How one runner ran a marathon in every country in Europe

If you were a runner looking to do some charity fundraising, chances are you’d consider a marathon. Peter Thompson did just that – except instead of running one marathon, he ran 44. The 32-year-old from Bournemouth had been running for nine years but had become somewhat jaded: ‘I would openly admit I had become obsessed with running and chasing times. This impacted on other parts of my life and It came to a point where I just wasn't enjoying it anymore and something needed to change,’ he told Runner’s World. ‘I had been massively inspired by Ben Smith’s 401 marathons and tried to think what I could do that would catch people’s imagination and raise money and awareness for a cause that really needs it. I knew people had run every state in America in consecutive days so it got me thinking as to whether anyone had ever done every European country. I found out no-one had, so that was my idea.’

Peter took on the challenge for mental health charity Mind and Dorset-based disability and community charity Livability. ‘I always wanted my fundraising to have a mental health focus. It’s something that doesn’t get talked about as much and something that has affected a lot of my friends and family,’ he explained. ‘Livability run a project linked to my work called Holton Lee. It’s a garden project. I take people there as part of my job and see what a difference it makes to people’s lives. Mind does amazing work in terms of trying to break down stigma and providing support. The mental health link with London Marathon this year shows things are starting to change, but the disparity between money spent on physical health and mental health is miles apart, so it was trying to really get people talking and raise some money.’

An experienced marathoner, Peter prepared by doing up to 100 miles a week and double runs of 20 miles at weekends. But the physical training wasn’t the only time-consuming part of his prep: logistics took some serious organisation. ‘I did lots of planning of how I’d get to each country, how I’d get to accommodation and where I’d run,’ says Peter. He had friends and family join him throughout the trip, but spent 15 days alone. ‘What I tried to do was link in with running clubs and running tour companies in each of the countries, so they would meet me and put together a route. The days I really struggled were when I was on my own.’

Starting in the Russian city of St Petersburg on 1st April, Peter travelled down through Eastern Europe, flying back to the UK midway to run the London Marathon. He then ventured out to Portugal and continued country-hopping, wrapping up with his 44th marathon in Dublin on 14th May. ‘I only needed visas for Russia and Belarus, but I wouldn’t say travelling through Europe was easy. Sometimes I was doing train and bus journeys of up to 10 hours. I’d run a marathon in the morning and then have to fit in the transport.’

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A 2:25 marathoner, Peter aimed to complete each day’s distance in under four hours – only two of the 44 were organised events, so race-day speed wouldn’t always be possible. ‘There was a time limit a lot of the time - if I hadn’t done them in under four hours, I wouldn’t have been able to get my transport.’ His quickest marathon of the challenge was 3:35 in Latvia. However, a leg injury in Luxembourg left him walking the final 8 miles of the distance, meaning he finished in about 5 ½ hours.

In spite of his meticulous planning, Peter’s marathon journey wasn’t always a simple one. ‘In the first week I was going through countries I found quite difficult to get around, like Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova. In Moldova, I went out in the morning and it was tipping it down. It got really cold and I couldn’t find the marathon route that I’d planned. I got lost and came back to the hotel after 10 miles to finish it off on a treadmill.’ Not only did his marathon for the day not go to plan, but he had a tiring route ahead of him: ‘I had to get a bus at 4 o’clock in the afternoon that didn’t arrive in Romania until 2am, and then I had to get up at 5 o’clock to do a 10 hour bus to Bulgaria. That moment of getting up in Moldova knowing I’d got hours and hours on this tiny minibus and not even really knowing whether that minibus was going to the right place… I think at that moment I questioned whether I could do it.’ Fortunately, a friend of Peter’s met him in Romania. ‘If he hadn’t done that, I don’t know… knowing that at the end of one journey he’d be there, that’s what kept me going.’

With the vast amount of travel involved, sticking to his usual running fuel became impossible for Peter: ‘I’m normally really strict with my diet but I was just eating pizza and cakes and chocolate. Just anything I could find! A lot of the time I didn’t have time, I’d come back from my run, get changed and go to a train station. Lots of stuff I shouldn’t eat, but getting carbs in was important!’

Post-marathon recovery proved a real struggle, particularly when injuries began to flare up. ‘I hurt my knee and ankle - they swelled up, and trying to get ice when you’re on your own and trying to keep your leg elevated is very difficult. I tried to have ice baths. I had to use frozen peas one day because I couldn’t find any ice! It took about four packs. Everyone I sent a picture to was like ‘Why did you take the peas out the packet?’ because it involved me then having scoop them all out and put them in the bin so the hotel didn’t think I was mad!’ Eight days before the end of the challenge, Peter acquired a nasty quad injury. ‘It meant I couldn’t lift my foot very far off the ground. I could only keep my leg very straight and not move it much. The first few days after I sort of was scraping my leg along the ground. I needed a Heely! But it was so close and I just wanted to get to the end really.’

In spite of his injury struggles, Peter’s challenge had some wonderful highs. ‘I think one of the most beautiful places I ran was Switzerland - it was absolutely stunning. Also Albania was gorgeous, and it was somewhere I never probably would have gone. They would be two of the ones I’d look back on most fondly.’ His company along the way also gave him some memories to treasure. ‘When I came back to do the London Marathon it was incredible. I did it with my brother – it was the first time he’d run the London Marathon. In Malta, I got to run with a guy who’d done 27 marathons in every EU country in 27 days – he was an incredibly inspirational guy. A lot of the time, it’s as much been the people I’ve met as the places I’ve gone. It’s been awesome.’

Peter is now back at work and has raised over £20,000 to date. ‘I’m not going to be able to run for about six weeks with my leg,’ Peter says. ‘I can’t cycle but I can swim. I’ll just keep my heart going a little bit so it won’t just be a massive stop. And try not to eat 6000 calories a day anymore!’