Paul, Rachel and Mark iron out Marathon quirks

Greetings industry contingent feel wheely good as extreme ironing madman hits new level


Having your name on a shirt is one way to get publicity in the London Marathon but Paul Roberts wants to get names under his iron as he runs the UK capital’s biggest race for a good cause.

“I’m looking to take Extreme Ironing to new levels of stupidity by attempting to literally pretend to iron throughout the entire 26.2-mile course!” Rachel Ellen Designs’ commercial director laughed.

Part of the greeting card industry contingent in the 2022 event on 2 October, Paul will be ironing his way round as company co-founder Rachel Church jogs, while independent retailer Mark Jansom-Smith from Postmark is also set to pound the streets.

Above: Ironman – while waiting for his real wheels the Rachel Ellen team mocked up this shot of Paul from his Marathon Des Sables days
Above: Ironman – while waiting for his real wheels the Rachel Ellen team mocked up this shot of Paul from his Marathon Des Sables days

Paul is still ironing out exactly how to add wheels to his trusty board, the same one the extreme ironing nut has carried through numerous challenges including Brecon Ultra Marathon, the World Bog Snorkelling Championships and the infamous six-day Marathon Des Sables across the Sahara Desert, but he also needs something to iron.

“For any business owners who wants some cheap publicity and great marketing photos,” Paul said, “imagine a tea towel with your business name and logo positioned prominently for the world to see – get in touch!” he urges.

While both Rachel and Mark are running novices, taking up the sport to raise money for Pancreatic Cancer UK and Shooting Stars Children’s Hospices respectively, Paul has plenty of form, having twice completed the world-famous London Marathon although he didn’t enjoy either experience.

Paul explained: “I’ve never been a natural runner and at the first one 23 years ago I aimed for an unrealistic time and the second I just didn’t train. It’s only when I started doing ultra-marathons that I learned to love running, for me time and pace became secondary or irrelevant, it was just a case of finishing and taking as much as possible from the experience and what you learned about yourself along the way.

“The 155-mile Marathon des Sables was probably the pick of my running adventures, for me and my ironing board, but that was 10 years ago and I was sure my long-distance running days were behind me. The only reason I entered this year was to show solidarity and support for Rachel after her father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and to raise as much money as I could alongside her for the charity.

Above: Positivity – it’s one foot in front of the other for Rachel
Above: Positivity – it’s one foot in front of the other for Rachel

“But I felt I couldn’t just run it conventionally if I wanted people to sponsor me and, as I’ve previously completed ultra-marathons carrying my ironing board, it needed to be something more extreme – more stupid!

“The logistics aren’t straightforward – strangely there isn’t a market for ironing boards that are capable of covering 26 miles but my farmer neighbour Tom has assured me he’ll be able to cobble something together in his workshop. I haven’t really considered just how hideous it may be to run any distance while ironing, let alone for what will probably be six hours or more!”

Rachel took up running just four years ago and credits the sport and her local running group with keeping her sane during the lockdowns as she’s progressed from park runs to 10k and a few half-marathons.

“I definitely had no ambition or intention to run a full marathon,” she told PG Buzz, “but, the day after my dad was diagnosed with this awful illness, pancreatic cancer, in August last year, I logged on and entered as a means to try and do something positive.

Above: Happy to be stupid – Paul has many running adventures
Above: Happy to be stupid – Paul has had many running adventures

“It’s notoriously difficult to get a ballot place and I nearly fell off my chair when I found out I’d been successful at my first attempt, it certainly felt like fate. So, with a mix of excitement and trepidation, I’m currently following a training plan and trying to focus on the fact it’s just one foot in front of the other!”

With 2022 being the year Rachel marked 25 years of her greeting card and gift business, she’s been reflecting on how far the Nottingham-based company has come, and added: “Starting a business requires a leap of faith, putting your neck on the block, and I think that’s the same as entering something like a marathon for the first time – it’s a daunting journey into the unknown.

“Training for a marathon obviously requires dedication, determination and sacrifice, and that sounds very much like running a business! Also, whether running or running a business it’s just a case of putting one foot in front of the other, and not allowing yourself to give in when things get tough…and, of course, they will.”

Meanwhile, Mark admitted he used to get out of breath running for a bus so did the Couch to 5k programme with his son last year but didn’t properly take up running until January, and now actually enjoys the early morning training as a great way to start the day.

With his original dream being to finish in under four hours, Mark has rowed that expectation back to just hoping to complete the course in one piece as he confessed that “some of the training is just brutal but, once it’s over, you feel incredible”, while wife Leona, co-director of their London-based Postmark independent group, thinks Mark has really been bitten by the running bug.

Above: Personal proof – Mark just hopes to finish
Above: Personal proof – Mark just hopes to finish

Mark added: “I got a bee in my bonnet and decided that this year I’m definitely doing the marathon – although I really don’t know why. I don’t think I realised quite how far 26 miles was and my mates always said there was no way I could run a marathon due to my lifestyle so part of it is to prove them wrong, the other part has been a case of proving it to myself that I could take something like this on and hopefully complete it.

“Two of my oldest friends are also doing it so it’s been nice to have people to train and talk about it with as there is only so much running chat you can do with non-runners before they glaze over.

“I’ve taken a good tumble and energy gels can play havoc on the gut so a few close calls there, but I’ve stayed embarrassment-free so far but we still have quite a few days to go.

“I’m absolutely not wearing an outfit or doing anything daft like Paul – he is a complete madman, or superman, I’m not quite sure! My one and only goal is to finish.”

Pancreatic Cancer UK work towards better awareness, and early diagnosis of the condition that has the highest mortality rate of all the major cancers, as well as funding work on more effective treatments. Rachel is hoping to raise £1,000 while Paul has a £3,000 target.

Shooting Stars is a leading children’s hospice charity providing nursing, practical, emotional and medical care for babies, children and young people with life-limiting conditions, and their families across Surrey and London from diagnosis to end of life and throughout bereavement. Mark has a £3,000 target. All three runners would be grateful for any support.

Top: Best feet forward – marathon runners Rachel, Paul, and Mark

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