Belgrade record achieved…

Belgrade record achieved…

Well I managed it – I completed a half-marathon, on a treadmill, in a pub!

running in a pub...

I now hold the Belgrade record for the fastest half-marathon in a pub – of 2 hours 7 minutes – at a Neil4BC social charity event.


In the process those in the pub bought raffle tickets and drank several drinks each, raising 41.240 RSD (~£302 / ~€335 – as of date of this post). All this money will go to support the work of EuropaColon, who themselves support colon cancer activities across Europe, including Serbia.


Many thanks to everyone who came along, who helped out at the event, and also to those who donated the many raffle prizes we had that evening.

Some raffle prizes...

Just some of the many raffle prizes 🙂

I know the winner of the main prize, a trip to Bratislava next April (including coach travel, 2 night’s accommodation, breakfast AND entry to the Bratislava Marathon), courtesy of Active Traveling / Marathon Travels, is very happy.

Running in a pub

More pictures at

Many more pictures can be seen on Flickr.

If you would like to donate and increase the total raised please just send me a message 🙂




Ring O’ Fire adventure

Ring O’ Fire adventure


View from the start

I survived the Ring O’ Fire ultramarathon; I didn’t complete it but I did survive it 🙂

After all the training I lasted for 6 hours and 40 km, but just getting to the start line turned out to be a major adventure in itself.


My timings – CP = Checkpoint

The race started on Friday at 13:00, with my plan being to fly over on Thursday morning from Belgrade, and catch the direct train from London Euston station to arrive in Holyhead at 21:00, have a good sleep and be ready to run the next day. Well things didn’t quiet go that way, with so many things going wrong from Wednesday evening…

The evening before my flight I went to for a massage, and with my physiotherapist being away on holiday the masseuse said she would put some kinesio tape on my knees and back to hold me together. When I turned up she said she didn’t have any tape, but after massaging my back also said I really needed it. So then she frantically rang around other physiotherapists she knew, she, and her next client found me one on the other side of the city centre who would stay open until I got to him (it was after 20:00 by this time). So I went off to him, and he taped me up almost the same as my regular physiotherapist but as he wasn’t used to me it was never going to be the same.

So Thursday morning I was ready, bags packed, waiting for the taxi driver to take me to the airport. We get to the airport on time and then the Air Serbia checkout people tell me that as I hadn’t reserved a seat I had the choice of going to London via Athens, or having a refund. For the first time ever that I have flown with Air Serbia the flight was full, not only full but they had taken the money from more customers than they had seats in the plane. This was normal business practice they assured me, and basically I could take it or leave it as they had decided that I (and a few others) weren’t going to get a seat on the plane, even though I had bought a ticket a few months before. Air Serbia won’t be in my Top Business list that is for sure. Having checked online there was a later train from Euston, but only to Birmingham, with a 4 hour wait until the 05:30 train to Holyhead so in theory I could still get to the start line of the Ring O’ Fire. I also had to pay for another train ticket, but they weren’t interested in that either.


Welcome to Greece!!

So first time ever to Greece, totally the wrong direction, but it was clear from the mentality of the Air Serbia staff that it was either that or get a refund; they couldn’t care less. Had 4 hours sat in Athens airport before getting a British Airways (BA) flight to Heathrow. Serbia is one of a tiny minority of countries that BA don’t fly to (they used to), and only having mainly flown with Air Serbia over the past few years it was good to enjoy a much higher standard of plane/staff/flight, even if I was not really happy to be there in the first place.

Arrived in Heathrow, just had time to get the Heathrow Express, and the tube to Euston in time to get the train to Birmingham. Arrived at 01:30, less than 12 hours before the race started, and not having had any sleep yet. Birmingham New Street station is having a major refit, so as I got off the train the announcer said the station was now closing so all passengers must leave the station. So what do you do in Birmingham on a Friday morning from 01:30 until your next train at 05:30? I went around the corner to the Britannia hotel thinking I could get a few hours sleep at least. The sign said £47 for a single, but the manager hiding in his office told the receptionist to say to me it would be £140 for 3 hours; needless to say the room stayed empty and wouldn’t recommend this place to anyone. The 24-hour Starbucks Birmingham New Street was the only place along the high street open, so I went in and stayed there for 3 hours. The friendly staff were great, and given I wasn’t a drunk or party-goer they were more than happy to just let me stay and have the occasional coffee (would recommend this place if you are in Birmingham).


Finally in Holyhead

Caught the 05:30 train and arrived at Holyhead, on Anglesey, at 08:30. No sleep (managed about a hour in total on the final train journey) for 26 hours now and my first ultramarathon was just a few hours away! I had sent Dave the owner of the Beach Hut Guest House a message so he knew not to expect me for the night, but he was ready to give make me breakfast and to let me use a room to have a shower/get ready, so I did get a decent full English breakfast on Friday.


Beach Hut Guest House – recommended place to stay

Fortunately, another runner was staying at same guest house and he gave me a lift to the start area in the Breakwater National Park. Welcomes all round from the organisers, volunteers, and also from the other runners; they all made me feel a part of the event and that it was so worth the hassle of getting there. Much more of a close, friendly run than one gets at major city runs. Most people had seen each other at different events and so there was a great atmosphere at and around the start of the race. But it was chilly, with a strong breeze coming off the Irish sea. The daunting Holyhead Mountain was in front of us, this being the final part of the race, so if you survive for 134 miles/215 km you have this to look forward to in the last mile to get to the finish line!


View at the entrance to Breakwater Country Park

After a briefing by Bing, my GPS tracker attached to my backpack that contained my emergency blanket, first aid kit, survival whistle, maps, and compass, the adrenaline of starting my first ultramarathon was over-riding the tiredness I felt.


At the start line – bit chilly

And at 13:00 we were off, and at 13:01 just over 100 of us came to the first wooden kissing gate and had to wait one by one to get through, and the same happened at around 13:03, but then we were all on our way. We ran along the coastal path. The first few kilometres this also took us around Holyhead, and plenty of bemused looks from locals and tourists (along with welcoming remarks and clapping). Then across bridge, turned left and were very soon onto the rocky cove. This is where the fun really started…


One of many coves – tide starting to come in

Try running for a kilometre or more across a very large pebble cove, with the tide coming in, and into what felt like a gale force cold wind; exhilarating, but cold. Then it was across farmer’s fields and up and down hills. At the first checkpoint, around 9.5 miles/15 km from the start my body felt good, but I was still cold, and getting colder. At the second checkpoint (~16.5 miles/26 km) I was the same, enjoying the race but getting colder and colder. Things were also getting tougher as the hills were becoming much bigger and much steeper, so it was very much a run when you can, and walk up the hills time. Given I was getting colder all the time, every time I stopped to walk up a hill it was becoming harder to start again as my legs muscles tightened up. The winds whilst running along the cliff tops were strong, but they became extremely strong when running across several more pebble beaches. At around 30 km I went through a stile to find a few hundred cows looking up wondering what on earth I was doing there. Trying to get through them was amusing.


Great views

I reached the penultimate checkpoint (25 miles/40 km at just before 19:00) on Day 1 and was shivering. Given that the final 10.4 miles/16.5 km would take me into the night and I wasn’t running with anyone I decided that enough was enough. Getting hypothermia and being lost somewhere with vehicles unable to get to you I just decided was not worth the risk (the ambulance was called out for one runner suffering from hypothermia during the race). The team at the checkpoint were great, they found me a blanket and some tea, and then got my emergency blanket from my bag. Thanks to Toby who drove me to the Amlwch Leisure Centre, the final stop for the day, and made sure I was OK. As we hadn’t removed the tracker (or even thought about it) my speed over the stage must have seemed fantastic for those tracking me live!


My Ring O’ Fire race – dark blue line is height, spot the hills!

At the Leisure Centre, those involved with the race (organisers and volunteers) were very helpful. The few (fastest) runners who were back all understood where I was coming from and the leisure centre staff were helpful with meals, directions. I had a cool shower, and managed to get myself onto a massage table where the masseuse got my legs working again. At this point, around 20:00 I had not had any sleep for around 38 hours and whilst I was no longer freezing I was a bit exhausted. As I was out of the race the thought of a 05:00 wake-up call the next morning was not appealing so I looked to other options. The Leisure Centre staff first tried a taxi as the best option would be to return to Holyhead, but even they were amazed that it would cost £50. Eventually I walked into Amlwch’s town centre and found a quiet room at the Dinorben Arms hotel, and crashed out there. Thanks to the Scottish taxi driver who drove me back to the Leisure Centre to get my gear and back to the hotel then charged me half of what the meter said I owed him, think it was out of pity for what I had been up to that day!

After a very good English breakfast the next morning, Saturday, I left Amlwch and caught the bus to Holyhead, only £3.50 (bit cheaper than a taxi!) I spent the day wandering around Holyhead, and watching England beat Ireland at rugby, and then Wales beat Italy. As the Beach Hut Guest House was fully booked I had to find another place, and as it was close-by I found a room at the Stanley Arms pub, and after eating there went off to bed.


Stanley Arms – jumped over gates to get breakfast!

Woke up Sunday morning and when I went downstairs found that everything was still all locked up. This was 08:00 and as it was a Sunday I thought that maybe they just started late, however when I came back down again at 08:45 the place was still all locked up with only a one way door out to the car park available. As I was hungry I didn’t want to just sit around so got my stuff and decided that as I had paid up front for the room I didn’t need to stay and wait for anyone. So I went out to the car park, and found that the main gates were padlocked. So now I was out of the building, with no way back in, high walls all around the car park, and the high gates locked. Only one thing to do, put my rucksacks carefully onto the top of the gate and climb over, receiving an odd look from a passer-by but such is life. Fortunately the Beach Hut Guest House was open and as I wasn’t going to be getting breakfast there the next day (leaving too early) I got a free breakfast in lieu of this.


Can you see the runners ? Last 1 km

Then it was off to the Breakwater National Park to watch and congratulate those who had stayed in the Ring O’ Fire finish. Richard Heath came home first, in a new record time of 22 hours 19 minutes of actual running. Like the first dozen or so who came in over the next few hours, they all looked like it was a stroll in the park and they could turn around and run it the other way with no problem at all. Phenomenal group of runners, and they all deserved their medal and the bottle of Purple Moose beer. Well done to all who were there on the start line, and congratulations to all those who got to the finish line, a massive achievement. And finally well done to all involved behind the scenes, the organisers, volunteers and supporters, they all made it a great race to be part of, and a great place to be.

Top 3 runners home and RoF organisers - well done to one and all

Top 3 runners home and RoF organisers – well done to one and all

You can see more at the Ring O’ Fire website, or on their Facebook Page. It is certainly worth the 4 Points towards the Ultra-trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB).


Medal table

Just to finish my adventure, the trip back was so uneventful that it isn’t worth commenting on. Needless to say I got up at 05:00 and was in my home at 17:00 (UK time) so 12 hours; just as it should have been getting there, but wasn’t!

So to finish this post a few questions to be answered:

How much was raised?
In total for this event I raised £830 (~€1,130 / 135.000 RSD); this will all go towards the Bowel cancer charities I support.
Thank you everyone who donated directly or via the events. I am aware that many had already helped with raising money (£4,200) when I ran the London Marathon earlier on in the year.

Would I enter again?
Think I’ll go as per Sir Steve Redgrave in Atlanta 1996 on that one 🙂

Would I recommend this race to others?
Yes, most definitely 🙂

How could the race develop?
Make it harder – do a non-stop 135 mile race!
Make it easier – now it’s an established race look to build up with those just starting to run ultras by making it possible to do Day One (as currently) an option in its own right – 35.7 miles / 57.1 km is still an ultra itself.


Thanks for the adventure

Barcelona – Cancer Congress talk

Barcelona – Cancer Congress talk


I was recently invited over to give a talk at the above event, a prestigious congress in the world of gastrointestinal cancer. My thanks to Daniela at ESO, and Jola and Geoffrey from EuropaColon for both the invitation and for looking after me whilst I was in Barcelona.

European School of Oncology EuropaColon

The event I was to talk at was at a symposium, taking place in the evening, at CCIB – Centre de Convencions Internacional de Barcelona (Barcelona’s International Convention Centre). This is a sort of add-on extra to the congress, focusing on one particular area. In this case it was called the Colorectal Cancer Observatory.  A few years ago the organisers had decided that it would be good for the practitioners, during this event, to hear from a patient, hence me being asked to go to this event.

Posters for the event are here:OBS GI Barcelona_500w_Page_1
OBS GI Barcelona_500w_Page_2
Showing OffSo I had to talk at the 12th ESO Colorectal Cancer Observatory: innovation and care in the next 12 months symposium, with the topic being “The Patient’s Perspective”. I though there would be around 20-30 people there, given it was the evening, and if they had been at the congress since lunchtime, most would be wanting to get back for their evening meal. I was shocked then when I walked into the room and saw several hundred professionals sitting around waiting to hear from the speakers.

ESO presentation-title-slideTitle slide for my presentation

Having listened to some very eminent doctors in this field, most of whose words went over my head I was called up to give my talk. With a lovely introduction by Jola, the co-chair I walked over to give my talk, with the slides also appearing on a huge screen for everyone to see. Apologies for the quality of the picture; I was sent this one of the talk: IMG_0854

The talk was well received by all those present, and I enjoyed giving it. After this I was approached by a couple of ladies who asked me if I would do an interview for Bulgarian State TV. It hasn’t yet been published, but if it is I will add it below.

bg-tv-programme-logoBulgarian State TV programme – духът на здравето (Spirit and Health)

The following day, when I was just visiting the congress to see what went on at this sort of event, I was asked if I would mind doing an interview for Patient Power EUAndrew Schorr, the Co-Founder of Patient Power had a chat with me, and then we went ahead with an unprepared, unscripted interview, in the foyer of the CCIB. The final result can be seen below:

Colon Cancer Patient Neil Howie talks at the ESMO 17th World Congress on Gastrointestinal Cancer in Barcelona. from Patient Power.

I did manage a run alongside the beach in Barcelona on the morning before giving the talk. Well I ran for 7 km, then walked 1 km, then ran last 2 km; it was in the mid-thirties so very hot to be out running, but still a lovely experience:
Barcelona run

Next talk:
I am honoured to have been invited to give another talk at the end of September in Vienna, at the European Cancer Congress with a talk entitled: “The benefits of physical activity during and following cancer treatment: The patient perspective”. Looking forward to it…

Next charity run:
This will be a couple of weeks after the Ring O’ Fire, a run around Anglesey, and my first ultramarathon, which I am running to aid bowel cancer charities. Please do support my efforts:
Ring O' Fire support Neil4BC
Thank you 🙂



Supreme Quiz – Ruma – 13 June

Summer in Ruma (Рума); a lovely place to be 🙂

As well as the sights and sounds of this lovely town on a normal summers day, on Saturday June 13 there is an extra incentive to be there. In the centre of the town a “Family Fun Day” and “Supreme Quiz” will be held. Alongside lots for adults and children to do (bouncy castle, face painting, local stalls etc…), Yvo Kühling, renowned author, and expert Quiz Master will host his final quiz in Serbia, before he and his family move to their new post.

Organised by Philomena and Jules, Co-Presidents of the Belgrade Foreign Visitor’s Club, and supported by the Turistička Organizacija Opštine Ruma (Tourist Organization of the Municipality of Ruma) it will undoubtedly be a great afternoon 🙂

Proceeds from this event will go to bowel cancer charities, via the Neil4BC campaign, and also to the Giving Back Serbia campaign.

Hope you can come along 🙂

Family Funday in English

Family Funday in Serbian

Novi promotivni spot Turističke organizacije opštine Ruma – Tourist video about Ruma

SWAD restaurant – Sat 14 Mar

If you are in Belgrade on Saturday 14 February March (date change) do reserve seats at Swad – Taste of India restaurant.

There is a special meal and the evening will be in support of this charity campaign.

Mini-raffle and a belly dancer to entertain you.

From 8 pm at Djusina 10 – reserve your place on 011 3220368 🙂


2014 to 2015

New Year’s Day a time for reflection upon the previous year and a time to look forward to the next. Last year for me was very different, and very life-changing. Going through major surgery, then chemotherapy for cancer took over the first half of the year, and then the second was full of fundraising activities and running. In all of my forty five years, last year was by far the most different!

During last year I found many people supported me, and I am grateful for this. Thank you to everyone who came along to the events, and to those who helped make them happen. For the Neil4BC campaign last year we had:

A Bar night (with raffle) at The Three Carrots Pub,
A quiz night, organised by the Belgrade Foreign Visitor’s Club at Le Teniza restaurant,
A stall at the St Mary’s Church Book Sale,
An evening of entertainment at Restoran Vulin, with James Randell from Blazing to Serbia singing, an art auction and dinner all rolled into one night,
A charity dinner at Restoran Vizantia, organised by the British-Serbian Chamber of Commerce, hosted by Sir Paul Judge and with the Crown Prince and Princess of Serbia as Guests of Honour,
A table-top sale  at the British International Primary School.

All were arranged in order to benefit bowel cancer charities in Serbia (Udruženje pacijenata obolelih od raka debelog creva i jetre), in the UK (Bowel Cancer UK) and across Europe (EuropaColon). By the end of the year around 550.000 RSD / £3,700 / €4,650 had been raised to help the work of these charities.

Looking forward to this year the focus for me will be on April 26 and the London Marathon. It is now 13 years since I last ran this race, my last marathon, and I am acutely aware that I have not been doing enough training thus far. I did manage to have a great weekend in Ljubljana and run their Half-Marathon at the end of October, and though finishing the race it did highlight the need for, and importance of training. There are a couple of Half-Marathon races I plan to take part in as training runs before London, and with an increase in training I aim to find it easier to get around them. Hopefully many in Belgrade will come along on Saturday 18 March, the weekend before London, and show their support by taking part in the 5 km Fun Run that is organised on  the same day as the Belgrade Marathon – more to follow.

The other focus will be on staying fit and well. In late February I will have a series of tests to check that whether cancerous cells are still present. The findings of these tests will determine what happens and/or any further treatment.

Yesterday I watched the YouTube video below, “Spirit of the Marathon” (ignore its cover picture below!). It shows the two types of runners in a marathon, the elite and those praying they get to the end in one piece. It’s worth a watch, just to learn some of the reasons why people want to run 26 miles 385 yards (42.195 km), as well as some excellent historical images.


I also spent last year reading, given the time I had to spend recovering from cancer. In meeting my Goodreads Challenge of 75 books I read many non-fiction books about running, or runners. There  are some amazing stories out there. I compiled my list on one of the blog pages –

So, what will I do today, New Years Day. Eat a traditional British family meal, play Lego, watch a family film and run 10 km as I now have many people who will cheer me on and want to see me finish in April.

Happy New Year – I wish you all the best for 2015 🙂

Happy New Year

Restoran Vulin event – Fri 7 Nov

The next fantastic event will be on Friday 7 Nov, 2014 at Restoran Vulin in Ruma 🙂
This event, hosted by the Rotary Club of Ruma features the Welsh singing talent of James Randell who is flying over with a large group from the Blazing to Serbia team, along with a raffle and auction of paintings – it will be a great evening out.

If you’re in Serbia I hope you can come along; join the facebook event.

Details on posters (Eng and Srb) below:



Three Carrots report

Many thanks to all who came along to “Charity Runner Neil‘s” first fundraiser event to help bowel cancer charities on Wednesday 27 August to fill The Three Carrots Irish Pub 🙂

The poster, designed by Rushka Jonjic, the art teacher at my school, exemplified what the whole event was about and was a great:

The Three Carrots Event poster

The Three Carrots Event poster


I am thrilled that we raised just over €750 (£600/88,000 RSD) which was a great effort by friends who came along and helped via the following:
Raffle – tickets of 100 RSD each with a dozen prizes
Sweepstake – what time will “Charity Runner Neil” finish the London Marathon
Clothing – ordering exclusive polo shirts, t-shirts and caps
Drinks – Special drinks which the pub then made a donation

A picture show of this event can be seen on Flickr –
Many thanks to Goran Kostic (mob: 0641139516) for coming along and taking the photos.

Thanks also are due to Wendy, Jules, Philo, Alex and James for ably assisting with ensuring the smooth transition of attendees money from their wallets to the charity envelopes as they took part in the events.

And thanks also to those who donated some amazing prizes for the raffle:

  1. Meal for 2 at Le Teniza Restaurant
  2. Meal for 2 at Talas Restaurant
  3. Personally signed (on the night) copies of Yvo Kühling’s “Belgrade Bites
  4. Copy of Andy Townend’s “belgradestreets” book
  5. Copy of Komshe’s “Belgrade in your hands
  6. Qutie Designs voucher x2
  7. Three Carrots polo shirt plus keyring x2
  8. Signed copy of Matthew Palmer’s “The American Mission
  9. Masterclass lesson at the Balkan Chilli Festival

Pictures of many of the above prizes can be seen on the Pinterest page –

Thanks are also due to Komshe and English Book for sponsoring the roll-ups, and also to Betex and 3P Learning for their sponsorship of the t-shirts.
And final thanks to the team at The Three Carrots Pub who offered to help with an event before I had even planned any events, and then went out of their way to ensure that everything worked on the night; well done to you all!

Next event on September 26, from 7 pm, at the Canadian Club – see you there 🙂