Sunday 27 March 2022

Run Geordie Run - Next steps

During the run around the world things have rarely gone as first planned. Thankfully though, I have always managed to come up with a plan B, C or even D! Unseasonably warm weather in the Mojave Desert, the hottest Australian summer on record, a military coup in Turkey, Chappie (my buggy which allows self supporting travel) seized by Serbian customs and a mileage deficit on every continent I’ve ran across so far are just some of the situations I’ve had to contend with. Thankfully, I’ve always managed to get to the finish line across five world stages, attracting the kindness and generosity of thousands of people. Perhaps the journey would not have been half as exciting and, more importantly, the charity total not been so high, if things had actually gone smoothly and to plan. 

The window for stage six of the run around the world was summer 2021. That is a 2100 mile route from Kiev, Ukraine, across Russia and finishing up in Nur Sultan (formerly known as Astana) in Kazakhstan. I selected the time slot for that stage a full 3 years in advance. Sadly, the pandemic put paid to that plan. With the current invasion of Ukraine by the Russians, goodness knows when that stage will happen. That is, of course, insignificant when I think of the death, destruction, suffering and displacement being seen in Ukraine. The kind Ukrainians that I met when I ran across the country in 2018 are in my daily thoughts as is the country as a whole. 

A total of 9,799 miles have been ran around the world so far across 16 countries with £340,000 raised for charities in the north east of England. The ultimate goal of running all the way around the world raising at least half a million pounds for good causes is very much an achievable one. The dream is very much alive.

With pandemics, wars, work and family responsibilities and the football season there is plenty to consider. Not only are the metaphorical goalposts constantly moving, the entire pitch is being lifted from one stadium to another! 

For the benefit of new readers, the run around the world has so far seen 874 miles ran in the UK from John O’Groats to Lands End, 3,100 miles ran across the USA from California to New York, 2,384 miles across Australia ran from Perth to Shellharbour, 2,633 across Western Europe from Lisbon to Belgrade and 808 miles across Eastern Europe from Belgrade to Kiev. 

In terms of what is still left to run, there are 5,600 miles from Kiev to Nur Sultan then onto Shanghai. It's around about the same distance as the route across the USA and Australia put together. That section will see that continent well and truly done! It's a daunting task.There is also Japan from South to North and finally New Zealand from North to South still to complete. 

I think the order that I tackle the remaining stages is unclear at present as is the timeframe in which I could run them. There are a few options and permutations, however. If I assume for now that the next time-slot available to me to run is 2024, then I believe the current uncertainty that war brings rules out the stage from Kiev to Nur Sultan. I also believe it rules out any new start line in Russia to Nur Sultan for that matter. That is, if I was to consider changing it that way and coming back to complete a run across the final miles of Ukraine at a later date. 

Another option is the possibility of an unsupported stage from Nur Sultan to Shanghai. Thankfully, I have Chappie, my trusty buggy, at my disposal for that. Chappie, of course, is the 70kg “accommodation” on three wheels that I first used on the stage from Belgrade to Kiev. It was thanks to the generosity of the very kind folk at Chapman Ventilation who paid for “his” production. Hence, the name “Chappie” seemed an obvious one. 

Chappie, for those new readers, has a carbon fibre body with a steel chassis supported by three wheels. It is pulled along like a sled as I run. I’m attached to it via a standard snow sled harness actually. As well as containing my food, water and other kit Chappie has a solar panel. This means I can charge my phone, laptop, GPS watch and any other small electrical equipment. After I finish a day’s running I simply climb inside and it’s the perfect size for a good night’s sleep. I’ve used Chappie in temperatures ranging from -9 celcius to 32 celcius. Chappie has given a really good level of comfort and protection in all kinds of hail, rain, snow and storms. Running the miles between Kiev and Shanghai without Chappie is not an option. 

Unlike the first four world stages, it would not be financially viable to have a support team. Can you imagine driving a motor home/van or heaven forbid a car across Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and China? I know that I can’t. Logistics, safety and cost make it virtually impossible. 

Away from the Eurasian continent, what is left is running “up” Japan and “down” New Zealand. Those are two stages where using a support team of volunteers would indeed be possible. In fact, I have received interest from various people over recent years about supporting those stages. Although, I think that Chappie would attract a lot of local good interest in Japan in particular. Ultimately, what has to be weighed up are the costs of getting Chappie to these far flung places versus having a support vehicle. I’ll state again, that using Chappie from Kiev to Shanghai is my only viable option. 

As you can see, the options, the permutations, the training requirements and the overall logistics are now very challenging. That is, if they weren’t already after almost 10,000 miles of running around the world. One thing is for sure. I’m just as determined now, if not more, as I was when I set off from on mile one from John O’Groats with the charity total sitting at £10,000. Having attracted generosity to the tune of £340,000 some years later, is beyond my wildest imagination. That’s an incredible amount of kindness which has benefitted The Children's Foundation, the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, Useful Vision and St Benedict's Hospice. None of what has been achieved so far would have been possible without the incredibly kind support that I’ve talked about so many times before. 

While costs for the first two world stages came out of my own pocket, the remaining stages' costs have been paid with commercial backing. I felt after stage two, across the USA, with the overall charity total hitting £156,000, that I owed it to local charities to continue to raise funds by running across huge continents. I couldn’t finance this myself but I’m glad to report that an additional £184,000 has been raised since then thanks to the backing of generous companies such as Chapman Ventilation, SOS Group, Benfield, Active Edge, Virgin Money and FFG to name but a few. 

Gaining further commercial backing in the future is imperative to ensuring that the journey around the world continues. There will then be an excellent chance of being able to attract the continued generosity of the general public with donations into St Benedict's Hospice. It’s a simple process when you think about it in those terms. Commercial backing gives me a platform to run these incredibly tough distances in far flung places helping to capture the public’s imagination which in turn helps get much needed funds into St Benedict's Hospice and similar good causes in the region. 

With 2024 pencilled in for the next, as yet, undetermined stage the question is “what are the next steps?”. There are three aspects on which I’ll be focussing on in the near term. Firstly, getting into good physical condition is a must. I’ve yet to start any stage in anywhere near perfect condition and always improve as the miles and weeks tick by. I’ll be 53 in 2024 and I won’t get the next stage “signed off” unless I’m physically at my best. That will take an effort similar to the years before the run across the USA (up until I broke my ankle riding my bike that is). I lived, breathed and slept running. I actually feel that I out trained a bad diet for a good 18 months. After the accident, I continued to eat at the same poor level, in terms of quantity and quality, but couldn’t achieve the same volume of training. That resulted in me being very heavy as I set off from California in May 2011. It took a good six weeks or so to get down to a decent weight. Of course, by the time I reached the finish line in New York I was in the best condition of my adult life. 

The next key ingredient is to get adequate commercial backing. By that I mean enough to cover the costs of the stage and go some way to benefitting the charity total. It may be that the pandemic and other global factors may limit the commercial opportunities. That said, I’m hopeful of finding a group of generous businesses who will be able to back the next world stage. 

Finally, I’ve always been a firm believer in taking people on the journey with me. Not literally of course. I’m referring to the content that I’ve put out on and the Run Geordie Run Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages. Daily blogs, photos and the odd uploaded video have helped enormously to get the funds in. I think the final area to be added is YouTube. Producing a brief, engaging, informative and inspiring film on a regular basis versus writing a blog post require a completely different set of skills. It remains to be seen whether or not I’m up to that challenge but I’ve started giving thought as to how I can best go about it. I expect a “soft launch” of content in the not too distant future. 

So that’s where I currently am in terms of the run around the world. There are certain things in my control and also things that aren’t. I will be doing my best with a pencilled in 2024 event in mind.

I’ll close with a reminder as to why I’ve chosen to run 20,000 miles around the world raising funds for local good causes. Regular readers will know that I owe a debt of gratitude to St Benedict's Hospice for the care that they gave my Mam. (Margery) during her final days battling cancer. It is in her memory as well as my Dad (Terry) and brother’s (David) too. 

Something positive has to come from this personal loss and I’m beyond grateful that it has and continues to do so. If you’re reading this, then there is a good chance that you have backed my running over previous years. For that, I can’t thank you enough. The kindness and generosity shown by so many people is never lost on me. It’s something that I will never take for granted. 

That’s all for now and well done for making it this far. There was a lot to talk about. There is a lot to do. 

Friday 11 March 2022

Team Run Geordie Run continues to inspire

Since the creation of "Team Run Geordie Run" in 2010 a staggering £50,000 has been raised for local good causes such as St Benedict's Hospice (Charity No. 1019410). The team was set up to use the power of the Run Geordie Run brand to attract others to raise funds for a charity that they have no direct connection to and probably wouldn't otherwise have done so. To say that it has reaped rewards for local good causes is an understatement. The primary event that the team participate in is the Great North Run.

The size of the team has varied over the years from four of us in 2010 to twenty in 2018 and various numbers in between. While the intention is to use the inspiration of my around the world run to attract runners to the team, what I've found is that the team members always bring a good dose of inspiration themselves. Everyone has their own reasons for joining the team. The deeply touching stories that these people share have, time and time again, been quite something to hear about.

One of the team, who will be running this years Great North Run, in aid of St Benedict's Hospice is called Noel. He had never ran before and won't mind me telling you that he has gained a lot of weight in recent years. Noel has a young family and you can see from the photo below (taken last summer) that he is a doting dad.

Noel was at a children's Halloween party last October when the penny dropped that he simply had to do something about his weight. It was around the same time that I first advertised Team Run Geordie Run's Great North Run 2022 places. Noel didn't hesitate to enquire about joining the team and he set about getting fit with only a few minor pointers from me. 

I know only too well that you can receive all of the great advice in the world and fail. If you don't apply that advice and add the required amount of discipline and enthusiasm then you won't reach your intended goal. It took very little in terms of motivation to get Noel started and what was to follow over the next 4 months (and he's still going) was nothing short of remarkable and inspirational.

Noel's waist size was 42/44 and he weighed 18 stone 4 pounds (116 kg) before he started on his fitness journey. He wore XXL sized clothes. 

Noel spent the first few weeks in a local gym doing only light cardio and some weights 3 - 5 times per week. Noel used MyFitnessPal to track the amount of calories he was consuming. This helped to ensure that he was always in a slight calorie deficit while having enough energy to exercise. Once he'd gained some fitness and lost a little bit of weight, then it was time to see how he got on with running. Running 1 - 3 miles, Noel was managing to run each mile in 13 minutes. That soon dropped to 12 minutes and then down to 11 minutes per mile. By mid December with the improved fitness and weight loss he was ready to try a 10k run. The running hadn't been easy up to this point and Noel admitted that he was starting to enjoy it having hated it at first.

After only 2 months of eating well and exercising regularly, Noel saw the number 15 on the scales for the first time on December 30th 2021. At 15 stones and 13 pounds (101 kg) Noel also noticed that he was a waist size down and was wearing XL or even L clothing. 

The effort didn't stop there and Noel's weight was down to 14 stone 13 pounds on Jan 31st 2022. I've just been speaking to him and he's pleased to report that today he's feeling fitter and healthier than ever weighing in at an amazing 14 stone 3 pounds (90 kg). He's also down to size L or M clothing and a 34 inch waist.

The approach, effort, discipline and dedication shown by Noel has been so inspiring to see. He looks like a new man which is not surprising given that he's lost just over 4 stone in weight and is exercising regularly. All that, with the Great North Run still 6 months away.

This inspirational story does not end there. As well as the personal benefit to his family (chasing round after the bairn must be a lot easier these days) Noel has a quite remarkable reason for becoming a leaner, fitter and healthier man. This story is about to take a profound twist.

Noel's mother in law only has one kidney. Not only that but it is in renal failure meaning she requires dialysis 3 days per week just to keep her alive. 

While Noel is not a direct match to donate one of his kidneys, he has signed up to the UK Living Kidney Sharing Scheme. This means that "Under the scheme, when someone in need of a kidney has a willing donor but they are incompatible, it may be possible for them to be "matched" with another couple in a similar situation and for the donor kidneys to be 'exchanged'".

Given Noel's weight back in November, being part of the UK Living Kidney Sharing Scheme would not have been possible. Fast forward, five months and it is not just a possibility but Noel has recently undergone tests. Unsurprisingly, his weight is now under where it needs to be. He is waiting on an operation to donate a kidney which is likely to be in July. 

All of a sudden, the word "inspirational" seems nowhere near enough. I'm sure you'll join me in wishing Noel and especially his mother in law all the best for a successful outcome.

Back to what seems like far more trivial matters and if you'd like to sign up to join Team Run Geordie Run by doing this year's Great North Run then please read on.

The cost of signing up to Team Run Geordie Run is £58 for those who have never been on the team before or £29 for those that have. There is a commitment to raise £300 for St. Benedict's Hospice. 

Team Run Geordie Run members will receive: 
  • Entry to the 2022 Great North Run. Exclusive Team Run Geordie Run t-shirt (or vest if you prefer). Additional t-shirts/vests are available to purchase. 
  • Access to the St. Benedict's Hospice hospitality marquee in the charity village near the finish line. This is where you can enjoy refreshments and meet up with family and friends. Exclusive Team Run Geordie Run goodie bag* at St. Benedict's Hospice hospitality marquee. * Alcohol content only available to those entrants 18 or over. 
  • Half price entry to the 2023 Great North Run as part of Team Run Geordie Run. 
If you'd like to do the Great North Run in 2022 in aid of St. Benedict's Hospice then please complete the form below to register your interest.