British runners heading out to Sierra Leone for ‘world’s craziest marathon’

·4-min read
British runners heading out to Sierra Leone for ‘world’s craziest marathon’

British runners are heading out to Sierra Leone for the “world’s craziest marathon” on Sunday.

Setting off at 6am, in a bid to avoid as much of the blistering, 30C plus midday heat as possible, runners will undertake the 26.2-mile race through northern Sierra Leone.

They will wind through tropical jungle and local villages, running along undulating paths, before making their way to the finish line at the Wusum stadium in Makeni, the country’s third largest city.

But it’s not just the intense physical challenge and subsequent runner’s high that brings around 1,000 people from across the world to Makeni.

The marathon raises money for the charity Street Child which works to ensure every child is safe, as well as giving them a chance to go to school and learn.

According to the charity, 36 per cent of children in Sierra Leone never complete primary school and many more leaving school without foundational literacy and numeracy.

They work in some of the country’s most remote rural regions to address access and quality barriers to primary education through community partnership.

This year will be the marathon’s tenth anniversary, but there is added excitement as the race returns for the first time since the pandemic started.

One runner, Julie Crestfield from Stratford, will be running the marathon on her 44th birthday.

This will be Julie Crestfield’s sixth marathon (Julie Crestfield)
This will be Julie Crestfield’s sixth marathon (Julie Crestfield)

She has pulled a team of seven women together who have raised more than £10,000 for the UK-based charity.

Speaking ahead of the race, she told The Standard: “I know it’s going to be life-changing, and that’s a little bit scary to know that it’s going to be a profound experience but I’m also trying to manage my expectations of the run.

“I’ve done five marathons before, but they’ve always been city marathons so I know this experience is going to be very different.”

Julie, who runs the blog The Fat Girl’s Guide to Running, said she got into the sport after joking she would do a marathon if London won the 2012 Olympics.

“We got the games and then I had to stick to my word,” she said.

“I realised all of the running websites and marathons only catered for your traditional ‘slim’ runner, and so that made me feel a bit embarrassed and that it was going to be really difficult.

“I used to run really private routes and in the nighttime so that I wasn’t seen because I got a lot of abuse and jokes, so I felt judged as a larger runner. Fast forward 10 years and it’s very different now”.

Sierra Leone Marathon (Street Child)
Sierra Leone Marathon (Street Child)

Julie started her blog to vent her frustration after doing a 10km race and getting to the finish line to find the organisers had already packed up and gone home.

She added: “It was supposed to be an outlet for my frustrations but what I didn’t expect was how quickly it would grow and how many people would email me and say, ‘I thought I was the only fat runner out there’.”

Since then she has run half marathons in close to 20 countries and is now a professional running blogger.

The marathon came at the right time for Julie who said before this year “didn’t know anything about Sierra Leone” or Street Child.

She added: “The marathon hasn’t been in Makeni for two years, so it’s getting itself back out there again and it resonated with me. There was so many little metaphors.

“If I am going to do a marathon again, this will be the one”.

Another Briton heading out to Sierra Leone for a second time is 32-year-old Nick Butter, from Bristol, who is no stranger to running a marathon.

Nick Butter has run a marathon in every single country in the world (Nick Butter)
Nick Butter has run a marathon in every single country in the world (Nick Butter)

In fact, Nick became the first person to run a marathon in every single country in the world, and is now an eight-time world record holder.

When asked what he did to prepare for long runs, Nick said: “I don’t really prepare if I’m honest. I ran a marathon yesterday, I run them all the time.

“Sierra Leone will be number 978 for me, I’m training all the time. My approach is going to be lots of salt, electrolytes and sugar towards the end.”

Speaking about what he enjoyed most about his last time in Sierra Leone, he said: “Sierra Leone is a very special place to me. It just turned out to be an amazing race.

“It’s where I fell in love with the country and the people. It’s a very special place, running with kids in the villages, the atmosphere, the whole thing was just so special.”

To find out more about Street Child or to donate, please go to sierraleonemarathon.com

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