Suffering squared

Raising funds for a charity helping disadvantaged youngsters in Cumbria, participants in the Brathay challenge run 10 marathons in 10 days

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As Joe Morrell crosses the finishing line he slows to a walk, puts his head in his hands, groans and collapses to his knees, his body wrought by quivering sobs gushing from a deep well of physical and mental exhaustion.

He is beginning to learn what it takes to run three marathons on three consecutive days, and he still has another seven to go.

Morrell is one of 17 runners taking part in the Brathay 10in10 challenge.

“Gruelling” can seem an inadequate term to describe the 10in10, in which runners complete 10 marathons – 26.2 miles each – around Windermere in the Lake District, England’s largest lake, at a rate of one a day for 10 days.

The final marathon of the 10 coincides with the Asics Windermere Marathon, which is organised by the Brathay Trust and attracts thousands of runners from across the country.

Run for the first time in 2007, the 10in10 is the biggest annual fundraising event for the Brathay Trust, which carries out programmes to help disadvantaged youngsters, including outdoor activities at its home at Brathay Hall, near Ambleside, overlooking the lake.

The 10in10 has raised over £1 million for the charity, helping young people like Laura Lovelady, 20, from Wirral.

Problems at home meant she had to move into a refuge with her mum and siblings. She says the shock meant she lost confidence, dropping out of college and giving up on her dream of becoming a midwife.

“I’ve only started running the last two years. I want to be a better person and that’s why I run.”

“My memories of growing up, especially when I was a teenager – there was a lot of arguments between my mum and dad and it just wasn’t a nice environment to be in,” says Lovelady. “I used to just be a dead closed person and not speak to anyone, keep myself to myself and not go out.” She was offered a place on a Brathay project – which supports young people into employment or training – that involved attending sessions in her community as well as a stay at Brathay Hall. She also went on a work placement at a local hotel, where she is now doing an apprenticeship.

“The work with Brathay has helped me get where I am today,” says Lovelady. “Brathay has helped me because I got to meet other people in similar situations and I knew I wasn’t on my own anymore and that I wasn’t the only one struggling.”

Poppy Gasson, 23, from Shipley, was a troubled adolescent, misusing alcohol and drugs and becoming homeless.

“I did rebel a lot. I used to steal and run away,” she says. “I was just hanging around with the wrong people. My mum had just had enough and said I am going to have to ask you to pack your bags.”

When she became pregnant at age 17 she moved back in with her mum, but then their relationship broke down again, resulting in her moving out and leaving her child.

“I wanted to do everything that everyone else was doing at 18. I thought I knew it all and I didn’t. I started getting involved with the bad people again.” She became pregnant with her second child, Jamie, in 2017. She joined a Brathay programme that helps families and was supported to be a more confident parent.

This has involved working with her caseworker Vikki on a one to one basis.

She has now started a course at college, is looking after Jamie and is in regular contact with her daughter.

“It feels so good having someone who is in my corner who will listen to what I have to say. I actually don’t know what I would do without her,” she says.

Ellie Hodgson also has a lot to thank the Brathay Trust for after taking part in its Prince’s Trust programme in Bradford.

“I’ve learnt that I can put myself out there and make friends with people that I don’t know and it just takes a bit of courage and I can do it,” says Hodgson, 19. “I’ve also learnt that when I am scared of doing something I can do it with a bit of encouragement and if I just push myself and do it I will like the rewards.

“The programme has made me feel more confident in myself and with meeting new people and also working in a business place or just in everyday life. I would like to be able to do something with writing and I will use the skills I’ve learnt to go looking for a job that I will like doing.”

The 10in10 has been just as character building for its participants, spawning an ever growing group of finishers, forever bonded by suffering.

As well as the runners themselves, the event involves trainee physiotherapists from Cumbria University, who come to learn how to apply their techniques on athletes in extremis, and a dedicated support team from Brathay, most of whom are volunteers, with many having completed the challenge before.

Aly Knowles, who was the event manager for seven years and has run it twice herself in 2009 and 2010, says one of the most inspiring aspects of the event is that many of those who take part are not seasoned marathon runners. While some may have completed hundreds during their lives, others may have only done two or three.

“That’s the beauty of it – it is ordinary people turning up and just loving it,” she says. “As the event unfolds so you see the different sides to people. You see people at their very, very best and their very, very worst and how they cope with that.

“Each and every day just getting yourself around a marathon in itself – it’s no mean feat. My input in the event, as well as the structural base of work, is the emotional support that I give and so I can be firm and I can be fair and I can be loving and I can be a devil.”

Morrell became involved as part of the university’s team of trainee physios. From Huddersfield, he was so inspired by the athlete he was tasked with caring for – Paul Brown – that he signed up to take on the challenge himself. This was despite having done only one marathon himself, when he joined the thousands doing the Asics Windermere Marathon circuit around Windermere in 2018.

“After hearing their stories and treating them and supporting them through their adventure, I stupidly got inspired to do it,” says Morrell. “The event will be with me for life.

“They talk about the ‘Brathay bubble’ and once you’re in it, you’re in it. Brathay is home for me, or my second home. You just want to be in that family unit.

“I probably would do it again. It’s just an amazing experience, probably the worst experience of my life, but the best experience of my life.”

As well as the fundraising element, the runners also have their own deeply personal reasons for testing themselves to and, some may say, beyond the limit.

“I’ve only really started running the last two or three years,” says Duncan Evans, who is taking part in his second 10in10 in two years. “First off it was to kill a few demons and do a bit of soul-searching and I’m still doing that. I want to be a better person and that’s why I run.”

Morrell traces his reasons for taking on the challenge back to a childhood illness when, at the age of four he was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Although he had a successful operation to remove it, he was left with scars that affected his confidence at a young age.

“Through school and college and everything I wanted to cover the scars and I suppose that’s what kept me from doing things,” says Morrell. “I didn’t want to go out much because I was scared that people would see the physical scars. I went through my school life and college life not really aware of the things you can do in life.”

Later in life, he made the decision not to let his lack of confidence hold him back anymore, studying at university and embracing all the things he could do – including the 10in10.

“I need to be doing more. I want to be doing more because in the end if I’m not doing everything I can with my life then what’s the point?” he says.

Godfrey Owen, chief executive of the trust, says it is eternally grateful to those taking part.

“The 10in10 is an incredibly tough event and it’s unusual for those taking part to be endurance-running veterans,” he says. “The huge effort involved in the running may be the method by which they encourage donations to boost their total raised for us, but that’s tough to remember for someone on day eight, in the rain and wind somewhere around Windermere with every muscle and sinew crying out and their emotions in turmoil.

“We are incredibly grateful to them for going through this to raise money for us.  Their very personal challenge helps us to continue our work.”

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