When I was six years old, I concocted a genius plan. Since nobody had confirmed that pirates had NOT buried treasure in my parents’ back garden, I decided to dig up the lawn just in case I got lucky. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?
After desecrating one corner I gave up, but not before my father noticed and explained why I was in fact an idiot. OK, so it didn’t pay off that time, but it didn’t stop me creating the most hairbrained plans imaginable. This latest scheme might just be my finest creation yet…
The short version is I am going to run at least 10km every day until I have covered the distance from my home in Siberia to the site of the Great Failed Pirate Treasure Dig of 1991 to try and raise £10,000 for the fantastic Football Beyond Borders.
I have decided to spice it up a little; as the crow flies the distance is only about 5,600km, but I have created a 7,000km route that will take in more locations that have some link to football, either by having a football team or bearing some relevance to my football-related experiences. The rules are simple – I must run at least 10km every day, regardless of the weather or where I happen to be, and in one go, unless severe conditions or injury prevent it.
I won’t literally be running across continents and borders; this will be a virtual journey, whereby I will run wherever I am and add up the distance to track where I would be on the map. Along the way I will write features about whichever club, team, player, place or moment when I pass it on the map, and bring in interviews with people providing insights into running, fitness, mental health, determination – and most of all, how football ties it all together.
Why am I doing this, aside from the obvious raising money for charity? There are so many influential threads that have contributed to this point that it would take quite a few articles to fully explain them all, but in a nutshell it is a culmination of a personal fitness drive, how it has boosted my mental health and ambitions, the phenomenal community spirit I was blessed with to foster the early seeds of self-improvement, and a desire to make something useful out of it.
A year ago I almost stumbled into a healthier, more active lifestyle. After a full check-up shone a rather brutal light on my neglected fitness I was prompted into changing something – but what? I’d been to gyms before, but never really stuck it out; my longest stint was in Italy when I lasted about three months before gradually fading into a mesh of Aperol Spritz, pasta and pizza. The simple answer was the slightest inconvenience meant my motivation dropped, so I knew this time round signing up to a membership wasn’t the answer.
YouTube delivered a spark with home workout videos. I settled on a series guided by fitness experts from India which just grabbed my attention, and I was instantly hooked. If I was going to do this, it would be all or nothing, so I decided to commit to a workout every day.
An urge to improve my diet followed. I once went into a Subway for lunch with some friends about 13 years ago and ordered a six-inch meatball marinara, but went back five minutes later to order a foot-long sub as I was still hungry. When living at home with my parents I would think nothing of making a 3am snack of ravioli on toast with a pile of cheese melted in. When I went into work as a teacher a few years ago I once brought seven containers packed full of food just for lunch. That guy ended up a plump 106kg last summer.
Using apps helped me think about calories, how many steps I was taking, set personal targets, feel genuine progress, and completely transform my outlook on daily habits. It hasn’t always been a linear process, and the approach has been adapted for various reasons along the way; I stopped using Strava at one point because I was pivoting more towards workout exercises and steps on Google Fit, but the more dominant running became, the more useful Strava became again.
The first run last summer was five laps around my house block – not much more than about 1.5km. So far, so good – how about six? That became eight, then the first landmark of double figures, and the snowball was officially rolling. I settled at around 12 laps as a comfort zone, but needed something extra to push me further; here’s where football came in.
I decided to tie running targets to a twice-weekly online management game as a superstition; every matchday within the game, I had to run one lap more than the last to guarantee I would win. The community of friends I have developed within this game has been instrumental in inspiring me to improve and push my limits, and I rather enjoyed producing crazy match preview videos for them of completing a run before diving into mounds of snow in -20°C.
There is a personal indulgence in all of this, I fully admit; proving to myself that I can complete a challenge and achieve results. Using fundraising as a motivation to maintain health. The feel-good factor of helping others. The real addiction in this all, however, has been the personal headspace that running provides. I wouldn’t say I have severely suffered from mental health, but have asked questions at testing times without really finding answers. With feet pounding the pavement though, somehow it is far easier to focus and think through situations.
So here is the plan. I will update my running progress on Heart of Football every fortnight or so together with a new interview, or short football-related feature, as the virtual map progresses. The exact format of each update might change, but I promise football will always feature. If Heart of Football can raise awareness of this sport’s incredible charitable work, the impact of fitness and health on mental strength and raise money to help young people grow, I think we can safely say this will have been worth it.
Now all I have to do is run…
About Football Beyond Borders
Football Beyond Borders works with young people from disadvantaged backgrounds who are disengaged at school, helping them finish school with the skills and grades to make a successful transition into adulthood. We do this by providing long-term, intensive support, built around relationships and young people’s passions, in the classroom and beyond.
This is the JustGiving page where the official fundraising campaign will take place. Any amount you’re able to contribute towards the