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Alex Flynn is off for a run next spring. We say run, it’s actually four ultra-marathons totalling 1,200 kilometres across four deserts and completely self-supported. Starting in April 2020 and finishing in November. Only a couple of hundred people have ever completed the entire race. He hopes to be the first with Parkinson’s.
Race the Planet starts in Namibia with the Namib Race, then moves to Mongolia for the Gobi March, the Atacama Crossing in Chile and finishes in Antarctica across what’s called The Last Desert.
“I think I will be comfortable with the distance of 1200 km but it’s the terrain that will take its toll and the ability to adequately recover, that will be quite debilitating.”
How does Parkinson’s affect your running?
“It manifests itself in involuntary muscle contraction; which means my legs can end up stepping over invisible boxes or smashing into the ground. It’s incredibly painful when your toes are curling up underneath. It comes in waves and phases and then you just have to walk or wait – could be 100 yards, could be half a mile.”
I’ll be raising money for Parkinson’s UK – a charity that does a lot and is the second biggest in the world but you wouldn’t know it. It conducts a huge amount of cutting-edge research, as well as providing advice and help. The charity has been a fantastic help to me.
What does your training schedule look like?
“At the moment I am doing strength training – a lot of bike work, and running cross country as much as possible to try and avoid injury. Both in the gym and outdoors – although there is only so much you can fit into a day!”
When you’re attempting a challenge as big as this, what motivates you and keeps you going?
“The realisation that there are people who are worse off than myself. The youngest ever who has been diagnosed was a two year old – that makes me mad because what kind of life will that boy have? What most people don’t understand is they mistake Parkinson’s for an old person’s disease. But it doesn’t discriminate.
“What they also don’t understand is the rigidity – you are slowly being encased in concrete, metaphorically. Across many years, it takes away things that people take for granted. You can’t speak, walk, swallow, have sex, write – everything.”
Why Four Deserts?
“It is one of a number of different events I want to do before I can’t, and it excites me to be back in the desert. Each ultra will cover a different terrain with different conditions. Some at high altitude, others - like Antarctica - where you’ll be immersed in mother nature. Varying terrains and experiences that’s what really attracted me. And to have the support from Racing the Planet because they invited me to come out and have a go and it’s a fantastic opportunity. They said we would love you to come and run these races, really lovely.”
What are you most fearful of?
“Failing to do what I say I am going to do – there’s always something in the back of my mind ‘what if I don’t make it’, I’m letting people down as a consequence. There are millions of people worldwide with Parkinson’s for whom every day the world becomes smaller and smaller. I’m not doing it to prove I am super human. It’s to prove that diagnosis isn’t the end of life – it’s a case of dealing with change, finding alternatives, seizing opportunities – not letting the world get smaller. If someone with Parkinson’s has difficulty walking across their lounge, then that is their Everest and I hope that people like that will get the inspiration to be able to achieve their goal, because that is so much more worthy.”
What drives you?
“Everyone is different and each race, which pushes my boundarie,s takes mental resilience and fortitude, however that may be. It’s down to each individual to choose the challenge that suits them. I’m driven by the fact that I might not be able to do these sort of things much longer – I also hope to raise money through my efforts, through all the pain and the broken bones. We need to achieve a level of research to be able to realise better treatments for people with neurological diseases. Movement and adventure stimulate me and give me a drive and sense of purpose to keep myself as good as can be.”
What else is on your bucket list?
“I want to climb Everest. I want to put Parkinson’s on top of the world. I’ve started planning for it and in talks with companies. Who knows what the future may bring. Life is a series of opportunities and you have to take them with both hands and go as far as you can - life is adventure. A lot of people settle for sitting in a box and just existing. Wouldn’t it amazing if people seized opportunities and just saw where they took them.”
What do you like about Elliot Brown watches?
“I have had two watches and they have both been through the ringer! Climbing mountains, jumping through rapids, swimming down rapids, climbing up rock faces – you name it I have done it with my watch. I’m very impressed with the watch and I think they are a must have for adventurers or for anyone who wants a watch that will take punishment.”