9 February 2018
Five thirty on a Friday morning and I’m trying to peel my gritty eyes open. The last couple of days have been a manic haze of preparation, mostly revolving around food and maps. This is the morning Commando and his friends, Rob, Rob, Ian and Luis run fifty miles to celebrate Rob’s fiftieth birthday. To say I can think of better ways to celebrate turning fifty would be an understatement. There is also a frisson of worry about Commando running such a long distance given the events of the past year.
When Rob first came up with the idea of running fifty miles on his fiftieth birthday Commando was all over it like a rash. Rob’s plan was simple, run fifty miles, raise money for Alzheimer’s Research UK. Rob’s Dad suffers with dementia so it’s a charity close to his heart and a worthy cause. It may have sounded simple but actually running almost two back to back marathons is anything but. Luckily Luis, who has experience of stupid distance runs after running around the Isle of Wight with Scott Dawson last year, stepped in to help out with the planning and training. It was Luis who worked out the route, which is far harder than it sounds. Commando pitched in and helped work out regular stopping points every ten miles or so. On paper it all looked doable but there were a million things that could go wrong, most of them flesh and blood things.
The weather was a major concern. Over the last few days we’ve had torrential rain, high winds, sleet, ice and a sprinkling of snow that had me excitedly searching out my yak trax but came to nothing. The forecast for today was mostly freezing cold with a few showers thrown in in the middle of the day. We all hoped they’d be light ones. Running in the rain all day would not be fun.
Another worry, at least for us, was whether the taxi we booked would turn up. When we phoned last night we hadn’t been inspired with confidence to be told, “we can’t guarantee times,” or that we should allow forty five minutes for the journey. As we could easily walk there and back in that time and traffic would be unlikely at seven o’clock on a Friday morning, we wondered if the telephone operator actually knew the city at all. Luckily the taxi did arrive, there wasn’t another car on the road and we got to St Mary’s Stadium on time.
The first job of the morning was packing all the water, food, medical supplies and spare kit for five runners into the boot of one relatively small car. Kim, Christine, Nicole, Jess and I were the road crew. Our job was to drive around to all the stopping points and meet the runners so they could refuel, change out of wet clothes or treat any minor injuries like blisters. As everything got piled into Jess’ car we all began to wonder if we should have hired a mini bus.
The road crew also included three cyclists, Dan, Gill and Mark. They would be riding alongside the runners carrying vital supplies, like water, for the whole fifty miles. Cycling fifty miles may seem a great deal easier than running it but cycling at running speed all day in the freezing cold is a lot harder than it sounds. Running friends had pledged to join the runners for different sections of the run. The first of these, Julian, was there at the stadium to run the first ten miles or so.
The stadium is almost on the waterside, so it was freezing cold. Inside the main reception a few members of staff peered curiously out the window, watching the men line up beneath the Ted Bates statue for a group photo. They were probably wondering what we were up to.
Everyone was eager to get going. It was far too cold to be standing around. As soon as the photos were taken the six men and three cyclists set off, joined by Beth, who was also running the first segment with them but didn’t want to be in the photo, and an extra cyclist, Steve. We stood and watched them disappearing into the gloomy morning with a mixture of pride and worry. The next time we saw them would be at Victoria Country Park, ten miles into the fifty.
We thought we’d have plenty of time. After all, we were in a car and the five men were running, plus we could take short cuts. Our first priority was finding somewhere to get coffee and maybe a croissant or something breakfast like. With no real sense of urgency, we discussed the most likely places to be open so early in the morning. All the coffee emporia in town would be closed but we thought we might have better luck in Woolston at Metircks on the old Vospers site. Besides, it was on the way.
By the time we got across town and parked up it was eight fifteen. We were relieved to find the Mettricks door open. We had around three quarters of an hour before the men were due at Victoria Country Park. This was plenty of time for a leisurely coffee at the very least. Our stomachs were rumbling, or that could have been just mine making enough noise for all of us. My breakfast had been a hastily sipped cup of hot chocolate. It was warm inside but our stay was short.
“We’re not open,” one of the two baristas behind the counter said. “You can wait inside until half past when we are open though.”
We dithered, savouring the warmth and the smell of coffee and food. If we waited we’d be cutting it very fine to get to the meeting place on time, especially when you factored in the time taken to make five cups of coffee. We left, feeling cheated and wondering why the door was open if the place was closed and why they couldn’t have just made us a coffee anyway seeing as they were only standing around chatting?
Still hungry and in dire need of caffeine, we drove to Victoria Country Park. As we parked up and paid for our ticket my mind was already on the little coffee shop there and the lovely cakes they sell. Sadly, this wasn’t to be either. The coffee shop was shut and completely empty. There wasn’t even a sign saying when, or if, it would open.
In Mettricks we hadn’t had enough time, now we had too much. It would be twenty minutes before the runners arrived and it was icy cold so close to the shore. After a little stomping up and down trying to keep warm we headed for the children’s play area. A certain amount of fun was had trying to warm up.
In fact, so much fun was had we almost missed the arrival of the runners. In fairness they’d arrived a good five minutes earlier than planned. Julian and Beth were still with them and now they’d been joined by Teresa and Tori. At this stage in the proceedings, ten miles in, food was less important than water and toilets. Most of the supplies stayed in the car and the cold meant the stop was far shorter than planned.
In fact they group were so eager to get going again they set off without realising one of their number was still in the loo. Luckily poor Commando came out just as they were disappearing around the corner and dashed after them.
The whirlwind stop was over almost before it had begun and we now had more than two hours to get from Netley to the Common for stop number two. At least now the coffee shops in town would be open and we might finally get a chance to recaffeinate.
If you’re impressed with the runner’s efforts so far, there’s still time to make a donation to Alzheimer’s Research UK here.
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