You’ll remember we told you about Martyn Bird and ‘The Long Run Home’ a few posts back — Well Martyn has got back to us to let us know how he got on. Here is his report…

The Long Run Home was almost a year in the planning and came to fruition when the team met up on Thursday 1st Nov 2012 for the first time.

The team comprised of:

  • Firstly me, Martyn Bird a retired Royal Military Police Major who was to cover the 300 mile course on foot.
  • Lieutenant Colonel Geoff Minton MBE, Princess of Wales' Royal Regiment, head of the support team and motorcyclist.
  • Sgt Jonny Wallace Royal Military Police, support team and driver, injured on operations in Afghanistan.
  • PC Paul Cook, former member of the Royal Military Police, support team and cyclist.

We met at Geoff's home in Dover and over pizza discussed the arrangements to get to the start point at The Thiepval Memorial in France and the plan for the first day. After loading the motorhome, kindly supplied by Southdowns Motorhomes Ltd owner Mike Ayling, we had an early night and got on the road at 6am the following morning. I was pleased to see that we all got on immediately and I could tell there would be no problems in getting the team to gel quickly. After all we had all been in the military at some time and had one common goal, get me to the finish line.

The crossing was uneventful and after stopping to do some last minute supermarket shopping we moved forward to the memorial for the start. Immediately upon arrival Paul and I changed into running and cycling gear respectively and then moved through the visitors centre to the memorial centre itself for the start. It was already raining quite heavily, the one thing I did not want, but we were ready to go and waiting for the rain to abate was not even mentioned (just as well really as the rain continued for the entirety of the France leg of the challenge).

Although I had read a lot about Lutyen's memorial and seen pictures of it I was amazed at the sheer scale as we approached and I was sure I had picked the right place to start this epic adventure. There are over 72,000 names of fallen allied servicemen whose bodies were never recovered inscribed on the Portland stone walls of the memorial and it really does make one pause and reflect upon the horrors of war and the sacrifice of our forefathers.

The start; me (left), my son Oliver (who ran the first 5 miles with me) and Paul.

We started in the rain and so it was to continue for the next few days as we wound our way through the Northern French countryside. At 5 miles Oli left me and I was joined for the next 12 miles by my wife Jackie as we continued to plough through poor conditions of standing water and run off from the road into the fields. The area is filled with memorials to all who served and it is a very emotional road to travel. In the conditions we found ourselves in it was also easy to imagine how horrific the battles on this land must have been and what our forebears must have gone through on our behalf.

L to R; Paul, Jackie and I running into the wet dark night.

Despite finishing on schedule at the end of day one we were wet and cold, I had managed to thoroughly soak all my running shoes ( I had brought four pairs) and the important issue was now to try and dry them by the early start next morning.

By the morning of day 2 the rain rain had not ceased, it had continued through the night and I made the decision to try running in boots as I could already feel blisters starting; by now we knew the conditions were slowing us down so getting on the road early was important to make the most of the daylight. Paul and I ate our specially prepared Morning Fuel (all our energy requirements were kindly provided Darren Foote, MD of Mountain Fuel Ltd; I had trialled MF before the event and knew it was good stuff). It was a long, hard unrelenting day and both Paul and I suffered but managed to get to the planned finish point in time to get dry, warm and to bed.

Things did not change the next day and as we made our way towards Calais not only would we miss the planned ferry but, because of the conditions the next one (which we got) was delayed slightly and then made a slow crossing because the channel was so rough. I was worried that we would be far behind and going late into the night to catch up in UK.

At Calais prior to boarding (note the break in the clouds)

What a relief to arrive in Dover after a rough crossing to find the conditions grey but dry! We set off immediately to make our way to Canterbury and the North Downs, we got to Canterbury late and I was buoyed to be met by my daughter Alex and a few of her university friends (a much needed fillip).

By this stage Geoff was tending to my blisters on a regular basis and my ankles had started to swell through over compensating for the blisters so progress from here I knew was going to be slow. In my favour the weather conditions had improved greatly and Geoff and Mick were proving the route in advance on the motorbikes and reporting no real problems. We forged on over the coming days, making our way slowly via Faversham, Sittingbourne, Dartford, Woolwich and Deptford towards central London with overnight stays arranged by Geoff at military barracks in Canterbury and Woolwich. Just prior to starting from Woolwich we met with and I briefed the Australian Ladies Combined Services Rugby Union Team who were on tour; they very kindly had a whip round and donated £106 to the Long Run Home.

Me and the Aussie Ladies Rugby Team

Me and the Aussie Ladies Rugby Team

By this stage I realised the guys were tiring a little from spending so much time on the road with me and I asked them to take a short break as I knew the route into central London well and would meet them later in the day. This was a mistake as I had not realised how much recovery I was gaining from the regular breaks and I would pay the following day for my decision to go alone for even a short while. Still, despite being slow I met up with the team later and we made our way through central London, stopping for breaks at Dowgate Firestation (thanks lads) and at the Cenotaph for a moment of quiet reflection and then at Paddington Green Police Station (again thanks).

Almost a day behind at this stage we stopped at the Territorial Army Centre in Milton Keynes and what a stroke of good fortune that Private Natasha Baker was in the hall when I arrived. Tasha is a Physio and she gave me some much needed treatment and got me back on the road the following day. Still it was slow and as we moved North towards our goal we had a team talk at the end of the day and actually talked about calling an end to the challenge before I did some serious or long lasting damage to my lower limbs. I made it clear that this was not an option and we went to bed fatigued but together as team clear in the knowledge that we would continue to the end.

One of my swollen ankles (I had a matching pair)

One of my swollen ankles (I had a matching pair)

What a boost next day when Natasha came to join us for the whole day; by this stage I was walking and every hour she massaged and applied ice to the ankles and shins, which kept me going. The team were also taking turns to walk with me and keep my spirits up. We were now well along Watling Street (the A5) and it was a long, easily navigable stretch of road almost to the Arboretum and we had 2 long slow days to get to the outskirts of Tamworth and the short walk in on what was to be the final day. There was still one tough decision to make before this. As I was to find out after the challenge, the stretch of the A5 road around Daventry and Rugby is just about the most dangerous trunk in England, there was no footpath and it was almost midnight, I could not believe the amount of articulated traffic on it at this time of night and at another team meeting we discussed driving this short stretch of road. I made the decision to try and maintain the integrity of the event by cycling rather than driving and then continuing on foot once safe again.

The final morning was another early start to make the NMA before darkness and we made our way through beautiful countryside on a bright day to the arboretum where as a team we went inside and laid the wreath.

This challenge was made possible by the help I received from friends and supporters without whose help it would not have been successful. I have a lot of people to thank and make no apologies for doing so here.

Firstly my support team, Geoff, Mick, Paul and Jonny, I asked of them selfishly and they continually gave of themselves selflessly, they worked longed hours in all conditions and were only ever interested in my wellbeing. I will never be able to thank you guys enough and you will have my friendship forever.

My friends at New Balance for providing all the sportswear for the event. Mike Ayling of Southdown Motorhomes Ltd, we would not have made it without his support in the form a 6 berth motorhome. Europa underwriters for the super donation towards logistics. Darren Foote for supplying all my energy requirements with his marvellous Mountain Fuel product. Captain Bill Holland and his team at The Rifles TA Centre in Milton Keynes especially Natasha and Tristan who walked and supported for a whole day. The Military at both Canterbury and Woolwich who provide both sleeping and washing facilities for the whole team. Everyone who has donated so far or will do so in the near future. The Royal British Legion for endorsing the event, Alan Rowe for allowing me the honour of carrying the baton for the duration of the challenge and all the kind words from those who endorsed me.

You have all been wonderful and I thank you.

The Team L-R Geoff, Paul, Me, Mick and Jonny

The Team L-R Geoff, Paul, Me, Mick and Jonny

The day after, Jackie and I pay our respects at the RMP Field of Remembrance at Westminster Abbey.

The day after, Jackie and I pay our respects at the RMP Field of Remembrance at Westminster Abbey.