07 July 2020

Sarah O’Neill’s marathon effort: The 12in12

January 15, 2013
Sarah O’Neill’s marathon effort: The 12in12

If your sporty new year’s resolutions are already taking a bit of a knock you might like to use  Sarah O’Neill’s story as a source of inspiration for getting back to it.

Sarah O’Neill’s marathon effort: The 12in12Last year saw the 32-year-old complete a mammoth 12 events in 12 months as the founder of the 12in12, pushing her body to the limit in a bid to raise £250,000 for HOPEHIV, a charity which supports children and young people orphaned or affected by the devastating consequences of HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa.

Throughout the year each member of Team 12 took on a challenge per month, ranging from the epic (think ultra marathons and Ironman triathlons) to the slightly strange (bog snorkelling) to raise as much money as possible, but it was the  final event, The HOPE Tour, that made the biggest statement.

Sarah, along with three other core team members decided to run an incredible 12 marathons in 12 days, winding their way down the UK, flying the flag for HOPEHIV as they went. Their journey was tracked by the app Map My Tracks to allow everyone the chance to follow the action (see how the team got on here!) Sportsister joined them for part of that final leg and caught up with Sarah post 12in12 to hear all about her year-long journey and to ask ‘what next?’

“I felt like I wanted to do something quite big,” Sarah tells me as we discuss what might persuade someone to put themselves through the year she’s just had. “I thought that doing something for a full year might say more to people.

“The 12 marathons? That was just some bonkers thing I came up with half way through the year when I was thinking ‘I don’t want people to think that I’m just having fun,” she laughs.

“I really wanted to show people that I had been pushing myself to my very, very limit. I wanted to do something that was so way out that people had to sit up and listen. The idea of The HOPE Tour was to try and fly the flag for HOPE HIV down the country and create a bit of a stir pre Christmas.”

Sarah O’Neill’s marathon effort: The 12in12And create a stir they certainly did. I’ll never forget the atmosphere in London when I joined the Hope Tourers on that final leg as the team made their way across the city to their final stop, The Mall.

Sarah, along with three other core team runners Meredith Bochmann,‭ ‬Kerry McCarthy‭ and ‬Matt Pullen, had run well over 300 miles in those 12 days, with support runners joining them for a leg of the journey, be it 5k, 10k, a half marathon, full marathon or even multiple of the marathons.

Sarah was understandably very emotional, particularly on that final day, but says remembering what it was all for got her through the tough times.

“In January 2011 I heard the founder of HOPEHIV speak at a conference and I was really moved by what he said,” she recalls.

“I’d never done anything like this before. I actually interviewed somebody who had done a 12 in 12 as a one man band and I think he was disappointed at how much he’d been able to raise.

“As an individual it’s really challenging, so that’s why I thought the best thing to do would be to form a team and get that team to reach out to everyone they know to do one or two events with them throughout the year. Originally I wanted a team of 12 people, so those 12 could get another 12 and then suddenly you’ve got 144 people fundraising, but in the end the team ended up being 27 and we’ve managed to raise £137,890.00 so far, with over £25,000 of this being raised within the month of December as a result of the HOPE Tour.”

Sarah had a good level of fitness as a personal trainer, but how do you even begin to prepare your body for such a challenge?

“The 12 marathons was such a great unknown,” she says. “I was doing about 70 miles a week of running but was also being quite mindful that I needed to listen to my body. If I felt absolutely shattered or like I was starting to get ill then I’d know I had to stop, but also it was important to know that if I was just a bit tired I had to push on, because that’s how I was going to feel.

“Alongside that I was doing a lot of core training, glutes and back as well as flexibility work. Also being really sensible with nutrition and hydration was important. I started taking this vitality whey protein supplement to try and keep my immune system high because obviously doing heavy training in autumn and winter it takes its toll.”

On the subject of nutrition, Sarah admits that on her journey she could get excited about the smallest of things, including new ways to fuel herself.

Sarah O’Neill’s marathon effort: The 12in12“I started eating boiled new potatoes rolled in sea salt which were really, really good!” she says. “That definitely worked for me and I highly recommend that. But my favourite would be chocolate covered espresso beans which I would have at the 5k to go mark.”

But preparing her body was only half the challenge, Sarah explains, with the mental impact sometimes harder than the physical.

“I went on an amazing journey spiritually throughout the 12 marathons,” she explains. “It’s actually amazing how much pain you can be in and still keep running. All of us will have learnt a lot about ourselves and have gone on a crazy, mental psychological journey as much as a physical one.

“Often I think that we can be our own limiting factor. Doing this has taught me that we, as human beings, are a lot more resilient than perhaps we think. You’ve just got to not be afraid to just go for it.

“If there’s something you really want to do, as long as you go about it sensibly and prepare yourself properly, be bold and be brave.”

Speaking of being bold and brave – has Sarah got any other extreme challenges in the pipeline?

“Now already I quite want a new challenge,” she laughs. “I’m not sure what I might move on to. I’m going to Kenya in February to see more work of HOPEHIV so my journey will continue with them absolutely.

“We set a target at the beginning of the year to raise £250,000 and I think quite a few of the team are in that place that we’re going to keep going until we hit that target, in whatever way that might be. I’m sure they’ll be more from us.”

Jessica Whittington, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine

To find out more about the 12in12 or to donate some money, visit the12in12.com.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Select a sport

Find out how to get started, training plans and expert advice.