From Zurich to Mount Zion… and everything in between

February 17th, 2017 Posted in Supporter Stories
John and his father crop
John with his dad Ted, who died of cancer in 2009, and son Aaron.

“Hi my name’s John, and I have a running problem.”

John Kinchen, from Hayling Island, Hampshire, used to do the Paris to Hayling cycle ride each year, but felt that doing nothing in between this 300 mile jaunt meant something was missing. Edging towards what is possibly the healthiest self-titled ‘midlife crisis’ ever, his first tentative step towards his running ‘addiction’ was completing the London Marathon in 2006, at the age of 43, in aid of Help the Hospices (now Hospice UK), followed by the Paris marathon the following year.

Then, in 2009, John’s father Ted, his best friend and  his ‘partner’ for everything sports-wise, died of cancer. “Dad received such tremendous support from local community palliative care services based at Rowans Hospice to help him remain comfortable at home, surrounded by the family he loved, so  I wanted to do something different to remember him, and to repay the clinical team for all their fantastic help. A friend suggested, ‘Why not run 12 marathons in 12 months?’”, and so it was.

“I wish you could bottle that feeling when you cross the finish line”

John with his medals from the ’12-in-12′ marathon challenge he completed in aid of the Hospice.

As there aren’t enough marathons here in the UK, the challenge took him to Europe. Just like an addiction, he thought he could and would stop at 12, but his travels inevitably led him to realise that maybe there were marathons in every country in Europe… And of course there were, and of course, he couldn’t stop. “It becomes a part of who you are; I wish you could bottle the feeling you get when you cross the finish line”, says John. “I only ever compete with myself; it’s not about the other runners. Knowing that I’m raising money for a good cause – it’s the inspiration to keep you going through the good times, and the not so good times”.

At the time of writing, John has completed 49 marathons in 32 different European countries, taking him from places as far afield as Istanbul to Sofia, Vilnius, Stockholm, Helsinki, Zurich, Malta and even Paphos in Cyprus. He has also run marathons in Iceland when the volcano started erupting and in St Petersburg just after Russia had invaded Crimea. “There have been huge differences between marathons. In Ljubljana, Slovenia, I paid just very little to get a whole runners’ pack, complete with 3 running shirts, rucksack, towel and shoe bag; it was great! In Sofia, Bulgaria, on the other hand, I didn’t even get any food or drink at the finish, and in Paphos, they took you through the airport’s arrivals car park and up and down a new stretch of dual carriageway three times!”

There have also been particularly difficult runs, including running 26 miles on sand in the Netherlands, running at night in Luxembourg or in 30 degree heat in Riga, but he believes that only further cements his determination and sense of personal achievement. The only time John ventured out of Europe was to run in Israel. He justified it by saying that Israel was in the Eurovision Song Contest, so it “must” be part of Europe…whereas in fact, he just fancied running around the old city of Jerusalem. Running up & down Mount Zion still remains one of his running highlights so far.

In 2017, John is looking forward to running in Serbia, Macedonia, Norway, Romania and Montenegro between April and October. His endeavours have even inspired him to write a book, the proceeds of which will go to Rowans Hospice. It functions as a sort of humorous and insightful Trip Advisor for marathon runners, and contains some of the hilarious escapades he’s had along the way, as well as some of the more colourful characters he’s met.

“Running marathons can be quite lonely, and it makes a big difference having someone else to train with”

“You actually get to recognise and know other runners. A couple of years ago on the plane to Budapest, next to me was someone called John I’d met running in Vilnius the previous month. Then last year while travelling to Ljubljana, John was there again, sitting in the row in front of me! It just goes to show there are many crazy people out there…but I wonder if they’re all called John! We’ve now become friends and running companions. Running marathons can be quite lonely, and it makes a big difference having someone else to train with and egg each other on”. He also advises that it was important to get enough sleep, eat well, find a running buddy, and definitely get the right shoes!

And what about hitting the running ‘wall’? “I don’t have a universal tip for everyone, but I know in Budapest I discovered by accident that a slice of lemon definitely helped to get me going again!” Eating well and getting enough food is an essential part of running any marathon and it can become obsessive during a race. “Probably the most bizarre items I have eaten are pickled gherkins in Scandinavia and salt-covered dry brown bread in Russia. In Istanbul, there was a distinct lack of food anywhere, so I had to resort to grabbing a handful of Doritos from a spectator! The funny thing is that I don’t even like them normally!”

“You can do something big or small, because every £1 does make a difference”

Of course, this all sounds rather epic, but John has words of encouragement for anyone thinking of completing a personal challenge to fundraise for a good cause, and it certainly does not have to require the endurance to run several marathons! Anyone can set themselves their own challenge do something amazing for charity.

“I know that Rowans Hospice appreciates every single pound I have raised, regardless of the fact that it’s from running several marathons across Europe, which is my own personal, and rather crazy, choice. You can do something big or small, because the money we raise makes a very real difference to them and the care they can give to people like my Dad and our family.

I hope I might have inspired people to take on a fundraising challenge this year. I plan to complete my European marathons in 2019, and I’m not sure what I will do after that, but I know I will keep going. Maybe I’ll meet some of the people reading this blog right now on a future run!”

Having taken some time out of running since Christmas due a minor hip operation caused by a cycling accident, John and his wife Lesley will be making a ‘comeback’ to the running scene by doing the Race with Rowan on Sunday 26th February 2017. See you there, John!

12/10/11 PM John Kinchen 50 of Hayling Island who is running 12 marathons in 12 months to raise money for the Rowans Hospice Picture: Paul Jacobs (113612-3)

Take on your own challenge today!

Rowans Hospice has running events to suit all ages and abilities, from the Race with Rowan 5k Meerkat Adventure and 10K Timed Trail and Road Race, to charity places on the Great South Run and Brighton Marathon. And if running’s not your thing, you can walk, cycle, dance, abseil or even bake cakes and drink coffee – opportunities to get involved in fundraising events abound, so set yourself the challenge to do something great for your local Hospice care charity this year.



John in Poland for the Krakow marathon

In Iceland for the Reykjavik marathon with son Aaron


In the lovely Ljubljana, Slovenia


Being interviewed for Zurich radio


Running on sand in the Netherlands

Running is tough in Riga’s 30 degree heat

Crossing the line in Budapest, Hungary


Running through Jerusalem’s old city

Care to stay in touch?

We'd love to tell you about the latest news and fundraising activities.

Sign up to keep in touch


Follow us on social media