By Christopher Stacey, Chief Executive of Prisoners Abroad

I’m writing this about a week after I managed to complete a monumental physical challenge: running two marathons over two days in support of Prisoners Abroad. Following on from an earlier blog about my training and preparations, I wanted to follow up with a reflection on how it all went.

First, I’d like to start by thanking everyone who sent me lovely messages of support before, during and afterwards. Those messages, particularly the ones I read during the challenge itself in moments of rest, really kept me going at times when it was incredibly tough. I’m also immensely grateful for all those who sponsored me and made a donation to Prisoners Abroad, as we’ve smashed our original target and raised over £4,800. 

Day one

Although I was running two marathons over two days, in practice it broke down into 32 miles on day one and 20.5 miles on day two, so I knew that the first day was going to be hard.

After eating a mountain of pasta the night before, Friday began with more carbs in the form of a large bowl of porridge and some muesli about 7am, then a banana at 9am. I was all smiles at 9.15am, when I set off, armed with a bottle of water and an energy drink. 

The sun was shining but it was pretty chilly, so the gloves were on as I began my first stint, running through Lincoln and getting across a part of the city that includes ‘steep hill’ – which is as steep as it sounds! A little later on I nearly had to take an unplanned diversion as a road was closed due to resurfacing, but after a quick chat with the road workers, I persuaded them to let me run down, which meant a nice quiet road for a couple of miles.

I was doing this challenge alone, but my wife’s parents had volunteered to be my unofficial ‘support vehicle’, so I’d agreed for them to meet them after 13 miles, where I topped up my drinks and had a banana. I was feeling okay at this point, and making good time. 

The next stint of 8 miles got progressively tougher, with a diversion due to roadworks that I couldn’t avoid this time and forced me to add an extra mile to my journey. When I got to my next pit-stop – the car park of a pub – I was longing for a nice spot of lunch in the pub garden, but alas, after another banana and some fruit cake, I was on my way again. 

It wasn’t long before I began to hit “the wall”. A well-known thing in long-distance running, it hit me after about 24 miles. Knowing I still had 8 miles left, I felt like I had nothing left in the tank. It was at this point about two years ago – when I’d first attempted this challenge – that I had to give up, and so when I was forced to walk this time, I was beginning to worry that history was repeating itself. 

With hindsight, this was the toughest part. It still felt a long way to the end of day one, but somehow I managed to keep going and before I knew it, I’d reached the village ahead. After another minute or so of walking to get me up a pretty big hill, I came out the other side of the village feeling able to run again. It was a pretty busy road (so that’s always a motivation to get you moving) and I managed to dig deep. This is where my months of training really came into its own. 

That said, it was still a huge relief to see my family at the next check point in a lay by, where I had another banana (I was getting sick of them at this point!) and more fluids, and with “just” 4 miles left to go, I started to think I was going to make it. I could tell my family were a bit more worried about history repeating itself, as I had collapsed after 24 miles during the 2010 London marathon, so they decided to follow me from behind.  

I managed to battle through the final 4 miles of the day without any more walking, and it was a mighty relief to see the hotel in the distance. When I arrived, I immediately took a video, and while you can probably see the exhaustion on my face, you probably won’t notice my hands shaking. The body does weird things at times like this and I could feel my nose tingling too, so I was glad to hear that my room was ready as I was desperate to get showered and change my clothes. 

But that was the first day of running done – 32.16 miles, 4 hours 19 minutes of running (4 hours 32 minutes including stops)!

After a long run you often don’t feel like eating, but knowing I had to do it all again the next day, I forced some tuna pasta down me before a long soak in the bath. My wife and two little ones arrived at the hotel shortly after so we went swimming as I was longing for the jacuzzi, and I made the most of the calories I needed to take on board by enjoying a mountain of food from the takeaway – a burger, kebab, chips and a pizza! 

Day two

I didn’t sleep particularly well (the caffeine in my energy drinks the day before didn’t help!) and I’d woken in pain quite a few times from leg cramps, so I wasn’t feeling particularly positive about the day ahead. 

After a quick dip in the pool with the kids, a big breakfast was needed – more porridge, but I took advantage of the bacon, eggs and muffins on offer too. However, I must admit I sat at the breakfast table and really didn’t want to go running again. My legs felt incredibly stiff and heavy, and I couldn’t contemplate how I’d run another 20 miles.  

But when I got back to my hotel room, I looked at all the messages I’d received overnight – people congratulating me on day one, and wishing me luck for day two – and that gave me the courage to go again. 

So, I set off just before 11am. The morning rain had passed, it was brightening up, and much milder than the day before so no gloves were needed. I could instantly feel the aching in my legs, so it was a gentler run, but the route was much more pleasant than the day before and I was soon running beside a canal which is where I’d stay for some 5 miles. 

The first stop after 9 miles meant – you guessed it! – another banana and a top up of fluids. My route soon took me to the banks of the river Humber where, for the first time, I could begin to get a taste of the finish line; I often run across the Humber Bridge when I’m visiting my mum in Hull, so although I still had a good few miles to go, this gave me the added motivation I needed to only pause one more time just before the bridge before the last push down into Hull. 

To add insult to injury, to make sure I could legitimately claim I’d done the ‘full’ two marathons (and just in case anyone wanted a refund on their donation if I didn’t!), I forced myself to do an extra couple of laps of the park just before I arrived. I ended up doing 20.7 miles, with 2 hours 55 minutes of running (and 3 hours 6 minutes including stops). 

I immediately took another video, and you can see the combination of exhaustion and relief on my face.  You can probably also spot the emotion – a reflection of what it meant to me to have successfully completed it. 

Reflections and thank you!

Although it wasn’t a race, the competitive part of me wanted to complete it in a respectable time, and over the two days I managed to run 52.86 miles in 7 hours 14 minutes (7 hours 38 minutes including stops). It’s only now looking back that I recognise this to be a pretty good time, one that I am incredibly proud of, and testament to the amount of training and preparation I’d done. 

I took on this challenge to raise much-needed funds in support of Prisoners Abroad. But I also took this on as a personal challenge, and partly in memory of my Dad, who passed away due to Alzheimer’s about 18 months ago. I’d tried to complete this challenge when he was alive, but I never made it to my childhood home, so finishing the run now feels like I’ve closed a chapter and I know he would be proud (if not slightly perplexed as to why I would have taken it on in the first place).

I want to say another huge thank you to everyone who has donated and those who sent me encouraging words of support. I’m over the moon to have smashed the fundraising target that we’d originally set, and at the time of writing I’m delighted that my JustGiving page is sitting at just over £4,800. Every penny will be used to benefit people affected by overseas imprisonment, and from my last 6 months as chief executive at Prisoners Abroad I know just how much of a difference this can make. 

There is still time to donate 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]

I’m vowed not to do another running challenge like this, but I’m already thinking about what I might do next, so I’m open to ideas. And if this has inspired you to take on a challenge of your own to raise money for Prisoners Abroad, you can find out more on our website or contact our fundraising team.

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