500 miles – already?!

When I’d done the first 50 miles, I put something on facebook about a stupid maths error I’d made, as I was walking back into the house after a long run, I thought to myself, 10% of the way there already – it took a couple of minutes to realise that 50 miles is 1% of 5,000, not 10%. That dumb mistake helped me to understand the relative enormity of what I’ve taken on – 500 miles, which at that point was 450 miles away, was the point at which I could claim to be at the 10% mark. So, I’ve made it – for real this time. 10% of the challenge completed.

Ahead of schedule too.

Those of you who are following may know that I’m going on a family holiday for three weeks in July / August, and whilst I am not discounting the possibility of running in 100 degree Florida sunshine and humidity, I always wanted to be far enough ahead of the game (about 60 miles) by the time that came around to be able to enjoy my holiday in the sun with no pressure to do any miles. That’s still the plan, and I’m about 50 miles ahead already. There has been one main reason, totally unanticipated when I dreamed up this challenge, why this has been relatively straight forward….

Just to explain briefly, I’ve been thinking about this challenge for some time – I wanted to do something that it was possible to work into a busy family life in a way that other stuff didn’t suffer, but also that it was a distance of significant enough length to impress people into being inspired to sponsor me – 5,000 miles sounds like a lot, because it is. 5,000 miles in 5 years sounds like a lot, because it is, but if you break it down it’s a reasonable amount to do in 2 – 4 runs per week. You have to be dedicated (if you take a break, you’re stuffed – or you need to catch up), and committed to making the effort all the time, which is the bit that I hope inspires people. 20 miles a week is not a lot to a decent runner (I’ve met plenty of people already who do considerably more than that without making a big song and dance about it!) but an average of 20 miles per week, every week for 260 weeks – it starts to sound more impressive….but crucially, you have to carefully work it all around when other members of the family need you, squeezing those miles into windows of opportunity, either early on a weekend morning or on any evening where taxi driving is not required, or you’re not too tired……

Anyway, I digress – the one main reason, totally unanticipated, that has made it relatively easy so far is……….(drum roll please……………) London.

Yes, London.

Out of the blue, I got this fantastic opportunity to go and work in London for 6 months – for the purposes of this blog what I’m doing there isn’t important (I’m working for The Wellcome Trust, an amazing organisation that you can read all about here – www.wellcome.ac.uk/Our-philosophy/index.htm); what is relevant is that on two evenings most weeks I finish up in the office early evening, and then I have nothing to do in Central London except sit in a very nice hotel room (thanks Wellcome Trust) snacking and watching TV.

So, I have gone from a situation where I’m wondering whether I will be able to squeeze evening running in at all, to having two evenings each week in our capital city, with nothing to do…..it didn’t take me more than a few seconds after accepting the job for the cogs to start turning – I can run around London – I only know London as a tourist and would typically get off the train at Kings Cross and get straight onto a tube, so my perspective of London previously is of a bunch of totally disjointed bits, so I know Trafalgar Square and Buckingham Palace and Hyde Park and Piccadilly Circus and lots of other places, I just only a vague idea how they slot together overground.

What I’ve done then, over the last four months, is explore London, in the dark, on foot, by running. I’ve made taking crap selfies into an art form, posting them on Facebook to the amusement of my friends.

london 1

I’ve run north, south, east and west from whichever hotel I happen to be staying in. I’ve got different degrees of lost, a bit lost, and really lost – but have always managed to find my way home eventually…..

Andy runs London Nov 15 pic 2

On my very first day, looking at a map it appeared on paper that I was pretty close to Regents Park. That’ll be lovely I thought, pretty Christmas lights, traffic free avenues to plod along – so after I finished day one in the new job, and got checked into the hotel, I “memorized” the map in my head and set off, running the mile or so to the park, dodging the crowds and the traffic, excited for this brand new experience. Imagine my disappointment when I reached what I thought was my destination, and there are six foot high metal railings and padlocks on gates…..and not a pretty Christmas light in sight. I felt like the naive Northerner that I am.

There is a tree lined circular road with traffic, so I ran around that for a while, but that then generated a different problem. After what I imagined was about 90 degrees around this 360 circular road, I took an out road, and ended up somewhere busy and confusing. I couldn’t tell from any landmarks where I was or which direction was home, so decided that the safest thing to do was to attempt to retrace my steps. I managed to do this, and when I worked my way back to the hotel I’d clocked up 4.7 miles. What I hadn’t realised was that rather than running 90 degrees around the circle, I’d done almost 360, come out almost where I had started a mile from the hotel, and then run all the way back around the other way, just to save getting lost. When you look at a map of the run, it was a ridiculous route and not a good start to the London adventure – I needed a new plan!

Next time I went out I decided to go somewhere I knew – but this meant Oxford Street, in the last week in November. Not a great idea. This is me with the Christmas lights – I had to sprint down the bus lane when there were breaks in the traffic, as the pavement was impossible.

Andy runs London week one

What has gone to pot entirely during these runs is any attempt at running either an even pace or a decent time – stopping to take selfies is time consuming (partly because I am missing some spacial awareness gene and cannot work out which angle I need to adjust the phone to in order to get me, and the landmark behind me, in perfect harmony – the ones you are seeing here are pretty bad, but you should see the deleted ones…..) and it also breaks up the rhythm. The fact that some of the places I’m running are extremely packed with people means that you are stop / start a lot of the time – also stopping for traffic signals, red lights are longer in London – all these things mean that even if when I’m actually physically in the act of running I am going at a decent pace (probably about 8:15 per mile) by the time I get back to base and log the run, it looks like I’ve been running 10 minute miles.

london 2

The more running I did the easier I found it was to get my bearings. Once I’d run to all the obvious tourist places I started taking requests – this is me outside the Royal Albert Hall, a request from one of my old MAYC buddies.

london 4

I’ve also managed to conquer my fear of running across bridges with water underneath – one of the best places to run that I’ve found is on either the north or the south bank of the Thames, but obviously to get to the south bank you need to cross the river. Look straight ahead, avoid looking up and down, keep running, and most of all try to use the power of your mind to move any walking pedestrians out of your path. I’m happy to dodge around anyone on a regular pavement, they have as much right to be there as me, but if I’m going over a bridge I want a straight line with no obstacles or distractions!

Anyway, I’ve had a great time doing this London malarkey, but the main advantage is that each week it’s given me 10 – 17 miles of my quota, without inconveniencing the family. I have a few weeks left and once the clocks go back and it is lighter for longer, I’m planning to run the monopoly board. That should keep me busy.

Talking of busy, I have two races coming up in the next few weeks, which I am hoping to use as attempts at PB’s but also to raise awareness of the reason I’m doing this. I’m running the Sheffield Half marathon on April 10th (that’s the one that’s five miles uphill and eight miles down!) and then the Leeds Half marathon in May. Many thanks to those who have already sponsored me, but if you haven’t and would like to throw me a bone for these two races, I have a justgiving page at www.justgiving.com/andy5000 – 100% of the money goes to Kirkwood Hospice.

My next blog post will hopefully be a race report – or you can follow my progress far more regularly on Facebook (search Kirkwood 5000) or on twitter (@andy5000miles #Kirkwood5000).

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