Long way to Tallinn

According to the route planning site Rome2Rio.com there are a huge array of options for getting from Bristol to Tallinn. I ignored them all.

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Rome2Rio told me I could to Tallinn from London in 2 hrs 50 minutes if I could just get a train from Bristol to London. This seemed efficient. Or I could just drive for 29 hours and 1,600 miles in one hit. But that may have been a bit tiring. Or maybe a 47-hour bus ride? - because everyone loves being trapped on a metal tube with 40 other sweaty travellers for two days.

The 6,200km route I cycled to get from my front door to the scene of my 4th marathon was not an option apparently. I'm not sure why. It was full of towering mountains, sweeping coastlines, chance encounters with friendly strangers, strange encounters with friendly faces and adrenaline pumping encounters with wild dogs...Apologies to the internet route planning algorithms but I wouldn't change a thing about the path I actually took.

Except for the dogs.

And getting hit by a car.

Finland in a flash

Since my last full blog post I've made tracks through Finland and Estonia. I crossed over 1,000km of Finnish countryside to Helsinki in around 10 days. The roads were long, flat, a little repetitive, and dare I say it... boring. Off the roads, however, the countryside was beautiful. The shots below sum up most of what I saw when off the bike - idyllic streams through woodland and sunlit forests which made for exceptional wild camping spots.

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At the risk of going a bit stir crazy staring at tree-lined highways, I made a stop off in Oulu, a coastal city in the east of Finland, before hitting Helsinki for a couple of days rest and exploration.My time in Helsinki was largely centred around chasing some interesting photos which I've put together in a new gallery and wrote about in my previous post. See here!

Familiar faces

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The most remarkable things about idling through Finland were two serendipitous meetings with German cyclists who were no strangers to me at all.

The first spoke little English and I had encountered him initially on a coastal road in Norway back in early August while cycling to Lofoten. On this second occasion, I was freewheeling past a bus stop in central Finland when I glanced right and saw him taking a bus-stop picnic (a daily ritual for touring cyclists!). It wasn't until I was past the bus stop and down the road that I realised I'd seen this guy before, 6 weeks previously and hundreds of miles further north.

Stranger still was the very next day when I was changing a slow puncture at the roadside. Another cyclist pulled in behind me to check I was ok. This time the recognition was instant - "I know you!" - was all I could say as I'd forgotten his name in the weeks since we had met on a ferry, again on the coast of Norway. Annoyingly I have forgotten his name again, but I guess I can ask him when we meet again on a dirt road just outside of Istanbul, you never know...

These two bizarre encounters with two people I'd met before, who had taken completely different routes to me and whom I didn't really know at all were immediately comforting - it was nice to see some familiar faces!

Better was to come in Tallinn, where two of the most fantastic people (Molly & Alanna) I know flew out to support me in my fourth European marathon. After 3 months without seeing any friends or family, I was ecstatic and managed to surprise them at the airport such was my desire to maximise our time together.

Another marathon

We soaked up the stunning old town of Tallinn for a couple of days while I mentally prepared for my next marathon - (the physical preparation was the 3 months of cycling and absolutely no running since marathon #3 in June). Hitting wine bars for lunch, picnicking in the park and relaxing in our own private sauna (an absolute treat) felt like a proper holiday and not just another city stop off. But what a stunning city it is!

Tallinn's historic centre is like an explosion of Dulux paint - colours abound and I became a little obsessed with photographing the interesting doorways that littered the cobbled streets. On marathon day I was hit with some screaming muscle pain in my thighs after 15km which did not abate. Molly and Alanna duly screamed support on the last kilometre and helped me towards that rush of adrenaline that always seems to materialise in the final stretch. After 4 hours of pain, I was suddenly floating on air, my legs no longer attached to my conscious mind and I crossed the line in a wave of relief.

So, now four marathons into my challenge, (see this for more info), I feel I can impart some useful advice for running a marathon:

  • Train long and hard; follow a proper schedule (I did not do this)

  • Don't think that cycling alone is adequate training (guilty...)

  • Station some supporters near the finish for a much-needed adrenaline boost (I DID do this!)

  • And afterwards?...TREAT YO'SELF! (Yep, definitely did this one - see photo #4 below)

Aside from being a fun break from cycling, I am running these marathons to raise money for the Bristol Heart Institute and feel hugely motivated whenever I put on my Above&Beyond running vest. I'm hoping to raise over £5K to support this hospital and would massively appreciate any further support! Links to my JustGiving page are all over my blog in the sidebars, footer, on the challenge page.

Pack mentality

I've come to be pretty amazed at my body's powers of recovery. Despite wanting to not have legs anymore after the marathon I was back on the bike the day after, and after a couple of days easy riding any lingering aches had gone.This was just as well because on the road from Tallinn to Riga I was chased by a pack of seemingly unaccompanied dogs and required a fairly significant input of effort into my pedals to outrun them. I imagined that, while frolicking in the field to my left at a safe distance, one of them had said to his mates - "look at this numpty on his heavy bike, I bet we could catch him!".

Any cyclist will tell you a story about a crazed dog shouting them down as they rode by, (I get barked at every day), but this was the first time I had actually been chased! In furiously running the few hundred metres between us and heading out into the road in front of oncoming cars I realised these guys were not going to give up easily. Adrenaline is a beautiful thing though, and my post-marathon legs put down enough power to allow me a look back, sly grin and a sigh of relief as they continued to get in the way of passing motorists.

My company quickly changed from a pack of dogs to one of lycra-clad Estonians. I managed to slipstream a passing peleton of around 10 riders for a couple of miles as they took a breather from their own ferocious pace. I hadn't ridden in a large group like this since my first ride to Paris back in 2016. It was a huge bonus and a strange feeling having ridden solo for so long.

I asked if they'd carry me all the way to Riga but regrettably, my time in the 'Tour de Estonia' was short-lived, I would have to carry on under my own power through Latvia and onwards to Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary before putting on my running shoes again.

Next up is Budapest for marathon #5 - but first some cycling, naturally

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