26.2 Miles Upon the Waves of Portugal

Steve Eaton ran a full marathon around the Promenade Deck of Grand Princess
Steve Eaton ran a full marathon around the Promenade Deck of Grand Princess

I may not be able to walk on water, but I do hold the distinction of being the world’s first person to run a marathon at sea.

Last September, I ran 80 times around the Promenade Deck of Grand Princess, just over the required 26.2 miles, as the cruise ship itself sailed around the coast of Portugal. It was my 33rd marathon and like most of my races, I ran it for charity.

Before anyone thinks I’m some kind of health nut, you should have met me 10 years ago. You’d have found a tired, middle-aged man who’d packed on the pounds since he’d quit smoking. I drive a lorry (truck to you Americans) for a living and working overnights, which would explain the tired problem. Also working against me was the notoriously poor diet and exercise habits of a lorry driver on the night shift. And then there’s the ex-smoker thing, you tend to substitute food for cigarettes.

I knew this couldn’t go on. I made a New Year’s Resolution in 2002 to go from fat to fit. I astonished my sedentary self by losing five stone (70 pounds) in five months. I figured the best way to keep the weight from coming back would be to exercise. To keep it off, Wesley, an instructor at my local gym, suggested I train for the London Marathon in support of the charity, Well Child.

Ten months before the marathon, I started training. First I could do no more than jog to one lamppost, and walk, panting to the next. Lamppost by lamppost, I ran through my town of Tamworth until I became a marathoner.

People who knew me from before would never have pictured me as that guy who could run for miles and miles, arms raised in victory at the finish line. But I am a competitive person and when I make up my mind to do something, watch me go.

As for my marathon at sea, my wife, Margaret, and I booked our first Mediterranean cruise for September 2011 about a year in advance. I certainly wasn’t planning on running circles around the cruise ship, but when the son of our close family friends was murdered, leaving a wife and two young children, I wanted to do something in support.

His name was Christopher Chacksfield. Chris had survived tours of duty in Afghanistan, Kosovo and Bosnia, but was killed in Newcastle upon Tyne, waiting for a taxi with his wife, in an unprovoked attack.

Chris had earlier expressed a wish to raise funds for Help for Heroes, I wondered if perhaps I could do so in his place, and if running on a ship would attract more publicity and funds?

I called Princess Cruises, explained my idea and a few days later, they contacted me with the all-clear. Ahead of time, we measured the deck and worked out the route. I was relieved when Princess okayed my running briefly through the living quarters, so I could run in continuous ovals instead of stopping and reversing course at every half lap. That would have been dizzying.

The night before my run, the chef visited our table in the Da Vinci Dining Room and asked what he could prepare for my dinner. I chose pasta and meatballs. Martyn, the cruise director, arranged for breakfast in our cabin the next day. I selected more carbs…porridge, yogurt, toast and jam.

I was more nervous than usual. I’d never run on a moving ship before and I didn’t know if I would feel sea sick. There could be no turning back. Princess had promoted the charity marathon via public broadcasts. Donation boxes were put out on deck. And Stuart, the assistant cruise director, stood at the starting line, where he’d join me for the first five laps.

And I was off. I might have been the only person to run a marathon that day, but I was never alone. Margaret and some American friends we’d made kept time and recorded laps. A passenger joined me for 40 laps. Another Princess Cruises crew member joined me for 20. Security guards manned the doors.

I came in at 5 hours, 16 minutes and 45 seconds. Once again, Martyn came through, with an invitation to the Crown Grill for supper. You need your protein after such a run, so I chose steak.

For the rest of the cruise, I was a mini celebrity. Passengers were so friendly and supportive. The Princess crew made me a photo book commemorating the run, which I’ll always cherish. Best of all, I raised £640 pounds (almost $1,000) on the ship and a total of £1,200 pounds, counting donations from supporters back home, for Help for Heroes.

Now I am 58. I still run for charity. As of this blog, I have completed 53 marathons. My goal is to run 100 marathons by the time I turn 60, then, I have promised Margaret, I’ll scale it back.

I’ve run marathons in Paris, London, New York, Amsterdam and Berlin—all great cities. But my most unusual race will always be the one I ran aboard Grand Princess at sea.

Steve lives in Tamworth, Staffordshire, UK.  He has experienced one Princess cruise and hopes to take another soon.