On the 29th May 2018, I left Baghdad International Airport to head back to the UK after completing a Half Marathon on what was the hottest day of the year so far in Iraq, a blistering 44 degrees at the start and a sweltering 37 degrees on completion, it was certainly not for the faint hearted!
As you will know as a former Cavalryman (tank soldier), running is perhaps not what we are best known for, although I do standby my comments after the first leg in Somalia, ‘I seem to be able to move a little bit quicker when running in hostile environments!’
I arrived in Iraq on the 26th May and after travelling for over 24 hours and being stuck in the middle seat on two Turkish airlines flights I was ready for much needed rest, some food and a good kip (sleep)! As we often say in the military though, no plan survives first contact, and that was going to be the case today too. I was picked up by the Control Risks (CR) team from the airport who processed me through customs and immigration without any trouble and took me to their secure compound in the international zone.
I was very fortunate to have the support of the CR team as without them, this leg would almost certainly have not been possible, as all official running events in Iraq had been cancelled due to the ongoing security threat across the country. Through the military network, a former King’s Royal Hussar who is a senior partner in CR based out of Baghdad called Marcus d’Apice reached out to me and offered his support for which I will be forever grateful. I simply could not have asked for more help in and out of country. It was very clear for me to see why CR have an international reputation for excellence. Everything from pre-arrival communications, visas, security, logistics, food and accommodation down to the half marathon route plan was taken care of by a team of security and risk management professionals of the highest order.
The only thing I wasn’t grateful for was Marcus telling me due to the security risk assessment we should run the same day I arrived. The original plan was to spend two days in country first to acclimatise which is certainly recommended if anyone else is thinking of running anywhere this hot (don’t try this at home as they say on the TV). When Marcus told me, I was running 4 hours after I had landed, I smiled politely and said brilliant, I cant wait! Never in my life had I told such a blatant lie to a fellow Hussar…
Throughout the run, I had a team of security close protection officers on standby and a former UK special forces emergency medical technician too. The event passed with no security issues despite some recent tensions between local militia that was reported in the media earlier in the week and due to it being Ramadan, the roads and city was very quiet until the evenings, part of the risk assessment from the CR team I’m sure.
The Iraq Half Marathon was by far the toughest run I have ever done to date in my life, the heat, humidity, lack of sleep and food only added to the latest leg of the #RunningDangerously challenge I had to overcome. I found the whole experience though extremely rewarding, I ran pretty much 13 years to the day that I lost a team member from my troop in Iraq, Alan Brackenbury was 21 years old and from Goole in Yorkshire and ‘Bracks’ was very much at the forefront of my mind throughout this trip. I had ‘Bracks’s name embroided on my running vest and I used him for inspiration through the run when I needed to dig that little bit deeper. I have always found the key to overcoming most challenges in life is upstairs in the mind, if you can control your mind you can control your body. The body will always give up if you allow it to, which is why discipline, self-belief and a positive attitude are paramount to success in all walks of life!
I would like to thank everyone who supported me for the Iraq leg of #RunningDangerously – you should all sleep peacefully at night knowing you have made a real strong contribution to helping me helping children living in war and conflict zones who need vital access to education. This is one big team effort and we are really ‘Inspiring Hope & Changing Lives’.
Next stop a Full Marathon in Afghanistan, later this year…