Words and images: Jack Jerram
I had been inspired by an animated Anime TV (Japanese Animation) show to start running during the first Lockdown. After improving upon my initial time of 26 minutes and 43 seconds, to 16 minutes and 21 seconds covering the same route over 6 months, I was ready for a new challenge!
January 2020 and a second, more deadly wave of the Coronavirus hit the UK. Positive cases were escalating and the chance of starting university lectures in person seemed as remote as Boris Johnson combing his hair! With time on my hands, I rewatched Run with the Wind and the team effort of the characters running their 12-mile sections of a marathon. Inspired, I decided that training for my own marathon would see me through the next period of isolation and dark nights.
Originally, the marathon began in Ancient Greece, the Athenians learned that the Persians had landed at the city of Marathon, a messenger called Pheidippides ran to Sparta to request help. On delivering his message, after a 26-mile run at speed, it is said that Pheidippides dropped down dead! The distance between Sparta and Marathon gave the Olympic event its name. I certainly had no intention of dying in the attempt of my next running challenge so I started googling marathon preparation.
During my research, I came across the Conqueror Virtual Challenges; 18 distances that contestants can run, swim or cycle independently or, with a friend. The shortest distance on offer is the distance of the English Channel at 21 miles long and the longest is Route 66 - at an insane 2,280 miles!
As a Japanese TV programme had piqued my interest in marathon running in the first place, I chose Mount Fuji - a distance of 46 miles and registered online, paying £40. I decided to rope in my friend Dec and between us we would clock up the miles.
As we progressed through the distance of our virtual challenge, we received online postcards from actual landmarks of the journey at 20%, 40%, 60% and 80% completion. One such landmark was the Narusawa Ice Cave, these online post cards added interest, motivation and a sense of scale that just couldn’t be found running by yourself. I might not have actually been there, but the immersion this challenge generated gave running a tangible goal. Get to the next checkpoint.
It took 60 days to complete our journey up Mount Fuji and in an act of support, another friend joined us, by bike, on our last 3 miles. Shortly afterwards, a gold medal arrived by post along with a commemorative t-shirt and I was hooked (again)!
I decided to sign up individually for Hadrian’s Wall - a distance of 90 miles - and train at the same time for a real marathon now that Boris had announced 'Freedom Day'. A professional marathon must be run in one go so I realised that I needed a greater injection of stamina! Mum knew a personal trainer, Rebecca Thomas, and put me in touch.
Rebecca met me on the running track at Queen’s Park, one hot afternoon in May and put me through my paces. A baseline assessment was made and from there a training plan was devised. I continued to meet her once a week throughout the summer – sometimes on the track and sometimes in her converted garage in Walton, furnished with a variety of the latest exercise equipment.
Each week, Rebecca emailed me exercises to raise my fitness levels and I invested in my own additional equipment: a 10kg weight and skipping rope. It took some practise and a few choice words to master the skipping – something I had only attempted once a year on Sports Day as a kid, but within a few days, I was skipping like Rocky Balboa!
Rebecca kept me focused; it felt like a joint effort and doubled my motivation. I now had a marathon booked, the 5K Run Alton Towers, and was clocking up miles on my Hadrian’s Wall Challenge.
By September, I’d begun my second year at university and finally got to meet some of the other students on my course! I made the university badminton team, which I felt was a direct result of my increased fitness – friends I had played of equal ability the year before, I was beating decisively.
I was now a long way off the unfit, sluggish, fast-food lover I had been when Lockdown began. Don’t get me wrong, I still love a good takeaway now and then but I regulate it with a regular fitness regime and the mental health benefits are long lasting including improved sleep and mood.
As this article goes to press, I will have completed both a virtual and actual marathon. A goal I never thought I could accomplish, all starting with a simple animated film which asked, “what does it feel like to run with the wind? I think if I keep running and one day I’ll find an answer.” From that moment I wanted to know that feeling too.
Read my next article for a planned route to re-kindle your love of running or kick-start it. If you mention S40/S41 Local and this article to Rebecca Thomas of Thomas Personal Coaching, she will give you a free initial consultation – I highly recommend it.