7 marathons in 7 days – ‘Week at the Knees’

So the big day arrived and it was time to get running. A lot of thought and training had gone into this challenge, and now it was time to let the feet and legs do the talking!

One big area of consideration was pacing. I felt as though I was fit enough to be running a sub 4 marathon, but this was a completely different challenge. This was about running 7 marathons, one a day. So what pace to do a marathon, then another, and a another….

In my head, the plan was to aim for around 5 hours. By the time I lost a bit to GPS, 11 mins per mile would still see me under 5.

Day 1 got underway, and I started plodding out laps of Willen Lake. This was a lovely setting, and was to be the scene for the first 3 marathons.

There were around 30 runners each day, but intending to do all 7 days, there were 15 of us.

On Day 1 I did quite a few miles around 10 / 10:30 a mile. Late on, as would become a pattern for many days, would see some breaks, whilst I stopped to drink, eat, or put plasters on sore things! Finish time for Day 1 was 4:52:57.

Day 2 brought a visit from my old nemesis, that big yellow source of pain hanging in the sky! A chilly start, but as the hours wore on, the sun shone, and by the end I felt fairly rubbish. The time was 4:53:57, similar to day 1, but it wasn’t until later that evening I realised how much the sun had impacted me.

I felt rubbish that evening, and the next morning I found myself pushing my breakfast cereal around. I chatted to friends and other runners, and decided I needed to tone things down if I was going to get through this thing. So slow it down I did, and day 3 concluded in a time of 5:08:17, but I finished feeling happy again and felt like I was back on track.

Day 4 took us to our first of 4 marathons at Caldecott Lake. Again a nice setting, which I slightly favoured over Willen, a little quieter. I was managing to stick to my slightly slower pace, and brought Day 4 home in 5:01:15. Not all was rosy in the running garden though, as I was starting to get some niggles, in the shape of a pain low in my calf, and a bit of a thigh strain, both in my right leg.

Day 5 gave me some renewed energy as my running buddy Keith had made the awesome gesture of coming up from the Isle of Wight to run one of the marathons with me. Keith had run 2 marathons with me in 2021 when I’d run 3 in 3. I was a bit more guarded in my running, as I nursed the pains in my right leg. The thigh strain faded as we got going, but the calf remained uncomfortable. Finish time for Day 6 was 5:06:37. We had a great time though, with the normal high levels of piss taking and giggles, followed by delicious Fish and Chips in the pub 🙂

Me and Keith Ruth after Day 5

So only 2 days to go, and it was feeling like I might actually finish this crazy adventure. Day 6, saw me take it a bit easier, making sure I protected the calf injury. An interesting thing happened though. As I was running at a very controlled pace, the pain on the calf just kept building. When I got to the last couple of laps (out of 7), I picked up the pace a little, and it actually felt a bit better. A couple of stronger laps got me home in 5:10:12, my slowest time of the week, but hey, we had made it to day 7.

So, here’s the dilemma. It felt a bit better running faster, so what to do. Take it steady again and make sure we get Day 7 finished, or be a little bolder. I went for the latter!

I set out running my miles at just over 9 minutes a mile, much faster than we have done all week. Did it hurt, yes, but at least I knew I was going to finish quicker and the pain would stop!

The pain intensified, and a few times I felt like the calf was being cut open. But this was Day 7 of 7, I wasn’t going to stop. I slowed down a bit, but I pushed on and finished it in 4:14:`14. 40 minutes quicker than the other days and dropping my average time under 5 hours which I was very happy about. Finished Day 7 in 6th position out of 37 runners!

What a challenge it had been. 7 marathons in a row when I’d only done 3 in a row before. 186 miles in a week when the most I’d done before was about 80. It was a massive physical and mental challenge, but it felt massively rewarding to finish it with a flourish, and to see some donations come in for the NSPCC.

Training for multiple marathons – part 2

As has become normal, I wasn’t training from scratch for this one, have completed a marathon in December (badly), there was a base of mileage in place.

I wanted to put some other health benefits in place alongside the obvious running mileage, so set some goals to lose some weight and to drink less booze.

On the weight front, I was up to just a tad over 12st 4lb, the heaviest I’d been for a while, and I could feel that I was carrying that when I was running.

I decided this time that with no trainer to hold me to account, I needed to do things a bit differently, so I bought myself a diary that would see me through to the challenge. A rough plan to mileage and long runs went in, from new year through to the event in early March. Then as each week arrived, I’d take those high level targets, look at family committments on the calendar, look at the weather forecast and put in detailed runs for the week.

Each week got marked in green and red pen, showing with runs where executed to plan, which missed, what other workouts had been done, were we still ‘dry’ since new year and what was the weigh in.

This worked very well and kept things on track.

The alcohol thing stuck for January, then when a few events came along, that soon waivered.

The weight quickly dropped down from 12st 4lb, and then levelled out at around 11st 9lb, which is where it sat up to the challenge.

What has partially derailed all these plans, was a spell in February where I felt like I’d caught Covid. I was howing some symptoms, so immediately isolated away from the family in the basement. It took a week before I finally confirmed I din’t have it, but by then I’d had a week living and working in the basement, eating too much and doing no running.

I’d say the training phase was generally successful. I’d hit my key long runs, built up again and done a couple of 20 milers. I had crammed my runs most weeks, so take breaks on Sunday, Monday, sometimes Tuesday, then squeezed 40 miles in from Wednesday to Saturday, helping simultate the daily gring the challenge would present.

Had a bit of a dress rehearsal a couple of weeks before, where I did 4 x 10 milers on successive days, using the 4 sets of kit I’d be using on the 7 marathons (I did wash them for the other 3 days!).

Training done – ready to roll!

Fail to prepare…

…prepare to fail!

As 2021 developed, the training load took it’s toll. I was running more miles per week (often 40) that I’d done before, week after week.

At some point in the year, the challenge and the enjoyment dropped off an it became a bit of a grind.

I started missing some of the key long runs, and I was missing my weekly mileage targets.

So the Southampton Marathon rolled around, and essentially I was not as prepared as I should have been, I guess I’d lost my ‘mojo’. In reality I had done enough miles to do a decent job of getting round the marathon. However, in my head I was full of doubts as I hadn’t done the long runs I’d have liked.

So I went into this marathon still intending to pace my run as though I was trying to hit 4 hours.

Race day came along, and a few things were going to go against me and put me in the wrong frame of mind. It will sound like minor things, but when you are up against it on a long run, it doesn’t take much to activate the negative forces in the mind!

First up I’m not a big fan of the course, two laps, four times over that bridge and the second lap is very quiet once the bulk of the supporters have gone home. This was a hot day, so conditions were not great. Within the first few miles I witnessed a bizarre incident where a runner in front of me stopped to shout verbal abuse at the people working in the local Covid testing centre. The other piece of Covid relate annoyance, were a few sets of ‘anti-vaxers’ out on the course. I don’t care if someone wants to have a vaccine or not, that’s their business, but I don’t appreciate them coming along to hijack a sporting event, waving their placards and forcing their opinions on everyone else.

So all in all my mood was not great. Then at 11 or 12 miles I noticed I was really sore on my inner thigh. Closer inspection showed a hole in the bottom layer of my shorts, a hole which was starting to shred my skin! At that point I decided I’d be finishing the first lap and packing it in. It wasn’t my day, so let’s call it a day and not make things worse.

The training pays off

Three weeks after running 3 marathons in 3 days, I returned to Goodwood, to run a ‘normal’ marathon. As beautiful as running around the Isle of Wight was, getting back to flat tarmac to try and run a PB felt like a return to my comfort zone. As any runner knows though, trying to run a PB, at any distance is not comfortable!

So training for the 3 marathons was way beyond any mileage I’d previously done. The 3 marathons went well and felt OK, and now having run those miles on top, I now felt I had a decent shot at my PB time.

My PB averaged 8:35 per mile. After a few test runs and a chat with coach Jonny, I set myself a target of kicking off the run at 8:20s. I was confident I could maintain that to at least 16, and if I could hold things together after that, I would be in PB territory.

Conditions were good, but not quite as perfect as my PB run. That was a chilly, overcast and still day. Today was a bit warmer, breezy and they sun was shining.

Off we went with another socially distanced start, and I set off trying to average my target 8:20 pace. I manage that OK, and passed the halfway mark in around 1:49:30, that was 3 minutes ahead of my PB. I still felt ok, but at mile 18, needed to take a quick break at my drinks bag to take on board some lucozade and pick up some more gels.

After that, a few miles at 8:30s. Then miles 23 to 26 were all in the 8:50s region as I was feeling the effects of the early pace and the sunshine.

That brought me home for a PB of 3:44:21. Really delighted that all the training paid off. Can’t help wondering if there weren’t a couple of extra minutes left out there though, with the breezy and sunny conditions. Let’s see if I can find them in the Autumn.

It was great to be back at a race with friends and other runners. The support, the banter and the competition felt so good after all these months off.

Multi marathon events

So I cooked up this challenge, 3 marathons in 3 days, circumnavigating the Isle of Wight. For more details go to the IW Marathon Trilogy page.

I was very interested in how it would feel running more than one marathon. I’d never run the day after a marathon, not even a mile. Would I be able to run a second? A third? Would it get easier? Time to find out.

I’d trained hard for this, see previous post. Jonny had put a demanding training schedule in place, that pushed my mileage up, and worked in some combinations of runs around some of the weekends, with 2 or 3 days in a row of medium to long runs.

From January through to a couple of weeks before the challenge, I managed to do at least 40 miles each week for 10 weeks in a row. That’s a lot for me, and put 2021 well on track to be my biggest mileage year by some way.

So, how did it go?

Marathon #1 – Objective here was to keep the pace steady, and keep something in the tank for days 2 and 3. It was a chilly morning as I set off with my mate Simon, fresh from his recent maiden ultra. We had support for the run from Simon’s mum and daughter, with a few pit stops for drinks and jelly babies.

With Simon after day 1, having just dunked our legs in the very cold sea!

This is a beautiful run around the north east coast of the Isle of Wight. We kept the pace steady, but, towards the end of the run I started to feel tired. This did not bode well for the days to come. We finished in about 4:50, not bad.

Headed home to start replenishing all those missing calories. Jumped in the bath for a soak, and then when I got out of the bath, I got a big clue to what went wrong today when I saw myself in the mirror! My bright red beacon of a face was looking back at me. I was pretty badly sunburnt, no wonder I was feeling wiped out!

Ate lots, drank more, convinced the wife to message my legs. Still felt rubbish, but brushed up on the route for tomorrow and then went to bed.

Marathon #2 – Woke up and felt wayyyy better 🙂

The mistake for day 2 was in the logistics department. Was meeting my mate Keith at the end of the run and driving to the start. Was late as I forgot the all important sun peak, and we underestimated how long it would take to drive back to the start, meaning we didn’t start running until 10:45am.

The run was a brute! 3000ft plus of elevation. The early stage in particular was very hilly through Shanklin and Ventnor, but eventually got to the long stretch of coastal path across the back of the Island.

Me and Keith were not rushing, the objective was to finish tomorrow, which Keith was also planning on doing. We took it easy, stopped and drank when we wanted, picked football teams to pass the time and relentlessly took the piss out of each other!

We had support today from Zoe (day 3 runner) and Steve, who turned up a couple of times with Coke and sweets, which were very welcome.

Eventually after a long day, we ran over Tennyson Down to the Needles and to the finish. Closer to 6 hours today, but we finished happy and feeling a lot better than day 1.

Off home to carry on eating and drinking. Sounds easy doesn’t it, but this was becoming a problem. 3,000 calories burnt on each marathon, plus 2,500 needed in a day anyway. I found that I just could not eat enough without getting indigestion. If I ever multi-day marathon again I’d have to re-think what I was eating.

Marathon #3 – The last leg. Felt OK at the start, and was looking forward to having more company today as it was Saturday. 4 of us started, me, Zoe, Keith and Petya. At halfway Petya dropped out, and Neil, Gareth and Carolyn joined us to make a perfect Covid safe team of 6.

We had fun on day 3, running around the north west part of the Island, along the coast and around the estuary at Newtown. Steve was popping up en route to top us up on Lucozade, Coke and flapjack.

It felt OK today. We did have some wobbles and minor sense of humour failures with 3 or 4 miles to go, but we soon picked up and headed to home for wine and chips!

All done, with day 2 and 3 buddies Keith and Zoe

So the job was done. Was it hard? Of course. As hard as I thought? Probably not. Lesson learned? Don’t forget the suncream. Hardest part? Eating enough calories. Does the body get used to running every day? Yes I think you do fall into a routine of plodding along.

Training for multiple marathons

I don’t profess to be an expert in this topic, but can share my experiences. I was interested in running multiple marathons. I was in awe in people like Eddie Izzard and Ben Smith (401 marathons in 401 days) that run a marathon every day. I had never ran at all the day after a marathon, not even one mile. What would happen if I ran the day after a marathon?

I had arranged a ‘5 in 5’ event on the Isle of Wight in 2020, but of course that was not possible when Covid happened, so in 2021, I set a date for myself to run 3 marathons in 3 days, now I needed to train for it.

This is where I’d love to tell you about some clever training plan I cooked up, but truth be told, it was all taken care of for me by Jonny Mellor (JM Coaching). I agreed what the plan was in terms of the runs, and Jonny set about cooking up some training for me.

The key to this was mileage. The most I’ve run in a year is 1,200 miles, and at the point in 2021 of doing this challenge, I’m on pace to be on for 1,800 miles for the year, so it has got me out doing 50% more miles than I’ve ever run before.

Unsurprisingly, the training is about combinations of runs, and the plan gave me successive days of running 10 and 12 miles, then 10, 12, 14, another weekend might have a 10 and a 20 or 16 miles one days followed by a half marathon. All in preparation for running multiple days on tired legs.

Running lots of miles is hard of course, but having the input of Jonny kept motivation high. I know I couldn’t have kept getting out there if I’d cooked up the training plan myself.

I once asked a friend of mine who is a really talented runner how I could improve. He told me there is no point running 50 or 60 miles a week if it then means you run 10 or 15 miles the next week, you need to pick a target like 40 miles a week, and then stack the weeks up.

In my training for my multi event challenge, 40 miles became my benchmark, and from January through to March, I managed to run 40 miles each week for 10 weeks in a row. I’m hoping that will be the foundation of some good results.

Online coaching

Goodwood Running Grand Prix, Dec 2020

I’ve sought improvement in my running, pretty much since I joined a running club. I’ve read books, followed running plans, written running plans, worked with personal trainers, taken supplements, changed shoes. You name it, if I thought it might take a minute off my marathon time, I tried it.

In 2020 I was struggling for motivation, the come down from doing a marathon each month in 2019 maybe. Then Covid and lockdown, and it really did fall apart.

After running a virtual marathon in June, badly, I decided it was time to venture into a field I had been fascinated by for some time, and that was the world of online coaching.

I made some enquiries and came up with two options. A very nice sounding lady who was put forward by one of the big online training companies, who confessed she wasn’t really a runner but was sure she could motivate me to get out there, or the choice of using JM Coaching, meaning my training would be dictated but Jonny Mellor, a marathon runner with a 2:10 marathon, an Olympic qualifying time. Decisions, decisions!

So my running was now appearing in an online diary for me, planned out by Jonny, and when you know your running data is being analysed by an elite runner that can run twice as fast as you, I found it really did motivate me to pull my finger out!

I had always prided myself on being able to build a decent training plan, but sticking exactly to the plan was another matter. This was different, with coach Jonny dishing out the plans, I was much more motivated to get out there, and soon found that I was clocking up 30 or 40 miles a week.

By the end of September I managed to get back under 4 hours with a 3:55 around the tarmac of Goodwood, and then a week later came maybe my best marathon run to date, not a PB, but 3:58 on the much more difficult Isle of Wight Marathon course in hideous wet and windy conditions.

Was really pleased with the progress, and with another marathon booked in December, it was time for another wave of training with JM Coaching.

December saw the cancellation of Portsmouth Coastal, but once again Goodwood on its motor circuit, closed to the public proved to be Covid proof.

Race day came, and it was cold, a good omen, like my previous PB, a cold day at a tarmac race circuit. Off we went from our socially distanced start, and like various marathons before, I set a consistent pace, and got to the halfway mark at pretty much exactly the same time as my previous PB.

Today’s run however would be different. Every marathon I run involves a slow down in the second half, but today I was able to maintain my form, and hold a very similar pace throughout. The result was getting home 6 minutes quicker than my PB, in 3:46. That’s 6 minutes all gained in the second half of the marathon.

So what’s the answer? Potions, lighter shoes, eating salt tablets, that last chocolate bar…. No. There’s only one answer to running better, and it’s the answer no runner wants to hear, it’s training harder. This year, through adversity, online coaching managed to motivate me to get out there more often and for longer. Thanks Jonny!

2020 – Going Virtual

50th Birthday virtual marathon

The start of 2020 saw a new challenge for me, I was going to get involved in an event involving 5 marathons in 5 days. So the year started off with me training towards that, although to be honest I wasn’t training hard enough.

Then of course, Covid-19 started to unfold, and everything changed.

Truth be told, I’d been struggling for motivation anyway, and when lockdown arrived, and half the country seemed to take up running, I gave up and decided it was time to take a break. It wasn’t like I was sat festering on the sofa, at the start of lockdown I’d started working helping out at the local hospital.

So a month on, and I wasn’t feeling great and knew that my break from running could not continue, I needed a challenge.

So here is my question for today… Is a virtual marathon a ‘proper’ marathon?

When virtual marathons popped up as lockdown relaxed a little, there was a lot of judgement about these events from the running community.

So what do I think? Each to their own is what I think. In these difficult times, if someone needs to motivation to run a virtual ‘race’, be it along the seafront or around their back garden, then go for it, whatever works.

I broke my lockdown slumber, by deciding to enter a virtual marathon with Phoenix Running. A company I’d run events with a few times, and I thought could do with my entry fee. I also decided to do this on my 50th birthday. I knew my 50th was going to slip past with little celebration, so sod it, lets make it a day to remember.

I entered an ‘event’, got the family to buy into in as my birthday wish and away we went. We parked our van on the cycle path, got a couple of running friends to join in (socially distanced of course), and off we went.

Backwards and forwards along the path with different running buddies and family members, on a warm sticky day, until eventually my watch said 26.2. I really suffered for that month off, as indicated by the 4:49 finish time.

So is that a proper marathon? Well there were no official timers, no other competitors and no pacers. However, I got off my backside and ran 26.2 miles, I got a medal, and for me it was a day to remember. I’m going to call that a marathon, but each to their own 🙂

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly!

2019 medals
At last managed to make my 2019 medal rack!

So, I have been meaning to wrap up my year of marathons and not quite got round to it, to here is a little summary of how it went down.

I guess the headline is that I kind of finished it. I had intended to run one marathon each month, but due to injury, the schedule got juggled about, meaning I didn’t finish one in July, and had to skip August.

When it comes to injuries, you definitely need to take care of yourself and listen to you body, but my year proves it’s also partly down to luck. I got wacked in the knee by a cricket ball, which did some ligament damage on the outside of my knee.

After a painful DNF at the Space Race Marathon in July, and then a month off running, I managed to get back up to distance, help by a nice pair of Brooks Ghost, which are much more cushioned than my normal shoes, I think that really helped my knee.

So twelve marathons done, they are listed out on ‘The Marathons’ page. Stats wise that was 262 ish miles of actual marathon running, backed up by around 1000 miles of training. I did around 1,650 miles of travelling to those marathons, and Strava says the marathons burnt around 38,000 calories. That’s a lot of calories, but I have proved that you don’t need to get too skinny if you drink enough wine!

On the travel side of things a big thank you to Red Funnel, that helped enourmously towards my travel costs, which helped me in turn to help the charity more.

The most important stat though is the £3,500 raised for the NSPCC. That was quite hard, but was achieved but organising a cocktail party, a race night, a ‘Frolic’ run, a prize draw, and endlessly nagging everyone to donate (sorry!).

Overall, I absolutely loved the year of marathons. There was always something ahead to focus on, and doing one a month was not too many (compared to the people I met doing one a week!).

Lowpoints – getting injured, the mud on marathon #1, the massive sense of humour failure at the Yeovil Marathon, not being allowed to defer or anything useful by the Bath Two Tunnels organiser when I was injured, and the Portsmouth Coastal Marathon, though I still don’t understand why it was so hard!

Highlights – London for the NSPCC, running past Mo Farah at the Space Race, the 2 minute silence in the middle of the Remembrance Marathon, trips away to run marathons with mates, getting back to run another PB after my injury and the Portsmouth Coastal, yes it’s a highlight and a Lowlight, it’s that confusing. Best moment for me was finishing the Isle of Wight Marathon with my 96 year old Nan there 🙂

Of the marathons, I’d recommend all of them, but would have more reservations over the Yeovil one as I didn’t like the route that much. New Forest as I’m not a fan of running on gravel and there was quite a lot of it, and it was my first run back from injury. Favourites were London, Southampton, Bedford Motor Circuit and the Track Marathon (yes I mean it!).

Thanks for listening 🙂

Marathon #12 – Portsmouth Coastal Marathon

Finished with Step Brother Robert

So marathon number 12 finally arrived, at the end of a year that has flown by.  Sunday was the Portsmouth Coastal Marathon, a race that has mystified me in the past. Having now run it, it continues to be a mystery. How can a run so flat, feel so so difficult.

On Sunday that was definitely down to the underfoot conditions. It is a real mixture, but some areas were very muddy or immersed in water, and very slippery. We saw a few people go down in the mud.

I had agonised over shoe selection, and was left wishing I had a bit more grip. I ran this one with my step brother Rob. He is more used to triathlons these days, but this was his second full marathon.

Preparation was not good.  Training had been restricted due to a sore neck over the last month or so and the night before was a sleepless one, waiting for the 4:30am alarm. We set a steady pace, and all was going ok until we reached 21 miles.  Then the energy sapping effect of the mud hit home, and we struggled for the last 5 miles.

Crossing the finish line!

We got home in 4:36. Second slowest this year, but the job was done.
Reflecting on the 12 marathons, I have genuinely loved the experience. Yes it has thrown up some really challenging moments, but that was the point of doing this. It wasn’t supposed to be easy.

Would I recommend it to other runners, definitely! As long as you have a few marathons under your belt. It is a year where you always have a challenge waiting just around the corner.

Highlights for the year would have to feature the London marathon. Doing that for NSPCC was special, and it is the best marathon I have run in so many ways.  The 2 minute silence in the midst of the Remembrance marathon was also amazing.

From a performance point of view, I’m really chuffed to have got under 4 hours 4 times, and having shaved some time off my PB. (3:52 at Bedford running Grand Prix). Now onto the next challenge!