Running a marathon isn’t considered the feat it once was, however, running one alongside Olympic-caliber runners in the middle of a Kenyan wildlife reserve sure is. Falls Church’s Andrew Courtney plans to do just that next weekend, and for his first marathon ever, no less.
Courtney, 45, will be running the Safaricom Marathon, listed by Runner’s World Magazine as one of the world’s top 10 “must do” marathons.
The course runs through Kenya’s Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, putting runners in contact with the vital land that is in need of preservation. The proceeds from the race benefit the conservation organization Tusk which is dedicated to preventing habitat loss in a way that finds space for people and wildlife to co-exist.
“In part, I wasn’t necessarily choosing a marathon. It’s a fundraiser, and they’re doing the work that I believe in,” said Courtney. “So they provide education, and they’ve figured out a way to make the animals in the park more alive than dead. It’s cool, it’s innovative and it’s interesting.”
Courtney, will be travelling overseas not just to run but to visit villages and schools with his family. Joining him is wife Lauren, and daughters Sasha, 9, and Hanna, 7. For Courtney and Lauren, East Africa has long been a sphere that they’ve been involved in.
Andrew and Lauren met as Peace Corps volunteers in Tanzania and the two have worked with East Africa professionally. Lauren works in the field of public health while Andrew previously worked in the Nature Conservancy.
“I learned from my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Tanzania and later when assigned to a project in Tanzania with the Nature Conservancy that it’s hard work balancing the needs of people and nature,” said Courtney. “When I left the Nature Conservancy a few years ago I told myself I would find other ways to support this important work.”
At the same time, the running part of the experience has also been something that’s transformed the entire family.
Courtney picked up running a couple years ago to combat the stresses of his job. He used the goal of a marathon as a motivator but the logistics never aligned. When the organizers of the marathon reached out to him this past winter (he had already paid an entry fee by then), Courtney decided to hack his training down systematically.
“Like most things, if you break it down into small chunks, I found it’s not impossible,” said Courtney. “When you have a particular way of solving complex development problems through small steps,,,so I was like, ‘If it works for software, why can’t it work for a marathon?’”
With a spreadsheet and algorithm, he managed to stay on top of his training for 25 straight weeks. He believes he has logged around 850 miles to date which will be an accomplishment no matter what happens when the marathon occurs.
Because of his obligations as a father, home owner and in the workplace, Courtney couldn’t find any time in the afternoon or evening so he had to resort to waking up at 5 a.m. with his neighbor Jim Sherwood.
This past spring, Courtney gave a presentation to Sasha’s elementary school class on his experience.
He touched on the importance of conservation, geographical facts about Kenya, how to measure a marathon and how to train. This drew him fans including his daughter and their friends who peppered him with lots of questions at the end.
To his surprise, however, Sasha decided to go running with her dad with a flashlight at 5 a.m. Although she couldn’t sustain that early of a wake-up call, she now runs approximately two days a week with her mom (who was originally a casual jogger but runs with more frequency now).
Additionally, Lauren Courtney estimates that her younger daughter, Hannah, can run half a mile.
As for their recommendations to others on deciding whether or not to travel to East Africa, the Courtney parents describes it as an eye-opening experience.
“The people that you will meet are so friendly and welcoming, the climate is different, it’s a beautiful and amazing place and I really think it will change everyone who has been there, so we want our kids to be exposed to that,” said Lauren.
Courtney will be participating in the Safaricom Marathon next Saturday, June 29 at the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy. Anyone interested in Courtney’s fundraising efforts can visit his page at crowdrise.com/o/en/campaign/andrews-run-for-lewa.