Saturday 20th May saw the Team Blind Dave bus back on the road again - destination Stirling, doing our good deed for the day and dropping a hitchhiker at Lancaster on the way. Almost 7 hours later (thank you road works and traffic jams!) we pulled into our stop for the night, Castle View Park & Ride. Seconds later the kettle was on, tea was in the microwave and it was time to relax.

By 5.30am on Sunday morning we heard the voices of the first runners arriving and buses pulling up. In no time at all we were up and out, walking only 20 foot from the mobile home to the shuttle bus that would transport us to the start of the first ever Scottish Stirling Marathon in Blair Drummond Safari Park. 

By 7.30am we were enjoying the fresh morning air as we entered the Safari Park, the lads giving me a run-down of our surroundings. It felt really strange to think all the animals were about but seemingly oblivious to what was going on around them.

With the PA system belting out music in the background, we had a quick interview and then photos with Brendan Foster, Liz McColgan and Zola Budd before getting ourselves into position ready to start.

There was four of us this time having been joined by Dave, an unofficial member of the team, who we first met in Edinburgh. At 9.15am the hooter sounded and we were off, pulling up after only 200 yards or so, as Tony explained one of my favourite animals, the elephant, was standing very proud at the edge of his compound watching us. 

The road leaving the Safari Park was described to me as undulating. Hilly is what I would call it! But on we ran towards Doune Castle then on into Dunblane with the crowds of supporters now out in force. The haunting sound of a lone piper played, followed by a group of pipers a couple of miles further down the road creating such a lovely sound as we passed them by. We ran over the Bridge of Allan, passing in and around the University of Stirling and the Wallace Monument after which we found ourselves heading back towards Stirling and a welcome finish line.

It’s surprising during a run who you meet and chat with. Talking briefly with a young man called Andy we found out he was in the hotel trade, so the obvious question was could he help us out with finding a hotel in Manchester for the following weekend and the Great Manchester Run. By the time I got home on Sunday evening, he’d emailed to say he was on the case!

Shortly before meeting Andy, a call of nature had dictated we stop for a few minutes, so Garry and Dave had decided to run on ahead. After passing the Wallace Monument and around 17 miles we caught Garry up. Dave had run on, Garry was not in a good place now so it was time for some team encouragement, a bit of walking, a bit of running but mainly determination we would get to the finish line.

It was possibly ‘the wall’ Garry had hit and desperate for a drink we popped into a pub on the route, the Cross Keys. The landlady was very helpful and gave Garry a free glass of cool lemonade that seemed to do the trick for a short while.

We were now entering the section of the course that included two loops of Stirling, a total of 7 miles. Keep right, keep right… twice we past the finish gantry before being able to swerve left to the finish line.

We continued walking and running, throwing encouragement and insults at Garry as we went. By now he was craving a Lucozade drink and chocolate so on our first loop Tony popped into a local shop. Whilst Tony was shopping and getting a history lesson from the shop keeper on William Wallace, I stood with Garry doing stretches against a fence and talking nonsense to him to keep him alert. Keep him alert?! It was only when Tony came out of the shop (with some very nice ice-cream I might add) he told me Garry was 100 yards down the road, having ran off and left me!

Over the years of running together, we’ve found the best way to encourage each other is through insults. Don’t know why but it seems to work and we certainly hurled a few at Garry when we caught him up!

By now the crowds were out in their thousands and needing the loo again meant no nearby bush this time! Giving the local McDonalds a miss because their toilets are always upstairs (and I was sure my legs couldn’t take it), Tony spotted a handy wooded area. Only it turned out to be 100 steps up, which Tony found highly amusing, even more so on the way down! Oh my poor legs, but at least it gave us something to laugh about.

This time when we caught up to Garry about two miles from the finish, he’d bumped into Jay, the blind runner we originally met in Edinburgh earlier in the year. Tony suggested Jay guide me too, so for the next few minutes Tony, myself, Jay and his guide all ran together with Jay holding onto my cord. It was all going well until Jay’s guide said she would run slightly ahead to get a picture of us. Talk about the blind leading the blind…we ended up getting acquainted with a fence!

With just the last few hundred yards to go, we were back to being our original trio and crossed the finish line of the first ever Stirling Scottish Marathon together in 4 hours and 49 minutes.  A quick interview live on television gave the crowd a laugh, when I said I started the run blind, 26.2 miles later I was still blind and completely knackered!

A visit to hospitality for refreshments and a lovely soft seat, we reflected on what a fantastic marathon it was, with great camaraderie amongst the runners, brilliant supporters on the route…and the pleasant surprise at our fitness levels!  Then it was onto the shuttle bus once again, taking us back to where we’d parked the van, ready for the journey back down the M6.

Run number 8 ticked off and what a way to start, being sent on my way by a supporting elephant!

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