Oral History

Robert Hall-McNair

Robert Hall-McNair is the man who ran from Lands End to John O'Groats

Interviewers: Mr. D. J. Wood (DW)

Interviewed: Mr Robert Hall-McNair (RH)

Cast of Characters who made it possible

Robert Hall-McNair Hairy McNair/Robert / Dad / Idiot - The silly arse whose idea this all was   Robert Hall-McNair Niki / Mum /wife, Driver, Chef, Map Reader Masseuse
Robert Hall-McNair Atticus / Atti - Cheerleader par, Excellence, illustrator.   Robert Hall-McNair Reuben / Ruby - Cheerleader par, Excellence, Boy Friday
Robert Hall-McNair Sue-Big Sis, the blister boss, Nurse, Cyclist at the rear and rations distributor.   Robert Hall-McNair Mart - trail blaster, upfront cyclist, map reader, part time drinks distributor
Robert Hall-McNair Mum / Grandmama / Paddy -chef, driver and listening post   Robert Hall-McNair Dad / papa / Ian - Bike-man, Tent-man, and all-round general handy-man

DW. Can we start with your name, and your age, and when you were born?

RH. My name is Robert Hall-McNair, and I am 40 years old and I was born in 1969.

DW. Have you always been interested in sport?

RH. Ah, well, I guessed you'd ask that, well there has always been cricket and football at school, like with any school child really, and, I used to participate in these sports. We used to do a cross-country, not that I liked doing it at all, but it was mainly cricket and football that I used to play.

DW. When do you start to get serious about running?

RH. Oh I have never been serious about running, I don't take running seriously at all, if I took my running seriously I would disintegrate, I wouldn't enjoy it at all. I started running in about 1999 or 98, I can't remember now, mainly a form of keeping fit, yes, it was keeping fit I wanted to get out and do a bit of sport. I don't like the idea of joining a cricket or football team any more, so I got a pair of trainers and ran round the block, or ran to Sharnford and back I don't know which one it was.

DW. Where did the idea come from to run from Lands End to John O'Groats?

RH. We were sitting around the fire one December, one December evening Niki's mum and dad, had come over as they usually do on a Friday afternoon to meet our boys from school, and afterwards we sit and have tea and cake. We were talking about how to celebrate Ian, that's Niki's dad’s sixty-fifth years on this earth, and that is where it came from. I said lets go from Lands End to John O'Groats. I can run it, he can bike it, and we will do it in a couple of year's time.

DW. Why did you choose ADAPT as your charity.

RH. Well we weren't going to run it for charity, but people kept giving us money and ADAPT is very close to our hearts, our youngest son Reuben was born prematurely twenty nine and a half weeks, and he spent three and a half months in the Neo Natal unit in the Leicester Royal Infirmary, and so being there every day we got to meet the people who run ADAPT and who set ADAPT up, and what a terrific job it does, and it is a charity that needs a lot of help, and it does not get any funding from the government. They have to raise £50,000 on its own, just to keep going. The support it gives to families, mainly to families who have got premature babies it does not actually help babies in the units that left to the hospital. It help the families visit the babies, and stuff like that, accommodation, and it also runs after hospital clubs like day clubs, which you can take children to errm, because it is a special thing. A lot of the kids come out of the unit, are on oxygen, and have special needs. So it always good to know some one who is it the same position, and be able to talk to someone, it's a very tough time, very tough time.

DW. How long did the planning and preparation take?

RH. Well, the training, when we got back from China in August, and I started training from the September, and started gradually building my training up to run the following July so that was more or less, what's that ten months or so with the running club. From that same September we started to look at the routes off and on, we bought loads of maps. The dining room was covered in maps, and we did that up until Christmas, then from February the following year we got serious about it, you know got knuckled down. Training was a good ten months running, ten months of hard training, the organisation side was a good six months, six or seven months.

DW. How did you set your target for eighteen days?

RH. That was easy, it was tied up in fifties and, so I just thought, I thought to myself I could run forty miles a day, not easily, but that was in my parameters and I wanted it to be a challenge, something that would challenge me. So fifty is the next one up. As it happens 900 miles and fifty goes nicely into eighteen, nice and round figures.

DW. How did Sharon Gaytor and Martin Illott how did they get involved?

RH. Well I asked them, when I looked into doing it, I wasn't sure how to go about it, you know when you have an idea, you are not quite sure which way to go. I contacted them; I read about Martin on the Inner-Web he'd run it a couple of years previously, I think just for a personal achievement, he did it just him and his dad, he used to run it, his dad used to go ahead ten miles in the Jag and they would do it that way.

Sharon she was completely different, she was in Britain a leading ultra runner for the last fifteen years, so she is very, very experienced, and she'd done it a year previously for the world record which she broke twelve and a half days or something. I did not want to break records I wanted to do it a bit more quickly them Martin, Martin did it in about twenty-five days. Sharon did it twelve and a half day so I thought I fell in between the two.

I don't like to dawdle when I am running, I like to run, there again I am not good enough to run it as fast as what Sharon did. I got in contact with them and they were very, very good to me, especially Sharon she gave me her details of her running schedule, her training schedule. I had an idea of what I wanted to do myself. It's always nice to have it confirmed by someone who is a bit err, who knows what they are talking about, and Martin did the same as well. So it is more me contacting them, and them bring good enough to get in touch with me, you know, which was very good. Sharon said she had lots f people contacting her, and that asking her question how it's going to go, what do I need to do for this challenge, and not everybody sees it through. I think she was quite pleased that I saw it through.

DW. What did the family think, and how supportive were they?

RH. My family, I am very luckily in respect of having a fantastic wife, she's very supportive in the fact that whatever I want to do, if I asked, how do I put it. She supports me what ever I want to do and she did, when I mentioned it she did not go, oh my that's a rubbish idea what about this, or what about that, she said OK let's get on with it. She's a very positive person as is Paddy and Ian her parents who came with us, they are extremely positive, you know, you can do attitude, which I quite like you know, Not in a big flash American whoooooo kind of way, but in a statement way and are very supportive. We had times when we were a bit worried, but we sorted them out, usually on a Saturday morning with a cup of coffee in bed you know so. We talk a lot, so we sort things out, things need solving, and that's the way to do it, and that's the way we did it you know. Nothing is to big a problem that's all.

DW. And your children?

RH. Kids are kids arn't they just take it; [pause] you could tell them I'm going to the moon and they say all right then [Laughter] I don't think they realised it was going to happen until the camper van turn up outside the door, two days before we were going to go. Nothing phases them really, they are just kids, and they take it in their stride don't they. When we got down to Cornwall, they were thinking ho here we are, you know, we’re actually going to do it. In fact, that's the way I thought as well. But kids, no they loved it.

DW. How did you feet stand up to the run?

RH. All in all very well, I’m not one that suffers to badly with blisters, although having said that, they started straight away but, you have to take the attitude if they come you have to get on with it you know, nothing you can do, they were a bit scabby at times. My sister Sue who was on her bike took it in her, one or two jobs to look after my feet every morning after breakfast I'd plonk my feet on the table in front of her face and she'd pick them apart and put plasters on them put bandages on them and sort them out. We had a great way of sorting blisters out. When you have got a blister you pop it, and put Iodine on it, it stings. It stings like buggery it really does, it make your eyes water. What it does is to dries it completely out. You can have a blister in the morning and come lunch time it will almost be dried out, you can, do what you want, you don't want it getting all infected and runny and horrible its the way to go. There's pictures of them looking really horrible but now they are OK.

DW. How many were involved in the actual run.

RH. The team, the team, there was me running, and while I was running I had Sue my big sister and her fellow Martin on the bikes with me, one them will be in front and one behind, Martin would be in front, leading the way, with the maps and what have you, and Sue behind feeding me and giving me water, so that was on the road team. Then there would be in the vans, we had two vans. One with Niki and the two boys, so that was three, then Paddy and Ian, Niki’s mum and dad they came along in their van as well that's all, what's that four, five, six, seven, eight of us altogether. As I said before Ian was going to cycle with us but, unfortunately about three months before we were going he got knocked off his bicycle, and broke his leg and hurt his back. He felt he could not get back to the fitness side of it, so Ian rather than cycling he came in the van. We all sort of had designated jobs if you like. Niki could about do anything driving, map reading, getting food and drinks ready, preparing dinner, Ian did the bikes, took tents down, Sue and Martin slept in a tent every night rather that the camper vans, so that was one of his jobs to that. The boys were cheer leading, and then Paddy was, that's Ian's wife would feed the boys and feed Ian as well so.

DW. So they did all have they specific jobs?

RH. We never sat down and said you do that, that and that, it really did just fall into place on the first day. Paddy did say she would feed the boys so Nikki didn’t have too every evening and feed Ian as well, Niki just did the food for myself Sue and Martin and that's it, it sort of plopped in to place. People kept coming along and saying it’s a well oiled machine, it must have taken months to get this going, and it wasn't at all, you know you just happened and I think that is to do with the personalities of the people you know, if we knew there was something wanted doing we just do it, you know wasn't any, you just get on with it you know. It was oblivious to most things, I just used to get up in the morning, and go for a run you know to do the mileage. I'd leave it all behind and we would meet Niki everybody at lunchtime, twenty or thirty miles up the road, then twenty or thirty miles we would meet them at the camp site you know. They would all be standing there tents would be erected and the food would be getting ready and so forth you know. I was very, very lucky to have such wonderful people to give up their time to do what they did.

DW. You have touched on my next question, How and what was the over night accommodation and how you arranged it?

RH. We book it, most places we book a campsite, we had two camper vans, myself and Niki in one with the boys and Paddy and Ian in the other one, the Sue and Mart had a tent in between. We booked most sites ahead so we could drive to it, the as only one or two exceptions to that. So we had designated stops so we could see where we were going on the map and doing it like that you know.

DW. Did you manage your fifty miles every day?

RH. Oh fifty miles was.

DW. Or did you do more?

RH. Oh we went more; it was a nominal figure fifty miles really by the time you'd stopped at the campsite and went through the campsite it was probably fifty-five I think the tops were fifty nine miles a day. So fifty miles was quite a nominal figure in the end it was 900 miles over eighteen days so it worked out fifty miles but the last day we only did ten miles, but an average of fifty miles.

DW. Did you have a special diet during the run, and previously before the run?

RH. Previously to the run I'd didn't have a special diet. I was just eating, like bloody horse, you know anything that was in range of arm I would scoop it up and eat it. I was doing a bit of gardening as well, so it was physical work there, and doing lots of things in training. Hundred to hundred and twenty miles in training, you just eat, so that is what I was doing and then, I knew it was very important to have the nutrition right and with about three weeks to go we hadn't got anybody aboard that. I'd got an idea what I wanted to do i.e. just eat spaghetti as if it was going out of fashion you know. That's my plan to eat spaghetti every night and see how that went, but I knew we needed to look at it whilst I was out on the road during the day, what kind of food. I'm a vegetarian so I might be lacking in certain areas so I got in t ouch with nutritionist on the inter-web called Chris Horwood and he sorted us out a diet you know. From the minute we set off our diet was regulated. We had a menu, and he worked out what we could eat, and we had to eat what he asked us to. He gives us a varied diet menu so we could choose off the menu certain foods, and then, if you choose those certain foods, which we did obviously, that covered all our nutrition and our protein and what have you. When we got into the campsite of a nighttime we had a certain menu again, which we could choose one meal off in a three-meal rotation, which again covered everything I needed to see me through the day. So through the 18 days we had a very ridged of food and drink and it worked.

DW. How did you choose your roads, was it the straightest way between two points, or did you use minor roads or what.

RH. I did not want to go on a wiggery route and go zig zagging up the country, so I tried to keep them straight and I also tried not to go on to many A roads because, I don't mind running there but its not very enjoyable, we tried to keep it as much as possible to minor roads. You have trouble in Cornwall and Devon there is only one way out there, one straight road out, yes, and the same in Scotland, well, you know you compromise you have to go, you have to go on main roads and so on, when you could not go on B roads, and we used a lot of canals as well. What I wanted was to go directly I didn’t want to get it over as soon as possible you know.

DW. Did you ever feel during your run you would not make it?

RH. No, I always knew I would make it; there was a couple of days when, we had one memorable day at Dunblane when there was lot of tears; it was one of these days we did not have a campsite, we arrived at Dunblane without a campsite place to go to, we were planning on doing a bit of wild camping in town. Just before we came to the camper van it absolutely shot down with rain so everywhere was really-really wet and horrible so we relied on the camper van, not having somewhere to go, not having anywhere to dry the stuff. The place we found in town was next door to a park that the local youths were using like kid do it Friday night or was it Saturday night. So we did not really like staying there, so we ended back on the road and we: well, I did not get much sleep, I had terrible images of cars crashing in to the van of a night time. So when I woke up in the morning I was, oh dear, it was one of these days you go Ohhhh and let it all out. I cried my heart out for age's, well it seemed like ages any way. It never crossed; it was never the case of I'm not going to do it, but it got it out of my system, you know, it never crossed my mind we wouldn’t do it.

DW. Did you get a lot of support from on lookers on the way?

RH. Yes we had one or two, we had quite a few people, we had friends and family join us, and fellow runners as well, especially in Devon and Cornwall and up to the Midlands, it got a bit more sparse as we got up to the north. Then when we finally got to Scotland everybody decended on us then. One or two people stopped and asked or stopped Sue or Mart as I went running by [laughing] I had my blinkers on. Yes everybody was very supportive.

DW. How did you express your feelings when you had reached the end of your journey and you know you had managed your goal.

RH. I went round and kissed everybody, and gave them all a great big hug, and said thanks very much, then I went to the pub and had a pint.

DW. Did you lose any weight on your run?

RH. No, such was the througherness of my food, or the menu that I had been given by Chris he had calculated that I needed to consume seven and half thousand calories a day to see us through, and I was also doing tests to monitor how much I was burning, and I was checking my weight every day as well. Giving pee samples to see if I was hydrated and all this kind of thing, and towards the end, I was eating seven and half thousand calories but only burning four and a half thousand, so that is gaining weight, so at the end I was gaining weight to what I was, if not a bit heavier than when I first started. Such was the body being so efficient in what it was doing, you know I could have carried on running because that is what I had got used to, now I have put on weight [laughing] which is quite a thing really.

DW. What about your liquid intake how much was you drinking?

RH. I was drinking, I could never remember, you see what happened was Sue was behind on her the bike like I said, every fifteen minutes she would just come up from behind with a third of, erm can't remember, one fifteen minutes I'd eat something, or fifteen minutes I'd drink something, I can't remember. She comes up behind me with a bit of Sports Bar, and then fifteen minutes later she'd come up with something to drink. I can't remember what I was drinking I think it was diluted Lucuzade 150 mil I think it was every fifteen minutes throughout the day, all day, eating and drinking more or less all the time and it worked.

DW. What is you next project?

RH. Everybody says that what is your next project, That is the hardest thing really, everybody asks me when you have done one, and finished one. I was looking at every run on earth you know, I can do that, and I can do them really if I wanted to, I'm not the kind of runner that sets myself projects you know. If it appeals to me I will do it you know, and there are certain runs at the moment that look quite nice but, I think it is not fair on Niki or the kids at the moment to put them through another one of those epics. But my next project is to run 5 K tomorrow, that's how I do my running I enjoy the next day and don't look further than that really. As long as I can run I do not mind.

DW. Well thank you very much Robert.

Transcript by: Jean & David Wood.