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.