Update: A week later, Lee Ryan completed a 100-kilometer run in his backyard.
Lee Ryan is no stranger to long distances and tough challenges: after all, he’s a five-time Guinness World Record holder who has run 38 marathons.
The race he ran in Dubai on Thursday, however, was a little different. For a start, it took him 5.5 hours, almost double his personal best time. Then he had to stop in the middle to help his daughters, Lily, 5 and Sophia, 3. And through it all, the comforts of home beckoned as they never had before.
But he kept going and in the end the Adidas Runners coach from Liverpool – who also works for Adidas full time and oversees 3,500 runners in Abu Dhabi and Dubai – completed the whole 42 kilometers, running back and forth in the backyard of his home in Dubai Town Square area.
“I’ve probably done harder challenges, but the hardest thing was thinking, ‘I’ve got a nice comfy sofa, I’ve got a nice comfy bed,” Ryan told livehealthy.ae. “I’ve got a nice collection of DVDs and a fridge full of food, I could easily step inside and go ‘I’m not going to do this anymore.’ ”
Runners from Italy to France have completed marathons on their balconies during efforts to flatten the Covid-19 curve. A friend then seemed to challenge Ryan by telling him about another balcony marathon runner in the US. And after Dubai residents were told to stop exercising outdoors, Ryan undertook the challenge for his own sanity.
“I don’t smoke or play computer games and stuff like that,” Ryan said. “So for it to be taken away from me, it kind of threw me a curve ball.”
Ryan is used to overcoming more standard marathon challenges like jet lag and unfamiliar weather in international locations. This time, the biggest hurdle to overcome was the lure of home comforts and the extended time it took to cover the distance.
“I was running for a very long time, so the mental focus and physical battle you’ve got to go through for that length of time, not a lot of people can do that,” he says. “That’s a testament to the slower runner, I found a new respect for them yesterday.”
During the race Ryan’s oldest daughter made him a finisher’s medal out of her jewelry kit, with some string and beads. For the end, the two girls strung some toilet paper across the backyard to make a finish line.
Ryan has since had messages from people running on their own balconies in Dubai, inspired by his efforts. Taking care of yourself doesn’t have to be complicated, he reminds others.
“The simplicity of health and fitness,” he says. “It’s anything you want it to be, it’s as small as you want to be.”
Although Ryan says he’s struggling just like everyone else these days, he has more experience with resilience than most. Before having their girls, he and his wife lost a son they named Michael, who was stillborn. A year later, he lost his mother after a short but painful battle with lung cancer.
“The world becomes a little bit simpler when you face that type of trauma,” he says.
Ann Marie McQueen
Ann Marie McQueen is the founding editor-in-chief of Livehealthy and host of The Livehealthy Podcast. She is a veteran Canadian digital journalist who has worked in North America and the Middle East. Her past roles include features editor for The National, trends writer and columnist for the Canadian newspaper chain Sun Media, and correspondent for CBC Radio.