A marathon challenge during the coronavirus crisis


There’s nothing like setting yourself a personal challenge to stay motivated. Which is just what runner Neil McCall did. In November this year, Neil turns the big 5-0. Rather than opt for a big party or a luxury break, he’s decided to run 50 marathons before he leaves his forties behind. All the while he’s raising money for mental health charity, Mind.

Neil has been blogging about his journey to 50 marathons, which he started back in October 2019. Having run marathons before, he knew it would be a tough challenge to run 50 of them in a year. And then, of course, coronavirus hit and everything changed.

Undeterred, Neil is continuing to run solo marathons in his local area. At the time of writing, Neil had just passed marathon number 33, Not the Edinburgh Marathon, on 24th May 2020.

Here we look at his journey so far…

Getting started

The 50 before 50 challenge officially started on 6th October 2019, at the Isle of Wight Marathon. Neil went into it knowing it wouldn’t be easy: “Easy to get to, but from experience, not an easy marathon. Not that any marathon is easy, but the Isle of Wight is the only one where I have had to pull out, twice!”

In his write-up, he describes the event as “bloody horrible!”. But finish it he did and so the challenge had begun. You certainly couldn’t accuse Neil of picking easy marathons for his challenge, with the second on his list being the Eden Project Marathon a week later.

neil at eden project marathon

By the end of 2019, he was already on 13 marathons, with the Abominable Snowman on 29th December. Now the Abominable Snowman isn’t a marathon event, but ever the creative (Neil is the Creative Director at brand communications company Orangepeel Creative Juice) he had a solution: “[The] only problem is that it’s not a marathon; you choose to either run the 10 miler or a 10K course. But I found that if I ran from my house to the event, that would be exactly 10 miles, so then I run the 10-mile course, followed by the 10K course (6.2 miles) and voila, I have myself a marathon. A bit of a Frankenstein’s monster of a marathon, but a marathon just the same.”

He continued working his way steadily through some scenic, but tough, marathons throughout January and February. Including White Star Running’s Larmer Tree Marathon, which also offers various distances, including the half-marathon that we previously reviewed.

neil at larmer tree marathon

The unexpected pandemic

However, what Neil, and indeed none of us, could possibly have predicted was that we’d be swept up in a global pandemic. His last ‘official’ marathon was on 14th March 2020. The Endurancelife Sussex Trail Marathon was his 23rd, standing him in a good position towards his challenge total.

Just over a week later, the UK was put into lockdown, with all races cancelled for the foreseeable future. Many people would have given up at this point, with money lost from cancelled races or postponed events until next year.

Neil wrote on 22nd March 2020, the day before the main lockdown, but with social distancing measures in place: “I was initially quite down about it, seeing all my plans unravelling, but when I think about what’s going on at the moment, there’s really no point dwelling on it. I’ve considered jacking this challenge in many times; this was just another one of those times. I’ve decided to try and carry on and run solo, at least until we’re told that you can’t leave your house.” Marathon number 24 was dubbed The Self-Isolation Shuffle, around the Isle of Wight where Neil lives.

The halfway point was reached on 28th March 2020 with The Halfway Hustle. He decided to throwback to the very first marathon and followed the Isle of Wight Marathon route. At the end he was given a beautiful handmade star-shaped badge with bespoke hammered text – a lovely memento.

neil halfway marathon medal

Onwards and upwards

Neil has carried on running his homegrown marathons. Along the way he’s received some truly unique medals. Many of his runs have coincided with the dates he should have been running large events, such as the Southampton Marathon, Brighton Marathon and Manchester Marathon.

His most recent event was his 33rd marathon-distance run since last October. He ran it when he should have been in Edinburgh, but was instead forging new routes around the Isle of Wight.

“So that’s 33 down, only 17 more to go,” says Neil. “Will I get to run anywhere else but the Isle of Wight? Who knows. I’m lucky because it is a lovely place to be locked down in, if only it wasn’t so bloody hilly.”

Keep going Neil! What an amazing achievement so far.

Pop over to Neil’s journal to read all of his blog posts for each marathon so far at: https://www.orangepeelcreativejuice.co.uk/journal/

Donate to Neil’s JustGiving page: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/neil-50-50