Everton's Dowling reflects on inspirational 26 marathons in 26 weeks

Jack Dowling: With his late brother Tom (left); and paying tribute to him as he ran a marathon

Jack Dowling: With his late brother Tom (left); and paying tribute to him as he ran a marathon

Everton Performance Coach Jack Dowling has raised more than £75,000 for Macmillan Cancer Support by running 26 marathons in 26 weeks.

The incredible challenge started in Crosby, Merseyside, on October 22nd and finished with the London Marathon on April 24th. Dowling's 26 marathons were the equivalent of running from Liverpool to Berlin.

The practitioner, who has worked with Everton’s first team since February 2022, took on the challenge after his brother Tom was diagnosed with terminal bowel cancer in 2022. Tom was there to support during many of the stages of ‘Project 26:26’, before passing away on March 21st, just before Jack embarked on his 21st marathon.

Dowling was given a standing ovation by the Goodison Park crowd when he appeared on the pitch before last week's Merseyside Derby. Liverpool legend Kenny Dalglish presented Dowling and his father with a Liverpool shirt bearing Tom’s name.

Afterwards, Dowling told TGG: “It was fantastic, a really nice moment for me and the family and a nice moment for my dad, who has been behind me all the way, in the van, beeping if people are in the way, and has been a great support. To get Tom’s shirt from his hero was fantastic."

After his side's 2-0 win, Everton manager Sean Dyche described Dowling's feat as “brilliant and inspirational" and the Performance Coach said he had received great support from both the club and wider community.

“I’ve been called the Forrest Gump of Crosby and the support has been unbelievable - people coming out on bikes, people running, people standing on the road clapping, people gathering at the finish lines. It’s been brilliant.

Mina Cup

“Different members of staff have come across and run with me or gone on bikes too. A couple of the players - Michael Keane and Andy Lonergan - came out with me on the third to last marathon and ran 13km, which was really nice. For West Ham away (on October 29th) the team came out and clapped me.”

Running just one marathon is an incredible feat, let alone 26... in 26 weeks. At certain points, Dowling even ran more than one marathon a week.

“I got injured, so had to take a couple of weeks off, then had to catch up with three marathons in seven days and then three in eight days,” he said with remarkable understatement.

“I trained into it and you try and peak at the marathons, but for me it was more survival. Your body adapts to it and I felt good in the week running up to most of the marathons. My mindset was, ‘I’m going for a longer run at the weekend,’ rather than becoming overwhelmed by it.

“I became very consistent, running a 3:45 to 3:50 marathon. I’ve got that on the dot! A couple of times when I was injured or had to do a catch up one I went just over four hours. My quickest one was 3:36 and my slowest was 4:10. London was my last one, which was fantastic.”

Thinking of his brother was the biggest motivation of all - especially after he passed away before the 21st marathon.

“Tom was unique,” Dowling said. “He was very stoic, a gentleman. Everything he did, he did with passion and pride. He was my biggest fan and I was his, with what he was going through.

“He had a bucket list of what he wanted to do and we made sure we did most of it. He was always super positive about everything, about his treatment and the people around him and always said, ‘Crack on.’

“He knew he was terminally ill, but was positive about it and his consultants said they had never met anyone with his mindset. His legacy will continue. He was with me through the start and the build up to the one with the Anfield leg. We had a lot of attention and he loved every minute of it.

“I’ll always remember us walking through Stanley Park with Peter Crouch and Phil Jagielka, and going to Liverpool’s training ground, meeting Robbie Fowler. Tom supported me all the way through. When he was fit, he was always there.”

And was it hard keeping up with the demands of a busy Premier League season while undertaking such a demanding feat? Again he had a characteristic attitude of "crack on."

"You come to work but it’s not work," he said. "You’re wearing the kit, watching the players train, training the lads. I love every minute of it. The season has been difficult at times, being an Everton fan as well, but we've come through."

Dowling had originally been set a fundraising target of £5,000 by McMillan Cancer Support, but he passed that before even starting the challenge. The total was then raised to £32,500 - enough to fund a McMillan cancer nurse specialist for the duration of the challenge - but he broke that too, so the target was doubled - and he has passed that as well.

The total stands at £75,968 at the time of writing and continues to rise. Macmillan volunteers collected donations before and after Everton’s win against Brentford last weekend.

Nicole McIlveen, the charity's Senior Fundraising Manager, told TGG: “We couldn’t continue to do the work we do if it wasn’t for people like Jack doing these bonkers challenges and we’re so grateful he chose to do so.”

Donate to Jack's fundraising page via JustGiving

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