The Marathon Man: 10,000 miles and a world record in a year
By Allan Valente
Last Updated: 26/04/15 1:07pm
Rob Young is a man on a mission. Having never run a marathon before April last year he will compete in Sunday's London Marathon having run almost 380 - and broken a world record into the bargain. Sky Sports' Allan Valente spoke to 'The Marathon Man'.
"I say that with a strong mind and good heart then the body will follow."
It is not just some throwaway bumper sticker quote designed to temporarily inspire the masses. Instead, this is the mantra which has taken Rob Young on an astonishing fundraising journey which has seen him break the world record for most marathons run in 365 days, covering more than 10,000 miles on foot.
The 32-year-old Londoner has sacrificed time away from his partner and children, spent his entire lifesavings and quit his job to officially run 370 marathons in a year – beating the old record by four – and raise thousands of pounds for charities close to his heart including NSPCC, Great Ormond Street Hospital and Dreams Come True which all help vulnerable children.
It started out as a bet with fiancée Joanna Hanasz as they watched last year’s London Marathon, with Rob being greatly moved by some of the runners’ fundraising stories for charities which he could relate to his own troubled childhood.
He got started the very next day, relying on his time in the army and his athletic background to help him tackle the marathon course in Richmond Park before starting work – which meant getting out of bed at 2.30am every day.
He had been planning to break the world record at the London Marathon by running from April 14, 2014 to the race day this year, but, as it is being held a little later in the month than usual, on April 26, it means he has already achieved the feat as part of the mammoth Race Across USA he is currently leading.
Speaking to Sky Sports, he said: "It started off as a bet between my partner and I. We were watching the London Marathon last year and I was really inspired by some of the stories.
"I said to my missus I could do that – she said I couldn’t - and it really went from there. I said I could 10 or 20 marathons and somehow it got to 50 and off I went.
“I didn’t really know what I was getting myself involved in.
“My day-to-day routine would see me wake up at 2.30am and be at the park for 3am. I would run the marathon and then get the train to work where I would change and have a wash. After work I would head home and if my boy was still awake I’d spend some time with him and eat with my partner and spend time with her. Then I would start the whole process again.
“Since I was 10 I had always wanted to raise money for charity and for children in my position. And I had always wanted to do something long distance as well, so with the bet with my partner it all clicked into place.”
Rob’s motivation for such an extraordinary accomplishment is both startling and tragic. He suffered daily beatings at the hands of an abusive father which he says included being dangled by his legs over the bannister and thrown down stairs in a suitcase. He said he also witnessed the sexual assault of his sister and the “torture” of his mother.
He says the last beating came when he was six years old when his father tied a rope around his neck and hung him on an old-fashioned coat hanger near the front door.
Although the family eventually got away from his father, Rob’s troubles did not end there and he was soon placed in care where he was passed from orphanage to orphanage, getting into trouble along the way, before being fostered by the man who he says turned his life around, putting him through school and helping to shape his future.
A five-year stint in the Royal Signal Corps in the army allowed Rob to build on his competitive side and explore his interest in athletics, attending meets and competing in a variety of events.
He went on to be selected for the GB junior triathlon team, before trying his hand as a pro-cyclist after leaving the service.
In spite of his rich athletic and competitive background, Rob claims he only really fell in love with long distance running after picking up on the community spirit which he believes surrounds marathons.
“I hated running before this process,” he said. “I would run 4-5K or 10K when I was in the army but it just didn’t interest me whatsoever.
“I used to see it as an individual sport but it’s not; it’s a community and family-like sport. If someone is suffering then I’ll stay with them. If we get to an aid station I’ll give out drinks to runners at the back. I know they appreciate it and there is a community feel to it.
“It has transformed the way I see running.”
My day-to-day routine would see me wake up at 2.30am and be at the park for 3am. I would run the marathon and then get the train to work where I would change and have a wash. After work, I would head home and if my boy was still awake, I'd spend some time with him and eat with my partner and spend time with her. Then I would start the whole process again.
Rob wanted to vary his marathon experiences so decided to get out on different courses and events, going to the Lake District and doing mountain runs to push himself to the limit.
“In the UK I was going from one marathon to another and really wanted to do every race I could get my hands on,” Rob said.
“But I thought I’m not going to do it running around an athletics track every day. I wanted to do it in the hardest possible way on the hardest possible courses.
“It got to the point where I was doing several marathons in a day. I would do a race in Dorset, for example, and then go straight to Wales for a race in the afternoon. It started to get more and more like what a 5K run would be like for most people.
“I had to go longer and do crazier stuff. I was turning up at races at the last second, getting little sleep, taking part in 48-mile races and then getting trains or buses to the next race to start that.”
Rob’s unbelievable progress was halted temporarily in November, however, when he started to develop leg injuries. He suffered from stress fractures, tendon problems and one of his legs had swollen to twice its normal size.
From the outset, Rob has had a top team of marathon, triathlon and Olympic medical experts supporting him. All have found his powers of recovery to be astonishing and his medical director Dr Courtney Kipps has termed Rob 'a person of scientific interest'.
Dr Kipps, also the medical director for the London Marathon, advised Rob to rest and to let his legs recover.
“I stopped for a three-week period to let my legs recover and then continued,” Rob said. “So it has actually been 11 months and not 12 of running which I have done to break the record. If I’d have carried on would I have done more and completed close to 400 marathons? Probably.”
However, after 267 marathons, which had included 28 ultramarathons, in 251 days of running around the UK, Rob decided to head out to compete in Race Across USA from January 16, which involved running another 3,080 miles spanning from Los Angeles across to Washington DC.
Currently Stateside, Rob will fly back to London on April 25 to take part in the marathon the following day before heading straight back out to America without missing any running, aiming to finish in the States on June 3, strengthening his already incredible new world record.
Hopefully I can inspire kids to be something slightly different and hopefully take up a sport. I tell the kids that in the schools I visit – you can be what you want to be.
Rob takes some time from his running in the States to visit schools to promote health and fitness as part of the adventure and believes the time he rested and his US journey has allowed him to calm down a little, as he feels he would have ended up doing double or triple marathons on a daily basis otherwise.
He said: “In order to try and run official marathons I had to come over to the United States for this event which has 117 marathons back to back. Part of it is also promoting child health and helping to fight child obesity so it fitted in with the child aspect of what I’m doing.
“I want to inspire kids to maybe do something themselves. The US race has been going since the 1920s and it has never been won by a European and I’ve got myself into a position where I am leading it.”
Despite having suffered from injuries, Rob claims his body adapted to such a gruelling schedule after just a month and he has been passing on advice to fellow competitors in the Race Across USA.
“There are other athletes here going through the same process,” he said. “I have given any wisdom to people and told them what was going to happen to them.
“There was a blistering process but after three weeks your feet harden and the legs will adapt to the mileage. After that the blisters generally don’t happen anymore.
“After four weeks your mind changes and adapts to the entire process. Your mind will tell you that you can do it. After that four-week period it will become a normal thing to do. That’s why there are still seven runners out in the race across the US with me.”
Rob had to quit his job as the challenge wore on and he has spent his lifesavings trying to help children’s charities which really matter to him.
He originally tried to raise £10,000 per charity but has upped his target and is now hoping to raise a total of £200,000.
Although unsure about what the future holds, he is considering another round the world fundraiser which would include rowing the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and admits he is probably “hooked” on running.
“I have no income,” he said.
“I can dream up all these brilliant adventures but unless I have funds it won’t happen. I’ve used all my lifesavings to raise money for charity and to inspire people. My partner has been there looking after my kids and she has been fantastic - she has had it hard because of the lack of cash.
“I could come back and strengthen the record. As long as I keep running every day I can put a start and stop date on it at any point. At the moment I have broken the record from the 14th to 14th.
“I’ve probably raised £50-60,000 but I almost feel like I’ve let the charities down because I’ve not given enough of my time to promote them. I’ve been going to schools and doing marathons so it feels as though I’ve almost neglected trying to raise money.
“But I’m in the middle of nowhere sometimes as well so I can’t be in the city centre on a treadmill with a collection bucket.
“I have lived off all my savings and I am lucky that friends have helped me out - I’m sure that I’ll repay them at some point. I wouldn’t be able to finish this challenge without them.”
Although he won’t break the record at the London Marathon as planned, Rob will still take part in the race and intends to continue to raise cash for vital charities as he tries to work out what he does next.
“I’m by myself out here,” he said. “I have had time to reflect on my entire year and think where next. I have become anxious because this process is nearly finished. Do I get a job or will I be running other events? I say this is the beginning of the end – the end of this challenge but not the end of what I want to do.
“Hopefully I can inspire kids to be something slightly different and hopefully take up a sport. I tell the kids that in the schools I visit – you can be what you want to be.
“But I don’t feel as though I have lived up to my full potential in inspiring people - I want to change people’s lives.”
To donate to Rob or to find out more about his charity work, go to http://www.marathonmanuk.com.