It’s little wonder Gary McKee has been nicknamed “marathon man.” He ran one every day last year.
Were McKee to go through the process of getting his superhuman feat of endurance and perseverance ratified, it would comfortably be a Guinness World Record. That currently stands at 106 days of consecutive marathon running for women and 62 for men.
But well before he embarked on the challenge, completing the first of his 365 marathons on January 1 last year, McKee was never interested in getting his name in the record books.
“I’ve always said records are for DJs and I’m not a DJ,” he quips.
Instead, the 53-year-old sought to raise money for two charities—one offering support for cancer patients and their families and another providing end of life care. He’s raised close to $1.5 million so far, surpassing his initial target of £1,000,000 ($1.24 million).
“I don’t need to have a record, it isn’t what I’ve done it for,” McKee tells CNN Sport. “To do that, it would have meant that the challenge was about me, and it wasn’t about me. It was about me helping other people. It was nothing for personal gain.”
No personal gain perhaps, but for those in McKee’s hometown of Cleator Moor in the northwest of England, the Three Six Five Challenge helped to energize and unify the local community.
By the end of the year, around 200 people had run full marathons with him and 70 had accompanied him on bikes. Others helped by providing sneakers, meals, cups of tea, and towels as he went about running 26.2 miles each day.
When he completed his last marathon on December 31, McKee had a crowd of hundreds waiting for him, on top of the scores of people who ran the final effort with him.
“I always said it was a 365-piece jigsaw and we put a piece in place every day,” say McKee. “People would start seeing a picture as the more pieces went into place.”
Having previously run 110 marathons in 110 days, McKee had a sense of what would be required to complete the Three Six Five Challenge.
The year-long process meant he was exposed to all weather conditions, ranging from the UK’s hottest day on record in the summer to -10 degrees Celsius (14 degrees Farenheit) in the winter.
The northwest of England is also one of the wettest corners of the country, making rain a recurring feature of the challenge.
But McKee found a way to cope with that, drawing inspiration from those undergoing cancer treatment.
“When somebody would be walking out of a cancer ward, they would ring the bell to signify they had finished the treatment, and if they went outside and it was raining, they would say it’s the nicest rain they’d ever felt,” says McKee.
“I said: ‘That’s what we’re doing today.’ We always looked for the positive and it worked for everybody … You might have been wet, but your spirits were never dampened.”
Perhaps his lowest moment, however, arrived on day 288. In attempting to manage an ongoing hamstring injury, McKee took some tablets which didn’t agree with him. He ended up abandoning his marathon after 12 miles and going to hospital for scans and blood tests.
“They wanted me to stop,” McKee recalls, “and I was looking at the clock on the wall and my wife was with me. The people who were running with me that day said it was the worst day of the 365.”
Undeterred, he left the hospital feeling better and headed to the running track soon after. Supported by his sons and his brother on bikes, he ran the remaining miles of the marathon, finishing in the dark at 8 p.m. that evening.
The next day, he felt “right as rain.”
It was often the company of friends and family, either on foot or on bikes, that motivated McKee to get out of bed and start running each morning. He became used to opening the door at 6 a.m. and finding a group of 10 people waiting for him with headlamps.
For 360 of his 365 marathons, McKee ran exactly the same route around Cleator Moor, starting and finishing at his house. That meant those wanting to join knew where he would be and when, dipping in and out of the marathon as they pleased.
It also meant he could witness the seasons changing in the countryside around him: the same trees growing and shedding their leaves, the snow falling on the mountains then melting away, and the same flowers blooming and receding throughout the year.
“It gives you the opportunity to see a full life cycle,” says McKee. “When you look at the photographs, you can see the change. It’s incredible.”
He ventured away from the same route on five occasions—twice to run in London around the Olympic Stadium, once in Manchester ahead of the Rugby League World Cup final, once in the town of Keswick after an invite from the mayor and once to open a new running track for his work at Sellafield nuclear site.
McKee, a shift team leader at Sellafield, thinks he may have a claim to running the world’s first marathon on a nuclear site.
He says managing work alongside a daily marathon was a challenge, particularly when he was getting up at 4:45 a.m. to cover the early shift in the office, then coming home and having to run a marathon.
He got by with the help of extra leave, some of which he carried over from the previous year, and being able to work from home.
But McKee admits there were times when the fatigue of a daily marathon caught up with him and he estimates he lost three stone (42 pounds) in weight over the course of the year.
To that end—and having run around 9,600 miles last year—he has started 2023 at an easier pace, mostly running shorter distances at home on the treadmill.
That’s not to say he hasn’t given thought to his next challenge. McKee has been offered entry for the Grand to Grand in September—a seven-day, 171-mile race, self-supported, from the Grand Canyon in Arizona to the Grand Staircase in Utah.
And despite running on a different continent, his main goal will remain the same.
“People will be willing to support me and sponsor me like they have done in the past,” says McKee. “And that’s what life’s about for me. It’s about helping people.”
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