Wednesday, 6 June 2012

USA Day 23 - Revisited (23/05/2011)

Day 23 was an anniversary of sorts. It was exactly 12 months since I fell off my bike and broke my ankle. The right medial malleolus to be precise. At the time, I was told my the male nurse in A&E, who was also a runner, to "forget all about running across the USA". That together with a piece of advice from round the world cyclist, adventurer, author and documentary maker Mark Beaumont were the 2 things that I kept constantly in my mind in the build up to the run. 

On one hand you had a medical expert writing you off and on the other an absolute hero of mine telling me to "keep focussed". In the months before I set off across the USA, what that provided was a healthy balance of cautious optimism. 

I set off running towards Circleville, Utah at 08:02 Mountain Time. The first 5 miles of running was  through a fairly winding valley. It was one of many I ran through in the USA where I always thought that just around the corner would be the end of it. More often than not, what was waiting for me around the next corner was another scene just like the one I'd left. I'm not complaining, though, as the scenery was as spectacular as I'd become to expect of Utah. 

It took 8 miles to reach Circleville at 6063 ft above sea level. The town was named after the valley in which it sits; Circle Valley. I later found that Robert Leroy Parker, better known as Butch Cassidy, spent his childhood in Circleville.

After a short break to take some photos in Circleville, I was soon on my way again. It was at this point that I could see some very dark clouds behind me in the distance. They were slowly but surely making their way towards me and I did my best to try and stay as far ahead of them as I could.

I managed to get to the 11 mile point before diving into the RV for cover. I tweeted the following:

 "Did my best to outrun storm. Now in RV. Lots of thunder, lightening and pea size hale stones.".

"Sitting in the RV watching the very impressive storm.". 

The storm passed over in 30 minutes and I started running again. I made it to a town called Junction at the 15 mile point where I had a tactical snooze for an hour.

I'd felt quite tired for days. This was a proper sleepy kind of tiredness rather than the usual physical fatigue from running. I hope that makes sense. The bottom line was that I felt that I could have slept for a whole month!

I really didn't feel any better when I started running again. I was still very tired and it seemed that running the long daily distances at altitude was beginning to take it's toll. 

I stopped running at the 18 mile point. I was, in my own words at the time, "a defeated man". I had hit a wall physically but more crucially I'd hit a wall mentally too. I'd had enough quite frankly. I wrote the following on my blog that day:

"A day interrupted by thunder and lightning and extreme sleepiness left me feeling frustrated and dejected. Comedy Jon thinks the altitude has played a part in the sleepiness. Given my lack of experience of running consistently over 6000 ft I wouldn't like to say [for sure]."

"I was sipping a cup of tea with the team while they tried their best to motivate me. Comedy Jon read a profound poem which did not do the trick. I said that I needed that one by Rudyard Kipling. Chef Steve piped up "Speaking of Kipling, I could murder a Bakewell Tart!". He does come out with some crackers that lad. He usually starts a conversation with "Well, erm you know that thing, erm, what's it called?'. Or a similar statement based on a person or a place. You spend the next 10 minutes asking questions in order to establish what point he's trying to make. It makes the breaks go quicker if nothing else!".

"I suddenly remembered that my mentors, Dave Fairlamb and Mark Fleming, had written me letters only to be opened if I needed a "pick me up". This afternoon I definitely needed one of those. I chose to open Dave's letter and read it. It said the following, which I'm sure Dave won't mind me sharing with the readers of my blog.".


I asked you to open this at a time when you needed a pick me up. It's 20th April 2011 at 9.07 pm and this is from the heart.  Don't give up. Don't ever give up! Smile at what you are achieving and start running.

Look back to where you started. Look how far you have come. Now look to where you are going to be. You are about to reach a goal that very few people could ever dream about never mind achieve. Your Mam, Dad and Brother would be so, so proud. Just to let you know that I have a lump in my throat and my eyes are watering as I am writing this!

Think of the money you are raising and the lives you could be saving. This short time in your life is tough but you can go home at the end. Others may only have this time left before they die. So don't give up. Don't ever give up! Smile at what you are achieving and start running. One hundred days out of your life. That's all it is and yes, physically the task is mind blowing. You're probably hurting so much today but remember this run isn't going to touch your mind, heart or soul. They can't be touched. You are doing this run from the heart. Therefore, you will keep going and you will finish.

I just wan't you to know the dedication and inspiration you have shown me since I met you has been unmatched by anyone I have ever met. You are a true inspiration who I turn to and think about when I am low because I think about how strong you are within. Your mental strength and determination will see you to the end! So get up and start running because by doing this you are giving hope to others and are making a positive difference.

Don't give up. Don't ever give up. Keep that dream alive and it will become reality.


My initial reaction to reading that was how few spelling mistakes Dave had made. Despite having the ability to turn people's lifestyles around for the better, he is often not the best speller or user of the Queen's English. In a later blog post I'll take about his hilarious run in with the US police.

But seriously, Dave's letter had a quite amazing effect on the rest of the day. Back to mile 18 and I'll let my blog from that day do the talking:

"After reading that, I was back in the game. I took off my 5 layers of clothing and put on a base layer t-shirt and my Run Geordie Run technical t-shirt. I put on my hat and my gloves. I stepped outside the RV and started at a gentle pace. Stephen had offered to run with me for a bit and he pushed on ahead. I soon overtook him (which was nice!) and the gentle pace turned into a more serious pace.  Mile 19 was done in 00:12:40. Wee Kirsty then joined me. She had to ask Comedy Jon to drive up the road to catch me such was my increase in pace and mile 20 was done in 00:10:19."

"For the first time in a few days my mind was in the right place. It's probably what you call "being in the zone". Wee Kirsty is a great running partner who matches my exact pace. Unlike previous runs we both had our iPods plugged in and since I was listening to the Rocky soundtrack I pictured her as Apollo Creed to my Rock Balboa training on the beach. The reality was a cold afternoon running in the mountains."

"Mile 21 was the quickest mile I've managed to date here in the USA. For the first time on this tour I was running with the technique and style I always strive for. Breathing was good. Stride was good. Rhythm was good. Knee lift was good. Posture was good. 

Mile 21 was done in 00:08:57. Wee Kirsty and I was eating up the miles like I've not really managed to do in the 645 miles to date in the USA. Miles 22, 23, 24 and 25 were all 10 minute something or other. It got hilly! Mile 26 was a warm down mile at 00:13:48 with me drinking my Cherry Active. Given the weather related interruptions, I had hoped to do 25 miles today. At 18 miles and utter dejection I would have settled for 20. To do 26 miles was just amazing. The whole support team was lifted as well as me.".

To the ordinary runner that pace may not seem much at all but when you've ran over 600 miles in 23 days it feels like you're sprinting. When I thought that all hope was lost I'd remembered that I had the letters and used one of them to good effect. This, of course, meant that the final letter from Mark Fleming would have to go unread for the remainder of the journey across the USA. If I'd ever had to read that then I would have nothing further to fall back on. It was my "safety blanket" for the rest of the run.

I really can't express the final part of the day better than that day's original blog post:

"We set off looking for propane gas for the RV and called in at Lizzie and Charlie's RV park in Marysvale. Once the manager, Mylo (pictured below), heard about the run across the USA and the 2 charities he refused to accept payment for the Propane and offered us a place on his park for the night. I told him how grateful I was and shook him by the hand. Yet another amazing gesture by an American towards the Run Geordie Run team.".

"The generosity didn't end there either. Mylo asked the onsite pizzeria to serve us a large pizza "on the house". This little place was called The Garage and the pizza as well as the rest of the food we ordered was the best I've tasted so far in the US.  

Steve ordered an ice cream for dessert, the like of which I have never seen before. It was huge! He finished the lot too! 

In summary, today was a bad day that turned good. The thunder and lightning is likely to disrupt progress tomorrow. After that, the forecast gets better. Other plusses are that I'm losing weight all of the time. I'm spending a month running at altitude (good for fitness) and I have no injuries to speak of (thanks mostly to Wee Kirsty). Today made me realise that I'm winning the physical battle and, as I predicted some time ago, the mental battle is now there to be confronted and overcome. This run will get physically easier over time. It will, however, require every ounce of mental strength that I possess to complete. This is something I have prepared for over the last 3 years. I'm ready to meet this battle head on over the remaining 77 days and 2446 miles.".

I spoke to Gary and Lisa on Real Radio that night. Click the following link to hear that interview: