The Marathon, from being a dream to a possibility The Marathon, from being a dream to a possibility

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The London Marathon has shifted from being a dream to a possibility

Jon (middle) after completing one of his many Obstacle Course Races
Jon (middle) after completing one of his many Obstacle Course Races

It’s about this time of year that many cadets either start on their training or head back to college after a summer break, and a recent initiative of Sailors’ Society has been the provision of scholarships to assist early career development, with 40 young people now part of the programme.

In line with the charity's global outreach, these scholarships are provided to cadets and students in the UK, Greece, Ukraine, Poland, the Philippines and Singapore.

As an ex-cadet, I consider myself lucky to have been employed and supported by a reputable and reasonably benevolent oil major when shipping was doing well and fleets were expanding.

So in this era of depressed shipping markets, high cost study, plus no guarantee of future employment, it is so positive for Sailors’ Society to be able to assist in some way – and the support of the various shipping companies and trusts who donate specifically to provide these opportunities can not be underestimated.

Much of the scholarship programme is based on fair traditional cadetship training, maybe a three-year course leading to an Officer on Watch (OOW) certificate, but of note is the focused approach in the Philippines supporting young women from low-income backgrounds. Sailors’ Society, in collaboration with Homer Foundation, is providing scholarships to young would-be seafarers at the Magsaysay Institute for Hospitality and Culinary Arts (MIHCA). The courses are 80 per cent hands-on training and 20 per cent classroom teaching, to maximise learning and ensure that students are prepared to enter the workforce straight after graduation.

Students at the Magsaysay Institute for Hospitality and Culinary Arts 
Students at the Magsaysay Institute for Hospitality and Culinary Arts 

This global approach of support for all nationalities, backgrounds, faiths and situations is truly commendable and just one example of how Sailors’ Society takes a leadership role in the maritime charity sector to ensure funding is both available to all and appropriately used to assist seafarers around the world.

Back in the day, when I was an Engineer Cadet at Warsash Maritime Academy, we were still expected to be out of bed for 6:30am and to then run around the block. I’m pretty sure I spent a lot of time working out how to avoid this or to minimise the distance. So it is strange that for some reason, running across fields, up and down hills, through mud and water, taking on a bunch of challenges in an army-light style in all sorts of weather, now really appeals to me.

Since 2014, I have completed about 20 Obstacle Course Races (OCRs), from 10-kilometre to 20-mile races with some of the bigger events offering up to 200 obstacles.

As a result I’ve seen continued improvement in performance, noticeable changes in my body shape and size and basically become addicted to taking part in these gruelling events.

It has also given me the confidence to take on the big challenges and the concept of the London Marathon has shifted from being a dream to a possibility.

A significant difference between OCRs and plain running is the regular intervention provided by the obstacles. These can be a bonus when you’re not in the mood for a run as sometimes you won’t cover much more than two kilometres during an event before you get a break.

On the flipside, in order to enjoy it properly and get around in one piece, you need a mixture of being able to run, combined with strength and endurance training.

The longer OCRs test your physical, mental and emotional boundaries; there can be blood, sweat and tears. Literally. These five-hour long events are at the upper end of my current capabilities, for example, slipping when coming off the ironically named eight-foot high ‘Men’s Health Wall’ left me with severely bruised ribs; something I had to take in my stride on the day and encouraged me to put more effort into my upper-body work outs.

At the Rat Race in May 2017, my legs firmly told me at 17-miles that they'd had enough. We pushed on round to the finish, but with the possibility of a 2018 London Marathon becoming an increasing reality, the thought of another nine miles still to go and what that would mean for my legs on the day was quite sobering.

Eliud Kipchoge doesn’t have anything to worry about just yet!

Jon Holloway is Executive Director at L&R Midland (UK) Ltd. He was an Engineer Cadet with BP Shipping, sailing with BP up to the rank of Chief Engineer. Jon came ashore in 2001 and has worked in various shipping roles for BP Shipping, INTERTANKO and BG Group before taking on his current position. He has been an Ambassador for Sailors’ Society since 2007 and became a Trustee of the Society in 2014. He is fundraising on behalf of Sailors’ Society.