On 22nd October I crossed the finish line of the Rottnest Island Marathon, in Western Australia. It was the 4th race in my marathon challenge and marked 13 months since I started running.
In these 13 months, I have learnt a lot about myself and how my body and mind deals with the pressure I’m asking of it. I’ve faced every emotion and pushed myself through some agonising pain in the pursuit of this challenge. But, why? For me this answer is simple.
I’m inspired by others
I’m inspired by those out there who are breaking world records and others who have just taken on their first 5km run. I'm inspired by those people who push their boundaries to show us all what we are capable of.
I’m inspired by individuals who battle daily with their physical and mental health. Those who have the courage to stand up and talk about it and also those who have the courage to sit down and listen. I’m inspired by those people who are trying to make a difference in other’s lives. I feel inspired to embrace mental health and I'm passionate about raising money & awareness for the Jonny Wilkinson Foundation.
I’m inspired by young people reaching their full potential and those people who volunteer their time to help them. I’m inspired by the importance of adventure and the great outdoors, by those who are at home in nature and fresh air. I’m inspired by those who discover what they love to do and do it. I’m inspired and passionate about the Scout movement and how it helps young people from every background enjoy everyday adventure. I feel inspired to keep pushing myself outside my comfort zone to raise money and awareness for The Scout Association.
Being inspired by others and their journeys gives me the strength and motivation to push myself further, to have self belief and to embrace everything that comes with it.
The best thing about being inspired by others, is that I can celebrate their achievements as well as my own.
If you're inspired too and want to help then it would mean the world if you could donate: https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/icanrun7
Running a marathon at the "End of the World" really did live up to it’s name. If the scenery didn’t take your breath away then Patagonia’s wild wind certainly did! When we arrived in Patagonia we drove to our hotel which was perfectly placed on a beautiful glacial lake with a view of Torres Del Paine. As we got closer to the hotel the clouds were covering most of the view, but we didn’t need to wait long for the mountains to reveal themselves. Epic is a much overused word, but the scenery here truly earns that title.
The day before the marathon we stretched our legs, hiking to a nearby glacier ice field. That was when we really felt the power of the wind and cold air. We met a father and son from Melbourne who had also travelled for the event and we exchanged good stories about our travels and marathon experiences so far. That evening before dinner our guide sat us down and explained the weather forecast for the next day, the marathon day, and it wasn’t good. The forecast was for high winds to be anywhere from 50km/h continuously to 100km/h gusts. That night I didn’t get as much sleep as I wanted, the thought of the unknown of running in the winds kept me awake.
The next morning I woke to the sound of wind at the window and I threw the covers back over my head to hide from it. After a few minutes of getting myself together I got up and pulled up the blinds to see the conditions. I was presented with the most beautiful slight yet, an incredible red sky was above Torres Del Paine. I got myself ready and before I knew it the Australian duo and I were on the way to the marathon start line.
When we arrived at the start line the first thing I noticed when I got out of the van was how calm it was, I was so happy! I started the marathon with a spring in my step, where was the wind they forecasted? Had they got it all wrong? I ran the first 10km and got so warm I even had to start shedding layers. Then I turned a corner and the wind hit. At first it was just light with small gusts, nothing I couldn’t handle I thought. When I got to around the half way mark it became unbearable. We were climbing a 250m hill and the wind was tunnelling down between the rock faces straight at us. It was so bad that it sent small rocks our way which stung when they hit. It was clear at this point that I was going to really need to dig in deep to get to the finish line.
It was here that I met Norma, a lady from Mexico. We decided that it would be best to stick together rather than battling the winds alone. We took it in turns to shield each other from the gusts and braced to stop ourselves being blown over. The worst part of the wind was that it was blowing straight in to our faces instead of a nice tailwind. The harsh conditions we faced meant at times it was impossible for me to walk let alone run, and with each moment I was not moving fast enough my body was getting colder and slower. At one point I pulled out my foil survival blanket and wrapped it around my chest underneath my jacket as it was the last layer I had in my bag.
The terrain was varied, very rugged and breathtakingly beautiful so I kept reminding myself how lucky I was to be running in this part of the world. Although it was also far more hilly than I thought, with some climbs and descents totalling almost 1,000m - I guess I read the elevation chart wrong!
The wind didn’t let off for the remainder of the course and Norma and I crossed the finish line hand in hand after 6.43hr which really reminded me of the true meaning of sport when we collected our medals together. What an incredible feeling it was, to complete another marathon after a number of months recovering from a knee injury. I felt all my pain and exhaustion turn to happiness and relief. I couldn’t wait to get back to the hotel and celebrate with Mr Jones!
We had one day left and we really wanted to make the most of it, who needs to rest after a marathon when you’re in Patagonia?! Rhys had desperately wanted to hike to the base of the Torres Del Paine towers, and as he had been such a wonderful support as always I thought it was only right for us to do it. So we decided to book a full day out, horse riding in the morning and hiking that afternoon and my goodness it was so special even if I found it difficult to walk for days after!
I’ve been asked if the marathons are getting any easier and truthfully I don’t think I would say they are, as each one so far has presented it’s own unique challenge. However I do feel like I’m becoming mentally and physically stronger to be able to push my boundaries when I need to the most. In doing this challenge it’s so important to me that I can show what the power of self belief can achieve and to raise money for my 2 amazing charities. As always I am grateful for any support, 100% of the donations go to the charities, with none used to fund the project.
Until next month, when I hope to bring more good news from Rottnest Island, Perth.
Now that I’ve had a couple of months to reflect on my experience in Banff and get back to full fitness, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the rest of my 7 marathons project. I’m super excited to be flying to Patagonia for race number 3 in just one week, and can’t wait to be at the start line of such a wild race in beautiful, if unforgiving surroundings.
The planning side of this project has been a big task, with logistics all over the world, and some races far more complex than others. I’ve been working in the background with race entries and payment deadlines, and thankfully I’ve just about scraped in with most of them thanks to the fantastic support of some very generous sponsors. Raising money for charity has been an important aspect of this challenge since inception, and with that in mind I’ve decided to tweak one of my races.
It’s vital that all of the money that’s been donated on my fundraising page goes 100% to the charities, with none used to offset my travel costs. The race which has required the most funding all along has been in Antarctica, and this has been a sticking point for quite a while, as payment deadlines loomed ever closer. So I’ve sat back and thought about what’s important about this personal challenge. Is it that I run on every geographic continent? Or that I take part in 7 challenging races all around the world, in one year, having been a complete novice 1 year ago? For me, it’s about proving to myself that I can continue these races, and without compromising the money I’ve raised for charity.
I’ve decided that I’ll now run in the Arctic, instead of Antarctica. The cost is significantly lower, and the climate is of equal if not greater challenge, as the race I’ve entered is the Yukon Arctic Ultra, which takes place in Arctic winter. It’s a formidable route, running over the frozen Yukon River, with average daily temperatures of -20c, and never reaching above -16c. I’ll be completing Stage 1 (marathon distance), whilst some of the competitors continue for a staggering 430 miles in total. It does mean I won’t get to run in the Antarctic region, but the Yukon Arctic marathon will see me in true polar conditions, and best of all means I can keep to my 1 year schedule for the 7 races, and tick the “cold/polar race” box along the way!
So I’m super excited about the Yukon, and right back on track with my schedule. The only trip left to fund will be the Kilimanjaro marathon in March, which means I can focus on the charity fundraising and give it all of my energy.
A huge thank you to everyone who’s supported my challenge so far, it means so much to me when I’m out training in the rain or getting tired at the 20 miles mark.
Here’s to 7 marathons in one year!
After just two weeks at home from finishing the Everest Marathon, it was time to hit the road again and head west, to North America. With marathon number 3 in my sights, I was feeling much more relaxed and looking forward to running amongst some spectacular scenery in Banff National Park. The race briefing had gone well and I was all set, although I’ll admit to being a little concerned when I was strongly advised to carry bear spray!
This is where I would have loved to go on explaining how well the run went and here’s a photo of my medal to prove it, but it sadly didn’t end like that.
Despite starting in high spirits, quite early in to the race I started to experience eye-watering pain radiating from my knee to my ankle. Initially I kept telling myself it would wear off and that it’s a marathon after all, it’s bound to hurt, right? I tried so hard to keep looking at the incredible scenery around me and just take it all in and enjoy myself.
As I reached the half marathon turn around point I started to slow down and eventually stopped. This is where the battle in my mind began. I knew that the aid stations were every 5km and I knew that if I was to carry on then I really wanted to make it to the next aid station. The slower I became the more risk there was of being on my own between aid stations and I was worried about the bear risk. The next 20 minutes saw me running to and from the turn around point. I had tears pouring down my face as I kept battling with myself:
“ What am I doing? It shouldn’t hurt this much!”
“ Come on pull yourself together, you've got this, ignore the pain”
“ No I really don’t have this, I’m really worried about injuring myself”
“ I have to finish this, I’ve travelled too far and I’m going to be a failure if I stop, what will others think of me?”
But after trying to keep running on it several times, in the end I had no choice but to concede defeat and hobble to the aid station at the 7 mile mark. I was driven back to the start line, checked by a paramedic, and sent to the hospital for x-rays. After having my leg bent is various peculiar angles by several doctors, it was diagnosed as a strain of the medial collateral ligament (MCL).
It was a really tough and upsetting decision to stop, but ultimately the right one, as I managed to stop before any damage became more serious ...or even permanent. It wasn’t easy coming home empty handed, a big part of me felt like I had failed myself, the challenge and all those who had supported the journey so far by donating.
I remember trying to think how I was going to break the news to those at home and what they were going to think of me. Maybe I haven’t trained hard enough? Maybe I wasn’t a runner after all? Maybe I was just too ambitious?
As a last note I would like to say that I shouldn’t have ever worried about what others back home thought about me for not completing the Banff marathon. My family and friends have been amazing and so supportive as always and for that I am so thankful.
Now I’m looking ahead to Patagonia on the 9th September with excitement. I’m looking forward to carrying on with this challenge and raising more money and awareness for my two amazing charities. If you would like help by donating I would really really appreciate it. Thank you!
I’m thrilled to share that on the 29th May, I crossed the finish line of the world’s highest marathon after 9:35:27 running from Everest Base Camp to Namche Bazzar.
It was incomparable to London, having taken 14 days just to trek to the start line, all the while having to acclimatise to the thin air and dropping temperatures. Pre-marathon routines usually follow a strict regime of tapering, rest and nutrition, none of which was possible for this race, so I wanted to share with you a little more about what it feels like to run the Everest Marathon.
After a long flight from the UK we arrived to a very wet and stormy Kathmandu. With just enough time there to collect my race pack and reorganise kit we were off to the airport again the following morning to catch our helicopter which took us to Lukla airstrip, famously one of the most dangerous airports in the world due to it’s difficult approach and steep incline of the runway.
From here we would say goodbye to any engines and to rely solely on our legs to carry us the rest of the way. The next 12 days as we made our journey from 2,600m to 5,400m we passed through incredible rhododendron forests, crossed many suspension bridges over white water rapids and trekked amongst beautiful Himalayan giants. We drank numerous cups of tea and ate our body weight in noodles. We had to overcome altitude headaches, sudden temperature and weather changes, let's not mention the toilet situation!
When we finally arrived in Everest Base Camp it was a completely surreal experience for me. It was special to see where Rhys had stayed all those weeks whilst climbing Everest, and also you just feel like you are surrounded by history, looking up at the icefall and thinking of all the past explorers. It’s a barren place at just over 5,300m, with football size rocks balancing on the ice underneath. The whole area is unstable, and can be heard constantly cracking and groaning as it moves. All in all not a recipe for a good night’s sleep!
On the morning of the race it was around -10c before sunrise, and the village of brightly coloured tents looked tiny against the backdrop of jagged peaks on all sides. 200 runners assembled at the foot of the Khumbu Icefall, shuffling to keep warm whilst we waited for the race to begin. Many of the competitors who’d initially signed up for the full marathon had decided the terrain was too difficult, the altitude too high, and that conditions were generally too tough, so they had switched to race a Half Marathon instead.
At 7am, the start gun fired and we were off. The local Sherpas made incredibly light work of the impossible loose rock that littered the first 10km of the course. Getting out of Base Camp and past the first two villages was physically very tough, we were above 5,000m and negotiating undulating rock on ice, with loose scree which made it very easy to twist an ankle.
After a couple of hours the terrain opened up, we lost height sharply after passing the memorials for those who have lost their lives on Everest. At around 18km, there was a loop up and back in a valley to adjust to marathon distance which was torture mentally. But, once it was done, I was half way home and the air slowly began to thicken.
I’d forgotten a big climb to Tengboche Monastery, after which came the steepest descent of the course. We crossed one of the famous suspension bridges over the white water river, before going straight in to the longest climb, gaining roughly the same height as climbing Snowdon. On the final stretch before the finish line, the trail opened up to a wide sandy track. I really hit my groove, found a new energy and knew I was going to make it. I found a fast pace, started to overtake others and began to cry as I knew I was going to finish this race and see Rhys at the line.
Overall it was an unforgettable experience, and many runners say it’s twice as hard as a normal marathon. The whole trip was a wonderful adventure, and one I will never forget. It’s crazy to think that this time last year I couldn’t even contemplate running a 10k and now I have already run 2 of my 7 marathons, including one of the toughest in the world!
I spent time assessing what everyone else was eating… a lot of banana’s… I don’t like banana’s so I kept to hash browns and some sausages, the food of real champions!
At 8.30am it was time to walk over to the start area, and when I arrived I couldn’t believe how long the toilet queue was. It took forever to find what I think was the back so I could join it! It worked perfectly because by the time I had arrived at the front (45 minutes later) it was then time to go to the start line.
At 10am the starting gun went and it took me just 6 minutes to get over the start line. My iPod was going, my legs were feeling fresh and I was elated to actually be running the London Marathon. I had a bounce in my step and I could feel the adrenaline as I kept hitting mile markers. I couldn’t believe this was actually happening, I felt so good.
I was running alongside the 4.30hr pace maker which made things easy for me to just run without worrying about my pace. Until my pace maker all of a sudden disappeared around mile 10 to answer the call of nature, and I was left pacing myself, initially not a problem but as the crowds grew and the cheers got louder, I got faster and my slower pace went out the window… I mean I was still feeling great so why not?
Big mistake… I made it to mile 16 when my left leg started to cramp so badly from my hip all the way to my foot. I stopped a number of times at the side of the road to try and stretch it out but it just wouldn’t budge. My heart and lungs felt 100% but the leg pain hit my morale, especially when I saw that with each kilometre I was getting slower and slower as a result.
As I spotted loved ones in the crowd my mood would be briefly lifted, but then it would crash again when I realised how much further I still had to go and my cramp was not letting off. The crowds do everything they can to get you smiling and they really are incredible!
I felt so excited to share the moment with Rhys at the finish line, he has been such amazing support, always encouraging me that I can do this and I can’t wait to share the rest of the journey with him.
Now that I’ve learned more about my body and how it feels to cover 26.2 miles I am feeling confident about the Everest Marathon on 29th May. I know it’s going to be a completely different experience from London and I’m looking forward to facing the challenges that it brings.
After Laura's blog about what she's learned since she started training for her challenge, she asked me to write one from my perspective. I must say that it's been amazing watching her progress since signing up for the Everest Marathon, and she's been running all winter, which is proper dedication! I've also picked up a few things from my role as "support crew", and here they are.
1. It’s expensive
Whoever said running was a cheap sport, was clearly not married to a woman! I never knew that 64 pairs of leggings in myriad colours would be an “essential”, or that you actually need different trainers for different races. Thankfully, those good people at Ellis Brigham stepped in to sponsor Laura’s kit, which is a huge help. Likewise Suunto sent her one of the watches she was dropping such unsubtle hints about just before Christmas.
2. Say goodbye to your Sunday mornings
I’m not sure who decided that races should take place on Sunday mornings, but you’d better be prepared to drive to numerous school car parks and muddy fields to wave off your beloved. Of course there is one advantage of events taking place on a Sunday, which is being able to read the papers whilst your wife tackles hills, trails and tracks.
3. Wearing a bin bag is perfectly acceptable
Grown men skipping around in rubbish bags is, apparently, completely normal and raises not so much as an eyelid! Laura prefers to wear a warm down jacket and hand it to me 2 mins before the start.
4. Runners look remarkably similar when there are a lot of them
I always walk parts of the course (usually with our dogs) to try and spot Laura and cheer her on. However, it’s not as easy as I thought. First there’s the panic of thinking you’ve already missed her, and then the waiting game. Every girl that jogs towards us from the horizon could be her, the dogs wag their tails, but it’s not. And so this continues until she pops up for about 5 seconds, jogs straight past and you see her again at the finish line.
5. It’s expensive (Part 2)
Not only will you be staring down the barrel of 3 (or 4) digit kit expenditure, but as your partner changes shape as a result of all the running, so their entire wardrobe will gradually become obsolete. Cue sentences such as “literally NOTHING fits me, I need a whole new wardrobe!”. At this point I find it best to bury my head in the sand and quietly ignore various parcels arriving at the door!
6. You will get to watch all the boxsets and movies your partner doesn’t like
Training for marathons takes a huge amount of time and dedication, which I am full of admiration for. It also means you spend a lot of time at home whilst your partner sets off in to the dark winters night. The best way to get through this is to watch the things Laura doesn’t much like, and to cook ever more complicated meals for when she gets home. A late arrival is well met by exclaiming “dinner is ruined!”, usually followed by much laughter.
7. You’d better have a good excuse for not running with them
If you take an active interest in your partners running, you’re bound to meet members of her running club, fellow race competitors, and of course the friendly staff at your local gym. All of these people will quiz you on why you’re not running with her. At this point I like to lean on my excuse “I’d love to, but my dodgy knees..”, which is actually true, honestly...
8. You’ll realise how awesome they are
Watching your partner fidgeting with nerves at the start line is horrible, especially when they’re shoulder to shoulder with hardened runners who’ve been at it for years. It feels like the first day of big school. But seeing them cross the finish line is awesome. They keep achieving distances that were previously deemed impossible, and the pride is etched on their face when they hold up the medal for the post-race Instagram shot.
9. You’re desperate to help them achieve the next milestone
And for Laura’s 7 marathons project, that means helping to find sponsors and raise donations for the charities. So if you want to help her too, you can, by donating at https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/icanrun7, or by helping to underwrite the costs of the events.
Written by Rhys Jones
With less than a month (ahh) until my first marathon in London, it’s got me thinking about all the things I now know about running that I didn’t 7 months ago:
Running hurts but it's all worth it!
We’ve all seen someone dressed as a rhinoceros or carrying a fridge crossing the London Marathon finish line, so running can’t be that bad, can it? Well, when I started it hurt, when I improved it hurt, and now I am almost running marathon distance it still hurts but you just keep going! The pain is short lived but the achievement is forever!
Don’t judge a book by it’s cover...
So you’re standing around waiting for a race to start, you are looking around hoping that someone there is going to be slower than you. You see a pensioner with a taped up knee and you think you’ve got it in the bag… until they fly past you leaving you in their wake. I have huge admiration for them and can only hope I am as fit as them in the future.
Say GOODBYE to your boobs - sigh!
Would I have started running if I knew that my boobs would get smaller?...nobody knows! I can’t deny that running has been great for my body confidence, I look and feel much fitter and healthier. It’s ironic that before I started running I was sufficiently “equipped" to fill my bikini top, but could have used a little more toning elsewhere. Now that I’ve ended up a couple of sizes smaller, my old bikinis are baggy in all the wrong places!
You always find the energy when there are photographers
It could be a couple of miles to the end of a race, you are puffing, panting and hunched over waiting for the pain to end when you see a photographer up ahead. You instantly adjust your hair and spring towards them with a smile on your face, only to return to your former state just after you pass them.
You live and breathe sportswear
Even if you don’t mean to, you live in it! When you’re either running or at the gym pretty much every day of the week, why would you wear anything else? Plus it is so comfortable!
You use your GPS watch for everything
Who thought sports watches could be so versatile? Not only is it amazing for tracking my pace, time, HR and navigation, but you can also use the stop watch to time how long your cake has been in the oven!
Everyone is obsessed about your time!
Hello people, I AM RUNNING A MARATHON! If I finish it in 4:15, 4:45 or 5 hours what’s the biggy? I’m not an elite athlete, I just want to see if I can get to the finish line, 26.2 miles is a heck of a long way to run. Maybe we should give more kudos to runners taking 5+ hours for spending so much extra time on their feet!
You have to stretch
I have a very short attention span, so I am terrible at stretching, I get so bored plus I never really know if I'm doing it right! But when things start hurting and your coach asks if you've stretched, you better hope you can say yes!
The rain can be your friend
Rain has always been my arch rival, turning my hair frizzy. But now I love to run in the drizzle, who cares if I have frizzy hair anyway!
Most importantly, you meet amazing people who inspire and motivate you
You meet lovely people from all walks of life, different abilities, different ages, different goals but you all have something in common... running! You talk to a stranger on the route during a race, you egg them on and they egg you on! As for the race marshals and supporters, I don't know what we would do without their words of encouragement. The awesome members of the running club who always ask how you are getting on, help when you're hurt and give you the confidence to keep trying!