A Huge

Thank You

There are so many people to thank that it’s a little overwhelming. I was blown away by the amount of kindness and support I received on this 542-mile adventure.

I certainly couldn’t have done this alone and the contributions of the people below went a huge way towards helping me raise awareness and funds for mental health charities in rugby.

On behalf of the charities and myself – Thank You!

 

 

The Great Rugger Run
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Week one

Phil and Sally Westren

Cornish rugby royalty (that’ll embarrass them!) Phil and Sally Westren were supporters supreme. They just got ‘what I was doing and why’ immediately and could not have been more supportive. They took me into their house, introduced me to many local friends and family, took me down the pub, fed me, gave me a place to sleep (for two nights!) got me into the Pirates vs Richmond fixture and Phil even announced my impending run to the packed Mennaye Field at half time.

The day of the run they drove me to Lands End for the start, cheered me off and then drove my bag to St Ives at the end of the day. What absolute legends!

Phil and Sally Westren - The Great Rugger Run
Kyle Poynter - The Great Rugger Run

Kyle Poynter

Kyle was the first to lace up his trainers and hit the road with me. Well, actually there was very little road. It was mostly coastal paths, beaches and trails all the way from Lands End to St Just RFC. An experienced Ultra-runner, Kyle kept a perfect pace and helpfully did all the navigation too. Oh, and he still had time to do some filming!

We also picked up a haggard looking bunch of St Just players (it had been their first game of the season and social the day before) in the town centre for the last half-a-mile. Lovely bunch!

Joel Ninnes

Surf-lifesaver Joel was a breath of fresh air from the moment he picked me up in his van from St Ives seafront. I would be a guest in his flat which had a TV big enough for a mansion and minimal furniture. I was immediately transported back to my mid-twenties, living with my mates and not having a care in the world. Magic!

We had a Chinese, chatted rugby and travel and just had a really chill evening. Huge thanks, especially as the St Ives community had tragically lost a local legend and the funeral was due the next day.

Joel Ninnes - The Great Rugger Run
Zachary Cashmore - The Great Rugger Run

Zachary Cashmore

I don’t know much about Zachary apart from the fact he delivered my bag to Camborne with more enthusiasm than a dog bringing back a ball. Always smiling, apparently perma-happy and just a damn good lad!

Malcolm Tonkin

Malcolm claims to be 70 years old. He doesn’t look it or act it. He welcomed me to Camborne RFC and told me stories of the local mining history and of the rivalry with Redruth – all with a glint in his eye.

Fish ‘n’ chips for tea and super-comfy bed followed before he dropped me off at Veor RFC in the morning. Also a Chelsea fanatic – well you can’t have everything!

Malcolm Tonkin - The Great Rugger Run
Kevin Oates - The Great Rugger Run

Kevin Oates

Kevin was also part of the Camborne welcome party. A lovely man who is putting his heart and soul into developing girls and women’s rugby in Cornwall. He took time out of his day to pickup my bag from Malcolm’s and deliver it all the way to my digs in Newquay where we had another lovely chat as a quite stunning sunset lit the sky.

Emma Critchley

What an absolute hero! Picked me up from Newquay RFC along with the complete menace that is Doris the dog. Emma, or Critch to her friends, taught me some local lingo whilst cooking some incredible food. I would be heading to Losty (Lostwithiel) the following day and most people were referred to as Badgers – something I was comfortable with given the multi-coloured nature of my beard.

I got laundry done (vital) and we played scrabble (less vital) before a fabulous night’s kip. Critch also figured out how to get my bag to Losty – the details of which I’m still unsure of…

Emma Critchley - The Great Rugger Run
Mikey Rawlings - The Great Rugger Run

Mikey Rawlings

Day 4 was a real struggle. So when I was about an hour from Wadebridge Camels the text I received from Mike was incredibly welcome… “Hello mate, I’m making you a packed lunch – anything you don’t eat?” – How great?! I turned up to a collection of food and drinks that were fit for a prince!

We then recorded a super Facebook LIVE and a full podcast (watch out for that one) before Mikey drove me onwards to Losty, dispensing some fabulous route advice along the way. Ledge.

Bran Howell + unknown helper

In the current climate, accepting a bag drop from someone you’ve never met is quite a leap of faith. Fair play to Bran who looked after my bag in Lostwithiel until I could collect it later in the evening. A vital cog in a very complicated machine that was The Great Rugger Run logistics.

Nelly and Suzi Bayliss - The Great Rugger Run

Nelly and Suzi Bayliss

It’s hard to overestimate the contribution of these legends (and Barnaby too, pictured) to The Great Rugger Run. I won’t list everything out for fear of embarrassing them (again – check out the video from Nelly’s Pasty shop…) but it’s fair to say that over the period of 48hrs they couldn’t have done any more.

Of equal importance though, was that they were just wonderful company and I must confess, I was very sad to leave their idyllic life in the country. Highlights include “holy”, “sitting soft” and more baked goods than you can shake a stick at!

Luke Jones

Luke (brother of Suzi – another thing they arranged for me!) ran with me from Losty to Liskeard. Luke is currently getting stuck into the Ultra-Marathon scene down in Cornwall and provided a ton of useful tips and lessons he’s learnt along the way.

When you progress into ultra running there is a shared experience that bonds people like us. Also, at the time, my mind was fried with logistics and names of people and places – having Luke to navigate for this leg was hugely beneficial. Cheers Lukey!

Luke Jones - The Great Rugger Run
Sophie Bennett - The Great Rugger Run

Sophie Bennett

At incredibly late notice the lovely Sophie picked me up from Saltash RFC and gave me a bed for not one, but two nights! I got to meet lots of the family including kids, an auntie, chickens, quails and freakin’ huge wolfhound!

Sophie was incredibly kind, sorted laundry, food and even picked me up after my Sunday run and dropped me and my bag at my next digs in Plymouth. Genuinely, could not have been kinder. Amazing!

Week two

Mike Lewis

Mike was a whole new kind of hero. I didn’t even get to meet him, yet a set of keys for a house he owns were delivered to me and he trusted me to stay the night and get the keys back to him the following day. I mean… Wow! I hope to meet you one day Mike and buy you a pint!

Mike Hart and Alan Knight - The Great Rugger Run

Mike Hart & Alan Knight

The Ivybridge rugby-folk were just super-kind and helpful throughout. Mike (Mr Chairman) picked up my bag from Plymouth in the morning and took it to Ivybridge RFC. There I was introduced to Alan (Mr President) who had kindly volunteered to take my bag onwards to Totnes. I spent a lovely hour with them at their fabulous club. Thanks gents, it was a real pleasure.

Thomas Edmonds

Another unmet legend. Thomas is Totnes 1st XV captain and through his network of local contacts he managed to secure for me a sponsored stay at the best hotel in town. Huge thanks to Thomas and the Royal Seven Stars for stepping up. I loved every second of it; the powerful shower, the luxurious bed and especially the full english in the morning. I didn’t want to leave!

Mike and Lorraine Edmonds - The Great Rugger Run

Mike & Lorraine Edmonds

Many of the clubs I visited had a real family feel to them and Totnes exemplified that. Mike and Lorraine welcomed me in after my longest run and made me feel completely at home.

They delivered my bag to Torquay the following day when the weather had taken a slight turn for the worse. I don’t have a photo of us at the bag-drop due to the sideways rain on Torquay’s seafront. However, they both jumped out of the car and braved the cyclone to wish me well. Absolute champions!

Joey Milburn

Soaked through and sat in a restaurant on Torquay’s seafront, I was genuinely considering what the hell I was doing with my life. Then I got the call from Joey saying I could come and stay!

This was one of the tougher days on The Great Rugger Run and Joey and his lovely wife Bex rescued it from a soggy and cold conclusion. They picked me up from the station, fed me, sorted my laundry and let me rest in their incredibly comfy spare room.

But that was only the half of it. Joey is a Quins super-fan and also the LooseHeadz Academy head honcho. We recorded a podcast, checked out his stash collection (and I thought I liked stash!) and he even tried to get a meetup organised with a rugby social media influencer! AND… he drove my bag all the way to Withycombe the following day. Complete magic!

Joey Milburn - The Great Rugger Run
Shaun and Andrea Parkin - The Great Rugger Run

Shaun and Andrea Parkin

I wasn’t intending to stay in Withycombe then Shaun got in touch and I quickly changed my plans. Sometimes you can just sense a good person immediately and that was the case here. A lovely welcome at Withycombe RFC, then it was a short walk back to their beautiful house and supreme hospitality. The lasagna was a contender for the ‘Best Food’ award! We chatted for hours about ultra events, rugby tours and the wonderful world of travel.

I was sent on my way with a bountiful packed lunch the following day, along with a t-shirt and highly helpful route recommendations. I would see them later in the day when they picked me up from Exeter Ath to drop my bag and I at Exeter Services. Also, I don’t think anyone has liked and shared my online content more – incredible support from lovely people!

Holly Feller

Mega-star. From day one, Holly supported The Great Rugger Run like it was her own project. I couldn’t be more grateful for that. However, I was also pretty grateful that she arranged to pick up my leggings that I’d accidentally left with Joey Milburn! That saved me a whole load of chaffing🙂

Holly, you’re awesome and an incredible ambassador for LooseHeadz and rugby itself.

Holly Feller - The Great Rugger Run
Roger Sainsbury - The Great Rugger Run

Roger Sainsbury

When The Great Rugger Run took a break in Cheltenham (for a former teammates funeral – RIP Crispy), my old Colts 2nd row partner Roger stepped up to offer me a place to stay and provide almost overwhelming hospitality. Roger sorted my laundry and cooked more fresh meals in 36 hours than seemed sensible but they were all gratefully eaten – apart from the Chilli Veggies which nearly melted my face off. Thanks Rog!

Week Three

Richard & Steve Pape

Father and son duo Richard and Steve Pape looked after me in Taunton. Richard picked me up from the station, gave me a bed for the night and invited me to his regular breakfast meetup the following morning. I thoroughly enjoyed his company – you don’t meet many fellow COBOL programmers nowadays – oh, and he also drove my bag to Bridgwater!

Steve (who I’ve literally never called Steve), my old Ealing teammate, drove me to Taunton RFC where I was a guest on the Presidents table for pre-match lunch and then later took me out for a banging feed. Great to catch up with the man-mountain I was lucky enough to have behind me in the scrum for a whole season.

Geoff Sluman

Geoff provided such a warm welcome to Bridgewater & Albion RFC. On an afternoon where he attended to many competing priorities he organised a fantastic Facebook LIVE that really nailed the mental health message. He then also drove my bag to Weston the following day – the least glamorous of jobs but absolutely vital to the functioning of The Great Rugger Run!

Stuart Simmons, Rhiannon Tottle & Rich Powell

Hornets RFC welcomed me with the triple threat of Rich, Rhi and Stuart! What a powerhouse trio. Between them they organised a night for me in the local hotel and gave me a terrific tour of Hornets RFC. It’s a regret that we sadly didn’t get to record it as a Facebook LIVE due to connectivity issues – I’ll have to come back again!

Rhi met me the following morning to pick up my bag and in doing so confirmed her rugby-mad status. As she opened the door to her van a rugby ball rolled out and bounced across the car park! We retrieved the ball and Rhi drove my bag all the way to Nailsea. Awesome!

Stuart Simmons, Rhiannon Tottle and Rich Powell - The Great Rugger Run
Duncan Cook and Family - The Great Rugger Run

Duncan Cook & Family

Cookie, my old Colts and u21s team-mate from Cheltenham materialised to fill a hole in my schedule at the last moment. It was great fun catching up and meeting his lovely, lovely family – what sweet souls. Cookie picked me up from Gordano RFC then drove me back to his upside-down house where he and his lovely wife Susie got me ice for my newly injured leg, sorted laundry, fed me, and spared my blushes when my stomach was making all kinds of traumatic noises. Two weeks of protein bars had taken its toll…!

The following morning I was given more ice and a sympathetic ear as my injury had worsened overnight. I was quite concerned about whether I’d be able to carry on. Susie dropped me off at Old Bristolians RFC with hearty cheer and I ploughed onwards. Lastly, at the end of the day Cookie drove my bag to Cribbs Causeway services where I was meeting my next accomplice!

Megan Carter & Family

The timing couldn’t have been better. Get injured – stay with a physio! Meg, who was physio at Old Colfeians back in the day was an early supporter of my run and had offered physio services well in advance – little did she know how vital they would be.

She picked me and my grotesquely swollen leg up from Cribbs Causeway. Back at her home after a quick shower I was ordered to get my leg up and put some ice on it. Dinner and photography chats with hubbie, Oliver followed, then it was time for an injury assessment.

Meg was concerned she might have to tell me to stop, however, whilst my leg wasn’t great there was nothing obviously catastrophic either. I would need a scan to find out exactly what was wrong. That could wait until later…. For now, it was a case of KT’ing it overnight to try to reduce the swelling, then strapping it up the following morning to ease the pain and help with stability. Thanks Meg, I really think I might have had to stop without your expert assistance!

Megan Carter and Family - The Great Rugger Run
Rob Shotton - The Great Rugger Run

Rob Shotton

LooseHeadz founder Rob has been an absolute legend from the start. I got to meet him the previous day when he arranged entry to Ashton Gate – home of Bristol Bears. We met outside a pub in the trendy Hotwells district where he grabbed my bag and drove it to Bath later in the day. Cheers Rob!

David Slemen & Family

I met Slem inside The Rec, home of Bath Rugby – access that he’d arranged for me. I then proceeded to embarrass him by forcing him to tell a story from his playing days on the Facebook LIVE we recorded. Sorry Slem!

Being a former-athlete he recognised my need for immediate sustenance so we headed to one of the local coffee spots where he sorted me out with a wholesome sarnie. Back at Chez Slem, laundry, a couple of beers, some ice for my leg, an awesome pasta meal and fun chats along with wife, Suzy made for a wonderful evening.

Slem dropped my bag at a deserted Westbury RFC the following afternoon; finding a great hiding spot underneath some benches and out of sight!

David Slemen and Family - The Great Rugger Run
Paul Couzens - The Great Rugger Run

Paul Couzens

I received warm welcomes at many clubs, but I can’t think of any warmer than the one I got at Westbury RFC. One couple had even dashed back from their holiday on the coast early to greet me. How wonderful! Nestled at the end of a long lane, past the fishing lake and golf course, tucked into the Wiltshire Hills, Westbury RFC is in a truly idyllic spot.

Huge thanks to Mr President – Paul Couzens who not only provided great company during my visit, but was also kind enough to drive me to Warminster to help with my onward travels.

Week Four

Alan & Fay Tunnicliff

Thank you Mum & Dad for so many things. So, so many! The meals, the laundry, Tunnies Taxi’s and the unending support. It was so important for my training to have such a stable base to work from – and thank you for living in such a beautiful part of the world!

It felt entirely appropriate that it was you who dropped me at Salisbury train station (for my journey down to Cornwall) like it was my first day at school – full of nervous excitement about the huge adventure ahead!

Alan and Fay Tunnicliff - The Great Rugger Run
Meredith Tunnicliff - The Great Rugger Run

Chris, Mere, Jamie & Will

Thank you guys! Being able to stay with you for a week halfway through The Great Rugger Run allowed me a period of stabilisation and relaxation when I needed it most. No need to figure out accommodation and bag transport and a constant stream of good food and good vibes.

On behalf of the charities, thank youfor organising and executing a bucket collection at Ellingham and Ringwood RFC – more much needed funds to help the rugby family.

And lastly, thank you making space in your busy lives to pick me up and drop me off for the entire week. Special thanks to Will for ‘graciously’ giving up his bedroom so that his Uncle Tim could get the best rest!

Chris Tunnicliff - The Great Rugger Run

Week Five

James Griffiths

My old captain Griff was super-keen to help out. Alas, I was already completely covered when I came through his part of the world down in West Sussex. However,  we don’t see each other enough so we arranged a pub lunch halfway between Eastleigh and Alresford.

Griff hobbled in on his freshly operated knee thus making me feel much better about my deteriorating physical state. He not only spotted me lunch but sent me on my way with handfuls of energy dense snacks too. Cheers Griffter!

James Griffiths - The Great Rugger Run
Craig Fiddes - The Great Rugger Run

Craig Fiddes

Another all-round complete legend. Welcomed me to Basingstoke RFC, proved to be an awesome Facebook LIVE interviewee, sorted me accommodation in a local hotel and took me out for dinner too!  Craig is one of those people the sport can’t do without, a club-man through and through, an ambassador and also a qualified referee.
 
Oh, he also arranged a lift for my bag to Henley the following day – amazing!

Richard Nielsen

Basingstoke u16s coach, Richard answered a club memo from Craig and showed up in my hotel car park on the morning of Day 30. A quick chat and my bag was soon winging it’s way to Henley. Not only that, but Richard very helpfully took all responsibility for getting in touch with my man at Henley so that I could concentrate on the running – super thoughtful!
Richard Nielsen The Great Rugger Run
Chris Stillman - The Great Rugger Run

Chris Stillman

Chris was another quality human who heard about what I was doing and jumped in to support immediately. He met me at Reading RFC and ran with me to Shire Hall RFC and then onto RAMS where Chris is a sponsor, coach, supporter, committee member and sometimes even a player!

Chris was awesome company, a brilliant Facebook LIVE interviewee and even supported my decision to run along a muddy river footpath rather than a nice tarmac’d road. Lastly, RAMS wrote a hugely supportive article on their website that helped raise the profile of The Great Rugger Run. Absolutely legendary!

David Lewis

My former Old Colfeians team-mate and long-term pal was beyond helpful. He picked me up from Henley after my longest day (29 miles), took me out for an evening meal at an amazing spot by the river, dropped me off at Reading Abbey the following morning and ran with me half the way to Maidenhead!

I would like to say Dave was also good company but he couldn’t stop talking about how good he is at coaching junior girls football. Shame. 😉

David Lewis - The Great Rugger Run
Sammy Boulton The Great Rugger Run

Sammy Boulton

Another former Old Colfeians team-mate and long-term pal, Sammy along with his family were hosts supreme. A comfy bed, a steaming ensuite shower, laundry, and a smashing brekkie to set me on my way the following morning.

Along with Dave (above) Sammy has some serious experience around endurance events so the three of us compared extensive notes over dinner. Sammy is more into cycling nowadays but I believe he still holds the OCRFC marathon record – Esteemed company!

Lynne Thomas

As much as I loved meeting new people and making new friends, it was also an incredible opportunity to spend more time with family. Step forward Auntie Lynne who helpfully lives a short walk from Ealing Trailfinders RFC. I planned my route to include a stop with her in Hanwell.

Thank you so much for putting me up, washing my running gear, feeding me and just giving me the kind of support that only family can. All during a busy time, too. Hugely appreciated!

Lynne Thomas - The Great Rugger Run
Graham Davidson and Calum Burton - The Great Rugger Run

Graham Davidson & Calum Burton

And now we move onto my other family. Some of my oldest and best mates who I grew up with during my 20s in London. Graham ran the whole of Day 24 with me and I think it’s fair to say it broke him! A reminder to me of how far I’d progressed as I finished off the 19 miles without too much discomfort.

Notable moments of our day included a tense work call for Graham taken whilst running along Kew Road and afternoon tea at his house where we stopped for a delightful hour with his wife and daughters.

Calum also joined us for the stretch between London Welsh and Putney Bridge. We enjoyed the hospitality of Rosslyn Park for lunch and we all compared health, wellness and fitness routines as we move into later life. Our 20 year-old selves would have laughed at us!

Matt Townsend

And last, but certainly not least – Towner. My oldest and bestest mate was a supportive powerhouse from the moment I told him of my crazy idea. He gave me a place to stay before, during and after the run, provided motivational phone calls when things were tough and the daily donations to the Just Giving page were a wonderful encouragement – although the caption banter was running a bit thin by week three.🙂

And, despite hating running, he even ran the end of Day 34 with me and the entirety of the final day including volunteering to do some videography too. What a complete hero. Thanks mate, your support throughout meant a lot!

Somehow I didn’t manage to get a posed photo with Towner, but I think this montage grabbed from the finish line Facebook LIVE video sums it up rather nicely.

Matt Townsend - The Great Rugger Run