Sunday 19 January 2014

The final day! Day 82

(Sunday 5th January)

This was it.  We had finally reached the final day of the run across Australia. 23 miles to go.

Day 82 was a 3am alarm call.  Just enough time to dress Mark's feet and get him on the road. There was no room for error, our flight was scheduled later that day.

It was an incredibly dark start to the day and most certainly the earliest of the tour.  Mark was kitted out in his high vis and head torch hoping for light traffic and safe conditions until sunrise.

"The starry sky is incredible this morning. 1st mile done in complete darkness. Sunrise is 90 minutes away. #rgrdownunder"

"Legs feel really good so far. Codeine has foot pain under control. 21 miles to the #Pacific."

"If my timing is decent I should be running down #MacquarriePass just as the sun rises. This is a good script today."

"Thank you to my headline sponsor @drivebenfield for helping to get me across Australia. #enjoythejourney #rgrdownunder"

My current view #rgrdownunder 

The anticipated arrival time at Warilla Beach, Shellharbour, was 11am.  This would make it a very late evening for the UK followers; "I'll try and get this finished at a decent time for UK followers".

"Currently at 2546ft. I think my descent to the #Pacific starts now just a few miles east of #Robertson."

"18 miles to #Shellharbour…."

"Here comes the sun. Right on time. I'm the blue dot. Hello #Macquariepass."

"The view from the top of #macquariepass. That's the #pacific Ocean in the distance. #rgrdownunder"

And so the descent began..I drove ahead to check out the route, the research suggested that this wasn't going to be pleasant. 

After 12 nail biting minutes I reached an area where it was safe to pull over, not quite at the bottom of the pass.  Blind hairpin bends, fierce oncoming traffic and no sign of a hard shoulder became a harsh realisation of what Mark was attempting on foot.  As I waited mid way down the pass I observed the traffic heading towards Mark.  These drivers looked experienced on the pass and were certainly taking no prisoners.  I wonder if they had ever been faced with a pedestrian on the route.

After what seemed like an eternity later I caught a glimpse of Mark heading down the last twist to reach me at my location.  To say it was a relief to see him was a huge understatement.  

"I'm almost at the bottom of #Macquariepass. That was tough. Already battered toes forced into the front of my shoes."

"I'm almost at the bottom of #Macquariepass. That was tough. Already battered toes forced into the front of my shoes."

"12 miles done. 11 to the #Pacific Ocean."

"I was at the top of that pass an hour ago. Stunning part of the route across Australia."

The progress was fantastic and Mark had no intention of making any stops until he hit the Pacific Ocean.  Just as I pulled over with 5 miles to go I noticed that Mark had someone with him.  I presumed that it was someone who had stopped to check that Mark was ok - a common feature of the last 82 days.  How wrong could I be? Just when the glory of the finish line awaited, up pops a Geordie! Pete Smith, a friend of, lives in Sydney and had followed the journey throughout.  As luck had it he was in the area with family and kindly offered to join Mark as support for the final stretch.

With a new friend in tow, my duties were relieved and I was sent to the finish line.  As I approached the finish line of the run across Australia I was blown away by the beauty of the area.  There had been many twists along the route and this was certainly one of the better outcomes.  A perfect setting.

The sun was shining and we had a small group of people to cheer Mark on for the final few metres.  Dani (our contact from Shellharbour) had gathered a few friends and family and my best friend, Caroline, had managed to persuade a friend, Marina, to make the journey down from Sydney.  The anticipation was immense for us waiting there at Warilla Beach, I can only imagine people back in the UK being glued to phones, laptops and PC's in the same manner.  This was really happening.  The run was almost complete.

"4 miles left. Feeling good."

"Now heading directly towards the #Pacific. No more than 1 hour left."

"Impossible to keep up with Twitter. I'm just concentrating on running as fast as I can. 3 miles to go. I can smell the #Pacific"

2 miles to go

In a moment of panic, I could see that Warilla Beach was quite a size.  How would Mark know the exact point where we were waiting for him? His mobile was in airplane mode so I couldn't get a message to him.  This could have been a disaster.  Dani's partner, Greg, set off out on the route to intercept Mark and ensure that he was directed to the correct point. Meanwhile we continued to wait until we got the signal from Greg that Mark was on his way.

We waited and we waited and we waited some more.  Then finally, Dani's phone rang.  He was on his way.

Just minutes before midnight, UK time, 11am local time, Mark made it to the Pacific Ocean.  Relief, excitement, pride and emotion all rolled into one.  He had finally made it.  2384 miles from Perth, Western Australia, to Shellharbour, New South Wales.  The dream was finally a reality.  

Mark made his last few strides down onto Warilla beach and didn't stop until his feet were soaked in the Pacific Ocean.

This was the first picture.  The finish line.  Warilla Beach, New South Wales, Australia. 

There was only a short period of time for Mark to come to terms with what he had achieved, to take some pictures and to record a brief interviewed to be shared with the UK media who were waiting with baited breath to get this footage ready for release.

Here are a few of moments that were captured as Mark had finally completed his mission of running coast to coast across Australia.

Making sure that the GPS watch was stopped.

With lifeguards Chris and Connor from Warilla/Barrack Point Club

With Greg...  

…as if the story of the run across Australia didn't have enough adventure already, we found out that Greg is a former Olympian! He represented Australia in the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta! Amazing!

Once the photos etc. had all been taken the next mission was to get back to Sydney, pack, check out of the hotel and get to the airport.  This was going to be tight.  First things first though, the car needed to be unloaded, we were still carrying all of the supplies that we had transferred from the RV.  Porridge, pasta, snacks, water - the list was endless.  Dani kindly offered to take these supplies off our hands, for all of the unopened products she would take these to the local food bank - from one charity to another.  Fantastic!

A quick bite to eat for Mark, obvious choice below, and we were back on the road, this time to Sydney.

We sadly left Warilla Beach, a beautiful area with fresh memories made, and set off on the highway.  After 4 miles the car flashed with a warning; engine overheating, switch off.  This was not good.  We pulled over onto the hard shoulder and frantically searched for roadside assistance details.  With the call logged we were informed that it could take up to an hour for someone to reach us.  This meant an hour less to get back to Sydney and to get to the airport.  

With the engine switched off, we lost the luxury of the air con.  Typically it was a blistering hot day.  There was no way that we could sit and wait in these conditions safely.  Fortunately Caroline and  Marina weren't too far behind in their rental car and raced to reach us.  Mark took shelter in Caroline's car while we frantically tried to think of ways that we could get back to Sydney.  Time was ticking.

The roadside assistance company had sent a text saying that they were 10 minutes away, brilliant.  Only the 10 minutes turned into 40 minutes and counting… Having 2 cars now pulled in on the hard shoulder on a busy highway was a bit of a risk.  One oncoming car making the wrong move could have been fatal.  We needed to think fast about how we could get back to Sydney on time.  The only option would be to unload our bags and transfer them to Caroline's car.  Marina would very kindly wait with our rental car.

Luckily a police officer working on highway patrol had seen us and pulled over to assess the situation.  Cue the 'girl card' and the Run Geordie Run leaflet.  While Mark was inside the other car slowly coming to terms with what he had achieved us girls worked on the sob story.  The Police Officer was very understanding and tried his best to hurry along the roadside recovery (in another mad coincidence, he had family from Newcastle upon Tyne!).

After almost an hour and a half (and 2 angry phone calls later) the tow truck arrived.  While we were waiting we had agreed with the rental company that the car could be returned directly to them and that Caroline and Marina would drive us back to Sydney. A perfect plan.  Only the truck driver was having none of it.  As if it wasn't hot enough to start with, the temperature was definitely rising with this one.  Having the Police Officer with us certainly helped, tempers were starting to flare.  Another 10 minutes later and we had a resolution.  We left the tow truck to return our vehicle and we were now on the road back to Sydney, a journey that would take 90 minutes.  We were cutting it very close to make it to the airport on time.

A mad dash to pack once we made it back to our hotel and we were back on the road.  Destination: Sydney Airport.  We arrived 30 minutes before we were due to board.  Just enough time for Mark to do a couple of telephone interviews and to grab some free wifi.  As we checked the flight details, the harsh realisation of what we were about to embark on hit.  Our first destination was Dubai before travelling onwards to Newcastle.  Although it obviously wouldn't be this straight forward.  Instead of our original flight on 4th January taking us direct to Dubai, our new flight had us heading to Bangkok first.  A 17 hour flight. In economy class.  

Needless to say this was an incredibly uncomfortable flight, even more so for Mark.  His body had no time to recover from the run and his feet were extremely painful.  Add altitude and feet swelling to the equation and we had a huge problem.  Mark was in agony.  The cabin crew were able to offer some pain relief but little else.  The flight was full for the entire journey through to Dubai and there were no seats with extra leg room. 

Luck struck when a very kind lady gave up her seat next to an emergency exit.  This meant that Mark could raise his feet and try to get some sleep for a few hours.  The journey continued through to Dubai but the nightmare didn't end there.  The flight arrived late and left us only 20 minutes to board the next flight back to Newcastle.  Only we had a 10 minute taxi to the next terminal first.  We were faced with a very immobile Mark and 10 minutes to board. The ground staff didn't appear to be too helpful and showed little concern.  We weren't going to make it.  I ran to find a member of airport staff who was driving a passenger transport vehicle to ask for assistance.  They advised that as we were very close to the departure gate they could not assist.  In an Anneka Rice fashion I raced through to our gate with Mark hobbling behind.  They were still expecting a few other passengers and we still had time to board.  Relief!  The bad news was this flight was full too so once again Mark was faced with limited leg room for the next 8 hours back to Newcastle.  I approached a member of cabin crew, Ben, to let him know that Mark would need some pain relief once we took off.  Ben advised that the crew from Sydney had called ahead and updated him of the situation.  If there was anything else that he could do to help Mark just needed to ask.

So, we had just made it in time for take off and home was our final destination.  Mark took advantage of Ben's offer and ended up sitting with his feet up in the crew jump seats while snacking on food from first class.   After 26 hours from departing Sydney we finally made it back to Newcastle.  There was no other way to be greeted than by the typical North East weather!

We made it through to baggage reclaim to be greeted by a member of the airline staff.  We were lucky enough to have made our flight from Dubai but our bags hadn't! Not a massive issue for clothing, coming from summer to winter, only the house keys were in the case.  In the blind panic of packing in Sydney this had completely slipped our minds!  The airline couldn't apologise enough but having raced for the flight ourselves we knew that this would be a likely outcome.

The airline very kindly offered us a driver to take us home, that would have to be with detour first though to pick up our spare keys.  Once we had confirmed all of the necessary details for our baggage, arrivals awaited.  We had been informed that there was a small gathering of friends and media waiting to greet and congratulate Mark.  We made our way through the doors and we were finally home!

It's only appropriate that I now close the laptop and let Mark continue the story.  I'm sure that there are many more tales and pictures to follow, I doubt that I have even scratched the surface with my updates.

Thank you for taking the time to read the blog and share the journey.  It's never been ideal having someone else tell the story but I do hope that you appreciate the reasons why this had to be the case.

It's been an amazing adventure and certainly something that I'm sure none of us will forget too quickly.  A huge huge thank you to everyone who has sent messages of support and of course, the whole reason why we ended up in Australia, for the donations.  The charity fund has surpassed Mark's target of £50,000.  There were times when Mark really didn't think that this was achievable.  As of today it is £52,290.  The kind spirit and generosity of the general public has been mind blowing.  Every single penny will be very wisely spent by the two charities; The Children's Foundation and the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation.  Please be sure to check out their pages to read more about how this money helps.

That's all for now folks, stay tuned for more updates from Mark and of course, for news of the documentary which we hope will be available later in the year.

Donna x 

Wednesday 15 January 2014

The final days! Day 81

(Saturday 4th January)

Day 81 needed to be a healthy slog of miles to ensure that Mark reached Warilla Beach at a reasonable hour on the final day.  Aside from the pressures of getting the run finished on day 82, our flight was also scheduled for later that day. No room for error!

We were fortunate enough to be treated to a motel room by one of Mark's sponsors, Chapman Ventilation.  This meant that Mark was able to get a reasonable nights sleep and prepare his body for the miles ahead.  

The day started once again on the Hume Highway, fortunately this would only be for a short period of time and Mark would soon reach the Illawarra Highway.  That said, the risks of the busy highway remained.  After 17 miles Mark had ran out of water and we struggled to find a safe meeting point.  Being on a busy highway with Mark on the opposite carriageway was proving difficult.  Thankfully an entrance to a quarry presented itself and we were able to park safely and Mark had a quick lunch break.

Mark made it onto the Illawarra Highway early afternoon but was once again greeted with the bitumen road surface and a small hard shoulder.  More negatives but an absolute positive was 39 miles remaining until Mark met with the Pacific Ocean.  

I drove past Mark on a couple of occasions towards the next meeting point.  To say that he was running well was an understatement.  The adrenalin had clearly kicked in and the run across Australia was almost complete!

"33 miles done. Feet in a lot of pain. Feel sick. Very tired. Otherwise all is great."

"I've stopped looking at my GPS watch. Not sure how far left. I think I've ran about 37 miles. Maybe more."

"I'm on my last legs now. Everything is beginning to ache. My right foot is in agony but I'm well overdue painkillers."

"I'm battling this one out to the bitter end. The #Pacific isn't too far away."

My current position. 26 miles left. The impossible dream is becoming reality.

The pace was incredible, I had to whizz ahead as dusk approached and pass Mark the high vis vest and head torch. After 13.5 hours he was still running.  This was a man on a mission.

At almost 9pm Mark reluctantly called it a day on 42 miles.  This left 23 miles to the Pacific Ocean.  As he clearly wasn't ready to give in we pulled into the roadside and discussed how Mark could safely run through the night to get to the finish line at Shellharbour.  The top and bottom of it was that this would not be safe.  Amongst the tactical discussion I took a call from Dani,  a resident of Shellharbour.  From the powers of social media we were put in touch with Dani who was to help map out the most efficient route to get to the Pacific Ocean and finally complete the run across Australia (to add to the coincidence, her Dad is originally from Gateshead!).

Foolishly Mark and I thought that the pending Macquarie Pass would be an uphill followed by a twisty descent.  How wrong could we be?! Dani politely informed us that our current position was the highest point, we were all downhill from here.  Mark's mind was clearly still racing, was it possible to get down this now while he was still in his stride? Dani advised that the evening mist had set in and that it would be a dangerous move to tackle the pass in darkness. There was no way that this could be achieved in these conditions, it would have to be an early start and the run would come to an end late morning on day 82.

Dani suggested that we drive to a picnic spot not far from where we were parked.  We sensibly took her advice and drove ahead a few miles.  Here we were greeted by some policemen on a late shift conducting random breath tests.  I escaped the interrogation this time as Mark spent time asking advice as to whether approaching the pass in the dark would be advisable.  It obviously wasn't. Fortunately there was a motel right next to where we had parked so we took the opportunity to check in (for all of 5 hours!).  The final day of the run across Australia was only a blink of an eye away….

Friday 3 January 2014

Day 80

(Friday 3rd January)

Sleeping in the car for a second night was never going to be easy. Sleeping in the car with shooting pains in his feet was going to be even more difficult for Mark. The slightest flinch was difficult in a confined space and he was clearly in agony. Another dose of strong painkillers seemed to help ease this a little and meant that Mark woke with very little pain. As I reported on day 79, there are no surface wounds on Mark's feet. The issues are deep internal pockets of fluid and numbness, something that only rest will help to cure.

Without the RV we have no cooking facilities either. We have basic snacks (very unhealthy ones at that) and only cold water to make the porridge. There are no other options until we leave the highway and head towards bigger towns nearer to the finish line.

Aside from the pain in his feet, Mark started the day feeling very positive. Finding a sneaky sachet of Cherry Active had helped to relieve some of the aches experienced on the previous day. The meeting points were now planned to be further apart at 10 miles (or wherever I could safely park) which would push Mark that little more to make it to the car. As ever, the messages of support continued. Many were concerned about sleeping in the car overnight rather than being checked into a hotel/motel. This isn't something that we have avoided, trust me if there was a more comfortable option then we would be jumping right in. The only thing not supporting us was the logistics. As mentioned earlier, until we head closer towards bigger towns then there are no other options. One of Mark's sponsors, Chapman Ventilation (you might recognise the name from the daily weather updates) kindly offered to pay for us to stay overnight in a hotel wherever possible. Initially Mark declined, any potential monies must always go directly to the two charities. They then clarified that they would equal match the cost of the hotel meaning that The Children's Foundation and the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation would still receive a donation. An incredibly generous offer. A good nights sleep makes such a huge difference to Mark's running day, and at this stage of the run we really need him on top form to reach the finish line in Shellharbour. If we could find a hotel for the evening then we would very gratefully accept the offer.

The Hume Highway was much quieter at the start of day 80, potentially less people heading out of Sydney post New Year's Eve. A great start to the day, it was cooler and cloudy meaning that the conditions were favourable, a good running surface on the hard shoulder was also a great help too:

The road surface on the #humehighway is nice and flat concrete. It's like running on carpet. Pure luxury.”

"#humehighway getting busier. Will update later. Please tune in to @garyandlisareal on Friday morning UK time for full update."

"83 miles to the finish line. Running very strong this morning. Attacking all the climbs. #ifeeltheneed #theneedforspeed"

In the meantime I had managed to find a rest area around the 10 mile meeting point. I drove ahead knowing that Mark would be a few hours until he reached me. I used this time to work my way through a full inbox of media queries and requests for interviews with Mark. Two hours later I was just finishing a call with the BBC and Mark emailed to say that he had already passed. 10 miles before 9am and he was still going strong, incredible!

At midday Mark reached the services at a town called Goulburn. Here they had a beautiful bakery with some amazing (and naughty) food on offer. Naturally Mark chose the pie option, but to be fair there wasn't a huge selection that would help to quickly replenish the calorie deficit – needs must on this one I'm afraid!

20 miles done. Time for a pie in #goulburn. That was one of the quickest morning sessions of the entire tour.”

Shortly after the lunch break Mark complained of feeling sick and dizzy. He was adamant that he was going to get back out on the road. I was very firm on this one and wouldn't let him back out of the car until he drank some ice cold water (hurrah for services) and had a little more time to rest. The lunch break ended up almost 2 hours, time that Mark can't afford to lose but rather that than lose concentration or consciousness. This extra time also allowed me to do a quick search on the internet to see if there would be any accommodation close to the finish point for the day. I'm pleased to confirm that there was. This would mean a comfortable bed and shower allowing Mark to relax a little and rest for more big miles ahead on day 81.

Although the day started cool, the temperature had really started to creep up by midday. It was worryingly starting to feel more like the temperatures that we experienced during the heatwave. The car was reading 39 Celsius – we hoped that it didn't get any higher.

Stopping at the services in Goulburn meant that Mark was able to take a break from running on the highway and found a route to run through the town. This presented a lot less traffic, if only for a few miles. I drove ahead to find a suitable meeting point after rejoining the highway only to find more problems. The traffic had started to increase and the highway had split into a higher and lower road. As Mark was running on the opposite carriage way to me this formed an instant barrier between us. As chance would have it a trusty truck stop appeared meaning that I could safely pull over and wait patiently for Mark to arrive.

Later in the afternoon Mark spoke once again with Gary and Lisa on the Real Radio breakfast show. If you have missed any of the interviews then you can listen again here. Gary and Lisa (and their loyal listeners) have been incredibly supportive throughout and the, now daily, calls and really do help to keep Mark's spirits high. Mark was also able to speak to ITV which, for those of you in NE England, you may have seen at some point during the evening.

Mark finished the day on 34 miles.  A good strong day of running and most certainly time for a proper sleep in a bed.  This would be vital to the big miles of day 81.  Huge thanks again to Chapman Ventilation, we were treated to a bed AND a shower – luxury!

After a quick bite to eat and treatment to Mark's feet we hit the hay ready to start a new day. 61 miles to the finish line – so very very close!

34 miles done. 61 to the finish line. Tomorrow has got to be a massive day.”

My right foot is in all kinds of pain. More treatment required. Oh and painkillers too!”

Realistic outcome is now 45 miles tomorrow and 16 early on Sunday morning.”

Or I could always repeat the last day in the USA and do 61 miles. Hmm…”

Day 79

(Thursday 2nd January - I believe that's us finally up to date!)

So, first night sleeping in the car. It was painfully uncomfortable but something that we would have to get used to.

As sleeps go that was pretty bad. Time to hit the #humehighway again.”

Day 80 started just after 7am, it was a lot more difficult for Mark to get going after some contortionist movements to get a suitable sleeping position in the car. Mark also complained of aching, more than likely as a result of being unable to locate the Cherry Active. This product has continued to amaze Mark leaving him ache free day after day. Until now.

A fairly early start on the highway meant that the traffic was light. In addition to this positive, the running surface for Mark was great as was the wide hard shoulder that he was running on. The aim for today was to reduce the mileage to less than 100 to the finish line in Shellharbour.

Lots of flies, lots of climbs, lots of numb areas in my feet but lots of generosity too to the 2 charities. #allgood”

By 09:30 Mark reported that he had completed his first 10 miles:

First 10 miles done. #humehighway getting busier but I feel very safe on the wide hard shoulder.”

My feet only have another few days left in them. The area around my previously fractured ankle is quite sore too.”

I'm going to take painkillers for the 1st time in 2 weeks just to take the edge off the pain.”

Otherwise, I do feel strong. I've just hit what I think is the high point of the run so far at 2100 ft.”

During the last 5 weeks in Australia I have closely monitored Mark's intake of painkillers. Before I arrived I was worried that the amount he had been taking could potentially have long term consequences. Luckily with the treatment provided to his feet there has been less and less need for  these painkillers. I must stress that Mark is only taking these when the pain is severe. Mark continues to run through the standard pain in his feet that he his faced with on a daily basis.

The climb out of #yassvalley has taken me to 2400ft. Surely it's mostly downhill from here.”

"123 miles to go"

So, the challenge of the Hume Highway continued. Mark once again faced with the dangerous oncoming traffic and me trying to find suitable parking spots to meet him. Parts of the highway have the central reservation filled with trees so it can be quite difficult to try and check the other side of the road where Mark is running. Ideally I need an area on his side so that he is not adding further risk having to cross the busy highway. As if these worries weren't enough the sound of the highway patrol sirens were enough to turn my stomach; has something happened to Mark? Have they stopped Mark to say he can't run on the highway so the run is over? When you have tonnes of time on your hands parked up in a car it's hard not to fear the worst! Thankfully neither of these occurred.

There were limited tweets and pictures for the remainder of the day.  On a road so so busy it was imperative that Mark stayed focussed on watching the oncoming traffic and being ready to make a move should he be faced with any danger.

At 19:30 Mark called it a day on 33 miles. He had complained of pain his foot for most of the day which we assumed was just the old wounds reacting after the Christmas break. To my horror this was not the case – foot watch was back! Mark's sock was filled with blood, just as much as I was filled with dread thinking about having to treat his feet again! It appeared that a new toenail (if you can even call it a toenail) had grown through looking very nasty and deformed (think of a burnt cornflake) and had aggravated the adjacent toes causing quite a nasty cut.

I cleaned Mark's feet the best I could, as much as I cursed the RV it would have been so much easier to move about in if it was still on the tour. Nevertheless we got there and I added an overnight dressing in hope that this would prevent any infection from occurring.

Aside from all of these bad things, the absolute positives were that donations were still being made and there were now only 95 miles left to the finish line at Shellharbour.

"Ah...the 5 star luxury of the car. Extra leg room on the passenger side. :)"

Lights out here in hotel du car. You'll not find this little gem on Trip Advisor.”

Day 78

(Wednesday 1st January) - Happy New Year!

On New Year's Eve Mark and I discussed the option of delaying our flight, by one day, back to the UK. This would give Mark a few more hours running as a contingency should he be faced with any difficulties over the next few days (going on past experience anything could happen!). We called our airline only to be told that the next available flight would be 8th January. Not good. We had already taken so much time off from our 'normal day jobs' and the budget was tight for extending our hotel.

In recent weeks the office for the British Consulate General, here in Australia, had emailed Mark. They offered very kind words of support and encouragement and suggested that we contact them should we need any assistance in Australia. What do to – it's New Year's Eve and the Communciations Officer that I had been dealing with was now, like most of the world, on annual leave! The British Consulate General himself, Nick McInnes, had also been very kind enough to stay in regular contact checking on Mark's welfare and progress. Not being entirely sure of the outcome I emailed Nick and explained the predicament asking if he had any suggestions for alternative routes back to the UK. Nick was very prompt with his response and said to leave it with him. Fingers crossed!

We celebrated the New Year and made a toast (with lime and soda) to 2014. The atmosphere in Sydney was electric and the firework display simply out of this world. Mark and I headed back to the hotel shortly after midnight and quickly packed some essential supplies for the few days that lay ahead.

Day 78 was soon upon us and we made an early start driving back to the finish line of day 73. We stopped at the service station in Yass to refuel (ourselves and the car!) before arriving just after 3pm local time.

After an hour of running Mark tweeted:

A strong start. Feeling very good. Long may this continue. Desperate to finish this off in style. Attacking climbs and enjoying it.”

I passed Mark running and it certainly looked as if the rest had been a success. He was looking very comfortable and had good pace. After approximately 10 miles Mark made it to the Hume Highway. As you will have read on day 73, this road is notoriously dangerous. Every ounce of concentration was required for this stretch of the run, the riskiest part by far.

"I've made it to the #humehighway. Just need to get to the other side of the road safely."

Aside from the challenges that Mark faced of oncoming traffic, finding a safe place to pull over for me was proving difficult. Imagine this road as the M1 in the UK, it's certainly not somewhere that you can just pull over for a few hours and wait patiently. I had to chance where I could stop which would also allow Mark to reach safely. Fortunately the Australian's are extremely road conscious. This means that there are designated rest areas at various places. That said, these also needed to coincide with Mark's running distances ensuring that they were not too far ahead to add risk of him running out of water. Luck was on our side for day 78 and we were able to make safe stops and water exchanges.

More good fortune found us with a reply from the British Consulate General. Our flights had been amended and we were now booked to fly back to the UK on 5th January, a day later than previously planned. Incredible! This was a huge relief for Mark and took off a little of the pressure for finishing the run across Australia (and not risking missing the flight home!).

Just after 7pm Mark finished running for the day. The evening started to draw in quickly which meant that running conditions were no longer safe. This reconfirmed Mark's decision on day 73 that running in the dark would have been a disaster and quite likely an accident waiting to happen.

The day ended on 16 miles with 128 remaining.

Having returned the RV on 23rd December, we no longer had anywhere 'comfortable' to sleep. Being in the middle of the motorway, and in between towns, there was nowhere to offer any alternative to sleeping in the car. As it happened, we were very close to a rest area which offered a little distance between us and the noisy highway so we parked there for the evening.

"No expense spared for tonight's digs. This is the view. #noroomservice"

Thursday 2 January 2014

Days 75 - 77

Mark spent the next 3 days relaxing in Sydney.  The blisters on his feet had healed well and dressings were no longer needed.  The main damage to Mark's feet is numbness, this is about 60 - 70% meaning that Mark has had to tread very carefully especially when on uneven ground.  There are no messages/signals sent to Mark's brain to acknowledge any danger to his feet.  This is something which will hopefully return once Mark has finished the run and had time to properly rest.

As ever the donations continued even when the run was paused.  New Year's Eve saw the fund burst through the £40,000 barrier - a great way to see in 2014!

We watched an amazing firework show overlooking the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House, but had to cut the evening short for an early start and drive to Yass. 

"Happy New Year and thanks so much for the support in 2013."

Day 74??

(Saturday 28th December)

Everyone managed to keep up so far? Me neither!

So after a restless night and a terrible sleep full of nightmares for Mark, he woke me with the words "it ain't over til it's over". Naturally this confused me having just woken up.  I asked what on earth he meant (checking that he wasn't just sleep talking!).  THE RUN WAS BACK ON! I'm not sure whether this filled me with dread or excitement - the shock was all too much.  During his broken sleep Mark had been travelling the last hundred or so miles through the maps on his mobile phone and had found a way to reach the Pacific Ocean.

"This is the final 140 miles. #yass to #shellharbour and the #Pacific. Finishing on the 3rd Jan."

So just when I thought that my days were nasty feet free, I now had another 3 of  potential blisters and broken skin.  Oh the joys! Aside from this horrendous thought, this was definitely the best decision of the entire run.  This has to be completed as a coast to coast challenge and I was really pleased that there was a way for Mark to be able to do this.  Having the 4 day rest would be just the treatment that Mark needed both physically and mentally.  We were checked into a lovely hotel (to enjoy the comfort to the maximum before being faced with the car as our sleeping quarters!) and would be able to spend some quality time in Sydney before setting back out on the road.

Once again Mark's inbox was full of notifications with supportive messages.  Ironically offers of support were made within an hour or so from people in Shellharbour.

"I know nothing yet of the route to #shellharbour. I think there may be a lot of climbing, a mountain pass and switchback roads involved."

"I like climbs, hills and mountainous roads. It will be a fitting end to this most incredible journey."

"So that's everyone up to date hopefully."

"In summary, nightmares led to waking up looking at a map. Plan J was formulated. I have 4 rest days. Jan 1st to 3rd I'll run to the Pacific."

"So to finish for now. "It aint over till it's over". #rgrdownunder with @drivebenfield"

Mark ended the day with interviews with the media back home in the North East of England 

"Just finished interviews with BBC and ITV. It's lights out time."

"I need to spend a few hours in the morning checking the revised route for further risks."

"I like the challenge that Macquarie Pass is going to bring at the end of the run. Somehow, I think I was destined to finish at #shellharbour"

Day 73 - The end of the run across Australia

(Friday 27th December)

Day 73 was a 6am start, this would allow Mark to attack some early miles.  Unfortunately we up before breakfast was available in the motel but fortunately a local garage had sausage rolls on sale!  

The route continued to present some climbs on the way to Yass...

As I waited at the first meeting point of the day for Mark I got chatting to a lovely lady in the local garage.  She was incredibly excited that Mark would be passing by and made sure that every customer knew about him! I attempted to buy some supplies for Mark in the form of iced coffee and the lady would not accept my money.  I suggested that as a compromise we donate the money to The Children's Foundation and the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation. A very kind gesture and a lovely lady who later got to meet Mark…

Incredibly the donations continued throughout the Christmas period.  Very humbling for Mark that people were taking time out to contribute to the run and the charity fund.  

"Meeting kind Aussie folk, supportive messages online and very kind donations means I'm running well so far on this hot day."

Mark made a special thank you to Mike Bartle who made a donation in memory of his parents and mother-in-law. 

I received my own message during the afternoon, from my youngest goddaughter, Maja, who asked this…

I can safely say that Mark's foot is definitely worse than that of a Hobbit!

Around 8pm Mark finished running on day 73 and tweeted the following:

"30 miles for the day and I'm at the motorway. Much further north due to the hilly detour I've made these last 2 days."

"The most dangerous part of the entire run lies ahead. Motorway. Night running. Bridges with huge drops and very little barrier protection."

"It's dark. It's a motorway. It's a death wish. No more miles today."

"Currently talking to @sbrfoundation about the safety aspect of the run. There are some tough decisions to be made."

Just after 11pm (local time) Mark then made the following announcement:

"It's quite literally the end of the road for me. I gave it my best shot and then some. The run finishes in Yass, 73 days after leaving Perth."

"I've caused enough people enough worry. The Hume Highway has already claimed victims this month. I'm not going to be one of them."

"This run should have been over in the #nullarbor when I was in constant pain. It should have been over last week in extreme temperatures."

"This run far and away eclipses what I achieved in the USA in 2011. I had to raise the bar after that. I've come so close to the finish line."

"I finished running on the final hot day of the run. It's a lot cooler after today until the end of next week."

"I have to consider my safety for the sake of my son Jack back home and my partner Donna here by my side."

"It's just not possible to finish this run safely given the time I have left. If I had another week then it would be possible."

"I've been doing this for 20 years now having raised almost 200,000 pounds."

"I know my Mam and Dad would have been very proud of what I have done for good causes in their memory."

"When I get back to the UK I'll have a good long look at where I go from here. There is life in the old dog yet."

"In events like this you always need a slice of good fortune. I never had any in 73 days."

"It has been an incredible journey of immense difficulty. I have tried to share as much of it as I could via Social Media."

"Thank you to everybody for their kind donations. Your money has been well earned. I have fought and fought hard for it."

"I'm very lucky to have @Donna__Houghton supporting me, not only in Australia, but in my life also. She is my rock."

"@Donna__Houghton managed to get another 4 weeks out of the run through careful treatment of my feet."

"Rather fittingly, the last time I felt like this was when Sir Bobby's England lost on penalties in Italia 90.It's lights out in the car here in Yass."

"We travel to Sydney at first light."

"I've missed my son's birthday and Christmas and taken 3 months unpaid leave to run across Australia. I have no regrets."

"So close"

So, as if the decision on day 69 wasn't tough enough - this certainly was! Mark and I talked at great length about what this decision would mean before I allowed him to switch off the GPS watch and remove his trainers!  I personally was devastated that Mark wouldn't be able to complete the 'coast to coast' run across Australia.  Knowing how much effort; blood, sweat and tears have gone into this, to make the decision to finally call it a day was phenomenal.  Having spent the last month on the road with Mark I knew how difficult this decision was but could also see the relief when he had committed to it and informed the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation and personal trainer David Fairlamb.  Both David and Liz were incredibly supportive and backed Mark's decision 100% as did Mark's other charity, The Children's Foundation.   I'm sure that having followed the run everyone else was in the same frame of mind.  This was the safest option and the run across Australia was no more.

Mark received so many messages of support, here is just one of them from @lachieandi who has provided some good information to Mark along the way...

Wednesday 1 January 2014

Day 72

(Thursday 26th December)

Driving 222 miles back to the end of day 68 required an early start from Sydney.  Reconnecting with the outside world was a great motivator for Mark when he saw how many donations had been made over the Christmas break, all with very supportive messages.  We have both said, on numerous occasions, how much of a difference these messages and donations make, even more so when Mark found out on Christmas Day that two people close to him have had the all clear from cancer.  Raising money for a cancer charity certainly adds more perspective (if ever needed) to this run.

Another motivator for Mark was listening to a Christmas @thatwineshow podcast recorded especially by Andy Fury and Steffen Peddie.  Thanks lads!

Mark set off just after lunchtime from Cootamundra:

"Legs feel very well rested. Plenty of energy. A great start on this very warm day. Sydney here we come!"

The route out of Cootamundra presented some hills which Mark welcomed having spent so many days on straight flat roads.  He attacked the day well and managed to end on 20 miles.  

"Looks like everything still works. I had a wobble on a down hill section but got stuck in to a hill and that perked me up."

Luckily day 72 ended in Murrumburrah which had a motel with vacancies.  This also meant that we had access to cooked food rather than surviving on the snacks packed in the car.  

The donations continued to pour in which was great to see.  Mark also received a donation from a family of fellow diners in the motel restaurant.  This meant that the fund was very close to breaking the £37,000 barrier.

The aim for day 73 would be to reach the town of Yass.  The forecast was 34 Celsius so it was certainly set to be another 'warm' one.

Days 70 & 71

No activity to report for these days - Mark signed off Twitter and Facebook for some Christmas rest!

Day 69 - The twist

(Monday 23rd December)

Fortunately at the end of day 68 we were able to check into an RV park - this meant electricity which in turn meant luxury - air con!!

We woke in the morning to a very comfortable 20 Celsius inside of the RV and to our relief it wasn't much warmer outside.

Mark's tweets were as follows:

"What a great sleep. 20 Celsius in the RV and not much warmer outside. @Donna__Houghton and I have survived the heat wave of last 2 weeks!"

"The temperature shouldn't get much above 35 Celsius for the remainder of the run hopefully. Still very warm but not a 40 plus temperature."

"Our own extreme warm weather plan has worked a treat. No sunburn. No dehydration. No incidents. Just very uncomfortable days and nights."

"The motorway is only a few miles away. That takes me to Sydney. It's going to be really tough, as ever, but I'm very confident."

"I woke up this morning a very happy man after receiving such unprecedented support yesterday. There is a lot of love for this event."

"Having the backing and support of the general public is a key instrument in helping me run all of this way successfully."

"The run across Australia is far more difficult than I could ever have imagined. The toll that it has taken mentally is considerable."

"Physically I'm in the best shape of my life and no longer taking painkillers as if they were sweets."

"My feet are still very sore but massively improved. There is now a lot of loss of feeling in many parts of both feet however."

"It's going to take many months to email and thank everyone who has donated when I get back to the UK. I can't say thank you enough."

"The generosity of the general public and my friends and family has been incredibly humbling. Especially at this time of year."

Later that day Mark spoke to Gary and Lisa on Real Radio.  It was during this chat that Mark announced a revised plan for the run across Australia and later shared his thoughts on Sound Cloud...

This wasn't an easy decision for Mark to make, but it was certainly the right decision.  Seeing Mark struggle so badly for the last few days was definitely the lowest point of the run for me.  Being unable to do anything other than offer words of love, encouragement and support was a real struggle. We talked at length about how this run could be saved.  This was certainly the best option meaning that Mark's body and mind would have the chance for some much needed rest - in the last 68 days Mark had taken only one of six planned rest days.    

So, a long drive back to Sydney was the distance travelled for day 69.  With this came traffic, and lots of it! We said a very unemotional farewell to the RV and packed up the new support vehicle - a car.  Extending the run meant that things would become even more difficult as we no longer had access to cooking facilities or somewhere 'comfortable' to sleep.  

Mark received so many supportive messages following this decision, there were even offers to pay to extend the rental of the RV.

We arrived in Sydney and checked into our hotel - absolute luxury compared to living in the RV for so long!  Mark was even more entertained by trying on his size 34 waist jeans and seeing just how much weight he had lost!

Day 69 was a fantastic day; the relief of Mark being able to recharge both physically and mentally, being able to have an amazing meal cooked by someone else (that wasn't in the RV), having a catch up radio interviews with Gary and Lisa from Real Radio and Colin Murray on TalkSport followed by a glass of fizz (diet coke!) with a fantastic view of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House.

"Happy Christmas everybody. I'll be back on Boxing Day to finish what I started 69 days ago. Peace and goodwill to all men (and lasses). X"

The run would resume on day 72 (26th December) in Cootamundra, 222 miles from Sydney.