Trip To Taiwan – Part Three

The day of the Memorial Service had been much better than we had expected, but it was nice to now relax and really enjoy the rest of our trip.  We started Monday at Donutes again with Joyce, the Pastor and his wife.  They then presented us with some pineapple cake and tea which was very nice of them (and the cake definitely didn’t last long when we got home!).  Joyce also brought a very nice red wine and chocolate bread – something we should definitely have over here!

My mum, Joyce and I then met up with YiHsin and Mei-Li and drove South to Kenting National Park, stopping off at a riding stables on the way where we met some of Joyce’s friends and had a traditional Taiwanese lunch including drunken chicken! Having dropped off our luggage at the hotel and picked up Louise from the bus station we then went to the Sisal (used for making rope) museum and then for a drive around the area mostly staying in the van as it was so hot – we were very glad of the aircon – until we stopped at the Southern most tip of Taiwan and walked to the Observation point.  It was a lovely view, and we stayed there to watch the sun start to go down before driving to the Shadao shell beach near the hotel where we watched the sun set.

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In the evening we headed to Smokey Joes Steak House for dinner.  We had a great time there for dinner as we all ordered something and then shared it amongst everyone – including the hamburger!  To round off the day we drove through a night market (rather than walking as we were a bit tired) and then headed back to the hotel.

After breakfast at the hotel the next day, we then drove back to the shell beach (which you can’t walk on as its a protected area) and visited the small museum there.  YiHsin then drove us along the coast past an Army post and then a Missile base (though we couldn’t see much there) as well as through the mountains but the road was bad (it had disintegrated in places) and we were running out of time so we drove back into the nearest town to have lunch before YiHsin drove us to the station.  He thought that we were going to miss the train so drove really fast swerving in and out of the traffic!!

Luckily we were in plenty of time for Joyce, my mum and I to get our train to Hualian.  To get our luggage to our platform we had to go down on a platform, across the tracks and then up on another platform – all controlled by one  guard who just kept shouting at people as (it turned out) you could only have one platform going at a time and with only a certain number of people on it.

The trains were very busy again as the holiday was now only a day away, but thankfully the PCT had booked seats for us all though I did have to sit with my legs on top of the luggage for part of the journey.  Arriving at Hualian we were picked up and taken to the Yu-Shan Theological College and Seminary where we were going to be staying overnight which had a lovely setting overlooking Lake Liyin.

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We were then taken by the Vice Principal of the Seminary to a Japanese restaurant for dinner that he had trouble finding (even though he’d been there before) and we were the only ones there so I’m guessing other people may have the same problem!  It was an unusual meal – you had a little stove with a clear soup on top in front of you and then a plate of all different types of vegetables (including flowers, several kinds of mushroom, noodles, etc) and meat that you put into the soup as you wanted to cook it – but very, very tasty.

Our last full day in Taiwan started with an early breakfast with the Vice Principal at a local B&B (they call them Home Stays) which included a raisin waffle in the shape of a fish!  We were then taken back to the Seminary where we met the Principal (Dr Pusin Tali) who gave us a DVD of the Aboriginal Choir and an Aboriginal table runner.  After a short rest, we were shown around the library and then were taken for lunch with the librarian and his wife at a fish farm which had a very large restaurant as well.  You could even wade out into a pond and pick your own clams if you wanted to!

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After a very large and tasty lunch, we were taken into Hualian to meet Judy Esther, a missionary from America who has been in Taiwan for 40 years.  She was part way through the process of packing up as she is retiring and going back to the states but she was very hospitable and happy to put up with us!  After some more food, she took us to the train station and we caught the train back to Taipei for our last night in Taiwan.  Again the train was VERY packed and they’d had trouble getting tickets for us so we were very grateful that they had succeeded!

Getting back to the Y Hotel in Taipei, we had dinner with Joyce (who was fantastic to us, and who we can never thank enough) and said goodbye to her as she was heading home for a well earned rest after looking after us for our entire trip.  The next morning we were picked up at 6.30 and taken to the airport and we were on our way home after a very emotionally and physically tiring visit.  We couldn’t have been more looked after or supported whilst we were there though and we will always be grateful to the PCT for arranging it, and for everything that people did whilst we were there and are still doing to remember Jonathon.

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By the way, you can find all the photos in these posts and others that we took on the trip on Flickr here.

Trip to Taiwan – Part Two, the Memorial Service

Despite what lay ahead on the Sunday both my mum and I slept well which was a relief.  We had breakfast with the minister’s wife at Donutes a local bakery run by a church member. Despite the name they didn’t only do doughnuts but lots of nice bread-like cakes which were very tasty – wish they were available over here!  The rest of the morning was taken up with the Easter Sunday service, during which we were introduced to the congregation who clapped us in welcome.  As is the tradition, everyone got given hard boiled eggs wrapped in cellophane with a message such as ‘Christ has Risen’ on – unfortunately mine didn’t really survive the rest of my trip! Lunch was had with the congregation in the hall behind the church and consisted of a bowl containing soup, rice, chicken, pork, shrimp, and veg at the very least so we were definitely full after that!  We also had bell fruit which was a bit like a pear in taste.

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Pingtung Church

[BTW Apparently this church was built by a missionary from the UK and was heavily based on a church from either London or Scotland.  The minister of the Pingtung church would like to know which church this might be so that they could potentially forge links with them.  If you have any ideas which church this might be, let me know!]

In the afternoon, the memorial service took place for my brother.  My mum and I were provided with headsets through which we got an English Translation done (as at the funeral 20 years ago) by David Alexander for which we were very grateful.  We reckon there were over 100 people there including the choir who sang a few items – it was good to see him so well remembered and had been so liked.  For one of the songs there was a soloist who was very very good, and she came to speak to us afterwards.  Apparently she is a professional opera singer now in Holland but happened to be back in Taiwan on holiday and heard about the memorial service and asked if she could take part as Jonathon taught her English!  How amazing is that!

As part of the service YiHsin had put together a montage of pictures that we’d sent, and also some images from 20 years ago.  If you want to see it you can see it HERE.  Both my mum and I said a few words (including some from my Dad who could not be there) for which David Alexander helpfully translated for the congregation (having had to dash from the back of the church to the front!).

After the service there was tea and cake in the hall behind the church which included cakes from the Donutes shop – I thought the green tea cake one was delicious! – and bell fruit.  They had a video playing at the back of the hall which included some bits from the funeral 20 years ago – oh how different we all looked then.  They also had photos up that we’d sent through as well as some of Jonathon’s things that we’d brought or they already had.  Everything was very nicely displayed and everyone seemed very interested in seeing them and talking to us.  We felt so looked after and that he was still so appreciated that it made what could’ve been a really hard day a joyful celebration rather than a tearful sad day.

That evening we were taken out as honoured guests to a Japanese restaurant with many people including Maurice, Mei-Li, the Alexanders, people who had taken part in the service and people that we’d met 20 years ago – unfortunately I cannot remember all their names due to my terrible memory!  There were so many dishes, and I even tried Wasabi for the first time though it was a bit too spicy for me!  Having had a photo taken of everyone together and a few speeches we then went back to the church and ended the day having bell fruit and tea with the Pastor and his wife.  As well as helping with all the church stuff, his wife also sews, knits, paints, appliqués and teaches as well as the two of them looking after a 2 acre garden outside of town – wow!!

I’ve written up the rest of our trip in my next blog post, but you can see some photos from the day here.  We were slightly too busy during the day to take pictures ourselves!

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By the way, you can find all the photos in these posts and others that we took on the trip on Flickr here.

Trip to Taiwan – Part One

Some of you who know me will know that I had an older brother Jonathon, who was killed in 1993 by a drunk-driver whilst he was working in Taiwan with the Presbyterian Church of Taiwan (hereafter referred to as PCT).  My parents and I went out at the time for the funeral (we decided to have him buried there as he loved the country and the people so much) and I have only been back once with my mum since (in 2000).  This and the next two posts on my blog are my (belated) attempt to document our trip – my apologies for the names I get wrong or miss out as I can’t remember them all (I’m so bad at names!).  If anyone spots any errors or omissions, please let me know and I’ll correct them!

This year is the 20th anniversary of his death, and for that reason the PCT decided to have a memorial service on Easter Sunday (which was coincidentally exactly 20 years to the day since he was killed) at the church that he was working with out there in PingTung.  The PCT then extended the very generous invitation for me and my mum to go out to Taiwan for the service at their expense which we were very humbled to receive and very glad that we were able to take up their offer.

Because of my work and my entry into the London Marathon, we were not able to go for longer than 8 nights so we knew it was probably going to be an intense and busy trip, so we were a bit apprehensive going out but we needn’t have worried as we couldn’t have been better looked after whilst we were out there by everyone from the PCT.

We flew out from Heathrow with EvaAir and the flight was long (16ish hours with a stop in Bangkok for an hour and a half) but relatively trouble-free apart from a little bit of turbulence.  We left on Wednesday evening and due to the time difference arrived Thursday evening, so we were very glad to be met at the airport at 10pm by a driver and taken to our hotel (the Y) in Taipei (the capital of Taiwan).

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On our first full day in Taiwan we had breakfast in the hotel, and then were picked up by Joyce (who would stay with us the entire time we were in Taiwan) and taken to meet the Rev Yang (the General Secretary of the PCT) and a few others at the PCT  head office in Taipei and they took us to lunch at a Greek Restaurant.  My mum ordered Milk Tea which turned out to be cold tea with a straw – we learned quickly to ask for black tea hot!

Jet lag was kicking in by now, so we were taken back to the hotel for a much needed rest after which we had the rest of the day to ourselves walking round the nearby shops (there were 3 different shopping centres under the nearby main train station!) and having dinner at the hotel again.  They had a special dessert offer on Waffles with Apple & Oolong tea sauce – very nice!  I did take a picture on my phone but when I went to check it after we’d eaten it, it hadn’t taken – dagnabit!

The next day after breakfast we were taken to the train station and met Joyce again before boarding the High Speed Rail train down to Kaohsiung.  As common for all of our journeys over the next few days the trains were very busy as it was coming up to a national holiday.  We were met at the station by Mei-Li (President of the Pingtung Presbytery), Maurice (an American missionary), and Louise and YiHsin (a couple who are youth workers in Pingtung where Jonathon was based) – the latter was to be our chauffeur for the next few days.  Having seen a bit of the area, we were taken to a special Chinese restaurant for an all you can eat lunch with other members of the church.  The food was very nice, though we didn’t always know what we were trying!

After lunch we were driven around the local area and the old harbour before being taken out to the  memorial chapel and garden where my brother’s ashes are now.  He had originally been buried nearby, but due to a land issue with the government his (and other remains) had had to be moved last year and they are now in beautiful marble urns in the memorial chapel.  My brothers urn is in the section that is looked after by the PingTung church as they still remember and honour his memory, so we know that it is well looked after.  Maurice kindly gave us some flowers to lay and after a brief prayer they left us to our own memories.

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Joyce, Mei-Li, Mum, Me, Louise and YiHsin

We took  some pictures of the memorial chapel and garden and the area – it really is very beautiful and peaceful – also of us with everyone, and then they took us to the Sandimen Aboriginal Township where we went into the Dragonfly Bead workshop and were given a talk and demonstration on how the beads were made which was very interesting if a bit hot with the heat of the burners!  On the way out I bought myself a bracelet (something that unfortunately I lost only a week after coming home sadly – stupid me!), and unbeknownst to us Maurice had brought us each a present too which was very kind and thoughtful of him.

Next on our tour of the area we went to a Paiwan (one of the original tribes in Taiwan) church, where we were given tea and shown around the church that had only been built in the last year or so.  A lot of the wood used was driftwood from the last big Typhoon that struck Taiwan, and had also been the cause of them moving the church to its current location.  The minister told us the story of the church and showed us the way they remember events in the church history in tiled scenes displayed in the walls surrounding the church.

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My mum and I were getting pretty tired by this stage, so we were glad when we were taken to the church in central PingTung where we would be staying for the next 2 nights and had a bit of a rest.  We were the first people to stay in their guest rooms which had only recently been finished and were very nice.  They had wanted to take us out to a special restaurant where the meal would’ve taken 2 hours but as we were so tired we just went to a fast food place instead – if you want there you can have a whole chicken and they give you gloves to eat it with your fingers!

The next day would be the memorial service itself which I have written about about in my next post.

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By the way, you can find all the photos in these posts and others that we took on the trip on Flickr here.

London Marathon 2013 – DONE!

Now that a few days have passed since Sunday, I finally feel like my brain is working enough to write about my London Marathon experience.

On Saturday we were up early so that we could get up to London in plenty of time to drop off our luggage at the hotel and head over to the Expo.  Even though we got to our hotel at just after 10am, they actually had our room available so we were able to check in and leave our luggage there which was helpful.  We then headed straight over to the expo which was an Excel and unsurprisingly the DLR got rather busy the closer we got and we had to queue to get out of the station when we got there!

Even though the train had been so busy, the marathon registration desk for my number was not so I was able to register and pick up my number and timing chip etc very quickly which put my mind at ease so that we could then get on and enjoy the Expo itself which took us awhile to get around.  The first port of call was to pick my goodie bag from the LessBounce store as I was part of their ‘Marathon club’ – and a very useful set of goodies it was too including a different energy drink to try and several bits of food.  We had a polaroid taken at a couple of the stalls, and tried to dodge all the people trying to convince us to do other marathons and events as I was pretty certain I would never ever be doing this again!

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It took us awhile to get around but then I remembered that there was also a QR Hunt so we went round again doing that (having been round once we worked out the clues pretty quickly!) and then sat down for a little bit to hear the people on the main stage.  I was starting to get a bit tired by this point, so we headed out to head back to the hotel – but not before I had my picture taken with a Newcastle United Shirt (because Virgin sponsor both the marathon and my team) and pick up my goodie bag for completing the QR Hunt (which included some compeed blister plasters) and my goodie bag for taking part in the marathon.

The rest of the day we spent at the hotel just resting, and even went to their special marathon pasta party in the evening rather than finding our own dinner elsewhere.  It was obviously the first time they’d done this and the staff were a bit confused about how it was supposed to work but the food was just what I needed – lots of carbs!!

Having had a better nights sleep than I expected (though I was awake off and on from 5.30am!) I went down for breakfast at 7 and had my usual pre walk breakfast of porridge and toast.  Then it was back to theroom to check that I had everything before heading out to get to the start.

Heres where things I hadn’t factored into my training started to work against me a little.  First I had to walk to the train station, then catch a train to the start area which was absolutely heaving though luckily I had a seat.  Then I had to walk to the actual start area and hang around (sitting on the damp grass or standing) before getting to my start zone (the last one as I would be slow!) and standing there for about 30 minutes before were even able to start walking towards the start after the hooter went (not that we heard it as we were so far from the start!).  All of this meant that I’d done a bit of walking etc before I even started the marathon!!

As I was on the blue start (which would join with the red start after 3 miles), I didn’t go through the iconic ‘gates’ that you see on the TV but although I didn’t know it when I crossed the start line it actually worked in my favour.  After the race was set off at 10am, it actually took me 17 mins to get across the start so that was when I started my own tracking going (I used an app called Endomondo on my phone).  Pretty soon there weren’t that many other marathoners around me as there weren’t that many people who were walking the whole course.

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I knew that it was quite likely that they would start cleaning up and removing the course around me as I walked as they had to reopen the roads but I was a little surprised when the sweep coach (i.e. the one that collects people who have dropped out) went passed me before I’d even made it to 2 miles!  Then the lorry went past me that was removing the blue line which was a little demoralizing!  However at 3 miles, my start joined with the red start and there were more people around me again, so I think it was just that my start was supposed to be the faster start but I guess I must’ve been in there because I deferred from last year.

Shortly after the two starts joined I saw Gemma for the first time which was a nice boost, and the crowd was encouraging even though I was so slow.  A few people were a bit confused about the fact that I was just walking all the way and I did get a few people who thought I was ‘cheating’ for walking!  I tried to acknowledge everyone who called my name (its very useful having that on your top if you ever do anything like this!), and lots of kids wanted you to slap their hands as you want past so that broke up the monotony of plodding round.  I’d managed to keep a good pace at the start so was quite happy with my progress and I didn’t feel too bad as I approached 6 miles and cutty sark.

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Here I was to see Gemmas family for the first time who gave me a lucozade that I needed, and then Gemma (who hadn’t been able to get to them because of the amount of people there) which gave me another lift, especially as I knew I wouldn’t see them again until after Tower Bridge.  I carried on plodding on my way, and chatting to one or two of the others who passed me or I passed.  The crowds were also really starting to thin out now and some of the ones who were around were a bit drunk in places!!!  I had my first ‘what on earth are you doing’ moment at around 10 miles because of this, and also because the sweep coach had been passed me for the first time and I’d had my first indication that they were going to start clearing the course and I would soon have to walk on the pavement.  At this point I didn’t know whether the water stations, toilets etc would all be around as I continued on the course so I was a bit concerned.

As I approached Mile 12, the cleanup crew had started in earnest – cleaning lorries were sweeping the road around and ahead of me, the timing clocks were being taken down at the mile markers, and they were removing barriers and shutting down water stations!  Eeeek, I thought to myself!!  By the time I got to Tower Bridge I wasn’t allowed to work across it on the road and they made us go onto the pavement at the point that it was narrowest.  None of the pedestrians knew this was happening too so I had to ask people to move out of the way to let me through which I was not that impressed about!  I know its because I was slow but it was a bit disappointing.

On the other side of Tower Bridge I saw Gemma and her family as well as my mum who’d managed to come up for the day too so that was a welcome sight as I was a bit demoralised and it was quite hot so I was struggling a bit.  I was allowed back on the road again but from this point onwards it was a case of walking on the road when I could to avoid the pedestrians and walking on the pavement when they made me!    As they continued to dismantle the course around me I started to get really concerned that I wouldn’t know where the course went but luckily they never removed the blue line so I was always able to use that to work out where to go.  At Mile 15 I saw our friend Meg who gave me an incentive to get to the end by saying she’d made chocolate brownies with dairy milk chunks in!!

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I was now heading into Docklands, which meant that I was able to walk on the road most of the time and that I saw everyone who was supporting me (including our friends Peter, Julie and Rebecca who’d joined them) a few times as the course looped back on itself several times.  At Mile 19 I had the only problem that made me think that I wouldn’t complete the marathon when I got a sharp pain in my left hip and then my left knee started playing up probably because I was walking a bit oddly.  For the next couple of miles I really struggled and my pace slowed considerably, but I put on a brave face when I saw people as I didn’t want my mum to see!  Luckily they hadn’t removed the toilets from around the course, and the waterstations still had water and people to give it out so I was able to get help when I needed it.

However, Gemma gave me some additional painkillers (I’d already taken Ibruprofen earlier to help me, so she gave me paracetamol) and that helped with the pain so I was able to keep going and convince myself to get to the end.  At Mile 23 I met up with Meg and her boyfriend Adam (who was my personal trainer who helped me prepare for the marathon) and they started walking with me which really helped as now my feet were hurting too.  It also meant that they could help with the route as we had to divert off as they had shut one of the tunnels the actual route had taken so they could remove all the stuff in it!

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At Mile 24, we met up with Gemma, my mum and everyone else as well as our friend Debbie who had come to see me finish and my mum then went to the finish to be ready to take a picture and everyone else walked with me to the end.  This was really helpful as they encouraged me, cleared people out of my path and made sure I kept drinking and eating so that I got to the end.  Even though it was less than 3 miles it still seemed a long, long way off!

Finally getting to Big Ben and turning onto the Mall was fantastic though, and Gemma was allowed to walk with me to the line and people stopped clearing up to cheer me over the line!!  Most of the way along, the timing mats that worked with the chip on my shoe had been removed so I wasn’t expecting to get an official time but my Endomondo app clocked me at 8 hours 2 minutes which was a bit faster than I’d expected to complete it so I was very happy with that and that I’d ACTUALLY FINISHED IT!!

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I’d even got in in fast enough to pick up an actual medal (see below) and my space blanket which I really thought I’d be too late to get!  My feet were sore, I was very very tired, and I just wanted to get back to the hotel and lie down but I was still excited about finishing – I think its only really hitting me now three days later what I accomplished though!

P4210481Once we got back to the hotel (which I walked to, so all in all I probably did about 30 miles as in the actual marathon I did 27.5 rather than 26.2 due to having to walk on the pavement etc!!) Gemma made sure I had my footbath and was ok and then went and had dinner with her parents and my mum (everyone else had left by now as they had to get home) and I just dozed and made sure I kept hydrated.  The Compeed plasters came in handy now (as did a very thoughtful present of some cooling footgel from Debbie) as the pain in my feet turned out to be from a couple of large blisters where my 1000 mile socks had scrounched up a bit.  It still hadn’t really sunk in what I’d done because I think in my mind, I was still walking because I had been doing it for so long!!  Then I got a text from Gemma – I had an official time!!!   Wow!  I was the third last person to get a time too, so I came THIRD! ;)

Looking at the news reports on Monday, I also found out that even though there hadn’t been many people that I’d passed or who had passed me as I came to the finish at 6.20pm, by 7pm another 110 people had completed the marathon after me!!  I wonder if there was anyone else still out on the course even after that???  I hope that they all finished ok if there were.  I did see one or two people who were in obvious pain and being helped by the medical teams but nothing too bad which given the heat that was more than we’d all trained in I think thats pretty good!

Other than the blisters on my feet, and a bit of stiffness in my legs I seem to have come away with just being very tired after my exertions which I think is a great result!  I’ve also broken my fundraising target and have raised so far over £2200 so I’m very happy with that too.  Of course my sponsorship page is still open if you know anyone that would like to help me raise even more money – see the link at the bottom of this post!

I’ve taken the week off work to recover – hopefully by the weekend my blisters will have gone and I can walk about normally.  For those who were there on the day, and everyone who supported me virtually it all helped A LOT even if I haven’t got around to thanking you – I’m still trying to catch up with every message!  If there is anyone I miss out, then please accept my apologies!!  The biggest thanks must go to Gemma though, without whom I would never have made it to the start line let alone completed the marathon.  She helped me do all the training I need to do, and coordinated my support on the day as well as looking after me afterwards – thank you a million times over darling!!
Oh, and before anyone says anything else I am NEVER EVER doing anything like this again.  You have my word on that!!
My sponsorship page is at : http://www.justgiving.com/Sturtridge-London-Marathon

London Marathon Training DONE!

After a discussion with my trainer, and to avoid any last minute injuries it turns out that yesterdays 1 hour training walk was my last and I am DONE!  After the months of training, its hard to believe that the day is finally nearly here.  I hope all those days pounding the streets in the wind, rain and snow will be worthwhile, and that I’ll make everyone proud and raise a lot of money for my chosen charity.  All that remains is to make sure that I don’t pick up any injuries/illnesses in the next few days, and that I don’t tire myself out by doing too much at the Expo on Saturday.  That one is going to be a tough one though as I want to experience EVERYTHING ;)

Obviously given what happened in Boston (and my thoughts and prayers are with all those who are affected), there will be heightened security and emotions, and I know at least a few of my supporters are a bit nervous about going in case there is another blast there.  If any do decide to stay at home I completely understand but I WILL be at the start line and I WILL finish.  We cannot let the terrorists win!

Good luck to all those running on Sunday, thank you to all those involved in organising the event, and thanks too to all those coming along to watch – hope its a fantastic day for all!

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As usual, you can sponsor me at http://www.justgiving.com/Sturtridge-London-Marathon