Race Europe first-hand account - A Thousand Miles for CACT

Nick White, a member of the new Addicks International Facebook group, took part in the Race Europe event throughout the month of March, fundraising for CACT.

Asked how and why he got involved, Nick said:

“I’ve supported CACT for a while now, even though I live and work abroad. CACT represents a great opportunity to be back in touch with my roots, with the club I have supported since I could walk. And the community that gave me my formative years with an encyclopedia of fond memories and experiences.

“I’ve lived and worked abroad for a while now, but that just makes the bond with my roots ever stronger. I’ve followed the club through thick and thin, watching every game I can, at Wembley in 1998, and again twenty-one years later, travelling back the 3,000+ miles to be at the play off final in 2019.  I’ve always wanted to be ‘part of the club’ that were instrumental in shaping my childhood and me as a person, looking to participate in events they organise and contribute in some way. That’s not that easy when you are such a long way from the hallowed ground of SE7 as I am.

“So, my eyes lit up when I received a mail from the club advertising the ‘Race Europe’ virtual challenge. Starting on 1 March, 13 London clubs with teams of up to 23, went head to head in an effort to cover 10,800 km from Glasgow through eight European capitals before arriving at the final destination, St Petersburg. The chance to contribute to the club and their great community work from where I am, given the pandemic etc., was just priceless, an opportunity not to be missed.”

Read Nick’s full account of his Race Europe experience below.

“Well I would walk five hundred miles, and I would walk five hundred more, just to be the one that walked one thousand miles to fall down at your door….!!” so the well-known song goes. 

Well, its not quite an accurate description, but it’s an appropriate reflection of how my life has been since 1 March this year.

I lived in Charlton from the age of zero until I got married in 1981 when I struck out and braved the wilds of Plumstead. I would frequent The Valley as a child, every home game regular as clockwork. We are a Charlton family, following in the footsteps of my father and his father, together with up to three uncles and 6 brothers. Grandad I’m sure was there at the beginning. He was seven when the club was formed.

Memories of the old ground, always standing together with the family to the left of the old main stand as you look at it, in that odd bit that went below ground level. I loved getting to the front and getting a worm’s eye view of the game. That was, until I was old enough to roam the ground unaccompanied, then I was off!  

I would circle round, especially at half time, in the days you could move freely to any part of the ground, although I always steered clear of the covered end….in those days away supporters could mix freely, no segregation….there were always a lot of ‘rumbles’ going on in that stand …and I made a point of skirting fearfully around the back of the stand. I remember vividly the singing, shouting, stamping and banging coming from inside as I walked past

Vivid memories too of going to ‘reserve’ games with an attendance of six, three of which were me and two brothers, including walking through an absolute blizzard to the ground only to see it called off after 10 minutes….trudge back home…!

Anyway, enough of the memories….

I was a long-distance runner in my teens and into my adult years. But eventually the constant pavement pounding took their toll and there came a time when my knees said, ‘No more!!” I took to doing a bit of cycling and swimming as a way to try and keep reasonably fit, and as a foil for an extremely busy work and family life. I’m no ‘athlete, and at the time I signed up I hadn’t been doing much at all.  

At the age of 63 I exercise for leisure, for fitness and health, and for enjoyment. I’m not looking, or expecting, to break any records. I can’t resist a challenge, and somehow, like many, I need one as motivation. 

So it is then that I signed up immediately, thinking, ‘Yep, I should get by on 10 miles a day as a contribution’. That to me was a challenge. Every day for 31 days, 10 miles a day, 310 miles total? Yes, I can do that…. or at least I will have a bloody good try! And if, hopefully, I can raise some cash for the non-footy-playing arm of the club that does a lot of great work in the community where I grew up…. I will be more than ‘well-chuffed’.

I was assigned, seemingly randomly, to a team of 21 people, none of which I’d ever met, but we were bonded by a common passion and a common goal. The team was initially unnamed, but, given the choice of ‘Team Valiants’ and ‘Red Red Robins’ I immediately plumped for the latter, a reflection perhaps of my love for the iconic song that heralds the team’s arrival onto the pitch at every home game and has done since I first attended in 1965, and probably many years before that.  

But that was it. We were all set….and frankly quite excited at the prospect of a challenge and the opportunity to do something worthwhile for club and community despite being far away. 

While I’ve always tried to exercise regularly, cycling everyday isn’t something I had been used to, and these old bones and muscles need time to recover from any serious activity. So it was then that I started out on a three day rota of cycle, walk, swim; getting some miles in every day, but using different muscles to allow recovery. It was very soon evident though that that racking up any kind of meaningful mileage walking was time consuming and, even with a reasonably healthy time/distance conversion rate per the Race Europe conversion chart, swimming was never going to break any distance records, although I did manage surpass my own expectations by swimming 2.1 kilometres in the sea on one occasion.

The first couple of weeks felt tough, pushing myself a little further than I was used to and, despite employing the ‘three-day-cycle’ of different disciplines, exercising quite hard for a between an hour and two hours every day, felt like tough going. But I was determined to notch up the ten miles/16 kilometres per day I’d set out to achieve and make a proper contribution to getting the team to St Petersburg.

In the first 15 days of March I managed to chalk up 295 km/185 miles. I had taken two days rest in those 15, I had exceeded my target, I was feeling quite happy. 

But then strangely, my body started to get used to the physical beating, the daily grind of ‘hard’ exercise, it was almost like a ‘fix’….my day was not complete without it. And as time went on, I began to feel stronger, less weary. I decided to drop the swimming and adjust my regime to ’cycle/walk/cycle walk etc’ to maximise mileage. 

Much to my own surprise, in the next 15 days I managed to cover another 520 km/325 miles, over double the daily average of what I had aimed for. But it wasn’t a chore or a drudge, I looked forward to it, got a buzz from it, I was coping better than I expected with the constant physical pounding and effort, mental stamina from my running days kicked in and served me well. I was getting fitter by the day. I could feel it, and it was a good feeling. Tired? Yes...but it was a ‘good tired’….a feeling of satisfaction and personal achievement….I was loving it!!

It was during the latter half of that second 15 days that I felt strong enough to ditch the walking as well and start to cycle daily. I adopted a routine of splitting the day into two rides, one early morning…great seeing Bahrain as its waking up, the early morning sun, people starting their daily routine….and another in the evening after work…better ’body management’….  A 25 km ride both morning and evening became routine, de rigeur, and I was racking up the miles big time and luvvin’ it… a far cry from that first ‘painful’ week. 

Don’t get me wrong, it was still tough…. I was still tired, but I somehow got used to feeling physically drained on a daily basis. Fortunately, my job is entirely sedentary, so I have good rest periods. But I was revelling in the realisation that I could go longer, stronger, faster than I had ever hoped for.  

Inevitably, when it comes to getting my act together to get out and cycle each day, my initial thought is always, “I’m tired and feel like a day off”, and ”Can I be bothered with this today?”. I have long since learned to recognise that getting your kit together and getting on the road is the hardest part.  The desire to rest and do nothing is strong. But the weird thing is, once you make the effort to get up and out, and get into it, you always feel so much better than you thought you would.

Once you get on the road, the legs are leaden at first, but the challenge, the determination, the stamina, the adrenalin, kick in very quickly, and you get into the rhythm and just go, keep turning, know what you want to achieve… somehow….you just do it...!! And you finish each session with the same buzz, the same sense of achievement, the same glowing pride that you felt every day before that. 

Coming up to the end of the allotted 31 days we were still a long way off our target. It was clear we were never going to complete the task in the available time. I had already turned my mind towards wondering what will happen on 1 April, do we all turn back into white mice and scuttle back to our respective corners? I for one was more than up for pushing on, feeling weary but also sensing a need to complete the task in hand, keep the buzz, the adrenalin and the endorphins pumping. 

To stop there would have been a let-down and difficult to handle. Suddenly losing that daily ‘fix’ of hard exercise, doing nothing, just resting, without having attained the goal we set out to achieve, just didn’t seem right at all.  I raised the question on the team WhatsApp group and, thankfully, a good number of people responded positively. I sent a recording of the Red, Red Robin song to the team to gee them up and give them a little motivation. It certainly worked for me, I could often be heard singing it at the top of my voice as a hurtled around Bahrain’s highways and by-ways. I got a few strange looks I can tell you!!

And so it was that we ploughed on, still with a considerable distance to cover, but determined to get there by hook or by crook with everyone contributing as much as they could with sore muscles and weary bones. In the first half of April I went even larger and burnt another 642 km/400 miles of tyre rubber, averaging 43 km/27 miles per day and was just past the 900-mile mark come 15 April.   Four days later, I crashed through the 1,000-mile barrier. 1,000 miles in 50 days, 20 miles a day average, double what I had initially aimed for. 

To say I’m very happy with that outcome and feeling quite proud of myself is an understatement. I feel like living proof that you can achieve much more than you think you can if you put your mind (and body) to it with a bit of dedication and commitment. And apart from basking in your own personal moment of glory, there’s the knowledge that you are doing it all for a great cause and a great club.

But it’s not quite over yet. We still have another 1,200 km/750 miles to go as a team till we reach St Petersburg. We remain determined, we are pressing on… for CACT… Come On You Reds!"

Click here to sponsor Nick.

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