Kazakhstan, Ethiopia and the Principality of Sealand are just some of the locations that one graduate has explored as part of a running challenge.
In 2013 Simon Messenger turned 27. Four years after graduating and with a weekly commute from London to Edinburgh, life felt like a routine and not an adventure.
Fast forward to March 2016 and Simon has just completed the Cardiff Half Marathon in 1h19 as part of the World Championships (though he is keen to point out he was in the mass event!). It is his 37th run since May 1 2013 when he started his ‘Around the world in 80 runs’ challenge with the Edinburgh Half Marathon.
Inspired by Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days, Simon has challenged himself to run 80 races in 80 different locations around the world.
It is both a physical endeavor and voyage of discovery that combines Simon’s love of the unusual with a compulsion to improve, refine and reflect. All of his runs are recorded in detail on his challenge blog and include visual rankings detailing, amongst other things, speed, weather and scenery. The blog also contains in-depth analysis of running techniques and equipment.
You get to see so many places you wouldn't have experienced in a vehicle, hear so many sounds you'd have missed and meet so many people you wouldn't even have noticed you were there. Whereas I used to go and visit places, now I feel that I truly experience places when I go there.
The running man
Given the challenge that has been undertaken, it is surprising to discover that running is a relatively recent hobby and certainly not something that featured as a significant part of Simon’s university experience.
He did join the Athletics Club in first year but only ran in a single race, the annual Freshers’ Match in Glasgow. He did however sneakily wear their official t-shirt for the full five years, including as Sports Union President in 2007/8.
I'd managed to scrape myself around a marathon a few years before I started Around the World in 80 Runs but, other than that, I hardly ever put my running trainers on.
As he approaches the half way mark - the Torshavn Half Marathon in the Faroe Islands is scheduled to be run number 40 in June – Simon reflects on running highlights that include being chased down by playful school kids in frozen Almaty, Kazakhstan and jogging down the Avenue des Baobabs at sunrise in Madagascar.
Times are also an important component of the challenge and, with this in mind, the Rotterdam Marathon is Simon’s sporting highlight as he broke his three hour duck with a time of 2 hours 53 minutes.
Another highlight and the most intriguing of the runs Simon has completed to date was a half marathon on Sealand, a concrete and steel island in the North Sea. Originally built as a Fortress island by the British government during the Second World War, Sealand was founded as a sovereign Principality in 1967.
Simon contacted Sealand by email and was, somewhat unexpectedly, given the go ahead by Prince Michael. The catch was that all the logistics had to be organised by Simon himself.
Four months later with a treadmill sponsor secured and a film crew in tow, the first Sealand Half Marathon was completed in 1 hour 27 minutes despite the weather’s best attempts to thwart Simon and his team’s plans.
I read about Sealand ten years or so ago in a paper and thought it was, well, odd. Then, after I started running, it cropped up at the back of my mind as somewhere where I could maybe do a totally bizarre run.