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No Marathon, No Problem. A Guernseyman Runs a 103-Lap, 26-Mile Marathon In His Backyard

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Guernsey is an island in the English Channel, and a self-governing possession of the British Crown. The island is also host to the Guernsey Waterfront Marathon, a 26 mile and 385-yard circuit of the island that travels through all 10 of the island’s parishes, and passes fishermen’s cottages and sandy beaches. Twenty miles of the marathon usually trace the Guernsey coast overlooking the bay of St. Malo, just 30 miles from France and 70 miles from England. The Guernsey marathon is an international event first run in 1910, and one that attracted runners from 21 countries and five continents in 2016.

The 2020 edition of the Guernsey Marathon was scheduled to take place on March 29, 2020. Like so many athletic events around the world, though, it was rescheduled due to the coronoavirus and COVID-19 pandemic.

The Race Was Rescheduled, But Graham Merfield Was Not Deterred

Fifty-seven-year-old marathoner Graham Merfield was ready to run the Guernsey Marathon as originally scheduled. In fact, he was running to raise money for Medecins Sans Frontiers’ work in response to the coronavirus pandemic world-wide.

Merfield was determined that his hours of training for the event not go to waste. But the government had imposed a rule allowing people to leave their home for just two hours daily for exercise. Merfield wasn’t going to be able to run 26 miles and 385 yards in less than two hours. Only one person has ever broken that two-hour barrier for a marathon —Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge, who completed the 2019 Ineos Challenge in Vienna in 1:59:40.  Merfield wouldn’t be the second.

In order to complete the ‘Guernsey Marathon’ as originally scheduled, the creative-minded Merfield re-routed the marathon around — and around and around and around — his own garden.

One Hundred And Three Laps Around The Yard

Merfield arranged a course through his property that included a bank that meant a climb every time around the loop. Over the course of 130 laps of his garden to make up the nearly 27-mile length of a marathon, Merfield climbed a total of 3,737 feet in elevation.

How did it compare to a more typical marathon experience for Merfield? He told the Guernsey Press:

“…Alison, my wife, was around to chat to on every lap, I had some music to listen to, I don’t normally run with music but I had a party list playing so every time I went past I heard that, so the time passed surprisingly quickly.”

Merfield was able to fundraise for Medecins Sans Frontiers as he’d originally planned, through a Gofundme that he set up. At the 18-mile point of his garden marathon, his wife Alison let him know that he’d surpassed 1,000 pounds ($1,250 USD) in funds raised.

Check out this terrific YouTube video about Merfield’s race, including some cool video he shot of himself while running.

Alex Merfield completed his garden marathon over the course of 103 laps, four hours and 21 minutes. It’s impressive, but it’s not as if he was pushing three kids in a stroller the whole time. Regardless, that’s longer than Merfield’s usual time, something he attributed to the need to make sharp changes in direction. How did he know when he’d reached the end? He’d been tracking distance with his running watch and broke the customary ribbon — err, some strung toilet paper — of course.

Merfield completed the race none the worse for wear, except for sore feet, knees, legs, and shoulders. It wasn’t an ordinary race, he said, but these are far from ordinary times:

“Different times and constraints force you to think differently and do things differently, and I would never ever have considered running a marathon in the garden before, it just seems ridiculous, but we live in different times and we have constraints on how long we can go out for.”

The 2020 Guernsey Marathon has been rescheduled for October 25, 2020 and will take runners around the island, not around the Merfields’ garden. Here’s hoping the race goes as re-planned, and that Merfield has just as much fun.

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