Beat by beat: the race of a lifetime

On Sunday 13th April I completed the London Marathon in support of Jubilee Action. I have now raised £4,735.99 so far and there are still sponsorships coming in. Here are the highlights of the day I achieved one of my biggest dreams.

So the first big question first; what time did I do it in? 3 hours 57 minutes and 28 seconds. As much as I pretended getting under 4 hours was not important, it really was and I am therefore absolutely delighted and can now hang up my marathon shoes. As I came round the corner by Buckingham Palace and saw the finish line with the clocks showing 4:05 I knew I would make it under 4 hours and managed to trudge out the last 100 metres. It took me 8 minutes to cross the start line in case you are wondering about my maths.

I went up by train with two ladies, Ali and Katie, who were great company and between us we keep our nerves under control. The whole journey to the start line was so easy and went according to plan. Image

I was in the Red Start and pen number 5, about half way back. As we counted down to the start my nerves gave way to a calm resolution and quiet focus on what I knew was going to be a very long day. Despite the fact the race had started I remained stationary for some minutes and eventually got to the start line at which point you can start running. Needless to say this was very slow to begin with. From the outset there were crowds of people calling out encouragement and looking for their friends and family. Great cheers would go up when they saw someone they knew and also when the crowds spotted those in fancy dress or in Mankinis!

My GPS watch showed a pace of 5:30 per km which would bring me in just under 4 hours. As my friend Steve had said before the race; “you have a plan so stick to it”. I decided not to go any faster or slower but hold that pace for the entire duration, thinking that if I had anything left in the tank at the end I could dazzle everyone with a sprint finish! Throughout my training I had three mental strategies for running long distances

    1. To begin with I would constantly say to myself that I was a river, moving smoothly and calmly along the track dealing with obstacles without drama. This really works and keeps you light on your feet.
    2. As I get more tired and the pain starts to kick in which is the point at which one’s pace normally starts to slow I then go into machine or robot mode. I drive out all thoughts, feelings, pains etc and pretend I am a machine that is simply designed to run. Very effective and keeps your pace consistent.
    3. The final stage is rather odd. This is the “Captain of the Star Ship Enterprise” phase and is only used right at the end to complete the last half mile or so. It can only be used once! In effect, I am Jean Luc Piccard and call down to Scotty in the engine room and insist that he fire up the dilithium crystals and give me Warp Factor 4. In theory I then abandon all care and throw myself at the finish line (metaphorically). Unfortunately, on the big day, when I called down to Scotty with 800 metres to go, I got his “answer phone” which was thoroughly disappointing!

Back to the race. I thoroughly enjoyed the first half of the race, running very steadily and remaining in my “river” state. At 6.5 miles, I rounded the Cutty Sark and the noise and crowds were fantastic. I wished I was in fancy dress! At 9 miles I caught a glimpse of my friend Adrian, which was wonderful. What a lift it is to see people you know! At 13 miles I was due to see my wife, children, mother and charity officials. I did not and had to take on the East without this boost. I was rather sad but knew I would have another chance to see them on the way back at mile 22. The Isle of Dogs was tough mainly because so much of it is narrow. As I was holding a constant pace (still at 5.30 per km) I was having to weave and very gently push through other runners. The support was fabulous though and the party atmosphere was in full swing.

In the tunnel at Canary Wharf two things happened that really threatened to de-rail me. I lost my GPS signal; I could no longer monitor my pace accurately but thankfully it kept the distance and time going. Also, the pace runners showing 3 hours 56 minutes went past me. I had a third of the race still to go and my finishing time of under 4 hours had just taken a massive blow. Sod it, I would simply have to follow them home! At 20 miles, the furthest I had run before, I became a machine and with the 3:56 boys still in sight I had a grim determination to keep them there. I knew that my supporters were two miles up ahead and I was looking forward to seeing them.

I had, up until now, been eating my Jelly Beans and drinking my nuun water, but was getting seriously thirsty. So I started taking water from the water points and trying to run into the showers on the side of the road to cool down. It was getting hot and a blister was showing signs of becoming a potential problem. Also the sweaty belt had turned the beans into mush. Not nice. At 22 miles I briefly saw Anna-mai the lovely lady in charge of Jubilee Action. She was a sight for sore eyes. I did not see my family and as I entered the Embankment with 4 miles to go I knew I would not see them. Highly emotional moment!

From this point on, my memory is less sharp. A tunnel of people and noise greets your every step and I started to notice people walking and some receiving treatment. I had lost sight of the 3 hour 56 boys and now just wanted to finish. Dare I say it; my objective of coming in sub-4 hours was getting less and less important. I just wanted to finish. At the 24 mile marker I told myself in no uncertain terms that this was a running race and not a walking race and therefore walking was not an option. “Keep your pace” and “nearly there” were my two phrases in my head along with a lot of swearing.

It was with only a mile to go that I looked at my watch and noticed that I had run 42 kms! It was meant to be over? Unfortunately I had not religiously followed the blue lines on the road and therefore had added 1.5kms to my distance. Gutted.

Within moments I could see Buckingham Palace at the end of the road and knew it was all going to be over soon. As I rounded the corner leaving the Palace behind me I saw the famous finishing line / lanes and saw the 3 hour 56 minute boys smugly standing by the finish. I looked at the clock, it read 4:05. My brain made a slow but deliberate calculation that as I had taken 8 minutes to cross the start line I was going to get under 4 hours. My heart leapt and I called down to Scotty in the engine room for Warp Factor 4. Nothing. Just keep going…………………

I was vaguely conscious that my in-laws, Mike and Irene, were in a grandstand somewhere overseeing the finish. Would they see me? See picture. Thanks Mike!


As I crossed the line I made sure my arms were raised (as instructed) so that the camera could identify my number. I think I even smiled but that remains to be seen. I collected my bag, managed to convince a St John’s Ambulance man that I only needed water and not medical attention. He gave me 2 extra bottles of water and told me to drink them slowly. 5 seconds later I was trying to find more water.

I managed to leave my medal and hat on a fence and promptly wandered off to the meeting area. Realised my stupidly and had to persuade security to let me back in to retrieve them. Found my medal but my favourite hat was in a bin somewhere. I finally met my family which was so so wonderful. More girly moments. Walked through thousands of people to Waterloo Station and finally sat down on the train. 



It was an experience I will never forget or repeat.  I am so grateful to Jubilee Action for the chance to run for them. Special thanks to my wife, Kia who has willingly allowed our weekends, evenings and conversations to be dominated by running. There is no bore like a marathon bore!

Guy Pakenham


Another week in the field with the Education, Equity, Empowerment (EEE) project in Musanze

We have planned 4 more days to catch up with the Persons with Disabilities (PWD) who failed to show up at previous visits. We will now focus on our target group: young people under 25 with hearing and / or communication impairments who should have access to mainstream education close to their homes. In November, during the school holidays we will start training the teachers on inclusive education and how to take care of the special needs of these young people, so we have to know which of the many schools in the district should be invited.

I team up with Félicien Turatsinze, a physiotherapist whom we are training to assess and handle communication disorders, as Rwandaat the moment only has one trained speech and language therapist! In the 3 months since he joined the EEE project, he has developed to the level where he is now able to do assessments independently. We discuss the diagnosis he proposes and how to counsel the families, in which task he is also growing by the day. Félicien has a very gentle way of connecting to people and sometimes our ‘clients’ leave in tears because they have enjoyed so much the way the child was seen for his abilities and who he is rather than as the ‘burden’ people don’t know how to handle.


We identify some persons who need to have their hearing tested, to see if a loss causes the speech impairment and again we meet persons who stutter and left school because the teachers failed to recognize they had a speech problem and not a learning disorder. Bullying happens everywhere and persons with disabilities face a lot of it at all levels in the community; unfortunately, for persons who stutter it considerably aggravates their difficulties. For children with this type of impairment the project can have a huge impact.


Some of the persons we meet have impairments that are too complicated to handle in mainstream education, like those who have a moderate/severe intellectual impairment. Eventually they should of course also be included, but since inclusion is something totally new to the teachers, we will start with students who are a little bit easier to manage in the classroom. As families have often walked a long distance to reach us, we never send them back with only the message that the child does not belong to our target group. Every child is assessed and their families are given advise on how to improve their communication skills. On Thursday we suddenly had 3 young persons with Down syndrome at the same time and decided to counsel them and their families together. It was the first time that both the parents and the children themselves saw someone else who looks like them and has the same condition. It actually happens that all 3 families have done so well at helping these youngsters be independent (self-care, assist in household chores) that we would love to organize a day where families and their children with Down syndrome can meet, inspire and learn from each other. Unfortunately these activities are beyond the scope of the project. One of the three enjoyed the meeting with his ‘fellows in distress’ so much that he preferred to leave with one of the others rather than going home with his mum!

It was again a week filled with amazing encounters with ‘mothers’ who are not related to the child with a disability but started taking care of one where all others had left the child. A community activity where secondary school students presented songs and poems they had composed themselves to get attention for the rights and needs of persons with disabilities. Parents who walk for hours with a heavy child on their back, hoping to find assistance in their task as educators of a persons with disabilities that were never really explained to them. I am honoured to be part of this project!

Segerien Donner, speech therapist in Rwanda

Why we are fighting the war on drugs?


I was pleased to recently read Richard Branson’s blog drawing attention to the work of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, which aims to bring science based discussion about effective ways to reduce the harm caused by drugs to people and societies.  Having spent the day listening to horror stories from the depths of Cracolândia (Crackland) in Salvador, I write this blog in the desperate hope of drawing wider support for an issue that is vastly misunderstood. I note that Branson, himself, comments on the lack of an active role played by Brazil, a cou ntry that is facing a persistent struggle to try and control an enormous drugs network managed by a powerful mafia. It is also widely known that links exist between the sale of arms, corrupt police officers and the mafia.  Many of the most viciously led gangs are controlled by ex-military or police officers which makes the drug trade, and its networks, a political question.   As cycles of power, corruption and abuse continue, how can we ever hope to tackle the issue of increasing cracklandias: hubs of children and youth addicted to crack, selling their bodies to get their next hit.

The federal government here does believe that crack is possible to beat – as per the name of the latest government support for this initiative;  Crack é possível vencer – “It is possible to beat Crack”. Working within three key areas here in Salvador, the government is focusing on prevention, care and security.  It is estimated that over 90% of all street children and youths are crack users, a problem we are most aware of, having spent the last two years supporting a local project called Live Life which works with the most desperate cases of street youths, those who are literally lying on the streets without hope. Do we believe there can be change? Yes. Is it easy?  No.

RC1_6332Treating people, and getting them off their addiction, is a complex process but not an impossible one. It requires a multi-disciplinary approach, which is often difficult when political divisions exist between different government departments.  Even when spaces are available at government clinics, the youth will not go alone. They need individualised and specialised support to enable them to understand what therapy means and what the clinic can, and will, offer. These are children that have only ever experienced neglect and violence, most have been brought up by addicts, sexually and physically abused from a young age.  Most start selling drugs from the tender age of 7 or 8 years.

Today, I met with a boy named Renato, he is 16 years old. He lost his mother to drugs before he even remembers; his father is a crack addict. He started to sell drugs at the age of 8 and was on the streets at 12 years old.  With the help of a rehabilitation centre and our provision of one-on-one support to enable him to get a job, restart his education and repair his family relationship, Renato is now actively contributing to society. The recent report by the Global Commission called for a bold new approach.  People need to recognise the merits for society of an informed and intelligent investment into drug prevention and drug treatment: treatment that addresses the roots of the problem, comprehensive treatment that enables children and youths to restart their lives.  Voices are joining together to break the taboo of inefficient drug policiesthat have restricted the problem as a criminal one, leaving many youths like Renato further marginalized. We applaud the support of Richard Branson and others in raising this issue and their support for it.  Only by acting together, with one voice, can we ever hope to tackle the depths of this dark problem, which affects us all.

Anti-Slavery Day!

Today is Anti-Slavery Day. This is an issue very close to my heart as it’s something I come across every working day here at Jubilee Action.

Not only are we working with our partners in Kathmandu to support the children of women who have been trafficked and forced into prostitution, but we are also working to reduce child labour practices through our advocacy work to promote education over work in Eastern Africa. Much of our work to provide models of alternative care for vulnerable children is also driven by our increasing awareness of the risks to children who are living on the streets or as part of a child headed household, without a network to protect them from this ever-growing industry of human trafficking.

Jubilee Action is not, and does not claim to be, an expert organisation in trafficking, nor do we have the in-depth knowledge and resources to support the identification and prosecution of those responsible for human trafficking operations. However, we do recognise that we have a key role to play in addressing the systemic issues that can lead a vulnerable child to becoming a victim of this horrific industry.

For many people, child slavery conjures up scenes of abduction and trafficking, but it is important to recognise that for many children slavery is, and always has been, an intrinsic part of their life; they do understand that it is wrong, nor do they have the power to prevent it. Child labour, for instance, can mean anything from selling rubbish on the streets or, for a higher return, turning to prostitution. These activities are very often endorsed by their families: when the alternative is starving to death, sexual slavery can appear to be the lesser of two evils.

We understand that the issues facing vulnerable children are intrinsically linked to that of their families, communities, and socio-economic context. We therefore recognise that these same social structures can provide the solution to ensure the continuous protection of children from a life of slavery.

It is for this reason that we are committed to defending the human rights of a child with three approaches. Firstly, we promote alternative care models to ensure that children can be kept safe in their communities, but not institutionalised. Secondly, we provide education for children which will not only reduce street connections, but will promote a generation of adults who can support their own families, in turn ending the cycle of child labour. And finally we ensure that those children who have been victims of slavery have access to psycho-social services to support their rehabilitation and provide them with hope for the future.

Our programme interventions do make a difference. We know this because, regrettably, we cannot help every child and therefore, we have seen first-hand the fate of those children whom we cannot reach in time. When a young boy walks in to our street shelter and tells us of his friend who he has not seen for 8 days, there is little we can do, except to ensure that next time our street outreach worker gets to him first.

Please do what you can today to raise awareness of Anti-Slavery Day.