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Marathons for the mind - My Tour de France

Friday, 31 August 2018 Peter Thompson

Last year Pete ran 44 marathons in 44 days. In another amazing feat, he has run the entire route of the Tour de France, raising over £21,000 for Mind.

Peter's determined to raise awareness of mental health issues through both words and the use of his skinny legs as a runner.

There I was, nervously stood at the start line of this year’s Tour de France waiting for it all to begin. However, I wasn’t there to watch the cyclists set off, in fact I was seven weeks too early for that. My Tour de France started today and there wasn’t a bike in sight. I wasn’t going to be watching or even riding the most famous bike race in the world, I planned to run it.

This year’s route would weave its way around France covering 2089 miles and involve over 45,000 metres of climbing, the equivalent of going up and down Mount Everest five times. It would tackle the Alps, the Pyrenees and the cobbles of Roubaix, in a route designed to push the best cyclists in the world to their limits. I certainly wasn’t one of the best cyclists in the world or even a cyclist for that matter but in my version of the Tour de France I didn’t need to be.

"I would need to run an average of 30 miles a day for 70 days."

I wanted the challenge to be a race. A race against the cyclists in which my advantage for swapping a top of the range bike for my trusty yellow trainers, was a seven-week head start on Geraint Thomas, Chris Froome and the chasing pack. To beat them to the finish line in Paris on 29 July, I would need to run an average of 30 miles a day for 70 days and work out a way to get up and down the numerous mountains that lay ahead.

Then was the support team, or in my case the very small support team. Gone were the usual nutritionists and physios and in their place came my girlfriend Sally and her trusty Red Seat Ibiza. What we lacked in support staff or even room in the boot for all my trainers, we made up for in other ways. We had the desire for an adventure, the bravery or stupidity to try and most importantly a cause that meant a lot to both of us. That cause was to continue to raise money and awareness for Mind, Dorset Mind and Livability.

After successfully raising £19,000 for the charities last year by running 44 marathons in 44 countries in 44 days, this was the next of my ‘Marathons for the Mind’ challenges. This year we were trying to go one better and raise £20,000 to support their incredible and invaluable work.

As I made that first tentative step across the start line the race was on, there was no turning back. The only certainty in all this was that the riders would be in Paris in 70 days’ time. The question was, could I be there too?

The first few days went by with my body suddenly realising exactly what was being asked of it. The blisters started appearing on my feet, the fatigue hit my legs and the doubts started to creep into my mind. If I feel like this after three days, what am I going to feel like after 10, 20 or even 70 I thought?!

I tried to not think too far ahead, to focus on the here and now and to break things down into more realistic chunks. Me and Sally started to break each day into 10km (6 mile) pieces, with her waiting patiently for me with various French pastries to keep me going. Mentally this was a huge help as all I had to think about was that next point. 2km in and I was nearly half way, 5km and I was half way there, 8km and it was nearly time for another pain au chocolat. You get the idea.

"It is hard to describe just what it feels like to stand at the bottom of a mountain, knowing you must run 15 miles and climb over 1600m to reach the top."

Basing at various campsites for three or four days at a time and driving to and from the day’s start and finish point, the logistical side started to take shape too. The days began to tick along, helped largely by Sally and some incredible friends who came out to join us. By the time we arrived at the first mountain stage in the Alps we had raised over £7,000 and were 30 days, nine stages and nearly 1000 miles down. Things were in a good place.

It is hard to describe in words exactly what it was like in the mountains and just what it feels like to stand at the bottom of a mountain, knowing you must run 15 miles and climb over 1600m to reach the top. Similarly, it’s just as hard to describe just how beautiful it is along the way and how the views, emotions and the support of strangers make it an experience like no other.

Sometimes it was the motivation of the charities or a cheer from Sally that got me to the top. Other times a message of support on social media or simply the thought of

a double espresso and a magnum at one of the little coffee shops at the summit. Whatever it was on that day or in that moment, as we came down the last mountain decent of stage 19 it was hugely emotional to know that the mountains were over. We had scaled those 45,000 metres, pushed my body to a place it’s never been before and done most of it in the almost constant 30 degree plus heat of the French summer.

As we made our way to Paris the following day the end was in sight. All that stood between us and that finish line was the 70 miles around Paris and we had five days before the cyclists would ride into town. We were so close. For the first time we allowed ourselves to believe we could do this.

"People’s generosity never ceases to amaze me."

The last day is a day I will never forget. I turned the final corner and crossed the finish line into the arms of Sally and a few friends. We had done it. We had run the 2089 miles of the Tour de France in 68 days and beaten the riders into Paris by three days.

Most importantly however, we had exceeded our fundraising target, raising over £23,000 for charity, something me, Sally and the charities are extremely grateful for. People’s generosity never ceases to amaze me, and I can honestly say that we wouldn’t have completed this challenge without the messages of support, donations or the inspiration gained from the openness people have shown around their own mental health issues along the way. Thank you so much.

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