The challenge: to run 2000 miles over 9 months, finishing on June 18th 2017.
Why do it? This challenge is personal to me. In taking it on, I hope to do something to help make life better for some of the children of Iraq and Syria, who have suffered terribly in recent years. Iraq never really recovered from the crippling sanctions imposed after the First Gulf War in 1991. Then the instability following the Second Gulf War in 2003 allowed conflict to take root, in ever more shocking forms. Meanwhile in Syria, the Arab Spring of 2011 manifested in a bitter civil war that still rages today. As a proud father of two small boys, I’m conscious that we are fortunate to live a life free from the challenges now faced by so many families in the Middle East on a daily basis.
Why War Child? War Child is a small, politically-neutral charity that focuses on children affected by war. It works in Iraq itself and with Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan (at the well-known Zaa’tari refugee camp), as well as in Afghanistan and parts of Africa. It helps communities create sustainable futures for themselves, rather than trapping them in aid dependency. They train local teams to identify children with needs and give them the help they need. They also carry out advocacy work promoting education, especially for girls. Educating girls, and empowering the young women they grow up to become, is one of the surest ways of helping a community improve its social and economic conditions. Only a tiny percentage of the 700,000 internally displaced Iraqi children are receiving any kind of education. Meanwhile 2 million Syrian children are out of school.
What good can I do? As the conflict drags on and casualties mount, the situation can start to feel unreal; the vast numbers incomprehensible, desensitising, dehumanising. Yet we all know at least two young Syrian boys. The haunting pictures of Alan Kurdi (whose body washed up on a Turkish beach) and Omran Daqneesh (who was dragged from the
rubble of Aleppo and sat shocked in the ambulance, wiping blood from his head) are seared into our memories. First and foremost they are young boys, children paying the price for the war consuming their home. They also serve as symbols for the wider suffering. They force us to remember that behind the numbers are individuals. We can give some of those boys and girls a chance to get their childhood back, and give them an opportunity for a brighter future.
Why 2000 miles? Actually it’s 2166 miles. That’s the distance between Rugby, where I live, and Aleppo in Syria, of which I have fond memories from happier times. Don’t worry: I won’t be running from Rugby to Aleppo itself! Instead I’ll be running regularly around the Midlands area and occasionally further afield. Near the end I’ll be running a marathon and an ultra-marathon (see below), but along the way I’ll throw in some other races for variety. There’ll be at least one 20 miler, some half marathons, and a season of gruelling cross-countries over the winter. I’ll also put a few parkruns in the mix.
Why 9 months? The average pregnancy lasts between 37 and 42 weeks. My challenge runs for 41 weeks.
M.UM and Dad? Father’s Day in UK falls on 18th June next year. That will mark the end of my challenge. Shortly before comes the M.UM. M is for the marathon I’ll be running—the Marathon on April 23rd in London, where I work. UM is for ultra-marathon, specifically my local ultra-marathon, the “Shires and Spires” in June. It’s 35 miles of hilly, mixed surface running.
But is it a challenge? 2166 miles works out at an average of 7.4 miles per day. That’s 52.1 miles—basically 2 marathons—per week, every week, for 9 months. There are runners for whom this would not be a challenge. I’m not one of them. This will test me physically and mentally. Running this far will burn enough calories to power an average UK household for a month. I’ll be pushing myself to the limits, and blogging my progress, so you can follow my journey here. If you think I’m putting in enough effort, please take a moment to sponsor me.