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The day the London Marathon for tortoises was born

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Nicola Swanborough

The day the London Marathon for tortoises was born

Epilepsy Society's Nicola Swanborough charts the day three tortoises set out to raise money for people with epilepsy and, along the way, established the first-ever London marathon for tortoises. Please note that the government's advised social distancing guidance for tortoises was followed throughout.

And  so, on a sunny April afternoon in lockdown, the first-ever London marathon for tortoises was born.

It happened quite by accident after Epilepsy Society’s tortoise, Tilly, normally of a shy and modest disposition, got a taste of life in the fast lane.

Tilly had raised her game by climbing over 26 books – including the weighty Periodic Table – in order to raise money for the charity as part of the #twopointsixchallenge. Go Tilly!

Buoyed up by the thrill of having her own Just Giving page and a considerable number of likes and tortoise emojis on Twitter, Tilly came out of her shell and, with the confidence of one born to stardom, threw down the gauntlet to Epilepsy Research Uk’s tortoise, Spitfire, to “beat that.”

And Spitfire was up for it.

Not wasting any time, Spitfire, renowned in lettuce patches as a sprinter, began carb loading.

And Tilly panicked, biting off more than she could chew on several levels.

The two tortoises were squaring up online, just at the point of bench pressing, ready to begin the race, when a third tortoise entered the fray. Step forward, fearless Freddie, fielded by Epilepsy Positivity.

Freddie is an 80-year-old veteran who had just been waiting for his time to come. He was already prepping with peas.

“Are those performance related peas” enquires Epilepsy Society.

And at 4pm, the race was on, at three undisclosed arenas across the south east of England – garden patios that had never played to such huge crowds before. And there was only room for one winner!

Pumped up by the theme tune of the Grand Prix, Spitfire stormed down the track with confidence and style.

Tilly, surprised to find Chariots of Fire playing at her starting blocks, paused to appreciate the sound of Vangelis, before tip toeing carefully down the field, hungry not for victory but for the cucumber that awaited at the finishing post.

Freddie – the Captain Tom among tortoises – just took things in his stride. World War 2, the coronation, swinging sixties, moon landing, Donald Trump – he’s seen it all. A London marathon? No problem.

True to form, the eponymous Spitfire romped in first at lightning speed in 13.5 secs – both a triumph and a world record in marathons for tortoises.

Fleet of foot Freddie – the oldest in the race - came second with a respectable 1min 15secs.

While Tilly at 2 mins 35 secs came third but hey, what’s the rush, we’re on lockdown, we’re not going anywhere.

Commenting after the race, Maxine Smeaton, Epilepsy Research CEO, said: “I am humbled by the preparation and hard work the three tortoises put in to highlighting the vital need for investment in the epilepsy charities.  Spitfire is adamant that this is just the beginning of many more strategic collaborations.”

Nicola Swanborough, Acting Head of External Affairs at Epilepsy Society, and manager for Tilly said: “Humbled? I’m gutted we didn’t win. London marathon 2021 – bring it on! Revenge will be sweet. Who said tortoises were slow?”

Epilepsy Positivity added: "Freddie certainly slept well after race day! It was really enjoyable to take part and wonderful to see epilepsy charities coming together during these challenging times." 

If you would like to donate to Tilly’s  fundraising efforts you can do so here.

Or to support competitor, Spitfire, please visit Epilepsy Research UK.

Epilepsy Positivity is an online community for people affected by epilepsy. It raises money for UK epilepsy charities including Epilepsy Society and Epilepsy research UK.

Our thanks to Tilly, Spitfire and Freddie.


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