- 17 hours, 59 minutes
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And we’re off! A fortnight in and ₤513 raised already is beyond anything I had hoped for – with two years scheduled to complete the 7,000km and reach the ambitious total of ₤10,000, roughly ₤100 a week would see us hit the target – so everything feels more than worth it already. I’ve made contact with Football Beyond Borders directly who have been hugely supportive, and the sponsorship department at Altrincham Football Club (the last football stop on this epic virtual journey, and closest club to my childhood home) about raising awareness of the campaign, so hopefully will see some fruitful developments to give an extra boost.
Even though it’s only been two weeks there have been some wildly different conditions; from torrential downpours to scorching +32°C heat and a fair bit in between. Habits have been adapted, such as carrying water round for the first time. Simple and obvious as it sounds, but through eight months of running before this challenge began, I had not once drunk a drop of water during a run.
Speaking of routines, that’s as good a place as any to start on the running updates. The plan for these episodes is to have a few different elements; specific fitness insights, mental health benefits, interviews, and of course how football ties it all together. Setting off to run 10km every day for almost two years isn’t something I decided on a whim. I have been running every day for a while, gradually upping the distance and pushing my limits until they became less and less scary to reach.
Every morning I kick off with a 20-minute High Intensity Interval Training session to warm up. 10 press-ups, 40 seconds high plank, 30 seconds star jumps, 20 sit-ups, then repeat. First it was three repetitions, then four, and now I’ve settled on five. Half a coconut milk, banana, apple and frozen strawberry smoothie, then out for the laps around my house block, finish smoothie after with a protein shake, then we’re done. The whole process takes about two and a half hours.
The process may be the same, but for some reason every run feels very different. Some days, despite having carefully eaten well and at sensible times the night before, completed a full night’s sleep, drunk enough water and started off at a good pace, the energy levels just drop off. I will not be beaten, I tell myself. I’d back myself to do that with the determination that had developed over the last few months, but only just.
What really pushes those tough yards is the inspiration drawn from others. Paul Hook was the first real spark that showed me it can be done no matter how hard it seems. We’ve never actually met in person, but have become acquainted through an online football game, and it was Paul who kept telling me I could do it.
The laps of my block became a tradition I linked to the game we play along with a large group of others twice a week, and when I started running about 16 laps was a hefty task. Then I set myself the task of doing one more lap each game night (Thursdays and Sundays), before realising it would mean I’d have to reach the seemingly impossible total of 50 laps by May. “You’ll smash it,” Paul would tell me every single week with what seemed like absolute belief – and I can tell you it was infectious. I genuinely started to believe I would, and somehow, from the depths of the lactic acid pouring into my aching thighs, I pulled it off.
Now the bare minimum is 40 laps, even when it is painfully hot and legs are weary; all from thinking 20 laps was a monumental achievement.. There were many threads that played their parts, but Paul was the first. This is what he had to say about his own journey with fitness, football and mentality.
What was the trigger that sparked you into walking or running?
I have been a bigger guy from my mid-20s to late 30s, and played American Football so it was kind of just a given that I was big, but one day I was sat down with my stepdad (in his 70s) and he had a small like belly where his t-shirt was hanging on him and I pointed and said something along the lines of ‘Oh getting fat’ and he pointed to me and just deadly serious said ‘well I’ll live longer than you’ and to be honest it hit me like a ton of bricks, I have 2 small boys, and he was right. The next day I bought a fitbit and some scales and started my journey.
How hard was it for you to maintain your habits?
In the beginning it was easy, on a good diet and good exercise I was losing weight pretty much every Friday (my weekly weigh in time) so the reward was always there to show it was working, as I lost more weight the weight loss became smaller and smaller (as you would expect) and some weeks there would be no weight loss, or even some gains. You just have to remember the hard work that you have done so far to get where you are, and what your goals are and what you have to do to succeed.
What did you do to keep it up?
I had a target weight I wanted to reach and that was my overall goal which I hit in the end, but I also decided to do a large (108km) charity hike, I raised a lot of money for it, and the pressure of having to do that as well spurred me on to go out in the wet and windy evenings when it was easier to stay inside. I always set daily/weekly step goals that increased over time. It was the thought of achieving my goals that kept me going,
What aspect of moving your legs in front of each other repeatedly appeals to you; a competitive edge against others? Beating your own time? Not focusing on records/times at all and just enjoying fresh air? The results?
The results was the goal for me, every week of hitting my step goals, having overall weight loss, knowing that it was working and people could see the results really drove me on.
How strong an effect on your mental well-being does regular exercise have for you?
It’s massive, and it’s something that I have restarted recently. The better I feel physically, the better I feel mentally, I have less random back twinges, I can play with my boys longer, I can be a better parent and husband just by not having to take a break from family activities, and all of that makes me feel a better person. When I’m out walking I have a lot of time to think, and for me it’s a time to assess priorities, and those things that seem really ‘heavy’ on your shoulders really aren’t when you step back and have time to think about things in full.
Do you think football is a more effective way to motivate people into getting exercise than straight up running? Why (not)?
I think people are motivated by many things, I play football on Mondays as it’s good exercise, I get to catch up with friends, and yeah play a sport I really like. Some people may not have that ability given their circumstances. Mixing up exercises as well certainly has its benefits and running about at 5-a-side certainly gets your step total up quicker and gets a sweat on faster.
What was your most inspiring moment from football on absolutely any level – watching, playing, live…?
Watching my local non-league team (Gosport Borough) beat Havant and Waterlooville in the FA Trophy semi-final. Was a bit David vs Goliath, and showed that with hard work, camaraderie and passion, you can do anything you want to!
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