Tuesday 24 July 2018

Day 48 - The Final Day

As far as I was concerned, the 48th and final day of stage five of the Run Around The World was a cause for celebration. It would only take 3.5 miles to reach the finish line and from a physical and mental point of view that represented no problems at all. I was aware of a little bit of climbing to be done but after all I had been through in the Carpathian Mountains and the Ivano-Frankivsk and Ternopil oblasts in particular, I knew that it would be a formality. Donna and I stopped for a quick coffee on the way to pick Chappie up. 

We arrived at the London School of English located within the National Technical University of Ukraine at 1045. Chappie has been stored there overnight. I quickly strapped myself to Chappie and we were on our way through the busy streets of Kyiv.

Donna walked on the path and I mostly stayed on the road. The traffic wasn’t too bad but I wasn’t too pleased at being reunited with the constant loud noise of cars and lorries. It was something that I’d been subjected to for the previous three days. My third and final pair of earphones packed up on me two days ago so I just had to put up with the constant noise.

Donna and I made quick progress through Kyiv. It was nice to have some company for a change. Stage five was the most time that I’d spent running alone around the world so far.

Traffic noise aside, it was a very pleasant morning. The pressure and anxiety that I’d felt since leaving Zhytomyr had completely gone. Of course, that was a feeling that I’d experienced during the runs across the USA, Australia and Europe and was totally expected. I felt as if a massive weight had been lifted from my shoulders. That’s an ironic statement given that I was towing Chappie through Kyiv weighing in at 100kg approximately.

We took a left hand turn at The National Circus of Ukraine up Olesia Honchara Street just before the two mile point.

A right hand turn was made up Bohdana Khmelnytskoho Street where there was one final steep climb to go up. It wasn’t too problematic. I found the cobble stones more of an issue. I was in quite a lot of pain with my feet. This street continued on for a mile.

We turned left onto Khreshchatyk Street where I knew the finish line lay about half a mile away. The final stretch was a bit of a blur. I remember manoeuvring Chappie through small concrete dome shaped blocks. I assume that they were to keep traffic off the pavement. My phone rang at 1216. It was the female journalist from the day before wondering where I was. I previously told her that I’d planned to arrive at the finish line at noon. I was literally two minutes away.

With the Independence Monument in full view, I found a place to stop to take photos. There was a small welcoming committee including Artur and his team from UATV. My Kyiv contact and Geordie expat, Michael Hudson, was waiting in a Newcastle shirt. It was great to meet him after all of the text messages and emails containing all kinds of advice and local facts that he’d sent while I was in Ukraine. Michael was also instrumental in setting up my contacts in Kalush, Turnopil, Starokostyantyniv and Zhytomyr. To call him a “game changer” in terms of this stage is an understatement.

I was very relieved that Chappie had made it to the finish line in one piece. Life with Chappie for 48 days hadn't been easy but it had played a huge part in getting to Kyiv within a decent timescale. Despite being claustrophobic, I always felt safe and secure while sleeping inside Chappie.

I decided to venture over the road nearer to the Independence Monument. After I crossed to the other side, Chappie’s starboard wheel buckled. There was no moving him safely so I quickly changed the wheel. With a crowd of onlookers, I had the wheel changed in about forty seconds. This was stark contrast to the time spent on mechanical issues during the early days of this stage. 

I gave a quick interview to the female journalist as did Donna. Then I gave a final interview to Artur from UATV.

It was then time for a few photos at the official finish line for stage five of the Run Around The World. Firstly, myself and Michael had a photo taken with my “Geordie Pride” flag.

Donna and I then posed with the Independence Monument in the background.

I then put on my Blyth RC vest for some photos. Shortly after that I got talking to some people from Sydney, Australia. They were kind enough to make a donation to the Hospice which I paid in straight away via my Virgin Money Giving page.

News of the successful completion of stage five soon reached NUFC.com. As had been the case at various points over the last 18 years, I was very proud to see a photo and story on the site. I shudder to think how much less money would have been raised without the support of NUFC.com and its readers.

I said a farewell to Independence Square and we loaded Chappie into the back of a van for transport back to the University. Thank you to Aliona (pictured below right with Donna and Michael) who was present at the finish line for arranging the van.

The University is where Chappie will remain until it was time for him to be picked up later in the week. Thankfully, Donna had managed to sort out the freight arrangements back to the UK.

The progress graphic was loaded onto Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The total mileage for stage five was 808 miles meaning that 9,799 miles had been ran around the world.

Stage five hadn’t turned out as I expected. It was supposed to be a 2,900 mile trip to Astana in Kazakhstan. What I didn’t anticipate were the logistical issues and red tape associated with sending Chappie to / from foreign countries. More importantly, I never anticipated the level of interest from the people in the towns, cities and villages that I ran through. That will go down as a massive positive as far as I'm concerned.

I think stage five turned out to be a real “proof of concept”. It hasn’t been like any of the four previous stages which were all about running massive distances and battling physical and mental exhaustion. I took the opportunity in stage five to talk to schools, universities, community groups, army veterans and English speaking clubs. When people see Chappie they want to know the who, where, why, what and when.

There's no doubt that the story so far is a very rich and inspirational one. I’ve been very happy and proud to be able to share it with so many people in so many different countries. I think stage five was the one where I managed to tell a good story, not only face to face, but via my blog and the other social media channels. The feedback so far for this has been excellent and the stats are as good as they were in during the run across the USA.

Back to day 48 and we finished the day, not by celebrating the end of the run (and Donna’s birthday), but waiting in for KLM to deliver Donna’s delayed luggage. My fresh clothes were in there so I was pleased when the case was delivered at 9pm! The immediate aftermath of any stage of the run around the world has never been glorious. Stage five was no exception.

If you have enjoyed following stage five then please consider making a donation to St Benedict's Hospice via this link. Thank you!

Monday 23 July 2018

Day 47

The problem with sleeping in a gas station car park overnight is that I didn't get a great deal of sleep. There was a constant coming and going of loud lorries and cars. Also, the tyre place that seemed to be open until after midnight meant that I found it very difficult to nod off inside Chappie. On the plus side, it was a safe place to sleep and that is the priority over a decent rest.

I set off at 0745 with a target of running 28 miles to the Polytechnic where Chappie would be stored for the night. I was obviously very excited with the prospect of meeting Donna there. I spoke to her just before her 0600 flight to Kyiv from Newcastle.

Back on the road and I was quite surprised at how much quieter the traffic was compared to yesterday (Sunday). I was also very pleased at the amount of space that I had in the hard shoulder.    

The hard shoulder kept disappearing whenever there was a slip road or junction. As had been the case with the previous 46 days, full concentration was needed at all times. This was helped by the fact that I couldn't listen to any music due to my 3rd and final pair of earphones failing on me yesterday.

The lack of music or podcasts meant that I was left with my own thoughts. There was very little to look at or listen to other than the long straight road disappearing into the horizon and the loud noise of the passing traffic. This wasn't a good situation to be in and I felt a little impatience and anxiety creeping in. The only solution was to keep moving forward as quickly as I possibly could.  

I rested for 10 minutes at the 11 mile point. As I was about to set off again a journalist turned up and I gave an interview at the side of the road. Afterwards, she said that she would meet me further down the road in about an hour.

The journalist and cameraman were waiting a mile down the road. This time she interviewed me while running alongside. I think we talked for almost an hour and this really helped pass the time and also eased my anxiety. They both drove ahead again.

My instincts told me that once I reached the horizon in the picture below I'd be able to see the skyline of Kyiv.

I reached the previous horizon after 16 miles of running. I could see the journalist and cameraman once again. This time they were situated on top of a footbridge. More importantly, I could see the Kyiv skyline in the distance. It didn't take me long to realise that I still had another half marathon to run before I reached the finish point for the day. I also realised that there was a very long straight road between myself and the city limits. The photos below doesn't do the size and scale of that final approach to Kyiv justice. 

I reached the city boundary of Kyiv after 18 miles of running. If you look close enough you can see the sign below.

The journalist and cameraman were waiting for me at a small Kyiv sign. At first I thought that they'd been pulled over by the police. I gave a final brief interview and continued on my way.

At the 21 mile point near a very large Kyiv sign, I could see Artur the journalist from UATV and his cameraman. Just before I reached them, I got talking to a man called Serge about my journey. He very kindly presented me with a bar of chocolate. He wanted to run with me for a while but I told him that I was being filmed by the crew up ahead.

Artur and his film crew took some shots and an interview was given next to the large Kyiv sign. They planned to finish the job tomorrow when I reached Independence Square in the city centre.  

I eventually reached what I recognised to be the city of Kyiv. I was able to spend most of the time running on the pavement and I had very few problems making my way around the pedestrians. It was rush hour and there were many card and lorries leaving the city. I felt quite safe whenever I did have to join the road as I made my way further towards the city centre.

It was a gloriously sunny end to the day in Kyiv. There was so much activity both on the road and off it. I hadn't seen so many people in one place since I left Belgrade.

After exactly 26 miles on the very straight road I turned around a slight bend. I check the Find My Friend app on my phone and I could see that Donna was less than 1 mile away.

I eventually met Donna and also Michael, who is my Geordie contact in Kyiv. We walked the final 2 miles to Chappie's storage location at the Polytechnic. At this point, all of my anxiety vanished. I was very pleased to make it to the end point for the day after 28.8 very tough miles.

Now there is just the small matter of finishing the run at Independence Square tomorrow. It should take no more than 90 minutes to bring stage five of the run around the world to an end.

Sunday 22 July 2018

Day 46

Today’s blog starts as I was getting ready to sleep inside Chappie outside the hotel. Some ladies and their children appeared at the hatch of Chappie and asked what I was doing. I was more than happy to put on an impromptu talk about my journey. 

I would say that last nights sleep in Chappie was probably the best of them all. A combination of a good body temperature, knowing that I was in a safe place, being very tired together and a constant hum of motorway traffic helped massively. 

I was woken up at 0700 by a lady holding a baby peering in to Chappie. I packed Chappie up and decided to have an omelette in the hotel restaurant. I was the only one in there and I got served very quickly. I used Google Translate to explain to the waitresses all about my journey. As has been the case so often in this journey their faces were one of amazement. 

I set off running at 0900 and there was a definite spring in my step. 

I passed a police checkpoint after a few miles. They were pulling cars and lorries over. I ran passed the control room expecting stern faces but enthusiastic waves were exchanged. I really shouldn’t have expected anything else based on my previous experiences in Ukraine. 

The road was very busy and, again, reminded me of the A1 back in England. I was very excited to see the occasional sign for Kyiv. 

Stobbsy, who was on my Australia and Europe support teams, wouldn’t have been able to cope with this signage. He would probably think it was called “Kanab”. He got terribly confused looking for Turin during the run across Europe. “I don’t know where it is. There are only signs for Torino” he was heard saying. A classic #stobbsytales if ever there was one. 

At the 10 mile point I could see the skies in the distance turning blacker. A quick check of my Google Map told me that there was a gas station 2 miles down the road. I put my foot down and did my best to reach it before the monsoon started. 

I reached the little gas station just in time. 

I’d only been sitting under the shelter for a few minutes and the rain began to lash down. A lady appeared from the gas station kiosk. I thought that she was going to ask me to move on. Instead, she brought a chair for me to sit on. 

I set off running again once the rain had stopped. After 14 miles I passed the sign for the Kyiv Oblast. This would be the sixth and final Oblast after Zakarpattia, Ivano-Frankivsk, Ternopil, Khmelnytskyi and Zhytomyr. 

The film crew from UATV arrived at the 18 mile point. The intention was for them to film the remaining miles of the day right up until I crawled inside Chappie for the night. 

The UATV crew took some really good shots which involved their drone and also from the rear of their van. 

We found a quieter place away from the motorway to conduct an interview. The questions asked by Artur were very good and I was able to cover many aspects of my journey. 

They took various shots of me running over the remaining 8 miles of the day. I could hear the drone buzzing overhead and did my best to run as quickly as I could. I was relieved to reach the Okko gas station after 26.7 miles. 

As it turned out, today was the quickest day since day one. I only did 13 miles and was fresh back then so I’m counting today as the quickest. I was filmed parking Chappie and then buying a couple of cheese burgers! 

There was another interview before the final shot of me disappearing inside Chappie. I said goodbye to the UATV film crew and headed into the gas station to try and get washed. 

I’ve got to say a huge thank you to Artur and the rest of the team for spending a substantial amount of time covering my run today. The filming will continue tomorrow at the city limits of Kyiv and conclude in Independence Square on Tuesday at 1200. 

Tomorrow is the last big day of mileage. There are 28 miles to run to Chappie’s place of storage. Then it’s a final 4 ceremonial miles to Independence Square on Tuesday.

Saturday 21 July 2018

Day 45

I’ve got to start this blog by saying a massive thank you to Alex (Oleksii in Ukrainian) and Irina for looking after me in their house since I arrived on Thursday night. They are lovely people and I’m so grateful to them for making me feel at home. 

Irina is a university lecturer and I’ve had some good conversations in English with her. We laughed when she kept using the word “tomorrow” instead of “yesterday”. At one point I thought she was a time traveller. 

I have mainly communicated with Alex via rock music which has been so brilliant and funny at the same time. 

Such lovely people. But that should come as no surprise based on my time in Ukraine. 

A huge thank you also goes to Svitlana who was my primary contact in Zhytomyr. She set me up with Irina and Alex. She also invited me to join “Zhytomyr speaks English” who are the group of people I met last night with a desire to practice and better their English speaking skills. It was a very interesting meeting with some great people. 

Svitlana also setup the media interview in Zhytomyr with Iuliia. Thanks to her for asking some good questions and providing further valuable coverage here in Ukraine. 

Day 45 started with a puncture unfortunately. It took a minute to put my spare wheel on Chappie. I set off through Zhytomyr at 1000. Irina wrote a Ukrainian word on a piece of paper. She said that I could get my tyre repaired wherever I saw that word. 

After four miles, which was on the outskirts of Zhytomyr, I saw the word that Irina had written. I used Google Translate to ask for a repair and the mechanic quickly started the repair. While I was waiting I had various conversations with the people around me about my journey. Two different people offered to pay for the repair of my tyre. The two men decided between them who would do it and it wasn’t too long before I had a fully functional spare tyre again. 

I managed to spend the next few miles on a bike track before joining a road very much like the A1. The good news was that I had a hard shoulder mostly to myself. There was the occasional roadside seller to manoeuvre around however. 

After 9 or so miles, I stopped at an Okko gas station for a couple of delicious cheeseburgers and had a good conversation about my journey with a guy called Andriy. 

I set off into the pouring rain and made it to a minor road soon after. The minor road eventually joined back up with the E40 but was two miles shorter. It was also very hilly! I stopped at another Okko gas station for a cheeseburger after 18 miles. Once again, I set off into the rain. I got talking to a lady in Korostyshiv who was desperate to help and asked if I would like to come to her house. I told her that I was on a tight schedule and pressed forward to rejoin the main road. 

I took a safer option for a few hundred metres through a garage forecourt and got talking to the men below about my journey. I think the picture sums up the level of enthusiasm and support of all of my days in Ukraine. 

I worked hard for the remaining seven miles and I had a hotel car park and picnic area in my sights as options for sleeping. As the light faded I made it to the hotel. The receptionist didn’t speak English but I was able to mime “bicycle”, “sleep” and “car park”. She kindly agreed to my liking and I parked Chappie up and headed for the restaurant.

As I’m writing this blog, I think I’ve ordered steak and chips. One thing is for sure, I’ve got my appetite back! 

Including today, I need to average 22 miles per day to reach Kyiv by the 24th July. You can imagine how pleased I am with 29.4 miles for the day today. The road to Kyiv in front of me is fast. I’m running on a flat hard shoulder but the road next to me is very busy. Concentration will continue to play a huge part as I look to bring stage five of the run around the world to a successful conclusion. 

There are now only 57 miles to the finish line. I keep thinking to myself that it’s less than the 60 miles that I ran on the 100th and final day of the run across the USA back in 2011. I’m going to try and get the remaining miles down to 27 tomorrow. That will buy me a bit of time when I reach the outskirts of Kyiv on Monday. 

The image below shows how far away the start line in Belgrade is. It’s the orange icon in Serbia. 

Finally again today, thank you to everyone who has made a donation to St Benedict’s Hospice. That includes a family who stopped me for a photo near Zhytomyr. If you’d like to show your appreciation for this journey then please visit http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/rungeordierun where any donation large or small is always massively appreciated and put to very good use. 

PS. I got the order right. It’s just arrived.