Run FatBlog Run (Tatton Park)

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Last Sunday, I took part in the fourth of my 10k races this year, at Tatton Park in Cheshire.

Those of you who know me – or who have been reading the blog entries about my charity challenge – will be aware that I detest running with every fibre of my being, and, by all accounts, I’m a bit shit at it (ok, I’m a lot shit at it).

So far, I have pulled various muscles in my legs and back; I’ve tripped and injured my left elbow and knee;  my right hip has started crunching when I walk up stairs; and, most recently, I collapsed at the finish line of the Whitchurch 10k in April, resulting in several hours in a medical tent, plus two hospital visits (the latter of which was an overnight stay in a ward with very elderly – and grumpy – men).

Running: Hazardous and stupid

To put it bluntly – and as I explained on my Facebook page not so long ago – I am to running, what Vladimir Putin is to world peace: fucking hopeless.

However, despite my utter ineptitude when it comes to running – and lack of fitness in general – I have always been able to manage a sprint finish at each of the previous events (even though I didn’t quite achieve this at the Whitchurch 10k; and, ultimately, it was pushing myself too much at the end of the race which proved to be my downfall); but, on this occasion, I decided I would give the fast finish a miss, no matter what the signs were telling me:

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Not this time, ta

So, after a cringe-worthy mass warm-up, organised with the assistance of a local fitness instructor (which Ollie joined in with, and Isaac sort of freestyle danced to), we headed towards the start line.

Somewhat unusually, the announcer then began lining us up at the start, according to what approximate time we were expecting to finish in – those (proper athletes) around the 35-minute mark were first; followed by anyone hoping for a sub-40 time; and  so on, continuing in five-minute increments from there. So, having run all my previous races in just under fifty minutes, I decided to stick with that estimate, and gathered at the start line with my fellow sub-50 mates.

It turns out that the majority of people who expect to run a 10k in under fifty minutes, are either stupid, deaf, or plain fucking lying, because when the race started, I honestly could have crawled past them they were going so slow. I can see the logic behind trying to stagger the runners in order of predicted speed, but the organisers appear to have never been on a flight before, since we all know that people are generally stupid, and when told to board an aircraft in designated row announcements, they will ignore this and push forward whenever the mood takes them. The same principle applied here – people saw a queue, ignored all instructions, and joined it randomly, like sheep.

Consequently, when the race got underway, I had to try and run around these morons at the side of the path, which messed up my own start – and pacing – and left me struggling before even the 2k marker. I did, however, put on a brave face as I ran past my family:

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The situation – and my mood – wasn’t helped by the fact my mp3 player had stopped working, so I had to try and fix it, whilst dodging around idiots. And if there is one thing I hate, it’s slow idiots.

Thankfully, I completed the run without any major incident, although I still went home feeling somewhat disappointed with my performance.

On the positive side, I managed to complete the course without any assistance – whether that be from a fellow runner, or someone of the medical profession – on a day when a number of people dropped out of the race due to the heat; and after what happened at Whitchurch, I was just glad to get another 10k under my belt.

At the same time, however, I really wanted to complete all ten races in under fifty minutes, and, more importantly, I was desperate to run them all without having to walk at any point – however, on this occasion, both of those targets sadly eluded me.

In fairness, after what happened at Whitchurch, the sub-50 minute target was not so much of a concern, as I didn’t want to risk pushing myself to get a good time only to end up in an ambulance again, but when I had to stop at the half way-stage (where the water station was situated), and walk because of the heat, I was really pissed off. Unfortunately, no amount of convincing myself that it was better to walk than collapse, made me feel any better about the situation. I was gutted (I still am).

At this stage, I know most people – particularly my family and friends – will say that it was better to finish the race than risk my health, and I know after what happened last time it was an achievement to even ‘get back in the saddle’ (metaphorically speaking); but I still cannot help feeling disappointed, and keep wondering if I could have coped until the finish line, had I pushed myself to continue running.

With that in mind, I haven’t ruled out re-entering the Tatton 10k later in the year (it is, after all, the only one of my events to take place monthly, as opposed to annually), but I will see what the next few bring in June, July and August – when it could be really hot weather. The main thing is, I have now finished four races, and that means I am almost half way through this hugely regrettable challenge.

So, without further ado, here are the scores on the doors:

Time: 54:13 (my slowest time yet – by around five minutes – but that’s because I had to stop and walk for a bit).

Position: 181st (out of 545), so – just about – in the top-third of all entrants (an unofficial target).

Cost: £18.00

Course: Relatively flat (although not quite as flat as I had hoped), but very picturesque, including a nice loop around the lake, and mostly smooth tarmac. 8/10

Weather: Dry and sunny, but too damn hot 6/10

Organisation: Two detailed e-mails prior to the event, with plenty of pre-race information, and a well-organised set-up on the day (although they do hold this race every month, so you would expect them to be pretty good at it by now).

Plenty of enthusiastic marshals, all of whom were shouting words of encouragement (including one who was high-fiving everyone as they ran past him); clear markers at each kilometre point; and a very quick and easy registration process. Oh, and they let me have my headphones in. Good work, Tatton. 9/10

Official Photos: There were at least two professional photographers on the day, and although my ‘poses’ were shit (look, I was tired and I panicked), this isn’t their fault. The photos were free, and uploaded onto the event’s Facebook page by the end of the day. Again, impressive. 8/10

Medal: Very unique and colourful, well made and solid. Plus it contains a lady runner with ample cleavage, so what’s not to like? 9/10

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Goody-bag: Ah, it was going so well. No goody-bags on offer, and no t-shirt either (I think they spent all the entry fee on the medal) 0/10

Post-race refreshment: We were given plenty of water (which was a good job in that heat), together with bananas and one of the nicest flapjacks I’ve ever spent half an hour chewing (my mouth was very dry, rather than this being the flapjack’s fault) 7/10 (purely for the flapjack)

Summary:

Course – 8/10

Weather – 6/10

Organisation – 9/10

Photos – 8/10

Medal – 9/10

Goody-bag – 0/10

Refreshments – 7/10

Meaning a total score of 47/70 (or 67%) – Tatton Park would have been a clear leader at this stage, if they’d only given us a little goody bag to take home; but as it is, they remain in second place behind the ill-fated Whitchurch 10k:

Whitchurch 49/70           (70%)

Tatton Park 47/70            (67%)

Oulton Park 46/70            (66%)

Poynton 39/70                   (56%)

My next race is at Colshaw Hall (near Knutsford) on 17th June, where apparently the course sends us around this bad boy…

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Last but by no means least, if you’d like to sponsor me (please do, if you haven’t already, as I’m hating every second of this), here’s a reminder of my Just Giving page:

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/greg10x10k

Thanks for reading x

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Run Fatblog Run (Whitchurch)

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Last Sunday, I took part in the third event of my 10 x 10k charity challenge – in Whitchurch, Shropshire – and those of you who know me in ‘real life’, will probably be aware by now that things didn’t exactly go according to plan.

If you haven’t read any of the previous entries from this challenge (for the races at Oulton Park and, more recently, Poynton), let me summarise my targets:

  1. To run ten 10k events in 2018 – raising money for Kidscan;
  2. To complete them all in under fifty minutes;
  3. To finish in the top-third of entrants for each race;
  4. To not cry or shit myself.

Whilst those targets still remain intact following the Whitchurch 10k last weekend (although #4 was borderline for a while), I have decided – for health reasons – to relax my expectations for the remaining seven events.

Let me explain why.

Firstly, with each new race so far, the courses have become increasingly tougher, to the point that Whitchurch was ridiculously uphill in parts, fast downhill in others, and with very little ‘flat’ terrain in between. Now, whilst I accept the courses becoming tougher is entirely coincidental, and has nothing to do with my fitness deteriorating (contrary to what I am about to tell you, I am getting fitter), I am dreading the remaining races being even worse. At this rate, I’ll be running up Kilimanjaro for the final event.

Secondly, despite the fact the course took its toll on me, to the point my breathing was laboured as I re-entered the grounds of Sir John Talbot School (where the start and finish line was situated), I still decided I had just enough energy left for a sprint finish – and this, in hindsight, was a terrible idea.

I’m not sure whether it was because I started my sprint too soon, but with about fifty metres to go I began to struggle. I couldn’t breathe, I was completely drained, and it took every ounce of my concentration to force myself toward the finish line.

Sadly, I didn’t quite make it.

With no more than ten metres left, my legs suddenly buckled, and I hit the floor (which was fortunately grass). I then vaguely remember the announcer shouting my name out, urging me to get up and reach the finish line, but when I tried to move, I couldn’t even kneel, let alone stand and run.

The next thing I knew, a fellow runner knelt beside me, put my arm around his neck and lifted me to my feet – he was not going to let me give up (even though, having essentially dragged me half way home, he told me I was going to have to do some of the work, as I was getting ‘fucking heavy’). I have since discovered that this man was Mike Glover, and he sacrificed his own time and position to make sure I finished the race. If I ever track Mike down, I owe him a pint or two.

Anyway, I have a vague recollection of collapsing over the finish line, and the next ten minutes or so is a blur. I’ve been told a kind lady watched the boys, so that Jen could run over with a paramedic; and the fact I was almost unconscious, entirely grey, and unable to communicate, gave everyone cause for concern.

The next thing I remember, is lying on a stretcher in the medical tent, hooked up to machines and being given oxygen. To cut a long story short, I spent the next two hours undergoing tests, before being informed that:

  1. A runner’s heart rate should ideally drop back below 100bpm within minutes of finishing a race, whereas mine was still above 120bpm two hours later;
  2. My ECG results were ‘erratic’;
  3. My temperature had gone through the roof.

Most worrying of all, I was told that the valves in my heart weren’t working properly, so whilst the heart should normally operate like this…

… mine was so overworked, and racing so fast, that the second set of valves were opening before the first had closed. This meant that, rather than work as a pump, my heart was operating more like a tube, letting blood simply flow through it without becoming oxidised – and blood without oxygen, is about as useful as tits on fish.

For obvious reasons, the paramedics were not going to let me drive myself (and, more importantly, my family) back home, and they insisted that I go in an ambulance to hospital.

I won’t bore you with a lot of what happened next, save to say some friends of ours – Chris and Vanessa – were kind enough to drive from Sandbach to Whitchurch to collect my family and get them home, while I went off to Telford A&E.

I remained there for the next eight hours, undergoing further ECGs and blood tests, before the most elusive doctor in medical history finally turned up to recommend that I stay in overnight. This, as you can imagine, was disappointing news (read: I was livid), because I was still sweaty and muddy from the run, had no change of clothes, very little money, and my phone battery was nearly dead. As a result, getting home the next day was going to be difficult, and since I had been informed earlier that I was probably being discharged, I had already organised transport home (via a good friend of mine, Emerson, who had very kindly gone well out of his way to collect me).

Whilst I would not ordinarily go against medical advice, I genuinely felt ok by that point (albeit starving, as I hadn’t eaten in twelve hours), and I wanted more than anything to go home, so I decided to discharge myself. It would be fair to say the doctor didn’t take this well, but I’m not sure whether this was because she was genuinely concerned for my health, or because she didn’t like being questioned.

Either way, she reluctantly agreed to provide discharge forms, if I promised to go to my GP on Monday – which I hastily accepted; although, by that point, I would have agreed to paint her house, if it meant getting the fuck out of there.

I did go to my GP the following day, and was immediately (and annoyingly) referred to our local hospital in Crewe for more tests. There, I had yet another ECG scan, the remainder of what little blood I had left was drained for testing, and numerous other checks were undertaken, before I was reassured that all the worrying signs had thankfully subsided.

Unfortunately, they had been replaced by high CK levels (whatever they are), and the fact I was now dehydrated, so my kidneys apparently weren’t working properly. I tried to point out that they had only given me one small drink in six hours, so it was no wonder I was dehydrated, but the consultant was having none of it – I was staying in overnight.

Within an hour or so, I was moved to a bay of six beds, with five other men who were all well into their eighties, and seemingly not long for this world. I genuinely feared I might be the only one of us to make it through the night, and so I took it upon myself to make sure we were all alive come sunrise. More on that, next week.

For now, I’ll leave you with the ratings for the Whitchurch 10k, and promise you that – after what I’ve been through – I will not be pushing myself to run the remaining races in under fifty minutes. I’d still like to run them all, rather than walk, but I will not be risking my health again. It’s simply not worth it.

Time: 47:50 (a new PB – by some margin, whoops!)

Position: 135th (out of 691)

Cost: £15.50 (very reasonable)

Course: The worst yet. Very little flat running, extremely steep hills, plus a start/finish on wet grass. It was incredibly well marshaled, with fantastic support from the locals, but you could marshal the Himalayas, and it still wouldn’t mean I’d want to run up and down them 5/10

Weather: Dry, sunny and just warm enough – virtually perfect 9/10

Organisation: A digital race pack was sent out with a week to go, although (as with Poynton) the organisers left it until then to confirm earphones were banned. There was also an issue with some missing race numbers on the day, but by all accounts that wasn’t the organisers’ fault 7/10

Official Photos: They haven’t been uploaded yet, which is disappointing, so I can’t possibly comment on the quality. That said, I’m in no rush to see myself being carried over the finish line, and at least they are apparently free (you reading this, Poynton 10k?) 5/10

Here are some photos my wife took before the race instead….

Medal: Very smart, and again made of metal 7/10

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Goody-bag: The best yet – not only did we get an actual goody bag (with snacks, sweets, and a voucher for half a pint in a local Whitchurch pub), but we were also given a smart ‘technical’ running shirt. In fact, our boys were apparently so well-behaved, while I was receiving treatment in the medical tent, the organisers decided to give them a shirt each as well:

Take note, other events, this is how you do a goody-bag 9/10

Post-race refreshment: Now, I’m struggling here, as I was semi-conscious and missed out on the post-race delicacies, but I heard whispers of jelly babies at one point, and there was definitely fruit and water on offer. Seemingly standard fayre for most events, and the snacks in the goody bag were already more than enough 7/10

Summary:

Course – 5/10

Weather – 9/10

Organisation – 7/10

Photos – 5/10

Medal – 7/10

Goody-bag – 9/10

Refreshments – 7/10

Giving Whitchurch a score of 49/70 (or 70%), placing it firmly in the lead, ahead of Oulton Park and then Poynton.

Next is the Tatton Park 10k at the start of May, and, as ever, if you’d like to sponsor me (because, in all honesty, this running nearly killed me last Sunday), here’s my Just Giving page:

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/greg10x10k

Next week, I’ll be telling you all about my hospital adventures with five very old men. Trust me, you don’t want to miss that one.

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Thanks for reading x

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Run FatBlog Run (Poynton)

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A few weeks ago, I wrote about the Oulton Park 10k – which was the first event of my 2018 challenge: to run ten 10k races for charity.

Sadly, since posting that entry, my next event at Arley Hall was cancelled thanks to the weather (as Kidsgrove had been in January), meaning that last Sunday’s Poynton 10k went from being my ‘almost-half-way’ point, to only my second outing.

Poynton was an obvious choice when I devised this challenge, because not only is it the village where I grew up, and spent the first eighteen years of my life (before leaving for university), but, as luck would have it, I now commute there every day for work.

However, despite spending roughly half of my life in this Cheshire village, I apparently don’t know most of it, because approximately 70% of the course was completely alien to me. Moreover, if I thought the organisers of the Oulton Park 10k were being economical with the truth, when they described their race track as ‘relatively flat’ (if that circuit is ‘relatively flat’, then the Himalayas are merely ‘a bit bumpy’), Crazy Legs Events – the organisers of the Poynton 10k – took lying to a new level. Anyway, more on that later.

The good thing about taking on a race in the village where I work, is that it gave me the opportunity to recruit some colleagues to join me, and sure enough two of the ladies I work with agreed to sign up. Sadly, one later put her back out and had to… erm, back out; but the other, Clare, took part and finished with a good time.

As we all gathered at the start line, outside Poynton’s ‘Acoustic Lounge’ (the primary cause of my chronic hangover the day before, thanks to my consumption of ALL THE RUM, whilst on a work night out last Friday evening), it dawned on me that this was a much bigger event than Oulton Park just a few weeks earlier.

Can you spot me? (hint: I’m 6’4″, wearing purple, and giving a ‘thumbs up’)

Despite only around 630 runners taking part, of the 750 who had registered, this still made the event roughly three times bigger than Oulton Park, and since my targets for this challenge are, in order: 1. to actually run all ten events and not walk at any point; 2. to run them in under fifty minutes; and 3. to try and finish in the top-third of all entrants, I quickly worked out that I needed to be in the top 210 (revised down from an original 250) to achieve my goal.

One of the organisers then introduced us to a young lady (unfortunately, I can’t recall her name), who had taken part the year before, but with the finish line in sight she suffered a cardiac arrest and collapsed. Thankfully, she made a full recovery, but understandably wasn’t taking part this year.

She was, however, given the ‘honour’ of starting the race, and after a brief countdown (not to mention reassurance that there was a typo on our running numbers, and we were not expected to run ten miles instead of 10k), we were underway.

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Having run down the main high street in Poynton, past my office, and around Poynton Pool (none of which I will bore you with, as it will mean nothing to 95% of those reading), we then headed up something called Ladys’ Incline (so named, because Ladys’ Fucking Steep Mountain was presumably too uncouth for Cheshire).  This trail was not only uneven and muddy from the rain the night before (conditions I am not overly keen on), but it was, as the name suggests, uphill.

The uphill part of the race, to my dismay, then lasted for what appeared to be somewhere in the region of 15 miles (impressive for a 6.2-mile race), and as the steepness continued unabated, and the energy sapped from my jelly-legs, I came dangerously close to walking for a bit. No one would have ever known, but as my wife rightly pointed out afterwards when I told her, I’d have known.

Anyway, I didn’t stop (although I ran so slowly at one point, to the naked eye I may well have appeared motionless), and eventually the terrain mercifully leveled out soon after the half-way point, when we joined the Middlewood Way. Again, I won’t bore you with the details or geography of this path, save for two important developments I only learned on the day:

  1. It is apparently popular with horse riders, so there was every possibility we might encounter some startled members of the equine family en route, and if there is one thing you don’t need when running, it is half a ton of future glue stick bolting toward you. Thankfully, I didn’t see any horses myself, but the knowledge that a distressed nag may appear at any given moment, was somewhat off-putting;
  2. At the end of the Middlewood Way, in order to join a second incline (although this time it was actually a decline, as it was bringing us back into the village), you have to run up some steps. Now, if the one thing you don’t want to encounter when running is a frightened horse, steps (and, indeed, ‘Steps’) are a surely a close second.

Things you don’t want to encounter whilst running

To make matters worse, not long after I had climbed the steps back to the Princes Incline, and begun down another muddy path (strewn with rocks and tree roots specifically designed to break your ankle), we encountered our next obstacle – a gate. Now, had this been an ordinary gate, it would surely have been left open to ease the passage of 600+ runners; but alas it was a circular gate, very much like this one:

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Now, it is hard enough slowing down to try and navigate your way through a turnstile like this, without the added problem of paying so much attention to your feet beforehand (to avoid the rocks and tree roots), that you are not even aware of it approaching, and end up running toward the adjacent fence instead.

As you can imagine, there was much swearing when this happened, not least because there was a marshal positioned by the gate who could have easily alerted me to its presence (I don’t think he appreciated my rather scathing ‘thanks for the warning, dickhead’ as I ran off). To make matters worse, the runner behind me was so close, and evidently also not paying attention, that when I stopped suddenly at the fence, he nearly became intimate with my bottom.

Thankfully, after that minor hurdle, the remainder of the course was all downhill – as promised by the marshals shouting encouragement along the way – and, as the muddy paths turned into beautiful, glorious, tarmac again, I began to recognise my surroundings, and knew I was nearly back in the village centre.

Somehow, despite being utterly exhausted, I forced myself into a sprint finish, and I’m glad I did, as I not only overtook a group of people just before the finish line (the results showed that there were just six seconds separating myself and the ten runners behind me), but I managed to achieve my sub-50 minute target once again.

Ok, my sprint finish did include a slight mishap, where I got too close to the lady next to me, and may have inadvertently elbowed her in the boob, but I apologised profusely whilst crossing the line a split second ahead of her, so I assume all is forgiven.

Having finished the race, I can honestly say I have not felt that unwell in some time, although it transpires this was most likely due to a dodgy Chinese takeaway I had on Saturday night, and not the race itself.

Anyway, adopting the same criteria as before, here is my review of the Poynton 10k:

Time: 49:28

Position: 166th (out of 629)

Cost: £16.00 (quite reasonable compared to some of the events I have entered)

And now for the ratings…

Course: Just horrible. Ok, some of it was scenic, and I guess it was more ‘interesting’ than doing three laps of a motor circuit (once you’ve run one race track, you’ve run them all), but it ranged from pavements and roads (my preference), to muddy paths strewn with all manner of obstacles, and the first three miles or so were almost exclusively uphill. It was, however, well-marshaled (gate-wanker aside), with lots of support from the locals, and that’s about the only good thing I can say about it. 5/10

Weather: Dry, sunny, and only slightly chilly. Close to perfect 8/10

Organisation: Plenty of pre-race information, and relatively well-organised on the day, but they should have informed us sooner that mp3 players were banned (I hate running without music), and the road closure in the centre of the village – despite being well publicised in advance – apparently ended up with various incidents of road rage 7/10

Official Photos: None. Well, there was a sports photographer present, but apparently they charge £1.50 per digital download, and if I want to see myself looking like shit, I can go to a mirror for free, so they can piss off. Thankfully, my wife and other runners caught a couple of snaps, including one of my photo finish alongside the poor lady I elbowed:

Photos 1 and 2 courtesy of Carl Ryder

I also managed to persuade my colleague, Clare, to have her photo taken with me after we had both finished the race, but since she made me promise I wouldn’t put it online, I have cleverly altered the photo to preserve her anonymity:

Poynton 10k Clare

Unfortunately, I can only judge the official photos on the small copyrighted thumbnails I found online – 2/10

Medal: Smart, metal and the middle bit spins round. Cool. 8/10

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Goody-bag: Like the Oulton Park 10k, there wasn’t one. However, unlike the Oulton Park 10k, they didn’t offer us a t-shirt instead. We got nothing. 0/10

Post-race refreshment: Poynton redeemed itself here, because although we were given tiny plastic cups of water, rather than bottles (so I took two), they not only provided mountains of jelly babies to boost our energy levels, but trays of deliciously gooey flapjack too. Top work 9/10

Summary:

Course – 5/10

Weather – 8/10

Organisation – 7/10

Photos – 2/10

Medal – 8/10

Goody-bag – 0/10

Refreshments – 9/10

Which gives Poynton a score of 39/70 (or 56%), and places it second, well behind Oulton Park. No amount of nice weather and flapjack, is going to make up for the lack of any souvenir (aside from the medal), a course that damn-near killed me, and a marshal who let me run into a fucking fence.

Next is the Whitchurch 10k a week on Sunday. As ever, if you’d care to throw some spare change towards a fantastic charity, here’s a link to my Just Giving page:

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/greg10x10k

Thanks for reading, folks x

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Run FatBlog Run (Oulton Park)

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Those of you who have been paying attention, will know that I have set myself a challenge for 2018 – to run ten 10k races for my chosen charity, Kidscan (they’re a children’s cancer charity based in Salford, and you should definitely check out the hard work they do here: www.kidscan.org.uk).

Now, my plan is to write a blog entry about each race, but if it gets to the point where I have nothing interesting to say about a particular event, that plan may change. I am only too aware how boring running blogs can be – because proper runners are, by and large, extremely dull people – but I am anything but a proper runner, so we should be fine.

If you’re reading this hoping for an in-depth analysis of a 10k race, with detailed course descriptions, training regimes and meal plans, then jog on (pun intended). If, however, you are the sort of person who revels in another human being’s misery, as he drags his middle-aged carcass around a running circuit, before collapsing in a sweaty broken heap (and I know you are), then by all means proceed.

Fortunately, my first 10k for this challenge was at Oulton Park a couple of weeks ago, and this is not only an interesting setting for a race, but there were a few moments which I feel are worth sharing. That said, I am constantly monitoring the stats for my blog, and if these running entries start to prove unpopular at any point, then… nah, fuck it, I’m writing them anyway.

By dedicating an entry to each event, I am hoping to compare and rate them all, for future generations of out-of-shape sloths to learn from.

For those of you who have never heard of Oulton Park, it is a motor racing circuit in the heart of Cheshire, and, since one lap is approximately two miles long (well, it is if you cut the loop around the lake out – which was the organisers idea, by the way, before you assume I cheated), it lends itself rather well to a 10k event.

By moving the start line a few hundred yards on from the usual motor racing grid, runners can complete just under three laps of the track, before cutting in to the pit lane for a sprint across the finish line. How very exciting. And, by ‘exciting’, I do of course mean ‘dull and exhausting’.

You see, having never been to Oulton Park before, I was under the impression the course would be relatively flat – thanks, in no small part, to the organisers describing the course as ‘relatively flat’. This, to an inexperienced (and not very good) runner, is about the best news you can receive – short of discovering there is a lap dancing tent at the finish line.

What I now know, and what most experienced 10k runners almost certainly know already, is that race organisers are to the running world, what estate agents are to the property market: lying bastards. For example, if an estate agent describes a particular room as ‘compact’, it generally means you would struggle to house the family guinea pig in there. Equally, if an estate agent tells you the house you are viewing is ‘convenient for trains’, it would probably be a good idea to double-check that the proposed HS2 route isn’t going to pass right through your new back garden.

By the time I had completed my first lap, I had formed the opinion that 10k event organisers are most likely estate agents during the week, because it turned out that, when they described the Oulton Park circuit as ‘relatively flat’, with ‘slight undulations’, what they actually meant was ‘there are points on the track where you may want to hire some climbing equipment, and perhaps employ a fucking sherpa’.

For example, there was one particular incline on the circuit (I forget the name), where I swear there was a base camp situated half way up, for those with altitude sickness to get some much-needed medical attention.  It was ridiculously steep.

What made matters worse, was that I knew I had to do two more laps of the circuit before crossing the finish line, so I had to psychologically prepare myself to run up the equivalent of Ben Nevis twice more, knowing I would be more and more exhausted each time I faced it.

I suspect, if I hadn’t set myself a series of targets for this challenge, and if I were not doing this for charity, I may very well have walked some of the Oulton Park 10k; but I was determined not to let anyone down. My targets – other than raising at least £1,000 for Kidscan – are, in decreasing order of importance, as follows:

Target 1: To run all ten events, without stopping or walking at any point;

Target 2: To finish all ten events in under fifty minutes;

Target 3: To finish in the top third of all entrants;

Target 4: To not cry or shit myself.

Targets 1 and 2 are very important to me. I must run all ten events, and I am desperate to do them in under fifty minutes. I would like to finish in the top third each time, but won’t lose any sleep if I don’t. If I cry or shit myself, well, so be it.

Fortunately, I am off to a good start, in that I completed the Oulton Park event without stopping, in a time of 49:11, finishing 65th out of 255 runners (so, for those who struggle with maths, the top third was anything higher than 85th place). Also, I didn’t cry, or – to my knowledge – shit myself.

All in all, a good day at the races (again, pun intended), and even I have to admit the sprint finish down the pit lane, with the crowd cheering all the runners on, was pretty special (although my euphoria was primarily down to the realisation the race was mercifully over).

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The Pit Lane

I did say at the start of this entry, however, that I wanted to compare all of the 10k events I am doing this year, in a series of important categories. Therefore, here is my first review:

Time: 49:11

Position: 65th (out of 255)

Cost: £25.00 (the most expensive event I have entered – so far)

And now for the ratings…

Course: Not as flat as I would have liked (and as promised), and not particularly scenic, but definitely unique, the ground was obviously nice and smooth, and it was impossible to get lost 6/10

Weather: Thankfully dry, but very windy, and freezing cold (around 1°c) 3/10

Organisation: Pretty good. Plenty of pre-race details, well-organised on the day, and my only complaint was the rushed start with little warning 7/10

Official Photos: Plenty of them (even though I look dreadful in most – here’s a selection) 7/10

Medal: Made of metal, solid looking, and stylish. An impressive 8/10

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Goody-bag: Well, there wasn’t one really. At the Sandbach 10k last September, we got given drinks bottles and a funny hat thing (one of which leaks, and the other makes me look like a twat), but in place of this we were handed a rather fetching t-shirt, and I would far sooner wear that. Lovely. 8/10

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Post-race refreshment: A mixed bag here. On the one hand, I was approached by a lady just after I had finished the race, who offered me a bottle of water and some whey protein powder to put into it.

I was immediately apprehensive, having never tried whey protein before, and when I heard her say there were two flavours, one of which was ‘strawberry’, I decided I would opt for the alternative (even though I hadn’t heard the end of what she said). For some reason, the prospect of strawberry-flavoured protein water made my stomach churn, and I firmly believed the second option must be preferable.

I was wrong.

In case you cannot make that out, the alternative flavour was ‘birthday cake’. Needless to say, the pack remains unopened in our kitchen.

On the other hand, shortly after discovering I was now the proud owner of  vomit-inducing birthday cake mixture in a packet, the Oulton Park organisers redeemed themselves with the sort of delights a pretentious pop singer might request in their rider: trays of jaffa cakes and jelly babies. Ok, Isaac stole the three jaffa cakes I grabbed for myself, so I never got to enjoy their orangey-goodness, but fair play, Oulton Park, fair play indeed. 7/10

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Summary:

Course – 6/10

Weather – 3/10

Organisation 7/10

Photos – 7/10

Medal – 8/10

Goody-bag – 8/10

Refreshments – 7/10

All of which gives the Oulton Park 10k a grand total of 46/70 (or 66%, if you prefer).

Not the best of scores, but the weather really let them down. You could argue this wasn’t really their fault, but you have to bear in mind that they chose to organise the event in February, so what did they expect?

Next up, is the Arley Hall 10k tomorrow morning. If you’d like to keep closer track on my progress, or make a little donation, the full details of my challenge are here:

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/greg10x10k

Thanks for reading.

 

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Sunday Bloggy Sunday

Or “The 10k Race That Never Was”.

I’ll pre-empt this week’s entry, by admitting that it is technically about running, but I don’t want that to put you off reading. I am well aware that running blogs are often very dull (because, well, people who run regularly – and like to write about it – are themselves sinfully boring), but I wish to distinguish this entry in one important respect: no actual running took place.

Regular readers (God bless you both), or those who know me in ‘real life’, will be aware that I have set myself a challenge for 2018: to run ten 10k races for my chosen charity, Kidscan. Kidscan are based in Salford (but don’t hold that against them), and they carry out vital research into childhood cancer, so a worthier cause you could not hope to find.

You will also be aware that, until last Easter, I had not run in several years, and despite having the sort of slender physique that might lend itself to distance running (certainly more so than to, say, bodybuilding, manual labour, or attracting the opposite sex), I am definitely not a runner. In fact, it would be fair to conclude that I am to running, what Verne Troyer is to basketball. What Kim Jong-un is to haircuts. What Donald Trump is to…. well, anything really. You get the gist.

Having registered for nine of my ten races, with plenty of options for the final one later this year, the inaugural event was intended to be the Kidsgrove 10k last Sunday. Some of you will already be aware that this did not exactly go according to plan, in that it didn’t ‘go’ at all.

Booking a running race for January is risky, as the weather at the start of the year is always likely to pose a threat to the event taking place, but the organisers had cautiously set aside two ‘reserve’ dates for February, in case the conditions became too treacherous for the run to proceed as planned. Unfortunately, however, last Sunday Mother Nature decided to (literally) piss on everyone’s parade, with very little warning whatsoever.

Towards the end of last week, it became clear to all involved, that the Kidsgrove 10k was likely to take place in somewhat Baltic conditions, as temperatures were dropping faster than a hooker’s underwear, but a little cold never hurt anyone (apart from elderly people with no winter fuel allowance), so the event was certainly not in any doubt.

Furthermore, my preparations were going quite well, in that I had done a couple of practice runs around my home town of Sandbach, and could seemingly manage five miles (roughly 8k) without needing medical attention. Ok, I wasn’t going to break any records, but I was on target to finish in under fifty minutes, which is the threshold I have set myself for these ten races. In short, I was quietly confident of at the very least not dying.

Then, on Sunday morning, as my family and I set off towards Kidsgrove (which is about ten miles away), the weather quickly progressed from ‘cold drizzle’, to ‘blizzard’, to ‘fuck me’, in the space of a few minutes. And, whilst my inner nerd is always secretly delighted at the prospect of driving in sleet and snow (so I can pretend to be Han Solo, piloting the Millennium Falcon through hyperspace), on this occasion my inner nerd was firmly cocooned within the outer-shell of someone who had to go for a run, and it would be fair to say my outer shell was thoroughly pissed off with this meteorological turn of events.

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I turned to Chewbacca (my wife – although I must say that she bears no resemblance to the famous wookie, even when she hasn’t shaved her legs in a few days), and expressed my dissatisfaction with the deteriorating weather; but all I gained in response, was the fact she was going to have to stand in the sleet with our two boys, whilst I at least got to run around in it to keep warm.

I thought about arguing back, along the lines that she was wearing a coat, while I was in a running top and shorts (and therefore in grave danger of losing my genitals to frostbite), but thought better of it – over the years, I have realised it is always best to let the Wookie win. I therefore apologised, wholeheartedly, for dragging her and the boys out in such terrible weather, and I promised to run my (soon to be frozen solid) arse off, so we could get back home as quickly as possible.

When we arrived at the school which had been turned into ‘Race HQ’ for the morning, it seemed most of my fellow runners were in good spirits despite the weather, which only added fuel to my argument that regular runners are, by and large, utter wankers.

I collected my race number and electronic timing chip, the latter of which I had to securely fasten to my running shoes, and began to warm up in my brand new, bespoke, charity running shirt:

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I should explain, at this stage, that the organisers had decided to split the event into two start times: 10am for the ‘elite’ runners who were expecting to finish in under fifty minutes, and 11am for everyone else. Now, even though my only prior 10k had resulted in a time of 49:12, and I have set myself the unofficial target of running these ten races in under fifty minutes, I still opted to enter the 11am race to be on the safe side.

My reasoning for this, was that it would be far better to take part in the slower race, and then hopefully surprise everyone by finishing in under fifty minutes and somewhere near the front, than pushing myself to compete in the elite race, finishing stone cold last, and crying as I vomited into a bush. Besides, if I ever get to the stage of thinking I am an ‘elite’ runner, I will have become one of them: I will be a running wanker.

Anyway, at approximately 10:45am, someone with a megaphone stood on a chair, and shouted that, for safety reasons, the organisers had decided to change the course at the last minute. Essentially, the unexpected – and seemingly relentless – downpour of snow, had made some of the country paths very slippery, so the route was altered to stick to roads and pavements instead.

This didn’t really bother me. I mean, sure, I might have stayed up late the night before, memorising the intended route so that I didn’t get lost and look a complete tit, but I wasn’t going to let a last minute change of plan panic me. Nope. Not me.

Ok, maybe a little.

Then, as if I wasn’t nervous enough, I suddenly realised I had left my mp3 player in the car, and had a little under eight minutes to ‘run’ back and get it.

In jogging/skating/sliding back to the car, I suddenly realised how dangerous even the roads were, and how there was not a cat in hell’s chance of me finishing the race in under fifty minutes. In fact, if I arrived back to ‘Race HQ’ by nightfall, I’d consider that a fucking win. The weather was frankly ridiculous.

Evidently, the organisers were quickly forming the same opinion, because at precisely 11am, as we all lined up ready to start the race, megaphone man re-appeared and informed us all that the event had been cancelled. He explained that the elite wankers had just finished their 10am race, and the conditions had become so treacherous that a number had fallen (cue smug smile crossing my lips, at the mental image of some dipshit in running tights skidding face first into a wheelie bin). So, for safety reasons, they couldn’t possibly let us run.

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The start line

Amazingly, despite it being cold, wet, and hazardous – not to mention the fact I really dislike running – I was honestly gutted. As well as having mentally prepared myself, I’m doing these ten races for charity, and I (rather sadistically) felt that if my first race was in shitty conditions, I was earning every donation just that little bit more. The whole point of doing this, is that it is genuinely challenging. If I was going to try and raise money by doing something I actually enjoy, I’d get people to sponsor me to eat chocolate hobnobs in my underwear.

What I will say, in hindsight, is that it was absolutely the right decision. All joking aside, one of the elite runners did require an ambulance, and although I was disappointed to go all that way in terrible weather for nothing, that was infinitely preferable to running, breaking something (and I would break something), and jeopardising the entire challenge. Plus, these guys really weren’t in the mood to stand in the snow for an hour while I ran:

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So, my first race will now be at Oulton Park on 25th February, and if anyone would like to come along to support me, or better still donate to my challenge, you’ll find all the details here:

http://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/greg10x10k

Thanks for reading.

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Blogged Determination

I’ve set myself a challenge for 2018. Yes, I know it’s a little early for New Year’s resolutions, but once the X-Factor live-shows start, it’s basically Christmas, right?

I’ve undertaken some stupid challenges in my time; however, generally speaking, I have always ended up being proud of what I achieved, usually because I was raising money for charity at the time – and you can get away with some pretty weird shit when it’s for a good cause.

“I’ve decided to hop to work on Thursday, dressed as Scooby Doo.”

“Are you mad? It’s three miles!”

“I know, but I’m raising money for The National Association of Disabled Great Danes.”

“Ah, fair enough. A fiver ok?”

In 2001, I watched all the James Bond films back-to-back (up to, and including, The World Is Not Enough), with a good friend of mine from Law School – we’ll call him Gerard because, well, that’s his name. It took us forty-three hours (without sleep) and, from a medical point of view, I believe our condition at the end of the ordeal would be best described as ‘a bit fucked-up.’

I can only take my wife’s word for this, because I have very little recollection of events from the start of Goldeneye onward, other than a vague memory of me being topless, and trying to mould a third nipple (in homage to Scaramanga’s anatomical abnormality in The Man With the Golden Gun), from some dampened pink toilet paper.

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It’s no wonder I never heard back from that Blue Peter audition.

Then, in 2008, Gerard persuaded me to join him in a charity abseil, down the side of the Europa Hotel in Belfast. At 51 metres high, The Europa boasts (if ‘boasts’ is in fact the right word) the title of being the ‘most bombed hotel in the world’ – and I threw myself off the side of it (admittedly attached to a rope, I’m not a complete moron).

To make matters worse, I was chronically hungover at the time, and still suffering the effects of a dodgy Lebanese kebab that I had drunkenly scoffed the night before. The people of Belfast will never know how close they came to literally being ‘shat on from a great height’.

I sometimes question why I remain friends with Gerard, because he is clearly not very good for my health (mental or physical), but he and I are very similar in many respects. In fact, we share so many common interests, the only clearly distinguishable difference between us (other than physical appearance – and even then, with the exception of his facial hair, we are not overly dissimilar), is that he is, without doubt, psychologically unhinged.

He’s like my reckless, sociopathic, death-defying alter ego from Northern Ireland. If it turned out that he is in fact a figment of my sub-conscious (a little like the Edward Norton / Brad Pitt relationship in Fight Club*), I would not be entirely surprised. I may, however, question why my psyche has given him an accent that I couldn’t fully understand for the first few months of our friendship.

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(*belated spoiler alert. Sorry if you’ve not seen the film, but it’s been out nearly twenty years, so you only have yourself to blame. Oh, and Bruce Willis is a ghost in The Sixth Sense, too. Oops.)

Partly because Gerard lives in Ireland, partly because we both now have families to look after, and partly because (as my wife constantly reminds me), prolonged exposure to some of Gerard’s ‘suggestions’, would almost certainly result in my boys growing up without a father, we haven’t seen each other in a few years. It’s probably for the best though, because the last time I spoke to him, he was still harping on about us kayaking down the River Lagan in Belfast, dressed as Mel Gibson’s William Wallace character from Braveheart. I’m not even sure why.

Anyway, as usual I digress. The bottom line is, I still like to set new challenges for myself every now and then (e.g. getting more than three hours of sleep, eating an entire packet of chocolate Hobnobs in one sitting, climbing a flight of stairs without developing back/knee/chest pains, etc…), but with one important distinction: I won’t be attempting anything dangerous. As such, skydiving and bungee jumping are definitely out of the question, as is swimming with sharks, cliff diving, and going to Port Vale away ever again.

These days, as I hurtle towards middle-age, I prefer my charity escapades to be feats of endurance, rather than anything which might result in serious injury or death. So, with that in mind, I have previously organised sponsored walks to away football matches (Macclesfield in 2013, and Hyde in 2015), as well as last year’s ‘Big Road Trip’, which involved myself and another good friend (who we shall call Gareth), driving 1,000 miles around the country, visiting twenty-eight football grounds in one weekend.

Our adopted good cause for these previous events, has been a children’s cancer charity based in Salford, called ‘Kidscan’. I first became aware of Kidscan, through my dealings with an online Stockport County fans’ forum in 2013, and since childhood cancer was affecting my wife’s family at the time, that’s when I took the decision to organise the first sponsored walk.

For my latest venture, I wanted to depart from anything to do with County (partly because there are no convenient away fixtures that we could realistically walk to this season – at least, not without a risk of snow – and partly because I simply fancied a change of direction), so I decided that my new hobby of running might be a suitable platform. Actually, ‘hobby’ implies that I enjoy running, whereas I merely tolerate it, in order to halt the advancement of middle-age spread. In all honesty, I am to running, what Boris Johnson is to foreign relations. Or running.

Having ruled out some kind of distance target (in my sleep-deprived state, I genuinely/naively Googled ‘how far is it to the moon?’, and then immediately dismissed the idea, when it transpired I would need to average 654 miles a day, for the entire year, to achieve my goal), I began considering other options.

Then, in a moment of weakness, I thought back to my first ever 10k race in September. At the time (and for a few days afterwards), I was telling anyone who would listen that I would never do it again. With aching limbs (and moderately tender nipples), still very much fresh in my memory, I had more chance of entering Iraq, or Katie Hopkins, than another 10k event.

However, time is very much a healer – of both memories and nipples (note to self: consider ‘Memories and Nipples’ as potential autobiography title), and it wasn’t long before I questioned whether I had been prematurely dismissive of competitive running. Maybe  I could grow to love it. Perhaps this was my sport after all. Perhaps I could still – even at my advanced stage of life – become one of the world’s great distance runners?

Ok, fine, if I’m honest, I just want more shiny medals to add to my collection (of one). Does that make me a bad person? No. If anything, it makes me a fucking magpie.

Then, one morning, I settled on the idea of running a number of 10k races throughout 2018. I briefly contemplated a challenge of doing one a month, but found this not only difficult to organise (I wanted to keep the events local, and there isn’t quite one a month in the surrounding area), but I also might need some flexibility in case of injury etc. So, having changed my plan slightly, I decided to try and run 10x10k instead.

The more I investigated the various running events throughout the calendar year, the more I realised that they all see it as one big competition between themselves, as they battle to be the best 10k event in Cheshire (not that such an accolade actually exists).

The ‘Knutsford 10k’ organisers claim to have the prettiest course and the biggest medal; the Alderley Edge 10k may be boring (the route essentially takes you down the ‘new’ bypass and back again), but is largely flat and promises the fastest times, not to mention a t-shirt in your goody bag at the finish; the ‘Poynton 10k’ is apparently like an assault course, with a route that includes some steps and a stile (although I do not necessarily consider this to be a good thing, as it’s meant to be a 10k race, not fucking Ninja Warrior UK).

In fact, each of my local 10k races seems to boast something the other’s don’t have, as if fickle sods like me are only attracted to material items and gimmicks, rather than the sheer love of running (ok, they got me, I’m only doing this for the silverware).

Each of the races I looked at, within a 25 mile radius of Sandbach, had their own individual appeal, with the exception of Market Drayton. Not only do they keep the contents of their goody bag a secret until the day of the race (how can I tell if I want to run their stupid 10k, until I know what I get at the end?), but the wearing of headphones is ‘strictly forbidden’ (despite it being a perfectly safe, fully road-closed, course) and results in instant disqualification. Well, Market Drayton 10k, I don’t care if you ‘sold out within 24 hours’ last year, as far as I’m concerned you can piss off with your shitty secretive goody bag, and I’m not running unless I can have music to distract me from my burning nips.

I’ve already paid the entry fee for five races: Kidsgrove in January, Poynton in March, Whitchurch in April, Knutsford in June, and Alderley Edge in July; and I have four other definite races pencilled in, which aren’t currently open for registration (including a repeat of the Sandbach 10k next September). For my tenth race, I am toying with the idea of a trip to see the in-laws in Norwich next August (which would be the largest event by some margin – several thousand runners, in fact), but there are a few alternative options if that doesn’t work out.

For now, I’m just eager to get going, as I think I’ll be less apprehensive when I have the first few races under my belt by Easter. All details – which will be updated as I go along – are contained within my JustGiving page, https://www.justgiving.com/greg10x10k, and if you feel like sponsoring me nearer the time, or joining me at any of the races (or both), well that’d be just grand.

And the best part about all of this? That’s at least ten blog entries for 2018 already.

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The Blogs Are Back In Town

Last week, I told you about the first day of the charity road trip that my friend Gareth and I took part in at the end of June, and when we left the story, Gareth and I were retiring to bed (separately) at my in-laws in Norwich…

Sunday 26th June 2016 – 08:00

After breakfast, our trip continued very much as it had finished on the Saturday evening – bang on time. We aimed to depart my in-laws at 8:00am, and depart at 8:00am we most certainly did.

Realising it would not take us an hour to get to our first destination of the day, Lowestoft Town (even allowing for the fact we might have to pass through some kind of passport control to get there, being situated, as it is, somewhere near Holland), we decided to visit yet another bonus ground – Norwich City’s Carrow Road. Little did we know that, upon leaving ‘The Canaries’, we were about to encounter an entirely different kind of bird altogether….

#12 – Lowestoft Town – 09:00

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Our arrival at Lowestoft Town was greeted by four people, including a lady who was easily the best dressed of the entire trip (even accounting for the gate-crashed wedding reception at Boston the night before).

‘Helen’ (I’m calling her that because, well, it was her name) looked resplendent in a long purple ball gown, complete with giant beehive hair-do. Quite what possessed her to dress like that, in order to meet two strangers in a football ground car park, remains a mystery, but we soon learned that she often ‘overdresses for the football’, and had not, contrary to our first suspicions, simply crawled out of bed from whichever party she had attended the night before.

Two things struck me about Helen, and I suspect they both struck Gareth too, such were their size. It was like she had smuggled two bald men into her very low cut dress, and neither of them were especially keen on staying in there. I hope I speak for both Gareth and I when I say we are not perverts, but if we looked anywhere within a five metre radius of Helen, passers-by would naturally assume we were ogling her boobs. They were so big, I would not be surprised if they had their own gravitational field.

It then transpired that the other lady in the group was the club photographer, and they had kindly opened the ground to take official pictures on the pitch. As Gareth and I stood on the centre circle next to Helen, she began to glance downwards (in hindsight, I suspect she was simply adjusting her scarf), before suddenly asking ‘Oh, and have you met Matthew and Daniel?’

Now, it later transpired that she knew two Stockport fans who had travelled down the previous season, and she wondered whether we also knew them (we don’t), but our initial assumption was that she had named her breasts ‘Matthew’ and ‘Daniel’ (or, presumably, ‘Matty’ and ‘Danny’ once you got to know them better).

#13 – Corby Town – 11:45

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Having waved goodbye to ‘the Trawlerboys’ (Lowestoft’s nickname, rather than another unfortunate sobriquet for Helen’s chest), we faced our longest journey of the weekend – just over two hours to Corby Town.

Having briefly stopped at another bonus ground en route (Histon) we arrived only slightly behind schedule, and were met by another exiled County fan – ‘Market Harborough Hatter’ – with his two young daughters. Not only did his daughters produce some bags of change to go in our collection tins, but he then presented us with a County shirt worn by one of our legends many years ago, which he was generously donating for us to auction.

The five of us then entered the ground, to be greeted by the sight of balloons, flags and colourful bunting. Initially overwhelmed by such a gesture, we then spotted a large bouncy castle on the pitch, and realised none of it was for us.

Sure enough, we had now managed to gate-crash a children’s birthday party too, although when the chap behind the bar found out why we were actually there, it turned out he had heard about our trip, and kindly invited us in for a quick drink.

#14 – Brackley Town – 13:25

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Fuck me, that’s bleak.

Chalking up yet another bonus ground on the way (Northampton Town’s ‘Sixfields’ Stadium), we arrived at Brackley just under half an hour late. ‘The Saints’ had certainly not come marching in to meet us however, so we managed to take a quick photo of a stand which closely resembled a Cold War bunker, and then got back on the road to try and make some time up.

#15 – Gloucester City – 14:45

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Gloucester City’s ground was badly flooded a few years ago (making it easier to bring their subs on, arf!), so they currently play their home games at Cheltenham Town’s ‘Whaddon Road’, which was actually a bit nearer for us, and enabled us to restrict our tardiness to just fifteen minutes.

We were met by Gareth’s sister-in-law and her partner, but realising we still had most of the Midlands still to conquer, we were unable to spend as long with them as we would have liked.

#16 – Worcester City – 15:50

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Like Gloucester City, Worcester also spent last season residing at their neighbours’ larger property, playing their home matches at ‘Aggborough’ – the home of Kidderminster Harriers. Here we met a good friend of Gareth’s – ‘Kiddy Andy’ (being a reference to his supporting of the Harriers, rather than anything more distasteful) – but again we were sadly unable to spend very long with him.

Andy kindly presented us with a bottle of beer each to enjoy when we got home that evening, and we bid him farewell (making a quick detour to Worcester’s new ground in, erm…. Bromsgrove, before our next stop).

#17 – Solihull Moors – 17:00

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Solihull were the other team to be promoted from County’s league last season and, like North Ferriby the day before, their ground was also a disappointing cesspit. Continuing my tradition of christening certain grounds, I again took a piss behind their stand (although, unlike at Stalybridge, this was a urinary protest), and away we went.

#18 – Nuneaton Town – 17:30

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I think this picture says it all really. Shut. Shit. Move on.

#19 – Tamworth FC – 17:55

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Prior to our trip, I had joined as many online supporter groups as I could – in an attempt to spread the word of what we were doing – and while the response from Nuneaton’s fans had initially been very positive (even though no one bothered to actually donate or turn up to meet us), their bitter rivals Tamworth were the complete opposite.

In fact, I only received one reply to my post on their forum, and it was more of a pro-Brexit rant than anything else, so my view of Tamworth was not particularly favourable before we arrived. However, that was all about to change.

One Nuneaton fan had jokingly referred to Tamworth’s Lamb Ground as ‘the tip’ (even promising to donate, if we would take some of his garden waste with us to deposit there), but having subsequently seen Nuneaton’s ‘Liberty Way’ ground from their rusted and locked gates, his comment strikes me as very much ‘people in fuck-ugly glass houses….’

In fairness, The Lamb Ground was hardly the Taj Mahal either (a delightful looking curry house we had passed on the way), but that was mostly due to the fact they were laying a brand new pitch at the time. What matters, is the welcome we received.

Unlike at Harrogate and Lowestoft – where we had anticipated some form of greeting – we hadn’t had any contact from Tamworth whatsoever, so when we arrived and saw a few cars in the car park, we initially feared a repeat of the ‘Glanford Doggers’ from the day before.

However, it turned out that, far from being unsavoury sex-pests, the five Tamworth fans who had braved the rain to honour our (late) arrival, were the loveliest of people. Not only did they invite us in to the ground to have more official photographs taken, but they then presented us with a huge bag of goodies, including snacks, drinks, and even a signed football for auctioning.

As a result, Tamworth – rather unexpectedly – joined Harrogate and Lowestoft in our top 3 clubs of the weekend.

#20 – Hednesford Town – 18:35

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The only downside to such a nice reception at Tamworth (when we had been expecting a quick photo and hasty departure), was that we were now badly behind schedule again. Fortunately, not only had I over-estimated how long it would take to get to our penultimate ground, Hednesford’s ‘Keys Park’, but it was again locked and deserted, so the quick photo we had planned at Tamworth, merely got delayed by one stop.

Determined to try and get as near to the ground as possible (which looked more like a factory than a football stadium), we parked up at the gates, leapt over them, and ran down the track that lead to their main stand like we were on ‘Challenge Anneka’ (or another more current – and less camp – reference).

We posed, comically, outside their main entrance, before noticing the signs which warned that there was constant CCTV in operation. Oh well, that should give the security team something to talk about (although not, I would imagine, as much to feast their eyes on as their counterparts at Scunthorpe).

#21 – AFC Telford – 19:15

Telford

Our last ground of the adventure before heading back to Edgeley Park. No official welcome again, but we were met by our good friend and fellow County fan ‘Shropshire Hatter’, who posed for some quick photographs, before making his way home in the rain.

And that was it. The race was then on to get back to Edgeley Park for our scheduled arrival time of 9:00pm.

Edgeley Park – 21:05

Ok, we didn’t quite make it back on time, but turning up only five minutes late, having driven over one thousand miles, was not to be sniffed at, and we had two good reasons for being ever-so-slightly late.

Firstly, we were very nearly involved in a nasty crash, when I came around the bend on a country lane to be greeted – very abruptly – by the mangled wreckage of a car blocking the road. Thankfully, not only did everyone appear to be ok, but my reflexes were not as subdued as they might have been after such a long drive, and we were able to safely navigate around the crash without further incident.

Any confidence in my driving ability was, however, rather short-lived, as a far more serious incident occurred only moments later. Remember how I mentioned, at the start of last week’s entry, that there had been a murder on the trip? Well, I was the murderer, and my car was the weapon.

Actually, ‘murder’ is a little extreme a description, but I may not have held your interest for so long, had I more accurately referred to the crime as ‘vehicular avian slaughter’. In fact, technically, it was vehicular avian suicide, and that is certainly what I would argue in a court of law, but I doubt the surviving family members (the ones who didn’t bounce off the front of my car and end up in a hedge) would see it that way. Oh, the guilt.

Still, we had a deadline to keep, and we arrived back at Edgeley Park tired, but ultimately very proud of what we had achieved.

The total amount raised has now exceeded £2,000. Not bad, considering we essentially spent the weekend dicking around, whilst eating sweets and listening to music. To everyone who donated, no matter the amount, thank you so very much. We’ll be in touch about our next big adventure soon!

Oh, and for anyone outraged at me for senselessly murdering a door-to-door make up sales lady, that’s Avon you twat. ‘Avian’ means ‘bird’.

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