Don’t look back in anger

Don’t look back in anger

I remember someone once saying to me ‘Don’t look back, you’re not going that way’.  Thinking about it, it was probably a ‘motivational’ poster on LinkedIn.  It is something that has stuck in my mind none the less.  No matter what decisions you make, assuming that you make them with the best of intentions, at least you got to the wrong place for the right reason.

My teenage daughter was at an event in Manchester earlier this week, a city where I worked for just over a year back in 2014 to 2015 and, for those of you that are not parents, that means that I had a trip to Manchester too.  I spent an hour walking around the city centre, retracing my steps and looking up some of my old haunts.

I remember chatting with the guys in the office down there a few times about what I thought of Manchester compared to Newcastle.  My response was always the same, ‘Manchester will be nice when it’s finished’.

Well, I was very pleased to see that in the four years since my last trip, it seems to have been finished off quite nicely thank you very much.  I was always quite shocked by the number of homeless people in Manchester, it was always very noticeable compared to Newcastle City centre and that didn’t appear to be any different.  What was new was the tram lines running up the Main Street past the Arndale centre.  The Northern Quarter was still so hip that that whole part of town should be perched on a penny farthing and sport a waxed moustache.

In a round about way, and linking back to my motivational quote, I guess what I am trying to say it that you shouldn’t look back too often, but it can be a good idea every now and then to stop and reflect.  If you don’t know where you came from, you can’t tell how far you have come.  Every week I would get off the bone shaking trans pennine express and walk to the office and it felt like nothing was changing, no progress was being made, but it was, slowly but surely.

Anyway, this is supposed to be a travel blog so let me bring it back on point.  In just over a week we will be heading over to Adelaide and Kangaroo Island.  Accommodation, travel and hire cars are all booked, we have a list of things we would like to take in while we are there and we have got to the nitty gritty stages or working out which travel adapters we need to buy and which pants we will be most comfortable travelling in.  The excitement is building and I cant wait to get moving again.

Travel is the ‘hot-chocolate-and-a-warm-blanket-in-front-of-a-fire-on-a-cold-day’ to my soul.  The number of days I have had to fight the urge to just jump in a car or a plane and get away from everything are too many to count.  When I get the chance to be on the other side of this piece of rock flying through space, I will grab it and I will wring every second of enjoyment out of it.  I hope Australia is ready for me, I am ready for it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time for reflection

Time for reflection

Back in November, I walked out of my job.  The plan was to take some time off over Christmas and then focus on New Year, new me.  It turns out that the job market isn’t what I though it was, or maybe I’m not as good as I thought I was, and so here were are ticking towards March and still no job on the horizon.

I have spent my time talking to pretty much every recruitment agency in town and talking to anyone and everyone in my network to try and get my name and availability out on the street, but all to no avail.

It hurts. Feeling as if no-one wants you and that you are not adding value when all you want to do is your job that you happen to think you are pretty good at, but you have to keep your chin up and keep searching and believing that something is out there.

I have been trying to do all of the things that I dreamed of while sitting at my desk in employment but couldn’t due to lack of time.  I have been running, looking after myself a little better and, now that it is a little warmer, I have been out again with my camera.

I am hoping that the rebirth of spring is a good metaphor for me, that the shoots of new life are starting to burst through and flower and that a job is just around the corner.  I thought that 2019 would be my year, there is time yet!

 

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Golden Sands
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Rock Stars
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The light of my life
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Next stop, Holland.
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Taking time to reflect
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Blue skies, time to reflect and relax.
Surrey Bound

Surrey Bound

Having recently quit my job, I needed some time to think and to work out next steps.  No company in their right mind would employ someone in December, unless it was in desperation and I really didn’t fancy an emergency appointment at this time of year.

So I booked a train and headed down to Surrey, via London, to meet up with my good friend from the South that regular readers (both of you) will remember.  He questions me, he challenges me and he understands me and so is the best mentor and life coach that I could wish for, exactly what I needed right now.

It won’t surprise you to hear that I was at the station an hour early for my train and so I was all relaxed and calm.  My man in the South had been trying to pin me down on what I wanted to do but I didn’t want to drive the agenda, I wanted to let him show me around.  No doubt this annoyed him intensely but I wanted to be taken for a journey, do something different and see new things.

He met me with a huge smile and a hug at Kings Cross and we took a walk through Saint Pancras and we had a coffee and a croissant at the British Library.  We were surrounded by intellectual types and bow ties while we caught up and I gave him the lowdown on my jobless situation and my recent travels.

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We then jumped onto the tube and headed to the Royal Academy Of Arts. To say that this was something new and different for me is an understatement.  Left to my own devices I would more likely jump over the moon before paying £18 to see an exhibition about the art of the Oceanic Islands.  I was so glad that we did though.

We walked through a dozen rooms filled with amazing displays that came to life with eh audio books and I think it took us around 2-3 hours to make our way through the whole thing.

 

We walked around amazing art and cultures that had been ‘traded’ from the locals and brought back over the years in exchange for various diseases, wars, beatings and murders that we gave them as compensation.  Incredible but flimsy looking rafts that were used to navigate hundreds of miles between islands that traded with other, I wouldn’t like to go out on a perfect flat waist deep boating pond on them.  Having said that, I am such a terrible swimmer that I am maybe not the best to judge!

The whicker framed pictures above were not decorative, they were maps that showed trade routes between the hundreds of islands and, to the trained eye, could be used to navigate the safe waters and avoid the wrong rocks and dangerous currents.

Their fascination with penises was a fascinating confirmation that young boys never grow up, even over 250 years.

The highlight of the show was a panoramic video called ‘In pursuit of Venus – Infected‘ which is on youtube in the above link.  It really was an incredibly interesting display that had a good hundred people absolutely spellbound on a rainy Wednesday afternoon.

Both very satisfied we made out way through some very posh shops and shopping arcades that seemed to be ignoring any Brexit concerns about economic slowdown with thousands of shoppers starting the Christmas rush at prices that made this Northern boy blush.

We had dinner in a fine restaurant called Cicchetti which is a San Carlo establishment.  You order your Italian food with a Tapas feel, sharing the plates as they arrive in any old order.  It was very lively with tables crammed close together and the food was superb.

We got chatting to the two ladies sat next to us, well it was pretty much on top of us the tables were so close, as we had been drawn to their ice cream that was served in a plant pot container that would have fed an entire orphanage.  She was a lively old bird and was on her second 4 week trip of the year from the US where she ate out every night in some the finest establishments in the capital.  You couldn’t tell as she must have weighed about 9 stone wet through.  It’s a tough life for some.

All fed and watered we made our way back to Woking and spend an hour drinking tea and putting the world to rights.

I woke up the next day after a very welcome lie in and lazy morning and headed to Mercedes world which, in my mind was going to be a museum and interactive displays that would get the teenage boy inside me very excited.  I have to say I was a bit disappointed.  The staff looked either bored or down their noses at me, I couldn’t tell which but I didn’t like the idea of either.  It was, in effect, a huge sale room for Mercedes with a massively expensive test track stuck on the side where a legion of London corporate goons were guffawing and ‘yar-yar-yarring’ themselves into their bosses backsides.

My host could tell I wasn’t enjoying it massively and so we headed off.  To be fair, there were some lovely old cars on display and the deconstructed and floating Formula One car was very interesting but, overall, it was worth every penny of the free admission.

We headed around the corner to the Brooklands museum.  Now this was more my thing, gritty, honest and real life.  There were a few different sections from motorbikes, race cars, planes and, most importantly a cafe!

We literally walked through a history of flight that went from the flimsiest of early flying machines through to passenger planes flying over the Atlantic faster than a bullet from a rifle and all of this was within the space of 60 or so years.  It was incredible.

The place was staffed by incredibly eager volunteers that were infectiously excited where they were and what they were showing off.  Every one of them over the age of 65 and without doubt able to repair anything that you put in front of them from a jet engine to a child’s bike.

It was an incredible contract to the ultra sleek and modern Mercedes showroom over the room but a million time more engaging.  I loved every second of being there.  I think it closed at 4pm but the guy that showed us around told us to hurry into the next hanger if we wanted to see the WW2 bomber that was my planned highlight of the day.

We had the place to ourselves and spent a good while exploring the place top to bottom before heading out to car park.  We were pretty much locked in and there was three guys at the gift shop tapping their watches as we gingerly crept out of the gates.  I couldn’t recommend this place highly enough.

We headed back to Woking where my hosts wife had made a delicious meal for us and the conversation flowed and, yet again, we put the world to rights. The most important thing that I learned was that I was to be served a pudding as I was Northern, the lighter and more refined desserts were saved for the Southern types!

I was glad of this as I gorged on a delicious bread and butter pudding with Baileys.  I was so blown away by it I was given a Tupperware put to take home and couldn’t be certain I wouldn’t eat on the train on the way home!

I headed back home the next day after a very wet and miserable walk through London, picking up some Christmas shopping in the London boutiques. My mind was clearer and I knew what direction I was going in, professionally, personally and physically.  I was going North.  I was going home.

Coming Home

Coming Home

I got up and needed to sort out last minute gifts so walked down to the self-proclaimed biggest gift store on the planet.  It was wall to wall with rubbish tat.  Imagine anything you can and write Vegas on it, it was in there.  I picked up the present I needed and wandered back to the Hotel to pack when a guy dressed in an all-in-one pink onesie shouted at me ‘Hey man, wanna hear a joke?’  I couldn’t think of a reason why not and didn’t want to upset the crazy man so I shouted ‘Yeah’ back at him.  “What did the horny frog say?”  I was trying to think of a punchline that involved him shooting, stabbing or robbing me and I couldn’t think of anything so just said ‘ I don’t know’.  He laughed hysterically as he shouted ‘RUBBIT’ back at me.  I’m not sure if I was just happy that he was a wannabe comedian and not a killer but I laughed a little more than I should have while checking over my shoulder to see if he was following me.

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J and N had received a message from the airline to say that they needed to get to the airport early as they had issues with their check-in and so we headed over even earlier than I would usually be for a flight.  I managed to shut my case that was so overpacked it was a worry and hauled it down through the casino floor as I took one last walk through the misery.  It was the last chance I would have to see our driver and so he picked me up with one arm and I had pictures taken with this most amazing guy.  We said our goodbyes at the airport and I went off to check in my king-sized bag.  I think I was allowed 35kg but I was at 50kg.  The lady said that anything over 42kg was a problem and so I showed her a photograph of my cat and we were friends and I was all good.  The next time I would see that case would be in Newcastle, I liked that idea.  Vegas had been amazing but it was a hard slog and distorted your mind and what was normal; you can’t spend too long there.

I split up with J and N in the airport as they had posh passes for the executive lounge.  I had to force them to use them as they didn’t want to leave me but I hated the idea of them missing out for me and so I had to threaten them.  I ate pizza and drank coke at 10.30am and watched the world go by.  The flight from Vegas to Detroit was packed again, I chatted to a lady from Detroit on her way home who had been to Vegas for a motor convention and we shared a common bond over how funny the lady’s voice was in the seat behind us.  We got the giggles and couldn’t catch ourselves until we landed pretty much.  We had to rush off the plane once we landed as we had a very short window until our onward flight to Amsterdam.  We sprinted through the airport like lunatics just to find ourselves standing in a long queue to hurry up to stand still.

It wasn’t like the flight out as it was pretty much full so was a wholly different experience.  There was a family in the three seats behind me that were travelling with a baby and the poor thing was crying for what seemed like forever.  I could hear the mother crying herself and as I returned from the toilet I asked her if she spoke English before telling her not to worry.  The people on the plane who were parents understood and those that weren’t would never understand but maybe would one day,  I told her she was doing a great job and just relax.  I just made her cry a little more.

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The food wasn’t as exciting on the way home. I watched Saving Private Ryan and then I was in Amsterdam.  An hour’s wait and I could hear Geordie voices again.  It was time to take a moment to reflect on the trip.  I had had a fantastic time, but I had missed my kids, missed my Titchy and I had missed, well, normality.  It was like an adult version of Disneyland but with a sinister and sad dark undertone that I couldn’t reconcile.  I had been warned that 3-4 days was enough as it would take it out of you.  Add in a half marathon and the 6 nights and I was a broken man that needed some fruit, vegetables and a quiet night in.

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After a very quick up and down over the North Sea, I was back home.  Annoyingly, we must have flown directly over the top of my house and I didn’t get to see it, but I was back and I was very happy about it.  I didn’t have my front door keys with me and it was 2pm so I was going to have to head into town on the Metro to get a lift home from Titchy.  Imagine my surprise when the doors at arrivals opened and there she was looking just perfect and waiting for me.  I was home, we were back together and we could start to plan the next adventure.

A Grand Day Out

A Grand Day Out

This was our last full day in Vegas and we had decided to hire a car and head on a road trip to the Grand Canyon.  We had gone all in on the American experience and booked a bright red convertible Mustang.  We spent an age waiting for the paperwork to be sorted in the office before walking up to the garage to pick up our car.  It was parked next to a classic mustang and looked amazing.  J started off the drive and, as we had been told that mobile signal was a bit patchy out in the wild, we hired a sat nav to make sure we got there ok.

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Before we got out of the car park we decided that we would have the top down but flashing lights on the dashboard meant that we couldn’t get things moving.  I hopped out and had a look and there was a plastic coke bottle trapped in the mechanism.  Once this was out of the way, the roof collapsed, the dashboard lights went off and we were ready to go.  I went to the ‘recent places’ on the sat nav menu and picked ‘Grand Canyon’ and off we went. Just the open road and a four hour trip ahead of us.  As we drove out of Vegas on the slip road circling up to the freeway above, I looked down and saw dozens of people living in the water pipes in the middle of the roundabout.  Another example of the absolute misery living inside the magic of Vegas but swept away out of view.  It was all a bit sad.

I nodded off after about an hour and woke up about an hour later as our car pulled up at the side of the road.  We had stopped to put the roof up as it was freezing cold and noisy.  Why are convertibles even a thing?  It is always exactly the same; great for half an hour then the reality of cold, noisy trips with flies in your hair hits home.   As I woke up, another reality hit me.  The sat nav was suggesting that we drive another mile down the road, do a U-turn and then head back exactly where we had just come from.

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No matter how many times I reset the sat nav, it always suggested that we needed to turn around.  I felt sick.  I offered to drive the next stage and drove like an idiot back to Vegas, right through Vegas and out the other side for another 2 hours in that direction.  Before we got too far, we stopped for petrol and half a ton of chocolate and confectionary.  I went to fill up the car and a guy at the next pump shouted over, ‘Hey, the green pump is the diesel over here’.  No kidding, I was about thirty centimetres away from filling a hired American sports car with the wrong fuel in the middle of a desert.  I loved that guy and when I went inside to pay for the fuel and take a comfort break, I told him so just as he was in mid comfort break which just seemed to terrify him a little bit.

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We drove over the Hoover Dam but didn’t get to see it. The 400 car traffic jam on the road that we should have taken suggested we had dodged a bullet there.  We crossed over into Arizona and changed time zones which just further added to the confusion in my mind about the day.  That wrong-way Tom Tom made me feel like even satellites were out to get me.  We drove through miles of dusty nothing broken up by the odd rickety farm or motor home surrounded by scrap and broken walls or toys.  We eventually turned off the motorway and drove another 40 minutes to the Grand Canyon National Park Centre.  There were all sorts of options for helicopter or plane tours but that all seemed a bit too much and far too exciting.

We paid our money over and were directed to a bus that would take us around the park.  The first stop was Hualapai Ranch, a Wild West themed cafe and horse stop where you could do a horse trip into the canyon.  My allergy to horses was so bad/silly that we skipped that stop altogether and made for the second stop which was the glass walkway at Eagle Point.  After a brief walk through the visitor centre which outlined the struggles that the First Nations had faced being kicked off their land and then oppressed for generations, you had to hand over pretty much everything that you owned into a locker.  Phones, coins, anything electrical….it was easier to just put everything in there to not get shouted at by the menacing security team.

Once all of your possessions are handed over, you get to step out onto the glass horseshoe floating above the canyon. This is your first real view of the Canyon and it is only when you get out onto the walkway that you get a feel for the scale.  A helicopter flying through the canyon looks like a dot and allows you to work out the enormity of what are you looking at.  As you get onto the walkway, without your camera, you see that the Native Americans are getting their own back after their years of oppression.  They have been handed cameras and no training and then take 10-15 pictures of couples in various positions, arms out like an eagle, pretending to push your friend off the side, funny falls pictures, you get the idea, and then you get back inside and they charge you $100 to get them printed.  The price in no way reflects the quality of the photography as they were so over exposed you couldn’t make out THE most amazing view I had ever seen and it looked like the couples were standing in front of a white screen.

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There was a t-shirt in the shop that showed the scale of the canyon; it was three times the height of the Eiffel Tower.  It was simply stunning and I couldn’t take it all in reasonably. It was too beautiful, too much to take in.  It was called Eagle Point as the rocks in the middle of the canyon looked like an eagle flying down.  I can only imagine how amazing this must have been to the First Nations looking at this for the first time; how inspiring it must have been, and I could understand the inspiration for their legends  in such a magical place.  Can you imagine being the first pioneer on the back of a horse exploring the area, coming across this view and telling everyone else to turn back as there was nothing here to see.  Give me a few years and I will have a visitor centre knocked up and will be charging $75 to get in there….Ker-ching!

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We hopped onto the bus for the short ride to the third and final spot called Guano Point.  I was stunned to hear that someone had had a similar idea to me about money making in this amazing place, just a bit more dangerous and stupid.  Upon seeing THE most stunning vista on the planet they decided to climb down it and take a look at the cave and found it was filled to the brim with thousands of years worth of bat shit, Guano.  Ignoring the opportunity of the visitor centre and photo opportunities, this guy nailed it.  Let’s mine out all of that bat shit and sell it as fertiliser.   This wasn’t in the time of cowboys and the Wild West, this was 1957.  At today’s prices, they invested $31m in mining this, literally, 100,000 tons of shit that was calculated to be in the cave.  It turned out that there was only 1,000 and so at $900 per ton they lost a huge amount of money.

What a testament to human stupidity that someone could lose money in this most amazing part of the world.  We were there at about 5pm and every time you turned your head to look at the view the light had changed as the sun dropped and no matter how many times you looked at each place, it became more beautiful.  Words cannot begin to do justice to how glorious this place is.  You have to see this place at some point in your life, it really is that good.  There were a lot of people there that seemed so inspired by the magic of the place they decided to see if they could fly. That was the only reason I can think of that people were standing so close to the edge of the hundreds of metres deep crater on the Earth.  Tools.

It was getting dark and very, very cold and so we made our way back to the car to head home.  It was by now properly dark and we got a hell of a shock when we opened the car door to find that the wing mirrors cast a horse shaped light on the floor, a very cool feature!  It must have been a 250 mile trip but it was maybe 175 miles as the crow flies from Vegas to the park.  It seemed impossible to believe as there was nothing else it could be, but you could see the glow of Vegas pretty much from the car park onwards.  We watched the glow on the horizon all the way home and we were right, that was all it could have been.  It summed up Vegas, a colossal waste of resource in a huge party of vanity and self-obsessed hedonism.

We dropped off the car and walked back to the hotel for a quick shower and dress for dinner.  We had a buffet at the Stratosphere and it was like the third circle of hell. The food was OK but it was just too much.  You could have all four corners of the culinary planet on your plate at the same time and no one could judge you.  Again, Vegas in a meal, excessive, classless, do it because you can, not because its right. I felt sick but only after my fifth plate and two bowls of ice cream.  I needed to pack but could no longer walk without feeling sick, so I retired and lay like the fat pig I was.  There could be no bigger contrast to the magical day that I had had than the state of me right now!

Sore Legs In Vegas

Sore Legs In Vegas

I woke up at 6am and could feel my legs, that was a good sign.  I gave myself a little while to wake up before attempting to stand and, lo and behold, everything seemed to be just fine.  I had a little bit of pain in my hips but I had been much worse than this after previous races so I was happy enough.  Showered and ready to go, I met up with J and N and N’s family and headed back to the Dennys that I spotted right next door to our hotel and so saved a two mile round trip.

Between the six Costa Ricans and the Mexican waiter, the whole morning was a blur of Spanish and I was the foreign guy for an hour.  Race day over, I went for the banana and toffee pancake WITH the bacon and potatoes.  The coffee and orange juice was a life saver and I felt alive again and very very full.  We skipped over the road and waited for the SDX bus along the strip so we could get our photos taken at the Vegas sign.  N’s sister was a physio and she said that the hip pain I was struggling with was because I walk and run with my feet pointing outwards and so my weight was not properly aligned.  I have never walked so consciously with my feet straight, it actually hurt my mind to concentrate on feet position so much!

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You couldn’t come to Vegas and NOT have that ‘ welcome to Vegas’ shot and so it had to be done, but it was a long way off the strip and stuck in the middle of the road over the road from the airport.  It’s hard to feel like you’re somewhere amazing with cars, lorry and busses flying past you and planes flying over the top of you.
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Boxes ticked, we split up.  Daughter child had requested that I buy ‘everything’ in a shop called Hot Topic.  I walked the two miles out of the strip to the store and emptied my wallet onto their counter and picked up a few other gifts for myself, and others, in a shop that sold rocks and crystals.  Don’t worry, I haven’t turned hippy but I do love geology.  I took the bus from the wrong side of the road, thinking that the circular bus route was non-stop, so I ended up waiting in the terminal for the return journey.   I got asked for directions to the right bus by a lady and we ended up chatting.  It turns out she was a police officer but is now a detective travelling to Vegas for a conference for disabled children in sports.  She was very interesting and the charity work that she undertook was inspiring, it made me feel very lazy in comparison.
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I said goodbye to my new friend and hopped off the bus at the Treasure Island Hotel where I met up with J and N and N’s family. We walked through more shops and saw the sights as we slowly meandered back along the strip.  We stopped for tea at Del Taco and I waited round 40 minutes for some squished up baby poo in a wet wrap; worst meal in Vegas by a long way.  I found my boy child his footy top and a pair of basketball shorts (the closest I could get to the football shorts he wanted) and then we jumped on the bus and headed back to our hotel for our customary afternoon nap.

N and J were taking in a show on the strip that evening and so I was on my own.  A big part of me just wanted to stay in bed and catch up on a nap but I could do that any time at home. This would be my only chance to head back downtown and see what was going on in Freemont Street.  I hopped on the bus (after I was offered some crack that I politely declined) and headed towards the slightly dimmer but none the less bright lights of downtown Vegas.

The original strip is now a pedestrianised walkway which is all lit up as if electricity is free. It has a zip wire all the way down the street so you can ‘fly’ above everyone’s heads.  It felt like an amateur and more innocent version of uptown Vegas. The street vendors are a little more amateur and ‘normal’ compared to the crazy goings on in the posh end of town.  People were still walking around drinking beer in the open but it felt more like Magaluf if it won a big scratch card rather than the full on lottery.  Even the homeless guys were in on it, holding up signs saying ‘Who am I kidding? Give me money for beer, dope and hookers, at least I’m honest!’.
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I wandered up and down the street a few times taking in the sights, including the Heart Attack Grill where you eat free if you are over 350 pounds.  You can only dine if you are wearing the hospital scrubs they provide to help reinforce you are close to a heart attack the minute you look at the menu.  Even I wasn’t tempted by this crazy business. I ended up sitting at the bar in a casino drinking a few beers whilst watching the same game of American football I had watched the previous evening in the burger bar; they don’t half milk their football coverage. I watched watched the barman fight with a group over them drinking wine from another bar in the same casino and continued to observe as the manager appeared to tidy things up leaving everyone (except the barman) feeling happier.  I was tired, and my legs were sore, and the three beers had made things a lot worse.  I jumped back on the bus and headed back to the hotel.  I missed my stop as the bus driver thought we were in the middle of a Speed film and so I had to walk a little way back.

I realised I had missed a meal and so, wanting to get back to rest my old legs, I picked up a family sized bag of cheese crisps and demolished them while watching CNN.  The absolute shame of reaching into the bag to get another crisp and realising they were all gone was bad.  Licking the cheese dust that had clung all over my fingers was a shame I couldn’t take. I had lost my dignity in Vegas, but not in the way most people do!

Rock and Roll Running In Vegas

Rock and Roll Running In Vegas

This was it, race day. I had another think about what Abdi was going to be doing on race day.  I just checked, and he was going to be in the same race as me and had previously done it in one hour and four minutes.  Maybe a massage, some fruit a warm up run and a protein shake.  Who knows?  I walked down to Dennys and ordered a pancake and refused the eggs and bacon that came with it, that was my preparation and training complete.  One thing that stood out at Dennys were the cartons of milk on the table that were infused with vanilla. As sweet as anything I have ever tasted and set us up for the day with a kick square between the eyes!

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We finished up and started to walk back to the hotel, a 20 minute walk, but stopped off at was supposed to be a discount store for clothing but was, I think, just a bloody big jumble sale.  Imagine the presentation of TK Maxx mixed with the absolute chaos of Primark with the smell of a jumble sale and you are close to the hell that it was.  I got out quickly as my nerves were kicking in and I needed to plan.

One thing I have always been told about running is that you should never do a long run in any new kit in case it causes you problems.  My intention had been to do a training run in Vegas to test out my new shorts and make sure the temperature and conditions were not a shock to me.  I hadn’t.  The shorts had a built-in pair of compression shorts and a pouch to slot your phone in, I wasn’t sure if my phone might jump out of it and so I would be better off with my usual arm band.  I therefore spent an hour in my room running back and forth in my kit working out options and sorting out my bib and working out which top to wear.  I wasn’t sure if I should wear my new official Rock and Roll marathon top or my normal running gear.

My ankles were sore but that wasn’t a trouble. The terrible diet and the lack of sleep were the main concerns.  The other thing troubling me was that the Vegas strip was closed off for the day and so the traffic was going to be a nightmare.  N and J were starting their 10K race pretty much outside our hotel and so they were fine, but I had to get to the far end of the strip for my start party.  I didn’t want the panic of being late and so organised my ride down there very early.  I wandered through the casino floor dressed for my run and I have never felt more out of place.

My early pick up was perfect as the roads were gridlocked, even with my driver’s specialist knowledge of the shortcuts.  In the end, he got me pretty close but then I jumped out and just followed the crowds of runners walking in the same direction and trusted that they knew what they were doing. As I walked into the huge open area that had been sectioned off for the start party, I got my 10,000 steps on my Fitbit.  Again, not sure that was great warm up for the race!

I had never been involved in anything this big.  There were 18,000 people running the half marathon plus the marathon was starting at the same time and that was over 20,000 people.  The great north run is 12,000.  This was big.  There was a stage with a full on concert taking place before you started the walk up to the strip but I was too nervous to listen to that.  I fuelled up on bananas and water and had three toilet breaks in an hour.  I wasn’t enjoying this wait, but it was better than being late.
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Eventually, 5pm came around and it was time for my corral to round up and walk up to the start line.  It was maybe a half mile walk and I immediately needed my fourth comfort break.  I asked a yellow topped marshal if there were toilets ahead and he said yes, keep moving, I got the impression he would have said anything to me, the ‘keep moving’ part was what mattered to him.  45 minutes later we were still standing just off the strip waiting to get started, listening to other runners setting off and I was terrified that we would be started without fair warning.Eventually, at ten to six, we were let loose and we walked to the start line.  Being in group one I was right at the front and due to set off at six.  I was about to burst.  I spotted a huge empty bottle of Gatorade and then my subconscious took over.  Before I had time to think about it, the empty bottle was opened, it was tucked into my compression shorts and I casually refilled it whilst standing on one of the most famous roads on the planet.  If it was a UK sized bottle of pop I would have had issues. It was a US measure but I still got three quarters to the top before casually leaving it at the side of the strip.  I half imagined a policeman chasing me for the full 21KM ahead, but I think I got away with it!

Under a load of flames, excitement and eternal pizazz, we were off.  I started really slowly due to the crowds that seemed to be mainly overweight Americans walking the course from step one.  Within half a mile there was a McDonalds at the side of the road and, I swear to god, there were ‘runners’ going in there.  Despite the slow start, the field opened up pretty quickly and I was running faster and on clearer roads.  We started off running out past the airport and past the famous Vegas sign.  Lots of people stopped to get a picture there and made the running even easier for me.
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There were a lot of people running with the stars and stripes in their hands as it was Veterans Day and it was great to see the response that this got from the crowd. They really do love their flag and their veterans out there.  We turned and ran back through Vegas, all the way past the Stratosphere and back down into downtown Vegas.  We made the turn at Fremont Street and headed back to the strip.  Having run past the finish line half way down the strip, I knew exactly how far we had to run back and the legs started to feel very heavy.  There were no crowds to encourage you in the downtown area and it was dark and, I think this is true, the streets were coated with a treacle that seemed to make each step so much harder than the last.  I was nowhere near my target time of two hours despite feeling so strong up until this point and when I got to 18km I had to stop to catch my breath and take on some fluids.  I was used to drinking from bottles on a run but this event just had paper cups.  Lots of them, but they were a bugger to drink from without throwing it up your own nose.

I was disappointed that I hadn’t run it all and disappointed that my two hour target had not been met but, with my build up and preparation in general being so poor, it wasn’t a huge surprise.  I could see the purple lights at the finish line ahead and suddenly I got my second wind and the build up of nerves and adrenaline came out.  I knew I was going to finish and I was pumped. Every part of me wanted to swear and scream as I finished but this was America and I was representing my country, I kept the emotion inside.

Two hours and 19 minutes after I started, I was done.  I could start my holiday now!

There was a about a kilometre of fenced in finishing walk where you picked up a medal, a warming silver sheet to stop the chill getting to you and all sorts  of beers, water, nibbles, snacks, Pringles, nuts and God knows what else.  I met up with C and J at the arranged spot at the Bellagio fountains and walked back to meet up with N and her family from Costa Rica.  I was greeted with a Spanish chant that I didn’t understand but it made me feel like a superstar and I was very happy to be back amongst good friends.

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N and J went off with their family for dinner and Charlie took me for a burger to celebrate.  He thought that I would be broken and too sore to eat, but that burger was going to be heaven!  My main concern was that I was in running kit and looked like I had been to war but I needn’t have worried, there were more running medals in the Cosmopolitan than betting chips.  I had mine hidden under my jumper as I am not a big fan of people showing off (if you can show off after a 2hr 20 half marathon), but I guess we all got the same medal and the same t-shirt.

The burger was huge and amazing but the race caught up with me, so I was soon in a cab heading home.  My taxi driver complained to me all the while about the strip being closed. The 45 minute journey ended up with me being dropped in Downtown Vegas and walking home in running kit through a really shitty neighbourhood.  I tried to look as intimidating and big as possible but I think it just make me look like I had a worse limp with my cramp.  I had a bath before bed and slept with my medal next to me on one of my three spare pillows and prayed that the legs would be OK in the morning.