It was on Wednesday, while munching sandwiches in the lunch break during the leadership strategy session, that Gary put the idea in my head.
By Thursday, I'd made the required arrangements. After work on Friday, I set off on the train (well, three trains, actually), and the adventure had begun.
That's the brilliant thing about trail running - with a bit of imagination and some spontaneity, micro-adventures are yours for the enjoying.
So it was that I set out to run the footpath along the banks of the Thames River, between the source near Kemble in Gloucestershire, and the flood barrier at Woolwich in South East London, in four consecutive weekends.
My quick plan was to spend two weekends running from the Source and two from the Barrier and meet up in pretty Henley-Upon-Thames. When I told Dave about it he said, "You’re running to meet yourself." Now that's why everyone needs a friend called Dave.
This long trail run would mark the end of my living in the Big Smoke and allow me time to reflect before life's next chapter. The official guide says the Thames Path is 300km, but with all the running to and from buses, trains and taxis to link up each weekend's efforts, going in wrong directions due to signs hidden behind trees, plus the inevitable detours for pints of cold cider, cooked breakfasts, and smoked salmon lunches, I ended up doing 340km.
My basic rhythm was that I started work really early each Friday so that I could slip off from work by mid-afternoon to get transport to my start point, then ran a half marathon that evening. I did a long run each Saturday and another half marathon each Sunday. The train trips gave me time to book B&Bs.
While running to meet myself, I encountered a diversity of people and saw a wide variety of scenes. Some good, some rough; some kind, some mean; some repetitive, some wonderfully unique. Such is the course of life, isn't it?
I discovered that this artery of England supplies life in many forms. From its postcard pastures up at the Source, with belligerent bulls and friendly farmers, through the docile domesticity of the developed estates, with their groomed gardens and stately homes, and the classic icons of London city culture, with their posturing poses and fancy facades, to the Jo'burg-like dumps, docks and bare backstreets around the Barrier. This river is inexorably bound to the lives of those who live around it.
All along its course, there were the predictable pubs and inns, towns and boats, plaques and history. There were lots of surprises too. Life does that when you run to meet yourself.
A strange one was when I started out from the little town of Kemble and trotted around and about for a few kilometres until I found the official source of the river. I warn you, it's a small pile of rocks in the middle of a very dry field, with a tombstone saying that it is, indeed, the Source of the Mighty Thames. The English are peculiar people.
And then there was the man wearing a bright orange shirt with a picture of a pink lotus flower, leading a band of women wearing bright green shirts with the same picture. As they walked toward me through a woodland, he held up his hand and called out to them, "Stand aside – there’s someone very fast coming through!" Very peculiar.
One Friday night I met only one other person in over two hours of running in the thundering rain. He was walking his dog and stopped to chat. He was from Bloubergstrand.
Another treat was the old dude struggling to walk, even with two sticks, and stopping often to catch his breath. He had a straw hat stacked with a bright flower arrangement, and a little sign saying, Be Happy.
Yet another was the young guy selling icecreams under a bridge when my legs wanted to fall off in the heat. No-one else was about - just him, his umbrella, and little wagon - and amazing, cold, clotted cream custard.
There were also some challenging moments and a few not-so-nice people. Life's like that too. But they didn't matter enough to spoil a terrific trail. They never do.
I hope there's someone like Gary in your next lunch break. Or maybe an old dude with a straw hat. Look out for them. Catch the whiff of the adventure; breathe it in; take a small backpack with too little stuff, and go. Just go, Friend. Go run the Trail. You'll meet yourself there.
And if a Gary, or a Dave, or a bright t-shirt with a pink lotus flower, doesn't cross your path, drop me a mail - I'm sure we can think up something together. As long as you move slowly and stop for interesting people, cooked breakfasts, and cold cider along the way, you’ll be welcome.
Note to self: "When life feels too big, run when you can, walk when you have to, crawl if you must, but do not stop. You know how to do this - you’re an Ultra Trail Runner."