In celebration of mental health month here at Neat, we've teamed up with four awesome guys - Henry, Conor, Chris and Andrew - to support their journey as they embark on a truly epic challenge; The World Run 2020. We chatted to them about what exactly they're taking on, how they'll be training and why they're so passionate about "making men's mental health manly"...
Can you tell us a little bit about The World Run 2020 & what the challenge entails?
The World Run 2020 is an endurance challenge with the target of running 6 marathons in 6 days on 6 continents. We plan to complete this with just commercial flights so beyond the enormous physical test, there is significant logistical difficulty to also overcome.
Our marathons will be run in the following locations, in order: Sydney, Dubai, Cairo, Rio de Janeiro, New York, London.
We will face a vast array of hurdles across the challenge. Boundaries of time, temperature, humidity (to name a few) will mean we will often be running at night, and the slightest of delays could result in us having to run in over 30 degrees of heat. There will therefore be significant time pressure to get ourselves straight to the airport after completing each marathon.
You’re taking this on in aid of the mental health charity, James’ Place. What work do they do and why is this a cause that is so close to your hearts?
James’ Place is a non-clinical centre for men experiencing suicidal crisis in Liverpool. The centre was the first of its kind in the UK, so they fill an incredibly important void in mental healthcare.
The centre runs on a referral basis. Visitors have an initial appointment to ascertain the treatment required and will then be offered a tailored service of one-to-one free therapeutic support during their time of need.
The money we raise across the challenge will help James’ Place open a second centre in London.
We chose James’ Place because of the very real nature of their work and the issues they tackle. Members of the team have had their battles with mental health and depression, so fully appreciate the feeling of not knowing where to turn and the difficulties surrounding saying anything at all. We especially understand how these problems can naturally intensify in the case of men.
We feel we have fostered a truly open and supportive atmosphere amongst our relatively small team when it comes to not feeling right. We want to help people everywhere to have that support network of their own and James’ Place do incredible work to this end for people in genuine suicidal crisis.
What’s been the best part of your journey thus far?
Well we've been running in all sorts of awesome locations and have been connected to some pretty inspirational people who want to help with the challenge, but it is the very simplest of things that has brought joy and fulfilment to the team. Simply because The World Run has been such a hot topic amongst family and friends - owing to the enormity of the challenge - conversations have naturally gravitated towards the reasoning behind doing it. As a result, we have found that people are talking about their mental health openly in front of each other and in certain instances opening up about concerns that play on their mind and weigh them down.
Seeing people establish an openness and comfort in talking about subjects that have historically been seen as emasculating is exactly what we are doing this for. We want to bring normality to the male mental health discourse. This is what we see as “making men’s mental health manly”.
We each wanted to be a part of the current conversation regarding men’s mental health, and The World Run has created a platform for us to actively engage in difficult conversations with people around us. Rather than telling people we care about mental health, we wanted to do something that proved it. At the end of the day, actions speak louder than words.
How do you all know each other?
The four of us are very old school friends, with the furthest link going back to the age of just four years old. We have always been lovers of exercise, especially when thrown into the context of intense challenge and endeavour, with a healthy side of adventure.
The longevity of our friendship was an important factor in the selection of the team. We will be facing scenarios of significant hardship and adversity at near close exhaustion.
Having intimate knowledge of each other’s character quirks, alongside our sensitivities (even weakness), will be crucial to success. Equally important will be that open and supportive environment to speak up when something isn’t right - an ability we want to promote.
What does your current training week look like & how will this ramp up as the challenge gets closer?
Fortunately, we have an incredibly experienced ultra runner - Tom Joly - who is helping us with a training plan. The downside? We are pretty certain he is a sadist.
Right now we are posting around about 20-30 miles a week of slow and steady running following the 80/20 principle. Things will ramp up from there, somewhat ironically as the cold and wet weather closes in.
At its peak, training might involve a heavy leg weights session on a Friday night to get some soreness in the legs, followed by a 20 mile run first thing on Saturday morning, napping through the middle part of the day and finishing the day with a 15 mile run. The weekend would be topped off with a long run on Sunday. All of this to replicate the environment of running when tired, mentally and physically.
One thing we haven’t quite worked out is how to replicate the hot and humid conditions.
All in all, it’s about learning how to run and function mentally when tired, really tired.
How do you maximise your time & fit the above in around work, life, and other commitments?
It is tricky. Conor and Chris both serve as officers in the British Army which clearly has major demands from a physical and temporal perspective - making specific training very difficult. I play hockey for a national league hockey team which takes up three evenings of each week. All of these present opportunities for exercise but are often very unspecific to long distance endurance running and have their dangers regarding injury.
We do welcome quirky training hours, early rises and late finishes. From both mental and physical perspectives, we feel these training times help prepare us for what is ahead of us on The World Run. It can sometimes be difficult to explain to family, friends and loved ones that you choosing a long wet and cold run over going to the pub.
Changing the daily commute to a run is also an easy way to fit miles into the weekly routine.
Fortunately, we’ve been well equipped by On Running so have the right equipment for all running conditions - no excuses!
What has been the toughest thing you’ve found thus far and what do you think will be the hardest part of the run itself?
For me, it has been injury avoidance. Deciding when muscle soreness is just that or when it is something more is very tricky and could mean missing an entire month of training if you call it wrong. So I suppose what I’m saying is that managing our eagerness to get out there and get the miles under our belts has been the toughest part for me.
Managing our food and fluid intake will be incredibly tough. Consuming nutrients when your body doesn’t want to is a really tough element of endurance running and the footloose nature of challenge will only make this tougher for the team.
In terms of recovery, we have been utilising the awesome people at Six Physio in london who have helped us refine our running techniques to reduce stress loads but also to utilise their sports massage facilities to boost recovery. We’re keen to try anything so rolling, cryogenics, ice baths are all on the agenda - when we get the chance to run by a lake, chances are it won’t be long after the finish that we are in it.
How much of a role has nutrition played in supporting your training?
Nutrition is acutely important for the team and we are quite honest in that we are still searching through what works best for each of us. We are firm believers that different things work for different people in terms of food types, quantities and timings. What is a constant for all of us, is the need for access to high quality recovery nutrients following training runs.
With our training/life schedule, having the time to take on enough quantity nutrients to prevent muscle breakdown and promote recovery is tough. Teaming up with Neat has been a revolution for how we approach post-run nutrition, allowing us to take on high quality recovery nutrients soon after training to minimise muscle degradation. Henry operates on a fully plant-based diet, so finding Neat’s vegan protein powder that genuinely provides a high quality, good tasting vegan protein (so, so rare!) was a huge win for him in terms of his recovery schedule.
And finally, how can anyone reading this get involved?
We welcome anyone and everyone to our weekly run club. We do a steady lap around Hyde Park, starting at Speakers’ Corner at 18:45 on Monday evening. We love to see new so faces so if you do fancy it please do come down.
Other chances to get involved are through our fundraising events which are all promoted through our Instagram account which is the first port of call for updates on progress and plans for the team over the next six months.
We would love everyone reading this to donate what they can to what it is truly an incredibly impactful charity. You can do so through our website.
For updates on the team's progress, be sure to give them a follow on social, here.