Back in April 2021 my colleague Rachel told me of a local man that lives in her village that was undertaking an incredible challenge. Tom Crossland, a clinical psychologist from the Royal Berkshire Hospital was due to run 2000 miles from Greece to London in order to raise funds for the Tribe Freedom Foundation to support their aim of ending modern slavery. Covid of course scuppered those plans so instead Tom created an itinerary that would see him run 1900 miles around the English and Welsh coastlines over three months. 75 marathons in total (many of which turned into ultra marathons). An astonishing feat of physical and mental endurance. Oh and Tom has cerebral palsy as well, which makes running all the harder for him.
Organising Teneo’s Corporate Social Responsibility programme is a part of my role that I love and am extremely passionate about. I was in awe of the challenge Tom set himself and was keen for Teneo to be involved. Rachel and I kicked a few ideas around. We would provide sponsorship money of course. But Tom had also set up a virtual challenge, where teams of up to 10 people could log miles they walk or run and join the virtual journey, plotting their position on the map as they go. So we recruited another 8 volunteers to make our team of 10 with a view to recording all our efforts into the company Strava group. 3 months later, Team Teneo had covered the most ground out of the 12 teams that signed up. The 10 of us walked or ran over 3,500km, completing the virtual course with ease and starting on a second lap!
And then a third way of supporting Tom came to mind. I’m not sure if it was Rachel’s idea and she persuaded me. Or if it was my idea and I persuaded her. Or if we met somewhere in the middle. Tom was undertaking this huge run on his own, just with a support van to carry his equipment from check point to check point. We decided we would join him to keep him company. I’d run a marathon at that point. I don’t think Rachel had run a half marathon distance. But we looked at the route and chose to join Tom on three separate days. In North Wales. In Dorset. And for the final day homecoming from Windsor back to Gallowstree Common, near Henley. We were relaxed at this stage, saying we would run some sections with Tom and just do what we could. Neither were confident we would do much more than 10 or 15 miles, but we would be showing support, making a contribution and enjoying the exercise.
Throughout May I didn’t think too much of what we had signed up for. Then on 1 June I met Tom when Rachel and I went to cheer him on at the starting line. He came across as humble and unassuming, not high on confidence that he would complete the mission, but fuelled by the cause he was representing. And he was off.
Tom posted daily blogs on his progress. He shared physical details of the pain he suffered. The amount of food he needed to consume. The heat then the rain. The blocked footpaths and the detours. And he showed a remarkable honesty and vulnerability in the psychological and emotional journey. His fears and worries. His questioning what on earth he was doing. The stress of sleeping in a different bed every night. The family and friends that he thought were doing the hard work of co-ordinating everything, when it was him doing the running. It became a sense of great inspiration to me and the more I read, the more I felt it too.
July 14th arrived and Rachel and I met Tom in Abergele, North Wales for day 43. Starting with a gentle run along the sea front, then taking in a (small) hill in Little Orme and a (much bigger) hill in Great Orme. The day started cool but became hot. We ran at a slow pace, stopping regularly for drinks and ice cream. I felt good. I felt inspired. I felt determined. I was committed to Tom’s journey by now and didn’t want to let him down. As the day progressed I realized I might have a chance of lasting the distance. Rachel was a little way behind me in the confidence stakes, but both Tom and I brought her along. Around the 30k mark Rachel had run the furthest she had ever run. Which was remarkable. And she kept on going. We walked when we needed to, enjoying the day, enjoying the journey. And forgetting about times, splits, pace and all the other things we are both normally obsessed with. This was a different type of running. At the 42k mark I was also in new territory. And when we stopped in Llanfairfechan, after nearly 6 hours of running and 45.6k of distance we had both become ultra marathon runners! Tom’s delight for us and his kind words meant so much. And from a man that had already done this 42 times in the previous few weeks.
We chatted on the run about anything and everything and got to know and love Tom. Of course the topic of modern slavery was discussed at length and I was astounded and horrified to hear Tom tell me that even though slavery was abolished in 1833, there are more slaves in the world now than there has ever been. It really heightened my awareness of the subject and made me more determined to want to do something to help people. Tom so wisely wrote on his blog that day that “taking a bit of a slower pace has enabled people to run longer distances than they expected or thought they could. I hope this gives both lots of confidence for the next day they are joining me in Swanage and I cannot wait until we get to share the trails again.” Dropping the pace and concentrating on enjoying the journey in the present and not the destination in the future helped in ways I cannot begin to describe here!
So next up Swanage. Day 80 on August 20th. A killer hill to start and then flat all the way along the prom taking in Studland, Sandbanks, Bournemouth and many more. This one was trickier. The heat along the beach at Bournemouth was intense. As we made it to the New Forest (yes, the New Forest!) we were delirious. But we dragged ourselves 46.4km to the finish line to pick up our second ultra marathon and again the praise and congratulations of Tom.
And then came Day 86. August 29th. Windsor to Gallowstree common. Only 8 days after the last one (or 1 day after the last one for Tom). And we did it all again. Starting with a bit of staged running for the BBC news. And then a brutal pace as Tom was on a mission to be at the right places at the right times to pick up more runners. We started as a team of 8 or 10. By the end we must have been close to 50! Tom became the Pied Piper of Hamlin. The pace was tough and Rachel, still carrying a sore leg from last time out and not sure if she would even start, ran all but one section. I managed to keep up with the serious runners and got to the end 44.4km later.
The welcome was out of this world. Seeing Tom complete his journey. His reunion with family. The magnitude of what he had achieved hitting home and the news that he had raised over £20k for his chosen cause.
Even at this stage I was filled with imposter syndrome feelings! I’m not an ultra runner! I just happened to run some ultra marathons. But as always Tom helped me to understand and recognise what Rachel and I had become. We are ultra marathon runners and we wear the badge with pride!!
We met our colleague Cathy for the final stretch and the ending to that day was magical and emotional. I’ve never felt so overwhelmed. It will live with me always. Knowing Rachel and I had in some way made a difference to what Tom was doing. Running 3 ultra marathons in 6 weeks. And being inspired to continue my running journey.
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