by Phillip Howells
I first came across COCO in the winter of 2002. I had made a comeback to marathon running after 20 years and had run London earlier that year (my 4th marathon). Having not succeeded in the ballot for 2003 I looked at alternatives. I saw this COCO advert – ‘Come and run the 56 miles Comrades Marathon for us in South Africa in June 2003’. I thought, what a daft idea, that’s two and a bit marathons, no way!
So of course, 6 months later, aged 56 and getting sponsorship to run 56 miles to celebrate, I lined up in Pietermaritzburg with many thousands of others at 5am in the morning and just over 10 hours later in Durban I had finished my 8th marathon, my first ultra-marathon and my first event for COCO.
During the visit we called at a nearby rural settlement, visiting iThemba Lethu, a home for orphaned babies (often because of Aids) being rehabilitated and eventually fostered and which was being part supported by COCO at the time with the money we were raising. It was a powerfully moving experience and a reminder of how fortunate we are in countries like ours. I have been a fan and supporter of COCO ever since.
I ran Comrades four more times, achieving a best time of under 9 hours in a COCO vest. With my ‘Ed & Phil’ business partner at the time, and a former director of COCO, Edward Chapman, we manned COCO stands at the Bristol 10k and half marathons for a number of years from 2011 to 2015.
I have run the Great North Run in the home of COCO on five occasions between 2003 and 2007, sometimes in the Team COCO (which I have also subscribed to as a second claim member for many years now) vest. Competing in so many races it’s not always practical to run for COCO, but I have always been proud to be associated with this special charity, now for nigh on 20 yea
This has included being privileged to run a promotional few yards on behalf of COCO with COCO and race founder running legend Steve Cram before the inaugural Worcester 10k in 2014. I then ran the race on behalf of COCO.
Now, in 2022, to celebrate my 75th birthday, I plan to be achieving a life-time ambition and supporting COCO again by trekking to the famed Machu Picchu. By then I expect to have completed around 320 marathons with over 100 being ultras, with a plan to retire from them probably by aged 76 having hopefully achieved a long held target of completing 333 marathons before I stop doing them. COCO has played a very significant part in my running and social life and has generated many happy memories – culminating with luck in Peru in a few months’ time.