MICHAEL Nowicki’s ambitious plan to run from London to Edinburgh will take its toll on his feet – but the benefits will be all in the mind
How many pairs of running shoes do you need to cover 443 miles? According to Michael Nowicki, one will do. The recreation nurse from Edinburgh is planning to run from London to Edinburgh beginning on 29 April and he reckons his one pair of barefoot running shoes will see him through.
“I covered 900 miles in my last pair so I should be fine,” he says, looking completely unfazed. Only someone who’s already run 17 marathons could look so calm at the prospect of 15 days during which he will have to cover an average of more than 29 miles each day. Frankly, my feet feel sore at the prospect.
We’re getting used to superhuman charitable efforts from celebrities – David Walliams swimming 140 miles up the Thames, Eddie Izzard running 43 marathons in 51 days, and last week John Bishop’s Sport Relief effort from Paris to London. Non-celebrities, too, undertake huge sporting challenges – recently Dr Andrew Murray ran from Scotland to the Sahara – a distance of 2,664 miles – becoming in the process a huge inspiration for Nowicki, 33.
“I had a chat with Andrew Murray and with Colin MacPhail, who runs the Footworks running shop in Edinburgh,” he says. “I told Colin I had this idea that I wanted to run from London, where I was born, to Edinburgh, where I live. He didn’t criticise me or tell me it was a crazy idea, he just said, ‘Right let’s do it’.”
This was back in October. Since then, Nowicki has been training for his challenge by running long distances one week and recovering the next. The distances involved are enough to make the hamstrings of mere mortals bunch up in terror, with Nowicki putting in more than marathon distance in a day.
“I’ve been running about 40 miles,” he says, adding that he’s also still taking part in races as part of his training regime. “I’ve got a few races coming up – I’ve just done the D33 Ultra which is in Aberdeen along Deeside to Banchory and back, which is 33 miles. And a few weeks later I’ve got a 56-miler from Glasgow to Edinburgh.”
Considering the last time I did that journey I watched the countryside flash past my eyes in a blur as I sat on the train drinking a cup of tea, I wonder how long Nowicki will take on foot?
“For me, I just want to finish,” he says. And then, like every competitive runner I’ve ever met, he can’t help but put a time on himself. “I’d love to go below ten hours. That’s my aim, which I think is possible but we shall see how it goes.”
Nowicki started in endurance sports 12 years ago. He first concentrated on triathlon but he’s done an Iron Man too. He’s completed 17 marathons, his fastest in three hours and 17 minutes.
“It is a hobby but it’s more than that, too,” he says. “I decided to focus on running two years ago because it’s always been my strongest event and I thought I could excel at it and maybe even get the odd win.”
Nowicki has run for various charities in the past but his London to Edinburgh run is a challenge he set for himself. He also set his own fundraising target of £10,000 for the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH), a charity that means a lot to him for both personal and professional reasons.
“I work in the Royal Edinburgh Hospital in the intensive psychiatric unit. I work with people with bipolar disease and schizophrenia and people who have tried to commit suicide.” He explains that when he had the idea of running for a charity he contacted a support service within the Royal Edinburgh Hospital that he admired. Known as The Hive, it’s run by SAMH.
“The run is going to be a challenge for sure, but it’s worth it,” he says, “especially for the charity.”
Nowicki’s job as a recreation nurse means he focuses on helping patients get active to improve their health and well-being. Having supported cancer charities in the past through his running, he decided that this time he wanted to raise awareness of mental health issues. It’s a task that needs all the help it can get.
Every day in Scotland, two people take their own lives. The rate is the UK’s highest. Suicide is the leading cause of death among young people and while the rate has been dropping since 2001, still, in 2010, 781 people died by their own hands across the country.
According to SAMH, the stigma that surrounds mental ill-health prevents many people from seeking help or telling anyone how they are feeling. Encouraging people to open up and ensuring that non-judgmental support is available is a vital suicide prevention strategy. It’s something that means a lot to Nowicki because it has a personal impact.
“My cousin killed himself four years ago. He was just 19. He was in Poland, not here, but if I can raise awareness that might make a difference even to one person, it’d be brilliant.
“A lot of guys don’t say anything because they’re worried what people will think of them, that they’ll be seen as a wimp. I’ve come across lots of guys who’ve thought about suicide, I’m not even talking about in my work.
“We all know how tough times are just now – people are losing their jobs – but when you’re stuck at home and worrying or not doing anything, it can get harder. If people can get themselves out for a 30-minute walk it can do them a lot of good. Really, it doesn’t have to cost anything, you don’t have to join a sports club. Just a walk will do. Getting active stimulates your brain. I’m not just talking about the people that I work with in the Royal Edinburgh Hospital, it’s true for everyone.”
Nowicki’s parents moved to London from Poland before he was born. He moved with his wife, Monica, to Edinburgh four years ago. The couple have a three-year-old son. With such an intensive training schedule I wonder how easy it is to fit that to family life?
“It’s possible,” he says with a smile. “My wife is very supportive of what I do. But I also have to make sure that I make time for both of them. Sometimes that maybe means sleeping a bit less, but why not? You just have to plan your time. My wife and son come to my races a lot. I wouldn’t do this challenge without my wife being totally on board.”
He acknowledges that it’s going to be hard being without them for two weeks, but says he’s been getting amazing support from the Footworks team and from his running club, Carnethy. That said, he admits he is starting to feel the pressure of the task he’s set for himself. Not least because he’s doing it almost completely unaided – there will be no support van trailing in his wake, no other runner on the team to keep him company and certainly no camera crew to record his every blister (that would be a dull job given that he never gets any). He’ll be carrying water, bananas and gels to keep him nourished as he runs. Then in the evenings, before he flops into bed in whichever B&B he’s landed, he’ll be eating pasta. Tons of it. He’s going to use social media (Twitter and Facebook) to keep everyone updated on his progress and he’s hoping local running clubs he’s contacted through UK Athletics will turn out people to run with him for a bit of support.
“It’s not a race,” he says. “I’ll run, jog and walk sometimes if needs be. Apparently the first two days will be the hardest because your body is thinking, what the hell? But after that I should get into a rhythm.”
I hope for his sake that he does because day three on his schedule means him running for 49 miles.
“I know I’m going to have days when I’m suffering and when I might need to walk. I think it’s going to be tougher mentally than physically – getting up every day and doing the same thing.
“This challenge is big but I know it’s not going to be my last. The first, but not the last.”
• To sponsor Michael log on to www.justgiving.com/Michael-Nowicki-run-to-edinburgh
Follow Michael on Twitter @Lon2Edin or find him on Facebook
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Thursday 23 May 2013
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