JPC: A few words on the Last Day…

The alarm goes off at 4am. I get up. Dawter Hannah’s alarm also goes off at 4am…but I found out later that she has repeatedly pressed ‘snooze’…in some vain attempt to make her father’s silly exploits go away. I bring her tea. She gets up.

We prepare hurriedly…brush teeth…put in cold contact lenses (which wakes me)…gather our bags full of sustenance, clothing and headtorches…gather the dog…and head for Ashton Court…

…we’re running late…who’d‘ve thought it?

We get to the Dovecote…the starting point for our last day and the Green Man Challenge…we don’t know what to expect. We see a huge group of runners and supporters…at 6am on New Years Eve…me and Han both think the same…‘Holy Shit!’

We get ready hurriedly. Skip over and meet Vanessa…she is looking after my gear and Hannah (when Hannah has done the first 10K with her pa).

We get to the group…there is much noise and anticipation and warmth…and possibly relief that I’ve turned up (Vanessa didn’t have a ‘Plan B’). There is no time for my aspie anxieties…this is a good thing. It’s just about the practicalities of this huge day. This is good…very good.

We do a photo…I post it live…it’s our most viewed photo of the day on Facebook and is seen by well over 4,000 people…possibly 5,000.

People just want to get going. It’s drizzling. It’s cold. It’s a little windy. People want to go. We set off. As usual, I have to adjust my gear, set tracker…on the move…make sure all is OK. A stream of 50 people head off with headtorches…like some kind of Harry Potter scene (crossed with Tron due to all the reflective gear in the dark). Chris Bloor leads folk off…I try and get my shit together…on the hoof…as usual.

Inside I am incredulous…I marvel at the spectacle. I wonder about the group…some are just doing the 10K with us…but some are going for the whole 46 miles. Of those trying to go the whole way…many have never gone that far before. I know they must be anxious…frightened even…excited…curious.

We move.

The first 10k is the hardest on the Green Man route…so fitting as hell. Those that are joining us for the first 10K get to club a very steep, very long, very muddy., very wet..Dundry Hill…

Some of the 10K only runners have never run off-road in the dark with a headtorch before…this is their first time doing this…I wonder how they will get on also. My daughter Hannah is with me…headtorch and road shoes…19 years old…inexperienced and anxious also…but knows she needs to be there for her dad.

The group moves…I have to stop to allow Alf to do his business. I am at the back now. Dawter stays with me. She needs to be with her dad on this hunter-gatherer expedition. There is another runner with us also. I don’t know who. I can’t tell who is who as it’s dark and many have hats on.

I get to the first wooden footbridge…Han and other runner in front. I have Alf on the lead and my mobile in my other hand…waiting for me to put it in my shoulder holster thingy. The footbridge has wet decking…I approach it at a 90 degree angle…my off-road shoes have ridges…like ice skates they slide on the wooden decking…my legs go from under me on the bridge…i land like a sack of spuds…and my right knee…with 46 miles to go…bashes onto the wood…it hurts…I’m a bit shocked…I’m angry for not taking care…I’ve lost my phone with all my data on it…and also my tracking device and photo device for the day…I stand up…bit shaky…realise I can’t find my phone…but me and Han spot it…it’s on the bridge…and not in the stream beneath…i pick it up…phew…

I dust myself off…not sure as to the damage from the fall…it hurts…but i can run. We run. We catch up with the line of torches. Many stiles…bottlenecks enable us to catch. I catch Jacqui and Neil and ask them to sweep the rear so I can go on ahead without worry. They do. Chris Bloor comes back also and tells me that he’ll sweep too. He knows the way. This is important.

We climb Dundry Hill. We are very spread out by the top of Dundry. The top of the hill gives the most amazing views of the City of Bristol at night. I decide to wait for the tailers…I take a photo…i wonder about all those folk in their beds (it’s 6.45 am)…I look at the city we are trying to circumnavigate through 11 or so hours of running. I post the photo of the city’s lights live. The tail-enders catch up…we move on…and everyone has waited for us in Dundry. This is the last we see of the the ‘quick group’ for some 10 hours…until the end.

The group I am with will be with us for our last 10K of 2013. As we approach this point there are a few cars gathered so that folks can leave us after the 10K..or are support crew. We heave to go on a little across a field before my tracker says ‘6.21 miles’…the 10K point.

I shout ‘OK folks…here it is’…there are around 20 or so people there…maybe more. This point is the culmination of every single step we have taken since Jan 1st…this is the ‘job done’ point. I see Neil and I see my daughter. Both seem ‘emotional’. For some weird reason, and whilst I thought I would be, well I’m not. I don’t know why. I don’t think about it. There are hugs and handshakes and photos. I think the reason for my lack of emotion…was that we had 40 miles to go to complete the Green Man…I guess I saw the end of the Green Man as being the end of our little challenge. So whilst I was happy….well my leg hurt…and I still had 40 muddy miles to go…and if I didn’t finish the Green Man…then I would be sad…very sad. So whilst relieved as 10Kx365 was officially completed…well it was not completed to me at that point. Daughter says goodbye with tears in her eyes…she says…’I am so proud of you dad’…this puts an energy into me which I can’t describe.

We move on. Towards Pensford. I am now with a group I’ll be with for much of the day. A group which includes Chris Bloor, Neil, George, Cheryl and Andy from Weston AC, Lucien and Graeme from TACH, Gareth and Tobias from Weston AC. Ruth and Barry Green from Weston. Possibly others…if you were there…make yourselves known!

We move. We talk. I don’t know people’s names at this point. I feel awkward. I like these people I am running with.

We get to the checkpoint in Pensford and someone opens up a bootful of treats…people get stuff from other cars. Folk don’t realise that the bootful is also for them. We work this out at later checkpoints. I think it’s the lovely Judith who is behind this…with Lucien’s lady…I don’t know…I am cold and wet…I have many miles to go…I am worried about our little group.

We move on. Towards Keynsham. We chat and I gradually get to know my company. They say nice things. They say how great it is to be there with us. They say how far they are trying to go. Cold rain lashes into our backs and makes us wet…light has arrived…headtorches no longer required. Actually, headtorches were dropped way earlier…except by Cheryl…who kept hers on her head for the whole day. At one point I asked her why. She said…well…it’ll be dark when we finish. She was right. Silly Jim.

It’s really wet towards Keynsham. But as we approach…a fellow runner approaches…he is tall as hell…he greets me…he has been looking for us. He is friendly. I ask his name. His name is ‘Kes’. His wife has been following us on Facebook. He is going to guide us in to the checkpoint. He is a Kingswood Tri member. He’s ace.

Before we get to the checkpoint in Keynsham we come across two folk sheltering under what appears to be a bandstand. They have bottles of water. They clap. They greet us. Neil says…‘mum and dad everyone’…it’s his mum and dad! (they live in Keynsham). Some of our group go over and grab a bottle and say hi…’how kind’ I thought…and shouted my thanks.

We move on to the checkpoint. Some folk drop out here and others are waiting…in particular Liz, Helen and Cathy I think…who have made it to the checkpoint before us but who have waited. I guess we’re about 12 miles in now. These 3 ladies are trying to do the whole Green Man. We all join up and Kes leads us on. Some folk dropped out here also.

We move.

We move towards the next checkpoint. I don’ remember much here. I just remember that it’s somewhere along here that we lose Gareth, Tobias, George and Neil. It’s a steady 6 miles or so but we’ve lost them. When we get to the checkpoint Gareth’s wife…lovely Sara…says’’’‘what have you done with Gareth?’…‘shit…I think…what the hell have i done with Gareth?’

The Green Man is a very complicated route…signposting is often poor…it’s very hard to find your way.

We move on…but I’m worried about the 4 behind. Chris Bloor has pulled out. The 4 don’t know the way. As I’m running. I phone daughter and ask if Sara is there. She is. I ask Sara to text me her phone number and Gareth’s. So I can see if we can regroup. Minutes matter on an ultra. You have to keep moving. My colleagues stop and walk as I try to sort it out…but we get cold quick and decide we must move on. I’m trying to phone and organise…but can’t get Gareth on his phone. My leg is hurting…we’re over 20 miles now…Kes is leading us towards the marathon point…another checkpoint. I decide that we will sort it out at the checkpoint where there is a relatively long scheduled stop. On the way we run alongside a swollen river. There are tree roots down to the river. My sore knee is fierce with pain…I go to the river and immerse my whole leg in the beautifully cool water. The effect is instant…the cold water surrounds my knee…it cools it…cools the pain…allows me to continue.

We move on to the lunchtime checkpoint. There’s a pub. People join us for a section. I find out that the last 4 are about 30 mins behind. They’ve navigated it themselves with maps and have lost some time. But they’re still there…still in it. I can’t stop and wait for them as I don’t know the way…but the group I am with do know. So we go.

I need to say that at each checkpoint there is a crew, including Vanessa, my daugher and quite a few others…who are giving us care and attention. Telling us things we need to know. We’re at 26 miles here. 20 to go. We’re tired as hell…but there is still life in the batteries. We move.

We move towards the next checkpoint…6 miles…not sure. We get there…but we’ve lost Lucien and Graeme. I think about going back for them…but I also know that to do so will jeopardise my chances of finishing as if I find them…well I don’t know the way. So I leave them. I’m told they have GPS…so I hope that will see them through.

We move on to the next checkpoint…we are at 30+ miles now and we are all hurting. It becomes a trudge…an awful trudge. Your humour has gone…you just want to get through. All of you are thinking the same here…16 miles to go…and I feel like this!!!! I’ll never make it!!! But you trudge on…it upsets you when you see someone move faster…apparently OK…but then they slow…and you go ahead…it’s ‘fits and starts’…your body and mind go through fits and starts…

…you move…move to the penultimate checkpoint. This checkpoint is the one before the final checkpoint…at Blaise Castle. From previous experience I know that this is a long section. But Hannah and Vanessa are there. Tom is there from Southville…once more. A few words about Tom…he seemed to be there at almost all the checkpoints…wishing us well. Supporting us. I don’t know him well. I only know him from a few races and a few Facebook comments etc. I didn’t know if he was there to support his friends…or us. Tom is one of those people who my aspie indicators suggest is a really nice guy…someone who is prepared to turn up on New Years Eve and support someone or something he likes. He’s a runner. Why didn’t you run with us Tom? Whateva…seeing him there warmed my heart throughout the day…and it needed warming for sure.

A few folk join us at this checkpoint…with 15 or so miles to go. Most of them from Westbury Harriers I think. Westbury is a club for which I have much love…some of you may recall our 10K with Westbury. This was my personal highlight of the year. Joining Westbury for a midweek training run…and the way they treated me and Alf…and what it meant to them…at a time when mum had just died in Southmead…to see 120 Westbury Harriers…adorned in their club vests…juniors and adults…i have thought about everyday ever since.

We move. Ed Gould and his daughter Zoe…from Westbury Harriers…they join in for the last hard half marathon. I remember Zoe from our Westbury visit. She made the most wonderful fuss of Alf. But Alf isn’t here…I pulled him up at 20 miles. He was tired. But young Zoe is wonderful. As I am falling off the back of the group she comes back to get me…she says wonderful things…’I think it’s amazing what you are doing’…she keeps saying things…a young athlete…world ahead of her…enthusiastic beyond belief…and encouraging to this trudging old man.

The leg to Blaise is the hardest and the longest. I know that if we can get to Blaise…that there will be people there…that it’s just 10K to go (and I know about 10Ks)…Zoe guides me in…we get to Blaise.

Blaise is really important to me. It’s the last checkpoint and it’s 3pm. It’s still light. The cafe is still open. Daughter Hannah greets me with a sweet cappucino. She knows this to be my fave fuel. It warms my hands. There are many people here about to join us for the last 10K. I am overwhelmed. But what overwhelms Nicola Dutton and her little family. They have done cardboard placards of support and encouragement. They adore Alf. They’ve been following us on Facebook. One of the kids has a Union Jack hat on. They are in awe of us and I am equally in awe of them. They seem genuinely pleased to meet us…they would like a photo. I think…‘you want a photo with me?!!’…’no…we want a photo with you!…you’re amazing…your support is beautiful…one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever encountered…we are so grateful…it’s cold…it’s New Year’s Eve…you’ve done us a fucking placard (sorry about the language kids…I was tired and emotional)…

Many join here…including Ruth and Barry Green who joined us much earlier in the day. When I did the Weston ‘Not Cracker’…I think I sat next to Ruth and Barry…I didn’t know their names at the time…all I remember is how wonderfully warm they were…how they seemed so welcoming and happy for me and Alf to have joined their ace club for the day. So for them to join us on the day…our last day…have that warmth again…was very special.

We move on. We move on on the final 10K or so. I’m aware that the last 4 including Neil are catching us slowly. We could wait for them but I realise that we can wait for them at either the suspension bridge or at the Green Man. The group I am with must go…they’ve been waiting in the cold for ages…we must go. We go.

The last 10K is slow. There are hills. Some of the folk with us have fresh legs and go on. But me, Cheryl, Andy, Liz, Cathy and Helen…we are beat…it’s a slog…we trudge. I know that when I get to the suspension bridge…when I see it…that we’re there pretty much. We get there….the sun is going down and it’s lit up. I can’t describe how wonderful it is to run over it after 44 shitty miles of pain. My legs hurt…my knee hurts. The group we are with has stopped at the start of the bridge…they do me the honour of going first! How very special…I go. We cross this amazing landmark on our way home. Cheryl and Andy are in trouble…but so am I. I tell them that we’ll make it…Cheryl is dizzy…

There are quite a few folk who joined us and who helped us throughout the day who I’ve not mentioned….Mark Vogan…who joined us and went back for the last group…Sam Edwards who also helped guide the last group in and who did logistics with bags etc…and one person…who I can’t remember…who gave Cheryl some food after the bridge…which helped her finish. I was so tired…I can’t remember who it was. But you were awesome.

We leave the bridge and head to the Green Man…I’m flagging but once more Zoe appears and offers words of supreme encouragement. We get to the Green Man. We do photos. I decide I will wait for the last group and encourage the folks to get to the pub and get warm.

We wait and are soon joined by Neil, George, Graeme (I think), and then Gareth and Tobias. I can’t really remember. I was so tired and cold. We do a photo or two and then head for the end…the pub…the finish. It’s downhill to the end. We don’t really know the way. My injured knee has now locked up and I can’t really run. We kinda walk / limp.

We approach the rugby field near the finish. The folk in the pub (outside actually)…they can see a torch approaching and start cheering…whistling…whooping and a hollering. They know it’s me and Neil and the last few to finish. There is a big crowd and much clamour.

Normally, approaching a big group of loud strangers…I would shrink and hide. But here…I knew we were welcome…I knew this wonderful crowd…was welcoming us home…I saw sister and daughter…and a hundred wonderful people…there for for me, Neil and a dog called Alfredo…we had done it…we had done the 10K thing…but also, we had done the Green Man.

Inside…I head straight for the fire to warm my cold hands…I see faces of friends who like you…who are happy for you…I have my daughter with me and I have friends with me…I am at the end of a magical journey…

…in my mind…well i know…it wasn’t about us and what we were doing…it became nothing about running…to me…it became about people..people have always been my biggest challenge…and the whole 10Kx365 experience…to me….became about you…you folks…helping me to ‘fit in’

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