Thousands of runners across the planet are right now putting in the final preparations for the upcoming series of Spring marathons. From London to Boston, via Barcelona and Copenhagen, the Endomondo training miles are being logged, kit is being sorted and personal goals are being set. I’m one of those runners but I’m preparing for a marathon challenge with a difference. In less than two weeks I will attempt to run eight marathons in 20 days on three continents.
Starting on 5 April, I’ll tackle the brutal Sahara Desert Ultra, the Marathon des Sables. More than 156 miles, carrying up to 8.5kg, in temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius up and down sand dune mountains. If I survive that I then fly to America for the Boston Marathon before finally coming back to the UK for the Virgin Money London Marathon, where I’ll finish my challenge on the Mall in front of my friends and family.
It’s over 208 miles in less than three weeks and potentially more than 50 hours of running.
So what craziness makes someone decide to take on a marathon mission like that? To be honest I’ve been asking myself that question more and more frequently as I edge closer to the challenge. The answer is quite simple.
In 2010 I made discovery. I realised that the act of putting one foot in front of the other over 26.2 miles could be a powerful force for change. Running had a profoundly positive personal impact on me. It made me fitter, happier and more productive. What I didn’t quite realise back then was that by running I also had the potential to improve the lives of others. I realised I’d found a way to not only test myself but also to use my passion to support the causes I care about most. The moment that seed was been planted in my head I’ve never looked back.
Then I Went Running with the Kenyans…
In June 2014, my journey took me to the spiritual home of running. I ran the Lewa Marathon in Kenya, a stunning 26.2 miles through a wildlife conserve north of Nairobi. As part of the trip we visited the Pepo La Tumaini school project, a wonderful place where Kenyan children suffering with, or orphaned by, HIV/AIDS, are able to find a place to be children. A safe place where kids can learn the skills they need to cope with a life affected by one of the most devastating diseases on the planet. I’ll never forget the school. Or the children. Proud, intelligent, talented and full of life.
The Tumaini Project helps these children develop into the inspiring individuals I met, through counselling, support and education. All on very tight resources. I’ve saw first hand how the children seize the opportunity the school project offers. With both hands, with a real sense of pride and a sense of perseverance.One image from Tumaini stood out. On a beaten up desk, there was an inch of pencil, sharpened and scribbled right down to a stub. Every last word was going to be eked out of that pencil. Nothing would be wasted. To me it was a symbol of dedication, commitment and perseverance. Everything you need to be a runner.
It really struck a chord and off the back of the two hours we spent at the school, I decided my next running challenge should do something to help nurture that spirit. I was already doing the MDS and was debating Boston and London. This made it an easy decision. I couldn’t think of a better way to help this small charity to continue to do their amazing work than stitching the lot together and running 208 miles in 20 days on three continents.
It’s an honour to be able to do something that can make a difference, I just hope we can hit the £10,000 target and change over hundreds of lives.
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How Do You Train to Run 8 Marathons in 20 Days?
My training has been very different to your usual marathon training plan. With help from the brilliant team at the PaleoGym.co.uk in London, I’ve taken a fresh approach.
Over the past six months I’ve followed a strict paleo-inspired diet, cutting out all gluten, sugar, dairy, what, anything from grain, alcohol (mostly), soy, starchy veg and legumes. In its pace I’ve been fueling with high quality lean protein from fish, grass-fed beef, chicken and turkey along with vast quantities of nutrient-rich green veg, nuts, seeds and good fatty foods like avocados and olives.
I’ve been in the gym five times a week working on getting lean and building power in the right paces with strength training. I’ve combined this with a couple of long slow midweek runs, around 90 minutes each, and two bloody horrendous hill sessions all out up and down a 350 metre super steep hill in Richmond Park in London anywhere between 10 and 15 times. Carrying 10.5kg in my backpack. It’s been killer at times.
What might come as a surprise to most people is that looking back through my Endomondo tracking stats, the furthest I’ve run in training is 13.1 miles. The Marathon des Sables is a steady race that requires strong legs and an iron will. I’m lucky enough to have a solid endurance base and I’ve spent my training time getting lean and building power in my legs to carry me up and down the dunes.
When it comes to Boston and London, the distances covered in the MDS will suffice as my long run!
What will I be telling myself as I run?
I’ve been telling myself the same thing for every 5.30am alarm call where I didn’t want to leave my bed, every hard session I’ve done in the gym, every time I opted not to eat that biscuit, doughnut or drink that beer. I’ll be telling myself the same two things every step of the way:
- Your twenty days of discomfort is nothing compared to the hardship suffered by the children that the Tumaini Project helps. Stop whining and get on with it.
8 Marathons, 3 Continents in 20 Days
Kieran Alger is running 8 marathons, on three continents in 20 days to raise money for the Pepo La Tumaini Project helping AIDS affected children in Kenya. You can follow his progress at www.manvmiles.com or on Twitter @KieranAlger.