A Farnham Runner’s ‘Lockdown Challenge’

Ali Hardway at start of his Xmas 2020 challenge of a virtual run to Lands End in 28 daysMy challenge to run to Land’s End in 28 days …
By Ali Hardaway – Farnham Runners men’s captain

At the beginning of the year I had some serious issues with my back, forcing me to stop all sporting activities. At the start of the first lockdown in March just walking a few paces was very painful. I used this time to challenge myself back to fitness by walking, then cycling and eventually I was back to walk/jog/ run.

Fast forward to November 4th and Lockdown 2. I was starting to feel like my running was getting back to some form…. as a Golf Coach I had to accept that the Government was to close all golf courses and facilities and so was now unable to work for 28 days, I decided I needed a challenge to help pass the time.

So I challenged myself to run 250 miles in 28 days. At first I thought this was easily achievable, then after thinking it through realised that the furthest I’d ever run in this period of time was about 200 miles during marathon training, and that was a few years ago before I had had any real issues with my back. To make it more interesting I checked out the distance from Rowledge to Land’s End, turned out it was only another 12 miles. So that was it. The challenge was set: I’d run a virtual run from Rowledge to Land’s End in 28 days or less, a distance of 262 miles.

I didn’t get off to a great start. On day two I took a tumble and banged and cut my arm when hitting the ground. I also hit my head quite hard and I lay on the ground with my eyes closed for about 2/3 minutes and when I opened them and looked up a big dog was looking down on me with his owner, who asked “Are you OK?” I had cut my left arm quite badly, but I was thankfully alright. Then a few days later I twisted my left ankle on day five, not a great start but I wasn’t deterred. I wasn’t going to let this put me off.

After about 12 days of consecutive running, which was mainly on the road and stony trails I was starting to suffer, my legs feet and back were taking a pounding. I knew if I continued I wasn’t going to finish my challenge and with many more miles to go I decided that if I was going to finish this unscathed and injury free I would need to do most of my running off road on the softer sandy trails. These would be kinder to my body, which I would do mainly over and around Frensham Common and Ponds, the Flashes and Devils Jumps, and a few runs at Hankley and Hindhead Commons.

I was spoilt for choice, having such beautiful countryside to run in. The terrain was perfect for easy trail running, kind on the feet and legs and with not too much mud and not too many rocks or roots. I started to really enjoy the trails and I was getting to know the different tracks really well, skipping and carefully placing and picking up my feet as I trotted along. I also took on the challenging ROAM 639 route at the Devils Punch Bowl and Gibbet Hill a couple of times, a route that is often used by Farnham Runners’ more experienced ultra-runners. It has long steep descents on rugged paths with some brutal climbs, and plenty of MUD… we recently had a club run on this course – the history to it is quite interesting.

I started to find the runs were getting easier and easier and I was feeling stronger, especially on the hillier sections. I was now starting to really enjoy the trails – having done most of my running on roads over the years, I was getting hooked on trail running and the challenges it brings, my feet and legs were feeling great on the softer sandy tracks, and my back was feeling stronger, plus there was filming at Frensham which was interesting to see.

To keep my legs feet and back in good shape, after each run, I did lots of gentle stretching, especially my calves. I also made sure I stayed fully hydrated, eating well, with plenty of sleep, oh and lots of hot baths. I also did strict exercises each day, squats, lunges and core work.

I once tried to run a 31 day challenge in November 2015 but only managed 26 consecutive days, I was forced to stop through injury, as I developed Plantar Fasciitis a painful foot injury, and in that time I managed to run about 180 miles, this time I was determined to complete my challenge, and stay injury free. To undertake any running endurance challenge you always run the risk of suddenly picking up an injury, so listening to your body is a must.

On Saturday 28th November I completed my challenge by finishing off my last run in Alice Holt Forest where I had started. Throughout my challenge I have had some really encouraging comments from friends and club members posting on my STRAVA page.

Having now completed the ‘262’ Run, which is actually exactly 10 Marathons in 25 days it has inspired me to tackle an Ultra Marathon next year, I may be able to persuade my partner, Tina to join me. .I’ve learnt a lot about pacing myself over the distance and days, running at different paces and on different terrains so as not to pick up any injuries. Running longer distances and running every day is best done at an easier pace. It’s also advisable to vary the pace each day – by doing that, I have found that I have fewer aches and niggles now than when I started the challenge – slow, slow, slow is definitely the key!

A few interesting stats: ‘262’ miles equals an average of 10.5 miles a day. I gained 15,367 feet of elevation and burnt 31,560 calories. I became more aware of how I put down and picked up my feet, landing softer and picking my feet up quicker, avoiding ruts rocks and roots. My cadence increased from 170 strides per minute to 175.

Running every day is a challenge in itself, I would highly recommend it, but only for short periods of time (Streak Running) you definitely get fitter and stronger, but you need to listen to your body and stop immediately if you get any niggles or injuries.

If you don’t already run with a club I would recommend it – meeting and running with like-minded people. Farnham Runners is always open to new members.