50/50 marathons

42. The Meaning of Life Marathon

26th July 2020.

ready to go

“The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything is 42”

Douglas Adams – The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

So, I’ve made it to number 42, I never thought I’d make it this far. I guess it’s made me a bit thoughtful, but, don’t panic, I haven’t drunk enough to start having the meaning of life conversation. But it did make me wonder what the hell I was going to do this week for a marathon and with the number 42 looming, I figured I should do something of meaning, more than just running a marathon.

Last year I regularly went out and plogged! A weird phrase that generally raises eyebrows and makes people question if you’re into weird sexual practices. No.

The word plogging is an English-Swedish combination of jogging and plocka upp, which means “pick up” in Swedish. Swedish speakers use plogga, a combination of plocka upp with jogga (“jog”). Both words, though, refer to the same activity of picking up litter while out on a jog.

So there you have it, litter picking while running. I started purely because I cannot stand litter and Cowes was bad. Not as bad as some places, but any litter is bad enough. The thing is, once you’ve focused on it, you can’t help but see it, wherever you go. I’ve been brought up to not leave rubbish behind, so to me, it’s anti-social behavior and it just brings the area down. But, more importantly, we’re seeing the negative effects of the rubbish that gets left in a natural habitat and especially the oceans. It’s literally choking the planet and the majority of people are happy to turn a blind eye to it! I don’t get it? So rather than just get wound up by it, I started to go out and pick it up, bag it up and dispose of it properly.

There’s always a lot of focus around beach cleans, and rightly so. But I tend to focus on the streets around where I live. I think people generally assume this is dealt with by the council, but it doesn’t seem to be at all. We live by the coast, so it doesn’t take much for that rubbish to find it’s way into the water and end up out at sea.

I would go out and cover a 3-mile area and collect between 2 – 4 bags of rubbish, just around the streets where I live! But the worse thing about it was, no matter how many times I did it, it was always back, just as bad the next week.

The trouble with plogging is that it is back-breaking work, so I could never do enough before my back said ‘Stop!’

When I started this marathon challenge I decided to stop doing it, purely because I didn’t want to cause a back issue. It gave me sciatic pains, so I needed to play safe. But, the nagging feeling I get when I see the growing amount of litter is still there.

Anyway, I’m rambling a bit, so I’ll cut to the point. Today’s marathon was a plogging marathon. It was slow, very slow. I was out for eight and a half hours, picking up rubbish. I started off going up and down the streets of Cowes, this way I could easily go back and drop full bags at home. Then I headed down along the cycle track and up the other side of the river to Island harbour. Back along Fairlee road, through Newport, and then back up into Cowes and home.

I managed to gather 10 big bin liners full of rubbish before I had to stop for fear of hurting myself. It’s not necessarily picking up the rubbish that is problematic, it’s carrying it while running that is the problem. It gets very heavy and awkward to get into a flow. Actually, you don’t get into a flow. I think I would run about 10 steps before I had to stop again to pick something up.

Plogging in Cowes
Bag of rubbish
Collected bags of litter

Problems ahead

While in the lockdown period, it was nice to see nature being given a break from us. It gave me hope and I naively thought that perhaps this could be the thing to rebalance things a bit. I was wrong! It seems we’ve come out of lockdown with an attitude that we’re going to make up for lost time. A vast amount of rubbish is being left. I was running along the river and picked up so much rubbish left by people who had clearly sat there because it’s nice, but then weirdly decided it’s ok to just leave their rubbish!

I found people sitting by the river, enjoying their own picnic, yet they were surrounded by plastic and cans! Under normal circumstances, I’d be wondering why they didn’t pick it up themselves. I realise they shouldn’t have to, it shouldn’t be there in the first place. But now everyone is so over conscious of other people’s germs that there is no way they’re going to touch it.

Which brings me on to another issue that is clearly getting out of hand. Masks and gloves. I lost count of how many I picked up today. Most of these masks are made from a plastic substrate. They aren’t going anywhere for a long time, and there are a lot of single-use masks being used right now. But then they are just being discarded. Slung by the roadside. How is that acceptable? If people don’t want to pick up a used can or bottle, you can be sure they won’t go near a mask or surgical gloves!

Ok, I’ll leave that there before my head explodes. I found today really discouraging, so am feeling the need to vent. Not helped by the fact that on the last few miles back I went back up the cycle track. I had already been down that way and filled up 2 bags, yet on my way back, the litter was already appearing again! At the bottom of my street I picked up about 6 empty beer cans, all the same brand, and in the same place, it was obviously the same person. I picked them up before I headed to Newport. By the time I got back, there were 2 more!

As runs go, this was a weird one. I can’t really call it a run as there was very little proper running, but believe me, it was far more exhausting than a regular marathon.

Once back and thoroughly showered, Caroline sat me down and gave me not one, but 3 homemade medals. The first from my brother Chris was a necklace with a 42 pendant on it that comes from the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Then from my lovely friend Mike Atkinson a second medal of a running man video box with a digital runner embedded into it. The third was a 7” single of Running in the Family by Level 42, but the best thing was that it was signed with a personal message to me from Mark King! The effort that my family and friends have gone to, to give me a medal at the end of these runs has just amazed me. I am so thankful to all of them 😊

My Run Keeper app had a bit of a wobbly and only recorded about six and a half hours of the route. I failed to switch it on for the first few miles and then it must have paused somewhere along the way, so sadly it’s not a complete record. I was hoping to share the rather peculiar route.

signed copy of Running in the family

I am running these marathons to raise money for Mind. If you like what I’m doing and would like to donate you can go to my Just Giving page below.