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I’m Going to Run the Athens Marathon and Raise Money for the Children’s Charity Plan UK

Virginia Stuart-Taylor runs the Athens Marathon for Plan UK

On my 25th birthday I announced 14 goals on my travel wishlist that I want to achieve before I turn 30 in mid-2019 (scary thought). Being as obsessed with to-do lists as I am, I have of course got a plan on how I’m going to achieve each one of them. Some are a lot harder than others (affording to go to Antarctica and go heli-skiing will be a bit of a challenge, and might have to wait until I’m earning a bit more), but none of them are exactly a walk in the park! I recently got my RYA Day Skipper qualification (goal no.1) and was lucky enough to see the Northern Lights (goal no.9) in Iceland in March, and the next challenge I’m setting my mind to is no.3: Run a marathon abroad. A while ago I wrote a blog post about the concept of ‘marathon tourism’, about keen runners who use their hobby to explore new cities and countries. I recently interviewed Roger Biggs who has run a phenomenal 800 marathons in 49 countries – the epitome of a marathon tourist. As I’m rather fond of challenging myself, it piqued my interest…

Building up to a marathon

In September 2014 I ran the 10km Run to the Beat in north-west London with my housemate Sarah in 1:00:39 (read about that here) and at the finish line I was amazed to find I felt energised, like I had a bit more running in me. A couple of months later in February 2015 I ran the 21km of the Hampton Court Half Marathon with my sister Olivia in 1:54:39, and I was thrilled to manage it in under 2 hours after a good 8 weeks of solid training along the picturesque banks of the River Thames between Hammersmith, Fulham, Putney and Battersea. I did feel truly exhausted after that two-hour run, even though it was a completely flat course. You’d have thought I’d be put off by it, but in reality the half marathon was simply another step in my plan towards running a full marathon, and was merely a test to see if my body could cope with it given the right training and preparation. When I started training, I could barely run 4km without needing a pause, but by the end I managed 21km all in one go! I’ve learnt that the human body really is very resilient!

Choosing to run the Athens Marathon

When I originally wrote my travel wishlist, I knew that if I was going to muster the strength to run a whole marathon at some point in my life, then it would have to be in a foreign country – that’s just the way my brain works. I started to research different marathons on the Marathon Runners Diary (a good website for marathon-shopping) and I was considering a couple of marathons in Scandinavia, ones that run alongside the scenic Norwegian fjords for example. Then by chance I was having a Twitter conversation with a girl from Edinburgh and she suggested I look into the Athens marathon, which follows the original course from the ancient Greek city of Marathon to Athens Olympic Stadium. The route was originally run in the year 490 BC by the Greek soldier Phidippides, who ran 42km from Marathon to Athens to bring news of the victory over the Persians at the Battle of Marathon, and then promptly died seconds after delivering the message. It’s considered to be the marathon, and as I’m only going to ever run one marathon in my entire life, I settled on running the marathon.

24 weeks of gruelling training ahead!

Unluckily for me, it’s not exactly the world’s easiest marathon! It’s not one that marathoners run to beat their ‘personal best’. Apparently the first 12km are flat, and after that the next 19km are a bit more demanding, with long, undulating and slowly climbing hills. This climb then allows for a final 11km downhill towards the finish line. After 42km (or 26 miles) of effort, I’ll be greeted by the finish line in Athens’ Panathinaikon Olympic Stadium. It tires me out just thinking about it! It takes place on Sunday 8th November 2015, just under 6 months away. So why am I telling you about it so far in advance? Well, today I begin 24 long weeks of training up to this marathon. I’m sure to hate running by the end of all the training, and I’m going to miss the long lost days of lazy lie-ins and guilt-free evenings overindulging in too much wine. I’m in need of a bit of moral support and motivation to get me started!


Fundraising for Plan UK and a plea for sponsorship

Another reason I wanted to mention this crazy pursuit of mine is because I’m going to be running for a very worthy cause and raising money for a charity I really support. I’m a Digital Ambassador for Plan UK, a charity that works with the world’s poorest children so they can move themselves from a life of poverty to a future with opportunity. Of all the issues the charity tackles, the campaign that resonates most with me is the work the charity does in support of every girl’s right to live safe from violence, to go to school, to take key roles in their communities, to marry who they want, when they want and to have their voices heard. I believe that it’s every woman’s duty to help other less fortunate women and girls, and it’s the very least I can do. Earlier this year I joined their ‘Because I Am A Girl’ campaign and gave the finger to child marriage by donating £5 and wearing their #EndChildMarriage ring on my wedding ring finger. I also sponsor a 10-year-old girl in Honduras through Plan UK, donating £15 per month to go towards projects like building schools, vaccinating children, connecting villages to a safe source of water, and stamping out child abuse. And now I’d like to put my crazy marathon attempt to good use and fund raise for Plan UK. You can find my Just Giving page here and I’m aiming to raise£1,000. If you’re able to sponsor my marathon in November, then I would really appreciate any donation, no matter how big or small!

  • £8 could help install simple ‘tippy taps’ in African schools to help keep children healthy.
  • £22 could provide emergency school kits for six children, helping them to continue their education during an emergency or disaster.
  • £30 could help a girl to receive training on sexual reproduction health and rights, early pregnancy and HIV prevention in Bolivia.
  • £35 could help keep a girl in Uganda in school by providing a uniform, books, stationary and helping with the cost of transport.

JustGiving - Sponsor me now!

Through JustGiving you can donate from anywhere in the world, using one of eight different currencies. And if you’re a UK taxpayer then please do tick the Gift Aid box, which allows Plan UK to claim an extra 25p for every £1 you donate.

If you know me well, then you’ll know that I haven’t asked for sponsorship since I was about 12-years-old and forced into it at school – it’s not my usual style and is certainly not something I am going to pester people about year in, year out. As I’m only going to run a marathon once, I feel I owe it to the millions of young children in poverty around the world to run it for them, not just for the personal satisfaction of achieving a goal and ticking off another item on my travel wish list.

The city of Athens itself – who has been there and what tips do you have?

I wouldn’t be a travel blogger if I weren’t also intrigued to discover a new city, as all I currently know of Athens is its airport! If you’ve been there, then please let me know what you thought of it, what I should visit and what I need to see while I’m there. Please comment below with any blog posts or useful articles on Athens that might help me. If you know anyone who’s survived the Athens marathon then I’d love to speak to them so do please put me in touch. And is anyone reading this going to be running the Athens Marathon this November? If so then do get in touch so we can panic, commiserate and then finally celebrate together!

So here’s to 24 gruelling weeks ahead of running, running, running and yet more running. Fingers crossed it will all be worth it in the end!

JustGiving - Sponsor me now!


    • Thank you so much Jessi for sponsoring me and for those Athens articles – just what I need! I had no idea about the street art so that’s a nice surprise 🙂


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