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Once a year I like to do a good deed (just one, the rest of the year I’m a complete c**t). This year is no different. Last weekend, I challenged myself to what was quite possibly the most difficult (and most ridiculous) challenge to date for BBC Children in Need. I decided to run 184 miles along the Thames Path, non-stop and unaided from the source of the Thames in the Cotswolds to the Thames Barrier in Charlton, SE London.
When I set myself this challenge, a lot of people asked me why? By a lot of people, I mean everyone! And it’s a fair question. Why do it for this charity? Why do THIS challenge in particular? What does one wear when running 184 miles nonstop? All questions which I actually had to ask myself (Ok, maybe not so much the last question) and had to actually think about.
So why this challenge? Over the past few years, I’ve ran marathons, climbed mountains and ran long distances (last March I ran 100km from London to Brighton). All of these are achievements I’m immensely proud of and have helped me raise much needed money for certain UK charities. But now I wanted to do something very special that only a handful of people have achieved. Loads of people have walked the entire Thames Path over a certain amount of time (mostly a short distance one weekend, for a year), but only a few have done the whole thing non-stop, without sleep and without a support team/vehicle. So this will be something which I can be extremely proud of and say with pride that “I did this”. So that’s why.
But why BBC Children in Need? There are numerous charities out there, and all of them are extremely worthwhile causes. I make a point of doing a particular charity each year, and this year, I decided on BBC Children in Need. My childhood was an interesting one. I was born in to a wealthy family and had 6 siblings as well as numerous uncles, aunties and cousins. Life was amazing. I was one of the very lucky ones. Then, in 1988, when I was 5, my world was changed forever. In early September of ’88, my mum was diagnosed with that cancer. A few weeks later, she passed away. As a young child, I wasn’t quite sure what was happening so I couldn’t make heads or tails about what was going on. But I knew something had changed. Mum wasn’t there anymore, half my family didn’t get in touch and my dad became different.
On top of that, 1988 was the year of a huge recession where a lot of people lost their livelihoods. My family being one of them. My dad lost everything he had worked so hard for. He was declared bankrupt and we had to leave our family home. From then on, he hit the bottle and hit it hard. From the age of 5 to 16, I had moved houses 9 times and had been to 8 different schools. There was no stability in my life and no money. I know it may sound shallow and people may say “you don’t need money to be happy”, but they’re idiots! You need money to be able to live. There were days when we had next to nothing to eat.
My dad did his best to make light of a bad situation. I didn’t have my own bedroom until I was 16. I am not asking for sympathy here, I’m just trying to set the scene. Basically, it was a childhood I wouldn’t want any child to have. With all that was happening though, I was actually a fairly happy child. I was safe, healthy and more importantly, loved. Three things which every child needs. Unfortunately, not every child in the UK has that and I want to do my bit to help change it. Since BBC Children in Need started, it has raised over £600m and has helped numerous children in all types of situations. That’s why I wanted to raise money for them, that’s why I want to share my story with you. In short, every child deserves a childhood.
Now I’ve got that off my chest, let me tell you about the run itself. I hope you’re ready for this, because believe you me, I wasn’t!
The run itself was extremely tough, both mentally and physically. I started off at 06:00 from the Source of the Thames in Thames Head, Kemble. The source of the Thames is a small mound of stones that has a natural spring coming from it and is only noticeable by a stone in the middle of a field stating that it is the source. Trying to find this stone in the darkness is a friggin mission! Once I had located the source, my challenge had officially begun. I was feeling excited and enthusiastic about doing something that only a handful of people have ever done. I could really feel the adrenaline taking over, but I knew I had to calm myself down and really pace myself if I was going to last the whole 184 miles.
The first leg of the run was ok. It was simple enough, but unfortunately, my brain was switched off at that particular time in the morning. The direction of the Thames Path is laid out by small disks placed on gates or posts with arrows pointing toward the general direction you should be taking, so you have to keep a keen eye out for these. About 3 miles in, I let my mind wander and started to read the map upside down. Just in case you’re not aware, this is not a good thing. In fact, it’s a pretty bad thing. I carried on for about a mile until I had realised my mistake. This was shortly followed by a tirade of four letter words which would make anyone blush.
From then on, I was determined not to read a map upside down ever again. I got myself back on track and started to head for my first check point in Crickleade. The run at this stage was pretty pleasant with gorgeous scenery and beautiful houses. This lasted for about 30 mins. I entered a field which for some strange reason was humming. Now by humming, I don’t mean smelt bad, but actual humming. I was trying to figure out what it was, then low and behold, 2 massive electricity pylons!!! They were literally 30 feet away from me and I had to walk underneath them. I was seriously shitting myself! I briskly ran through the field, dragging one foot along the floor. I thought to myself “if I’m going to get struck by electricity, at least this way it would travel through my body, down to my boot and into the earth”. I have no idea if that would have worked, but it comforted me, that’s for sure.
A short time after that dramatic episode, I had reached my first check point. Because of the little map reading hiccup though, I was an hour behind schedule. I wasn’t too worried about this as I knew that there was going to be places along route where I could make up for the lost time. I rested for about 10 minutes before heading off to the second check point. Lechlade-on-Thames.
It was 10:15 on Friday morning and I had been going for 4hrs by now. I was still in good spirits and looking forward to the rest of the journey. This feeling was short lived. 15 mins after leaving Crickleade, the winds picked up and the heavens opened. The last thing anyone wants when running is torrential rain, especially if you have to run through fields and farms. I was looking at my map (the right way round) and was on course. From then on, it was horror followed by disaster followed by sheer terror. I was crossing into a field when a signpost caught my eye. I went to take a closer look to see what it said and no joke, these were the exact words: Danger. Quicksand. Bloody brilliant! Who sets a path through quicksand?!
I sheepishly made my way through the field, making sure to follow the path that had obviously been used before. I must admit, part of me wanted to go and try out the quicksand, but I thought that this may not be the best of ideas. I then carried on for about 5 miles through saturated fields, then thankfully the rain started to ease up a bit. But the rain had left a little treat for me. The River Thames had decided to create a mini baby river which completely covered the part of the route I had to take. Now if you thought I was swearing a lot earlier, you should of then heard this. Even I was shocked with what was coming out of my mouth!
I followed the path of this new “river” hoping that there would be a gap or at least a shallow part for me to cross. But no. There was nothing. I was starting to feel this challenge taking its toll on me and I could feel my emotions starting to slowly take over. I knew that the only way for me to cross this, was to back track and find a new route and so, the decision was made. I back tracked for 3 miles before finding a longer path along a main road. By this stage I was running so far behind schedule and had added on about an extra 10 miles, that my enthusiasm had somewhat diminished.
By the time I had found my way back on to the Thames Path, it started to rain, yet again. The worst was not over though. I then came to a fence leading into yet another field, and attached to this fence, a lovely, bright, yellow sign reading “DANGER! BULL IN FIELD”. Well that’s just f***ing fantastic! I’m pretty sure at this point a lot of people would have been happy to give up and call it quits, but I was feeling like crap and thought to myself “if this is going to kill me, then at least I’ll go out in a rock n roll way by being killed by a bull”. I opened the fence and off I went.
About 20 meters into the field, I started to once again shit myself. “What the hell am I doing?!” I began to quickly (and quietly) run through the field, poking my head around the corners to make sure that the bull wasn’t hiding behind a tree and getting ready to pounce. I guess now would be a good time to tell you that I was wearing a bright red backpack. So essentially, I was a moving target for this bull. Happy days. Luckily though, we never crossed paths, and an hour later, I arrived in Lechlade-on-Thames. But this ordeal had taken its toll. My feet were sore, my knees were starting to swell and mentally, I was exhausted and feeling emotionally drained. The worse part though, I was only 25 miles into my run and now 3 hours behind schedule. Night time was slowly creeping in and I had the longest part of my journey ahead of me. A 33 mile run to Oxford in pitch darkness, through fields and farms with only a head torch to guide me. How could anything go wrong?
There is still time to sponsor me and show your support by going to the following link: www.justgiving.com/Daniel-Lynch6