Omagh-native Peter Ferris has seen everything from the North Pole to the South Pole, hundreds of marathon finish lines… and even the inside of a Turkish jail cell
While growing up in Omagh, Peter Ferris MBE was a self-proclaimed “lazy sod”, and although he was an avid walker around the town, he was not a runner.
Fast forward to his 66th year and Peter is on the cusp of having completed 700 marathons and other gruelling endurance challenges in which he estimates to have trekked a collective 250,000 miles.
Not only have these challenges taken him right across the globe, but often into some sticky situations and even a Turkish prison cell at one point.
Peter told the ‘WAT’s The Story?’ podcast that he was bit by the running bug when he left Omagh to first move to England, and later Belfast.
He said, “I stayed in a house with 16 other guys on the Malone Road and in those days, I worked in JP Corry as a computer programmer.
“One evening, the guys invited me out for a run and I thought, ‘why not?’ and we went up the Malone Road and I beat the lot of them. They said to me, ‘Ferris, you’re doing secret training’ and I says, ‘No I’m not’. But that just sparked me into the running.”
Peter began to run competitively, starting with a 10km race to a half marathon… and eventually onto every endurance runner’s goal; the full marathon.
“I loved the marathons and then they just became an addiction and I kept doing maybe two marathons in two days, three in three days, and four in four days. I then got into ten marathons in ten days,” Peter explained.
Not content with 26 miles, he has also taken on far greater feats of endurance at 100 miles and even 620 (1,000km).
Marathon running has taken Peter to six of the seven continents. Normally, when people say this, they exclude Antarctica, but it’s Australia that is waiting to be ticked off Peter’s marathon list.
He describes Antarctica as “the most beautiful marathon” he has ever ran.
“To get there was horrendous,” Peter recounted. “I flew from Dublin to Paris; Paris to Buenos Aires and then onto a place called Ushuaia down at the southern fingertip of Argentina. From there, it was a five day boat trip to mainland Antarctica.”
He added, “When I ran the Antarctica marathon, it was minus 25 degrees Celsius which is quite a heatwave for down there. Normally you would expect it to be minus 40 or 50. At the end of the marathon, I just stripped off to my shorts, and they all took a photograph of everybody bare-chested. I went bare-chested and bare-legged but my bare foot was frozen solid onto the ice!”
While the South Pole was the most beautiful marathon he had ever taken on, Peter says the North Pole was among the most brutal where he faced treacherous conditions throughout.
The adventurer travelled to the Norwegian territory of Svalbard to acclimatise for a week before taking on the expedition, where he recounted a slice of Irish humour at the edge of the world.
Peter had forgotten to get some equipment, including a thermal-lined balaclava. “I walked into this big snow shop and in a big broad Northern Ireland accent I says, ‘do you have any balaclavas?’ and the guy says to me, ‘you’re from Northern Ireland’ to which I replied ‘yes’. He then said, ‘you’ve come a long way for balaclavas, Martin McGuinness is handing those things out for free’.”
Despite experiencing things that most of us could only dream of, Peter has had his fair share of nightmares along the way. None more than the years of ordeal which began with a trip to Turkey.
He explained, “Myself and Harold Reilly went out to Turkey in July 2011 and we were trailed the full week by Turkish policemen.
“On the last day of the holiday, we were pulled in at Izmir airport and questioned before being chucked in jail for three days with no food or no water and guns put to our head. We were threatened to be shot and told we were Al Qaeda terrorists trying to blow up Thomas Cook planes and buses.”
Not only were the pair falsely accused of plotting to commit acts of terrorism, but the interrogators said they were also part of the 9/11 atrocities a decade earlier.
“They tried to crack us, but they couldn’t because we were totally innocent people,” Peter added.
Turkish authorities were acting on information provided by Thomas Cook, Peter alleges. After being released after investigators no substance to the allegations, the airline refused to fly the pair home.
Peter says the British consulate “refused to do anything,” but after Turkish authorities helped get their phones and credit cards unblocked, they could book flights to London – without their luggage after Thomas Cook allegedly confiscated it.
Peter and Harold eventually made it home and later told their story to the media. Despite being back on home soil, Peter believes security services targeted him for another eight years off the back of suspicions raised by the affair.
“We were trailed by MI5, MI6; stopped at every opportunity; Interpol got us wherever we went. It just became so stressful,” he said.
Peter was “picked up” by authorities in the South shortly after he competed in the 40 mile Connemara ultra-marathon where he alleges he was pressured into signing forms admitting he was responsible for serious crimes.
“They eventually released me because they couldn’t crack me because I was just after running a 40-mile ultra-marathon and yes, I was weak physically, but not mentally,” he said.
Harold, his companion throughout the whole affair, was arrested at the same time north of the border and released.
Peter says he and Harold both suffer from post-traumatic stress from the ‘eight years of torture’, which is suspected to have stemmed from people attempting to steal their identity.
Despite everything, Peter says he does not regret that it happened as he can use the experience to help others.
Helping people is a common thread that runs through all of the physical and mental challenges Peter has put himself through in life.
Over the 684 marathons and challenges he has gone through, Peter has raised well over £700,000 for various charities over the years.
“The reason I got into running was because a lot of my family have died of cancer and I thought why not do something for charity… so I just started asking people to sponsor me and I got it no problem,” he explained. “The madder and tougher marathons I ran, the more money I got for charity.”
While most people his age are entering their twilight years, Peter has no plans to slow down.
His next big expedition is to follow in the footsteps of Forrest Gump and run from New York City to Los Angeles in the challenge of a lifetime and raise funds for Marie Curie and the American Cancer Society.
Despite his advancing years and having two screws in his foot-which he jokingly claims were taken from his head- anyone would be foolish to bet against Peter in achieving his next great challenge.
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