Tag Archives: marathons

The 401 Challenge marathon #392

You know how the water in a sink will swirl one way down the plug hole in the northern hemisphere and the opposite way in the southern hemisphere, but it doesn’t really matter which way the water travels; gravity always wins. That’s how it is running with Ben Smith from the 401 Challenge. When you run with Ben on one of his 401 marathons, wherever you run in the pack, you just want to swish yourself this way or that, so you can be near him. Ben draws people to him. His force is strong. You want a little bit of him to rub off on you, which is selfish as running hundreds of marathons back to back has got to be quite tiring. I mean, how many people have you met who have run (just about) 401 marathons in consecutive days?

Running alongside Porchester Castle

Running alongside Porchester Castle

Ben – in picking running as his massive challenge – made a canny choice. He’s a clever man. Every village, town and city in the country has a running group of some sort, and have you noticed how a lot of people in these groups are, mmmmmmm… how do you say it, slightly *different* (…crazy/bonkers/sometimes out of the ordinarily, unbelievably mad…) in that once you draw them in then you’ve got them for life. I mean, have you seen this group of mad people in the winter? Are we at home getting our Christmas presents wrapped early just before we brush a wet cloth over the blinds/radiators/skirting boards so that we can go on to clearing out the garage, raking away the winter leaves and checking we have enough loo rolls/packets of pasta and tinned rice pudding in case of a national emergency? Before we hoover the car.

Love Laura's face, whatever...

Love Laura’s face, whatever…

No, we’re up at the crack of dawn driving with droopy eyelids to some wood or forest or other place in the middle of God knows where to run around a muddy, frozen track for about five miles and then after, after we stand in a large space (usually quite chilly and definitely not toasty) and talk about how wonderful the whole experience was as our fingers slowly defrost at the same time as the mud on our legs claggily dries so that we know even after the first shower when we get home it won’t come off. These are not average human beings. It’s a tribe; all shapes and sizes, backgrounds, ages, but with a strange and steely obsession about getting from one line to another and low and behold anything or anyone who prevents them from doing so (and don’t muck with our GPS signals either as there’s this really crucially unbelievably important element of time from one line to the other that can lead people to do crazed things). We are family. We look after each other.

We are DIFFERENT. Be proud as being normal is over-rated. Then one rises above the rest. He’s got a REALLY big beard. He looks kinda cool in a bandana. He’s obviously not only been born with the ACT1 gene (no, that doesn’t mean he’s good at drama, it’s what makes you an endurance king), he was also delivered in to our world with an extra something tucked away in his soul. He wouldn’t have known it was there. I’m sure his mum and dad had no idea (or maybe they did). Life gave him a few knocks – and he had choices, some very tough. He made them and this shaped who he became. Then a flicker of an idea must have grown, as these things do, probably silently at first, just thoughts starting to stick together like the ends of sellotape do, when you don’t want them. They created their own glue that held the thoughts together so they could become something greater, and a challenge was born. Did Ben create the 401 Challenge, or did it create him? His life was probably hurtling to the moment, in about one week’s time, when he finishes his 401th marathon, right from the first breath, whether he wanted it to or not.

Some of the Gosport Road Runners contingent

Some of the lovely Gosport Road Runners ladies

When you’re a runner a marathon is a BIG challenge, whoever you are, however fast, thin, fat, tall, short… there is no easy marathon. Who would ever think of running 401 on 401 consecutive days? No one of course. Because it’s madness. What a ridiculously large challenge to ask of one body, its 700-odd muscles and 206 bones. Your Neanderthal grandmother and grandpa had already genetically evolved to run about 10K (that’s six miles) a day to fetch food. Why would they have added an extra 20 miles on top when they had Stone Age chores to do like sweeping the cave and hanging out the newly laundered bear skins?

Taking instruction from the BBC on how to run round a corner. It was very useful

Taking instruction from the BBC on how to run round a corner. It was very useful

We’re not meant to do these miles every day. It’s not just worrying about dodgy knees and a tight ITB band, either. How do you get the brain and heart, the physical and emotional engines, to keep driving those muscles and bodies day-in, day-out, over and over and over and over? You don’t. I don’t. Ben does.

The Fareham Crusaders

The Fareham Crusaders

He can’t say ‘I just can’t do this today. I’m ill. I’m tired. I’m lonely. I’m just fed up. I don’t want to run any more. What was I thinking when I thought I could do this? I want to go and sit on the beach all day long with my mates. I want to pull on my compression tights, pour a massive glass of wine and just spend all afternoon cosied up with Mr or Mrs Netflix. I just can’t be bothered today.’

The gorgeous Anna and Sarah

The gorgeous Anna and Sarah

Ben has to turn up and smile at a big bunch of people who just gaze at him with a slightly dumb look on their face when they say ‘Wow, you’re really amaaaaaazing,’ like silly love-struck teenagers with their first girl/boy crush. He’s got so much better at dealing with that since I ran with him a year ago.

The Boss... this man bravely guided us along new trails

The Boss… Tony from Portsmouth Joggers bravely guided us along the trails

We know that when our excuses create our daily boundaries, we’re not really living, we’re existing. If you stand at the end of any race and you see…feel…taste that life doesn’t happen in our comfort zone. Force yourself out of it and, like an explosion of magic dust before our eyes we see sharply how beautiful life can be (and painful, but it’s always a good pain, right?). Then we realize we can share this beauty. We can do something that somehow helps someone else see it, and their lives are then changed forever. This is what Ben has done for us all. He shares this life-love. Surely we should all be giving him money just for this as we say: ‘Thanks. You made me realise there is so much more than just me in my life.’

Sarah representing Run City! Portsmouth

The gorgeous Sarah representing Run City! Portsmouth

All of us can bring that brightness into other’s lives; we can sharpen the focus so that new paths become clearer, and other choices can be made. We live in the age of empathy, and the only way through is to respond. Each of us may be but a grain of sand on the beach. Ben – and pioneers like him – they are the moon that can help us turn the tide. People… if we let these challenges sweep us together, between us we can be deeply powerful. Raising massive amounts of money together, by donating just a few precious pounds individually, can help build a beautiful palace, free for all to live in.

I cant even run two marathons in a row so I’ve no idea what it can feel like to run more, again, again. Again. Ben has though. He doesn’t complain. He listens. In fact, no one could have been more inclusive and supportive for those who were struggling to carry on yesterday. No jaded looks shine from his eyes. Coach/mentor/motivator/life shaper/life changer.

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Just a quick note for Ben’s support crew. I’ve figured out a way Ben can double his quarter million to a half. It’s easy! Do the 401 Challenge all over again, and make people pay a fine (£5, £10?) for being privileged enough to join in one of the runs. It’s got to be a winner.

The school run and normality called us back… but we escaped for a whole five hours

Come on, you’ve done 401 marathons Ben, you can’t tell me this isn’t possible…And I’ve also figured out a way I can do this with you, without feeling let down by my inferior, slightly smaller very less hairy body. Yes, I’ll not have a bath for 401 days. It will be tough, but it’s the least I can do to support you.

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He’s nearly there! You can help Ben in his final push to raise the last thousands he needs to make his £250K total by taking part in the 401’s virtual challenge, either 10K, half marathon or marathon, which you can run on your own, any time, any place. The closing date is 8th October. Enter here

Support Ben by donating here

Buy a 401 sweatshirt/tee shirt here (I quite like the blue…)

You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter

Too busy to train? You are not alone!

noo noo girl running for David

Here are my 10 easy ways to sneak in running time, regardless of schedules, commitments or distractions

1. Get up early
“Running before breakfast is a brilliant way to get used to running when a bit tired plus when you are low on fuel, as you will be during the latter stages of a half or full marathon,” says Steve Robinson, an athlete, personal trainer and sports therapist specialising in exercise rehabilitation. Even though the thought of getting up before the alarm should be going off may send many of us into hyperventilation, especially in the winter, by fitting in your run whilst the rest of the house sleeps means it’s ticked off your to-do list, and cannot be put off later in the day. It may at first be a struggle, but give yourself the chance and you will soon be buzzing from your early-morning exercise.

2. Run to and from work
If your commute to work is the same distance as a normal training run, why not run to work instead? “I used to bicycle into work when I was a submariner,” explains ex-marathoner Bryan Head, “then run home at the end of the day. The next day would be a run into work, then cycle home. The cross-training benefits were amazing.” You may even find that running is quicker than your usual commute. If the distance is too long to run, either bike, or park your car further from work and run the last part.

3. Run during your lunch hour
“Don’t forget that in winter this gives you a chance to get out in daylight, providing vital boosts to your health and wellbeing,” says Steve. The research shows that individuals are more productive during afternoons when they have left the office, compared to eating lunch at your desk. Make this the most productive 60 minutes of your day.

4. Take your kids with you
Tanya Brady represented Great Britain in the Women’s Lightweight Quadruple Scull in 2004 and 2005. After retiring from rowing she took up running. “The best investment I made whilst my daughter, Orla, was a baby was saving to buy an American BabyJogger 3 wheeler with 20 inch wheels and suspension,” explains Tanya.

“I did steady runs, interval sessions, tempo runs and even hill reps with her watching the world go by as I puffed and panted pushing her along! On weekdays, I trained in the daytime using the BabyJogger. At the weekends, I would either train early in the morning before anyone else was awake, or mid morning. It worked really well for everyone and I had a bit of ‘me’ time again, time to organise my thoughts.

“I still take the BabyJogger out for a spin along the seafront,” says Tanya, “however, this is now so much harder as my daughter is three years old and not nine months old. She is now also very chatty and expects a full running commentary (excuse the pun) for the duration of the run!”

5. Run with your dog
Again, this could be vital time for running, with health benefits for your pet! The more your dog runs, the fitter it will become, and soon they will be dragging you along. There are many events out there for runners with dogs; together you can find a new dimension to your relationship!

6. Invest in a treadmill…
If getting out running is just not on the cards, then why not run indoors? It may only take a garage clearance and some research on the internet to get you up and going, and treadmill prices have come down considerably making them more available to all today. Once the children are in bed you can turn on the belt and let yourself go; you will have to rely on your imagination to make the miles melt away, though an iPod will be invaluable. If you are stuck in doors though, this may well be a worthy investment; just make sure that the one you buy fits your spec.

7. Fetch a pen and a piece of paper
“As not only a professional athlete but personal trainer I get bombarded with the same old question time and time again: how to fit your running training around your busy work and family life and not lose the quality and quantity of the training,” says Mike Buss, who specialises in ultra running. Mike suggests writing down columns for work, family time, shopping, watching TV and housework.

“Then have a column for per day and a column for per week and tot up the hours you do these activities. You might be surprised, but when I sit down with my clients, I will often find several hours free to train once everything is set down on paper,” he says.

“Then you need to look at your training. Many of us believe it’s alright to just go for a run three times a week and not put anymore thought into it other than putting one foot in front of the other. So it’s important to look at each session; are you just going out for 30 minutes or an hour run? Look at what you are running for, is it weight loss? Is it for your first marathon? Then look about tailoring each session around your goals and your lifestyle.

“Commitment will be key to your successful training in the rat race,” believes Mike. “It may mean that you have to get up at 6am to go for a run before work or go out at 8pm after the kids have gone to bed, but there are ways of getting your training in without too much loss of your relaxing time.”

8. Socialise on the run
Instead of having lunch or coffee with a friend, try catching up during a run. By setting regular dates with running friends, you’ll be more motivated to run, as it’s harder to let down someone else than it is yourself. Running clubs are a great way to meet new people as well; many runners join a club looking for social runs, rather than training and competitive ones. There is bound to be someone of your fitness at your local running club, so why not give this a try? Remember, strangers are just friends you haven’t met yet!

9. Run to and from…
… the gym, the garage to pick up your car, the shop, a friends, school, college, the post office, the mail box, to see a friend at the weekend; see, if you just look at your calendar, there are boundless opportunities to run just waiting for you to notice them. Not only does this give you health benefits as well as being more economical than taking a car, it allows you to run through the seasons and your community, instead of these whizzing past you year in and year out, without you noticing.

10. Keep a spare set of kit in the car…
You never know when the opportunity to run may arise. By always being prepared you are able to seize the opportunity to lace up your trainers, should it arise unexpectedly. Choose appropriate times to run though; Charlie Spedding relays a tale in his book, From Last to First, how during a date with a girl he left her to chat with a friend whilst he went for a run. So pick your moment! Or alternatively, go on a running date … it could be the best thing you both ever did!

Your top tips:

Graham Bell: “You have to find an excuse to run, not an excuse not to run. If need be, get up early while the rest of the house sleeps. On a day out get dropped off 10k from home, and run it. You’ll be home only a few minutes after the rest of the family, and they won’t have missed you.”

Emily Foran: “I used to run with both my two young boys in our Phil and Ted’s pushchair with them shouting ‘slow down mummy!’. I also always run to collect the car from the garage, if it has been left overnight . And with marathon training, at weekends I used to get up, eat breakfast at 6:00am and then go back to bed for half an hour before heading out running at 7.30am, so that my runs weren’t eating into family time. It’s a juggling act every week!”

Caroline Baker-Duly: “For me, I have to run with my kids. Its like a corral! I’m the lone ‘wagonner’ running round in circles whilst they are trapped in the park!”

Melanie Charlton: “In the park, round the outskirts, while the kids play on the apparatus.”

Lucy May: “My dad used to run for an hour when I was at swimming lessons. Recently I’ve been getting in from work and getting my kit on so I don’t sit down and start relaxing, otherwise I don’t go. I also have a motivational poster on my wall. One of my friends works through their lunches (eating while at their desk) to build them up so they can be taken together at once to fit in a longer run/cycle once a week.”
Sharon White: “I often go while my two boys are in their karate class which saves me driving home and back again. I also often set off half hour earlier for my Pilates class and do a tempo run first. It really is lovely to have a real good stretch out afterwards.”

Stephanie Gardiner: “In between drop off and pick up from cubs….an hour is just about right!”

Nicky Cole: “I struggle with childcare so sometimes my kids have to come with me on my runs. They are about the right pace on scooters and I make sure we end up at the park. I think they quite enjoy it!”

My experts:

Steve Robinson, Runability, Bury St. Edmunds, www.runability-runningshoes.co.uk

Mike Buss, www.mike-buss.com