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Photo credit: Brendan Rendall.

Running across Malawi: 27 marathons in 27 days

15-Aug-16

Last updated: 01-Sep-16

By Alice Morrison

Brendan Rendall, from Manchester in the UK, has just run across the whole of the African country of Malawi. The distance broke down into the equivalent of 27 marathons and it took him 27 days. His motivation was to raise money for a children’s charity, FOMO (Friends of Mulanje Orphans) and so far he has raised £27,000 which has funded a new school building.

His love affair with FOMO started in 2009 and then an increasing desire to change his own life and the lives of others brought him to the point where he undertook this challenge he told us, “It was like children with nothing had taught me everything - and I wanted to spend the next few years living in the moment and to keep pushing myself out my comfort zone through challenge events and travel”.

Over the next couple of years, Brendan took on a number of challenges but his RunMalawi idea really started to come to fruition in 2015. “After not running for two years, I started again by running a few marathons. My first ultra marathon was a 58km in the Lake District in June , followed by another 50km ultra in July and then at the end of August I ran the Coast to Coast - St Bees to Robin Hoods Bay - in 8 days through the Lakes, North Yorkshire Moors and North Yorkshire Dales. That's when I knew I was capable of running a longer distance and RunMalawi became a reality".

The challenge itself consisted of running between 40 and 50 km per day which meant rising at 4am to beat the daytime heat. He was accompanied by his expedition partner Emma Timmis, and a support team. They camped en route in the most basic conditions.

Physically, it was an enormously tough challenge” said Brendan, “Combatting mountains, wild animals, extreme temperatures, illness and injury; but the purpose of the fundraising kept my mind focussed on the final goal.” 

Due to the weather conditions I was pushing to finish most days by 10.30 am, so was finishing most days with two short breaks inside five hours. Physically I think it took its toll and I had a leg issue on day 17 for a few days which reduced my speed. After seeing a physio I was back to running well again. It's not sunk in yet how well my body did. Everything else felt great and in fact I felt I was getting stronger. There are so many lessons to learn and next time I'd break the mileage down more over the day.”

As with any extreme challenge, there were some difficult times. Brendan’s came when his leg started to play up. He told us, “My low point was the two days before seeing the physio when I had to walk sections. This was a precaution because my leg became swollen and I was worried. I was camping and in the middle of nowhere so I had to make that decision. However, it turned into a positive. Of course, I became frustrated because I had to walk but in fact it taught me that in life at times we need to dig deep to keep going. This could be failing an exam and taking it again; or not getting the job you want and then getting feedback and moving on. The message is never give up, keep moving forward and keep going.

When his leg eased up and he was back to running again, Brendan met a young boy on the road who gave him a real reality check. He was in the Southern district of Chikwawa when he passed Ginzini, a young boy aged 12, with cerebral palsy who was unable to walk. He was dragging himself along the dusty ground amongst the other children and couldn’t get to school anymore because he was too big to be carried and he just couldn’t make the distance. He hadn’t been for four years. “This put me having to walk sections into perspective,” says Brendan. A week after he finished the run, he went back to Ginzini’s village with a wheelchair, school uniform and school supplies so that the boy could go back to school. “That was a highlight for me,” he said, “It is an honour to be able to make that kind of difference.”

Running Malawi was for both raising money but also running goals,” says Brendan. “Running has given me so much. I stared in 2006, an overweight, in debt person that never exercised. Running has played a huge part of my last 10 years giving me discipline, structure and so much enjoyment. I want to show people that anyone really can achieve such goals, you don't have to be a fitness fanatic, to be able to do something like this. 

In March this year I reached 17 stone again after being injured for a while. I gained three stone over a short period. Dieting from April until mid June, I lost two and half stone. Food is my comfort and I've learnt this about myself over the years and I'm not going to lie: it's always a battle. Completing this run proves that with passion, determination and persistence we can achieve incredible things. I'm just a normal person with the same insecurities and bad habits as so many people. I hope my story inspires those people who think they can’t do it to give it a shot.”

For more on Brendan and FOMO.

All images: Brendan Rendall.

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