Well blow me down with a feather, it’s been EXACTLY a month since my last blog post. On my last internet scribing, I was wondering whether Fleet HM would be on (it wasn’t) and I remember feeling an overwhelming sense of doom. Roll on a month and the U.K is on lockdown, thousands of people are dying via an invisible virus, anti-vaxxers are running riot with conspiracy theories (whatever gets you through the day, eh) and queuing for a supermarket in a face-mask is the new norm.
I don’t want to focus too much on COVID-19 in this post as wherever you look, someone else is offering an opinion based on fear and worry, and although that is understandable, I want to try and keep this post as positive as possible. Saying that, I do realise a lot of people are having a shit time and people’s lives have been turned upside down by all of this. Keep talking to people, keep trying to do stuff and keep being nice to other humans and we’ll get through it. Moving on…
I’ve worked hard this year on my running, I was feeling in great shape leading up to Fleet HM and I was also feeling pretty good in the old noggin. Can’t run well if you don’t feel well, too, right? Mental and physical health go hand in hand. Like all runners, I was missing a race to test myself. When our Chinese mates went into lockdown earlier in the year, I saw some lad had done a mara around his living room table – I knew that if this happened to us, I would end up doing something similar. First off, to keep myself sane as having something to look forward to is good for me and secondly, coz I wanted to raise some spondoolies for charity as I hadn’t done that for a bit.
What could I do? I am very lucky I live in the countryside, in the small village of Steep just outside Petersfield. I live in a rad old cottage with a decent sized garden. And yes, I appreciate that I am very privileged especially as a lot of people are trapped in flats in city locations. I decided to run a ‘parkrun’ 5k around my garden a couple of weeks ago to test the garden’s runability and to see how the ‘course’ was. It was a bit lumpy underfoot but a loop of 0.06 miles was born, and definitely possible to run around. I completed the parkrun in around 27 mins (GPS is shite here as you’ll see later) and the seed to run the garden mara had developed in my brain into a full on plant. There was a plant growing in my brain and this plant had sprouted and shouted ‘RUN A FUCKING MARATHON, JHON.’
I haven’t done any marathon training really – I got up to 16 miles a few weeks backs on my long run but I knew this was going to be more of a slower, endurance challenge. During the lockdown, my girlfriend Rowena is living with me. She’s a bundle of energy, so between us, I knew we could organise and promote a pretty good Garden Marathon event. The date was set for Easter Sunday, April 12th at 10:30 a.m and I had worked out that it was gonna be roughly 440 loops around the garden. We chose the charities to help – Tower Hill Animal Sanctuary (run by legendary Vegan Runner, Fiona Oakes) and The Fountain Centre (Row’s dad died recently, and they were super helpful to him and her family towards the end of his life). We planned the Facebook Live stream from my page, and how we were going to promote it – Row was gonna be event director and the lovely Joe Wade from HOKA ONE ONE had seen my post about doing the marathon, and HOKA got on board with helping to promote it – super cool! WE WERE READY TO RUN A BLOODY GARDEN MARA.
The Just Giving page had seen a steady stream of donations and we hit our initial target of £1000 in 24 hours. I had been running over the weekend but the Monday before the mara, I woke up and couldn’t walk, let alone run. I did what most runners don’t do – I stopped running, spoke to the physio (thanks Bev) and she gave me some exercises to release my wonky sacrum. It worked because after three days off, I could jog again – even though it felt like I had a metal pole through my midriff. I was worried as I thought I was going to have to postpone it – which of course would’ve been fine but when I make a plan I like to stick to it. My sacrum got looser and the challenge was on! In terms of the challenge, I have to say I wasn’t that worried in advance of doing it because I like running in loops (can’t get lost) and I didn’t think about it too much other than I had to get the job done.
MARA DAY came around and after a hearty oat based breakfast, Row and I set up the garden for the live stream so people had something to look at when I was out of shot. Wifi had been sacked off in favour of a USB connection to make sure it didn’t drop out, so people could only see me run for about three seconds while I ran around the rest of the house. Luckily Row kept everyone entertained with her enthusiastic patter. We’d hit over £2500 in donations and I was actually excited to get going as well as being full of some pre-run nerves. After several poos and one last sacrum release (they’re different, honest) it was time to get going. The aid table was set up, we had a giant cut out horse, Vegan Runners flag and my infamous Broccoli outfit in shot (I ran a mara as a Broccoli a while back).
Run wise – I decided to change direction every mile to mix it up and try and prevent any injuries. My garden is pretty flat except for one rise around each side – so one short uphill on every loop. There’s a few lumps on the ground and it was a bit wet to start, so I started running in my HOKA Torrent (trail) and half way, I changed into my Clifton 6 (road) for a bit more comfort and cushion. The first 10 miles passed uneventfully but I was already getting hungry about 6 miles in! Running a bit slower bit than usual and the heat began to take its toll. It was about 20C as my garden is a bit of a sun-trap. I hit the HM, changed the shoes, took on lots of water, had a quick stretch and carried back on.
Everything felt pretty good ’til about 16 miles and then my legs started to grumble. I was close to three hours on my feet and I knew it was probably going to be a couple more at least! I had never been so hungry on a run and gels weren’t cutting it – so Row brought me out bananas, Trek bars and even a whole buttered bagel which helped. I started to flag at about 21 miles and could taste the salt on my new pornstar-tache and forehead. I downed a couple of glasses of salt water and immediately felt much perkier. 4 hours rolled by… I had never ran for more than 4 hours, so this was a novel experience. I couldn’t eat anymore food as it wasn’t sitting right. Miles 22 to 24 felt like a bloody eternity but I could see the light at the end of the tunnel and the last mile was a joy. Mainly because three randoms had strolled by and were clapping every loop like it was a proper sporting event – while socially distancing of course.
Row had done a great job in keeping my spirits up by reading out everyone’s comments on the live stream. I had come to the last lap, which was probably my quickest for at least a couple of hours. My left hip flexor had stopped working and I just wanted to sit down and eat, drink water, seven beers, sleep and wash. Finally, I finished. I had come 1st and won a marathon! I mean, I will probably never win one again whilst setting a course record, so I had to savour the moment. Row and her Mum had made me an amazing medal which Row presented to me at the end (she also made the race number) – The charity money had risen to £3400 while running and now sits at £3800 – mental! I felt a lot worse than I did at the end of any previous mara – even my sub-3 at London… TBF, I was so happy after that, that I went straight to the pub!
26.2 miles in 4 hours 55 mins and 52 seconds.
4 hours and 29 mins of moving time.
An hour longer than I’d ever run.
5k of loops with Row.
4 loops with Frenzal (my dog) before he got too annoying and jumped over a wall.
5 garden pisses.
Albums by Mungo’s Hi-Fi, Pears, Frenzal Rhomb, The Living End & The Skints.
3000 calories burnt.
136 bpm average HR.
At least 5 bottles of rehydration drinks.
I bagel (cinnamon & raisin).
2 Trek Bars.
2 glasses of salt water.
Several bottles of water.
At least 450 loops.
2 arguments with Row.
5 hour non stop Facebook Stream (watch here) with 700 comments and 1.5K views.
30 plus Insta Stories over the day.
The horse cut-out only fell over 4 times.
Slowest ever marathon.
One Strava Map that looked like an Easter egg.
A massive thanks to everyone who watched the live stream, dropped me a message, walked by and cheered, shared the Just Giving page and donated! You rule. It would be great if we could get the total to £4000 for the charities. You can donate HERE! Thanks again to Joe Wade, Hoka One One, Ben Southall (he knows why), Bev for fixing me and my friends at Cricket Without Boundaries for setting up their own garden challenges over the weekend. Oh, and Rowena for dealing with one grumpy and tired runner – she also ran 5k of it to support me and only stood on my leg once, a new record. She really is the best and most supportive girl. If you’re thinking of doing something similar in your own house – I would recommend it. Even if it’s not a marathon, there’s plenty of awesome creative things you can do during this lockdown to challenge yourself and raise some money for a charity you love. Make an event out of it and get people online involved, and you’re on to a winner.
Who fucking knows what next month’s blog will bring!
Check out these links:
Just Giving Page – let’s hit 4K please (money not distance).
Listen to the Portsmouth Running Podcast (Dan featured me on here the day before the mara)
Tower Hill Animal Sanctuary
The Fountain Centre
HOKA ONE ONE for the best running shoes