Today started well.
I got to Waterloo, half awake as usual.
I got through the barrier to the sight of The Queen’s Guard playing.
Busy, smile and head off.
Or stop and listen.
I stopped and listened as they played.
A couple of hundred others did so too.
I got my tube to Canary Wharf and bought my poppy.
I always get one.
But I’ve never spent that much before.
Then I had a full on brilliant day.
Yesterday I did the Andover Park Run for the nth time with a fabulous array of people. I don’t do it as much as I used to but still appreciate this movement.
There are a handful of elite lunatics who sprint round in 16-18 minutes then a score or so of good runners at 18-22.
Then ~275 others including me, we vary from 23-61 minutes.
My best ever was 23:53, today was 27:42 (excuses = gin, a bottleneck in 3rd Km, an injured ankle and not being all that bothered about fast anymore).
People with dogs (actually, not on the winter course we did yesterday)
Obsessed people (I do the occasional event, go to the occasional fitness class, I always see these people, briefly in 2014 I think I was one, that’s when 23:53 happened).
Quiet people. (Where I think I am).
Show offs. (Where I probably am really).
Probably 2-3 psychopaths.
Injured people who can’t stay away and should probably volunteer while they get better.
And lots of other overlapping pigeon holes because it is full of ordinary people.
Most run, some jog, a few walk. A handful are athletes.
When I first went I was blown away by the diversity and the openness.
I still am.
There are fuss pots and busy bodies. Cake and coffee. There’s a lunatic who runs in flip flops and the man who set it up and who is always there whatever the weather, to whom I am silently grateful.
For me, there is a car park, some people watching and a bit of love for how awesome and varied people are. I occasionally do Newbury, once did Winchester and I particularly like the Christmas Day event in Leeds.
I used to be self conscious. Now I turn up, nod at a few people, smile at a few others, sometimes randomly chat to one or two more, but otherwise just run.
Then I go shopping in my silly knee length socks, drenched in sweat, with steamed up glasses, to buy mountains of vegetables from Kenyons a family run green grocers where it is impossible to spend more than £25. I have tried.
Park Run is an accessible 5K, fabulously diverse, simple and well organised. The bloke who invented it, who I think got a CBE or MBE, and who is stubborn by some accounts, ought to get a knighthood. As well as getting people fit, it gets them together in a way that is easy, it gets people into volunteering (even I have) and makes you feel great for the rest of Saturday.
I kept my trap shut publicly after our successful RAAM experience in June. I’ve talked to the team, family and close friends. To really understand it, you had to be there.
There was an interesting mix of characters, lots of little stories, challenges met, highs, lows and out right wonder at what we saw and experienced. There will be a book and video which will tell those stories.
The fund raising for ECPAT continues with the race as a powerful back drop. I’m fiercely proud of what we did and especially of why.
As some time has passed, it has all sunk in. Some lasting themes have surfaced. It appears to have changed me.
These themes don’t relate to the story or specific events or places. Nor to any particular individual. They relate to the nature of the experience and how that has changed how I think and behave.
The first thing to emerge was a sense of calm. At first I thought this just relative to the intensity of the race. It is now almost three months since we got back. I still feel calm, relaxed and simply quite happy.
The preparation, the race and the days of clear up after were a crucible. I’ve experienced a few before. They changed me too. This was easily the most intense. Bloody hell I enjoyed it.
We faced a hundred challenges in each stage. All had one thing in common. They simply had to be faced and resolved. Usually right there and then. Almost always with just the people and tools we had to hand. On perhaps just one occasion, I threw a little money at a problem, to buy a tool (that was not for sale, but in the tool kit of a bike shop) to fix a bike.
The unending sequence of problems nagged at me. Especially as we raced. There were so many, that at the back of my mind was this knowledge that at some point a problem may arise that we could not solve. There were a couple of times when that looked possible. On each occasion, we solved the problem and kept the team moving. Sometimes inelegantly, but always moving. We also kept getting better and better at the basics and at anticipating problems.
Through all that, there was a common theme that made the impossible, the stressful, oddly easy.
Put simply, there was nowhere to hide. No alternative than to work the problem, solve it, however clumsily, and move on.
Logistically, RAAM is a sleep management exercise with some extreme cycling thrown in to make it even harder. You get up every 16 hours as a rider and crew and every 8 hours as Crew Chief and on the RV team. Except when the crew send you to bed, as happened twice to me. Once after I’d got 2 hours sleep in 40 and again when I did something similar and had to just go sleep.
I learned a lot about fake work. You can’t waste time on RAAM.
I learned about the value of connections. Arriving somewhere new every 8 hours, we always made friends with whoever was there as a priority. We very often needed help and equally often gave it back. Competing teams helping each other out was literally a joy.
The way the team built trust and interdependence flowed straight out of the knowledge that there was mostly just us and that we knew conflict would kill us. The number of times I saw exhausted disagreement resolved through raw intelligence and the shared resolve to never ever give up was heart thumping to watch.
There was no let up. No leeway. There was just us and a few people we bumped into.
I’m sure that back at the office we’d have kicked the can, asked for more people, time or money.
It was a great lesson on what can be done when there is nowhere to hide.
I have lost count of how often I have to go back and read this again (usually when I don’t know the answer to a question):
I wrote this summary of Good To Great in 2012 I think. I look it up every now and then. I posted it here ages ago. Today I read it again. What a great book. Today I could replace the opening with something about how, I am on a train, thinking about work, I suppose.
“…I woke up at 0100 last night, thinking about work. This is rare. One of the more challenging aspects of my new role is establishing the facts about how it all works so we can confront and deal with them. “I need facts!”, I thought, as my mind raced and the LED clock seemingly stopped.
I remembered how important the confrontation of facts is in Good to Great by Jim Collins. I reckoned at 0100 that facts must be the most important bit, the idea that trumps all the others.
Then I remembered I’d clumsily…
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Today after a 5 long days of hard work and endless problem solving by the wonderful CWT RAAM Crew, we got race clearance. I must share the stories of the commitment, intelligence and attitude of the crew some time. I’m utterly blown away. It feels like we have been here for weeks.
We set off from Oceanside tomorrow. I’m reflecting on why we are here before I go to bed.
We got talking to the BA crew on the flight out to San Diego. They were great, took a real interest in what we are doing and why and looked after us really well.
As well as the scale and complexity of the race and diversity of Team Endeavour, we explained the charity we are supporting, ECPAT. They seek to eliminate trafficking and sexual exploitation of children. It’s not an easy topic.
The BA crew knew all about the subject, telling us they’d been trained to spot it and had protocols about how to intervene, notify the authorities at their destinations and rescue the children involved.
“Since we were all trained we’ve spotted a dozen instances and been able to trigger interventions to save the kids.”
He then went on to say what I was thinking but didn’t dare say,
“I’ve been flying in cabin crew for 18 years. It makes me wonder how many we missed before we learned how to spot and deal with it.”
Of course, RAAM is a huge adventure and an amazing privilege, but the aim is to raise more money so more gets done to keep the children of the world safe.
All donations are gratefully received and can be made here:
Tomorrow our adventure begins for real.
Yesterday, after months of training, Brendan Cox, Lisa Akeroyd, Charles Allum and Andrew Jordan variously left Australia and the U.K. for San Diego to get ready for this year’s Race Across America (RAAM). In case you missed it, RAAM is a 3000 mile coast to coast bike race which must be completed in less than nine days. That makes it a 24 hr per day dash from Oceanside in California, over the Rockies, across the Nevada Desert, through the plains, over the Appalachians and on to Annapolis in Maryland.
Team Endeavour (T415) are supported by 12 crew from the UK, Australia, France and the USA.
For their sins, I am Crew Chief.
The Pod leads (more on what that means another time) are Barry Doggett and Glen Cook and the RV is led by Kate Cook, further supported by a fabulous group made up of:
We gather over the coming days, the final contingent joining the group on Wednesday.
This week will be spent collecting four support vehicles, a huge amount of additional supplies (nutrition, bike spares etc), having bike, vehicle and crew inspections and briefings, all of which culminates in the race starting at noon next Saturday.
We’ve been asked for all the ways that you can follow us so here goes:
The main Team Endeavour site:
This is the homepage for the event:
This is where you can track us live once the race has started:
Our Instagram and Twitter hashtags are #cwtraam2017
and our Facebook page is:
We are also going to add pins and photos to this Google map as we go to create a document, which while at first is just a very close approximation to the route, I hope will eventually form a record of our adventure.
Finally, and most importantly, is the primary reason we are putting ourselves through a gruelling, 24 hour race across 3000 miles. We want to raise as much money as possible for our charity ECPAT International (http://www.ecpat.org).
All donations are gratefully received and can be made here:
Please share with your family and friends and help us raise as much as possible.
Wish us luck and get ready for a lot of social media noise but with a purpose. Dig deep (and often) and think yourselves lucky I didn’t have a full blown Bob Geldof moment.
Thanks, we hope you enjoy the ride.