Sunday, 23 September 2018 22:13

What REALLY happened in Albania.. and what's next! (blog #34)

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Hi all

Hope you have all had a great Indian Summer? I write this as the rain is pouring at home, it does not seem that long ago when everyone thought it may never rain again. Guess we all need to remember that after the sun there will always be rain but the sun will shine again and hey, just be like a duck and earn to enjoy the rain anyway!
Since last time I have been back to hospital and various doctors a bit but the great news is that my bloods have stabilised from last month and my fab Doc still signs me off to run so life is good.

I have set myself an interesting challenge 'oop north'

So the latest race was in Albania. I have to say I had more than a bit of trepidation as it is a country that was considered highly unstable in the 80s and in a book I read published in the late 90s still had many challenging and dangerous aspects despite the arrival of a kind of democracy then. Even now the UK Gov website does not paint it as too rosy a place. Add to that the actual race was both hot and mountainous my head was working over time worried about the potential of me ending up in the jaws of a rabid dog on a remote mountain path with an AK47 pointed at my head!

What actually happened out there however was nothing but a fabulous experience. From the moment I arrived at Tirana airport the crew from Global Limits, the race organisers were on hand to make sure all was good. After one night in a hotel the 40 runners from 20 countries moved to a spectacular campsite in the courtyard of a Byzantine castle high on a hill. Just unbelievable, if you like history and old architecture like me then you would have found this just the start of a week of visual treats. I just cant imagine anywhere in the UK getting the kid of access we had to all the historic remains.

After a good sleep the race started in the modern part of the city but within a few miles we were into the wilds of Albania, I guess what we all came for. Hot dusty, uneven, hilly but just so spectacular. Racing across mountains, through unspoiled valleys, passing remote shepherds, all kinds of tame but wild animals and the most spectacular views. On the first night we got to stay in a remote school. You see on the UK news how our schools have to struggle with limited equipment, well the reporters should visit Albania as that puts no resources on a new level.

Everywhere we ran, the locals smiled and waved (probably in amazement at our stupidity!), very few had any words of English but were so welcoming. Next we stayed in a small remote village in various locals houses. They were just so hospitable, gave us access to everything they had and were just blown away with the money we gave them in return as it is an Albanian custom when you are a guest that they are responsible for you no matter what. I had bought a box of biscuits at Gatwick that were badged up as British biscuits with Union Jacks all over the tin, I think in some way, the tin delighted my hosts more than the money, just goes to show, its not all about the money!

The race itself was incredibly tough, its the first time in all the races I have ever done that I have retched for 10 minutes mid race due to exhaustion and heat but that in a masochistic way makes the challenge and memories all the better. As ever I met some amazing people, Mark, my tent mate who had written a book that I had bought a few years back about ultra running (so a bit of a legend to me). Oliver, ex Para, a great runner, just the most generous of spirit man who had adopted a child to save them from a far worse life elsewhere in the world, just humbling to be in his presence. So many others , all had a battle with the race in some way, not all finished but none the less remained part of the team and helped create another memorable experience for me and I believe everyone there.

These races just don't happen and whilst we all pay to race they still rely on a great bunch of volunteers to make them viable. To stand in the sun for 5 hours in a remote part of Albania on your own just so you can show a runner the way and top up their water deserves a special kind of medal. Every day we seemed to race past old Communist era concrete bunkers, old castles, churches, ruined houses, we even ran through what was until 4 years ago the largest single cannabis producing village in Europe (look up Lazarat on google!), it all just added to the race. The actual finish line was a spectacle itself ending up in an amphitheater in a 3,000 year old city having run a couple of kilometres around the ruins of the city to get there, just amazing.

I did my usual trick and fell over; I dream of completing a multi day race without bashing myself in some way however this time frustratingly, it was with only 3 miles to go on the flattest part of the course, a few cuts and bruises, mainly to my pride though!

So life sounds good but then reality hits, back at work and I get a call from a friend who took me under his wing when I was first diagnosed with prostate cancer as he was in a more advanced state than I and had survived 2 years by then, defying the odds like I am now. He somehow managed to help me look on the bright side and helped me start to try to enjoy life again. Whilst he has now survived 6 years which in itself is a miracle sadly the drugs have all failed and his time is now too short. That reminder of my own mortality has hit home a bit, all I can do for him is send him what mental strength I have now but his challenge has made me more determined to do what I can to tame this bu@@er of a disease, my future running challenges will be for him.

You may recall last time that I had been nominated for a just giving award. Thank you to so many of you who have voted for me, if you have not please do and please share as the profile for Prostate Cancer UK will be what they need to keep this disease up the political and medical agenda. (

Not only was I humbled by being nominated for the Just Giving award but I have also been nominated for the ITV Pride of Britain award by a kind soul. No voting for this one as there is their own panel but watch out for me soon on ITV London on the evening slot on the week of 1st October, more profile for the charity!!

Some time ago, I realised that I can do my best to help Prostate Cancer UK but the power of others can do so much more than me alone. In the last two years colleagues and friends have run, walked, got muddy, had raffles, golf days and last week a team of 18 colleagues from Nat West cycled from Bishopsgate to Brighton raising loads more money and awareness inspired in some way by me, I am very humbled and grateful by you all. If you can ever do anything to help my favourite cause please do and let me know if I can help or just let me know so I can thank you.

Whats next for me, well the last event of my 2017/18 challenges is a self made adventure where I will be walking mainly solo from Blyth Spartans FC to Halifax Town FC, via eight other "Manarama" National league clubs. In total its just over 180 miles starting Sunday 4th October and ending live on BT Sport at Halifax Town v Chesterfield on Saturday 13th October which is also Prostate Cancer UK Non League day.

Why am I doing this challenge you ask? Well I have always liked local football and with my help the Manarama National League agreed to have Prostate Cancer UK as its preferred charity starting this season so I wanted to repay their support by trying to help raise awareness for them and my favourite charity at the same time.

If you have a local club you too could support PCUK by going to a match on the 13th October and lob a few quid in the charity bucket.

Thanks again for reading about my life, remember life is a gift not a guarantee so make sure that you too try to
Take care, Kev

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