we had filled it with. The idea was to ensure that everything was appropriately placed in the various cargo nets inside Chappie so that Mark had easy access to them as and when required.  With time against him to get to the border, he's not been able to spend any time at night sorting this either meaning that he's been sleeping alongside boxes and has had limited access to various supplies. 

Thankfully having crossed the border into Romania, Mark will now have time to refocus and plan for the next milestone. Mark struck up a conversation in the queue for the border crossing with some Romanian locals who were keen to learn more about his journey. One gentleman kindly offered shelter for the evening which means one less task for Mark in having to locate a suitable spot. 

Mark will use tomorrow as an unplanned recovery day so that he has time to prepare for the next stretch through to Ukraine. He'll have more updates that will follow once he's reconnected with the world. 

If you would like to make a donation to St. Benedict's Hospice, please click here

Saturday, 9 June 2018

Day 3 - Final full day in Serbia

This start of each blog post will probably be very similar, if not identical, over these 100 days. 

I had another terrible nights sleep. It was another warm one and there was a very violent thunderstorm directly overhead at 2am. Fortunately, all kit that I store outside over night was under an army poncho so it was bone dry when I got up at 0540. 

I filled my basket with food to snack on and I was on my way at 0605. The mornings have been tough so far. It was hard to stay awake for the first few miles. 

I saw Nickola from the night before with his girlfriend and fellow Partizan Belgrade supporting friend. He handed me a Partizan t-shirt (which was to come in useful later in the day). We had a few photos and I was on my way again. 

The temperature was a lot cooler than recent days for a few hours and I took advantage of that with 8 miles in the bag before my first rest. I sat on the step at the back of Chappie for 45 minutes. I was shattered. The next few miles to Zrenijanin were all on cycle path. It was a nice change to get away from the traffic. 

I was stopped a little further down the road to give an interview to “I Love ZR”. The two guys spoke very good English and asked some excellent questions. I soon headed east away from the city and spoke to Donna who recommended I take a cycle path on my left. That took me all the way to Klek where I stopped to eat a ration pack outside of a cemetery. 

I’d just finished eating it when three people pulled up in a car. I was greeted with an “Everything ok buddy?” by a Serbian man who I later found lives in Canada. His wife spoke good English and I told them, and their friend who had come to lay flowers for his late wife, all about my journey. 

They disappeared into the cemetery but almost immediately reappeared and invited me to a BBQ. The very kind offer was too good to turn down. Not because I hadn’t had a hot meal since Monday but these people seemed very genuine and kind. 

I arrived at the house where Bogdanka (the very kind lady at the cemetery) introduced me to family, friends and children. The children were confident enough to attempt to ask me questions in English. They drew some very nice pictures for me.  We were soon tucking into a barbecue the likes of which I haven’t seen since Australia. The starter was chicken soup. I’d had some last week in Novi Sad but this was much tastier.  Then there was chicken, pork, bacon (salty and delicious), various types of sausage. All delicious and very well seasoned. Then there were the salads too. I had a very good feed. It was insisted that I have desert which was a delicious cake with ice cream. I was pleased everyone got into the spirit when I recorded a Facebook Live video. Isn’t technology brilliant!

We spent some time talking about family and where people lived. I also learned about the 3 Olympians from Klek. That, despite the population of the town being only 3000.  

After a few photos with Chappie, Igor filled my water and gave me some extra. 3 days supply I think in total. I handed him a Run Geordie Run t-shirt as a small token of my appreciation of his and his father’s (it was his house) wonderful hospitality. The children waved me off out of Klek and I must admit after such a massive morale boosting high, I was very sad to be leaving. 

This barbecue had cost me 2 hours of running time but it was well worth it. Such lovely people who are only too happy to invite you to sit at their table and offer you everything they can. 

Serbia is a special country. Donna (Richard on the support team) and I knew that in 2016 when we finished stage four of the run Around The World. It’s the kindness and friendless of people that make places special. That’s a lesson that I’ve learned in Serbia.

A few miles further down the road saw my arrival in Zitiste. I was just about to take a quick picture of Chappie with the Rocky Balboa statue. Yes! You read that right. Imagine my utter surprise when I saw Igor with his father and the children again. They brought more water and Pepsi and wished me well for the final few miles of the day (you can see footage of this on my Facebook page). 

I ran until there was no light left. My final action of the day was to ask a lady if I could camp in her garden in the small town of Banatski Dvor. She went to get her daughter who spoke a little English. You couldn’t make up what happened next. Yes you guessed it. I was eating bread and meat and drinking apple juice. I really didn’t want to put them to any trouble but they insisted like only a kind Serbian can. 

I spoke to Donna towards the end of the day and we reflected on the last 2 days. We laughed and thought about the kind of conversation you would have with someone after a weekend...

"Well, I camped in a strangers back garden who then fed me cherry juice. I met a local who gave me some Mitro power beer. I gatecrashed a family BBQ. Oh, and I found one of the top 10 (according to Lonely Planet) most bizarre monuments on earth. And that was just Friday and Saturday."

So here I am. Camped up in somebody’s front garden and 20 miles from the border with Romania. 

What a perfect end to the day. I will be very sad to leave Serbia tomorrow.

Friday, 8 June 2018

Day 2 - A tough one

As far as a good nights sleep goes last night was on the opposite end of the spectrum. 
The mosquito action seemed to cease at around 3am and I was able to open the top half of the hatch to let what little breeze there was in. Prior to that I just lay in a pool of my own sweat. Sleeping with a fly net on is no fun! It’s warm in there but at least the little buggers couldn’t get me. I think I squashed the final mosquito at 0500 and started packing up camp at 0530. If I was to make one modification to Chappie it would be to have a mosquito net at the rear hatch. 

I still had no appetite this morning but managed to eat 2 ration packs of Museli. I set off at 0615 and felt really tired from the word go. The first mile in 18 minutes gave me false hope of a 2000 finish. After that poor first mile I just got slower and slower as the heat of the day took hold. 
I stopped at the 7 mile point to restock Vado. While I was drinking outside the garage a man came over and asked “what’s this?” pointing to Chappie. A quick explanation was given, he shook my hand and off I went. I managed a meagre 11 miles by noon but I was still confident of an 8pm finish. 

The next 6 miles were pure torture. The temperature peaked at 33 Celsius and I had to pull over at 1600, move the boxes inside Chappie and climb inside to sleep (with the flies). No sleep was had but I did feel a little rested by the time I set off at 1730. 
This is one of the hardest days that I’ve ever had around the world so far. I’ve never been to hell but I imagine that it would be like my journey today.  I made it to 21.7 miles before asking a lady if I could sleep in her garden. I think she said that she was waiting for her husband. That was the case and when he arrived I got Vlad “the fixer” on the phone to ask permission in Serbian. 
Permission was granted and the kind man filled my water bottle and the lady brought me some Cherry juice along with some freshly picked cherries. They were delicious. 

As I started writing my blog for the night a strange face appeared at my window. He introduced himself as Nikola. He’d brought me some water and a can of beer with “Mitrovic 9” on. It tastes tremendous. 
Nikola is a Partizan Belgrade supporter and he’d been tipped off by Dusan at the British Embassy that I’d be in the vicinity. 

What an amazing country Serbia is. What kind people! 

i sutra idemo opet

End of day 2 thoughts are here

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Day 1 - On the move

I felt quite nervous at the start of the day in the hotel. It was a mixture of nerves about whether or not I would get my buggy back and the fact I would only have time for half a day’s running. I think this morning was also when the size and scale of the task ahead finally sunk in with me. 
Vlad the “fixer” drove me to the warehouse and I was so pleased to see Chappie still in 1 piece. I spent an hour and 45 minutes unpacking boxes and repacking it into Chappie. This was a tiring task in a dusty and boiling hot warehouse. 

It took a further 90 minutes to lift Chappie, who is 3 metres long into a space fit for only 2.5 metres and get the final paperwork done. 

So it was at 1215 that the clock started in terms of getting to the Romanian border on time. The deadline of 1215 on Sunday must be hit in order to satisfy the requirements of Chappie’s release to me today. 
I reached the start point with Chappie at Kalemegdan at 1235. It was great to see the British Ambassador, Denis Keefe, at the start line. After a hearty handshake and a few photos I was on my way. 
I should say “we” were in our really as I was joined by some really friendly local runners. Thanks to Vladan, who was also in attendance, for arranging that. 

We made our way out of Kalemegdan and onto the boiling hot streets of Belgrade. I found this to be a complete shock to the system due to the weight of Chappie, the amount of traffic and the 32 Celsius heat that I was running in. 
I was relieved to make it over the Pancevo Bridge after holding up quite a bit of traffic. A few runners left at this point leaving me with Suzana who I learned enjoys running classic marathons. 

I stopped for a chicken salad after 6.5 miles. I was really hungry at this point having only had 2 slices of toast for breakfast. I ran the remaining 7 miles of the day solo. Thanks to everyone who joined me from the start line in Belgrade. 
Thanks also to the young lad who handed me some warm water (it’s the thought that counts). Thanks also to the man who asked for a selfie and gave me a bottle of coke in return. 
I wanted to do at least 15 miles today but I stopped at 13.5 as the discovery of a seemingly safe and quiet overnight stop presented itself. 
So that’s day 1 over. It’s going to be a warm night and I’m sleeping inside a mosquito net. 
The realisation that I have another 99 days of this has definitely sunk in. That said, my mind is fixed firmly on making day 2 a success. 

End of day 1 thoughts are here.

Goodnight from a field with lots of insects north of Belgrade.