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‘Just some bozo who decided to run’

Runner tells how U.K. comic inspired his ‘4in4’ MS marathon challenge


Two years ago, an unfit but determined British comedian called Eddie Izzard set off on an epic quest to run 1,000 miles around the U.K. The journey took about seven weeks. He was 47 and by his own account “had only run a little bit before, mainly for buses,” saying “I’m just some bozo who decided to run this.”

While the “Marathon Man” TV series was going on, yours truly was working long shifts for the ambulance service in my native Winchester, Southwest England, blissfully unaware that I would take on my own marathon challenge in Asia.

A few months later, I would land in South Korea to work as an EFL teacher. I got into long-distance running and enjoyed the quantity and quality of Korean race-meets. I ran my first marathon and then did two more, mostly so I could shirk my “fat lad” image given to me by my ever-mocking family.

After socializing in Daejeon’s interesting expat circles, I became very involved with a fund-raising campaign called “Making Miles,” a project that raises money and awareness for Multiple Sclerosis both in Korea and abroad through events such as running, hiking or cycling.

The organization fund raises for the Korean Multiple Sclerosis Society as well as the Myelin Repair Foundation, a California-based organization that’s making great leaps in research of treatments for MS and other neurological diseases.

For people who don’t know: MS is a non-hereditary disease in which the fatty myelin sheaths that surround the axons in the brain and spinal chords are damaged. This adversely affects the ability of those nerves to communicate with one another.

Symptoms are broad, and often hard to clinically diagnose immediately, though muscle weakness, and loss of coordination and mobility are all common.

Research and support have come a long way in recent years but awareness is still shockingly low, especially in South Korea where the majority of cases go undiagnosed for too long.

I had lunch with my friend Claire, who is involved in all things PR, and decided that over Chuseok I would run four marathons in four days in four cities to raise funds and awareness for MS in Korea.

Claire asked me all the vital logistical questions, such as: “Are you fit enough? Do you have the training time to achieve this? If something goes awry can I call dibs on your coffee percolator?” 
Joe Riley outside Daejeon’s World Cup Stadium during his mission to run four marathons in four days. (Claire Keet)
Joe Riley outside Daejeon’s World Cup Stadium during his mission to run four marathons in four days. (Claire Keet)

It was a mad mission and though Eddie did more miles, he also had the benefit of being a celebrity with access to top doctors and physiotherapy, not to mention a mass audience that actually gave a hoot.

So, after weeks of press releases, I found myself curled up in a love motel in Seoul on Friday Sept. 9 awaiting Marathon Number One with the enthusiasm of a man who knows that when the first rays of dawn come through the window, he is to be taken out to the chopping-block. What on Earth had I signed up for?

On Saturday, I was met by a high profile runner who I had heard was winning races all over Korea, her name was Norah and she was possibly the nicest (and fastest) super-athlete I’d ever met. We were also joined by Robyn, who had limited running experience but proved his mettle with a solid 30k effort before he left the run for some energy drinks provided by our handy group of cyclists who made sure we were never too far from hydration-salvation.

We finished the first run in 4 hours 30 minutes, a respectable time by most standards. And one that was to haunt me as things got tougher down the line.

After lunch with our sponsors, Claire and I headed to Busan where we were put up by the generous Evan who cooked for us, let us use his apartment and even ran the whole distance on Marathon Number Two with me on Sunday morning. Accompanying us on the run were my Daejeon training partners, Amber and Elliot.

We acquired yet more runners toward the final five miles and finished in five hours in the rain. After an ice-bath, some food, and some much needed down-time with the rugby, I slept.

I awoke, disturbed by a creaking noise I first took to be the door. It turned out to be my ankle, swollen and stiff and making a noise that wouldn’t be out of place on a Halloween sound effects CD. Moving around with the speed and grace of Boris Karloff, I realized with a shock that I was only two down.

Monday’s progress on Marathon Number Three, in Daegu was painfully slow, and agonizingly painful. It took us seven hours, mainly because my ankles and knees had given out and all my muscles were knotted to the point where I found even straightening them out was akin to jabbing swords in them.

Marathon Number Four on Tuesday was a thoroughly different affair. After a massage that left me weeping with discomfort, I was back on my feet and ran the final leg in my native Daejeon in just over six hours, finishing at my favorite pub.

All’s well that ends well!

The current count is 2 million ($1,755) won in donations for Making Miles, we’re hoping we raised an equal amount in the far less tangible currency of awareness.

By Joe Riley

Joe Riley is a 23-year-old English teacher from the U.K. currently living in Daejeon. He can be reached at: joeyriles88@gmail.com. For more information or to make a donation go to www.joerunskorea.wordpress.com. ― Ed.
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