Humidity was something I started to get used to. I don’t mean get used to as in liked or enjoyed, but more so accepted as a constant, something that was always just there. There is not much in the UK that can help you train for humidity, no areas that even come close, especially not in Yorkshire. The nearest thing we get is when we boil the kettle in a small room, or the air conditioning breaks at the gym, even then you can crack a window and let some air in. The problem in Pennsylvania, was that there was no window to open or fan to put on. It was constant body-sapping humidity from the moment I set out in the morning till the moment I set foot back on the RV at night.
As I pressed up towards Pittsburgh, it was the first time that some of the team would be leaving us. We arrived as a team of 6, but for the next 2 weeks it would be down to a team of 4. We were 50 miles outside of Pittsburgh and the 2 team members needed dropping off at Pittsburgh train station. It was a running day and so I set off running with Kerry (my now wife and team member) and the rest of the team headed to Pittsburgh to drop the guys off.
The morning was deadly calm, the early mist settled on the hills around us, steam rose from the tarmac and the heat of the day began to build. We plodded out of the RV site and onto a highway, it was an old country road and, at 6am, it was quiet. The odd car rolled passed but there was no actual traffic.
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Kerry and I chatted as we ran. The road undulated like a camel’s back for miles upon miles. Some of the climbs forced our pace to slow down but we remained happily trotting away soaking up the scenery, all the while edging slowly closer to Pittsburgh.
Sweat leaked out of me all morning, that’s the problem with humidity, it’s not like the blazing sun, the heat is different, and the way you sweat is different. The humidity made my clothes feel like they were sticking to me, like my own clothes were suffocating me. At each rest point, I could feel the weight of my clothes pulling down against my body. It was energy sapping work. With the RV in Pittsburgh, there was no support vehicle. Much like on the original ‘Epic Run’ as soon as the support vehicle wasn’t there you would become a “normal” person. To any passers-by, you are just two people out for a morning run, you are not two people on an ‘Epic Adventure’ anymore. The RV also offers sanctuary when things get too much or you need to take 5 minutes.
Within the first hour we had drunk all of our water. We had estimated that the journey into Pittsburgh and back should take them approximately one and a half to a maximum of two hours. We had run for two hours and we had just hit a clearing that joined onto a very busy highway, a dual lane highway with fast traffic heading in both directions. Trucks rumbled past at alarming speeds, every now and again there was a massive vibrating shudder as they strayed onto the rumble strips at the side of the road, this did not fill me with much confidence.
There was a small shop across the road and luckily I had stuffed $20 into my sock just in case of such an emergency. The shop looked like it might have some kind of liquid refreshment. We sat outside the little shop with our refreshments, sweat dripping off of us and making puddles on the floor.
Over two hours had now passed since the guys had set off for Pittsburgh so we knew they couldn’t be too much longer. A quick message was sent to see what time they would be with us. The reply was not what we wanted. The team were not even at the train station when they text us, meaning it was going to be more than 2 hours until they caught up with us. Kerry had already run 12 miles (13.5 being her furthest ever to date). We had to keep moving, the longer we stayed sat doing nothing the longer my day would be. With the remainder of the emergency $20 quickly spent on Gatorade and water we set off down the busy highway towards Pittsburgh, once again.
Running on a pavement is different to running on the road. If you have never done any road running you would think this was stupid. A pavement, in general, is very smooth tarmac; your trainers can roll across the top of it with little friction. The camber of a pavement is also different, it helps the water drain off the pavement but it isn’t a steep camber that your legs feel, much more gentle and forgiving. A road tends to have larger chunks of stone in the tarmac, meaning that it’s not quite as smooth. The friction created against the road therefore is much more significant. Over a few strides this is minimal, over 50 miles’ worth of strides this becomes much harder work. The road down this particular highway had large chunks, added into the mix with the humidity and the passing traffic, the running was tough, very tough.
Drained, sweaty and already tired we bumbled down the road side, sometimes jumping onto the grass verge to avoid the oncoming trucks. For those in the UK, we were running on the left hand side of the road with the traffic coming at us, at this particular time that was our only option, as the other side of the road didn’t even have a white line to run inside of. The dust and dirt erupted into a mini tornado every time another truck stormed past, taking visibility to near zero and adding another layer of grime to your skin.
We hit 20 miles of running and we were losing patience, it’s strange what happens as you get more and more tired. Decision making becomes difficult, simple things you would normally take for granted become hard to process, should I or shouldn’t I cross the road becomes a potentially life altering decision. We knew that we needed to stop, we knew we couldn’t keep going for much longer on that road without support.
As we crept down the roadside, the curb stepped back and buildings lined the road side. We needed water again – badly – and we had used up all of our emergency funding. About 300 metres up the road we saw the start of a sign saying ‘Gym’ The rest of the sign was cut off by another building. As we chatted we decided that the gym would definitely have water in it, we would simply explain to them what we were doing and we were sure they would let us in, after all America loves its veterans and we were doing it for them As we approached the building we noticed that it was not a gym like we had thought but, in fact, a gymnasium where dancers go to practise. We felt there was still hope of getting some water, though.
One thing that the British are very aware of when in America is the fact that every man and his dog, and the dog’s cousin for that matter have a gun, and they know how to use it. There was no one in the building at all, we popped our head around the corner and in the best Queen’s English shouted “Hello, anyone here?” No reply. As we moved away from the building a pickup truck turned onto the car park. “Can I help you?” the man asked in an accent a little different from that in Washington. The accent was a little bit more country than we had heard previously. We explained who we were where we going and why we were in America. A huge smile appeared across the stranger’s face, he darted inside and quickly reappeared, arms fully loaded with Gatorade and water, enough to satiate the thirst of thousands never mind a dehydrated and dusty couple from Yorkshire.
Afer posing for a few pictures and posting on a few social networks about the stranger’s business, we said our ‘thank-yous’ and began thinking about the next few miles ahead of us. As we turned to run again the RV came over the crest of the hill. I could have cried. My legs were empty, Kerry was shattered and I needed the protection of the RV on this road.
Along with the return of the RV, we had been given another very welcome boost. We now knew that that evening we would be able to have a warm shower, a home cooked meal and some new company. Through the power of social media, we were going to be taken care of by a wonderful couple in Pittsburgh. It was a welcome change from the tiny cubicle shower of the RV and that night we well and truly feasted – it was brilliant!
We slept on the RV that night just down the road from where we had been shown the incredible hospitality. As we bunked down for the evening our mobile phones went crazy, all buzzing and beeping simultaneously, the RV must have nearly moved with the vibration.