Neil Featherby: Running has so much more to offer than simply chasing PBs as John Fensom will testify

John Fensome is looking to complete 12 marathons in 12 months. Picture: John Fensome

John Fensome is looking to complete 12 marathons in 12 months. Picture: John Fensome - Credit: Archant

There's more to running than racing, says expert Neil Featherby

I so often talk to really keen runners about ability and what they can expect to achieve from their efforts.

However, ability is one thing and what you can expect from input and effort is something else.

Take Mark Armstrong for instance. I know that he is more than capable of a sub 40-minute 10k and even sub three-hour marathon, but his very busy lifestyle allows for no more than four running sessions a week. Until that routine changes then his true potential will not be met for which we have to look at realistic goals, applicable to the current level of his running workload. This is where balance is required as if not the added mental and physical pressures would only prove to be detrimental.

Just over a year ago I was approached by a gentleman called John Fensom, who I had not met before asking me for advice on a planned challenge of running 12 marathons in 12 months.

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At the same time he also sent me some pretty thorough details of his training and racing history for which it was clear he could be a very decent runner. However, my immediate reaction was to ask him why on earth did he want to run 12 marathons in a year whilst also questioning him as to some of the inconsistencies in his training.

You are so much more capable of achieving some really good race times from 5k up to the marathon if you get some consistency and structure built into your training so I said to him why not be the best you can be at all these distances before taking on such a challenge.

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At the end of the day when looking back at challenges which we have completed is brilliant, but from an athlete's point of view, it is also nice to know that we can say we have achieved our true personal bests at the distances we like to race at, I went on to say.

With that, John fully opened up to me about why he not so much wanted to do this challenge, but why he felt he must.

Like so many other people who take on such extreme tests, behind every challenge is another challenge going on inside the mind.

First and foremost, John wanted to raise money for the Meningitis charity after two of his close friends, Bryan and Georgie Hall, had so very sadly lost their son Oliver from Meningitis B aged just six years old in October 2017.

'I've never seen such sadness and pain after seeing the devastation and loss it caused to Bryan, Georgie and their other son Charlie and I just knew I had to do something,' he said.

MORE: Love running? Join the Run Anglia Facebook group hereAfter seeing the support the charity gave to the family during what was the most awful of times he decided to run 12 marathons in 12 months in the hope of raising awareness and funds for the cause.

Training and running for one marathon is a challenge in itself, so one a month is a pretty big ask especially when you have only been running for four years.

Although John was a decent runner as a schoolboy, like many others, as he approached his mid teenage years, running very soon went out of the window to pursue what he saw at the time as far more interesting pursuits.

At the same time he also had dreams of working in the movie industry and so much so that these dreams did before too long become his full on focus. In his words: 'I was useless at talking to girls so my dreams of working in the movie industry soon took over and became my main goal.'

He therefore went to college to train as a make-up artist.

This not only led to him working in the film business in creature effects on movies like the Fifth Element and Star Wars, the Phantom Menace, but also landed him a small role and screen time in the film as a protocol droid called TC-14.

Wow, I thought having listened to all of this, but it was then that John went on to tell me about his second reason why the challenge is so important to him.

Prior to taking up running he had a pretty bad mental and emotional breakdown and it was only through discovering running once again which helped pull him out of it.

He said: 'I found running to be very meditative as well as a way to gain space for my thoughts. It's not that I stop thinking as I run, but it helps untangle and create space amongst what I consider to be a mindful of confusion.'

John has now completed 10 of the marathons in his huge challenge for which during this time we have also become very good friends.

At the same time he has also reminded me once again that as a coach I need to always remember that running isn't just about chasing PBs all the time as it affects us all in many differing ways.

Perhaps being the best we can be is when we use our running for a little peace and sanity and of course when like John, helping others which can be even more rewarding that is for sure.

For those who would perhaps like to find out more about John and his challenge, please click on to the links.

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