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What could ever possess someone to run 3 marathons in 3 days?

Last week started as a pretty normal week in quarantined Ireland. It was both Hadley’s and my birthday during the week so there was a little more planning of presents and special meals (everything needs to be celebrated when one is forced to stay at home) but the week didn’t really change much. At least not at first.

The amount I exercise during Covid-19 has definitely increased; it’s a good way to get the endorphins flowing, a viable and permissible excuse to leave the house and it’s just a productive way to pass the time. On any given day during quarantine I would normally go for a run in the morning and then do a workout in the afternoon, which, due to lack of equipment was almost always a body workout -push-ups, burpees etc. I have been following and doing the workouts an old trails mentor and friend, Bruce Lawson, who is based in Hoedspruit, South Africa was posting on his Instagram every day during lockdown. His insta handle is @bushfitwithbruce for anyone interested.

Above: One of Bruce’s BushFit 'Lockdown Workouts of the Day'

On Monday last week, Bruce told me he was going to start a walking challenge for the last few days of the most stringent part of lockdown in South Africa. Bruce, and another trails guide, mentor and friend, Sean Pattrick (@naturalexposuresafaris), would be walking 50 km (around 30 miles) each day for three days in their back gardens –(at this point South Africans were not allowed out of their houses/yards for anything other than food-shopping).

Above: The tracking data from Bruce’s first day of walking in his garden….around and around he goes on the hamster wheel!

They weren’t going to do this for just shits and giggles though—they were going to walk it to help fundraise for Tshembo Africa (@tshembo_africa), a non-profit formed around this adventure, which is currently organising the fundraising and logistics behind the ‘Marching for hope 150 km Challenge’ as it is now known.

Proceeds are donated to the Hlokomela Herb Gardens (@hlokomela), a healthcare NGO based in Hoedspruit which helps to grow and provide food packages to the families and people that have been severely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic in the Greater Kruger National Park area. All credit to Daniela Mates, Natali Arn and Casey Bennet, the women who are doing a phenomenal job of organising, documenting and managing this initiative as it grows.

Bruce and Sean are not just ‘average’ guides; both have spent the best part of the last 25 years in the African bush, mostly doing walking safaris or trails as they’re also known. On top of ‘normal trails guiding’ Sean used to play rugby at London-Irish, has co-authored the highly successful ‘Game Ranger in Your Backpack’ and trains anti-poaching units how to track down poachers.

Above: Sean and Bruce heading out on a trail in Kruger National Park

Bruce has walked around 20,000 hours in dangerous game areas and spent close to two years in the late nineties walking from Cape Town, South Africa to Cairo, Egypt. Yes, you read that correctly. Both also hold the ‘Special Knowledge and Skills: Dangerous Game Accolade’, which is arguably the most difficult guiding qualification to attain in Africa. They know how to spin a yarn around a campfire, that’s for sure!

Sean and Bruce walked and completed the 150 kilometers (94 miles) between Tuesday and Thursday, wearing backpacks weighing 18 kg (40 lbs). As Bruce and Sean finished their walk on Thursday, a few friends of mine, Brian Kelly and Sarah Nurse, reached out to me and asked whether I would be keen to walk 150 km in order to further this as a fundraising event. Brian, in a livestream on Tshembo’s Instagram told Bruce jokingly that Bruce was ‘walking without a back-up’, and that he would be picking up where Sean and Bruce had left off and would walk 150 km himself as a sign of support.

Things have snowballed from there…Over the past week, former students of Bruce and Sean have been walking and running the challenge in one form or another. Social restrictions due to the pandemic of course mean that some people will not be able to do the challenge over three days.

Above: Map of all the countries where back-ups are walking the 150km during Covid-19 lockdown.

I decided to run the challenge and without a backpack. Here’s my reasoning. Running is faster than walking: I would spend less time outside where I could potentially transmit or catch the virus. I also decided against the backpack as it would draw unwanted attention from one of the many police patrols and checkpoints around Dublin currently—a big backpack usually suggests traveling somewhere and we were not allowed to go further than 2 km from our houses at the time. On top of this, running with a backpack would have really, truly sucked. Running this distance was going to be a massive personal challenge in itself – prior to this I had never run a marathon, let alone three in a row. How would my feet and legs respond? Was I fit enough?

I decided to wake up early to start on the first day. This would mean completely quiet streets and in my eyes a good head-start on the day. The first morning went really well. My legs held up and I smashed out an entire marathon in just over four hours. On top of this, I saw loads of wildlife on the streets of Dublin: a dipper, a kingfisher and a fox all along the river Dodder—even a badger on the field in my estate -truly remarkable to think these creatures are all present yet we don’t see them as we don’t go outside when they are at their most active. The reduced human traffic during Covid-19 must also play a role. I think knowing that friends like Sarah, Brian, Eve and Bruce were out and about walking gave me a lot of inspiration too. The first day I ran 60 km (37 miles).

Above: Jomi finishing off Day 2 & 110km (68.4 miles)!

I woke up around 4 am on day 2 and my big toe was VERY stiff and felt swollen too. I think it probably would have been a good idea to stop there and then but knowing what a good cause this was all for meant that I dug deep and managed. I ran about 45 km (28 miles) that day and walked about 5 km (3 miles), stopping at home in order to refuel. When covering these kinds of distances, the body burns a ton of calories. I weigh 200 lb or 91-92 kg and it takes a lot of energy for me to move at the best of times. If you walk or run a marathon you probably burn between 3,500 and 4,000 extra calories. At every break I was hammering food—loads of bananas, protein bars and salty high calorie snacks such as nuts. In hindsight, I probably should have eaten more protein. Rehydrate and vitamin tablets saved me though.

The toughest part of the challenge was not physical but mental. Running loops within a 2 km radius in a city is not always exciting and stimulating and though there was always an hour long window in the morning where I saw some wildlife, when it warmed up later in the day and my legs started to tire slowly, my mind was telling me to just stop and give up. That’s where the rest of the team came in: lots of encouragement from all the other people walking always gave me the extra mental stamina; reading encouraging Whatsapp messages was really, really and having headphones with good music or an interesting podcast playing often motivated or distracted me.

Above: Top: The team cheering on Jomi at the end of Day 1.

Bottom: George providing recovery support.

I’d purposefully done more on the first two days so that Day 3 would be the shortest in case my legs didn’t want to put in a full stint. Luckily this wasn’t the case. One small blister on my right foot was irritating but not really worth mentioning. The Asics I bought back in January really came into their own. I can’t recommend a pair of good running shoes enough to anybody who does any sort of exercise. I finished the 150 km on the third day, with a total time of 17 hours and 30 minutes— my pace naturally slowed over time but I reckon it’s still fairly decent.

Above: Jomi’s final time! In miles, this comes to: 93 miles in 17.5 hours total at an average speed of 5.34 miles per hour over 3 days!

Bruce is still walking by the way: he is 550 km (loads of miles) in and plans to walk until he reaches 1000 km (620 miles). He says he is making sure to back every single person up who aims to complete the challenge. 50 km a day for twenty days. The man is totally insane. Bruce is the definition of someone who leads by example though. I personally think that it is this quality in him and in Sean which has kept this community of trails guides so closely connected. It’s been years since many of us have seen or worked with the two, but within a couple of days and with very little hesitation, a virtual army of people mobilised. We mustn’t overlook and understate the cause though. I think that the main reason we are all walking and running the challenge is because we truly believe that the need is great.

I haven’t been in South Africa during this lockdown of course but have regularly been in touch with my friends there who have struggled, mostly mentally during this. And they are friends who all have a home to go to and money to buy food, internet to keep themselves entertained or distracted, their health, and access to proper healthcare to name but a few benefits. The majority of the South African population does not have these privileges. The majority of the African population does not have this. Being able to stay in your home for 20 days without working is a privilege for people who can afford it. Not everybody falls into the category of essential worker either.

Unfortunately, the majority live from one day to the next -just to make ends meet. Prolonged lockdowns in countries such as South Africa are incredibly taxing on those living in poverty. In the townships in South Africa, a household will often have six or more people living in it and these people have been bound by what can only be described as quasi-martial law to stay in their very cramped houses day in and day out during the lockdown. This is, of course, unsustainable in the long term. By ‘buying’ food parcels from the Hlokomela Herb Gardens, Tshembo is helping to keep a number of local South Africans employed, which has a massive ripple effects for their friends and family. Hlokomela is able to guarantee fresh produce at a time when many would not be able to afford to buy it. The food parcels are helping households that can literally no longer afford to buy food.

Above: Langa, one of the largest townships in Cape Town, is slightly smaller than Central Park in New York, yet home to over 80,000 people, all forced to shelter in place during South Africa’s lockdown.

This crisis is just beginning and there are millions of people in need of help at the moment—a number that will undoubtedly continue to grow. We all have the ability to help in one way or another. Be it by wearing a face mask when going in public, donating to a cause that’s helping those in need, putting a rainbow up in your window…the list goes on and on. If you would like to support Tshembo’s mission of buying food parcels from Hlokomela Herb Gardens to give to families in need, you can do so at this link set up to support the Hlokomela Herb Gardens:

Every little bit is appreciated.

To date, the challenge has been taken on by over 40 people in five continents and over $20,000 have been raised. That’s already 30,000 meals for people who would otherwise not have access to food. And everyone who has participated or donated should be very proud. To any who have contributed, thank you! To those who will in the future, thank you! To anyone doing their part to help others during this time, thank you! Every act of kindness makes a difference.

Above: One of the female gardeners at Hlokomela Herb Gardens

Some more photo highlights:

Above: Some of the walkers were lucky to be walking in stunning areas! Swiss Alps

Above: Others weren’t quite as lucky…

Guid course vido
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