Lee takes a look back at his 2021 marathon-a-month challenge, run in aid of Pattaya Orphanage and Sotpattana School.
What a year this has been, in more ways than one. A year that saw me complete my challenge of a Marathon-a-Month for Rose. Initially set for 2020, the beginning of the pandemic set in. The chaos of lockdowns and restrictions, along with the cancellation of races, meant that we decided after the first three months to postpone the challenge – hoping the pandemic would soon be over.
However, it was soon evident that the pandemic would continue. With Pattaya Orphanage and Sotpattana School for the Deaf still needing our support, we thought we would crack on in 2021, determined to complete the challenge as best we could.
Due to continued lockdowns and cancellations of races during the first few months of 2021, the first three marathons had to be local. I ran a mixture of 6-mile laps near my home and then around the local village or out-and-back laps to make up the 26.2 miles. At first, they sounded like a good idea. It meant that I could double back to my house to refuel with drinks and food and see my wife and children. However, the monotony of running around circles or back and forth on the same stretches of road soon proved to be quite a tough mental challenge. Coupled with the physical challenge of running the marathon distances (in the cold and wet UK winter weather), I found the first three marathons hard going.
In April, we decided to change the routes and do the marathon on a stretch of the Cleveland Way (a 109-mile National Trail in Northern England) from Osmotherly to Guisborough. This would be a tough marathon, a trail marathon, with a lot of elevation. (It would also prove to be good preparation for later on during the year!) Being in such a remote place at that time of year meant that I had to contend with the elements – snow, sleet, ice, rain, wind – and all sorts of treacherous ground conditions. But, it was also the first challenge of the year that I enjoyed. The remote scenery was terrific, the route showcasing the spectacular vistas of the Yorkshire moors, a welcome relief to the three previous marathons I had run around on my local streets.
In May, the marathon was actually an ultra-marathon. The Lap. A run around Lake Windermere in the Lake District. The distance was 47 miles of trail running, taking in an unbelievable amount of elevation totalling nearly 9000 feet. It was my first organised event of the year, and I had such a good time finally running an event with other people, albeit socially distanced. Again like the previous event, we had all sorts of weather to contend with, this time including gale-force winds! The distance of the event, and the fact I am not particularly quick, meant a night-time finish in the dark. It was my first experience of night running with a head torch (I probably should have practised this before), and it is an experience I will never forget. Towards the end, I was climbing over fallen trees, sliding down muddy banks, and on my hands and knees climbing under fallen trees. I made the finish line bruised and battered, but I had finished the 47-mile route – and that was another one ticked off on the marathon-a-month challenge.
Only a few weeks later, June’s challenge was another ultra-marathon. This time it was 100 km – the Race to the Castle from Kirkharle to Bamburgh Castle further North. I ran this event with my friend Jen Harrison who also took part. It was a fantastic event, and we managed to complete it in a respectable 18 hours 21 minutes. (Thanks to the wonderful help and support of our families!)
July and August took me back to two local marathons around where I live. Although this time, I switched it up to take in different parts of the local area. To keep me motivated, I again had the support of my friends and family, including Phil and my daughter Libby who ran alongside me (as had many others on previous runs, including Jo and Kurtis).
September’s marathon was the Berlin marathon. This was such a big event to be a part of and my first international marathon. It was also the first time I had flown since the beginning of the pandemic back in March 2020. The support and atmosphere in Berlin were absolutely incredible (even if the run itself didn’t quite go to plan). However, as an event and an experience, I wouldn’t change it and would love to go back and do it again.
Literally, the week after Berlin in October was the London Marathon (having managed to get a place for this marathon for a second time). Feeling tired from Berlin the week before, I embraced London as a chance to enjoy the experience of running with people and taking in the atmosphere – and boy, what an atmosphere it was. The weather was great. The atmosphere was electric. I don’t think I have ever run a marathon (or any event) where, along the whole route, people cheered you every single step of the way. The very best memory I have is of running towards Big Ben, turning right, and then hearing an almighty roar from the crowd as we ran up towards Buckingham Palace for the final 385 yards to the finish.
After the previous two marathons, my November challenge was a little bit later in the month (to give me a few weeks to recover from Berlin and London). I decided to take on more of the Cleveland Way route with Phil, who had joined me again in support. So, for the first 19 miles (from Robin Hoods Bay to Kettleness Beach) and back, Phil kept me company. This marathon was so tough due to the unbelievably strong coast winds that we had running along the cliff tops and, at times, proved quite dangerous and slippery. However, we managed to get it done, and again another marathon was knocked off the challenge.
So, to my last marathon. It was another local marathon, and it was run around the River Tees along to Middlesbrough football stadium and back, doing it twice to get the marathon distance in. Compared to some of the other marathons and ultra-marathons, and doing the Berlin and London back to back, this was quite a nice, flat, straightforward marathon to do, and so it was one I quite enjoyed. Also, I think it helped that I knew it was my last one!
Looking back on the year, I think the challenge itself has proved a lot harder than I first imagined. I massively underestimated how tough it would be to run a marathon every month. I definitely didn’t anticipate being so tired month after month with very little recovery time between training and running. I am looking forward to a bit of a rest over the Christmas holiday.
I am so pleased and grateful that I managed to complete this challenge. I could not have done it without the help and support of my family, friends, everyone I met along the routes of the different events, my work colleagues, as well as all those who have donated and followed my progress. Your encouragement has been overwhelming.
I would also like to thank everyone that has sponsored me, no matter how big or small. Your contributions really do make a difference to the projects the Rose Education Foundation supports. Your donations will help Pattaya Orphanage provide much-needed inoculations, as well as help their School for the Deaf develop its centre for children with autism. Your generosity will make a huge impact on the lives of the children in their care. For this, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
If you haven’t been able to donate yet, the Just Giving page is still open, and you can still give today.
We will keep the page open until the middle of January 2022.
Again, thank you for all of your support, not only for this year but throughout 2020 and beyond.