By Christopher Stacey, Chief Executive of Prisoners Abroad

I am writing this with just under three weeks to go until I try the biggest personal and physical challenge of my life - to run two marathons in two days.

When I decided over the summer that this was the challenge I was going to take on, I think I’d forgotten what I’d told myself back in 2010 after I ran the London marathon: “I never want to run a marathon again”. I remember feeling like that for a few reasons.

Firstly, running marathons is hard – 26 miles for most people means at least 4 hours of continuous running. That’s easy to write, but to actually experience four hours of running non-stop puts significant strain on your body, your muscles, your legs, not the mention the mental exhaustion. 

Secondly, training (properly) for a marathon is arguably even harder than running one – it takes months of preparation, pretty much every day involves running in some way, with the weekends filled with long runs and feeling exhausted afterwards.

But the main reason I vowed not to run a marathon again is because in 2010 I collapsed after 24 miles. After a bit of medical attention, I managed to find the courage to turn down the ambulance that was waiting for me and walk the last couple of miles. That experience is a helpful reminder to me of how difficult one marathon is, never mind two in two days.

13 years on, with the knees not as good as they used to be, you can see why choosing to run two marathons across two days was quite a bold, brave (and arguably silly!) thing to do. And there’s been a few moments where I thought I’d taken on too much of a challenge. But then I remind myself of why I decided to do this.

Put simply, it’s because British citizens detained overseas need vital support. Prisoners Abroad is unique in what it does to help them, and the organisation needs all the money it can raise to help fund this life-saving work.

Since I joined the charity as chief executive six months ago, I’ve seen first-hand the letters that we receive from men and women in prisons across 96 countries. In many places, prison conditions are dreadful; people sometimes have to pay to shower and even flush the toilet, and access to clean drinking water and sufficient food is severely limited.

Some of the things we do are so simple that most of us might take them for granted; we provide freepost envelopes so that people can keep in touch with home, and send books, magazines, and newspapers to give people something in English to read. The impact these small things can have on sustaining mental health and reducing isolation is profound.

We are also there to support people setting foot back on British soil after release and deportation. We help people find somewhere to stay, pay for their emergency accommodation, provide grants for food and travel, and help them get essentials – such as a pension or welfare benefits, healthcare, and long-term housing – in place so they can build a positive future.

We also provide much-needed support to family members to cope with the trauma. This includes providing one-to-one support through our experienced caseworkers, and hosting in-person family days, support groups and information sessions to help reduce the isolation and stigma, and give people hope and optimism for the future.

But all of this costs money. My biggest responsibility as chief executive is to make sure we have the funding to help the people for whom we exist. And the honest answer is that there is so much more that is needed. Whether that’s paying for medical check-ups and healthcare for people in the most deprived prisons across the world, to meeting the rising costs of emergency accommodation after release, we need to raise more money to be able to step up the support that people need.

I also remind myself of why I chose this particular challenge, which is where it gets personal to me. About two years ago, I tried it but failed. My dad was suffering from Dementia at the time, and earlier in the year I’d taken on a month-long running challenge to raise money for the Alzheimer’s Society. In the summer of that year, I thought it would be poignant to try and run from my home in Lincolnshire to my childhood home in Hull where my dad lived, which helpfully worked out at 52 miles. But I failed. After 25 miles on day one, I had to give up. I hadn’t trained enough, and my body couldn’t do it. Sadly, my dad passed away about 9 months after that, and I never did finish the challenge – so it’s always felt like there’s something that needs completing.

I’ve been hard at work training. Alongside having an important day job as the chief executive of this fabulous charity, I also have a young family with two little ones keeping me busy outside of work, so finding the time to train isn’t easy. I’ve been out most mornings (and increasingly when it’s dark, so VERY early). Sometimes out at 5.30am, I’ve been running over 7 miles most weekdays, usually having one day off a week (a Friday) ahead of long runs on Saturday and Sunday. The furthest I’ve done in a single day so far is 22 miles, and I’ve managed 35 miles over two days, so I’ve got some way towards the 52 miles over two days that I need to be able to do on 17th and 18th November.

And I’ve been enjoying the chance to load up on carbs! I like my food, and especially carbs, so that’s been one bonus. I discovered chocolate-covered flapjacks (see below) as good running-fuel, as well as my mum’s Christmas cake!

But it’s been getting tough in recent weeks. I’ve been feeling very tired, and my legs have been struggling. So, with less than three weeks to go, I can now begin to think about preparing for the two days themselves, and I’ll be easing down the length of runs and taking a few more days off to make sure I don’t go in feeling tired.

The thing that has kept me going through the last few months is receiving some wonderfully warm and encouraging words of support. Some of these have come from friends and family – which has been nice to receive. But many of these have come from people that I don’t personally know but who have long-supported Prisoners Abroad, and that’s been particularly motivating for me because it shows how much people care for this cause.

I’m delighted to have reached about 50% of my sponsorship target, but that means there’s still a long way to go, and I’d love it if we could smash that total because every penny will be used to benefit people affected by overseas imprisonment.

You can donate today through my JustGiving page – or, if you’d like to donate another way, please get in touch with the Prisoners Abroad fundraising team by emailing [email protected].