Sunday, 19 March 2017

Around the World: Segment 5: The Road to Astana (Part 1)

There are just over 400 days left before the run Around The World resumes with the fifth of eight segments due to start in May 2018. Work has continued this week on getting the route established for the 2,900 mile segment from Belgrade, Serbia through Romania, Ukraine, Russia and Kazakhstan. I've nicknamed this segment "The Road to Astana". This blog talks about the first section to Kiev which is approximately 780 miles.


Last year I finished segment four, the run across Europe, at the Victor Statue (pictured below) so this will be the start point next year. I'll need to backtrack onto the end of last year's route in Belgrade for only six miles or so before heading north east though various Serbian towns such as Zrenjanin and Srpska Crnja.


The border with Romania near Jimbolia is only 80 miles from the start meaning that I'll be entering the 15th country of the run Around The World very early on in segment five.

After 280 miles I'll reach Satu Mare (pictured below) which is situated in the north west of Romania close to the borders with Hungary and Ukraine. It's only another 20 miles to the Romanian border with Ukraine where I'll enter country 16 of the run Around The World.


I'm taking a slight detour along the Tereblya River through the Synevyr National Park (pictured below) in Ukraine. This will see me run up the first challenging climbs of "The Road to Astana". The park is home to brown bears, wolves, wild boars and lynx. Sleeping in the Around The World Buggy amongst that lot should be very interesting. I hope they like porridge!


The journey will then head north east through Ukrainian towns and cities such as Kalush, Terebovlya, Krasyliv, Starokostyantyniv (that's going to take some practice to pronounce) and Zhytomr before reaching Kiev after 780 miles of running.


Watch this space for further details of the Road to Astana route next week.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Further excellent support from Brooks

The commercial support of the Run Around the World has been amazing so far and really has been the difference between success and failure. Without that backing, there would be none of these long distance running events and I would not have been able to raise £268,000 to date for local charities.

Segment five of the Run Around The World, dubbed "The Road to Astana", will see me run 3,000 miles unsupported and pulling a buggy from Belgrade through Serbia, Romania, Ukraine, Russia and Kazakhstan to Astana. This segment will start on 1st May 2018.

"The Road to Astana" wouldn't be possible without the amazing backing of headline sponsor SOS Group Ltd plus further incredible support from Chapman Ventilation, D-Line Cable Management, Fresh Freight Group, Virgin Money and Cherry Active. 

I'm pleased to report that the commercial backing from my current sponsors far outweighs the cost of doing the next segment of the Run Around The World. So much so, that there is a surplus of £20,000. This is what I call the "charitable fund". The challenge is to make that money grow for the charities and it is being used to fund schemes as small as the department tuck shop right up to paying for running t-shirts/vests for Team Run Geordie Run at the Great North Run. That particular scheme saw £888 spent last year and amazingly £10,000 was raised for The Children's Foundation. The picture below is of some of the team handing over the cheque to Nicola Crawford from the charity. 


One of the challenges I'm now faced with is thinking of similar new schemes. Of course, Run Geordie Run t-shirts have raised close to £30,000 since 2009. There may well be another one soon. Watch this space.

Back to the subject of commercial support and regular readers/followers will know that I've worn Brooks shoes ever since the Around The World run started some 9,000 miles ago in John O'Groats. The picture below was taken in Pennsylvania during the 3,100 mile run across the USA. I went through 8 pairs of Brooks Glycerin running shoes in 90 days. They were kind enough to fly this pair out and I completed the run in them over the remaining 10 days. 


I'm very pleased to report that Brooks will, once again, be supplying me with running shoes for the "Road to Astana". A huge, huge in fact massive thank you to them for their amazing continued support. I'll be sticking with the trusty Glycerin model of shoe. It has certainly undergone many changes since I first wore them and now comes in a variety of splendid colours.


I feel it is very important to stick with Brooks Glycerin as I have picked up next to no injuries during the first 9,000 miles of the run Around the World or indeed the 6,000 miles on top of that during training. There aren't many runners that I know who can boast a clean bill of health such as that.

I've selected a few images from the archives of this blog to remind me of some of the key images of my trusty Glycerin shoes. This first one is when I first met up with Brooks staff at Northern Runner in Newcastle.


The image below is my suitcase full of Brooks shoes ready to run across the USA.


The Brooks shoes used in the USA made a prime time appearance on BBC One during the build up to the 2011 Great North Run. That can be viewed here.


The next appearance was on national Australian TV at the start of the 2,384 mile run across Australia. Footage from that run can be viewed here.

Finally, the images below were taken on Alpe d'Huez during the run across Europe in 2016. 



It is an absolute understatement to say that Brooks and Run Geordie Run have come a very long way together. It's a continued relationship that I'm delighted to have. 


As with all of the other commercial sponsors, their backing is hugely important as I strive to raise at least half a million pounds for local good causes by the time I reach the end of the world in New Zealand.

Friday, 4 November 2016

The final 11,000 miles.

The Around The World Ball in October was a huge success for The Sir Bobby Robson Foundation and The Children's Foundation. During that event, I announced my intention to run the remaining 11,000 miles around the world without a support team. Regular followers will remember that the next segment is from Belgrade to Astana in 2018. Runs across China, Japan and finally New Zealand will follow in the years after that. 

My plan, while running unsupported, is to run while pulling a special “buggy” containing all of the supplies that I’ll need. It will also be my accommodation and provide the (solar) power needed for comms, GPS tracking and social media. 

The main reason for the change of direction in terms of support is to greatly increase the amount raised for the two charities.

When I announced this plan at the Ball, the room fell deadly silent. The feeling of shock was evident and it was obvious that nobody expected to hear that I’d be running the remaining miles solo. 

I also announced that I was setting a 4th November deadline to get the project off the ground. So that meant there were only four weeks to gain enough commercial backing to make it worthwhile, calculate a safe route, identify and document risks and how I intended to cover them and seek the approval to press ahead from my wife Donna and then the two charities (as I do with each segment of the around the world run).

Four weeks have now passed and I haven’t managed to complete all of those tasks. It was an impossible timescale to stick to really. But that, dear reader, is where the “bad” news ends! It’s safe to say that it’s been an incredible four weeks.

I’m delighted to say that in only four weeks I’ve exceeded all expectations in terms of getting the right level of commercial backing to make the run from Belgrade to Astana worthwhile. Suffice to say that not only have all costs of this tour have been met but there is a significant sum of money for the two charities.

Most importantly, we have the costs for the buggy covered. Unlike the RV hire costs of the past segments in the USA, Australia and Europe, this is a one off cost and will allow an even bigger profit margin to be realised for the two charities. It’s a very important piece of equipment for many reasons and I’ll talk more about that over the coming months. In the meantime, I’ve already started liaising with, Nottingham based company, SJH projects on the design of the buggy. That’s a really exciting aspect of this whole trip I can tell you.

A huge thank you must go to Chapman Ventilation, Virgin Money, DLine Cable Management, Fresh Freight Group, Cherry Active, Northumberland Tea and headline sponsor SOS Group for their incredibly generous backing. 

Next up was the task of trying to calculate as best as possible how much I thought would be raised for the 2 charities by the time I got to the end of the world run. In other words, is continuing the run worthwhile doing? Based on previous amounts raised and fundraising schemes in the pipeline, a worst case scenario would see almost £600,000 raised by the time the run ends in New Zealand. That doesn’t take into account public donations via Virgin Money Giving. A best case scenario will see that figure reach 3/4 million pounds. 

Thanks to some amazing generosity, I’ve always exceeded my own personal expectations and targets for fundraising. With that in mind and the realistic “worst case” figure I’ve calculated there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that running another 11,000 miles for The Sir Bobby Robson Foundation and The Children's Foundation is, very much, a worthwhile exercise. It’s not going to be easy and is going to require a lot of luck and generosity but I sincerely believe that if I stick to my plan then the run around the world will be a huge fundraising success. 

The next challenge was to calculate the safest route from Belgrade to Astana. Bearing in mind that this kind of task in the past has taken months to complete, I believe I have accomplished this at a reasonably high level. I’m satisfied with the research done so far (advice from our own Foreign and Commonwealth Office as well as others including the CIA State Dept) but there is still much to be done. As we have done in the past, we will be making direct contact with the relevant embassies. This approach has always served us very well. You’ll be able to read just how well when I write the book. That's for another time. 

So it’s my belief that the route through Serbia, Romania, Ukraine, Russia and Kazakhstan is as safe as it can be and needs to be for a solo traveller. I’ll be going as far as I can over the next few months to back that up.

The risks of travelling alone are numerous. Whatever those risks, a UK based support/monitoring team (so far that is Donna and Jimmy) must be able to know the following at all times: 

1) My location. 
2) My wellbeing.
3) The recovery and possible repatriation procedure and how to execute it if required. 

I’ve been able to come up with a robust plan to cover the first two points. I’m currently working on the 3rd point. I’m speaking to insurance companies, technology providers, experts, world record holders, adventurers who’ve seen it and done it amongst many others. This is going to take a few more months to complete.

I’m very confident of having a robust plan in place early in 2017. Believe you me, I’m leaving no stone unturned.

Once that is complete, Donna and I will have “the conversation” and give a “go” or “no go”. Given all of the research undertaken and advice received only then, using our own judgement and experience, will make the correct decision for all concerned. Based on the work that has been done so far and the current state of the world I believe that will be a “go” decision. I’ve got very little doubt about that. But I’m prepared for that to go either way.

All that will remain in early 2017 will be to present our findings and plan of action to the trustees of both charities. Both the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation and The Children's Foundation have a duty of care to ensure that any fundraiser is not putting themselves at significant risk whilst raising funds. Despite an impeccable track record of safety over 9,000 miles in the UK and across the USA, Australia and Europe it is very important that I gain their approval to continue the run around the world. 

So that’s the state of play after four weeks. There is so much positive and exciting stuff going on in the background. I’ll talk more about that very soon and I’ll keep everyone updated via the blog on a more regular basis from now on. 

Everyone should rest assured that I’m as determined as ever to do my best for The Sir Bobby Robson Foundation and The Children's Foundation in memory of my parents and my brother. 

I feel that it’s so very fitting that I write this news on the anniversary of my Dad’s death. It may be 28 years since he lost his battle against cancer but I feel that he, as well as my Mam and my brother are right here with me. Every step taken towards the end of the world would have made them incredibly proud. I miss them all every day but that thought gives me great strength and comfort.

Finally, to everyone reading this, thank you for being part of the journey with me. Your support and generosity is amazing and I’m very grateful for it. 

Monday, 8 August 2016

Mixed emotions on August 8th 2016

For the last 5 years, August 8th has always been a date that I reflect on. It was, of course, the final and 100th day of the 3100 mile run across the USA in 2011. 

The picture below was taken on the final mile near the finish line in Coney Island. The New York branch of the Toon Army were with me for the final 13 of 60 miles on day 100. It was a most incredible journey with £105,000 raised for The Children's Foundation and St. Benedict's Hospice.


Fast forward 5 years and had the world been a more peaceful place then August the 8th 2016 may have seen a similar photo to the one above. Today should have been day 100 of the run across Europe where I would have finished under the Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul (pictured below during the recent coup attempt). 


As it turned out, day 83 was the final day of the run across Europe and Belgrade became the finish line and not Istanbul. We had no choice but to end the run there and it has plagued me ever since. Every time I think about it, however, frustration and disappointment soon arrive at relief and a realisation that we did a very good job in Europe. 

2633 miles in 83 days in Europe outperformed both the run across the USA by 230 miles and Australia by 250 miles. That is progress and given the increased difficulty of the European run in terms of elevation then I can't help but feel a great deal of satisfaction and pride. I guarantee tomorrow that I'll be back to thinking about could I/should I have attempted to get to Istanbul and the whole though process starts again.  

The final 2 miles in Belgrade were very profound and though provoking for me personally. I'm sure there is a better word to use than profound but that's all I can think of at present. The image of the refugees on a protest march through Belgrade will live with me for a long time. Their anger was aimed at the Hungarian government for deciding to close the border with Serbia. 


There was a real feeling of despair and helplessness as I ran past the protesting crowd. I later found that they were on hunger strike. It was a sweltering hot day and I think they were trying to get to Germany. Good luck to them.

Minutes later, I approached the finish line at The Victor monument in Old Belgrade. There were a lot more people there than I expected. To my surprise, the finish line consisted of 30-40 children. "What a perfect end to a very tough 83 days." I thought.


For some reason, up until Croatia and Serbia I hadn't seen a great deal of children on my route. There were many children playing in the streets in those 2 countries in a way that children used to in the 70s and 80s back in the UK. It was a really nice sight. There wasn't an iPad to be seen.

I later found out that the children on the finish line were looked after by a local charity and either currently or previously worked on the streets of Belgrade. They presented me with a card and certificate. I'll treasure them both.


A lot of the children didn't speak English but I did have a laugh with them as they seemed to know a lot of words similar to "great" such as "super" and "fantastic". I tried my best to teach them "spiffing" and "fan dabby dozy" but it wasn't to be.

A boy called Daniel (pictured below) spoke very good English and was interested to hear about the run across Europe. He was very polite and I'll never forget his and the many other curious happy smiles that greeted me that day.


So after 83 very tough days that regularly threatened to break me mentally and physically, I planted the virtual Around The World Flag down at The Victor Monument in Belgrade.


While I reflect on events from 5 years ago in the USA I'm also thinking about the journey through Europe that was cut short and should have ended today in Istanbul. Some things just aren't meant to be. You just don't run 20,000 miles around the world and expect things to go to plan.

The journey will resume in 2018. The aim is to get to Astana in Kazakhstan on segment 5 of the run around the world. That will also probably involve running through Romania, Ukraine and Russia. If things have been tricky up to now then the bar is about to be raised somewhat higher.


Preparation for the next run will start next year. Commercial sponsors will be sought. Training will commence. Routes will be planned. For now though, thank you to everyone who supported the run across Europe. The fund is still growing for The Sir Bobby Robson Foundation and The Children's Foundation and it looks like we will smash the £50,000 target that I set.


If you would like to sponsor the run across Europe in aid of The Sir Bobby Robson Foundation and The Children's Foundation then please visit http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/rungeordierun

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

The Around The World Ball 2016

I'm pleased to announce that tickets are now on sale for the Run Geordie Run "Around The World" Ball. The fundraiser, in aid of The Sir Bobby Robson Foundation and The Children's Foundation, will take place at The Biscuit Factory in Newcastle on Saturday October 8th 2016 with a drinks reception from 6pm.


The ball will be hosted by BBC Radio Newcastle's Sony Gold Award winning duo Gary Phillipson and Lisa Shaw. They were both on top form at the ball last year and I'm looking forward to more hilarity this time around. 


With a packed itinerary, musical entertainment will be provided by the very talented Abi Garrido who supported Olly Murs' last visit to the region.


This year we have come up with a new twist on many of the usual games, raffles and auctions. There will be something for everyone and every size pocket. It promises to be a packed evening and a fitting celebration of the 9000 miles journeyed around the world so far.

Previous attendees will know that the quality of the food at The Biscuit Factory is second to none. Once again we have worked with them to design and create a mouth watering 3 course "Around The World" themed menu.


I look forward to welcoming you to what will hopefully be our 3rd sell out fundraising ball. 

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Some questions answered

There have been a few questions posed via Twitter and Facebook recently. Thanks to those people who posed a question. Here are my answers.

Glyni Lynn: What things from home did you miss? I'm a big film buff and I really missed the IMAX cinema at Metrocentre. There were some blockbusters shown there during the run. I missed simple things like having a meal at a table and having a shower. Most of all I missed my freedom. The run was like hard labour and I would return to my cell in the RV every night.

Ben Scott: What was your fuel of choice while running and while recovering? If you had to pick one song to represent this leg of the run what would it be? I think the fuel that worked best for me was a simple banana. Easy to digest and they seem to offer energy very quickly. In terms of recovery, yet again, Cherry Active, was used again as it was during runs across the USA and Australia. I drank Beet Active every morning and this may have been one of the reasons why I was able to run further than any of the previous segments around the world.

I'll be putting together a short video of photos to the key piece of music soon. I honestly don't know what tune represents the run right now but I'm going to have a good think about it. I listened to a lot of music.

@Golfing_grannie: Surprised you thought this worse than Australia. You seemed in a bad state towards the end in Aus. Away from civilisation more too. Do you think it's because this one is so recent and the bad memories have faded? I think this one was worse as I was away from Donna for longer. I was very homesick some days. I tried my best to keep this issues away from social media and the support team as best as I could. Only Donna really knows how hard I hit rock bottom some days.

Emily Gettins: What surprised you most about the run? Which was your favourite climb in the mountains? The extra mileage that I did, day in day out, just to get to the designated end point was an unwelcome surprise. Second to that and on a more positive note was just how friendly the people were all over the route (except for those I encountered in Italy unfortunately). Croatia and Serbia were amongst some of the friendliest places that I have ever ran. 

With almost 40 climbs done it's hard to pick a favourite. For pure scenery, it has to be the Col d'Aubisque in the Pyrenees. For difficulty, it would be Alpe d'huez.

Andrew Coles: If you logged them, what was the fastest/slowest mile you ran during the challenge? I'll have to check Garmin Connect in due course but I remember a 36 minute mile coming out of the Pyrenees on a very steep and rocky off-road section. The fastest was just over 10 minutes at 10:11 I think. It felt like I was sprinting. Slow and steady definitely won this race.

Peter Wilson: What happened at the border!! I can't say as we are still in the country and its a matter of national security. I'll talk about it at the Around the World Ball in October though.

Simon Ben Oxley: Do you listen to anything when you run, how do you entertain yourself while running for hours? I listened to a lot of different music on my iPod. I would listen to 1 movie or stageshow soundtrack per day. I listened to the West Side Story soundtrack many times as strange as that may sound. Other forms of entertainment were to speak to Donna on the phone during the final few miles of every day. Listening to Stobbsy speak French phrases in various languages while we ran filled in a lot of time. 

The difficult times were when I was running alone and ran out of things to think about. I'll speak more about this in a future blog post.

Gordon Stuart: What is the best view you saw on the run? The views from the Col d'Aubisque in the Pyrenees were spectacular. The view right back up to the Col du Glandon from the Col de la Madeleine many miles away really gave me a sense of how far and how hard I'd ran that day. "I've just run that" I said many times.

Seeing the street children cheering and clapping at the finish line in Belgrade has to be the best view of this and any run.

Catherine Cape: How are your feet? They are nowhere near as bad as at the end of the run across the USA or Australia. There seems to be a lot of internal blisters but very little surface damage. I don't think it will take Alison at the Cradlewell Clinic too long to fix them. In fact, she is the main reason why they are in such good condition.

Andrew Skelton: Best venue of the trip and which day was the best shower in the world? I think the best venue is tied between Croatia and Serbia. The kindness shown to Donna, Richard and I was something very special indeed. 

The best shower turned out to be a bath in the British Ambassador's residence in Belgrade. After 11 days of not showering I left a very large tide mark in it.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

We did it!

News and reaction to follow. Lisbon to Belgrade, 2633 miles in 83 days for The Children's Foundation and The Sir Bobby Robson Foundation. Job done. Half way around the world.