As the England Cricket Team went about securing an Ashes series win at Chester Le Street, Falcons Academy Manager Mark Laycock and Academy head coach James Ponton were involved in a mammoth challenge of their own, attempting to run the 82 miles between West and East Coast in under 24 hours.
Undertaking the challenge to help raise funds for the Falcons official charity partner, the Teenage Cancer Trust, the pair managed to complete the distance in a time of 18 hours and 41 minutes and have currently raised over £5500.
Academy manager Laycock now recounts the story of distances, deluges and deers!
“After travelling back from the JP Morgan 7’s finals at Bath we had a Toby Carvery as our ‘last supper’ before heading to the start line. We eventually arrived at Bowness on Solway just after 6pm having been on the road since 8am and started off running at around 6:40pm.
It was quite daunting at the time to think we had to run all the way to Tynemouth beach from where we were but we had convinced ourselves we were going to do it. We decided that we would play it by ear over the course of the run with the only real tactic we were going to employ being to run on the flat and downhill sections and to walk up the big climbs to try and conserve some energy.
We had a support truck with us, which was manned by Grant [Beasley, the academy strength and conditioning coach] and Rowelly [academy physio Stephen Rowell]. They would meet up with us every five or so miles, which worked out as an hour/hour and a half in time so we could stop off, top up our water and take on some fuel.
Things got off to an inauspicious start when we were nearly ran over by a bike half a mile in because we were too bust taking in the view but once that was out of the way, we started to make good headway.
We were joined by Keith Robinson, the new development officer for Cumbria half way into this opening stretch and he continued on with us into Carlisle which came up pretty quickly, certainly quicker than we thought we would!
After Carlisle, it started to get dark pretty quickly so the head torches we had provided by LD Mountain Centre were on as we were running on some pretty busy roads including the A69, which was really the most dangerous part of the whole challenge. I know Jimmy didn’t enjoy that bit as the Lorries were coming past at a blistering pace.”
It was here that the size of the task was starting to hit home. I was trying to chunk the distance down into manageable portions but ultimately we still knew there was a long way to go and we had to block out the negative thoughts that crept into our minds.
The first real landmark of the night came as we were approaching the petrol station at Low Row. It was just before midnight, we’d been going five and a half hours and we had just ticked over £5000 on the Just Giving website. The pace meant we’d done just over a third of the way in a quarter of the time we had available and that gave us a little lift.
Not long after this stop off we encountered the strangest part of the journey. Grant and Rowelly had just left us so we weren’t expecting to see them for a while and a car pulled up in front of us with its hazard warning lights on. A guy jumped out and asked if he could borrow our head torches as he’d just ran over a deer. It was laid in the middle of the road and was slightly stunned. The guy picked it up and carried it to the grass verge where Jimmy and I stroked it back to health while he called the RSPCA. After about 10 minutes it came round, jumped up and ran off into the bushes, so we felt we’d done our little bit for nature.
From here, we headed onto the Military road and it was a good job we were running that in the dark using head torches that only lit up 10 or so yards in front of us because if we had have been able to see that the Military road went on for as far as the eye can see in a straight line it would have put a serious dent in our mind-set.
It was a solitary experience as for probably a three hour stretch other than each other and the support crew we didn’t see a single thing other than a few sheep’s eyes in the distant fields.
We were told we’d hallucinate, we’d see dragons we’d fall asleep and to prepare for the worst but thankfully we had a pretty clear run. The worst thing we had to contend with was the rain. It never stopped all night and we had to change clothes twice because we were starting to get chaffing from the wet gear. We were very fortunate Start Fitness had given us plenty of clothing so we were able to get refreshed into some dry clothes.
As the night went on and we slowly ate up the miles, we arrived into Chollerford about 6am, which meant we had covered 50 miles in half the time. We decided to take stock of where we were and what was remaining whilst we were at Chollerford as we knew we had a big 10 mile climb ahead of us before we reached Newcastle.
We knew there was just over thirty miles left and we had plenty of time to do it in so we were quietly confident we would finish the challenge. We didn’t feel too tired although our feet, ankles and knees were sore from the constant pounding on the downhills and we had both developed a few blisters on our feet. I was feeling pretty ill at this point because I hadn’t eaten enough food during the night. Rowelly made me a peanut butter and jam sandwich to perk me up a bit which helped.
As the morning went on and we got closer to home, we started to welcome some guest runners who joined us for some legs which really helped pick us up. Wellsy [forwards coach John Wells] joined us at about 8am and did 7 miles with us which was good. He talked non-stop about rugby, interspersed with a bit of chat between him and Jimmy about DIY but I was just concentrating on keeping the pace!
We had to take a slight detour through some fields because one of the roads on our route was being resurfaced and we made a wrong turn at one point which added a little bit of time onto the journey but ultimately these little mishaps kept our minds off the monotony of running.
As we approached the edges on Newcastle, Rowelly decided to have a break from the truck and decided to run a leg with us. I think he was bored of listening to Grant’s favourite CD, Bruce Springsteen Greatest Hits. We then got into Newcastle, and a few more of the lads, James Hallam, Harrison Collins, John Stoke, Craig Willis, Glen Young, Matt Perks and Josh Headley joined us at various points which was brilliant as it was really starting to get tough.
The last few miles along the coast road were taking their toll on our bodies. We knew we were nearly there and just wanted to get it finished so we could lie down and put our feet up but it seemed to drag on a bit. We got to Tynemouth about one o clock and we managed to pretty much sprint the home straight because our adrenalin was flowing. The guys who met us at the finish all commented on how fresh we looked but I think this was because we had paced ourselves so never really got to a state of exhaustion!
It was a great feeling and a huge relief to complete it. We had gotten to a stage when we were training that because so many people had taken an interest in what we were doing we felt obliged to finish it. This helped us to stay focused on the positives and at no point did we ever think we were going to quit.
There are quite a few people we owe a massive thanks to, as without their support, we could not have successfully completed this. Thank you to Grant and Rowelly. You were both unbelievable! They got probably half an hours sleep through the night between them and their energy and enthusiasm was infectious. We also have to thank our wives because for the past three months we have either been at work or out running and they have been really supportive of what we are doing despite us neglecting our roles at home. There have been loads of well wishes both from the rugby community and outside it and we could never have dreamt of receiving so much sponsorship so we are extremely grateful for all of these contributions.
We’d also like to thank JD Mountain centre for the torches which kept us safe. Grant and Rowelly said you could see them from a mile off and last but not least thank you to Start Fitness for the tops, shorts, trainers and all the other kit which made this possible. We have learned that you pay for quality when it comes to footwear and Start Fitness certainly kitted us out well.”
During the run Grant was regularly updating the Falcons twitter page and we said whoever took the total raised over £5000 would receive a signed Falcons 7s shirt, which goes to Thomas Turnball of Percy Park RFC. Now that its all over Jimmy is talking about climbing Mont Blanc but I think the short term plan is to beef up for Christmas because we both lost about a stone in weight since we started training at the end of April so will probably swap the running shoes for gym vests.
While the challenge may be completed, there is still the opportunity to help boost the total raised by the lads by visiting their just giving page at www.justgiving.com/jimmyandmarko