Iceland is as magical as you could imagine
What a beautiful place Iceland is, we started in the middle of the National Park where most people are not allowed, 70 of us of all abilities and many nationalities, my tent, number 8, had British, Canadian and American runners including Georges, the oldest competitor at 68 who only lives 2 miles from me but I had never met before, it’s a small world.
Day one had us all raring to go but on a grey bleak terrain of volcanic ash and lava in driving rain, low cloud, biting wind and cold. What could have given us great views of the massive glacier only half a mile away was thwarted by cloud on the mountain we were running on that had visibility down to a couple of hundred metres or less.
One runner, Tim, fell over on the lava, required stitches on his face and lost a tooth cracking two others but after 10 hours driving that night to the hospital and back still carried on the next day, one tough cookie.
It was such a relief when on turning a corner the finish was in sight and we spent night one crammed in a tent in the crater of an old volcano. That was a miserable night, very cold and damp which only got worse in the morning after little sleep, due to the wind and rain, to put on cold near freezing clothes and stand around in the rain for half an hour waiting for the start of the next day. I think most of us were thinking what an awful week it would be if we had to do that every day, hypothermia may have been an easy way out!
Day two finished with the rain gone and clear skies, clothes still wet but starting to dry. That night however was very cold, I think it was down to -7c, we all had every bit of clothing we had on and were in our sleeping bags inside our survival bags, we were still cold and then realised that we were building up condensation in the survival bag that would render our down sleeping bags useless if they got wet. So out of the bags and just stayed cold.
Day three was sunny, the views spectacular and the mood of all was raised. The Northern lights were out in a small way that night too so we got up at 2-00am to see them. Waterproofs were stowed in our packs, this is what we came for.
Day four was the long day, over 40 miles and very rough terrain, my pack was still over 10 kilos, my lower legs and in particular my left shin was starting to get very painful. We had to cross two wide rivers over our knees in freezing glacier melt water early on too. Towards the end of the day however was the most amazing place. All we could see was black lava fields and then going down a small crevice about 50 feet we came out to the “Hidden Valley”, a few miles long, a stream, lush grass, flowers even insects, then back up the other side a few miles later and back to a landscape more akin to the moon. As I said, a land of contrasts.
That night as we awaited the last few runners finishing at midnight, the Northern Lights were out again only this time covering the whole sky (see picture from that night), just amazing.
By the next morning my leg was swollen, very red and painful but I guess that’s why co-codamol was invented! I managed the full marathon again that day and the remaining half marathon on the last but had to walk both as I could not run. The relief on finishing was huge for me as I don’t think even with drugs I could have done another day and still had the failure to finish the long day in Spain only a few months ago haunting me in the back of my mind.
One of my challenges on this and every race is having my drugs regularly. In one case, daily, an hour before I eat first thing, that meant getting up at 5-00am to have those so I could eat and digest before each start, lack of sleep was a big feature of this race.
I try to promote Prostate Cancer UK awareness and “badge” myself up when I run which in turn starts many awareness conversations. Shortly after I finished, Craig, one of the marshals came up to me and told me that his grandad had died of prostate cancer the night before, an emotional conversation to say the least, I could tell how much his grandad meant to him but he still carried on to make the runners experience as good as it can be, I know he was hurting but no one else would have guessed, I am sure his grandad would have been proud.
Back home, I was immediately back into my next round of blood tests, the words of my doctor fresh in my ears last month about a probable failure any time soon so you can imagine my relief when my scores had improved again back to my best ever levels, if nothing else that makes the black cloud over my head turn light grey for a few days.
To add to my worries however, my leg was now very, very red and very, very swollen. A trip to A&E and x-rays had concerns about a stress fracture so back into the scanner for a CT scan as they were worried that if not a stress fracture it may be an indication that cancer had moved to my bones. As ever, an anxious wait for the scan and then the results but last Tuesday it was confirmed that I had “only” ruptured my tendon along the top of my foot and up to my shin. The bad news was that the Doctor said no running for 6 weeks and then a rescan to see how it was.
Catastrophic as far as I was concerned as I am already in training for my (as of yet unannounced) 2018 mega challenge and I just don’t have the time to do nothing for 6 weeks. I had been told two weeks ago on first x-ray that all I could do was run in a swimming pool for an hour a day to keep my fitness up but not load the bone at all, I can tell you that’s pretty dull and you get lots of weird looks!
I then had the hard job of telling my mate Rory that I could not run the Nottingham Marathon with him on 24th September (yesterday) which I know was letting him down. It was to be his 1,000th marathon and he had nearly died in 2016 from Guillain Barre syndrome which also had him near paralysed. Rory gave me purpose, direction and belief in 2015 when I was finishing chemo that I could take on bigger challenges despite cancer. I felt so bad about letting him down. He was also my MDS tent buddy in 2016 and 2017, a close bond that I felt awful about breaking. But like he always does, Rory was more worried about my leg than his experience and told me to rest.
On top of that, this race was to be the one where I completed my own personal challenge of running 1,000 “organised” miles in a year raising funds and awareness for Prostate Cancer UK and it meant a lot to me to prove to anyone that if you really want something you can achieve it, I was 12 miles short of that target..
So Saturday night, the day before the marathon, 4 days after being told I must not run for 6 weeks I went for a curry with my wife. 4 pints of lager and a chicken tikka masala later at 9-00pm I listened to my own advice.
Two days before I had been presenting to my colleagues from RBS International about “living for the day” and “Its better to start and not finish than never start at all” and that made me realise that “saving my leg” for another future day that may not happen was both selfish and hypocritical of me.
That left me to get up a few hours later at 3-30 am Sunday, drive 150 miles to Nottingham and meet Rory at the start line, I am not sure who was more emotional about being there but I knew it was the right thing to do on every level (apart from the Doctors!).
It was a very slow marathon, 5 out of the 8 of us from tent 105 from the MDS 2016 were there plus Rory’s family and friends. It was a real battle for Rory covering the last few miles and we walked much of the end. My leg was painful but so what, the occasion was what it was all about so we crossed the line in 5-17 but the time did not matter. The enormity of what both Rory and I had achieved with our own challenges hit home, much emotion and celebration. I was so honoured too that his wife Jen asked me to make a small speech at the end, I hope that I did him justice.
So, today I sit here typing with ice on my leg and it raised with every bit of pain bringing a smile to my face that I supported my mate in his moment of need (I say need but we all deserve to have the best memories and I believe I helped him have that in some small way). I am also smiling as when I set my own challenge last November I honestly thought that I may not even be able to do much of it let alone be here to complete it. To have done so will, I believe, bring hope to others with personal challenges and in time my children will look back at me and know that when the going gets tough I showed them that you just pick yourself up and go for it, never give up.
Of course one of the reasons for challenging myself was to open the wallets of friends, family, colleagues and anyone who is able to sponsor me to raise awareness, find a better test and cure for prostate cancer. As I have said before, I have paid for all my race costs out of my own pocket so everything has gone to the charity. This year your generosity has helped me raise over £30,000 which means since diagnosis I have raised around £80,000. What made this year special though was that so many of my friends and colleagues were inspired (I say that bashfully) by me to raise funds for the charity too which with what I have done to date totals around £200,000. That makes a massive difference to the charity and will speed up reaching their aims for the benefit of every man and their family.
I have so many people to thank for getting me through this challenge so in no particular order and apologies if I miss anyone out:-
My wife, Sarah , friends and family, amazing tolerance and support
RBS, too many incredible individuals at every level, I could ask for no more from them.
My RBS and Nat West colleagues and friends who have run/walked/quizzed/played/baked and raffled to raise a significant amount of money for Prostate Cancer UK
Martin and Stu from Likeys running shop in Brecon for so much good advice, kit and support. Kate from Salomon too.
Prostate Cancer UK, so many of their employees have become friends
Dave Weatherhead for organising yet another golf day with me for the charity and agreeing to do another in 2018
Jeff Stelling for undertaking 15 marathons in 15 days that enabled me and so many “mates” to do some good for others and have a great experience along the way.
Nuffield Health whose physios and gym support have got me through and prepared me for my races (Not looking forward to telling them about the marathon when I see them Thursday though, I think I will be on the naughty step again!).
The many people who have given me auction items to raise funds for the charity
Steve at Greater London Therapies for keeping my muscles moving when they try to give up every month.
Rory Coleman and every tent mate or fellow racer for putting up with me and my story plus inspiring me to carry on
Everyone who has ever sponsored or emailed/text me with support
Dr Parker and the many doctors and nurses who have given me time and hope at the Marsden hospital
I hope that you will all carry on with me for my 2018 journey (health allowing) that I will reveal in my next mid October note when I will also launch my new fundraising target.
Thank you all for reading this. My final “wise words” :-
Dream like you will live forever, live like you only have today
Until next time
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