Why would anyone run 10 marathons in 10 consecutive days? That’s the challenge Thame resident George Anderson has set himself. George started the mega-marathon at 8am on Tuesday, his 36th birthday. He hopes to raise £10,000 for the Thomley Activity Centre near Thame.
The charitable aim is to support this recreational facility for disabled children, their families and friends. That sounds clinical, but I went to hear one of the parents who use the centre. She hit me between the eyes with her story.
George Anderson pictured with Avril Parry in rehearsal for the Strictly Oxford dance event at the New Theatre in 2013
“Nine years ago my husband and I had our first baby. George was six weeks early and a bit of a surprise. When he was born he was immediately diagnosed with club foot and Down’s syndrome. A week later we discovered he also had hearing loss.
“Little George was fitted with plaster casts that went all the way from the top of his thigh to the tip of his toes. And at five months he was fitted with hearing aids.
“Supermarkets and all public places were a nightmare. Well-meaning people would look into my pram and gasp in surprise or say something entirely inappropriate like, ‘I thought you could test for those sorts of things’, or even, ‘did you drop him?’, referring to his plaster casts.
“Life was one long theatrical performance of pretending we were okay, telling everyone we were coping, but trying not to drown in it all at the same time.
“George was about nine months old when my health visitor gave me a flyer about Thomley Activity Centre. It was quite a drive away, but she thought I might find support there. I remember arriving and meeting the staff for the first time. They welcomed me in a way no one else had managed to in that first nine months. They didn’t make me feel different at all; they just made me feel welcome.
“We loved it. I felt instantly at ease. George could access the equipment despite his plaster casts. The staff were a dab hand at looking for missing bits of hearing aids at the bottom of the ball pit.
“We had George’s third and fourth birthday parties there and we were visiting as regularly as we could. It was quite literally a lifeline.”
Now another George is stepping into the frame to throw Thomley a financial lifeline. I met George Anderson on Tuesday after his first marathon. It had been a sunny day. His face was red. His nose was burnt.
“My legs are a bit tired now, but tomorrow a mile into it and I’ll be fine,” he said.
George wants to break the mould and to talk to the chimp on his shoulder. Let me explain.
He runs boot camps around Oxfordshire to help people get fit. In 2010 he spoke at a workshop in Dublin about the motivation needed to run a marathon in under three hours. He trained with two runs a week and came in on the day with a time of two hours, 59 minutes and 38 seconds. His argument was that determination and belief could pull you through and he wanted to challenge the rules, the accepted belief that competitors needed to train five times a week.
George thinks that most runners are intimidated into not running a marathon: “More runners fail to make it to the starting line than fail to get from there to the finish.”
“It’s all in the head. Believe and you can do it. I’m going to run 262 miles in 10 days. The most miles I’ve run in training is 22 miles each Saturday, 18 on Sundays and 14 on Tuesdays. That’s 54 in a week. So bits of my body might start falling off during this challenge.”
George wants to use the 10 marathons in 10 days to empower people. Anyone can join him at any time for as long as they like.
He runs on the Phoenix Trail between Thame and Towersey and does five loops each morning. On the first day, Bill Kerr from Thame joined him. Bill is in his 60s and went from fat to fit.
He weighed 17 stone but now he’s in great shape and did the London to Brighton 100km run at the top of his game. Then he had three heart attacks.
He ran 15.5 miles with George on Tuesday. It was his longest run since his last heart attack, when his heart stopped for four minutes while he received CPR.
This challenge isn’t only for the hardened runners to join George. He told me that he was sending out emails to all the local schools.
He said: “The pupils can join. They don’t have to run. They can ride a bike. I might be crawling by that time anyway.”
Is he afraid? “No, the first marathon was four and a half hours. The plan is to get faster and faster, but the fourth marathon will be the decider. There are no time limits for the runs.
“All I know is that if I can line up at the starting point for the 10th run, I’ll get to the end. I don’t think about doing 10 marathons. I think only about the run I’m on. I can’t do tomorrow’s run today.”
Part of his motivation comes from hearing a career coach suggest the question: “Are you still ‘playing big’ by your own standards? George confided that he knew he wasn’t. “I’d been coasting for four years and not pushing myself like I encouraged others to do in my boot camps.
“So in these 10 marathons I’ll have to dig deep and put myself on the line and see what I’ve got. I’ll have to talk to the chimp on my shoulder, that part of my brain that says survival is the utmost priority, and come up with answers when it says, ‘You’ve done seven. You don’t have to do more. People will understand. Relax. Chill. It’s a hard decision, but stop.’ “I know I’ll have a crazy conversation in my head with the chimp. But I also know it’s a normal conversation. We all have them, whether it’s about weight loss, running a marathon or 10 or giving a presentation before work colleagues. We all have to come up with the answers and the answers define us.
“That’s what this is about.”