When most people decide to run seven marathons in seven days or 30 marathons in a month, they usually take time off from work. Not 36-year-old Harold Allen, a Georgia man who works a minimum wage job as a surgical orderly. The hardworking father of four daughters skimped on sleep in order to run 31 marathons in 31 days to raise money and awareness for mental health.
According to Runner’s World, Allen would work from 6:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. during the week at Memorial Hospital in Bainbridge, Georgia, bolt home to spend time with his young family, and then strap on his running shoes in the evenings to cover 26.2 miles, usually by himself. He’d finish his runs between 8:30 p.m. and midnight most days.
He came up with the month-long challenge because he wanted to raise money for Samaritan Counseling Center of Southwest Georgia, which provides extensive therapy options for adults, teens, children and families. He set up a GoFundMe page, with a goal of raising $2,000. In the end, he raised nearly $3,800 for the organization.
So, why run 812.2 miles in 31 days and sleep for just three hours a night on top of working full-time and raising a family (his youngest daughter was born two weeks into this challenge, by the way)? For him, the answer was easy: May was Mental Health Awareness month, and his struggle with depression in the past made him realize how important good mental health care is.
When Allen was 17, he was convicted as an accessory to an armed robbery, a crime he said he did not commit.
“It was being in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Allen told Runner’s World. “In some smaller areas, like Bainbridge, they just pick somebody to fit with the crime, regardless.”
He spent 10 years in jail, and maintains that he came out a stronger and more respectful person because of the experience.
Once he was released, he began working at Taco Bell and fathered his first child. The new responsibilities were a lot to handle, especially after spending the last decade of his life behind bars, so to cope, he turned to alcohol and his weight ballooned to 250 pounds.
Then, with one race, Allen’s life took a completely different turn. In 2014, he was recruited to run a 5K with other Taco Bell employees. No one from his team showed up, but he ran anyway and had such a good experience that he never looked back. From there, he started training for a marathon, which he finished in 4 hours and 35 minutes.
With a goal of becoming faster, he began training with a local high school team and ran his next marathon in 3 hours and 24 minutes.
Three years after his first 5K, he completed his first 100-mile race on Florida’s Amelia Island. He followed that up with three more 100-mile races in the same year.
So, with his hard-charging personality, not many were surprised when he said he wanted to take on the 31 marathon challenge in May.
The miles were tough, but he kept the mission at the front of his mind. He wanted to shatter the stigma surrounding mental illness so more people feel comfortable stepping forward and receiving treatment.
“People out here need help. They want to live in denial. When we come out of denial, it will make our world a lot better,” Allen told WALB.
Allen finished his marathon quest at the hospital where he works in front of a crowd of coworkers, family and friends.
“Thank y’all for coming. I’m tired, I think I just want to get some rest”, Harold said.
And a well-deserved one at that.