Wednesday, 4 November 2020

Stage X - The route

Today is the 32nd anniversary of my Dad's death following a battle with cancer. It seems a fitting day as any to announce details of a special stage, which I've referred to as "Stage X" of my run around the world.

The image below is the route I'll be following for my Stage X. Of course, this special stage has been dreamt up while the world is in turmoil and as a result of not being able to run from Kiev, Ukraine to Nur Sultan, Kazakhstan as planned next year.

It will all kick off on the 12th July 2021 at Bamburgh Castle and here's the twist - I just so happen to turn 50 years old that week and that number has influenced this special stage in a huge way. Long time followers will remember when I ran 40 miles during the 3100 mile run across the USA on my 40th birthday. I always suspected that my next significant birthday would involve a similar feat.  

So I'm very pleased to announce that Stage X will involve 50 miles of running every day for 5 days while following the “Northumberland 250” tourist route in a clockwise direction. Stage X will start and end at Bamburgh Castle and will involve 15,000 ft of elevation. The daily start and end points are as follows:

Day 1 - Bamburgh to West Woodburn
Day 2 - West Woodburn to Allendale Town
Day 3 - Allendale Town to Kielder
Day 4 - Kielder to Kirk Yetholm
Day 5 - Kirk Yetholm to Bamburgh Castle (via Holy Island) 

The final day promises to be fun with the safe crossing time off Holy Island (at the 34 mile point that day) ending at 6.20 pm!

The aim of Stage X is to raise funds for St. Benedict's Hospice and hit an overall charity total of £350,000. The current around the world total is £332,981.13 giving Stage X a target of £17,018.87 for the Hospice.  

The daily mileage is huge and the chances of success not great (I always say that!!). I believe it promises to be a very interesting journey to follow and it’s local for once!!! This will be one of the simplest events I've done in terms of logistics but one of the most difficult to actually run. There's hardly any margin for error. Is there even any margin?

Running against a backdrop of beautiful Northumberland, a place where I spent all of my childhood holidays is going to be very special. I vaguely remember exploring Bamburgh Castle as a 4 year old with my Mam and Dad. Donna and I were married there in 2014. To start and finish this route in such a special place is just how I'd like to be spending my 50th birthday. I'm not one for gifts and parties. Hitting the fundraising target for the Hospice will be all the gift I really want. 

Whatever the state of the world next summer I truly believe that this won’t have to be cancelled. I will have a small support team at best. The worst case scenario is that I will run it unsupported. So whatever the rules/tiers/bubbles etc I'm optimistic of being allowed to run the 250 miles round Northumberland.

The level of difficulty means that I'm certain that Stage X is definitely worthy of sponsorship. 250 miles in 5 days is quite a task. 

I’ll be trying to recruit commercial sponsors and hopefully the general public will show their generous side too. All costs associated with this run will be paid for by myself. That will likely only be food, fuel, insurance and accommodation (if there’s time to sleep). Every single penny raised will be in aid of St. Benedict’s Hospice.

There’ll be much more detail to follow in the coming days. That’s all for now and if you’d like to make an early donation then please visit #rgrstagex

Sunday, 4 October 2020

Stage X - Week 1

There are 9 months to prepare for Stage X of the run around the world. Tomorrow is day one and week one of training for it. The image below of my gym whiteboard shows my plan for the week ahead. It’s a tough start with an 0630 Versaclimber UK session at David Fairlamb Fitness followed by a half marathon (Fish Quay to Seaton Sluice and back). Learning to run the big distances while fatigued is something I’ll have to get used to again if I’m to have any chance of succeeding next year. 

Back to my whiteboard and my “wise words of the week” were quite easy to derive this week. This section contains the phrase that I will have at the front of my mind throughout the various weeks. To come up with a relevant phrase, I imagined Sir Bobby Robson writing his team talk on my board. Incidentally, I once saw one of his flip charts after a Champions League game with a simple but powerful sentence. This section of my whiteboard will play a huge part in what I do over the coming 9 months. So this weeks wise words are simply “SET THE STANDARD”. 

If you would like to suggest and sponsor my "TUNE OF THE WEEK" in aid of St. Benedict's Hospice then please get in touch at It’s the same email address if you or your company would like to add your logo to the big space available on the right of the board. 

I'm looking forward to the week ahead which involves climbing, running, rowing, pulling, pushing, lifting, twisting, throwing and stretching. It's basically a lot of the fun things I've enjoyed over recent months put together in a structured way. There's also a bit of what I don't enjoy too much but need to do. It's no good staying in the comfort zone.

Watch this space for progress throughout the week. I’ll also be explaining more about what the WOD boxes are too.

Tuesday, 29 September 2020

Mont Ventoux attempt

I’ve just finished arguably one of the toughest things I’ve ever done in training. I had another go at climbing Mont Ventoux on Zwift! My first attempt last Sunday saw me reach half way before being interrupted. I was keen to have another go before the map left Zwift for a few weeks.  

I went from wanting to quit, to wanting to get to the top so many times over the course of the 3 hours and 36 minutes I spent on my Watt Bike. Sadly it wasn’t to be and I called it a day with just less than 2 miles to go. Body temperature, hunger and general discomfort played its part in my decision. Ultimately, it was the burn in my quads that defeated me. 

To be sat on a static bike and totally focussed is testament to how brilliant Zwift is. It’s much better on a big screen than an iPad and totally engrossing. The first time I almost quit was just before I got a view of the tower at the finish line. As soon as it appeared on screen however, I pushed on. I even managed a decent chunk of time out of the saddle with a decent amount of power (way above my threshold) generated. 

The “attacks” (I use that term lightly in this case) got fewer and fewer and my mind went to a very dark place. Some good music selections got me through another couple of miles but the quad pain took me into an even darker place. When I stopped pedalling with the finish line in view, I felt no way disappointed. It’s been years since I put that much effort into exercise on my own. 

I think 3 things cost me tonight. Firstly, Zwift seems to take into account my real world weight. I get on the scales everyday so that figure is bang up to date. My scales update Apple Health which in turn updates Zwift. Secondly, this was my longest session of exercise since I did the stay at home duathlon back in April. My fitness is a long way off where it needs to be. Finally, I’m just not conditioned for this type of effort for that duration. I’m sure there’s science behind it. All I can do is try and interpret how I feel and put it into layperson’s terms. That approach has worked out well for me over the years. 

What I do like about Zwift and my Watt Bike is seeing the power I’m generating on screen. I also take into account my heart rate. I tend not to look at RPM but do also not KMh. With all of those real time stats to hand during the workout, I find it very easy to judge if I can be working harder, be in a higher gear and knowing how close I am to breaking. I wonder if there is a lesson to be learned there that could be applied to running. 

For Stage X, a high level of performance will be required if it to stand any chance of succeeding. There’s so much food for thought at the minute and I’m really loving that. If you read my latest post on this blog you’ll be aware that training for Stage X gets underway this coming Monday. That first session will be so tough that I’m taking a full day off work to get it done. Tonight’s ride was 90 minutes late getting started due to a late work meeting. I will have no such distractions on Monday. As I type this, I’m feeling extremely hungry. It’s far to late to eat. I’d be surprised if I’m not having my weekly visit to Greggs for breakfast in the morning. “One brown sauce and one red please” will be my usual line. You should know the drill by now.

Monday, 28 September 2020

Stage X Training soon to start

The special stage of the run around the world (nicknamed Stage X for now) that I talked about recently will be held next Summer. I intend to announce exact details about what Stage X entails on the 4th November which will be 32 years to the day since my Dad sadly lost his fight against cancer. With it being 25 years since my Mam also lost her fight, it remains hugely important, relevant and appropriate to continue to raise as many funds as possible for St. Benedict's Hospice. 

Having given Stage X a lot of thought since the idea popped in my head 2 weeks ago, I’m convinced that this could be one of the toughest physical challenges that I’ve ever faced. Success is far from guaranteed and everything I do between next Monday (when formal training starts) and Summer 2021 will be hugely important. Quality, effort, tenacity, determination and consistency are just a few words that spring to mind that will needed if Stage X is to be successful. 

I’ve spent the last week trying to work out what a training plan will look like. It reminds me of when I sat down in 2008 to plan the build up to the run across the USA. I think with all of the experience gained running 10,000 miles around the world so far, the logistics surrounding Stage X should be quite straightforward. What won’t be though, is the type and volume of training which I believe I need to get though. I’m no expert in any of this but I feel that I need to reach the heights in training that I consistently found from 2008 - 2010 (just before I broke my ankle!!). What a training campaign that was up until that point. What a relief that I recovered in time to run across the USA as planned in 2011 (The image below was taken on one of the early days of that run on Route 66 in California).

Back to Stage X and one of the most important aspects of my training must be to continue to have fun while I’m doing any form of exercise. This recently rediscovered love of keeping fit is not something I planned. It just happened. I’ve really managed to find a good balance lately with plenty of variety and many opportunities to work as hard as I possibly can. From David Fairlamb Fitness Beach Bootcamp (pictured below) or Versa Climber class to a circuit in my home gym or a good old fashioned run around the block, I’ve enjoyed every minute. 

I’m very conscious of keeping this enjoyment going over the next 9 or so months until Stage X begins. With fun and enjoyment in mind, as well as an appreciation of the size and scale of Stage X, I think I’ve got a really good training plan established. It will undoubtedly get fine tuned over time but I’m really looking forward to getting stuck in. I don’t recall being able to say that for many years. 

Each training week will be laid out on my whiteboard on a Sunday night for the week ahead. There’ll be fun elements to this too and also an opportunity for followers to get involved. I’ll explain more about that this coming weekend. 

Training proper for Stage X starts next Monday. The first session to get through will be tough. So much so, that I’ll be taking my first day off work this year to do it. 

Sunday, 20 September 2020

Stage X

I wrote the following on my blog last month - "While my foot has been taken off the 'around the world run' pedal for now, rest assured that it will continue when it's safe to do so. In the meantime, I'm going to just do some exercise and I'm going to do it with a huge smile on my face.". I'm so pleased to report that continues to be the case. Every time I have put on a my kit and shoes I feel so motivated to give maximum effort in whatever I do. Confidence is high and the feeling I've had this summer after any session has been one of euphoria. I really find it difficult to explain why exercise is having such a positive effect this year. Perhaps I shouldn't bother and just enjoy it for as long as it lasts. (It's worth reading the 2 previous posts for a build up to this post if you haven't done so already.).

It feels prudent to use this new found motivation and enthusiasm to continue to raise funds for St Benedict's Hospice. It's also a perfect opportunity to plug the gap left by the paused Run Around The World. Of course, stage 6 should have been done next year. Sadly, given the state of the world currently and the pandemic we find ourselves living with, it's just not possible to carry out the 2100 mile run from Kiev, Ukraine through Russia to Nur Sultan, Kazakhstan. That will happen one day when it's safe to do so. The picture below is where I finished stage five back in 2018 and where the virtual around the world progress flag is currently planted.

So where does that leave me in terms of a replacement event next year? Well, I've decided to do what I'm calling a "special stage of the run around the world". It will be held during the summer of 2021. It will be massively difficult. I don't believe it has been done before. I have a route planned. I'm certain that it won't fall foul of any pandemic related restrictions. Ultimately, like all of my events, it will be very worthy of public and commercial sponsorship. 

For now and until I announce full details of the event in November, I'm calling this section of the run around the world, "Stage X". It's a working title to be used while I work out the finer details and while the event remains under wraps.

For the first time since the run across the USA, Stage X will be a stage that is self-funded. That means that ALL proceeds from commercial sponsorship will go to St Benedict's Hospice. For the avoidance of any doubt, it's worth restating that EVERY penny of public money will also go to the Hospice. This has always been the case and always will be.

Stage X will not require the services of Chappie who is safely stored away and ready to return to assist me onwards from Kiev in the future. Chappie spends most days in the sun keeping his battery charged. It's a hard life!

Stage X will require a support team and I've already got a pretty good idea of who might be first on the team sheet when asked. There's a clue in the image below.

As with all previous stages around the world, I rate the chances of success as slim at best. I see that as being realistic more than pessimistic. It's safe to say that Stage X has me concerned! It has an element of fear about it that I intend to use as motivation and for focus over the 10 months that I have to train for it. You might think, "why bother if you don't feel it's possible?". It is that kind of philosophy that I've always followed. This, for me, doesn't feel too different to the build up to stage 2, the run across the USA. 

Stage X promises to be quite an extreme spectacle of running endurance. I've no doubt in my mind that it will be horrible to run. At the time of writing, I have no idea how I will prepare for it. I'll be spending the remaining days of September putting a plan into place. I'll then need to start and execute that plan in October and build it to an unprecedented level (by my standards) throughout the winter, spring and early summer.  

I am setting a fundraising target of £17,108.87 for St Benedict's Hospice. The significance of this seemingly random number will be clearer when details are announced in November. 

So far, only 2 people have been made aware of what Stage X is all about. Their jaws dropped. Their heads shook. Hands covered foreheads in disbelief. When I saw the reactions I knew I was doing the right thing. I'm pleased to report that, despite a rolling of eyes, Donna is fully on board with my plans. "Here we go again" I said!

Next steps are to formulate a training plan, carry out some initial canvassing of commercial sponsors and support team members, finalise the route and to continue having fun exercising.

That's all for now on Stage X of The Run Around The World. Fancy words, ambitious schemes and impossible dreams must become a set of actions that give me the best chance possible of succeeding in 2021. Watch this space and my social media channels over the coming weeks and months for news on Stage X progress.

Monday, 31 August 2020

Just doing some exercise

For some reason while talking to various people and writing on social media lately I've been inclined to use the word "exercise" where "training" has previously been my choice. Perhaps this subconscious action has been driven by the fact that I'm currently unsure when it will be safe to resume the run around the world. I've always "trained" for something in the past. Trained for John O'Groats to Lands End, across the USA, across Australia, across Europe and to Kiev (I really must find a catchy name for that section). 

I now find myself in a position to simply do some exercise for no other purpose than to keep fit, lose weight and enjoy it. I don't ever recall being able to say that. Ever. There are currently no endless hours to be spent planning the next run. Researching the route, finding sponsors, planning flights, saving for a period of unemployment, applying for visas and all of the other many logistics to think about is not anything I'm actively doing right now. I will say that I'm missing all of that. I always like to know what the next big run is and the challenge of getting to the start line, never mind running thousands of miles to the finish line, is always something that I've enjoyed. Equally though, I'm enjoying simply exercising right now. For the last few months that's been running, cycling, lifting weights and attending bootcamp sessions. I've enjoyed all of those things but there has been an unexpected benefit from Beach Bootcamp in particular.

I did my first Beach Bootcamp with David Fairlamb 12 years ago and have done hundreds since often with Mark Fleming taking a part of the session. Working away from home and family life have meant that I haven't attended for the last few years. I'm pleased to report that I returned for the first session post lockdown on July 18th. That date is particularly special to me as it was on that day in 2011 that Mark and Dave returned to surprise me during the run across the USA. That's us pictured below just before midnight on Route 36 in the state of Indiana.

Mark and Dave had actually finished their planned tour of duty on the support team a week earlier in Missouri. Who would even come back and rejoin the team at no doubt huge personal expense? Since 2011, there is hardly a day that has passed where I don't ask myself that question. "Who would even do that?". 

During Mark and Dave's first stint along with Steve Harrison on support duty we got through a huge amount of miles and it meant that I had an outside chance of reaching the finish line in New York on time. Despite those efforts, when they joined the tour for a second time, I was still 160 miles behind schedule.

By the time Mark and Dave left the tour for the second time 6 days later the mileage deficit was down to 120 miles. Just like their first stint, the team work was world class. I haven't even mentioned the 35 - 45 Celsius temperatures we were running in. Together we ran 37.5, 36, 37, 40.4, 40.3 and 40 miles during that time. This put me in a really good position but there were still 607 miles to run over the remaining 16 days. 

I've looked back on the stats so many times and it's obvious to me that it was these times in July 2011 when I was given a more than outside chance of making it 3100 miles across the USA in 100 days. That's easy to say now but there were subsequently to be 308 miles to ran in the last week. Without Mark, Dave and Steve I dread to think how many miles would have been left as the closing stages of the run were entered. Put quite simply, I could not have reached Coney Island on day 100. For me personally, that would have been a disaster. Yes, over £100,000 was raised for charity, but I had my heart and mind set on running coast to coast across the USA in 100 days.

Anyway! I digress. It all worked out in the end and 7 weeks ago, on a sunny Saturday morning, I found myself on Longsands, Tynemouth with Mark and Dave taking the Beach Bootcamp session. Nobody realises this but I was absolutely delighted to be back in their company. We have been through so much and exercising with a big smile on my face (mostly) was an absolute thrill. The session was really tight and well ran as per usual. Given my lack of recent physical activity it was very difficult too. 

I'm pleased to report that last weekend's session (pictured below) was a little easier and I can sense progress being made as I make my return to any kind of fitness.

The unexpected benefit that I referred to earlier was the huge mental boost that I felt after Beach Bootcamp finished. I really can't describe just how good I felt come 0945 on Saturday morning. I'm only just starting to realise that "mental health" is actually a thing. Perhaps I'll write a blog on that in the future. 

I consider myself to have good mental health. I've got very few worries in the world and really enjoy life. To come away from Beach Bootcamp with that mental state boosted perhaps gives you some idea of another aspect of doing exercise. Dave's take on the situation is the support and encouragement I get from the other participants particularly when I have ran so many miles on my own. I think he's got a very good point. I also think that I'm transported back to Route 36 in my mind with a set of people who will stop at nothing to help you succeed. It's only now that I realise how precious a thing that is. 

As I reached the finish line in Coney Island in 2011 after 100 days of running 3100 miles I said to my phone camera that "The significance of this run won't sink in with me for quite some time.". How true that was. I could write 100 blogs to describe how significant that run was and still could write more. 

I relive the run across the USA every single day in my mind. I dream about it when I'm asleep and when I stare out of the window comparing the day's clouds to a particular day back in Utah or Kansas or wherever back in 2011. Poor Donna never complains when I talk about it thankfully.

The run across the USA was so beneficial for The Children's Foundation and St. Benedict's Hospice. £105,717.80 was raised thanks to so many generous donations. The value to me, however, is immeasurable. The part it played in the grieving process is now very obvious. 25 years after my Mam and 32 years after my Dad died, I now find myself happy, content, proud and grateful. 

While my foot has been taken off the "around the world run" pedal for now, rest assured that it will continue when it's safe to do so. In the meantime, I'm going to just do some exercise and I'm going to do it with a huge smile on my face. 

This blog started out as a kind of "this is what I've been doing and this is how many press ups I'll be doing this week" kind of post. It meandered to a place I didn't plan on and I just dumped what was in my head and how I feel. Tune in tomorrow to actually find out how many press ups I will be doing! I'll leave you with this short video to enjoy.

Sunday, 30 August 2020

This feels different..

There have been many failed attempts to re-discover any kind of interest in, motivation for and will to exercise over recent years. I believe the main problem is that I associate a number of what I would call "negative" things with any kind of physical effort. Firstly, the pain that I've endured while running around the world so far is the most obvious one. Excruciating shin splints during the run from John O'Groats to Lands End. Badly blistered feet towards the end of the run across the USA as well as extreme constant fatigue throughout. That all seemed quite insignificant when you compare it against the run across Australia. The pain in my feet for over 80 days and the permanent damage caused should have been enough for me to give up running completely. Fortunately I didn't and the subsequent runs across Europe and then from Belgrade to Kiev saw a lot less pain and damage taken. 

The long straight never ending road across Australia

Stobbsy just about keeping my feet in a runnable state in Australia

Putting up with physical pain is one thing but the mental battles that I've faced around the world so far have been a far more difficult thing to endure in my opinion. Almost every stage so far has seen extreme anxiety and paranoia as I've neared the respective finish lines. The final week of the run across the USA is where I first experienced this. I really struggled to come to terms with the fact that the finish line at Coney Island, New York was so close in terms of time (7 days) but not in distance (300 miles). There was another factor which was also present in the subsequent 3 stages around the world. For some reason, towards the end of a long running campaign, the desire for it all to be over is overwhelming. It's like a very negative spin on waiting for Christmas Day as a child. I really need to analyse this more in future but I doubt things are ever likely to change. At least I'm fully aware that the closing days of a stage around the world are going to present a huge mental challenge. I think there is a lot more to be talked about on this subject but I'll leave it for another time.

Losing my mind in Europe

The other major mental challenge that I have faced more recently in Europe and to Kiev is homesickness. Being able to do things like watching the TV, cooking dinner and just normal family life is a huge miss when you're away from home for months at a time. Thoughts of such normality when I'm thousands of miles away from loved ones is a tough thing to try and deal with.

Thankfully, I've come to realise that my multi month running stages are very different from normal life. I feel like I'm trapped in my own bubble. Every small issue or challenge is magnified to the extent that it becomes a big problem. Imagine just how big a real problem then seems during these long campaigns. Fortunately, there haven't been too many of those to deal with.

As you can tell, maintaining a sense of perspective is very difficult when you're far from home, extremely tired and having to run 30 - 40 miles per day or even more. A few paragraphs in a blog really doesn't do the physical and mental battle justice. What I will say is that it's no wonder the last thing I have wanted to do in recent years or have done begrudgingly is exercise. You can put a fancy title on things like #runsub17 but carrying out the actions involved is what really matters.

I don't believe that I've had the real will and desire to do anything exercise wise since the run across Australia finished. That was almost 7 years ago!

I should point out that up to this point in my running and fundraising life, I wouldn't change a single thing. Huge life lessons have been learned. Friendships have been forged. So many kind people have been met. I've also been told on numerous occasions that I've inspired others to do good. Most importantly, almost 1/3 million pounds has been raised so far for local good causes. This, of course, includes St. Benedict's Hospice who I still continue to repay a debt of gratitude to, for the care they gave my Mam.

For every mental and physical battle endured, every sacrifice made, every unpaid month off work, every impact on family and friends, there are untold positive aspects to Run Geordie Run. It's 1 step back but 100 forward after each stage of the run around the world is finished and the charity cheque presented. The negatives are but a very small droplet of water in a huge ocean of positivity. Thankfully, I have a very good sense of perspective. It could be argued that Run Geordie Run helps keeps my head above water. It's the positive thing that I've developed following the loss of both of my parents. It has benefited me greatly in terms of being able to cope with grief. In 2020, Run Geordie Run has got me to a great place.

Arriving back in Newcastle after a tough but successful run across Australia

So that's where I was at in June this year and the problem remained about wanting to simply exercise again. Rewind, to days after the last big run in 2018 when I met with personal trainer (and my best man) David Fairlamb who knew all about my struggles finding the motivation to train. He said that I now needed to "reinvent myself". I've pondered over those words ever since and I'm only just beginning to understand what he meant. 

If I'm to find enjoyment in exercise again and a basic desire to actually want to do it, then I need to think and act very differently while retaining all of the core values that have worked so well for me in the past.

It's a difficult thing to explain currently but since July I have very much tried to set aside all that has gone before and get "back to basics". I've tried to bring to the foreground all of those enjoyable aspects of health and fitness (where, what, when and with who) over the last 2 months. For once, I don't have a grand plan. Given this years events, I certainly don't know when the next stage of the run around the world will be able to take place. All I can do right now is concentrate on enjoying my training again and finding the desire and consistency needed. 

Dave and me at Newcastle Airport

I'll talk more about specifics in the coming weeks. In the meantime, after many failed or half hearted attempts over recent years to exercise, this latest attempt feels different. Has the re-invention of Run Geordie Run begun? It's certainly too soon to tell. There are a lot of positive signs though. Watch this space.