Location: Newcastle upon tyne, England.
13.1 miles in a bobsled for charity:
Account I wrote for MNDa magazine below:
In April Richard, Craig and I, along with another friend, ran the Sheffield half marathon for the Motor Neurone Disease Association and despite the sore legs afterwards, really enjoyed the experience. However this time we thought we would be able to raise more money if we ran in costume and inspired by the film Cool Runnings – where 4 unlikely athletes overcome all sorts of hurdles to make it to the Olympics – we decided our costume would be the Jamaican Bobsled team! Joining our team would be seasoned runner and bobsled expert Andy Thompson.
To complete the costume we needed to construct a homemade bobsled. We managed to acquire some not bad materials very cheaply from a local charity recycling company called www.freeforallwigton.com/ and in the week running up to the race spent several hours building the sled – with the finishing touches not being made until the morning of the race!
It wasn’t until we set off to make the short walk to the start line that we realised just how restrictive running in a bobsled would be – We could barely get above walking pace! We had also decided to add another element to our ensemble; we would carry with us a ghetto blaster and play the theme tunes from the film, which is mostly upbeat reggae – this turned out to be a great idea as people could hear us coming and runners and spectators alike were joining in with the singing and chanting all the way round!
We got to the race start and joined the back of a very long queue of 55,000 people! We seemed to attract quite a lot of attention and spent the 20-30 minute wait for the race to start chatting to the other runners about our costume, the MNDa and the different charities they were running for. There were lots of great stories of fundraising and people even pushing wheelchairs around the 13.1mile course.
Our support crew (Helen, Nouf & Ed) were giving us some final words of encouragement and a few pre race photos. All of a sudden the runners around us all seemed to produce cameras and a paparazzi of make-shift athletes formed.
Fearing we would not be able to outrun this elite bunch in our restricted apparel we decided to instead soak up the attention and pull some ridiculous poses for the photos. I can only assume these photos are right now floating somewhere around the interweb.
As the runners in front of us finally started to move we were on our way. 35 minutes later we were approaching the start line where a very enthusiastic announcer was trying his best to give shout outs and encouragement to all the passing runners and mention all the charities being represented. However, with the sheer volume of people passing through this was an impossible task and seemed to descend into a list of diseases. “Shelter! Animal rescue! St John’s Ambulance! Martin House! Help the Aged! Diabetes! Heart disease! Leukaemia!… OH and what’s this…… the JAMAICAN BOBSLED team!!!! Crazy guys, not bad luck!!!”
Geared on by the shout out and getting away from the fanfare of the start we settled into our race pace and turned up the ghetto blaster to pump out some reggae beats and create a Caribbean party atmosphere in and around the sled. About a half a mile in to the race, where the density of people had dropped to a level where people could start to run, we soon discovered how difficult it was to move with 4 people in a line with under a metre of leg room each. Pouring in sweat on account of wearing full body lycra on a boiling hot, sunny day and hauling around an eight foot bobsled we found ourselves being overtaken on all sides – which was surprising having started at the very back of the queue! – It wasn’t until an old man playing a banjo strolled past us at walking pace we decided we needed to do something to up our pace. “Slow and steady wins the race old man!” we cried. “We’ll get you later!”
When you find yourself threatening old men playing banjos you know it’s time for a change. Richard stepped out of the middle of the sled and joined Andy – with the ghetto blaster – in bigging up the crowd and starting some Jamaican Bobsled chanting. With just 2 of us in the sled we instantly doubled our pace, as we right now had room to move our legs!
With the reggae music blaring out, all the runners who had passed us earlier could hear us coming and looking over their shoulders saw a blur of black and yellow as we flew down the ice. This was brilliant, cheered on by the crowds and all the other runners encouraging us on we ticked off miles 2 and 3 in no time. It wasn’t until we got to about mile 4 that we all remembered that we hadn’t actually done any training for the run. Undeterred we carried on at a not bad pace, rotating who was in the sled and who was on music/crowd duties. We soon found ourselves crossing the iconic Tyne Bridge, at which point we all realised that the crazy dream of running the Great North Run in a bobsled – conceived after perhaps one too many winos – had actually come true.
Mile 5 and it was becoming apparent that gaffa tape, cardboard and stickyback plastic were not the sturdiest materials when it comes to bobsled engineering. We pulled over to the side to make some repairs and all the runners we’d been so pleased to overtake again went past us. Back on the road and our Blue Peter style repairs were coming undone, we again had to pull over and make some more serious repairs. We untied the right now redundant harnesses in the middle and used the bungee cord to lash around the outside to hold it together. Whilst not looking great and most likely hindering the sled’s aerodynamic properties, it did the job and we were back on our way.
By mile 8 our lack of training was beginning to show and we were slowing down, but around every corner was another cheer or comment to spur us on; “Go Jamaica!”, “Coooooooool Runnnnnnnings!!!”, “Any room in there for a lift” and my least favourite “Look, the Jamaican canoe team” argh! 2 Hours of the Cool Runnings soundtrack on repeat was also starting to wear and Andy was having particular trouble – as he had been holding the ghetto blaster on his shoulder with the music on full blast most of the race – and there’s only so much reggae he could take!
As we approached the brow of another seemingly never-ending hill we saw an amazing sight – the North Sea! We rolled down the final descent and around the corner for the most famous and final mile of the race along the South Shields coast line. The crowds built up along both sides of the road and despite our weary legs and ramshackle bobsled, which was right now mostly being held together by our grip and a true sense of the underdog alone, we again upped our pace and made the run for home. We had time to get in a few more chants of “Nuff people you know they can’t believe, Jamaica we have a Bobsled team!” and “Feel the rhythm, Feel the rhyme, get on up its Bobsled time!” which the crowd were loving – well I saw the crowd, the people in the crowd who got the Cool Runnings reference, the rest of the crowd looked slightly bewildered and were finding it an all together odd experience.
As we approached the 200 metres to go mark we attempted to recreate the classic movie moment where the Jamaican bobsled crashes when on course for a World Record but Derice announces “No mon, I’m not dead. We have to finish the race..” Admittedly we weren’t quite running at world record pace, but never-the-less we crashed our bobsled into the side hoardings and lifted it up to carry across the line on our shoulders. As we jogged the final 200 metres the crowd, who were presumably already cheering, continue to do so and a guy lent over the side and lifted his hand for a high five. Not wanting to leave him hanging I reciprocated the high five and found the next person’s hand aloft and so started a 100 metre chain of high fives down the final straight. As we approached the final few metres we were again spotted by another stadium announcer “Look at this!! What is it! What are they carrying!! A canoe?!? …….. Oh, it’s The Jamaican Bobsled team!!!!”
3 hours later…
We finally crossed the line in a time of 2hrs 42 mins and 41 secs which was not bad enough for 31,907th place (not bad!). As we caught our breathe a photographer from the Great North Run newsletter pulled us to one side, explaining that he’d been taking photos of girls all day and better get some shots of guys with a cool costume– I think he liked our lycra. We then headed over to the charity village and found the MNDa tent where we were able to recharge our batteries with some very welcome sandwiches and swap stories with some other runners who’d been running for the MNDa.
An all together great day, where we met and ran alongside a huge mix of people from the truly inspiring to the completely crazy, of which we clearly fell into the latter group, and had 13.1 miles of fun, adventure and mishaps with plenty of aches, pains and stories to take away from the experience.
Between the 4 of us and with support from many friends we managed to raise over £800, including the gift aid, for the Motor Neurone Disease Association and our Just Giving pages are still open for sponsorship/donations:
James, Richard, Craig and Andy
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