The Great Rugger Run was all about the journey. Chief amongst my desires when mapping my route was to enjoy some of the great British coastline. The beaches and clifftops of Cornwall already felt like a lifetime ago. Day 11 would be my last day to enjoy some coastal views.
Joey had continued his legendary status by orchestrating his central heating to get all my clothes dry by the time I scraped myself out of bed. A swift brekkie followed and then he was dropping me off at Newton Abbot RFC whilst on his way to work. It was a bitterly cold and slightly damp morning.
A logistical oddity meant that I actually didn’t need to start running for around 90 minutes. I was just about to stroll off to find a cafe when a rainbow appeared over the back of the stand and the morning sun broke through the early morning cloud to bathe the pitch in a warm glow. I decided to abandon my cafe plan and headed over to the main stand which had become a bonafide sun trap. I lazed, I stretched, I allowed my body time to relax and recover, and powered myself up on solar energy.
The short run to New Cross RFC was quite unremarkable. Well, apart from the phone call I received from Mark Stevens – Media & Communications Manager at Exeter Chiefs!! He was calling to let me know the details of my visit to Sandy Park the following day. Beyond excited. I was once more blown away by the rugby family and what can be done if you put yourself out there a little.
New Cross RFC was exactly as Joey had described. Proper grassroots. As he had said on the podcast, “You’ve got to love playing rugby to play for a club like ours.” It was a council field behind a tall metal fence. They did, however, manage to acquire themselves some Premiership post pads!
Yesterday’s monsoon was now a distant memory as I took to the small lanes to run the 5 miles to Teignmouth in balmy sunshine. Along the way, I took a call from my former Cheltenham Colts 2nd Row partner, Roger Sainsbury. He suggested calling back another time when I wasn’t running, but I informed him that this was the only time – all I was doing was running!
The last mile down the hill to Teignmouth RFC was just dreamy. A lovely downhill gradient, warm sun on my face and a view right across the Teign estuary. I found a warm and busy club full of people helping, socialising and doing odd jobs here and there. Hopefully, this video will explain further.
My time at Teignmouth had come to an end. Time to hit the SW Coastal Path for my last sea views. But there could be no more appropriate piece of coast, as I relived childhood family holidays that on more than one occasion were spent in Dawlish. I’m sure I ran past the huge rock that my brother had climbed and then was too scared to get down from!
Seeing as I had ‘cheated’ by getting the replacement bus in Saltash and a train to Newton Abbot, I had no problem getting the ferry from Starcross across the River Exe to Exmouth. I was joined by hikers and cyclists all out enjoying a glorious late summer’s day. I sat on the upper deck and scoffed a sandwich, washing it down with strawberry milkshake – top nutrition!
The ferry was only a tiny little boat, maybe holding 20 passengers, and my legs had seized up considerably on the short journey across the estuary. The wind had gotten up resulting in some choppy waters and tricky disembarkation. I took one step forward, steadied myself, then as the boat lurched, almost fell into the arms of the onshore staff. Embarrassing.
I’d barely warmed up again before I arrived at Exmouth RFC just half a mile from the dock. I met with Chairman Ian Harris and President Roger ‘Fingers’ Holman at the home of The Cockles who took the time to tell me all about their club.
It should be noted that Roger interrupted his afternoon of pitch mowing to welcome me and be a brilliant ambassador for his club. Bravo!
After the tiny run from the dock to Exmouth, the run onwards to Withycombe RFC felt like a marathon. However, it was only just over a mile. Such close neighbours. I arrived to find a strong welcome committee of 7 or 8 people. I’m not usually very comfortable in that kind of situation. Too many new faces in one go can make me shrivel up into a ball – at least it feels like that inside – however, that wasn’t the case here.
I was made to feel so welcome and the atmosphere was so relaxed that I just settled in and enjoyed the incessant banter between the club members. Forgive me, I can’t remember all the names, but I did enjoy everyone’s company. I eventually managed to separate Graham Howells and Shaun Parkin from the pack to record this awesome video.
As we finished up the video I noticed a familiar smiling face across the clubhouse. Joey Milburn had arrived to drop off my bag and wish me well. He also proved to have the strength of a powerlifter as he easily raised it onto a shoulder for the photo op.
From there it was a short walk home with Shaun and Andrea Parkin who would be putting me up for the evening. Ex-Marine Shaun was well versed in recovery protocols and had everything I needed ready to go, including an absolutely banging lasagna. As the evening unfolded I discovered that we had shared passions of rugby, endurance events and travel.
Kindred spirits if ever there were.