Meet the man running 2000 miles in memory of his son

“The pain of running a race is nothing compared with the pain of losing a child”, says Lewis Keywood, “but it’s my way of honouring my son’s memory.” This year, that’s exactly what the 30-year-old is doing, by running 2,000 miles for the baby charity Tommy’s. Lewis knows firsthand the support Tommy’s provides. In 2010, he and his then-wife lost their son, Yolki – he was stillborn five months into the pregnancy – and Tommy’s provided much-needed counselling and support.

While Lewis describes the experience of losing his son as “the lowest of low points”, the tragedy also led him to transform his lifestyle. “Before I lost my son, I weighed over 17 stone and worked in a job I hated”, said Lewis, who’s now a personal trainer. “Carrying his coffin at the funeral was the hardest thing I have ever had to do, but I decided to use Yolki’s death as a catalyst for change.”

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For Lewis, who had run a little at school but was now leading a sedentary lifestyle, this meant lacing up his running shoes once more. He trained for a 5K race, raising money for Tommy’s, and quickly began to shed the excess weight. More than improving his physical health, however, running was helping him to deal with the emotional distress of losing a child. “It’s the most therapeutic thing I’ve done”, he says. “If you go out for an hour run, you come back and feel a little better about yourself and your situation. Running has been a massive help for me in that respect.”

The therapeutic qualities of running were particularly important to Lewis as he had, he says, found it hard to grieve. “It’s an unthinkable situation for anyone to have to face, but I found it especially hard as a man. The woman carries the baby so, naturally, they feel a huge connection. But I ended up feel guilty: I just didn’t want to admit that I was struggling, too. That’s why I’m now trying to reach out to dads who are affected by this. We need to talk and share stories to understand that we’re not alone, and that both parents suffer when tragedies like this occur.”

That message feels particularly important when you consider that the UK has one of the highest stillbirth rates in the developed world, and that recent statistics suggest one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage. “ Think how many friends you have – everyone is likely to know someone who’s been directly affected by this,” says Lewis. “This challenge is about raising money and awareness for them.”

Although Lewis has completed dozens of races on behalf of Tommy’s – from 5Ks to marathons – this year’s challenge is on a much bigger scale. To complete it, he needs to average almost 10K a day. To help him in this quest, he’s running marathons – including London (he finished in 3:41:25) and Exeter – and has signed up for his first ultra, the 100km Race to the Stones. “I’m now living in Devon and have some great trails along the Jurassic Coast, so it’s the perfect training ground,” says Lewis. “If the ultra goes well, me and a friend are planning to run the length of the Thames [215 miles] in four days.”

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Fitting in the training and racing, however, is not easy. “I now occasionally work 14-15 hour days, so when I get home the last thing I want to do is run”, he says. “But it’s the same for a lot of people. I just know I can’t afford to take my foot off the gas, otherwise I’ll leave myself with too many miles to do.”

Alongside raising money for Tommy’s, Lewis hopes his running will offer a message of hope. “I want to show people that no matter what’s happened to them, they can change their life for the better,” he says. “Before I started running, I was working in airport security, eating junk food and not being very active. I used to use the excuse that I was too tired to do anything. But when I started running, I made the time. I got up earlier and ran before work, or planned runs into my week.

“Everyone you speak to who isn’t a runner automatically says stuff like, ‘I’m not a runner, I couldn’t do it for this reason of that reason.’ I used to think I was too fat to run, too. But, actually, anyone can run – even if it’s on a treadmill for five minutes. My message is this: give it a go – you’ll be surprised by what you can do.”