Blog: Couch to Ultramarathon (hopefully…)
Blog: Couch to Ultramarathon (hopefully…)

On Friday 17th October 2008, I died. Twice. Luckily, due to the skill and dedication of a number of emergency services personnel I survived, although it was rather a shock to wake up in hospital three days later, missing my right arm from just below my shoulder.

I also sustained substantial nerve damage rendering what little was left of my arm useless and a significant brain injury.

Fast forward a few years, until 2014, and although I had generally recovered well, both mentally and physically, my weight had ballooned and I was over 17 stone. I resolved to do something about it and by February 2015, I was 12 stone.

I knew from previous experience with a yo-yo weight problem that I needed to do something to try and keep the weight off. I’d foolishly signed up to do a 100km walk for British Heart Foundation in June 2015 and one Saturday morning, just after 9am, I set off for a training walk across the Great Lines in Gillingham.

Instead of having the paths all to myself, I was rather surprised to be walking against an almost constant flow of runners, some of whom were clearly accomplished athletes while others were a little more my kind of competitor. On my return from my walk, I did a little research and discovered that these runners were participants in something called ‘parkrun’, a free, timed 5k run held every Saturday morning in parks across the world.

Also, at about this time a colleague of mine had just completed a programme called ‘Couch to 5k’, designed to turn non-runners into someone who could run 5k in nine weeks. Intrigued as to whether I could even run, let alone get up to 5k, I downloaded a free NHS app to my phone and before long, I could be seen bumbling around the Great Lines with my headphones in, running for a bit, then walking for a bit, before running again.

By May, I had completed the programme and on 9th May 2015, I participated in my first parkrun, finishing in 30 minutes 49 seconds.

What should I do next? I didn’t want to do all that work and then revert to my previous sedentary lifestyle, so I did a bit of research on the Internet and found a few local running clubs and groups who appeared to cater for the slower runner such as I.

Rebel Runners – Medway were the first ones to reply, and it was with much trepidation that I arrived at my first team run on a Monday evening at Medway Park Leisure Centre. Despite my initial fears, everyone was incredibly friendly, no one made me feel like a rank amateur, and Jenny and Jo both took time to talk to me while I was running.

Before I really knew what was happening, I was being sucked into a world of running. Despite my previous experiences of running at school (trying to find a rabbit hole to fall down on cross country runs) I found I actually enjoyed running, and discovered it was rather relaxing. I greatly increased my social circle and I found I was entering events.

My first organised race was the Oliver Fisher 10k at Capstone Farm Country Park on 30th August 2015. I entered this as it raised money for the Oliver Fisher Special Care Unit at Medway Hospital where a couple of my children spent ten weeks in 2005 having been born twelve weeks prematurely.

Despite the course being an ‘undulating’ 5km route, run twice, I really enjoyed it. My friends at Rebel Runners continued to support and encourage me so in October I completed my first 10 mile race and in November I completed my first half marathon.

I continued running through the winter, all due to the help and encouragement I received from my fellow Rebels. By the turn of 2016, lots of my running friends were embarking on lengthy training programmes for spring marathons. As I had spent all winter running with these people it seemed a bit churlish to cry off now, so I continued joining them for longer and longer runs, culminating in a lovely 18 mile run one bright, warm spring Sunday morning.

Everyone then started tapering for their marathons, and I entered a 6 hour challenge event at Ranscombe Farm Nature Reserve near Cuxton. This is a running event where the idea is to run as far as you can, or want to, within a time limit, in this case 6 hours.

Ranscombe is rather hilly, but incredibly beautiful and it’s hard to believe that it’s (mostly) within Medway. I ran with a couple of other Rebels and before I knew what I was doing, I was on a fifth lap and completing my first marathon. This was on 10th April 2016, less than one year after completing Couch to 5k.

I then ran a marathon a month for the next few months, completing 26.2 miles at Bewl Water, Reculver, Gravesend, Samphire Hoe and best of all Beachy Head! I discovered I much preferred off road, trail marathons to road as the scenery tended to take my mind of what I was doing.

2017 went less well, running wise. I ran Brighton Marathon in April, but at the beginning of May I fell while running in some woods, went over on my right hand side and instinctively put my right hand out to break my fall. Unfortunately, the flaw in that plan was that my right arm was missing.

I broke two ribs in the fall, couldn’t run for ages and then further aggravated my injury by running a marathon at the end of May with the two broken ribs. The rather strange running action caused by the pain I was in put extra pressure on my already strained back and I got injured. I spent most of the summer of 2017 unable to run. I managed to return to Beachy Head Marathon in October.

By the summer of 2018 I had realised my body wouldn’t allow me to run a marathon every month. I was starting just to enter events my friends were doing or I liked the look of. One day, at the beginning of July 2018 I had an advert pop up on Facebook inviting me to sign up for the “Race to the Stones”. This was a 100km (62 mile) race across the ancient Ridgway track from the Thames Valley to Avebury Stone Circle in Wiltshire.

It also happened to start on the day after my birthday. After much discussion with friends and family, I decided not to do it, but my interest in the event had been stirred. As I had declared an interest previously, when the entries for the 2019 event opened in September, I signed up. This year it has the added bonus of starting on my 48th birthday.

I have been ‘training’ since the end of October when I ran Beachy Head Marathon (again… it’s my favourite marathon). I ran another marathon at the end of November but I have been struggling getting my long runs in. I’ve decided to write about my training and the race as a way to keep myself focussed and hopefully help other people take the step to get more active.

Unusually, for me at least, I am raising money for charity while I do this. As I’ve funded my entry myself I don’t need to raise a minimum amount of money for my chosen charity for them to cover the costs they incur. I am raising money for the Oliver Fisher Special Care Baby Trust. They hold a special place in my heart due to the care and compassion they showed my family and I during a very stressful time in 2005. If you’d like to donate, you can via Just Giving – the link to my page is below.

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/john-allen35


 
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