On St George’s Day, two corporals from our local RAF Halton base set off on a running adventure of a lifetime – taking them from John O’Groats to Land’s End. We felt it was important to help these local athletes celebrate the RAF Centenary. We caught up with one half of the pair – PT Instructor Tom Sherrington – on the RAF’s 100th anniversary to look back at the event and get his reflections.
As a reminder of why we took on the challenge, our primary goal was to support three charities; the RAF Benevolent Fund, MIND & Jordan Brown (currently serving in the RAF Regiment but has been diagnosed with a brain tumour and requires £300,000 for treatment in Texas US). A secondary goal was to achieve something out of the ordinary, but really I wanted to raise money for charity and do it in a way that was inclusive. Looking back now, I believe I achieved all of the personal objectives. Completing the event was my principle objective. I, personally, wanted to raise £5000 by the end of the 25 days but managed to surpass that by raising £6000, which was beyond belief. I am very happy and thankful for the amount raised. As for team objectives, the aim was to complete the event together with Corporal Gary Binns, but unfortunately that wasn’t to be as Binnsy had to withdraw on doctor’s orders on day 12.
I can actually remember the day that it started to sink in on how epic this journey was. It was 14th May when I had reached Tiverton in Devon. I put John O’Groats to Tiverton in my phone and it came up with the walking route from point to point. It was that moment it sank in to how far I had come. Although I must admit it still hasn’t sunk in how much of truly epic feat it is. I knew that this would be the only opportunity I would get to run the length of the UK. I have to say a big thank you to RAF Halton and their support throughout the whole journey, because without them the opportunity wouldn’t have materialised. With this once in a lifetime opportunity, I wanted to grab it with both hands – failure just wasn’t an option for me. Secondly I said to myself I would propose to my partner Robyn if I completed the run. I used this as motivation to get me through as well when things got tough. I like to be different and I know not many people would have ran the length of the UK to then propose to their partner. It means that little bit more now.
The highpoint of JOGLE, I must admit, was reaching Lands End on day 25. Although I had to run 42 miles, which was the furthest I ran throughout the 25 days, I couldn’t have asked for a better day. The weather was glorious and the route was amazing due to the majority of it being coastal. In addition, there was a great deal of support by then through social media and other means. More importantly my now fiancée said yes when I proposed to her at Lands End (but I can now admit to you that I really struggled to get up from one knee afterwards!). My lowest point was the penultimate day. I had to make a number of diversions on day 23 and day 24 because some of the roads were too dangerous to run on. These diversions meant I had run 80 miles over the last two days. Bearing in mind I had been averaging 35 miles per day. I was already pre-set on running 70 miles for the last couple of days so having to run an additional 10 miles was frustrating to say the least. Added to the frustration was the fact that I had developed a tendinopathy of the left Achilles.
Talking of injuries… on day 12, Gary and I were heading from Shap to Kendal. Apparently this is the highest road within England. Gary had some of his friends running this leg with him which was good. Over the previous couple of days we had become fragmented as we were running at different paces, so it was welcome support from Gary’s perspective. However, this was to prove a really challenging day and I think the gradient didn’t help Gary in respect of an injury he was already carrying. Once he reached the top it was clear he needed to go to A & E as he was struggling to walk. The doctor advised him to stop or else run the risk of rupturing tendons around his ankle. As you can imagine this was difficult to accept for Gary. Either way he got over 400 miles which is a feat within itself. Initially it was difficult and I really wanted him to finish the event, just as much as me. It did make me more determined to finish the challenge though.
I must admit that I learnt a lot about myself, both physically and mentally, throughout the 25 days. Perhaps the biggest learning was the area of mental sustainability. I managed to find ways to motivate myself throughout each day – more specifically in the morning, when I really needed to get myself going. This is even more important when you are nursing injuries / niggles, of course – which I was after the second week. From a planning point of view, Gary and I chose the most direct route for JOGLE but in hindsight this probably wasn’t the safest option. Some of the roads we were running on turned out to be dangerous and in retrospect, we should have looked at alternative routes.
The support team was fantastic. Sam Brown was the driver of the support vehicle and he drove this throughout the 25 days and was always in the right places I needed him to be. I admired him because it must have been frustrating being shacked up in the motor home 24/7 and not being able to stray too far from the wagon. Although I personally think he had grown accustomed to the wagon by the end of it – he had a bit of a love hate relationship with it! All the other support crew who had a week turn around, Laura Quilliam, Robyn Anderson, Beth Yates and Matthew Atkinson were always on hand to give me and Gary what we needed in terms of nutrition, medical supplies and general support. They even got involved with running a leg or two with me, which was needed at some points. Without all their support completing the challenge would have been a lot more difficult.
It was good to have the company of friends and family, who joined us at certain parts of the journey but as I’ve said before most of the support came from our brilliant support crew. Having family and friends present throughout the event helped sustain the morale, although those visits were unfortunately few and far between. In fact I ran through my hometown Warrington on day 14 and had friends and family join me throughout that day which was really good and definitely a highlight. My ashmei merino wool T-Shirts were also appreciated a lot. Not only were they incredibly comfortable, but we didn’t always have access to washing machines. Therefore, we came to rely on wearing those Merino T-Shirts on a daily basis. They reduced the amount of admin we needed to do (washing kit) in the evenings because all we really wanted to do was relax and recover.
I would hope completing such a challenge demonstrates what the RAF ethos is about to individuals outside the military setting. This would be to always challenge yourself both physically and mentally even during times of difficulty or conflict. Would I do again? One word… no! In all seriousness though I personally don’t feel the need to do it again. I took the opportunity that I had and made it count. Plus I feel it wouldn’t be half as satisfactory as completing it for the first time. I look back and think I get a huge sense of pride that I have achieved something that very few people have done before.