United Kingdom

She trained for months to run the London Marathon - then it was called off

You have to be nuts to sign up for a marathon: training for months in the rain, the dark and the skin-stinging wind.

And all for what? To hang a bit of metal round your neck while nursing damaged knees, blistered feet and lost toenails.

So perhaps it is only to be expected that, with marathons cancelled worldwide (Paris, Manchester, Rome, Boston and counting), and with governments pleading for us to stay at home, all those stir-crazy runners would funnel their obsession somewhere else, somewhere more local, somewhere… like their garden.

In the past six weeks, thwarted would-be marathon men and women all over the world have launched a new craze for long-distance running in the confines of their own homes.

Celia Duncan (pictured) who has been training for the London Marathon, completed a half marathon in her back garden amid lockdown 

Chinese runner Pan Shancu, 44, was one of the first. On February 14, under lockdown in Hangzhou, Eastern China, the massage therapist ran 50km (31 miles) in four hours 48 minutes, lapping two treatment beds in his sitting room 6,250 times. ‘I could not bear sitting down any more,’ he said.

Now the trend has been embraced by us Brits. When the London Landmarks Half Marathon was cancelled last month, the organisers encouraged competitors to run locally instead.

Deborah Meredith, a 40-year-old mum-of-three and lunchtime supervisor at her local primary school in Telford, Shropshire, duly ran the full distance in her garden. ‘The neighbours thought I was crazy, but, with my three boys cheering me on, I put on my running number and did 250 laps.’

And now I too am officially a proud RFH (running-from-home) nutter. With my hard-won opportunity to run in the London Marathon postponed until October 4, last week I ran a half marathon in my back garden.

This is not a big space. In fact it is so small, my Endomondo tracker failed to register the distance I was running — something I discovered 15 minutes in.

So with a tape measure, my son worked out our postage-stamp lawn (approximately 5m squared) had a 13.5m circumference.

This meant that in order to run the requisite 21.1km or 13.1 miles I would have to complete 1,555.5 laps. One and a half thousand!

The nation’s favourite PE teacher Joe Wicks provided the warm-up session online, which I completed alongside my eight-year-old daughter.

Celia admits that she admires those who've been running on their balconies. Pictured: Sam Hustler, 27, on his three-metre balcony in South Woodford, Essex

Then I set off — past the choisya (annoyingly bushy), the olive trees (thankfully trimmed) and the vegetable patch (the lettuce had self-seeded on the lawn, I noticed), before reaching the home straight of our pot-lined patio.

And then I ran round again. And again. And again. And again.

Taking a leaf out of James Page’s book, I switched direction every 20 minutes. James, a 36-year-old pipe fitter from Sidcup, Kent, who ran a marathon in his garden on March 28, said the switch protected his knees.

But have you seen the size of his garden? It’s so big, he only had to do 873 laps. Forget my knees: I had to switch direction because I was starting to get dizzy. If I so much as glanced at my watch I’d lose balance and career painfully close to the concrete raised beds. I felt like a frustrated lion padding round its cage.

But I’m aware my humble patch is an Olympic stadium compared to other RFH tracks. I most admire those running on balconies: Sam Hustler, 27, completed a half on his three-metre balcony in South Woodford, Essex.

Celia (pictured) claims running feels more like a computer game since the lockdown, because you're challenged by obstructions

Or Elisha Nochomovitz, 32, a furloughed restaurant manager, who kicked off the craze with his epic balcony marathon in France. The feat, he said, was about ‘bringing a bit of humour to de-dramatise the confinement’.

And he’s right — the sheer gruelling monotony of the task did almost prove my undoing.

I’ve run three half-marathons, the last along the banks of the Thames in Richmond. Even in gale-force winds, it was beautiful.

And my regular route on Clapham Common takes in Canada geese, the odd rat, squirrels and about 50 variants of cockapoo.

True, since the lockdown, running can feel more like a computer game, where obstructions — chatting mums, skateboarding kids, cyclists — pop up in your path to test whether you have the agility to veer the state-sanctioned distance away from them.

By contrast, my garden challenge was beyond boring. When you run only five paces before hitting a wall, see the same red tulip for the 987th time, and the only bit of interest is a silver streamer lodged in the grass from November’s fireworks, a half marathon is suddenly as adventurous as a snorkelling expedition in the bath.

Celia (pictured) revealed the half marathon ran in her garden took two hours and 29 minutes to complete, a personal worst 

Even the cat, who’d keenly taken up a vantage point between the lavender and mint, got bored after ten minutes. Nothing to see here.

My husband braved the queues at the supermarket and showed off his treasures (Andrex loo paper — ooh!); my daughter home-schooled herself thanks to a video-call with her aunt, a teacher; my son re-emerged from his room for lunch… and still I was running.

By lap 1,343, I could feel a blister forming and my ankles ached from the strain of leaning inwards. Yes, I could grab energy chews off a garden table to keep my spirits up, and it was a relief to chuck my sweatshirt onto the patio rather than knotting it around my waist as I usually do. But the tedium was starting to kick in.

When I finally limped over the finish line, I’d been running for two hours 29 minutes. A personal worst. And yet, I’d done it: I’d run a half marathon. The garden may never be the same again — as my husband keeps telling me — but that’s not the point.

As the lockdown continues, other disappointed would-be marathon runners will be carving out more courses in their homes.

Am I now limbering up for a full garden marathon? No, but I’ll be making the most of every run in the great outdoors — at least while we still can.

Celia is running the London Marathon for Queen Elizabeth’s Foundation for Disabled People. (justgiving.com/fundraising/ celia-duncan1)

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