On 16 March 2020 at 18:44, everything changed for us at Poet in the City. We had of course been aware of the worsening Covid crisis and knew that the impact would come at some point soon, but the reality of it came starkly at that precise moment. We were at Wilton’s Music Hall with a group of exceptional Latinx poets to discuss the little green notebook of Che Guevara, when SOLT declared that all theatres were to close effective immediately, indefinitely.

One month later, it was due to be the 40th anniversary of the London Marathon, now postponed due to the national lockdown. As one of the largest charity fundraising events this was a critical problem, as many of the nation’s charities rely on the significant amounts raised through events like this. So, the 2.6 challenge was born. 26.2miles. However you wanted. Socially distanced. Online. FUN!

At Poet in the City, we were facing our own challenges. As a live events producer we had lost all our income instantly, our staff team was on furlough, and though we were rapidly developing our commissioning projects and applying for emergency funds nothing was certain. Beyond this, I was in lockdown in Kent and spending exceptionally long hours with spreadsheets and on Zoom calls. I wanted to do something active, positive and that felt like I was making a personal contribution.

Poetry and marathon running are not natural bedfellows (unless you count the Shelley quote taped to my handlebars on race days), so it took me some time to come up with an idea. Now, I’m an Iron-distance triathlete and well known for signing up for ridiculous challenges, but I hadn’t been training at all for months so getting off the couch to just run a quick marathon seemed foolhardy at best. And how was I going to incorporate Poetry and take people with me on a little journey for more than just a few hours…

And then inspiration struck. 26miles, 26 poems. I’d stop and read a poem once during every mile from wherever I was on my run. Even better, anyone who sponsored me could request a poem that they loved. I put together an email to my closest and furthest, printed off a few of my favourite poems and laced up my trainers.

Watch Janet read Harry Baker's "When This Is Over"

I can’t even begin to say how much more challenging fitting a Facebook Live or Instagram broadcast into a run is, with the wind ripping across the top of the hill, having finally warmed up your legs only to cool them back down whilst reading Dryden! I read poems freshly written, 2,500-year-old classics in Latin, 18th century German philosophers, and verses that had spoken to people in the quietness of their hearts or the noise of their heads. Four days in, in true sporting challenge fashion, a back injury flared, and I was side-lined for a few days, but some R&R had me back on my feet 3 days later to finish it off.

All in all, we raised £1,848.15 with GiftAid for Poet in the City. Huge thanks go to Charlie, Lorraine, Stuart Clare & Mari, Lottie & Ellie, Sarah Gourlay, Pedro Zenteno, Claire & Katie, Turner-Pearce Family, Liz, Cathy HD, Ishan & Family, Mary-Alice, Lennie, Max & Orla, Iris & Charlotte, Princess Tiara, Hannah Mc, Geeta Kumar, Alison Rae, Craig, G, Emma Kendall, Steve A, Peter, Fred VJ and several anonymous donors! Your support helped see us through an existential crisis for Poet in the City!

The thing that struck me more than the simple necessity of raising funds was the incredible groundswell of support from people who I know and love, but also those further afield and those who themselves were facing some pretty scary looking situations. It’s an amazing feeling to know that you have a community looking to lift each other up and help wherever they can. Undertaking the challenge in the depths of lockdown and the worst crisis to hit the arts since WWII turned out to be hugely beneficial to my own resilience and mindset. Knowing I had support, getting some fresh air, and feeling like I had achieved something personally really kept me motivated during those months.

Months later, the arts are still facing a pretty bleak future: one that will take more than a few marathons to solve. But, in spite of that I remain amazed and inspired by the creativity, resilience and passion of my colleagues and friends in overcoming these challenges. The work that is being done to amplify voices, improve circumstances, challenge systems, and to hold the line for justice and equality is staggering. The reality is that we shouldn’t have to run marathons to support a net-positive industry, one that is capable of partnering across every segment of our society and economy. Trust me, we’ve even worked with rubbish collectors and molecular biologists. But I’m glad I did. I’m back to training, and there’s something being mentioned about a 100-hour race next summer… perhaps I’ll need to find 100 poems…

Watch Janet read Larry Levis' "The Poem You Asked For"

I am immensely grateful for everyone’s support, donations, well-wishes, motivational texts and for the incredible team and board at Poet in the City. What a year!

Janet xx