Early Morning, Richmond Park

It’s 5.30 on a warm  and humid Saturday morning at the end of June and we are stood in Richmond Park about to run what will be only our second marathon of the year. Nearly four months since we ran The Treasure Coast Marathon in Florida, this is by far the longest time between marathon events * since our journey together began in 2013. 

We are a little apprehensive having only run distances up to 21k in the intervening time. 

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Marathons vary a lot and we have run a whole range of events in different conditions and circumstances. From big city marathons of 40,000-plus runners, to smaller affairs with maybe 30 people including the officials. We’ve run urban road races and stunning trails. Each one is unique in its own way but this has to be one of the most unusual and in some ways most challenging of all. Today there are no officials, no supporters, no aid stations, no actual set course and no medal. This is an event in Covid times – a virtual marathon replacing a sadly, cancelled, event.

The one thing that is the same is that we are here together on our own designated start line and we will help each other through the next 4 hours or so to hopefully both complete 26.2 miles.

The Event

This is the  Virtual Lewa Safari Marathon. In normal times it is run in the Lewa Nature Reserve in Kenya and all the money from the event goes towards conservation and protection of the animals there. It is run in conjunction with the Charity “Tusk” which is particularly concerned with the fate of the Rhinos in Africa.

Last year Cam was fortunate to travel to the reserve while the marathon was being held there, and we had hoped to both return and take part in the event this year.

But this is the year of Covid and the racing calendar has been decimated. We are fortunate enough to be healthy and reasonably comfortable during these times, and so have tried to be positive and continue to enjoy our running in whatever form that takes. And during the months of lockdown that has been very different!

*except for 9 month gap in 2014/15 when Jacquie broke her leg!

Participants run through the wildlife reserve at their own risk.

Cam and Mark make a friend in the evening at Lewa

Running in Lockdown

At the beginning of lockdown, when we were still thinking that Autumn events would take place, we decided to use our brief exercise outings to try to run every day as a means of training for the future. With the occasional day off and a target of 300k a month we averaged 10k a day.

During this time Jacquie was in West London searching out less populated routes which at times involved running along empty major roads.

Cam, on the other hand, was exploring new routes in the somewhat less populated rural Bedfordshire. 

As it became more obvious that marathons deferred to later in the year and those planned for early Autumn were unlikely to happen, we decided to change tack and look for other running challenges. 

Jacquie’s runs

Riverside north out of bounds to runners

But evening view of Hammersmith Bridge worth a detour

Leg O’ Mutton Reservoir – a much needed haven

Finding the empty roads

View from Southside of river

A reminder to all on Mortlake Cemetery Gates!

Cam’s runs

Rural setting

I actually spotted an otter here – great excitement!

Bidenham Village sign – home during lockdown

Village sights

The London Marathon 2.62 Challenge

We started by taking part in some more ‘social’ running events with our parkrun coffee morning crew, Pembroke Athletica. When the London Marathon was postponed in April we decided to get involved in the 2.62 challenge – a means by which individuals could help to raise money for the many event charities by organising their own 2.62’s worth of activity.

We decided to complete a ‘wave-past’ relay event between the group members. 26.2 of us took part with ages ranging from 12 months to 68 years. Michael devised a very clever plan which linked the group up with both distanced and virtual ‘baton handovers’ in London, Bedford and Cheshire. Together we completed 4 marathon distances, running, cycling and walking. The event was a huge success and gave us all a much needed feeling of belonging and connection in these very strange times. Young Anastasia (the .2), up in Cheshire, stole the show when she (finally) pushed her dog-on-wheels over the finish line and earned a huge cheer from the rest of us watching on Zoom.

Five year old Rowen gets the relay underway with an epic cycle ride.


Then a series of handovers and much needed glimpses of others!

Anastasia brings it home – in her own time!

Virtual Endure 24

Next up was Endure 24.

In 2018 Pembroke Athletica had run Endure 24 and enjoyed it immensely. The event involved runners, both solo and in teams, attempting to run as many 4 mile circuits as possible in 24 hours. It took place in the countryside just outside of Leeds. The idea was for one team member to be out running while the others refuelled or relaxed in our luxury tents.

As once again this event was cancelled, the organisers suggested a virtual event to raise money for the NHS charities. This had our name written all over it. Instead of numbers of circuits our aim as a team was to use as many calories as possible over the 24 hour period. Tracking the runners, walkers, dancers and cyclists throughout the day and night on our WhatsApp group was great fun. We surpassed our target of 20,000 calories.

We (Cam and Jacquie) had the 2:30 – 4.00 a.m. slots on the Sunday which we completed on the treadmill at home before attempting our next race later that same morning.

Laura being counted down.

Poppy and Anastasia off for a run

Mark and the boys running in Bedfordshire

Ginny goes walking – Nordic style

Jain happy to have finished

Laura is first up with a virtual send off from the rest of us and Jain finishes it off in Richmond Park. The twenty four hours in between are filled with activities from Nordic walking to running, dancing and yoga. The head torches came out for night time fun!

Comrades Race the Legends

Heartbroken not to be travelling as usual to Durban in early June to run our favourite event of all – The Comrades Marathon – we decided to join an amazing 47,000 runners, from all over the world, completing distances from 5k to the full 90K of the Comrades race in a virtual event. We chose to run in Richmond Park – our favourite place to run in London – and were fortunate enough to come across other runners taking part in the race. We also kept track via social media of other friends and Comrades running in different parts of the UK and far off places. For our part we ran a very modest half-marathon but at least on the day felt at one with our Comrades friends who we were missing so very much

Three Comrades

The Virtual Lewa Safari Marathon

This leads us to our most recent event and our first time of running the marathon distance without all the “ceremony” that usually accompanies it. An email from Eluid Kipchoge to all the runners who had expressed interest in the Lewa Safari Marathon appealing for help to raise much-needed funds for the reserve was hard to ignore. We had agreed that we needed to attempt the distance again soon anyway, and thought that the commitment to the event would motivate us do this, while our event fees and donations would help the organisations concerned.

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We again chose Richmond Park for our race. With its grassy plains, forested hills, herds of deer and many bird species it was as close as we could get to a safari park in London. Helped by the temporary absence of cars and cyclists, we were able to run the hilly road lap safely and with no distractions.

We had decided to run this marathon together as time and performance were not important. The last time we had run a marathon together was just over a year ago when we paced our home town Liverpool Marathon. It was good to be setting off on another marathon adventure side by side.

The Run

The weather had been exceptionally hot on the days leading up to the race but we were very fortunate with a cooler though humid morning.

At 5.30 we had the park to ourselves and it was magical. As we started our first of four laps running down Sawyers Hill the sun was rising behind the City of London in the east, bathing it in a luminous pink light. A photo would not have done it justice.

During the first lap the rain started. Though heavy at times it was nothing worse than refreshing.  Busy taking in the sights and sounds of the park the first lap was over before we realised it. So having completed a clockwise lap we reversed directions – it was like running a completely different route. Once again the glory of the park passed the time.

We’d plan to run at an average of approx 6min/km for as long as we could, not certain where our lack of distance running would leave us. But we had three full laps of just over 6 miles and one slightly shorter to complete. Anyone who has run in Richmond Park will know that it is not any easy circuit. At around 16 miles I (Jacquie) could feel the lack of recent distance running, but with Cam there alongside me for support and a few extra walk breaks we continued to make progress.

Friends along the way

As the time passed and a few more runners entered the park. It was really good to see people we knew for a wave or a brief chat. It’s amazing how a few words of support can be so effective. Our spirits were lifted and this got us through the difficult third lap. We had carried some water and nutrition with us but we were grateful to Martin who turned up at Richmond Gate at the start of the final lap with more provisions and lots of encouragement.

The final lap was shorter and less hilly which psychologically also helped. And then at the finish some friends had waited to cheer us in.

We ran our first virtual marathon in a time of 4:21 – an easier run for Cam than for Jacquie but a time we were both very happy with. We won’t be leaving it so long until the next one!

Richmond park 5:30 Waiting for Kipchoge!

Our company in the Park

After three laps much needed refuelling stop

Coming up to the finish line.

Wonder what our next challenge will be?