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From an overweight smoker to 50 marathons in a year

Three years ago Cliff Sewell was an overweight smoker and heavy drinker. Today, he is on a quest to run 50 marathons in one year, starting Sept 1.

“I just got to a point where I knew I had a choice: either carry on as I was and slip further into the black hole of alcohol and depression, or make a change, a massive change,” says Sewell, of Leeds, England. “Important point was that at that stage, I was running a business and functioning on the surface. To many people on the outside, all was fine. Now I look, talk and coach on change. It is amazing how many people are at this point but just cannot find the energy to change.”

His business is called 15ten15 — a reference to Oct. 15, 2015, the day he made his decision to change.

“It didn’t happen overnight and there was not a light bulb moment where life was going to change,” he explains. “It has taken discipline and I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way. I think the most important thing I took away was that it didn’t just happen and there were many times when I slipped and stopped but I never quit. I always kept my mind on the fitness side and even when not training in the early days, I never let myself think I was going to get back to it.”

Years earlier Sewell found motivation to run but couldn’t sustain it.

“My nephew had had a heart transplant many years earlier at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) but eventually his new heart could no longer support him,” he says. “At that point I wanted to do something to raise money for GOSH. I did a few 10K runs but eventually let life/alcohol take over and I slipped back into just working, drinking and functioning.”

His ‘why’ for running

Now Sewell is all in. And then some.

“Running has just evolved as my go-to thing but it was also a decision,” he says. “I love triathlon and long distance triathlon, however, that takes real planning and kit! Now I know that if you are totally committed you will make it happen, you will find a pool, you will get your bike set, etc. But for me, in all honesty, it was just too easy to find an excuse. So I knew if I focused on the running it was very difficult to find an excuse!”

His mornings start at 4 a.m.

“It’s my thing. I set an alarm early, I get up and I get out. You don’t have time to think of reasons not to go. By the time you are out, you feel good and away you go.

Like many facing milestone birthdays or newly minted 50-year-olds, Sewell sought out a big challenging goal. (I’m in the same boat with my first 100-miler just a few months away.)

“I am big on setting big challenges and I wanted to find one,” he says. “I am very focused on my business, 15ten15, at the moment and taking weeks out to do big challenges just doesn’t work at this point. So it needed to be big, but simple and easy to arrange.”

He calls his 50 marathons in one year “simple.”

“Even at full work pace I can find five hours a week to run a marathon – remove the excuses potential,” he explains. “I aim to do around 20-25 actual marathon events and then just get the Garmin and do 26-mile runs and record.”

Sewell doesn’t have any specific races picked out. It’s about the journey, not a particular event.

“It’s about removing any potential excuses on achieving goals,” he says. “I will start looking at regional events and just enter, turn up, run! I will obviously look to do some for flagship events as the year goes by. Part of my story is that it’s not about the glam or success and big events. It’s just getting out alone and running a marathon and that is hard! It takes real mind power and discipline and that’s what I love, challenging myself to do stuff that doesn’t have a medal or crowd but shows me that I did it!”

Finding what’s possible

As he laces up his running shoes, plots his epic marathon quest and focuses on his business, Sewell won’t forget where he’s been. He also wants others struggling with addictions to know anything is possible.

“What it’s about for me, to do this, to re-program, to change 100 percent and to show others that it’s possible,” he says. “I want people who are stuck, lost belief and have then chosen some wrong paths, lifestyles to look and listen to my story and see it’s possible.”

Sewell recommends going beyond the self-help books, diets, stop-drinking audios and take a closer look inside.

“Most of the stuff out there works, however, they miss a key message because it’s a message people don’t want to hear! ITS BLOODY HARD!!” he says. “It takes real hard work physically but most of all mentally to change. So many parts of society now are dragging us in the complete different direction and you have to fight against that.”

‘Best feeling in the world’

He knows that the only one you have to answer to you is you — and that person in the mirror.

“I always say that there needs to be a reason and that reason should be the mirror! Look in it and ask yourself what you want. Ignore everyone else, every advertisement, every mate telling you to get down to the pub. You have to do that over and over again – but – there comes a time when it will start to click. It will start to feel different. You will know inside that it’s coming, it’s happening. When you are running and that feeling comes, it is the best feeling in the world.”

For Sewell, running is a symbol of his journey.

“Running is vital to my physical well-being,” he says. “Just as important, if not more important, it really helps me mentally. I am not a fast runner! I can run fast but I don’t enjoy running fast! It took me while to get that. I am now an 8-kilometer an hour runner and that’s great for me. A marathon is about five hours. Yes, people do it in two, three or four hours and that’s brilliant but that’s not what inspires me. What inspires me is the ability to keep going both physically and mentally. That plays a massive part in developing many other parts of my life.”

Speed drill

Name: Cliff Sewell

Hometown: Leeds, England

Number of years running: 4

How many miles a week do you typically run: 50K

Point of pride: Just keeping going!!

Favorite race distance: More time – anything running longer than two hours.

Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: Beans and rice

Favorite piece of gear: Garmin

Favorite or inspirational song to run to: I don’t listen to music!

Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: Never give in.

Where can other runners connect or follow you:

• Instagram: cliff-sewell



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