Geoff Smyth swaps Mournes for 12-hour charity run in his back garden
Mountain runner Geoff Smyth swapped Mother Nature’s garden for his Portadown back garden last weekend - aiming to go big for charity in the small space.
The 46-year-old took on the 12-hour challenge in aid of NHS Charities Together, lapping a 47-metre loop from 9 o’clock on Saturday morning to 9 o’clock that night.
Aside from a few rare comfort breaks - and one brief pause for an extra pair of socks to prevent blisters - Smyth kept moving, clocking up 74-plus kilometres.
However, the only number of any concern for Smyth is the online money raised from support generated over social media.
“Once I heard about the ‘I Run At Home’ idea it seemed a good way to show some support and raise some money for such a worthy cause,” said Smyth. “I had been scheduled to compete this week in Scotland’s Highland Fling ultra-marathon covering 53 miles, so it worked out well.
“It took me between 20 and 30 seconds to cover each lap and I would alternate direction at various points to avoid covering the same loop for 12 hours.
“I think I ended up around 74 kilometres but there was no distance target or any real rules other than you had to do it within your garden or home.
“The messages of support and encouragement were superb from friends and family and the feedback to the online videos posted was really great.
“I’ve been running for a few years now and love getting up the mountains and competing in those conditions, so the back garden obviously didn’t offer the same challenge but it was a test in a different way.
“I dislike road running and the idea of just covering the same surface for miles, so the biggest aspect to last weekend was keeping my focus and dealing with the mental test of that loop for 12 hours.
“Tucker, my dog, was in the garden too and kept thinking we were heading out when I would go down towards the gate, plus every now and again I had to adjust my route to avoid a collision!
“Overall, it was enjoyable and I had some of my usual items on a table in the garden to help as I went along, stuff like tablets to prevent cramping up and then various drinks and snacks.
“Coke is a good drink for that burst of caffeine and then I would eat chocolate or crisps, plus some energy gels and a bit of protein later on so some cheese.
“I have a bathroom just in off the back garden.
“Then, when eating, I would walk a few laps but I always kept on the move.
“I could feel some blisters coming on after a few hours so took my only real pause then to add another pair of socks.
“It was because of the mixture of running on stones for around half of each loop and it turned out to be quite difficult to develop any real rhythm or pace because of the restrictions of the circuit.
“But we got there in the end, normally when out competing I don’t listen to anything but had some music playing on Saturday and it helped that the weather stayed so nice.”
Smyth had some extra motivation on display around the garden.
“Some of my friends’ children sent over posters with messages and drawings and my niece in Scotland printed out, coloured in and posted over the official race bib,” said Smyth. “Plus, every now and then the neighbours would cheer me on.
“I was dreading it a bit the night before to be honest because it is so different to what I am used to facing but the day really flew in and it hit 9 o’clock quite quickly.”
Some of his former team-mates from years playing in the Mid-Ulster Football League were part of that support network and Smyth enjoys the lasting friendships developed over those shared experiences but loves the individual challenge connected to his current sport of choice.
“I played for clubs around Portadown like Seagoe, Hanover, Bourneview and Blacker’s Mill and loved those years in football,” said Smyth. “But towards my final years of playing I signed up for a run and loved it, eventually moving on to mountains and I could spend every day up the Mournes.
“It’s tough not getting out now but obviously it’s so important to follow the lockdown guidelines.
“I cannot wait to get back out, I really find a good walk or run in the mountains helps clear my head.
“I’ve been gearing up towards a trip to the Alps in August but, at the minute, there is uncertainty over if we can travel or the meeting will even go ahead.
“My race is around 145 kilometres with 9,000-metre elevation featuring about 1,600 runners.
“You have a maximum of 44 hours to complete the course but must hit points along the way within a time limit.
“Entry is based on points built up from previous meetings but you then get put into a ballot, I missed out last year but have my place for August and it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.
“There’s going to come a point where the lockdown will limit how effective my training is as we get closer to the event but it’s just a case of waiting to see what develops.”
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