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Last year my Dad, Ray Brooks, was diagnosed with advanced terminal lung cancer despite never having smoked in his life. Unfortunately the location of the tumour meant that it had lain undetected for a period of time, and by the time it appeared on x-rays it had advanced to point where it was inoperable.
In September Dad entered Danetre Hospital's Cawthorne Palliative Care Ward. Initially to try to get his Pain under control; but unfortunately his inability to eat any substantial amounts of food meant that his strength began to fade until he passed away at the end of October.
The care he received and the support we (as a family) were given by the Palliative Care Team (led by Patsy) was superb. I cannot thank them enough, so this year I will be undertaking a number of challenges in order to raise funds for the ward. Some will be small (as part of the training for larger events) and some will be crazy, but all will be done with pride and love for my Dad in my heart. So here goes;
February: Wiggle Chilterns Wildwood CX Sportive, 7th Feb. 80km cross-country multi-surface cycling event. No suspension on the bike, so a numb backside and arms like jelly are likely to be the order of the day. DONE!!
Well I made it round without falling off, although an ever-deepening puddle at about 10km from the start, that went over the hubs of the wheels, meant I had soaking freezing feet for the rest of the ride. Mercifully after a while they went numb! I don't know if Dad pulled some strings but the relative break in the weather was most appreciated. If I'd had to ride on Saturday I think I would've cried! I finished in just over 5hrs having ridden 78.9km and climbed 1,117m over some of the grimmest terrain I've ever cycled on. Roll on a bit of running!!
March: The Spring Shakespeare 10km, 12th March. Dad's Birthday and I need to be running again for other events planned, so the 10km run fits the bill. My previous PB in an official event is 51:24 and that's my target although I'd like to break 50:00. DONE!!
Great event and the weather was perfect. Edie ran her first 1km and did really well. Training had gone well and I'd managed to run a new PB of 47:51in the middle of February, so hopes were high. Never in my wildest dreams did I think 44:35 was on the cards! Back onto a pair of wheels now!!
April: The First Big Challenge. Cycling Coast to Coast between The Wash to Severn Beach in 2 days, 30th April. 6 months to the day after Dad passed away, I plan to cycle across the country between Guy's Head Lighthouse on the Wash and Severn Beach near Bristol. 2 Coasts, 2 Days, 200 Miles. The original plan was to start at the Wash and cycle up the Nene Valley to Badby before crossing into the Avon Valley for day 2 and heading south-west to Severn Beach. However after planning logistics it seems more sensible (if that can be applied to this) to get the longest stretch out of the way first. So I will probably start from Bristol and head north-east to Badby and then continue out to The Wash on day 2. DONE!!
I have to say that was tougher than I expected.
Day One started well with great weather and a hassle free train journey down to Severn Beach. The first section up to Slimbridge was lovely; quiet roads and little bits of cycle path and then I got to the Canal Tow-Path which wasn't ideal for a full on racing bike. There was a little bit of respite through Frampton on Severn before I got back on a better section which soon turned back to a bumpy old track. I even missed the point where I could get off and back on to the road so had to endure it for longer than planned and then cycle back to the correct road. From there up to Gloucester was better but when the route wanted to turn me back onto the tow-path I rebelled and went off-piste through town! First proper rain hit at this point as well!! I found the cycle route on the other side of the town centre and most of it was ok with a few rough patches before I got to a closed section that had been damaged by floods, so it was a climb up a bank and back onto the A417 road. Turned off the A-Road at Maisiemore and climbed up an over a decent hill to Hartpury and then continued on through a few showers towards Tewkesbury. I'd spotted a little Ferry at Lower Lode Inn on the map but missed the turn! Got to the A438 and the cycle route took a little loop to avoid the main road but by now I was really behind schedule so just headed directly to Tewkesbury. To the east of Tewkesbury part of the route was marked as 'Traffic Free - Rough Surface' well that turned out to be fields and rough un-made farm tracks come bridleways! I got back onto a bit of B-Road and then it wanted me to turn back onto the bridleway which wasn't sensible so had to put in an extra loop on the proper surface. Got back on Cycle Route 41 at Beckford and followed it until reaching the A46 where to make up some time I stayed on the main road and got my head down (especially when the heavens absolutely opened!) and unfortunately missed my turn to the east. Thankfully found some services and got something to eat and re-filled water bottles before turning round and heading back down the A46 and turning off to Aldington. By now I was soaking and freezing, but carried on eastwards to Honeybourne where I at least got onto my last map! Got back on route 41 and travelled up to Long Marston where I found a phone box and let Sarah know that I was safe but behind schedule as my phone battery had gone flat hours ago! From Long Marston I got on the Stratford Greenway which was nice and flat but with a surface of wet sand which just flew up and covered me and the bike. By the time I got to Stratford the bike was complaining. I decided to skip Stratford Town Centre and went round the ring-road and then down the A422 towards Ettington before turning back north to Loxley and then departing the cycle route to head towards Wellesbourne and home via Lighthorne, Harbury, Southam, Priors Marston, Hellidon & Catesby. By the time I got home it was almost completely dark and I couldn't feel my feet. Somehow I made it. Dad just dragged me on, knowing I couldn't face going in the wrong direction to start Day 2 in the Avon Valley!
Total distance for the Day - 199.7km about 125 miles. 8hrs 41mins of peddling but 10hrs 27mins on the road.
Day Two and my knees were really feeling day one but luckily the weather was again good and change of bike meant that I wouldn't have to worry about dodgy surfaces. The run out to Bugbrooke via Everdon and Weedon went well despite a few gear changing issues that were a hangover from the Cyclo-Cross Sportive in February. At Bugbrooke I realised that I'd taken the wrong road out of the village but saw the canal and having the right bike for the job jumped onto the tow-path, which wasn't as fast as the road (my knees weren't up to going fast anyway) but was flat and pleasant. Got back onto the road at the canal junction and headed into to Rothersthorpe and then on and into Northampton. A few missed turns but eventually got out to the A45 at Brackmills and the Canoe Centre. From there out towards Ecton there was a decent cycle path and then I came to a sign for a by-way which wasn't marked on the map but appeared to run parallel with the A45 so gave it a whirl only to find it petered out in a field! So back up the track and then climbed up through Ecton and onto the Wellingborough Road. Back behind schedule again so jumped on the main road and headed to Wellingborough through the town centre and then out to Irthlingborough and picking up the cycle route 71 which runs through Stanwick Lakes. Very busy but a nice flat route and on the cyclo-crosser reasonably fast. Just stayed on this route as it seemed to be heading in the right direction until it just sort of stopped under a fly-over. Followed a small track around the corner and then got the map out to find I was next to the A14 at Islip and actually just about on the edge of my last map! From Islip I headed north towards Lowick but turned off towards Oundle through Aldwincle and Stoke Doyle. Refuelled in Oundle and then continued north to Cotterstock where the next cycle route (53) started, but found my rear tyre was a bit low. Stopped in the village and tried to pump it up a little only for the top of the valve to break off in the pump. Nothing for it other than to change the tube. Stupidly assumed that the valve was the problem and inflated the tyre and continued on my way only to find it had gone flat before I'd even got out of the village. On closer inspection I found a huge thorn in the tyre. Tried a patch on the tube but wasn't convinced so put my last remaining good tube in the tyre and eventually got going again. Missed a turn on Route 53 which would've taken me into Peterborough but instead worked my way across to Stilton and Route 12 where I at last got some food and fresh drinks! From Stilton there was a decent route in towards Peterborough and then onto the Green Wheel cycle path which looped around the southern side of the town. Jumped off and onto the A605 to Whittlesey to make up some time again and then stayed on the road until just south of Wisbech. Nice and flat and with a helpful breeze meant I managed to pull back some time at last. Stayed on the roads and headed north through Guyhirn to Murrow and then turned east again towards the northern edge of Wisbech. Just before reaching the outskirts of town I got back on Route 1 at Leverington and continued up to Tydd St Giles where the last stretch out to the coast started. Cut through to Tydd Gote and then onto the bank of the Nene out to Sutton Bridge. A long straight road and I could see the top of the Lighthouse in the distance. Except when I got closer I realised it was the control tower on the top of the swing bridge! Took a wrong turn into Sutton Bridge Docks and had to double back again before finally finding the correct road out to Guy's Head. As I turned up on to the flood bank of the Nene again I could definitely see the lighthouse... except it was on the wrong side of the river!! I continued down the road towards some trees and a few parked cars hoping my lift home was there and not on the other side and luckily my saviours Gary & Emma were there. And so was the lighthouse when I looked the other side of the trees!
Total Distance Day 2 - 172.4km about 108 miles. 7hrs 32mins of peddling but 9hrs 59mins on the road.
Sorry that was a bit of a long update, but it was a bit of a long journey. Back in the running shoes after a few days rest.
As part of my training rides I'll also be taking part in the Ordnance Survey Cobbler Classic Sportive on 2nd April. 74 miles of Lovely Northamptonshire Lanes to get my legs spinning again! DONE!! Completed in 4:49:55 which was about 15minutes ahead of my target. Coast to Coast will be at a much slower pace!!
May: Trailblazer Half Marathon Clumber Park, 28th May. An event which I planned to run last year but had to pull out due to injury. A Trail Running Half Marathon through the forest of Clumber Park. DONE!! At the start pen I was telling myself "This is just a training run. No racing. Finish in 2-2:30 without injury and we'll be happy." Then they started the count down and all of a sudden it was "Lets just see how it goes!". Finished in 1:45:43 which was only a minute and a half outside of my PB and over much tougher terrain. And without any injuries so very happy! Time now to up the training and start building some endurance, only a month to go to Race to the King.
June: Race to the King Ultramarathon, 25-26th June. The Second BIG Challenge. 53.5 miles along the South Downs Way from Arundel to Winchester Cathedral. There are options to camp and split it into 2 days but I plan to do it in one hit. I've no idea what I'm letting myself in for as I've only ever run a quarter of that distance in the past.
I saw a comment the other day "Run when you can Run, Walk when you can't Run, Crawl when you can't Walk. But NEVER Give Up!"
DONE!! Completed in 12hrs 27mins & 15 seconds.
The day started beautifully and we started by running north from Slindon towards the ridge of the South Downs before turning east towards Arundel and picking up the South Downs Way and climbing up onto the ridge and to the first Pit Stop at just over 8 miles in. From there it was a case of following the path through a few ups and downs to Pit Stop 2 at 15 miles.
Pit Stop 2 was just south of the village of Cacking as we were dropping down into the valley and crossing the A286, and ahead of us we could see a long, long hill back up to the top of the ridge. So it seemed a good time to re-fuel as it suddenly occurred to me that I hadn't eaten that much so far. It was a good move because the section between Pit Stops 2 & 3 seemed to be full of climb after climb with down sections between, but even they were hard on the legs. Getting to Pit Stop 3 at 22.5 miles was a big relief. At this point I'd just passed my longest ever run distance. Only another 50km or so to go!
Just as I was about to leave Pit Stop 3 the skies darkened and the first rumbles of thunder started, so it was on with the jacket and off into the rain which became torrential. The paths turned to streams and pools of mud and it was a really hard slog to Pit Stop 4 at Ditcham Park School. Had some soup and drink here to try to warm up a bit and took a 20 minute or so break at the end of my first ever Marathon before setting of again on my second. I'd been experiencing a bit of cramp in my calf as well so made sure I took on plenty of fluids. Luckily the weather improved slightly although getting moving again after sitting down for a while took some doing with muscles starting to tighten up. Happily the next stage seemed to be mostly downhill and through Queen Elizabeth Forest & Country Park just to the south of Petersfield. It was slightly un-nerving and I was thinking "All this down is going to turn into an up soon", and as we passed under the A3 Butser Hill loomed up in front of us with about a mile of uphill slog to the top and the next Pit Stop at 32 miles.
As we reached the top of Butser Hill and Pit Stop 5 (3 to go!) the thunder and rain arrived again so it was back on with the jacket and we set-off again along the ridge towards Old Winchester Hill. It was a relief to get into the cover of Hyden Woods with the thunder and lightning crashing around us but the paths were now in a really bad state and the downhill sections being particularly treacherous.
Thankfully as we climber back up to Pit Stop 6 (2 to go!) at the top of Old Winchester Hill the rain started to stop and more soup was consumed to try to warm up again. My hands were freezing due to water just running off my jacket and over them. Didn't think I'd need gloves on 25th June! Walking out of the Pit Stop suddenly the vista opened up with the hill fort of Old Winchester Hill and the Weald below us in the sunshine and spirits were lifted. We ran along towards the fort and then slip-slided down the other side and into the Meon Valley. As we approached the River Meon I noticed that the water level in the ditch at the side of the path was getting quite close to the top and then just before we crossed the main river the stream decided to cross the path and there was nothing more to do than wade through the water. We passed through the village of Exton and then started another really long climb up Beacon Hill to Pit Stop 7. Thankfully this section was along a quiet road rather than through mud so was actually a bit of relief.
I reached Pit Stop 7 (1 to go!) after about 10 hours and was told there was just over 10 miles to go. All of a sudden the prospect of finishing in under 12 hours (way ahead of sun-down and the 13:24 I'd targeted) became a possibility. My calf was still feeling tight and after wading through the river something was rubbing on the ball of my left foot but I dare not take my shoes off and look incase I couldn't face putting them back on again. The next stop was only 6km away so I'd see how that went but the paths were grim again slipping and sliding around was putting more strain on my right ankle and I could feel a blister forming on my left foot.
I reached Pit Stop 8 (Last one & 11.5 km to the finish)and there was still an outside chance of making an 8pm finish but it was getting more difficult. I stopped briefly and let Sarah know that I might get to the finish for 8 and then got back on the trail. As I went on though that hope started to fade. The path was narrow and slippy so I couldn't run at any decent pace without pulling on my ankle, calf and hips and my left foot was getting more uncomfortable. At the top of Cheesefoot Head I could see Winchester in the distance but it still seemed a long way off and I decided to try to sort out my feet. Luckily I'd packed an extra pair of socks in my back-pack and I gingerly took off my shoes and socks. My feet looked like I'd been in a bath for days. I couldn't actually see a blister as they were so wrinkly but tried to dry them off and get a compeed plaster on where I thought the problem was. Got going again and didn't feel too bad, and the path became a little lane, so ran down towards the next village where I caught up with a guy who was really fatigued. We walked together, keeping each other going, to the edge of Winchester where he said he'd be ok from there in and I somehow began to run to the finish.
Crossing the line was amazing. Edie grabbed me and pulled me across the line to finish and then gave me my medal. It was so good to see Sarah, Chris & Ben. I couldn't quite believe I'd made it. My strategy of getting to half way and then counting down the Pit Stops to the end seemed to have worked. It was an awesome, if somewhat brutal experience, with camaraderie an support from the runners, the crew and public beyond belief.
Thank you everyone who has donated and sent messages of support. Every now and then a message that a donation had arrived would pop-up on my watch and it was awesome. Thank you all again for your support.
July: Daventry Cycling Club Charity Sportive, 10th July. 113km raising money for Myton Hospices and other local charities. I was originally planning to return to The Mendips and take on Cheddar Gorge but just a week after running 52 miles, I think that might be a bit too much to ask. DONE!! Completed in 5hrs 4mins on a mostly dry but windy day. Due to my preparations for Race to the King this was only the second time I'd been back on my bike since finishing the Coast2Coast. For the first 2/3 of the route we seemed to have a constant headwind, so it was a real relief to turn with the wind around the second feed station. The long climb back up from Willoughby to Barby thankfully wasn't as steep as I expected as both the bike and I were creaking by then. Then as a last little sting in the tail we turned back into the wind near Welton with a couple of short sharp climbs on the way back into Daventry to finish. A great event for a great cause. With the ride into and back from town I covered 130km and it's time to really concentrate on the bike now because the Cotswold Sportive is going to be really tough.
August: Wiggle Cotswold Sportive, 21st August. 100 miles with 5,147 feet of climbing. A really tough event last year (75 miles) as Dad had just had his diagnosis and also there was a terrible accident on the day which I had to pass. This year I'll be back for Dad and also for the young lad Jordan who continues on his long, slow road to recovery.
DONE!! Another tough one this year. Had the pleasure of meeting Jordan and his family before the ride, and then caught up with his brother during the ride when we had to wave in the Air Ambulance for another incident. I made it up Winchcombe Hill and Snowshill without stopping as I promised myself I would. The final 30 miles were a long drag riding into the wind with a bike which was starting to squeak and suffer. With 10 miles to go the rain started but actually helped the bike, so I wasn't complaining. With stopping for the incident it took just over 8 hours to complete, but it's now been ticked off and next year I'll find a different event for August.
September: Equinox24, Belvoir Castle, 17th/18th September. The Third BIG Challenge. A 24hour race on the Autumn Equinox. Comprises 10km laps and the challenge is to complete as many as possible between midday Saturday and midday Sunday. Apparently the Solo Record is 21 laps. I'm going to target 10, which will be 100km or 62 miles and then we'll see how it goes.
DONE!! 10 laps & 100km completed in 22hrs 24mins 23secs. Heavy rain before the start and talk of "That Hill" wasn't the most confidence inspiring beginning to a race! Thankfully the rain stopped just before the start and the course stood up remarkably well. The first km was fairly flat and with a section of tarmac road before the first cross-country section which looped around a large field. The slope up to the top wasn't too bad but the next section meant running across a slope which always puts extra pressure on the ankles. A sticky muddy track then ran back down to the road which provided a bit of respite for around 3km but did include "Not That Hill" between 3.5 & 4kms! At just over 5km there was a drink stop and then it was back cross-country. A really steep slope down was again tricky on the ankles before heading back up "That Hill" and then heading along the ridge before dropping back down to cross the bridge between the lakes and continue back to the campsite. The 1km around the campsite was just brilliant as the support from everyone was great.
I started out by doing 5 laps non-stop, probably a little too quick in reality as I beat my Marathon and 50km time from Race to the King. During my second lap my shoes were beginning to rub so at the end of lap 3 Sarah & Jake had got a change of shoes at the finish line and a quick pit-stop was performed. New shoes were much better but by the end of lap 5 I was feeling tired and decided to get some real food and a little rest. I took to the course again just as dusk was falling with Jake running with me for a lap (head torches on!). When Jake came in I continued for another lap but having gone over on my ankles a couple of times in the dark decided to play safe and walked for a while. Tiredness was catching up with me and I just wanted to close my eyes, so after 7 laps I had to try to get some sleep. My original plan was to try to run through midnight but I was just too tired. I got back on the track around 6am and ran through the dawn, continuing on into my 9th lap as the sun came up and lit up Belvoir Castle like a beacon. I managed to keep going through lap 9 although my ankles were really sore and I couldn't run down hill very well at all. Sore Quads meant uphill was no fun either but I was determined to get onto lap 10. I toyed with the idea of resting before heading back out onto lap 10 but worried that I'd seize up so kept going. By the time I'd got to the 3km mark I was really struggling but knew that I'd be able to make my target as long as I didn't do anything silly, so resorted to walking the majority of the remainder of the course. My head could no longer make my legs start running! I managed the last section through the campsite thanks to the brilliant support and just about held back the tears until I crossed the line.
October: Oxford Half Marathon 9th October. Tempted into this at the last minute so it may replace the Wiggle Sportive. Hopefully my legs will have recovered from Equinox24! DONE!!
I had a strategy but wasn't sure it would work as I'm starting to feel really tired now. The plan was to get to 10km in around 50mins and if I felt ok push on and hopefully beat my previous best of 1:44:10, but sub 1:45 would be ok. Conditions were great and despite a twisty early section of the course things were going well and when I reached 10km in around 48 minutes the possibility of breaking through the 1:40 barrier emerged! At 10 miles there was just a decent Parkrun between me and the end and I decided to call on a bit of help from Dad and go for it. At 12 miles it was still just about on but I felt like I'd gone too early and I was going to run out of steam. As I rounded the Radcliffe Camera I thought I'd run out of time but heard a call from the crowd and saw Sarah, Jake & Edie. I ran round the corner as hard as I could and turned into Broad Street and saw the clock ticking a towards 1:44 knowing that when I crossed the start it was about 4 mins after the official start. Somehow I managed to up the pace to a sprint and crossed the line in 1hr 39mins and 52secs!! A new PB and broke the target I'd set myself for next years Bath Half on Dad's Birthday.
November: Milton Keynes Movember 10k, 20th November. Dad had lived for a number of years with Prostate Cancer, which was being kept under-control using hormone therapy. I've run the 5km MoRun twice before but this year it'll be time to step up to the 10k. It'll be an emotional run and a good way to finish the year.
A last minute change of plan to finish the year with a challenge rather than an easy run. I entered the 5km race as well as the 10km and set myself the target of a Top 10 Finish in the 5k, which would probably mean running it in less than 23 minutes before starting the 10km race about 15 minutes behind everyone else! DONE!!
The weather forecast was abysmal but thankfully the torrential rain didn't turn up. Started the 5k near the front and in an effort to keep the leaders in sight ran the first km in just over 4 mins which was way to fast. When we reached the uphill zig-zags at around halfway I got to look behind and was pretty sure that I was in were clear of the field and that we made up the first 10 places. I could relax a little at this point although the absolute leaders had got ahead and I wasn't totally sure how many had got away. As we entered the last mile or so, one of the group was dropped and I was pretty sure that I wouldn't get caught for 10th place if I could just keep the pace up. Finished in 21:50 and took 9th place and the first Over 40 place. Collected my medal, was force fed a couple of jelly babies, changed my shirt and timing chip, ran back around the start finish funnel and started the 10km!
And it was horrible!! I was now running completely on my own and would be until the fastest 10k runners started their second lap. My legs had tightened up even after stopping only for a minute or so and I really thought that I wouldn't be able to make 2 more laps. I slowed right down and got my breathing back in check and then, just as I was getting going properly again, a fellow Daventry Parkrunner came past leading the 10k race, and that somehow buoyed my spirits and I somehow got my running rhythm back and settled into a steady pace. At 3 km I caught the back of the 10k field and then running with other people and clawing back the places made things much better. Unfortunately I forgot to restart my watch as I started the 10k so, I'm not totally sure of my time for that as the start clock had already been stopped. I know I ran the last 5km in 24:54 but suspect the first 5 was slower. From my pace on my watch I think it was probably just under 51:00 which was just outside my target of sub-50. My total time including the change over was 1:12:30.
And that's it! Thank you so much for all your support, both through donations and messages of support. I hope I've done Dad proud.
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