Strength Through Adversity: Rob Young (Marathon Man UK) and the Walk for Peace

marathon man uk

Kenyan elites Mike Kigen and Stanley Biwott hand the torch to Rob (far right) and Adam (centre right) at the Great North Run.
(c) Rob Young & Adam Holland.

There are many inspiring athletes in the world of running. But Rob Young, aka Marathon Man UK, somehow goes a step beyond that. He flips your expectations on their head, and gives a completely different perspective to life and running.

I was lucky enough to interview Rob half-way through his latest adventure: a 25-day relay around 2,000 miles of the UK, as part of the international Champions Walk for Peace. Find out more about Rob, the challenge, and how you can join in and run with him…

Strength Through Adversity

Sometimes it’s from the harshest conditions that the deepest acts of humanity arise. This is certainly the case with the personal story of Rob Young. In parallel, there is always room for hope, and reasons to strive for it, in people’s lives around the world including war-torn parts of Kenya: the aim of the Walk for Peace.

Rob suffered an abusive childhood at the hands of his father. But rather than being crushed by what happened to him, or repeating the abuse as an adult himself, Rob was determined to do something to change things.

Over the past 18 months, Rob’s achievements have been mind-blowing. He broke the world record for the number of marathons run in a year, clocking 370 marathons. He finished first in the Race Across the USA, which involves over 100 marathons. Shortly after that, he completed the longest-ever continuous run without sleep, covering 373 miles to smash ultra-running legend Dean Karnazes’ previous record of 350 miles. All raising money to try to give disadvantaged children a better chance in life.

Now he’s on a 2,000 mile route around the UK in 25 days with Adam Holland.

The Ability to Adapt

“The mind can adapt to any distance,” Rob tells me. “The mental side is more challenging than the physical. It take three weeks of consistent running for the body to adapt to long distances. The mind takes a bit longer – an extra week. But go longer and harder and the mind and body will adapt. Everyone has the ability to adapt.”

And Rob knows. His first marathon was the day after the 2014 London Marathon. He had been moved by watching the event and hearing the fundraising stories of runners, and was further spurred on to prove to his disbelieving fiancée that he could run 26.2 miles himself. So he did. And following that first one, he just kept going… and going… and going.

365 days later he had run 10,178 miles.

He raised money for the NSPCC, GOSH and Dreams Come True, charities helping to improve the lives of disadvantaged children.

Throughout this period, he had to hold down a full time job, so most of his running was done between 3am and 7am, or at weekends. It took him away from home, from his baby son and (incredibly supportive) fiancée, but he was utterly determined to complete his challenge.

marathon man uk

(c) Rob Young.

The Torch Relay

Since then, Rob has taken on new challenges, including the current torch relay, which forms the UK leg of the international Champions Walk for Peace. His running partner for this adventure is Adam “Tango” Holland, who holds the world record for the fastest ten marathons in ten days. Together, they are taking it in turns to run with the torch, while the other cycles, swapping over when the runner gets tired.

Rob explains:

“The Walk For Peace is organised by a charity called Aegis, which is trying to prevent genocide around the world and bring warring groups together in peace talks. The Walk For Peace is raising money for a peacebuilding project in the Rift Valley in Kenya to try to end fighting between tribes.”

“Aegis also works elsewhere around the world, in schools as well as with adults, to educate people and bring together different groups and tribes. They also work in the UK, providing opportunities for school children to learn about the Holocaust by listening to survivors. Overall, Aegis brings communities together.”

The Walk for Peace project aims to raise £160,000, to reach 10,000 young people in the North Rift Valley region who are at risk of being drawn into ethnic conflict, working with local organisations in Kenya to achieve this. So far, around £62,000 has been raised.

The Walk began in Kenya in July, with top elite athletes including Haile Gebrselassie, Ezekiel Kemboi, Tegla Loroupe, Paul Tergat and Wilson Kipsang. It was organised by Commonwealth Gold Medallist John Kelai, who lost three uncles killed in cattle rustling raids which are common between rival groups in the region. The UN estimates that over 600 people have been killed in the violence since January 2014, with 435,000 displaced.

Join In

Rob and Adam are passing through over 400 cities, towns and villages. They started at the Great North Run on 13th September, where the torch was handed to Rob and Adam by GNR runner-up Stanley Biwott.

The pair are snaking around the UK, ending in London on Wednesday 7th October.

“We will hand the torch over in London, back to Kenyan athletes who are taking it to the Chicago and New York City Marathons for the US leg.”

Rob and Adam want people to get involved all around the UK.

“Anyone can come and join in with us. Just go to the Walk for Peace website and follow our progress. We want people to take part and for this to be a community effort.”

They have some wonderful stories of how people have supported them:

“It’s amazing meeting people. Especially the children who want to get involved. There was a 13-year-old girl who had her dad driving her round for hours the other day to find us. And a seven-year-old boy with disabilities followed our progress and spent two hours waiting for us to come through. I gave them both one of my tops. I try to give something to kids – but I’m running out of t-shirts now!”

marathon man uk

Rob and Adam with a fan who waited patiently for two hours to meet them. He was rewarded with a t-shirt – he’ll grow into it eventually! (c) Rob Young & Adam Holland.

“People can run or walk with us too. We go at their pace.”

“Running is a community, a family. That’s the way I think of it.”

Life on the Road

marathon man uk

(c) Rob Young & Adam Holland.

16 days in, and Rob is rising to the challenge with typical determination.

“The cycling is tougher than the running.” he says. “My legs are ok. My left leg is quite sore around the knee and glutes, but I’ll run through it. Adam has swollen ankles, but he hasn’t been used to running for this many days at this intensity. Running through it will make him stronger.”

I asked Rob if he had to cope with many other injuries:

“Yes, but you learn to run through it. It’s about being positive and telling your mind that you’re going to be fine in a couple of days, even with an injury. The body will stay injured if you let it, but be positive about injuries and they won’t stop you.”

I’m also interested in how fast (or slowly) they are running – does a particular pace make it easier to carry on for longer? Rob says:

“We’re running anything from 5 to 15 minute miling. Sometimes we walk, if we’re with people who want to walk. Sometimes we stop to talk with people. Personally I prefer to go faster as it’s easier to be consistent. The doctors seem to think the impact on the body is similar whatever the pace, so it’s easier to establish a consistent pace – that really helps to keep going. If I set an 8-minute mile pace I can keep that going for as long as I want.”

And he really can too.

How to Get Involved

marathon man uk

Rob and Adam’s relay route. Follow their progress on the live tracker.

Check out Rob’s website at: www.marathonmanuk.com

The Walk for Peace website has a live tracker following Adam and Rob, with a map and UK route details, available here: www.walkforpeace.co.ke/map.

You can donate to the cause, or set up your own walk.

“We’d love people to get involved and join in!” says Rob.

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