Some of us start running when we are young as part of a sport or because we naturally excel at it in school. Others come to the sport later on as adults as a way to stay fit, be a part of a community and spend time outdoors. For Phil Lambert, a now multi-time marathon finisher, his journey begun at a very young age and was born from a family tradition.
Introduced to running by his father, Phil has grown to love the simultaneous challenge and freedom of running and feels it has had a major positive impact on his lifestyle choices today.
By the time Phil was 11 years old, his father Marc Lambert, had stationed himself in France. Every summer, Phil and his siblings Alex and Claire would spend three weeks in France visiting their father. These trips involved a blend of fun outdoor adventures and a healthy appetite for physical exercise at times resembling a miniature family bootcamp! Their father would set the morning alarm for a 6am run of approximately 3km nicknamed ‘The Lap’. Although this may sound gruelling, and not exactly how every kid imagines spending their summer vacation, their father had good reason to encourage his children to use their bodies to the best of their abilities. An accomplished runner himself, in 1984 Marc Lambert was diagnosed with and continues to suffer from Multiple Sclerosis (MS).
In a time when being diagnosed with a disability often meant you were considered as too ‘risky’ for employment, he knew he needed to do whatever he could to keep his diagnosis as discreet as possible. Whilst keeping his MS hidden from everyone but his closest family and friends, Marc decided to sign up for the 1988 Marathon Des Sables, a 6-stage 254km race across the Sahara Desert.
Having procured his employer as a sponsor for the event, he started the race doing very well, and was in twelfth position by the end of the third day. Unfortunately, any progress on the fourth day was hindered by MS symptoms, resulting in Marc completing the race in 39th place. Regardless of final position, completing the challenge helped Marc realise that he had the strength to fight MS for the rest of his life. Resilience, a sense of humour and sheer determination in times of hardship were qualities he knew would become increasingly important as time went on. And the Marathon des Sables was a perfect trial run for evidence of these character traits!
Phil reflects on the impact Marc has had on his running journey; “Throughout our lives, our Dad has been an example of how a disability can be used to help to inspire other people.”
Though it was hard at times, Phil, Alex and Claire are grateful for the way their father challenged them through sport, namely cross-country running.
“It has made all of us who we are today. Many of the physical achievements we’ve accomplished have been down to our upbringing. For this we are grateful to both of our parents.”
Thirty-one years later, Marc has now just begun to use an electric wheelchair. This has been a significant and difficult life transition for someone who used to be so active. Watching their father reluctantly give up the sport he most loved spurred the Lambert siblings to help crack the code on MS, in their father’s honour. Hence why in April 2019, Phil and his brother Alex, with the support of their sister Claire, will be running the 34th edition of the same event their father ran thirty one years ago.
The Lambert siblings are calling the fundraising campaign MdS4MS (Marathon Des Sables for Multiple Sclerosis). They are raising money for SCOPE, a charity that provides support, information, and advice for people living with disabilities.
For Phil, Alex and Claire, it is not just a way to raise money and awareness of Multiple Sclerosis, but also a way to connect with their father and to thank him for teaching them that with hard work and determination, anything is possible.
“It’s almost, in a weird way, a bit of closure. We’re participating in the same event that he ran you know… 31 years ago. My brother was born the year he did it and I was two years old - it’s part of our life story. We are running in his footsteps.”
Finding an official sponsor has proven to be quite tricky though Alex does have the support of an Egyptian organisation. The rest of their sponsorship has come from friends, family, and word-of-mouth, using the website JustGiving.
Phil and Alex have been running several half-marathons and marathons in the lead up to the MdS to act as crucial heat acclimatisation, to increase awareness of the cause and to promote engagement in the fundraising effort.
With just three weeks to go before the event, they have raised just over £12,000 of their £15,000 goal.
Phil and Alex are excited to take on the challenge and intend to stick together through the ups and downs of an inevitably gruelling effort.
“Our main goal is to stay together as brothers and to experience the whole thing, all the difficulty but also the highlights together.”
While Phil does not currently live in a city with a Midnight Runners group, he remains well connected to the organisation. As a friend of MR CEO Jody Bragger, Midnight Runners has been pleased to provide kit for the race, sponsorship money and help in sharing the campaign across their networks. Phil is a huge fan of Midnight Runners and of the way they support their local running communities.
“I’d love to support Jody and if our story can inspire other people to get involved with Midnight Runners then we see that as a fantastic two-way partnership.”
Phil maintains that he’s not a natural runner, but that persistence and determination, as learned from his father, can go a long way. This is why he so believes in what Midnight Runners does for its members and crew captains alike.
“If somebody hasn’t done any running and would like to get into it, there’s lots of opportunities to do so with Midnight Runners - it’s for people of all levels. You can turn up with baseline level fitness and get a lot out of it.”
Phil recognises that it’s the community surrounding Midnight Runners and the people you meet each week that inspire and push you that helps people achieve things that they never thought they could.
“It encourages people to hold their feet to the fire and to their own ambition, whatever that may be. If they want to run the Marathon des Sables - yes it's more of a long term project - but it’s totally achievable. It’s about belief, structure and progression.”
Phil and his brother Alex are getting ready to toe the line in the Sahara 3 weeks from now, and would welcome all the support they can get.