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Archive for Dave’s Blog

People rather than possessions

Komang, our driver, was happy to talk at length about Hinduism in Bali. Having spent the previous ten days on our annual visit to our family in Bali, we were on our way to the town of Ubud for a night of self-indulgent calm, in a hotel we know well, where our room overlooks the paddy fields and at night on the balcony we are treated to an amazing cacophony of frogs and toads.

As Komang talked, what became clear was his quiet commitment to his community, his family and his faith. He described some of the many Hindu ceremonies that take place in Bali in the course of the year.  His life was simple and respectful; his gentle manner was a delight and we hung on his every word. It was a conversation to savour.

Our closest friends in Kenya display a very similar set of values. They live for their family, their community and their Christian faith. Many times we have seen evidence of these values in their daily interactions with others: kindness to strangers, sharing meals with unexpected guests, giving to others when they have little themselves. And their lives are characterised by a similar calm joyful compassion.

So……….. all that stuff that we in the “developed” world chase after and aspire to- all those possessions that we have which our friends in Kenya are lacking- : it doesn’t seem to bring the happiness for which we all yearn. Yet Komang in Bali and Irine in Kenya seem so much more content even though life is materially tough and fragile on a daily basis.

Our charity is called Education Exchange: one vital exchange goes like this: we help people in Kenya climb out of poverty while they challenge us to re-think our priorities, to move from a preoccupation with possessions  to a focus on people.

Understanding another culture

This morning I led an assembly in a Suffolk primary school. They are excited to build part of this year’s curriculum around Kenya and my assembly was to launch the year’s activities. All the school’s 180 children were present, aged between 5 and 11.

How to get across to a child from rural Suffolk how different life is in rural Kenya? I showed them photos and I told them stories. I’m sure that as the year goes on their knowledge will grow and they will begin to appreciate a little more how an accident of birth has enabled them to grow up in a situation where they are relatively well looked after and secure….

Two weeks ago I was talking to a group of elderly retired business men at Lowestoft Probus. One of my stories moved one listener to tears:

When the Suffolk school where I worked had a close relationship with a Kenyan secondary school we asked children aged 14 in both schools “What worries you most in life?” In Suffolk the most popular answer was “losing my mobile phone” In Kenya it was “my parents dying of AIDS”. You can imagine how moved the Suffolk students were when they realised how trivial their response had been.”

It’s vital that different cultures understand each other and respect their similarities and their differences.  Let’s hope that the children in the primary school today can start on that journey through their work on Kenya.

There are no safety nets in Kenya

In last month’s blog I wrote: For the last 15 years we have been raising funds (over £100,000 so far) to give people in Kenya a chance to use their own courage and determination to take the small steps which slowly lead to less vulnerable and more secure lives. This month I want to give a practical example of how vulnerable life is and how Education Exchange supports people when times get tough.  This example invites you to learn more about our two Upper Planet Training Centres.

Upper Planet Kitukunyi was opened in 2012 and Upper Planet Mwatunge last year. The two Centres are in villages some twenty miles apart. They both serve deeply rural populations and their main aim is to enable young people to be better equipped with IT skills as they seek employment or go on to university.  There is no guaranteed IT provision in the Kenyan secondary school curriculum, and computers are only slowly making their appearance in Kenyan schools. So Upper Planet gives young women and men a chance to get up to speed in IT and make themselves more employable.

The manager of both Upper Planet Centres is George Mwakisha. George is a great IT teacher and a tireless entrepreneur. He is totally committed to giving young people the best chance to use their talents to climb out of poverty. Every day George travels by motorbike between the two Centres. Education Exchange provided the motorbike; our grant to Upper Planet in 2017 is £3200. George looks to supplement that income with a range of business opportunities: Cybercafé, telephone banking office, photocopying and printing, installing IT equipment- as well as student fees for IT training. It’s a continual balancing act and here at Education Exchange we keep a close eye on how the finances are going and are ready to help out when things get really tight.

2017 is proving to be the toughest year ever for Upper Planet. In June George had a motorcycle accident, was injured and could not work for a month- he’s still not fully recovered.  “You will realize that my absence in June really affected the business such that at Kitukunyi we were operating at negative and we had to use funds from Mwatunge

But there is slightly better news now: “Just to let you know am back to business as usual although I still have a problem with my leg but am getting better. So sad that up to this moment I am not in a position to ride myself to work!! But all will be well soon”

Two other factors have made a real difference this year:  the election and the drought. Drought is much more crucial in Kenya than in the UK- and much more common! When crops don’t grow in Kenya, prices of food rocket and people eat less and less. They have no money for extras such as IT training.  They can’t pay their school fees or medical costs. In March George wrote: “The business is not doing so well due to drought condition in the area”

Drought brings a halt to business transactions: so too does an election. In July George wrote: “Remember we are in the election year and the current government are unsure of if they will still be in power come September so most ministries have stopped all major projects they were undertaking. So come September we shall know the government in charge and all stalled projects will be finished.” (Upper Planet installed some computers in a local school, but there are currently no funds at the school to pay for machines or installation).

We all face difficulties in our daily lives. In the UK there are now fewer safety nets for vulnerable people than there have been in the past.  But the Kenyan communities that Education Exchange supports live a much more fragile and precarious existence than most of us have ever experienced. They accept that fragility with courage and humour. Thanks to the generosity of our donors we are able to support them. And that’s a real privilege.

Why are we doing this?

Dave Shorten writes: Since Tim’s amazing marathon we’ve been busy helping plan the refurbishment programme at Mwatate Children’s Home. That’s now well underway. So three months on it’s time for the blog to begin again: there will be one each month.

Why are we doing this?

In the middle of June I stood in front of 200 13 year olds in a South London school. In ten minutes I took them to Kenya and into the lives of four people living there right now: a four year old orphan abandoned in the streets; a single parent Mum doing three jobs so that she can pay her kids’ school fees; a primary school teacher who doesn’t earn enough to feed his family; a college student making ends meet by doing peoples’ washing and fetching their water. Different lives, different challenges. That the students listening to me were born into their UK lives and the Kenyans were born into their Kenyan lives is just an accident of birth.

Looking round the School Sports Hall, I could see that I had made my point. The kids were listening and thinking. At the end, I encouraged them to see themselves in the widest context, as members of a global community of 7.5 billion people -the human race. In today’s polarised world there is a desperate need- to use Bill Clinton’s phrase- to expand the definition of “us” and shrink the definition of “them”.

Education Exchange is in existence to expand the definition of “us”. For the last 15 years we have been raising funds (over £100,000 so far) to give people in Kenya a chance to use their own courage and determination to take the small steps which slowly lead to less vulnerable and more secure lives. At the same time we are trying to articulate the extent of the problem to our donors and supporters and enlist their help. Our work is a tiny drop in the vast ocean of inequality which scars our world. Billions of people have no access or restricted access to the resources which many in the developed world take for granted. There is no justice in that state of affairs. The more people that understand this and go on to help do something about it, the more the notion of “us” grows.

In his address to Congress on July 4th 1861 Abraham Lincoln described the Civil War as “….a people’s contest….a struggle….. to lift artificial weights from all shoulders, to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all, to afford all an unfettered start and a fair chance in the race of life”. Lincoln was talking about slavery, but his words apply equally today to the inequalities of our world.

In Education Exchange we’re doing something to give our partners in Kenya “a fair chance in the race of life”. Join us. Help us. Spread the word.


Tim’s final Marathon blog- the inside story

One week after his London Marathon triumph, Tim gives his final thoughts on a superb achievement:

A little over a week ago, I finally got to take on the London Marathon – the focus of months of preparation and training since I was given the opportunity by Education Exchange way back in September.   Most of my family, friends and supporters during this period will know that I managed to complete the course in 4 hours 22 minutes – just a few minutes outside my goal time of 4h15.  The overall experience of taking part in the event, along with 40,000 other runners, was amazing.  And through the generosity and unbelievable support of so many people, we are on schedule to raise well over £9000 to fully fund the refurbishment of the Mwatate Children’s Home and Rescue Centre.  I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to all those that have supported me.  I daren’t have dreamed that we could have more than doubled our fundraising target.  It will, without doubt, have a major impact on Education Exchange’s ability to support the development and improvement of the Children’s Home.  Every penny of the funds raised will go to support the project.  So thank you all, for everything you have done to make the #RunningforMwatate campaign such a success.

For those of you with more time to read, and who might be interested in the gory details – the London Marathon was just a phenomenal experience.  From the Expo event where I had to collect my running number (see photo below), through to the post-race medal goodie bag and conversations with friends and supporters, the event was everything that I had hoped and dreamed it would be.  It was hugely well organised, overwhelmingly run for amazing reasons and in the spirit of optimism and possibility, and although a tough physical and psychological challenge ultimately proved to be a profoundly inspirational experience.

Tim collects his race number with Evie and Stan

Tim collects his race number with Stan and Evie

My preparation was as good as I could have hoped it would be.  Jem, Evie and Stan accompanied me to register on Friday 21st April, we stayed with my sister and two nieces on the same night and I continued the process (not always pleasant, it has to be said) of carb loading to make sure I had the right fuel on board for the race on 23rd.  This continued on 22nd, with the odd tourist attraction to distract from the impending challenge (the Duck Tour is to be highly recommended!), and culminating in a double portion of gnocchi, pizza garlic bread, and chips as my pre-race meal!  The day of the race started with porridge, toast and bananas – in the company of runners from Italy, Spain, France staying in the same hotel as me.   I travelled to the race start via Ellie’s house again to drop off unnecessary baggage, and get my ankles and calves taped up (belt and braces!).  And then I hung around at the start, nervously, trying to get the balance right between keeping hydrated and needing multiple toilet stops!

I lined up in the red start area, along with thousands of others aiming to run the race in around 4h15.  By 10.17 we had crawled our way to the start line (17 mins behind the frontrunners) and we were off.  I can honestly say that the pace (9.43 mins per mile) was really comfortable for 20 miles.  I kept taking water and energy gels as planned (approx. every 3 miles) and found the weather conditions, although much warmer than expected, pleasant and conducive to a great experience.  I managed to see my Mum & Dad, sister and nieces and other Education Exchange trustees at mile 6, 16 and 23; Jem and the kids with other friends and family at mile 9 and 22; and other trustees around mile 21.  Given the amazing numbers that turn out to cheer on the runners, I wasn’t guaranteed to see my friends and family, so I was properly chuffed about seeing them so many times; their support was really energizing…

…and hugely important, as around mile 20 I hit the infamous wall.  I was convinced I wouldn’t as my preparation had been so good.  But I did.  And it was the hardest thing I have ever done.  Something in my head just went, and I was no longer able to convince my legs to keep plodding forward.  All I wanted to do was walk.  I was tired in ways I hadn’t expected or trained well for: whilst I had tried keep within sight of the 4h15 pacer, not everyone around me was running at the same pace and by the 20 mile mark I had spent 3 hours concentrating on negotiating my way around slower runners – apparently after 35km I had passed over 9000 runners! (what a stat!) – which meant that I wasn’t able to run at a consistent pace (it was more like fartlek, which I hadn’t trained for at all).  So by mile 20 my legs and mind were tired from running in the crowd without tripping over someone!  And I had to walk.  I walked for probably a mile or so, had some water and an energy gel, took some jelly beans from someone in the crowd, and soaked up the amazing support and encouragement from the crowd.  It was inspiring.  With my name on my running top, people were shouting “Come on TIM, you can do it, you’re doing so well, don’t give up now!”.  And it helped.  Loads.   By mile 22 I had reenergised a bit, managed to see Jem and the kids for a quick hug, and then walked/ran up to mile 25 – tracking the 4h30 pacer who I had noticed run past me whilst I was walking (along with the Rhino and the guy bouncing two basketballs, which made me laugh!)

I was proud to be able to give the last mile a really good push, including my PB for 400m, 1k and ½ mile (since I started training in January).  Not sure how that happened – something to do with adrenaline I guess!  And inspirational support and surroundings.  Running up birdcage walk, past Buckingham Palace and down the Mall was the stuff dreams are made of.  And then the finish was there.  Walking after running for nearly 4 ½ hours was painful.  I was worried about sitting down in case I couldn’t get back up.  But it was worth it – as you can see from the photo!

Immediately after the race, Dad asked if I would ever run another marathon; I said no way.  The next day I was thinking – I could run it faster, deal with ‘the wall’ better, enjoy that kind of experience again.  The ballot for 2018 opened on 1st May, and I have entered – keeping fingers crossed that I get another chance.  Watch this space.  Whether I do or not, it has been an amazing, life changing experience #RunningforMwatate.  It is special to know that the hard work will generate so much good for the amazing young people at the Mwatate Children’s Home.  That would not have been possible without the hard work and commitment of the Education Exchange trustees.  So it is to those two groups that I dedicate this marathon journey.  And I look forward to continuing to support their efforts in future.

Triumphant smile from  the Education Exchange hero!

Triumphant smile from the Education Exchange hero!



Where Tim’s Marathon donations will be used

The funds raised by Tim’s London Marathon run on April 23rd will make a vast difference to life at Mwatate Children’s Home and Rescue Centre. Every single pound donated will be used on site in Kenya.

Currently the Home has 35 orphaned and vulnerable children in permanent residence (22 girls and 13 boys) aged from 3 to 18, plus another 60 (35 girls and 25 boys) under an Outreach Programme who live in a family-based context. Support for these young people includes a range of strategies, often including help for the family with food, clothing and education as well as child rights advocacy. There are over 2 million orphans in Kenya, many of them in very vulnerable situations and at great risk.

The Mwatate Family

The Mwatate Family

In 2015 Education Exchange purchased the land to build a new purpose-built Home. Thanks to a grant from a locally based charity, we were able to start building in February and we are now up to ground level. We need £20,000 to complete the building, then another £7,000 to equip the interior.  Education Exchange is actively searching for funds to complete the new build.

Laying the foundations for the new children's home

Laying the foundations for the new children’s home

Tim’s sponsorship will equip the interior of the new building.  Bedroom and dining room furniture, plus educational and kitchen equipment will be bought over the next few months, to be used in the current home until the new build is financed and completed. The new building will see numbers of children in the home rise to 50 with another 100 on the Outreach programme.

These kids need all the support we can give them. This project will open up new life chances for them. Tim has worked so hard to complete his Marathon challenge. He is running with Mwatate at the forefront of his mind. Please spread the word and encourage people to donate:



Dave’s March Blog

With just over six weeks to go to his epic London Marathon run, here’s Tim Shorten’s latest blog:


“OK, so it just got serious.  At the end of February I ran my first half marathon!  Admittedly it was on a treadmill, and I walked a few times (all part of the training programme!), but OMG – six months ago, I never thought I’d be saying that!  It just so happened that I was back in Zambia meeting with Marie Stopes Zambia again (where I had been in October and which I wrote about in my November blog), and this provided a real opportunity for reflection on how far I have come.

It also happened that I had just been working with Marie Stopes Kenya (MSK), and had to travel to Eldoret in Western Kenya to interview some MSK staff.  This part of Kenya is the running capital of the world, and a mecca for serious runners with ambition to be world-class long distance runners – something to do with the altitude.  The epicentre is a town called Iten, which was featured in the book ‘Running with the Kenyans’, and it is a relatively short drive from Eldoret.  Iten is also perched on the edge of the Rift Valley escarpment –  and the Great Rift Valley is famous for being the ‘cradle of mankind’ (where Lucy was found in 1974).  So me and my anthropologist colleague headed off at 5am to be inspired in Iten and see the sunrise over the Great Rift Valley.  I won’t go into detail, but it was both inspiring and beautiful (see photos).

Tim  at Iten: he's certainly the EdX Champion!

Tim at Iten: he’s certainly the EdX Champion!

Sunrise over the Rift Valley

Sunrise over the Rift Valley

A few days later and I was pounding out the miles on the treadmill, for the first time on a long run without earphones or distraction from my audiobook. This was the first time that I had to really explore the mental side of the marathon challenge – how do you keep going when your legs are hurting and you are just bored.  I have read in a few places that the thing to do is to focus on why you are running – and the Children’s Home in Mwatate provides a clear and motivating focus; but also to develop a mantra that you repeat in your head over and over.  I tried a bunch of different ones, including combinations of my kids names, “run like a Kenyan” (don’t laugh!), “just keep running” (a la Finding Nemo!) and others.

But I was mainly struck by the number of people that have inspired me and accompanied me on this marathon journey.  People that you’d not be surprised by, like: Jem Shorten for being 150% supportive (even when I have to prioritise training over childcare!), Andy Shorten for encouraging me to take up the challenge, Dave & Sue Shorten and the EdX trustees for giving me the opportunity, Ellie Stewart, Mark Tredgett, James Jones for taking steps along the way, and Ady Sweeney for his expert physiotherapist advice!  But there are others who are probably less aware of their support: like Jaan Larner for his book Fatboy to Ironman which has given me a few ideas for how to get  through an endurance event, Rebecca Calder for putting up with my running stories during two work trips, Meb Keflezighi for his book about winning the Boston Marathon and those Kenyan runners whose lives I got a teen tiny insight into during our trip to Iten.  And of course, there are the generous supporters who have sponsored me and helped to reach £2562.50 (incl gift aid). I really got a sense that invoking the spirit of this growing group of supporters is what is going to get me through when I hit ‘the wall’ as I am sure I will.

So I’m feeling inspired.  I have the Silverstone Half Marathon coming up (12th March – wish me and Mark Tredgett luck!).  And week on week the distance I need to cover in my long runs is going up by around 3 miles a week.  By the 3rd April I will start tapering towards the race itself, so it’s getting really close now!  Keep the positive vibes flowing, your support is hugely appreciated.

And if you haven’t yet got round to sponsoring me, don’t delay!  Here’s the link:


Dave’s February Blog

Tim’s London Marathon is steadily getting closer. But, as you’ll read below, his preparations are steadily intensifying. Please sponsor him if you can using the link at the end of this blog.

“So this was the month when I started my formal training plan.  And after the dispiriting month that I experienced in December, I was a little trepidatious at the start.  But now, a few days into February, I’m feeling optimistic!  I’d put my progress down to a few key points:

  • Following the plan – which is an achievable steady progression, with a focus on time not distance. It doesn’t matter how far I get, I just have to keep plodding along for the allotted time! If you’re interested, you can see the plan here.
  • Being inspired – I really enjoyed reading ‘Running with the Kenyans’ – a tongue in cheek Christmas present from my wife! It’s a book about a journalist/running enthusiast who takes his young family to Iten in the Rift Valley in Kenya, for six months, to learn the secrets of the best runners in the world.  I’m sure it wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but I found it inspiring in a geeky kind of way!
  • Staying motivated / managing boredom – I’ve really enjoyed listening to audiobooks using the Audible app on my phone. At first it was simply a case of having company during my wheezing runs– because I was unable to concentrate on the story!  But as my fitness has increased, I’ve been able to make use of my running time to listen to some of ‘War and Peace’ – chosen intentionally because of its length!  I’ve also enjoyed the ability to connect with and compete with other runners using the Strava app: so now whenever I complete a run, I get kudos from my sister, and a mix of old and new friends alike; it’s weirdly addictive!
  • Losing weight – I guess I’ve also been getting through my training both as my body has got stronger, but also as I put less pressure on it: so far I’ve lost 12lbs since New Year, and apparently I need to aim to lose another 4-5lbs. It’s been great to do this using a system in a book called Racing Weight, where the focus is on ensuring your body has the right fuel to optimise performance, rather than on depriving it of calories.  I feel like I’ve learned a lot about how to eat healthily and I feel better as a result.
  • Postrun foam rolling – which I have written about before, so I won’t bore you again!

As a result of the above, I look forward to each run and I am itching to run further every Sunday.  February is going to be tricky as I have a 10-day trip to Africa to fit around my training!  And the time that I have to find for each weekly long run is increasing.  But bring it on is all I can say!

As always, thanks to you all for your ongoing support. We’ve passed 50% of our target goal during the month which is awesome!  Every penny will go to help secure the safety, wellbeing and development of the children at the Children’s Home and Rescue Centre in Mwatate.  The Home is a voluntary charitable institution which has over 30 orphaned and vulnerable children in its care, aged from 3 to 18 years. It also runs outreach to support vulnerable children living at home. It has no government funding: all funds come from local well-wishers and supporters, which is why Education Exchange is involved and why I’m running!

I still have a lot of money to raise, so if you haven’t sponsored me yet please visit the following website:


  • Distance this month run:  106k – for the eagle-eyed amongst you, yes that’s exactly double the figure for Dec J!
  • Funds raised to date: £2175 (incl gift aid)”

Dave’s Christmas blog


In a few days’ time, I will sit down to Christmas lunch with my closest family: thirteen of us, spanning three generations – the first Christmas we’ve spent together for several years. Although what we eat and drink will be delicious, although we’ll give each other lots of nice presents-   it’s not those parts of Christmas I’m looking forward to most. It’s the simple fact of being together.

And while we’re all talking and walking, listening and laughing, enjoying a memorable family Christmas together, my thoughts from time to time will inevitably turn to Christmas lunch at Mwatate Children’s Home and Rescue Centre (MCHRC). I know that Christmas lunch there will be a warm, caring meal with lots of fun and laughter. A bit of me would love to be with them.


There are currently 35 children at Mwatate, 22 girls and 13 boys aged from 3 to 18. They are all orphans and MCHRC is their permanent home. All of them have been taken out of situations where their safety, their health and their basic human rights have been at risk. Thanks to Mwatate they are less vulnerable and have a much better chance of making their way in the world.  MCHRC also runs an Outreach Programme which currently helps 60 children. The four permanent staff at MCHRC are totally dedicated and achieve miracles on a shoestring budget.

There are over two million orphans in Kenya. Many of them are nowhere near as fortunate as the kids at Mwatate. Children’s Homes do not have state funding: they rely on often meagre voluntary support.

Education Exchange is working with MCHRC on a vital mission: to improve the life chances of its current children and increase the number of children both living at the Home and on the Outreach Programme. We’ve bought them a plot of land and are looking for funding in excess of £100,000 to build a new home which would offer hope to many more vulnerable young people.

Tim Shorten’s London Marathon fundraising is exclusively devoted to Mwatate (#Runningfor Mwatate).  If like me you’re looking forward to a great family Christmas, why not support Tim and his commitment with a donation?

Dave’s blog December 2016

Dave writes: The tough winter months have kicked in for Tim! He needs all our support- and our sponsorship too!!

Tim says:

“I think this is the month when reality set in!  After feeling super positive at the end of October, I got into the mindset that increasing the distance I could run was the most important goal.  So I ran 13k on 6th November – all good.  But on 13th November, during a 15k run, I experienced a sharp pain in my calf muscle at 13k.  I stopped and walked for a bit, but was too far from home to walk back so I carried on running at a slower pace.  I finished at 16k, but had employ remedial action on my leg – out came the peas from the freezer, and the house started to smell of deep heat!  Since then I have been really sensitive about my calf muscles, to the extent that I went to see my physio again yesterday.  He emphasised the importance of continuing to do strength & conditioning exercises and limiting the amount of running I’m doing to two sessions a week.  Apparently my calves are just weak, so I need to focus on making them strong before I expect them to do 8,500 steps every 10k!


With all that said, and because I had a lingering grotty cold, I did no exercise during the middle of November.  So I was feeling a bit apprehensive about the 10k that I had booked to do in Thetford Forest at the end of the month.  It turned out to be a really tough experience, but thoroughly enjoyable (that is a genuine smile in the photo above!).  I managed to complete the course in 55m 15s which was a bit slower than I had hoped, but I learned a lot about how not to prepare (no to curry, yes to running shoes!) and about how to respond in an organised race, rather than just running on my own.  It was a bit of a warning against complacency, which will spur me on into the cold, dark winter months – so just what I needed.  And I’m excited to have signed up for the Silverstone half marathon in March, to get a bit more experience in preparing for the main event on 23 April.

Training in December is likely to be somewhat disrupted, with so much focus on family and festivities.  It’s at this time of year that Education Exchange’s support to the Children’s Home and Rescue Centre in Mwatate seems particularly relevant.  The Home is a voluntary charitable institution which has over 30 orphaned and vulnerable children in its care, aged from 3 to 18 years. It also runs outreach to support vulnerable children living at home. It has no government funding: all funds come from local well-wishers and supporters, which is why Education Exchange is involved and why I’m running!  All the money raised through your sponsorship will go to help secure the safety, wellbeing and development of the children at the orphanage.  For example, £10 pays the monthly internet cost at the Home, £20 keeps orphan Victoria at school for a month, £50 buys seeds & fertiliser to grow vegetables, and £100 pays a month’s wages for the Home Manager.

Many, many thanks to those who have already sponsored me.  And if you haven’t yet got round to it, don’t delay!  Here’s the link to donate:

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all.”


Distance this month run:  66k

Funds raised to date: £1240