Going the Distance
Imagine running each 10km of 200 km under an hour, running 5 ¾ marathons in one day or setting off on a morning run and ending up in Lismore, Queensland from the Coast. This is an annual event for Coolum runner John Pearson who has challenged his body to its limits and knows better than most what it takes.
What is a 24 hour run?
It’s a form of an ultra marathon where runners must run the longest distance in this time period to win. To qualify, runners need to clock at least 210km per 24 hours. There are also six, 12 and 48 hour events.
A definition of the word marathon is “a long lasting and difficult task” and for the general public this is an understatement, but not for Coolum’s John Pearson. He describes running the 43km event as a bit of fun and enjoys it as a training run for his premier event, a 24-hour ultra marathon. Yes that is right, John will run continuously for 24 hours only stopping for bathroom breaks and to grab a nutrition boost.
The athlete hails from northern England but after almost 20 years in Australia, he competes in green and gold. John spent his childhood on the run, trying to keep up with his friends who owned bicycles, but he didn’t start running training until his move to Brisbane when he was 26-years-old.
“I always ran as a child, not competitively, I just ran everywhere … so looking back I was training from a young age without knowing,” John joked. “I started playing football here (Australia) and in the off season to keep fit, I did a bit of running, and eventually I entered a fun run for a bit of fun and I crossed the line feeling like somebody had attacked me.”
As a spritely 26-year-old he didn’t take kindly to the fact that the majority of the people passing him were well above his age and here he was struggling to breathe. After this event he spiked up his training and soon enough the love of running took over the football craze and he found himself on the starting line of a marathon in 2000.
“Around that time there was a big buzz for the Olympics coming up and they had a marathon on at the official Olympic course and I thought it would be great to do that,” says John.
“I only had about three to four months to train so I threw myself in there while I now know that was probably stupid. It was pretty torturous at the end but as soon as I finished it I knew I loved it.”
After a couple of years of marathons John slowly worked his way up to longer distances after encouragement from other runners who could see he had the knack. This lead to his first 24-hour race in 2008, one he will never forget even after eight events.
I always ran as a child, not competitively, I just ran everywhere … so looking back I was training from a young age without knowing,”
“I went through virtually every emotion you go through in life in the space of 24 hours and looking back now I was vastly underprepared mentally, physically and nutrition wise,” John remembers.
“I ended up coming second and I was prepared to walk away from it and say this is just ridiculous, I couldn’t walk for three days, but then again I had a few people contact me about how I handled the race.”
Fast-forward to today and John is in a rest period, but still clocking 40km a week, after competing in Italy in the World 24 Hour Running Championships in April. Now at 43-years he completed his best time of 241.4km, which helped the Australian team finish in second place, the first time the country has had a podium finish in this event.
“Being the old experienced guy in the team, which I now am, I was team captain for the third time,” John says. “It was really quite nice to lead the boys out and stand on the podium, ironically enough to my old national anthem for Great Britain.”
Leading up to the World Championships, John was running a maximum of 140km a week which he would do in units of two-hour, three-hour and six-hour runs. In between his runs he would do five to six hours of what he calls his “ballet dancing” to strengthen his legs and core. Along with this he has a well-balanced average diet as well as working with Infinite Race at Coolum for his racing nutrition needs.
The kids are an inspiration – they were trackside for 24 hours in Italy this year,”
To ensure his body can continue to run at this level for many years John can’t stress the importance of break time, although his break time is considered to be unachievable by the average person. John, who became a stay-at-home Dad when the family moved to the Sunshine Coast two years ago, enjoys sharing his love of running with his wife Vicky and their three children Jack, Eddie and Ashby.
The family are regulars running along the Coolum tracks and competing at 5km Parkrun events on weekends. John considers them to be his biggest fans, with his wife firstly running with him in the beginning, to now aiding him in every race.
“The kids are an inspiration – they were trackside for 24 hours in Italy this year,” says John.
“It was just heartwarming to see the kids, it's so inspiring seeing our oldest child running along outside of the track waving.
“They have ideal role models all around, all energetic and healthy people who run. They have been pushed in strollers in a number of marathons and once they were out of the strollers they were running too.”
You have got to be very strong minded. Maybe it is something that is just in you as well."
It is hard for John to put into words why he finds the strenuous running events to be so appealing. He remembers as a child he was always keen to challenge anyone who said he couldn’t achieve anything. This has certainly shone through as an adult with his success in what most people can’t achieve.
“People ask me why I do it and I don’t think there is a definitive answer, I do enjoy the challenge and I enjoy competing to a degree but I don’t think that is the sole driver,” John explains.
“You have got to be very strong minded. Maybe it is something that is just in you as well.
“I would say in a 24 hour race you go through most of life’s emotions. The mind is a powerful thing.”
With the years of knowledge and the increasing popularity in the sport, John has been a keen running coach for a number of years. After joining a Brisbane running club earlier on in his training, he gained a lot of knowledge and wanted to continue the legacy. For the last three World Championships he has led the Australian team.
“I see it as my job, as well as a bit of a role model, for people coming into the sport,” John says. “I mean I am getting to dinosaur status soon and I’ll get trampled on by the younger blokes, so it is good if they can learn from what I have done.”