Crossing the Finish Line

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Posted By Scott

On Tuesday 31st August I crossed the finish line of my 5K-a-day challenge to raise funds for the MS Society. 31 5K runs, give or take a few metres each day and a total distance of 158.5km covered. Thanks to everyone’s generosity I have raised almost £1600 so far.

Genesis of an Idea

I was asked how the challenge came about. The choice of charity was obvious, but it took a while for the activity to take shape. My previous charity fundraisers have included runs, abseils and martial arts so I definitely wanted to do something physical and challenging.

Recent coverage of rugby league superstar Rob Burrow’s battle with motor neurone disease was inspiring. In November 2020, his Leeds Rhinos captain and friend Kevin Sinfield completed seven marathons in seven days to raise funds for the MND Association, raising over £2.5 million.

I liked the idea of doing something similar. However I’ve never run one marathon, let alone several, so that wasn’t realistic. What would be an achievable? Just before my initial MS incident, I was training for the Great North and Great Scottish Runs, both half marathons. Could I do those on repeated days? I doubt it.

Then a lightbulb moment. In June 2018, I started doing a Saturday morning Parkrun. I love Parkrun; the relaxed atmosphere and spirit of encouragement is wonderful. The Parkrun distance of 5km seemed a good fit. Now, how many runs? A week? Perhaps too easy. Two weeks? A bit tougher. I was in hospital for 31 days, how about a 5km run for each of those days? That sounded like a challenge. That sounded good.

Initially I was going to do this on the exact dates in July and August that I was in hospital. However a back spasm put me on the shelf for a week and scuppered that plan. After recovering, and a couple of trial runs, I settled on running 5K each day in August. With that, the challenge was set.

Pace Yourself

I planned to take the runs slowly. This would be less about personal bests and more about completing the distance. My times varied widely. The fastest, unsurprisingly, was at the Victoria Park Parkrun. I always run faster in a group and completed my 28th 5K in 30.14. Compare that with 42:19 for my sixth and slowest run. I must have been walking that day! Pre-MS, my fastest Parkrun was 25.06 and it is encouraging that, diagnosis and three years later, my pace isn’t too far removed from that. I wonder if I can get close to that time again.

A return to Parkrun

The return to Parkrun was a highlight. Between treatment and the pandemic, it was my first Parkrun in two years. The Victoria Park team had kindly shared my story to help promote awareness of the MS Society. I described myself as “the bald guy with a beard and bright orange MS Society t-shirt”. It was just as well I added the MS Society bit. The bald guy / beard / bright orange t-shirt demographic was very well represented at that day’s Parkrun. Who knew? Regardless, I received a lot of encouragement on my way round the course.

Eating an Elephant and Other Surprises

Following the approach of eating an elephant one bite at a time, I broke the challenge into several landmarks. Every three runs represented 10% of the total distance. The one third, halfway and two thirds marks all felt significant. Hitting 100-kilometres was a big moment. My wife made me a handy countdown calendar and removing a page after each run was surprisingly uplifting.

There were a couple of out-of-character moments. I’m not normally a morning runner and rarely will I run in the rain. August would see both happen, several times. The first half of the month included thunderstorms, torrential rain and flash flooding. On one day, I thought I’d be going for a swim rather than a run. Fortunately I only got a couple of soakings thanks to timing my runs and some obsessive-compulsive monitoring of the BBC Weather, Met Office and Weather Channel apps to see which forecast was the most run friendly.

The forecast said it would be sunny.

Work meetings required a few runs before 8am. That might have been the biggest challenge of all; to set my alarm early enough to get up, loosen off, run and be at my desk for 9am. I actually started to enjoy the morning runs setting me up for the day, although I don’t think they’ll become a regular occurrence any time soon.

Keeping Me Moving

Maintenance and recovery became increasingly important as the month progressed. Where possible I tried to leave about 24 hours between each run to maximise recovery time. There were some shorter turnaround periods, and undoubtedly those runs were more difficult. However I was surprised how little a part tiredness or sore muscles played in the month.

My left knee had been niggly for much of 2021 so that was one concern. Fortunately it was fine, although there were a few minor twinges, and I did wear a knee support on a couple of occasions. Every evening I went through some torture with a foam roller followed by leg and back stretching. There was a great deal of cursing as I worked the knots out of my legs (particularly my calf muscles) ready for the next day. If I put money in a swear jar during these sessions, I could have doubled my amount raised.

Despite my maintenance efforts, it was hard to predict how I would feel on any given day. My tenth run was the best one up to that point and I felt great. The next day, the exact opposite. Somebody turned up the gravity level and my legs were concrete. This was reflected in the four-minute difference in time between the two runs.

My appetite skyrocketed, and I spent August eating like a very hungry horse. The month was fuelled by Stoat’s cereal bars, porridge and lots of bread and pasta. Now that I’ve reached the finish line, I need to reduce my calorie intake accordingly, otherwise my next challenge will be fitting into my trousers. Unfortunately my feeble attempt to secure some Stoat’s sponsorship by tagging them on Twitter was unsuccessful, though they did give me a like.

Read All About It

A charity fundraiser isn’t going to raise much if people don’t know about it. A couple of days before my first run, I setup my fundraising page and posted the link on social media. Facebook and LinkedIn both generated a lot of responses and contributions, the latter including donations from people I hadn’t spoken to in a number of years, which was very touching.

I made some direct approaches to people through email and WhatsApp and, finally, Twitter and Instagram were used for daily progress updates. Tweets were my usual diet of pictures, gifs and tenuously linked songs. The Thunderbirds countdown for the last 5 runs, Bon Jovi’s Living on a Prayer at the halfway stage, Shakira’s Hips Don’t Lie when I was feeling stiff. That sort of thing. Amazingly, this hilarity saw more people follow me although 230 followers doesn’t make me an influencer just yet.

I did end-of-week updates on Facebook, detailing the number of runs, distance covered, and amount raised. Each update would get reactions and see more donations, providing motivation to keep going when my legs felt like lead or the rain was battering off the windows.

A Word From Our Sponsors

I did make extensive use of the MS Society’s #100KYourWay and tagging the Society’s UK and Scotland pages on Twitter and Instagram helped to increase the awareness of my fundraising. It is a challenge to convert people from awareness to “likes” to sponsors. I had a lot of sponsorship but I’m not sure how I could have captured more people’s attention as they scrolled by. Did I need to go full Bob Geldof? That is a very dated reference, and anyone who doesn’t remember Live Aid should ask their parents to explain.

With my sponsorship request out there, it was exciting every time an email landed alerting me to a new donation. The initial response was staggering. I set a target of £500 and met that in under 48 hours, and I doubled the target to £1000 and hit this on 12th August. I didn’t increase the target a second time, but donations kept coming in, always accompanied by that little email dopamine hit. By the time I crossed the finish line, my total was £1587. It turns out this makes me the second highest fundraiser in the campaign. Wow!

And a new entry at number 2…

Post Challenge Thoughts

Several people asked how I felt after completing the challenge. First of all, I am very aware that I am extremely fortunate that I can still do a physical challenge. MS is such an unpredictable condition; some people lose their mobility very quickly. One day that might happen to me but whilst I am still able, I wanted to do something to raise awareness and funds. It gave me a real sense of purpose. I don’t consider myself brave or an “MS Warrior” nor was I aiming to be inspirational but equally, if anyone considers me such then that is a huge compliment.

The month, especially the last run, was very emotional. Three years ago, lying scared in a hospital bed, I didn’t know if I would ever be able to run again let alone run on 31 consecutive days. With all the kilometres now behind me, I had a tear in my eye as I crossed the finish line that my wife had made.

Physically getting through it. Proving to myself that I could do it. The support and encouragement. It was so tiring, satisfying, rewarding, humbling, surprising. A whole host of emotions, all of them good. The level of support gave me the strength to carry on to the finish line through any aches and tiredness setting in.

As I write this, my last run was a week ago. It took a few days to recover but my legs feel great, and my appetite has returned to normal. My August 5K-a-day turned out to be a real challenge and I absolutely loved it. There were days that were hard going but from the genesis of the idea, to crossing the finish line, it was a wonderfully fulfilling experience. I must say one more massive thank you to everyone that sponsored, supported and encouraged me throughout my challenge. You are all a part of my team and you got me over the finish line. I couldn’t have done it without you.

The challenge may be complete but my fundraising page is still open and you can sponsor me by visiting my fundraising page.

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