...The curse of 2020 remained relentless! After a whole year of: re-plans, cancelations and an element of injury, the night before my final Stormtrooper run saw yet another hiccup due to emergency governmental COVID measures. The whole event/route had to be scrubbed, it was time for another rapid re-plan.
In truth, I didn’t care where I would run, after having covered 982 Stormtrooper miles in 2020 (162 of them over the last 19 days) I just wanted to finish this…
THIS WAS IT, THE FINAL COUNTDOWN! cue music :)
The plan for the last 3 days would be: 8 miles, 8 miles and a special 18 mile final flourish.
At the beginning of the year I had been planning all sorts of fundraising opportunities with my friends at Pinewood Studios, ideas included a 100 mile event (to beat the 100km run at Lucasfilm in 2018), running on a treadmill on filming days, local school events and almost certainly some sort of big finish.
Clearly COVID ran a coach and horses through all of our plans, however I'd stayed in communication with Pinewood Studios throughout the year ‘just in case’. That said, it was really clear to me in November that COVID wasn’t going away in a hurry therefore I’d have to come up with a plan for my final run which would be memorable but not put people at risk.
Elstree Studios is where the first Star Wars movies were filmed. Fast forward 4 decades and the latest ‘Disney era’ Star Wars movies have been filmed at Pinewood Studios. For those of you who are up to speed with my previous runs, you’ll know that I’ve run at Pinewood Studios on a few occasions from 2016-2018. Both film studios are of extreme significance to a Star Wars fan like me, and I hoped that both would be able to feature in my last run. Therefore, at the beginning of December I began looking at an 18 mile route to take me from the original studios of Elstree to Pinewood.
I needed to check what the route was like; was there a safe pavement along the whole route? Was it hilly? Therefore on Wednesday the 16th of December I drove to Pinewood Studios with my bike in the boot of my car. I loaded google maps into my phone, mounted my bike and followed the voice directions to Elstree Studios. It was initially an off road route which then became hilly.
I remember asking myself why I thought a 36 mile round trip on my bike was a good idea on a wet and windy morning, especially when the furthest i’d cycled in the last 5 years was about 4 miles to a pub! What made the situation worse was that I still had 10 miles to run later that day!!
I arrived at Elstree Studios after 2 hours, it had been a tough cycle.
When I stopped my Garmin watch it informed me that I’d had the highest ascent since owning the watch, 3 years! This was a very hilly route!
I turned around and headed back to Pinewood Studios, altering my route in places as i’d figured out a subtly easier passage. The return leg was also 18 miles, but ever so slightly less hilly. It was on!! In 4 days time i’d be running that route! First of all I had to get home, run another 10 miles, have a rest day on the Thursday, then the last 2 x 8 mile runs on the Friday and Saturday.
Friday the 18th of December - I’ve been in the RAF for over half my life. My workplace, RAF Benson has witnessed the Stormtrooper running around the local area since 2016 and has experienced the TV interest in 2020 and even the Stormtrooper deploying to Afghanistan earlier this year. Therefore I felt it would be appropriate to include RAF Benson as part of my last few runs.
I ran from my home to the military base (2 miles), removed my helmet at the security gate and showed my ID card, then proceeded to run around the accommodation areas and school, waving at as many people as I could for until my watch showed that i’d run 6 miles in total, at which point I ran home to complete the planned 8 miles. I had just 26 miles left to run!!
Saturday the 19th of December (morning) - The village of Benson and local town of Wallingford have been extremely supportive of my character ever since 2016 therefore it seems only fitting that the penultimate day would be with me proudly running with my fundraising flag around the local streets, again waving at as many people as possible. I took advantage of some local facebook groups, explaining that this would be my last local run in costume (another charity plug!). The reaction online was really heartwarming, with plenty of people asking for more details of my route and timings. I was also contacted by Forces News who wanted to meet with me half way through my run and do a quick interview.
It was a beautiful day with a fairly strong wind, strong enough for me to really feel the extra burden of the flag! I felt good though, I felt strong and on top of the world. It was a great feeling to know that I was so close to the end now. The highlights of the run were a line of people who had lined up in my village high street to clap me through, a family complete with a bugler who bugled me past like a military cavalryman and the people of Wallingford who clapped and waved as I ran through the marketplace. It was a lovely feeling of joy, hope and British craziness, especially during a time where the constant depressing shroud of COVID dominated the news.
Saturday the 19th of December (afternoon)
I was so excited! The plan for the final day was brilliant, everything was coming together. I was then contacted by the BBC who wanted to interview me on National TV at the beginning of my run. This could be the big break I needed for my fundraising! The BBC explained that a cameraman would meet me outside of Elstree Studios and i’d be able to do a live recording on their Breakfast show. They asked me to send them as many photos/videos as I could as they hoped to be able to produce a nice intro video. Exciting times. Then it happened, then the rug was pulled away from me… The reporter messaged me to say that they had a suspicion that the Government were just about to introduce new emergency Tier 4 measures which would place Elstree out of bounds. 45 minutes later their suspicions were confirmed: London was in Tier 4, Elstree was off of the cards! My contact at Pinewood Studios messaged me to say that Pinewood were still content for me to finish there but they weren’t sure what I wanted to do. My Star Wars ‘film journey’ route was a no-go. I didn’t see any point in travelling to Pinewood Studios and arbitrarily running around for 18 miles. It just seemed to put people at unnecessary hassle and risk, especially on the Sunday before Christmas. Furthermore, all of the charity representatives who would have been at Pinewood were now living in Tier 4 areas and couldn’t get there. No, I needed a full replan.
I was gutted, this whole year had been an absolute pain in the backside for both the running and fundraising. I just wanted it finished. I therefore contacted the Station Commander of RAF Benson and asked him if he’d approve me running around the RAF Benson airfield. I felt that this would be the simplest solution for everyone. and it would allow me to finish on time: in time for Christmas. The Station Commander was more than content and after a rather busy session on WhatsApp with numerous people I finally had a new plan. I then got a message that I wasn’t expecting, the BBC contacted me saying that they were still really keen and absolutely wanted to have a cameraman with me at the beginning. The opportunity to appeal for some extra fundraising was still on! All I had to do now was set out the obligatory ‘Flat Lay’.
Sunday the 20th of December
A terrible night’s sleep, I simply couldn’t settle. I get like that before any big run, I think most people do. One bit of great news was that I had awoken to find that I’d finally reached my fundraising target of £14,000 for the year, I was delighted.
I met with the BBC cameraman at the guardroom at about 8.20am and we had a chat about what was needed. I was given an ear piece to wear under the helmet and we were all set to go. At about 8.49am we are live on air in front of the RAF Benson’s Spitfire gate guardian.
In the past I’ve discovered the hard way that when doing media, especially radio that you often get cut off before you get the chance to say how people can sponsor you. I’ve done numerous radio interviews and they never generate much (if any) extra donations, so I’ve learnt to ensure that even though interviewers might ask you a certain question, you do your best to get your own message and information across, so at the very first opportunity I was encouraging people to check out my website for more details. I thought that the interview was going well and they were giving the event plenty of airtime, when to my surprise the lady interviewing me from the studio asked me to specify exactly how people could donate! I couldn’t believe it, what an opportunity. As clear as I could, I gave them the information and thanked them for the opportunity. They then wished me luck and I began the 18 mile run. It was after about 30 seconds of running I had to stop, as my Garmin (smart watch) was going crazy. I was getting multiple email notifications from virginmoneygiving my fundraising page. I’d never experienced anything like it, within a minute i’d had 100 emails! I quickly checked my fundraising page to see that it had jumped from £14,000 to £16,000 and was climbing. I then saw an email from an anonymous donator for £1000! I had to turn off my watch notifications as it was impossible to do anything else on my watch! I started running again with a huge grin on my face (under the helmet), it didn’t matter that I wasn’t running anywhere new or cool, it didn’t matter that the special finish line etc wouldn’t be there at the end, what mattered was the charities were getting a huge shot in the arm from generous BBC viewers. As I continued to run I could see emails (donations) still coming in, now at a slower rate but still at a rate i’d never seen before. I got into the groove and before long i’d run 3 miles.
I was then joined by one of the Pilots from work who is probably the best/fastest runner I know. He joined me for the next 6 miles and we chatted (socially distanced) the whole way. I stopped for water and fuel every 3 miles, however when I was at the 9 mile point (half way) I stopped for a bit longer and checked my fundraising page. It was at £23,000!!!! I had received 3 x anonymous £1000 donations thanks to the BBC Interview. I phoned my wife to pass on the great news. She was delighted and eager to find out how I was doing and how my foot was. I explained that things were going OK and I calculated that I’d finish between 12.15pm and 12.18 pm. The remaining 9 miles were fairly event free, except for the last lap where I was convinced that a big cloud was in the shape of Yoda (Star Wars), I thought this especially relevant as my last blog was called ‘Do or do not, there is no try’.
At 12.17pm I rounded the corner to see my wife and children plus a small socially distanced gathering of RAF Benson personnel including my boss and also the Station Commander.
I crossed the makeshift finish line (the security barrier) and stopped my watch. I’d run a total of 1000 miles as the Stormtrooper in 2020. I’d done it.
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