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SWCPA member, Jo, runs towards her 100th marathon!

Jo is a 25-year member of the South West Coast Path Association and aims to run her 100th marathon in July! In Jo’s own words, she shares with us her passion for the path, and her love of running, which combined brings her joy, well-being, freedom, and a sense of place.

I have now run my 99th marathon, Sunday 2nd April, the Sweetcombe Scramble Marathon, put on by my own running club Sidmouth, it was a South West Coast Path Association 50th Anniversary celebration and supporting event. 

Photo of Jo with two of her SRC member running friends Leeann Thomson left, Jo centre, Jane Hemsworth, right. It was great fun, coast path Exmouth to Seaton, and via Otterton, 3,500 ft of climbing.

Jo is running her 100th marathon in celebration of 50 years of SWCPA and fundraising for 3 charities close to her heart. 

My 100th marathon is going to be the Winding Paths Exe Estuary Marathon on Sunday 16th July. The course is Dawlish Warren to Budleigh Salterton via Exeter canal bridge, so it starts and finishes on the coast path. I am planning to create a Just Giving (or similar fundraising platform) and have selected three causes, Exeter Dementia Action Alliance (both my grandmothers, and my dad had dementia and my husband John was diagnosed in 2017), the Samaritans who are an amazing lifeline, of which I have personal experience, and the South West Coast Path Association, which I have enjoyed walking and running so much over the years. For me, it will be 25 years since I walked it in its entirety, and the 50th anniversary of the SWCPA, so the perfect fit for the 100th marathon fundraising. 

My connection with the South West Coast Path goes back to my childhood

I’ve lived in Devon all my life and have a long attachment with the coast path, beginning from walking sections of it as a child and coastal summer holidays in Devon and Cornwall. We lived in Torquay close to the coast at Babbacombe, and we walked the section around Petitor and goats’ path many times, as my grandparents lived at Watcombe. For the last 35 years, I’ve lived near Sidmouth and regularly walk sections of the coast path in this area.

Photo byJennifer Rowlandson. Babbacombe Bay, Hopes Nose, Oar stone in the distance.

I was a journalist – working under my maiden name Jo Bishop – from 1986 to 2011, including working for the Western Morning News and BBC Radio Devon. In 1998, the 25th anniversary, I walked the entire path in six weeks with my dogs from the end of June to the beginning of August, and I wrote a weekly double-page spread in the paper. When walking the Wembury section, I stayed with Eric and Liz Wallis. Eric was a tremendous help and inspiration in planning the walk. The WMN ran a couple of look-back features about it in the summer of 2020 when we were still coming out of lockdown. The walk was to raise awareness about the path and to raise money for the RNLI and the Devon Air Ambulance Trust and Cornwall Air Ambulance Trust, it raised £3,200. I went on to join the committee as a path rep for East Devon, preceding Keith Wainwright.

Circumnavigating Devon in 2003

In 2003 when working for BBC Radio Devon I walked around the entire county of Devon, it was both the north and south coastlines, and a route I mapped on the west and east borders. I did daily interviews on air and it built up a huge interest among listeners. The walk took four weeks and was 460 miles in total and it raised more than £17,000 for the prostate cancer charity Chestnut Appeal.

The coast path is an integral part of my life. 

In the last five years, I’ve become a carer for my husband John, who has dementia, and I find that visiting the coast path, just for the views, or walking/running, short break holidays, is a great way to recharge my batteries. I’ve been a SWCPA member for 25 years plus.

I’m also a children’s author and an Education Sea Champion volunteer for the Marine Conservation Society, two of my stories are relevant to the coast and raise environmental awareness – Tuamor the Turtle about marine plastic pollution, and Rosa’s Footprint about a 240-million year old trace fossil footprint found at Sidmouth.

Inspired to Run

On marathons, it’s a surprise to me that I’ve got this far. I did a bit of running as a child but wasn’t that keen or at all fast. In my 20s and 30s I ran sporadically and short distances to kick start a fitness spurt, I did a Race for Life and got up to completing a couple of half-marathons as a challenge, but I didn’t carry on once I’d done the event.

Votwo Atlantic Coast Challenge

I’d always loved watching the London Marathon though and in 2005, the year I was 40, decided to do that as a one-off challenge, never imagining I’d continue running, let alone do any more events. The big difference was I joined a running group, the Women’s Running Network, to help me train, they were such a lovely group to be part of I stayed as a member, but not thinking of doing a marathon again, as the first one was so hard. Then 18 months later, I tried a second time, managing to pace it much better, knock half an hour off my finish time and enjoy it. Over the next six years, I did the odd one here and there. In 2011 I got a ballot place for New York, which was my 10th marathon, I absolutely loved it, sadly though my dad was diagnosed with dementia within days of me getting home, it focused my mind to think what I could do and I set myself a target to run 50 marathons by age 50, which worked out at roughly one a month for three and half years. I did it as a fundraising challenge for the southwest-based dementia research charity BRACE and raised £6,500, sadly my dad died eight weeks before my 50th marathon at Edinburgh.

Votwo Atlantic Coast Challenge

I didn’t really intend to carry on and aim for the 100, but that’s when I began to do more trail marathons, including on the coast path, and now those are the ones that I enjoy the most. The Atlantic Coast Challenge, run by Votwo events, from Harlyn Bay to Land’s End, is one of my favourites, so exhilarating to run that spectacular stretch of coastline over three days. No real-time pressure as they have long cut-off times, a wonderful three days with nothing else to think about.

I’m looking forward to the 100th marathon and hope that you can support me in my fundraising campaign, and cheer me on if you’re in the area! 

Donate to Jo’s sponsor page HERE

Thank you so much Jo for sharing your story with us and we wish you every success for the 100th marathon and the fundraising too! We hope to be there to cheer you on. 🙂

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