Sunday 5 April was supposed to be the day I ran the Manchester marathon with friends from Portmarnock AC. However, like so many things right now, the race was postponed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Determined not to be derailed (and not to let all that training go to waste), we joked about running in our gardens instead. A joke that quickly turned into a crazy idea.
When I first told my wife and family I planned to run a marathon in our nine-metre garden, they had concerns but were 100% behind the idea – in some cases more excited about it then me.
Truth be told I had no idea how to prepare. I’ve run 18 marathons from Dublin to Berlin to Brighton, but never my back garden. I did the maths, and realised I would have to do 4,689 laps to run the 42.2 kilometres of a marathon. Thirty minutes into my one training run, my GPS showed that in that time, I had managed to cover a whopping 2km.
“If I could do some good while doing something I enjoy, then I figured it would make the process of traversing my garden thousands and thousands of times just that bit easier.”
At this point, I questioned whether I could actually do this – but within us all is the drive to do what might at first seem impossible. For me, the inspiration came from knowing that what I was going to do would benefit a good cause: a local suicide and self-harm prevention charity called Pieta House.
Losing a friend through suicide last year rocked me to my core. Thinking about the restrictions on all our lives right now, and knowing there must be people more in need of Pieta House’s services than ever, pushed me through. Running removes a lot of the stresses and anxiety that could add up on me – and I know not everyone is lucky enough to have that off switch. So if I could do some good while doing something I enjoy, then I figured it would make the process of traversing my garden thousands and thousands of times just that bit easier.
Soon, it was race day. The first few kilometres were slow before I found my rhythm and settled in. I knew it was going to be a long day so I couldn’t try and get any pace going, given the dimensions of my ‘course’. Constant turning could result in me blowing out my knees, ankles or hips early on if I was foolish.
Once I found my rhythm it became more and more enjoyable. My wife and neighbour (running buddy) were updating me with positive messages from those watching live on Facebook, and we turned it into a fun event with music going and viewers suggesting some appropriate running songs (a great source of entertainment for my six-year-old daughter, who was only too happy to dance and soon became the star of the show). Neighbours even hung out of windows and leant over garden fences to cheer me on.
One early concern from literally running round in circles were bouts of dizziness but, somehow, I managed to get away with it. And unlike most marathons where you hit the dreaded ‘wall’ as your muscles tire and your glycogen reserves deplete, this was different. I didn’t have that battle between my body and mind because I wasn’t pushing the pace to get a time. My only goal was to finish.
As I went round and round, I found ways to distract myself from the monotony: singing along to songs, having several good discussions with myself, but mostly just taking in support from my family and friends, which kept my head where it needed to be. After those slow early kilometres, I mastered the tight turns and managed to pick up some pace. My last five were my fastest throughout the day – the thoughts of finally finishing got me more pumped the closer I was to the end.
“After exactly five hours and six minutes of chasing my tail, I was done, and ready for the lovely cold pint Guinness waiting for me.”
After exactly five hours and six minutes of chasing my tail, I was done, and ready for the lovely cold pint Guinness waiting for me – which didn’t last too long (and also is not normally part of my rehydration plan, but I think I deserved it).
I came away from my unique run having learned a few things. First, that we’re all capable of great things, particularly when they can benefit others as well as ourselves. We only have one shot at life, and right now it’s on us all to discover what living our best life means to us.
Another thing I learned is, simply, that people are amazing. When times are hard, people come together and support each other – and that’s more evident today in this pandemic than ever, where people are staying indoors to save the lives of loved ones but also strangers. Could there be any greater expression of love, kindness and compassion than that?
Best of all, this was supposed to be a run in my back garden streamed amongst a few friends to raise a few hundred Euros for charity. But my run went viral, has been viewed by almost 7,000 people and I’ve raised over €10,000 to date for Pieta House – a lot coming from complete strangers.
I am eternally grateful to all these people who donated, supported and sent positive messages of encouragement. This run was one I’ll never forget.
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