On the face of it, you might think Georgie Acons’ run at this year’s Virgin Money London Marathon had not gone to plan. “The atmosphere as ever was amazing, but my running probably was not!” she says. “I still had a go; I think I did the first half in two hours and a minute and the second half in two hours 40 minutes. I thought I’d go at a decent pace for as long as I could and maybe my legs would hold out, but they didn’t. But at least I tried.”
If she sounds relaxed about it, that’s probably because London was not her biggest marathon challenge this year. At the start of 2017, Georgie, 32, completed the World Marathon Challenge, running seven marathons in seven days on seven continents, to raise money for The Brain Tumour Charity after losing friends and seeing others lose family members to
Georgie, who ran her first marathon in London in 2009 and “fell in love somewhere around that course”, had first heard of the World Marathon Challenge a few years ago but put it to the back of her mind. But she’d been wanting to do something to raise money for The Brain Tumour Charity for some time, having lost a schoolfriend, Hannah, to the condition, and then a close family friend last year. “Just before Christmas last year I randomly stumbled on it again for the 2016 event and something just clicked. I just thought, ‘That’s the one.’”
The challenge starts with a marathon in Antarctica, before moving on to Punta Arenas, Chile; Miami, USA; Madrid, Spain; Marrakesh, Morocco; Dubai, UAE; and finishes in Sydney, Australia. Despite her previous running experience, finding a training plan was her first challenge. “I did a marathon last year as a starting point and carried on from there,” she says. “I knew I had to do a lot of back-to-back long runs and build up the mileage. I looked at 100-mile race plans and used that as my basis – so I cobbled together a few bits and pieces.”
Georgie knew that, with a challenge taking place all over the globe in the course of a week, it wasn’t just the marathons that would be tough. “I sort of backed myself to do the running,” she says. “I thought, ‘Even if I have to crawl I’m pretty sure I can get round.’ For me, the biggest worry was one of the flights being delayed or injury, or something out of my control.”
In fact, the toughest physical obstacle to overcome was something else entirely. “The thing I really wasn’t prepared for was lack of sleep. I had thought, ‘Well, I’ve got a 10-hour flight between Santiago and Miami, I’ll sleep for 10 hours, surely…’ But that just wasn’t the case and, by the time we got to Madrid, I was completely wiped out.”
As well as sleep deprivation, there were extreme environments to cope with, going from -30°C with wind chill in Antarctica, up to 33°C in Dubai just days later. Combined with the day-to-day marathon running, it’s not surprising that there were low points. “My mum and my sister were in Miami, so that was a high point, and then getting to Madrid I was emotionally low – just that realisation that we still had four marathons to go. Dubai was the worst moment because it was 33 degrees and I melt in London when it gets above 15! Everyone just really struggled. In the end, you end up laughing about it on the course, but there are definitely moments when you feel it’s never-ending.”
Georgie was helped through the toughest moments by remembering the people she was running for. “I had their names pinned to my vest as I ran around, so every time I felt a bit rubbish it was easy to look down and immediately remember why I was doing it, and find motivation to suck it up a bit and stop complaining.”
When the finish line finally arrived in Sydney, the group were so tired that it wasn’t quite the all-out celebration they’d expected. “It was almost too much to comprehend, by that point, you’re so tired, but you have this big smile on your face and it’s just relief,” says Georgie. “It was a lovely moment, but it wasn’t jumping around – more quiet contemplation.”
Fast forward a few weeks and Georgie was back running 26.2 miles around the familiar London Marathon course and, while it wasn’t quite the “crowning glory” she might have hoped for, she loved soaking up the atmosphere – and the chance to put her World Marathon Challenge in perspective and appreciate the full extent of her achievement back a few months earlier. “There were certain mile points or certain songs would come on and I knew exactly where I was in the world [when I’d heard it before] and it did make me realise just what I had done,” she says. “After the race on Sunday there was no way I could have got on a plane for 11 hours with no sleep. It made it sink in a bit more!”
And although she admits she couldn’t quite remember how to pack for a ‘normal’ marathon the night before London, she also realised that she didn’t need to be so rigid about her approach to races. “I’ve always been quite religious about what I’ll eat the night before or the morning of a marathon,” she says, “but one thing I was surprised at was how well I coped during the World Marathon Challenge with having pasta for breakfast or a bagel just before you run.
“Usually I’d be saying, ‘Right, I need to have my porridge two hours before’, and it was quite nice to realise so much of that is in your head.”
All told, Georgie has raised over £17,000 for The Brain Tumour Charity, thanks to donations from friends, family and supporters, who kept the money and goodwill coming as she flew around the world. Although she’s just had surgery to treat a long-standing foot problem, Georgie will be back on the road in no time and is aiming to race a half-Ironman triathlon (1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride and half-marathon run) later in the year. After that, she’s keeping an open mind as to what her next challenge might be. “Life can be taken away from you so quickly,” she says. “One of my friend’s dads only had about six weeks between being diagnosed [with a brain tumour] and dying, so I think life is too short. Everyone asks why I do these sorts of things; for me, it’s a case of why not? Make the most of it while you can, and while my legs are still intact enough to do it!”
To donate, visit uk.virginmoneygiving.com/GeorgieAcons and to find out more about Georgie’s adventure, head to who-runs-the-world.com. To learn more about brain tumours, their symptoms and the charity’s research, go to thebraintumourcharity.org.
Photos: © Mark Conlon/Rodolfo Soto/World Marathon Challenge