Chris White sets lofty goals for the sake of exploration and research.
For most people, running a marathon is enough of a challenge. Chris White is running 17 marathons in 2017, and making it count by raising money – $17,000, to be exact – for the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne.
Chris describes himself as a ‘normal’ runner, and prior to this year, he had only run four or five marathons, and never more than one a year. “People assume that I’m very experienced, that I’ve done hundreds of them before, but that’s not the case at all,” he says.
As a young boy growing up in the UK, Chris would occasionally accompany his father, a marathoner, on runs, but didn’t make it a personal habit until his twenties, whilst living in Belgium. “I wasn’t big by any means, but I was living on a diet of chips, chocolate and Belgian beer for eight years,” he says.
What started out as a weight management and social activity turned into a full-time job two years ago, when Chris was made redundant from his public health job. The timing was right and Chris seized the opportunity to start his own run coaching business, Go Run Australia, with the support of his wife, Kathryn.
Chris and Kathryn moved to Melbourne five years ago from Manchester, UK, and have built a great network of friends through running. They began with a weekly parkrun in Albert Park, which Go Run Australia now sponsors, to running races all around Victoria and Australia. “It’s a great way to sightsee,” he says.
Chris admits that that is partly how this year’s marathon challenge started – with their desire to travel around Australia and escape Melbourne’s dreary winter. Having run Gold Coast before, Chris set his sights on another Queensland marathon in 2017: the Sunshine Coast. One thing led to another, and before he knew it he had four marathons in the pipeline. “And then I thought, well I might as well do 12, that’s one a month,” Chris says with a laugh.
A family history of high blood pressure, stroke and angina meant that Chris has always been aware of his health and conscious of his susceptibility to cardiac issues. As a marathon runner, sports cardiology is a particular area of interest. Intrigued by the work the Baker Institute does in the area of sports cardiology, especially in endurance sport, Chris approached them with the 12-marathon challenge idea.
“I had no intention of running 17 marathons,” White says. At a meeting with the Baker Institute team, which included David Lloyd, one of the directors (who is an Ironman athlete himself), late last year, it became clear that they were prepared to pitch a counter-challenge. Chris recalls them saying “if you do 17, it’s 2017, it rhymes, 17 in 2017 looks really good, and you could potentially raise $17,000, it’ll work really nicely. Plus, 17 marathons is 717 kilometres…” Chris says he was excited by their enthusiasm, and felt really supported by them even before embarking on the challenge.
“I always knew I would do the big ones: Melbourne, Sydney, Gold Coast,” White says, but admits they left the remaining five marathons flexible. And despite Sunshine Coast Marathon being the impetus behind the challenge, White didn’t end up running it this year.
The Baker Institute has a centre in Alice Springs, and provides health and medical services to Indigenous communities there. They were keen for Chris to run the Alice Springs Marathon as part of the 17 in 17, and offered him the opportunity to coach up there. “I couldn’t resist the offer. I’d never been to Alice Springs before, and I wanted little adventures along the way[of the challenge], and this was the first thing to happen so early on.”
Chris has steadily crossed marathons off his list since that initial meeting with the Baker Institute. He says this year has been all about the constant challenge between training, recovery and managing his body. Interestingly, he has found the physical training and recovery easier than the mental recovery process.
“I get that emotional dip after every event, and it usually lasts three or four days. What’s been interesting this year is that I can now say, by Wednesday night I should feel like this, and Thursday morning I’ll feel like this,” Chris says.
Apart from the marathons themselves, most of Chris’ running this year has been low intensity. Because of his unusual training cycles, his longest runs during the week are usually around 10K. He acknowledges that it’s not ideal to shock your body this way, but it’s a training cycle he’s found that works for him.
Chris started the year with the plan of spacing out his marathons as evenly as possible, but soon learnt that it didn’t suit him emotionally and mentally. “I was in this semi-tapered funk the whole time,” he says. So he consulted another coach and they weighed out a few options before deciding to try clustering his races closer together.
Part of the reason he has embarked on this challenge is to learn and experiment with running, to, in turn, become a better runner and coach. “I know for a fact I’m now a better coach than I was before I started this, because I’ve experienced so much more.”
Chris’ final marathon will be slightly different. He’ll be running a treadmill marathon at Port Melbourne Physio and Pilates, which has supported him throughout the year, on 9 December. There, Chris will set up two treadmills, and has invited friends and family to run along with him as he completes this mammoth challenge. His parents have timed a visit to Melbourne to coincide with this final marathon, and Chris is hoping his father will run either the first or last kilometre alongside him on the big day – a tribute to the man who is the reason why Chris started running in the first place.
To find out more about Chris White’s #17in2017 challenge visit gorun.com.au/17challenge, or 17challenge.everydayhero.com/au/17marathonsin2017 to donate to the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute. Follow Chris on Instagram @gorunaustralia.