What does it take to become a ‘Marathon Man’? And no, I don’t mean Dustin Hoffman enduring some rogue dentistry. Just as some of us mere mortals work up to running our first 10K, half or full marathon, Rob Young and Eddie Izzard have completed amazing mental and physical feats that take endurance running to a new elevation, earning themselves the title of Marathon Man.
Extreme races are springing up all over the world, as some runners look for the next level of fortitude. The legendary Marathon Des Sables started on Friday, in its 28th year and is according to many “The Toughest Race on Earth”. It’s an ultra, run over 6 days on a course of around 150 miles, in nearly 50C degree heat. The website claims, “Any idiot can run an Ultra marathon, but it takes a special kind of idiot to run the Marathon Des Sables”. The athletes who run these distances are able to tap into an inner tenacity, that many of us don’t feel we have.
Rob Young had that inner belief. He also had a very unusual start. After watching the London Marathon in 2014, his girlfriend bet him 20p that he couldn’t run 26.2 miles. With an offer like that, what Scot could say no (as a fellow Scot, I am allowed to make that joke). So Rob got up early the next morning and ran a marathon before work. He didn’t stop there though – Rob then ran marathons or ultras consecutively for 420 days, covering the same distance as 476 marathons and 11,700 miles in one year. He won 96 of the races and set some world records on the way. In January 2015, he set off on a 3,100 mile race across America from LA to Washington DC, which he won by 30 hours, even though in the middle of it he flew back to compete in the London Marathon, an homage to the start of his personal journey.
Although Rob had been an athlete when he was young, competing for GB as a triathlete in the 20-24 age group, he hadn’t been running regularly before commencing this amazing feat. Rob has carried on competing in marathons and ultras. Studies have shown that his ability to run marathon day after day is extraordinary and that his pain threshold must be very high. However, athleticism and the ability to tolerate pain do not necessarily make an extreme athlete and he has created purpose from his running that drives him on. He has raised thousands of pounds for worthy charities that support kids. He’s a man who clearly believes you are master of your own destiny, deciding to push himself to unparalleled goals and smashing them.
‘Marathon Men’ don’t have to be athletes. Eddie Izzard is a hero in our house, ever since my brother introduced me to the ‘Definite Article’ when I was a student. I know he’s a man of mind over matter. He has chosen to perform his shows in French, German, Spanish, Russian and Arabic, languages he didn’t even speak, just to challenge himself. He took this fabulous mindset to endurance running, when in the UK in 2009 and with only 5 weeks training he ran 43 marathons in 51 days, covering 1,100 miles for Sports Relief. After a foiled attempt in 2012, due to serious medical issues, to run 27 marathons in 27 days in honour of Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment on Robben Island, Eddie came back in 2016 to complete the challenge. For many people, the weight of such a massive previous disappointment might pull them down, but determinedly he forced his way through, promising to himself and the millions of viewers following him that he would run, walk or crawl his way through the blazing 30C degree heat to complete the challenge and help raise over £2 million for Sports Relief. In his BBC3 documentary, he reads William Ernest Henley’s ‘Invictus’, a poem that inspired the resilience of Nelson Mandela and clearly at times a mantra for Eddie has he fought his way along mile after mile. Not a natural athlete, but a man whose mental strength allows him to achieve amazing physical feats. His great recovery tips of how you can have a beer after a marathon as it has carbohydrates and water in it, show he is a man after my own heart. Yes, I do love him!
Being a ‘Marathon Man’ is not about gender. Let us not forget some of the amazing women who have also been an inspiration to us and no, I’m not talking about myself here. Apparently women in general are 3 x more likely to complete an ultra than men, not because of fitness, but rather because they are less likely to give up. Ellie Greenwood is a two-time 100K World Champion and holds course records for a variety of ultra races. She was the first Britain to win South Africa’s 90 km Comrades Marathon (the oldest ultra-marathon in the world) in 2014, with a time of 6 hours and 18 minutes. That’s averaging at 14.3 km per hour in sweltering heat. We also of course have the wonderful Paula Radcliffe, a marathon legend who retired last year, still holding the women’s world marathon record which she made after just a year of marathon running. She holds 9 other world records and has asthma! These ladies have given their all.
When I trained for my first marathon a few years ago, I was dreading my big training runs. The day I ran 20 miles, it was blowing a gale, snowing with sub-zero conditions. I had to stop various times (which was the first time that had happened in a training run) and came home with a frozen mono-brow and zero belief that I could run 26.2 miles. Then the weather turned and I galloped round my next long training run, feeling invincible (clearly this was only in my head and I have no doubt that I was actually shuffling along, being overtaken by sprightly pensioners). Finishing the race a few weeks later, was without a doubt one of the greatest experiences of my life. I’m not really a runner, but I had said I was going to do it, people had sponsored me, I was being tracked, pac-man style round the route and I didn’t want to let myself down – so I did it! I am the Master of my Fate, I am the Captain of my Soul…
These Marathon Men are amazing and so are you. The first step on any journey is deciding you’re going to do it. So go on, sign up at www.runreigate.com and we’ll be there to cheer you on every step of the way.
Invictus, William Ernest Henley
Out of the night that covers me
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.