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A British man ran a marathon in his 20-foot backyard during the coronavirus lockdown — and thousands tuned in

James Campbell of Cheltenham, England, runs a marathon in his backyard to raise funds for the United Kingdom’s National Health Service on Wednesday while his country remains in lockdown. (Jacob King/AP)
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James Campbell jogged to the end of his fenced-in yard, turning around when he reached the garden shed. He bounded back to the patio, sneakers pounding a postage stamp-sized patch of grass. He spun around and repeated the loop again. And again. And again.

More than five hours later, he had run a full marathon in his 20-foot backyard.

Campbell, a former world-class competitive javelin thrower from Cheltenham, England, had been feeling bored and restless while under lockdown due to the novel coronavirus. His Wednesday stunt was “literally the most stupid thing I could think of to do” on his 32nd birthday, he told the BBC. But thousands of people tuned in to watch him run around in circles, and by early Thursday morning, he had raised the equivalent of just over $32,000 for the United Kingdom’s National Health Service.

For all the challenges that come with running 26.2 miles, marathoners can usually at least count on staving off boredom with changes in scenery. But the novel coronavirus has spawned a new kind of athletic feat that requires intense mental toughness as well as physical endurance. Die-hard long-distance runners are now running incredibly short distances — on balconies, around one-bedroom apartments or in backyards — for hours at a time, bearing a strong resemblance to a hamster on a wheel.

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Breaking the tape on my own little “Backyard Marathon” 🏁🏆 . 42.2km➗30 (Meters) = 1,406.666 times I ran up and down my garden to complete the “backyard marathon”- 5hrs 23mins 50secs. . The world is messed up right now, people are lost and don’t know what to do. I am the same, quarantine in the UAE has us staying in doors for the safety of everyone which I get and totally understand and back it #stayhome . But I missed my running and decided to make use of what I have and do the best I could. Coming out of it very positive and happy. Almost as much happiness as any @wmmajors I have ran before. Because in my head I made it that way. If my mindset was wrong this could of been so boring and miserable. But it wasn’t, I had fun, I feel and felt good and hopefully it may of helped and inspired others to get up and get active in this difficult time, not to run a marathon in the back garden. But just to move, do a circuit session from your social feed, take 10mins to run along your balcony, down the garden path, up the stairs at home. Anything is better than nothing. Mentally and physically your body and mind needs it. Do it. Do anything. Smile, be positive and be safe when you do it! PLEASE!! You will help yourself and you will inspire others to do the same. . Amazing to have my little support crew there to run with me in some parts and then to be there at the end to help me finish strong and pass me a very unique and special handmade medal 🥇 😍. One medal no one else will ever get 😉 . @adidas @adidasrunners @adidasrunning . #fortheloveofrunning #stayhome #adidasrunners #hometeam #uae #backyardmarathon #alwaysfinishstrong #finishlinechallenge

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The trend has followed the spread of the virus, beginning in February when Chinese marathon runner Pan Shancu ran a 50-kilometer ultramarathon (roughly 31 miles) in his apartment, according to the South China Morning Post. Posting images from his run-tracking app as proof, he estimated that he had run 6,250 loops around two massage tables in one room.

When covid-19 swept Europe the following month, road races were canceled across the continent. But Elisha Nochomovitz, who had planned on competing in the Barcelona Marathon, didn’t let his training go to waste. Over the course of 6 hours and 48 minutes, he completed a full marathon on his 23-foot balcony in the south of France, growing nauseous from the constant turns.

“It was about launching a bit of a crazy challenge and bringing a bit of humor, to de-dramatize the confinement situation,” Nochomovitz told the Associated Press.

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🎖FINISHER MARATHON DE MON BALCON🎖 . 🔸️Je viens courir pendant près de 7heures sur mon balcon de 7 mètres de long et 1metre de large. (Vous avez été nombreux à calculer,à peu près 6000 A/R) J'avais la possibilité de sortir pour courir autour de la maison,mais si tout le monde pense pareil on aurait été nombreux dehors... Mon travail a été reconnu d'inutilité public,donc le meilleur moyen de ne pas se laisser abattre c'est de faire du sport. 🔸️La consigne était de rester à la maison,c'est ce que j'ai fait. Juste pour vous montrer qu'on a pas d'excuses,et s'il vous plaît penser à toutes ces aides soignants qui sont en première ligne face à ce virus 🙏🙏❤ J'écris à chaud après avoir tourner pendant 7h sur mon balcon...tout se mélange dans ma tête et j'ai envie de vomir hahaha... Mais merci à tous et toutes pour vos messages/soutien tout le long de la journée. Vous m'avez bien aider à tenir. J'ai bossé mon mental aujourdhui. Je ne me pensais plus capable de courir 42bornes mais #marathonman est toujours présent ⚡🤜🤛 LA BISE #suuntofr #marathonman #runhappy #runhappyteam #runtoexplore #runtoinspire #runstoppable #motivationoftheday #nopainnogain #runningmotivation #runnerlife #igrunners #runnersofinstagram #picoftheday #marathonfinisher #fuckcovid19 #npng #trainhard #workhard #athlete #motivation #brooksrunhappyteam

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Lately, American runners have started rising to the challenge. Matt LeBlanc, a middle school teacher in New Hampshire, was trying to come up with math problems for his students when he had a burst of inspiration.

“I got the idea to measure my backyard to see how many laps it would take to run a marathon,” LeBlanc told the Foster’s Daily Democrat. “I decided to run 26.2 miles, which is the standard marathon length, and I measured a route around my backyard at 222 feet, which means I have to do 623 laps.”

The live-streamed undertaking took about 4½ hours on Saturday, and raised more than $2,100 for a local food bank. Afterward, LeBlanc reported that his sides were sore “from running so many laps in the same direction and taking all those turns.”

With sporting events canceled for the foreseeable future, the otherwise-boring spectacle of someone running circles in their own backyard can draw a surprisingly large viewership. When British marathoner Gareth Allen set out to run what he dubbed “The Garden Marathon” last weekend, he warned it would be “just me running round my back garden 1000 or so times.” Yet at one point during the race, some 4,000 people were watching the Facebook live stream, Runner’s World reported.

The #6MetreGardenMarathon, as Campbell named his Wednesday stunt, drew perhaps the largest audience yet, with tens of thousands of viewers tuning in for live commentary. Earlier in the week, the former athlete had issued a challenge to the Internet: “10,000 retweets & I’ll run a marathon in my back garden.” Within a matter of hours, he was on the hook.

“I will plod up and down for as long as it takes,” Campbell told the BBC, acknowledging he had gone “a little bit crazy” while spending the past few weeks at home.

When his 32nd birthday rolled around on Wednesday, Campbell marked off the 6.4-meter (roughly 21 feet) course with duct tape and set up a table with water bottles and snacks. For the next five hours, he shuttled back and forth across the lawn, unable to pick up much momentum over such a short distance. A rotating panel of commentators gamely tried to provide background narration, noting how the grass was slowly being worn down before switching to talk about roasting chickens for dinner.

Neighbors took turns peeking over the fence and cheering Campbell on, and photographers leaned over to snap pictures. An hour ahead of schedule — he’d miscalculated how long each lap would take him — Campbell realized he’d hit 26.2 miles, threw his arms in the air and immediately accepted a beer.

“You’ve shown everyone what’s possible with good, old-fashioned British determination,” one of the commentators told him.

“And stupidity,” Campbell responded.