Travel, photography, and becoming your own superhero!

Why My Mum Ran 3 Marathons This Year

Posted on November 27th, by Peter Parkorr in Everywhere, Travel Tales, Unsung Heroes. No Comments

Is she a bird? Is she a plane? No, it’s my mother, and apparently she’s got superpowers too. Her powers include running marathons, and defiantly crossing oceans on the Clipper RTW Yacht Race, among other things.

Meet Joan Clancy.

She answers to ‘Mum’, ‘Gran’, and even ‘Doctor’, in her capacity to make Accident & Emergency staff across the North of England tremble at just the mention of an impending visit.

Mum has done a few things in recent years that are nothing short of astonishing, especially when you consider that she still has a (very) full-time job. (The NHS is no holiday camp, ask anyone who works there.)

So which of Mum’s capers should I start with…

The Clipper RTW Yacht Race Caper(s)

Despite getting very sea-sick, Mum loves the ocean and so, by extension, she loves to sail. When I was small, we had a small wooden sailboat that no marina could properly identify the type or origin of. How it found its way to us we may never know. But 20+ years ago we used to take it out occasionally on a nearby lake.

Fast forward to 2010 and Mum heard the call of open water once again, deciding to get involved in the Clipper Round The World Yacht Race. This is the only yacht race in the world that allows amateurs to take part, with a professional skipper on each 68-foot boat and a 2 week training course to pass before you can be part of a team. The full circumnavigation takes about 10 months, but you can also sign up for individual legs of the journey, which are between 3 to 8 weeks long.

20140419 Abner Kingman 2014© Free for editorial use image, please credit: Abner Kingman. [insert who, what, where and when here]Image via Abner Kingman 2014©

clipper RTW yacht race world_map_route

So what is the race like? The short video below gives you some idea. To me, it sounds like cramming yourself and lots of vitally important equipment (plus all the food for you and up to 20 other team mates) into a tiny space, and then launching out onto the high seas in the vague direction of your destination, avoiding complete disaster wherever possible.

Sure, it’s sailing across huge chunks of the planet, propelled in a noble and time-honoured tradition. Definitely an ambitious achievement. But participants also commit to 4-hour sleep/duty cycles (realistically meaning only 3-hours sleep at a time, if you’re lucky) and for the entire time you’re awake you might get a dose of freezing cold seawater in the face at any moment. That’s the middle of the ocean for you.


Think soggy thermal gear and condensation dripping from the walls where you bunk. Think being exposed to the elements for 4 hours at a time, at all times of the day and night, thanks to the shift patterns. Try not to think about the lady who whacked her head on a huge bolt in the galley when the ship rolled 90° sideways with no warning. Or my mum falling through a hatch and breaking her thumb, as well as later snapping the tendon. Or the yacht that nearly snapped in half when it accidentally hit a whale somewhere between Cape Town and New Zealand. No joke.

Anyway. To my sea-sick but medicated Mum, this was a calling, and one she wouldn’t be dissuaded from. ‘Why don’t you sail leisurely around the Med?’ I said, ‘instead of cramming yourself into a floating shoebox and eating dried foods with strangers for 6 weeks at a time’. ‘No’, she replied, along with other words like ‘challenge’, ‘teamwork’ and ‘once in a lifetime experience’. So off she went, to San Fran and China, Australia and Cape Fear, leaving us videos like this to gasp at and gawk.

Mum is the one nearest the prow, who appears to land on a corner with her spine when a big wave nearly flips the boat. When she manages to get onto all fours, I believe the reason she can’t get up properly is… because she’s laughing. At least take it seriously Mum! Crikey.

The ‘Running A Marathon’ Caper

About 10 years ago, my Mum started talking about running a marathon. I’m not sure if this was some form of life-crisis, or just because now that her children were largely raised, she was suddenly awash with time and energy, despite all the commitments of doctoring and agreeing to huge amounts of grandchild care.

I think we all largely thought this was madness and I may have even filed this under ‘delusional’. This is my mum we’re talking about. Other than Clipper, she hadn’t had any time or much inclination towards exercise since shortly after my birth, I think. But apparently, I didn’t know my Mum as well as I thought I did.

[Edit: Mum has pointed out other bursts of epic effort, like a 5-day Glacier hike in Chilean Patagonia and the occasional cycling jaunt]

Well, applications for the very over-subscribed London Marathon were duly submitted. Partly due to luck of the draw, and I suspect partly because her history as a runner included ‘None’, no place was forthcoming for the first few years. I occasionally asked the question ‘Shouldn’t you just start running anyway, in case you get accepted?’ and ‘What will you do if you actually get a place Mum?!’. Not one for quotable comebacks, the mother would just grin, with a hint of glee at the thought of what she was getting herself into.

JoanOn3Continents Marathon Running Granny-2

There’s a little known fact about the application for the London Marathon and that’s this: if you apply 5 years in a row and don’t get a place, then you automatically get a place the next year. It was only a matter of time, and yes, my mum knew it.

So 2 years ago Mum ran her first London Marathon! Just like that. A race pack came through the post, and before we knew it, Mum was training every spare hour she had, plus some that she didn’t. In 6 months she went from a single 3-minute run, to doing 35km the week before the big day. My Mum, who hasn’t ran during the course of my whole life as far as I can remember! It was pure determination and an eye-opening thing to watch, as well as raising money for a good cause.

JoanOn3Continents Marathon Running Granny-1

Completing the full marathon was really the tip of the iceberg after all that training. And the first thing she did after the race was… to apply for the next London Marathon.

That’s not where it ends

Last year Mum decided she would run three marathons in 2015, in honour of another strong lady, her colleague Juliette who lost her battle to cancer in 2014. The reason she picked 3 marathons was because her friend had links three places around the world. South Africa, where she was raised, Britain where she lived and worked most of her adult life, and Canada, where she has family and was in the process of emigrating to with her husband and kids.

So in April this year, Mum ran the Manchester marathon. (And seeing as my mum can run a marathon and Manchester is the city I live in, I made sure I ran it too!) Running a marathon sounds easy when you say it like that, but it doesn’t quite paint the picture properly. It’s not the marathon that’s actually hard, it’s fitting all the training in beforehand, and still not knowing if you’ll make the full 42.2km on that one particular day. It doesn’t describe the 6-day-per-week training programme, and because of the very full time job, seeing my tired Mum regularly squeeze two runs into one day, or going for a run at 11pm and again at 7am the next morning.

JoanOn3Continents Marathon Running Granny-3

The training didn’t stop all year, September came, and Mum flew to Cape Town with my sister. Compared to Manchester or London’s relatively cool weather, the Cape Town marathon was definitely a challenge, and hillier than her previous races. At 80% humidity, Mum finished the marathon, with various family around the world watching her progress through a combination of the race tracking app, text messages from the ground, and the family WhatsApp network.

Mum running Cape Town marathon Joan Clancy marathon route

And less than a month later she was in Canada, still recovering from the Cape Town ordeal, but running the Toronto marathon anyway, this time with support from her sister and Juliette’s family.

JoanOn3Continents Marathon Running Granny-4

JoanOn3Continents Marathon Running Granny-6

JoanOn3Continents Marathon Running Granny-7

Go Mum. Like I said, it sounds a lot easier than it was.

What it’s all in aid of

So SuperMum completed her 3 marathons this year, much to our relief, and only leaving everyone slightly anxious as to what challenge she will dream up next. Her dedication and commitment was a real tribute to Juliette, but it was also for another good cause – to raise money for the charity SmileTrain. SmileTrain is a charity with medical roots, working to provide one-off life changing operations for children in developing countries who are born with cleft palates. A single operation costs £150 and once it’s done the child’s life is changed forever. So far Mum has raised just over £3000, which will pay for 20 more children in places like Nepal and Peru (and many other places) to have the operation.

JoanOn3Continents Marathon Running Granny-5

If you want to really put a smile on someone’s face today, consider adding your donation to my mum’s fundraising here via JustGiving. It would mean a lot to my mum and to the child who gets the operation.

Have you ever done something you thought you never would to help others? Let me know in the comments!