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Marathon man Phillip Howells closing in on the magic 333

All Areas > Sport > Running

Author: Roger Jackson, Posted: Thursday, 6th January 2022, 09:00

Phillip Howells ran his first marathon in 1982 Phillip Howells ran his first marathon in 1982

It may still be more than three months away but Phillip Howells already knows how he’s going to celebrate his birthday on Wednesday 20th April... he’s going to run a marathon.

Nothing too unusual about that, you might say; Howells is a member of Tewkesbury Running Club and is obviously a keen runner.

Except that this birthday will be birthday number 75 and he’s already run well over 300 marathons.

That’s some commitment. He ran his first in March 1982, which means that over the last 40 years he has run, on average, close to eight marathons a year.

And he’s not stopping just yet because, as he told The Local Answer just before the first lockdown, his aim is to run 333 marathons – and he wants it to be a ‘perfect’ 333 of 111 road marathons, 111 trail marathons and 111 ultra marathons.

He has now completed 311 marathons so the finishing line is most definitely in sight; not that Howells, who ran five sub three-and-a-half hour marathons in his prime, is looking forward to the day he hangs up his spikes.

“Every time I complete a marathon it’s so satisfying,” he said. “These days it’s a mental battle rather than a physical battle, that’s much more demanding.

“I’m very slow now. I can keep going at the same pace but I can’t go any quicker, I think you lose stride length. I now take up inches with each stride, I get nowhere quick!”

Howells recently completed a trail marathon in Ottery St Mary in Devon in around seven-and-a-half hours – there’d be a lot of people his age very happy with that! – and he continued: “It’s intensely satisfying when I finish, it’s now more fulfilling because it’s so tough.

“When you can do three-and-a-half hour marathons you’re exultant because you can run. I’ve won races in the past over cross-country but now I appreciate all the races I take part in much more.”

That run at Ottery St Mary is a case in point.

“It took place at Escot Estate and it was the first marathon to have a water slide,” he enthused. “There was a short sharp hill about half a mile before the finish and they covered it with a piece of plastic sheeting which they kept wet so that it remained slippery.

“It was optional, you didn’t have to go down it.”

So did the 74-year-old Howells go down it?

“Yes, I did,” he laughed. “The run was over eight laps and I did it on the seventh. It was very muddy at the bottom of the slide by then and I slid about 10 to 15 feet on the grass. It was quite bumpy too and I remember thinking I didn’t want to damage the ‘250 marathons’ vest that I was wearing.”

Happily, Howells and the vest returned to this part of the world in one piece; another chapter in what has been an incredible story over the past few months.

“I’d just run my 289th marathon in the February before the first lockdown, then I didn’t do any more for a year,” he explained.

“Then when the restrictions eased up I entered 11 events over a 16-week period between April and July to get to the 300.”

That would be tough enough for anyone, of course, but Howells’ challenge was just that little bit more complicated because he wanted to complete the Triple Crown of 100 marathons, 100 trails and 100 ultras.

“I ran my 100th trail on 11th April, my 100th road on 25th July and my 100th ultra on 31st July,” he told The Local Answer with understandable pride.

It puts him right up there at the top of the world long distance running list – only six runners have completed the Triple Crown and only two have the perfect Triple Crown – and he added: “Just to get to 300 was enough but to get 100 of each, I can’t be more satisfied.”

Typically, Howells wasn’t completely satisfied, though, because a week after his 300th he entered another marathon “just to make sure that I did more than 300”.

But it was that 300th that will live long in the memory for him.

“It was the Round Reading Ultra Marathon,” he said. “It was 50 kilometres around Reading and I finished in nine hours, 52 minutes, but what made it so special was that Nigel Tillott, the chairman of Tewkesbury Running Club, and his wife Liz ran with me.

“I say ‘ran’, I jog and other people walk!”

That in no way lessens his achievement, of course, and there’s still a lot more to come as the one-time orienteer plots his route to the perfect 333.

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