Rob Martineau is running 1,000 miles across Europe - 39 marathons in just 33 days - to raise £150,000 for charity Love146, to build the UK's first trauma recovery centre for trafficked children and to highlight awareness about child trafficking.
We began the run last Sunday, on a non-descript strip of shingle by the Black Sea. The weeks before were manic; assembling kit, trying to get on TV, fundraising, making arrangements for the final day half-marathon. In the swarm of last minute preparations, the reality of the run seemed distant. Standing on the beach in Odessa all that other stuff peters out. There's no fanfare. We put on our packs and begin to run, slowly.
Odessa is grey in winter. We follow a quiet road south through suburbs of mist-coloured stone. There are few people on the streets; dogs everywhere. They howl as we pass. We throw stones at the savage looking ones to keep them from our legs. The most aggressive of them are chained. They tear through the dust as we pass and clothesline themselves on the metal as the lease strains tort.
After a few hours the buildings thin. The railroad runs to the left; the sea beyond. As the miles begin to fall we grow quieter, and the rhythm takes hold. There are four of us running: Tom, Guy, me, and Mingo, an old friend, who is joining for the first 200 miles. And there is Rich, filming the trip, riding a short way behind or ahead on a heavy-loaded steel cycle.
The over-riding sensation is the weight of my pack. It feels shockingly heavy.
By four in the afternoon we have been running for seven hours. We stop at a roadside bar and load up on nuts and crisps. We are all exhausted, beginning to look haggard, but happy. We have just six miles to go to Zakota, where we will spend the night. The town is shut up for winter, but we find a small guesthouse and crash out like children, having come 39 miles.
We spend the next four days running west towards Bolhrad, on the border to Moldova. The sun is bright as we head from Zakota. We are soon all burnt. The land is vast and flat. The faces of those we pass are hard; the villages single strips of tumble-down timber. Men work the fields with horses dragging wooden ploughs. My calves burn. At each settlement we lie in the shade, filling ourselves with chocolate and water.
The road varies little. There are few cars; flocks of geese in the puddles; heavy mists at dawn. For spells our spirits are high. We run in a group, talking, taking photographs, feeling the miles fall. At times, for each of us, there is no one in sight, and the road feels impossibly long; legs and backs feel close to collapse.
Small things break the monotony. Passing truckers blast their horns. An old man runs from the roadside with a bottle of home-brew and gives us each a warming glug of wine. Someone waits at the top of a hill with a snack and some chat.
Each evening is a relief. We bed down, in bivvy bags in a forest, in a Spartan guesthouse, in the living room of a kind stranger's house who takes us in from the rain. The key is that the miles are falling and we are just about standing. We have all nearly cracked. Guy's toes are torn to shreds, bleached brown with iodine and zinc powder. Tom's pack has chaffed raw the skin of his back. My right knee has reddened and puffed up. Mingo - normally so strong - came in at dusk long after each of us two days ago. He said that day he picked up a scrap of white plastic bag from the road to bring as a flag of surrender. Today he was strong as an ox.
It is surreal trudging into Bolhrad. We walk slowly searching the centre. Towns like this have no centre. It is the most desolate settlement I have ever seen. But to us, at the end of the day, it has all we need and we are over the moon to be here. In the morning we run for Moldova.
You can watch video updates of the journey and sponsor the runners at www.runforlove1000.com
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