He started slow, signing up for 5Ks and similar shorter distances.
Then, based on a gym manager’s encouragement, May eventually signed up for half marathons and a marathon, even though he didn’t think he could finish.
Now, seemingly no distance is too challenging for May. But his efforts are not just about him, they are focused squarely on the charity — Hope for Children — that he supports through his running quests.
Adrian May –A slow beginning?
To understand how far May has come, one has to go back to 1998. That’s when he joined his current company that has a gym on site. May used the gym a couple of times a week for the first year, then the gym manager pulled him aside.
“He asked me why I came to the gym,” May recalls. “He said I ran around a lot, got very red but why? Do you know I couldn’t come up with a sensible answer?! So he told me next time I saw him I needed to give him three objectives … so I gave it some thought and still struggled.”
When the manager found May, he did come up with two objectives: to lose weight and to become fitter. “He kept pushing me for a third so I said I’d run a half marathon in six months,” says May, who that stage struggled to run 5k. “So once committed I booked myself into a half marathon and some 10ks beforehand.”
He completed some half marathons and thought that was his limit. “A marathon was out of the question,” he recalls thinking. “But, I was keen to raise money for children’s charities and thought that people are going to expect me to push myself if they are going to support me so I put my name down for the London Marathon. I didn’t believe I could run that distance but found that I enjoyed the training and the event … so I did it again the following year and the year after …”
Since then, May has completed various ultras and marathons — he doesn’t keep track of how many. But one of the endurance events closest to his heart is the recent 50K he did for charity — on a treadmill.
Recipe for 50K on a treadmill: iPad movies, drinks and co-workers
May is grateful for his workplace, which not only offers the gym on site but encourages its employees to assist charities.
“For this particular one (children in need) the gym manager set a challenge to see if we could keep three treadmills running from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.,” May says. “Colleagues would sponsor us to do so. I initially set out to do a half marathon then thought about it and it became a full marathon. Someone said why not run one extra kilometer to make it an ultra and I thought while doing that why not make it into a 50km challenge! People tend to be very generous with their giving when you do something a little silly.”
With his 50K goal in mind, an iPad and videos at the ready, May set out and completed his quest. He was also aided by colleagues, who ran on nearby treadmills or just stopped by to chat and check on his progress. He fueled with water, bananas, Coca Cola and fizzy Haribos – “Not conventional I know but I believe in listening to your body and mine told me I needed these.”
His charity — Hope for Children – describes themselves: “We work tirelessly to help children reach their full potential. Last year we helped over 47,000 children and their families in Africa, Asia and the UK.”
In our world of luxury and modern technology, May “can’t accept that there are kids in some parts of the world having to fend for themselves on the streets and at best are failing to get an education and falling to crime or at worst dying because they simply don’t have the basics.”
May used social media to raise awareness about his 50K challenge before, during and after the event. “In addition to generating interest in an event I usually go public about an event in order to force myself to do it. Can’t back out!” he says. “I was able to tweet from the treadmill plus the gym manager also kept people up to date through Twitter. The response was incredible. Lots of people from all over the world sending words of encouragement – it was just difficult replying to them all during the run!”
More ultras on his radar
May has run the London Marathon four or five times, along with Vienna, Neolithic (Avebury to Stonehenge), Bath to Bristol, and ultras including Marathon des Sables twice (five days – 250K), Pilgrims Challenge (two days – 33 miles a day), Race to the Stones twice (100K), Royal Parks twice (80K), Grand union challenge (100K) and Thames trot (80K). Other long-distance events have included an ultra duathlon in which he ran 20K, then cycled 78K and finished with a 10K-run. Additionally, he has cycled from Swindon in the UK to Paris, 400 miles in five days.
The Marathon des Sables sticks in his mind for lots of reasons. “It’s described as the adventure of a lifetime in a week and it pushes people to their limits but you have the knowledge that there is a safety net waiting to catch you if needed.”
He hopes to return to the Marathon des Sables one day. For 2106, his schedule includes races up to 100K, a return to the duathlon and a completing a race he DNF’d in.
The Thames Trot — 80K in winter along the river Thames — “I remember for a different reason as it’s the only race I’ve not finished,” he says. “Flooding caused the route to be diverted several times up to the event but it got to the point where I was wading up to my knees in dirty river water along a path running next to a river in the dark with a head torch and navigating the path by park benches and trees at the river edge.”
He decided to play it safe because of the cold, saying it was too dangerous to continue.
“I am returning to it in February as I have unfinished business with the race but the sense of failure that I took from not finishing was a lesson that I’ve used when the going got tough in other races.”
Name: Adrian May
Hometown: Bishopstone, Wiltshire, United Kingdom
Number of years running: 16, after a gap of many years
How many miles a week do you typically run: Depends if I’m training for an event or recovering! I’ll tick over on approximately 15 miles a week and train up to approximately 50 miles per week for an event.
Point of pride: Occasionally still breaking my PBs despite getting older!
Favorite race distance: 50k – the distance means I feel justified in walking a bit if I need to.
Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: Haribos or similar jelly type sweets for when I’m running. I much prefer these to energy gels. I also carry soft chewy mints in the winter — helps if the nose gets a bit congested.
Favorite or inspirational song to run to: I tend to listen to podcasts on longer runs. My favorite is called Desert Island Discs, published by the BBC and it involves famous people being sent to a desert island and they must select the eight pieces of music that have been most impactful to their lives. It’s easy to get drawn into their life stories and suddenly 40 minutes has passed by.
Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: No mantra but I count the miles up to the midpoint and then down from there – so mentally I only count half the distance … crafty.
Where can other runners connect or follow you: @mds_runner