I’m writing this on Week 31 of 2016. I’ve just done my 31st ½ Marathon of 2016 running 21.1km along Normandy Coastline linking two beaches that the Allied forces used in the D-Day landings. It was an incredible run and will feature as one of my favourite runs so far in this year of fundraising for Bristol Children’s Hospital’s The Grand Appeal. I’m running a half marathon for each calendar week of 2016 to try to raise £8000 to repay the cost of my baby daughter’s care to the NHS Trust.
Have I had injuries? Yes. Meltdowns? Yes. Am I getting faster? no. Slowly breaking down, yes. But critically no missed weeks so far this year. I have run a single 21.1km effort in each calendar week of the year so far.
On 12 November 2015 around 11pm my 4-week old daughter Autumn was admitted from A&E to the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) at Bristol Children’s Hospital. Having not fed for 48 hours she tripped into a pre-existing heart condition called Supraventricular Tachycardia (SVT). With a resting heart rate of 260bpm, and a resting blood lactate of over 11mmols she was not responding to treatment. Without intervention she was heading for heart failure.
The doctors were forced to insert a cannula into a vein under her scalp to administer a sedative to put her to sleep so as to be able to gain better access through her femoral vein to administer more drugs. Once admitted to PICU she was given muscle relaxants and ventilated through a tube in her throat to control her breathing and take as much stress off of her little heart as possible. Over the next 18 hours she remained incapacitated under sedation and chilled to 32 degrees as they slowly brought her body back to a balanced resting state. At 2am she was given an intravenous shot of adenosine and I sat with my heart in my mouth as I watched her heart rate plummet from 240 to 100 in a matter of seconds before it stabilised again at 130bpm. She was cold to the touch and absolutely motionless surrounded by a huge computer. My wife Katie and I left the hospital around 5am leaving her in the care of the PICU staff. We were heart broken!
The next afternoon she was weaned off of the sedation and warmed back up again. As she regained function the breathing apparatus was removed. Still heavily medicated she regained consciousness around 5pm. On Friday morning she relapsed again into a tachycardic heart rate but this time her heart responded instantly to the drugs. Later that morning I was able to feed her (very strangely being the first time I had fed her since birth) through a nasal line into her stomach. Later that day Autumn was moved to the High Dependency Unit of the Children’s hospital and on Monday 17 November we were able to take her home.
Those few days absolutely floored me. 4 weeks after the emotions of childbirth and bringing a new baby home this was like a thunderbolt that put tremendous strain on Katie as she fell back on her maternal instinct. If I think back to it now some 9 months on I remember it like a short sharp nightmare and I’ve got two vivid memories. One is standing in the waiting room in A&E trying to tell Katie’s sister what was happening on the phone in floods of tears. The second is sitting looking at my baby girl hooked up to all the machines in intensive care with a strong desire to work out how I could show my gratitude to the hospital. We were both overwhelmed by the care, compassion, generosity and expertise provided to our little daughter by every member of staff whom we came in contact with. I watched in awe as specialists rode an emergency and managed the situation with such a depth of expertise and experience. The nurses and doctors cared for Katie and I with the same compassion as they did Autumn and I was completely humbled by the whole experience.
From November until Christmas I started thinking about what I could do to repay my debt of gratitude to the hospital. At the time the NHS was under national criticism for failing to achieve certain metrics. I was stood in the parents’ room of PICU watching the news reports of a failing health service when on the other side of the double doors I was experiencing first hand people working tirelessly to care for my daughter and many other young children and parents in horrible situations. I decided then that I would try to fundraise the cost of Autumn’s care back to the NHS Trust that treated her.
With a few emails I found out the cost of Autumn’s care was around £8000. £2000 per night in the intensive care unit and £1000 per night in the High Dependency Unit that we were later admitted into.
I’m a reasonably fit person, I have worked as a strength and conditioning coach for the last decade so keep very active both in and out of work. Having not done any specific endurance events since the Great North Run in 2007 I was conscious not to get injured by diving straight into anything heavy as that would be disastrous for any fundraising not to mention humiliating as an exercise professional! My first idea was to do a marathon’s worth of 5km’s in January, a marathon’s worth of 10km’s in February, 15km’s in March etc and build up to two ½ Marathons in a month sometime in May/June. I was told in no uncertain terms by two close friends Ed and Pete that this was just not worth sponsoring and that most amateurs cover more than this on as weekend warriors. I’ve got Ed to thank for the idea of 52 ½ Marathons in 52 weeks. He suggested it but I’m pretty sure he didn’t think I would do it or that I would get started and then get injured very quickly!
A good challenge should always make you very nervous and uncomfortable. I took Christmas week and New Year to mull it over. The idea was growing on me. It was big enough to be significant, long enough for there to be ups and downs and it was consistent enough to give me time to build a positive narrative and fundraise the cash.
So on the 2nd January 2016 and back in Bristol after New Year I put together a justgiving page, wrote some background pieces and did what is required to make any sort of life event official… I declared it on Facebook! Immediately sponsors started coming in and by the end of that weekend I was already close to £1000. Absolutely no turning back! Week 1 was a jump into the wilderness. I walked out of the front door and ran to Bath. Aside from a few 3-6mile runs in December this was my first experience of distance running in a long long time! It was freezing cold and pouring with rain. I even rang Katie around 17km to find out how many Km’s were in 13.1 mile as my Nike+ app was running in KM’s. Arriving at 21.1km’s in 1hr52mins I was a broken man! I then had to continue running to catch the train back to Bath at Oldfield Park- the only train stopping there for an hour. Katie picked me up at Temple Meads wet and freezing cold.
Right now I’m 31 weeks in. The ½ Marathons have been a mix of organised races and unorganised runs alone or with friends. I completely bonked at the Droitwich Half, PB’d at the Bath Half, limped through The Forest of Dean Half, frazzled at The Bath Two Tunnels and ran a memorial at the Torbay ½ Marathon. From the Liversedge ½ Marathon on Valentines Day I ran for 10 weeks with a patella tendinopathy raging in my right knee (If anyone wants any advice on getting rid of patella tendinopathies then let me know, I tried a lot of things!). There’s been some massive highs and some massive lows. The absolute highlights have always been with other people, never on my own. The massive lows on the other hand have always been when I am alone and rattling around in my own head. What I’ve really enjoyed is people’s willingness for people to get behind a worthwhile cause. I’ve heard from friends that I haven’t seen for years and met new people along the way. I’m touched by all the people that have contacted me or stopped me during runs to share the stories of how the hospital has helped their children during the toughest times.
As for Autumn, she’s now nearly 10 months old and a happy, beautiful little girl. You wouldn’t know to look at her what she went through at 4 weeks old. We still currently have her on Beta Blockers to keep her heart rate down lower than normal but we are beginning to wean her off that. She has a hole in her heart which is quite common and the doctors tell us that her only restraint is that she won’t be able to cope with extreme pressure on the heart, so deep sea diving and jet fighter pilot are out of the question!
So 21 x ½ Marathons left to go in 2016. I’m sure there is plenty of ups and downs to come and I look forward to them both in equal measure. The highs are obviously enjoyable and the lows provide a raw unrelenting experience that forces you to consider what real suffering feels like and how running for 2 hours per week pales in comparison.
My fundraising page is justgiving.com/bobsm100– please spare a few ££’s to support the Bristol Children’s Hospital. If you’d like to run a ½ with me or would just like to say hello then please get in touch via twitter @bobsm100 or firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear from you.