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A trip to Flanders with a twist pt 1: Le Puny Départ

Updated: Dec 9, 2020

Towards the end of 2015, the year I was finally able to get back to some decent running after my accident in early 2012, I found myself thinking about taking on a big challenge the following year. A multi-day adventure appealed to me but I was struggling for inspiration – there were endless possibilities but I felt it needed a reason. So when a friend and club-mate mentioned that he was thinking of organising a trip to Belgium the ensuing conversation got the grey matter in my head whirring………


With the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme approaching at the same time as a trip planned by my running club to the Night of Flanders Marathon, it seemed like a fitting time to do something in honour of our service men and women, past and present. After a bit of thought, I came up with the idea of setting out from the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire (which is just a few miles from home) and running all the way to Flanders to take part in the marathon. For some reason it just felt right to take it on as a challenge; and in doing so raise funds for the Royal British Legion, which was a big part of my late father’s life for many years.

So, on at 09:30 on Thursday 9th June I will set off from the Aboretum and attempt to run to the town of Torhout in Belgium, arriving in time to take part in the marathon on the evening of 17th June. My route will include a lot of canal towpath and most of the North Downs Way down to Dover. I will then cheat a bit by catching the ferry to Calais (yeah, I know what a wimp!) before continuing across northern France into Belgium.

If I’m successful, when I cross the finish line of the marathon I will have covered just over 500km (315 miles) in 9 days – an average of 35 miles per day and the equivalent of 12 marathons. I will then cheat some more by catching the bus back to Derby with my club mates.

Day 1: Le Puny Départ

It’s 9:30pm on 9th June and, having been fed and watered, time to reflect on the first day of my little adventure to Flanders.

Firstly, many thanks for all the messages and tips from various parts of the real world and cyberspace, they have really spurred me on.

Secondly, I’m so pleased that I decided to start at the National Memorial Arboretum. It’s such a fantastic, well thought out setup which really stirs the emotions – in a good way. It was extra special today sharing the moment with some friends (including one for who it had real meaning) and 2 very helpful and enthusiastic ladies representing the Royal British Legion and the NMA itself.

Thirdly, there was the little matter of getting the show in the road and doing some running. I set off at 09:44am, a few mins later than planned but the conversation with those gathered was too good to rush things.

Accompanied by four club mates from Shelton Striders we set off from the RBL Poppy Memorial, trotted along the banks of the River Mease and quietly slipped out of the far corner of the site and into the Staffordshire countryside.

With the others having better things to do with the rest of the day, the group dwindled as the miles past. But it was great to have company and share stories of our various running adventures past and future.

After 8.5 miles of, sometimes completely overgrown, footpaths it was time for the last of the group (Carolyn) to depart and get a lift back home from husband Chris, who’d run back and leapfrogged us in the car.

At that point I turned left and joined the canal towpath, something that I knew I was going to see a lot of over the next few days. I’m generally not fan of canal running as it can be monotonous, but I was determined to see the positives: enjoy the views and sounds of the countryside, and appreciate the easy terrain – there will be plenty of hills to come once I hit the North Downs in a few days (fingers crossed).

I stopped for a brief lunch break around 2pm in Nuneaton and bought some food from a local convenience store. I felt a bit self conscious mixing the water I’d bought with some suspicious looking white powder outside the shop, but the locals didn’t seem to bat an eyelid. A few mins later, back on the towpath, I passed a group of youths hiding sheepishly under bridge enjoying some very strange smelling substances. So thought to myself , no wonder strange white powders don’t seem out the ordinary around here. (No disrespect good people of Nuneaton).

2-3 miles later I snapped out of my daydreams for a moment and decided I should check on the map where I turn off into the Coventry Way, only to discover I’d run straight past it. Fortunately I could see another route that would get me back on track with only about half a bonus mile. I’m sure it won’t be my last navigational slip up on the trip, but just hope i don’t clock up too many additional miles.

After a few miles respite from the canal, I rejoined it at the village of Ansty, from where I would follow it all the way to my destination for the day. I was feeling okay but was starting to feel the heat and my, now warm, water was not very refreshing. Then, just when I needed it, I came across one of British Waterway’s taps dispensing delicious cold water. Thanks BWB, just what the doctor ordered.

Feeling refreshed the last few miles slipped by and I was trotting into the outskirts of Rugby, heading for the local Travelodge which would be my home for the night. I arrived there at 5:38pm, in need of a shower and a sit down, but otherwise unscathed.

Refreshed, I headed out to find food with my wife and one of my daughters, who had caught the train down to meet me. A big plate of food and a couple of cold beers (couldn’t resist) later it’s time to turn in and get prepared for the next instalment.

For the geekier ones out there, here are a few stats for the day:

Miles covered: 40.22

Time elapsed: 7:53:37

Time moving: 6:57:47

Elevation gain: 851ft (who said canals were flat)

Average pace (when moving) 10:23/mile

Consumption during the run: 1 Apple, 1 cheese & ham sandwich, half a bag of mixed nuts & fruit, 2 litres of Tailwind mix (suspicious white powder), 1.5 litres of plain water).

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