10marthons in 10days (TiT) – April 19

I’d not had a beer for a week.

This was my training plan for the colossal 10 marathons in 10 days and having just smashed the life out of sobriety I was all geared up to spend the next 10 days running alongside the river Thames.

In bed my wife asked me if I was nervous. I wasn’t nervous, marathons have become my bread and butter having run around 150 of them so I wasn’t nervous about day 1. I was uneasy about the whole series and the toll running 26.2 miles each day would take on my body. I thought about how I would be functioning come the later days of the race, praying that I would not regret entering this and not enjoying it for half the time.

We had planned for an army of helpers to help at home with the twins (now 2.5 years old) bath and bed time routine and the evening meal to allow me some recovery time and my wife some help with me half out the picture.

My plan for this was to achieve a sub 4 hour finish time each day. This was a lot slower than my natural pace and I would see this as a holiday. The race to me was just about completing rather than competing. I had heard that the race had entries from all over the world (USA, Trinidad, South Africa and Belgium to name a few) so I immediately discounted myself for any sort of podium place for this one.

 

Day 1

Collecting my race bib and saying hello to a few of the regulars on the marathon circuit the atmosphere was absolutely buzzing. A lot of runners had adopted the same strategy as me by wearing their most respected race finisher t shirts and vests. Mine had 100 miler endurance run finisher on the back of it. This was a good way to weigh up the other type of nutters about to embark on this race.

I took a few photos and we walked to the start. As well as mentioning the event to a few friends I had met up with the founder of Mole Valley Runners – Debbie Watts a few weeks before who said that her club would be interested in seeing how I would get on with this. Plan was to take a few photos then post them up online. However, Debbie had run the Medway Megalith a few weeks before and had videoed her experience during the race. As I approached the start line I thought I’d give this form of media a go.

The gun went off for the race and I adopted my sub 4hr strategy. Facebook live was on and there I was staring at myself in my phone not knowing what to say at all. As an absolute amateur I was amazed when I saw that people were watching and shouted their names in surprise. “Ian Love!!?. Morning Mate.” Ramblings of a madman. I gave a brief overview of the race and put it down.

To me day one was just about patience, running comfortably and waiting for the finish line. That was until around 18 miles in I noticed that I was actually sitting in third place. “Don’t do it to yourself” I thought, “don’t get carried away this early on”. What if I upped the pace a bit? 1st and 2nd place weren’t too far ahead.

Too late. My mind had got carried away and bored of waiting for Day 1 to be done. I found myself competing! This was not the plan but alas I caught up with both places and lead into the finish for Day 1. 3:45. Not a quick finish but all that was needed. I think we were all keeping it calm and steady.  I came home chuffed, told the wife who instantly knew how my head worked, gave me a bit of a pet talk about pacing myself and we went to bed.

 

Day 2

Hardly slept through the night. No fault of the twins. My mind was completely wired with the race and the 9 days ahead. My legs were mildly fatigued. I hadn’t done any multi day running for quite some time.

Down to the start line which was now the Wier Pub. Day 1 had been the race briefing at the Leisure Centre a few minutes’ walk away. For the rest of the series we would meet at the pub. Breakfast and moaning was available for all that wanted it. Runners complaining of tiredness and some mild aches and pains. Being British I loved the moaning. My closest friends would probably describe me as a serial complainer, whinger and moaner so I fit right into this part of the experience. I didn’t find myself doing too much moaning throughout the race. I would often sarcastically chant the words “best holiday ever” but that was about the sum of my contribution. Still, I loved hearing the moaning.

In the real world these days when someone greats you in the morning with “Alright?” 99.9% of the time the response is “yeah, you?”. A totally meaningless and pointless routine that we as Brits have managed to get ourselves in. Down here on the tow path it was a totally different experience. “Alright?” one would say, only to be answered with a “NO I AM NOT ALRIGHT” with a load of profanities thrown in for good measure. I loved it!

At the start the gun went off and so did my morning broadcast to Ian Love and people from surrounding areas. After the dressing down from the wife about pacing this thing with a bit more intelligence I decided to get back to the sub 4 hour pace. Come on, this is supposed to be a holiday. I hadn’t turned up to this to slog out a quick marathon each day.

Day 2 for me was the hardest. My legs had seized up somewhat and I felt like I was plodding rather than running, dragging the soles of my shoes along the tow path. During the later stages of the day I found myself in second place again. The devil in me again suggesting to try and push for the win. Forget the remaining 200+ miles, just get first today and kick back for the rest of it. Again at around the 20mile mark I pushed that bit harder and lead Day 2 into the finish in 3:38.

I got home. It was Sunday. I hunched over the kitchen worktop cooking the family roast. It was day 2 and I was exhausted. What an idiot. I’m not good at exhaustion and twins playing up after the run today was to be the most challenging. Tantrums all afternoon from Theodore and later on George recreating some sort of sea life show at bath time emptying out the majority of the bath water on the floor got too much.

I decided to utilise the family support network at this point from day 3 onward!

Day 3

My mum had offered to come round in the morning so I could leave in time for the race and Alex (my wife) could have a shower without an audience of two little fellas who would more than likely throw anything they could get their hands on down the toilet or at their mother.

My favourite part of the day was fast becoming the drive to the race where I could get a bit of quiet time, sitting down before facing the 26.2mile each day. Down at the pub we had our allotted time of going through everyone’s ailments. I was asking around if any others were having problems sleeping. To my surprise a number of people were. I asked the race director what was going on. He advised that from his experience this is common. The muscles are all over the shot keeping people awake and the thoughts of the race etc would keep the brain active. It didn’t make for much sleep.

The gun went off, fb live with Ian Love went on followed by a few other names becoming more frequent and away we went. After pushing again on day 2 my legs felt like lead. The race director (Rik) had mentioned that day 3 and 4 would be the harder days for many. A lot of the weekend runners who had entered on just single days would not be around and the reality of what we were doing would start to kick in. The buzz of the start of this race had gone and 7 more days were still ahead of us.

I struggled as I kept up with 1st place (Vincent from Belgium). It wasn’t until mile 14 that my old friend Matt Tompkins appeared in his suit at the local pub who by the looks of things was negotiating some sort of business deal on his phone. I swore at him, gave him a high 5 and carried on. It’s amazing the lift that you can get from any support but when it’s a face you know, I would say it carries you at least two extra miles. I used this and by mile 16 I was in the lead. The sub 4 strategy had now been replaced with a “beat Belgium” strategy each day. This was much more punishing as I now had a live benchmark that was out of my control.

A four hour marathon is fixed. The goal posts don’t move. To adopt a beat the Belgium strategy gave me way too much to think about each day. The typical thoughts going round my head with this new strategy were:

  • How’s Belgium sleeping
  • How often does he refuel
  • What’s he refuelling on
  • Is he fatigued
  • Is he hurting anywhere
  • What’s his recovery routine

I had followed Vincent on day 3 for around 3 miles until taking the lead. Watching his stride, rhythm, arm movement and the way his foot hit the tow path. He gave very little away and the only thing I could take from it was that I was probably taking 1.1 strides for every one of his. We talked for a bit and to my horror found out his marathon time was 2:47, he had run around 300 marathons and if I thought my OCD was off the chart he had every single finish time from 2:47 to 3:47 give or take a few. He also told me he was taking it easy, playing the long game for this 10in10. Great, I thought. Well I’ll give it a go and see if I can give him some sort of race. I staggered in with the third win (just) with 3:43.

Back at home and my head was even more wired now with trying to win this 262 mile race. I had around 30minutes on Vincent. Absolutely nothing given the distance of this! I lay in bed and stared at the ceiling for a few hours before I finally got off.

 

Day 4

The comradeship down at the pub was really starting to build. Runners taping up other runners injuries, giving words of encouragement and people forging some solid friendships. I used the morning to talk Prog Rock with Pitsea runner Davo Davidson before heading for the start line. Vincent and Ruth (team Belgium) would head down to the start line each morning both holding one end of a rather large container full of proper calories and nutrition to fuel their race each day. I was turning up with a banana and an mp3 player which I would use from around 20 miles each day. Other than this I would utilise the penny sweets and chocolate from the Phoenix aid station.

One major downfall of my running is that I am often so underprepared and under packed. I don’t respect distances enough sometimes and this has led to some rather erratic finish times in the past. I was reminded of this on several occasions over the 10in10 by the Luptons and Katie Simpson who seemed to enjoy reminding me about Brighton 2018 (the time I forgot my shoes). I mean, what sort of wally actually does that!

Anyway, fully dressed, the gun went off. Still committing (and feeling rather stupid) about doing the FB live every morning I noticed it was gaining momentum and becoming a highlight of my day. I was even getting a few regulars!

The race on day 4 was comfortable. I managed to hold Belgium off for the win in 3:36. Back at home my sister in law Jo had provided us with dinner and also helped with the bath time (twins bath time, not mine). Sleep was still an issue. Magnified by my thoughts of the race, what to say on FB live and who I needed to thank etc I was getting bogged down in social media admin. Not to mention the thought of having to take on Vincent every day!

 

Day 5

Day 5 was a good day. For starters the twins had nursery. I dropped them off rather excited as once todays run was finished the house on my return would be empty and I’d get some proper sofa time in.

I decided to up my game in terms of my refuelling strategy and so started to bring my own stuff. I say stuff. 1 x banana and some Lucozade. Bizarrely my legs were now starting to feel rather fresh each day, almost like my body had now understood that it was required to run a marathon every day. I had been alternating shoes every two days and started to get a bit of pain in my left ankle from my black pair. I decided to can these and stick with my grey ones (Brooks Ghost 11’s).

10d
Taking on the Belgium drop bag

A few fatigued faces at the pub and the ritual of the morning moan picked me right up for the start. I had a massage booked at the finish on day 5 with Vicky Burr which I was very much looking forward to. I thought that it wouldn’t matter how hard I push myself as there would be some healing hands at the end of the race. I had a comfortable run and put in my fastest time for the series for the win with a 3:27.

The massage begun and Vicky asked me how shy I was. “Not very”, I replied thinking she was going to ask me to pop my top off and get myself on the bench. (The bench being under the gazebo and visible for all runners at the turnaround point / finish line). I had put enough dosh in the kitty for a 45 minute session. This was enough time for pretty much every marathon runner to reach the aid station and have a good look at what was going on and shout a joke or two out. The likes of Rob Cowlin and Rich Watts chipping in and placing their healing hands on my head before turning around to get back out on the course. Thank god they weren’t around to see the glutes being exposed and worked on one at a time. I’m not shy, but I do find it slightly bizarre that fellow runner Vicky has massaged my bum whilst it being on show one half at a time for all the 10in10 (TiTs) to see.

Once finished Rob Cowlin came back in again from another lap. Rob was no stranger to me having run a number of races with the fella beforehand (See Samphire 100 blog). I need to be careful because this could easily become the Rob Cowlin show at any point. The guy is hilarious and managed to keep moral up with the TiTs by creating themed playlists each day to which he would sing along to. At the end of the day the competition was to guess the theme. A prize was given to the winner if the guess was ever right. I was close once but found it so difficult as our brains were turning to mush. We discussed recovery techniques that afternoon to which I responded that mine was running around after the twins. Rob didn’t really have a routine apart from drinking a few tins by the river each evening. He confessed that he found it hard enough getting to the start line each morning on time let alone the idea of having young children.

After I got home I noticed that Rob had started a live feed on fb. He was coming into the finish line and had hit a low point. Telling his listeners how hard he was finding it on that particular day and close to tears. I have a lot of admiration for Rob and anyone that displays themselves so openly as he does. I had a number of low points like this in the race but never really displayed them.

 

Day 6

Day 6 came around and spirits seemed lifted at the pub. We were over the hump. Whilst mentally people were getting stronger physically some TiTs were falling apart. People’s routines started to include tapping up blisters, aches and pains. An array of colourful sports tape being applied all over the place. I caught up with Rob again who asked me if I’d ever tried Emu Oil. I had no idea what he was on about, politely said that I hadn’t and got on with my duties of hanging bunting up over the gazebo for running friend Sarah’s birthday.

The gun went off and I lead the race out. I had started to run the first half with the faster half marathon racers who kept me company. They would then leave me with my thoughts after completing their distance where I would go on for the remaining 13.1 miles. The weather was really heating up as the week went on and Vincent showed no signs of fatigue or stress with the changing conditions. He was still way too close to me for me to be comfortable and ease off the pace each day. I got to the 20 mile mark and really slowed down. A whole host of negative thoughts going through me almost to the point where I wanted to pack up and leave.

After a bit of good old British moaning to the race event team I plugged my headphones in and slogged out the remaining 6 miles I had. It was the worst run of the series for me but amazingly still 1st place with a 3:29.  I got an over the top finish photo for the day.  It had left me quite tired though and what with it being another nursery day I found myself spending a bit of time at the finish line before finding the energy to leave.

10in103
Finish day 6

Rob came in for a few supplies. He took his socks off and got out a bottle, unscrewed the pipette and applied a liquid that had the same consistency and visual likeliness of what can only be described of seamen all along his lower leg. This was his Emu Oil. Never mind Holland and Barrett, it looked like the guy had robbed the local Sperm bank. We both had a right laugh about it so much so that rob spilt some of the contents of the bottle on his shorts. It looked like he really (I mean really) was enjoying his race. What a hero! It was snippets like this that really made the 10in10 for me. Moments of comedy gold shared with others on the race.

Robbing the sperm bank

That night a few of us went to the local pub to celebrate running this race and Sarah’s birthday. In my fatigued state I drove home to my old house. This was the sort of mental capacity the race had stripped me back to!

 

Day 7

Bank holiday Friday. Hot! Today’s route would take us past a heavily used boat club, the pub we attended the night before and the marina. I’d opted out of Emu Oil but had bought some salt tablets to keep me from cramping and my stomach flipping. They seemed to work but experience with them has made me a bit cautious when taking them as they leave me feeling so thirsty for the whole day.

The run was a swelter and not helped by the tow path being heavily crowded with bank holiday people. That said I survived the run and the tow path with the salt tablet strategy for another 1st with a 3:30. I mentioned jokingly in the live feed in the morning about feeling so inferior with my lunch bag containing a banana and Lucozade compared to Belgium’s kit and took a photo of it just to demonstrate the psychological battle that was going on in my head.

Vincent came in close behind me and we both agreed it was one of the tougher days with such a congested route.

After running more than 18ish miles it’s very hard to remain polite to walkers, bicycles, dogs and dog leads that break up your natural stride. It hurts to start up again to the extent where you feel you should have right of way over anyone and I think a lot of us were feeling the frustration.

 

Day 8

I’d started sleeping a little better. Having won the last 7 days outright the sub 4 strategy that had become the beat Belgium strategy was now becoming the Sub 3:30 strategy. Whilst I keep hammering on about it I cannot express how close I felt Vincent was to taking first place each day. My strategy throughout the days was to get a good lead early on. This was a punishing strategy as it meant that I was easily exposed in the later miles of each day. The poker face had to be maintained to hide the pain of holding the lead each day. Any weakness would spur Vincent on at any time to take it away.

My brothers girlfriend Sandy entered the half marathon race on day 8 and it was great to see her slamming down her first ½ on such a hot day. As we approached the start line I was greeted by fellow TiTs Lua and Zara who had seen my FB live video and provided me with an Ice box full of proper fuel for marathon runners. There was a small ripple of laughter from the TiTs as photos were taken of me with my enhanced drop bags to place next to team Belgium.  We were also treated to my brother in law Steve showing up at the start of it. Again providing a lift to see us round the course. My mum, brother and the twins showed up on the last couple of laps. Whilst this is a real lift it did put time on the clock running a few steps with the boys at the finish of each lap but I was hammering it down on what was looking like my fastest day yet.

10c
My enhanced drop bag courtesy of team Italy

At mile 23 disaster struck and cramping in my abdomen bought me to a walking pace. This was it, the day Vincent would cut me down. It had to be. I was not concentrating on the race, playing up to the family I had neglected the salt tablets and was now in quite a lot of pain. I slugged down the Lucozade whilst mum asked how long roughly I had left. “I don’t know, somethings wrong. Maybe 30minutes at best”. Great way to scare my mother but I reassured her that I knew what I was doing. After the Lucazade the cramp seemed to miraculously disappear. Fatigued and with the brain not fully in gear I decided to go out for the last time without any water. After another mile the cramp was back and I was down to a hobbling pace again. It had to be over. The clean sheet would be taken by Vincent any second now.

Luckily fellow TiTs Helen and Davo were spotted and I felt confident enough to ask for water. Straight away without question Helen pulled a bladder from her shorts and I was healed. I didn’t question where she pulled the fluid from! Davo then provided me with a top up and I was able to reign in the last mile for a 3:27 and thankfully a clean sheet – 1st even though we walked the last few metres with the twins.

10e
Me with the sprogs

Day 9

I woke feeling a bit depressed that this was quickly coming to an end. I also thought that at this pace it really felt like I was playing a game of Russian roulette with my legs. It’s a vision I had been having since day 5. Whilst I had a few hiccups along the race I was amazed that legs were still working and no injury had come. Anything can happen in the long distance running game and injury can come unannounced at any moment.

At the pub more tape and muscle cream was being applied. Some TiTs had now dropped their distance each day, others in agony but still determined to complete the race. The place was fast becoming a scene from a war film but spirits were still high with just two days to go. I felt a bit awkward by feeling fresher each day as the race went on. Still chanting “Best holiday ever” and Rob with his catchphrase of “It’s cheaper than proper therapy” we made our way to the start.

At the start line a quick joke with Belgium where I said I would be more than happy to slow the pace down if he was. I started out with the faster half marathoners again and lead the TiTs out. I only had to hold it together for two days. Again thoughts immediately turned to thinking about where Vincent was, would today be the day he’d get out his 2:47 marathon and cut me down. Around lap 6 (mile 17ish) I went out and was surprised not to see Vincent where I would expect to see him. Finally I saw him walking in where he said to me “It’s over”. I carried on and on the return leg walked in with him to the aid station. We were both devastated and I tried everything to selfishly keep him in my race. His quad had totally gone giving his knee a lot of pain. The roulette vision that haunted my mind on the sleepless nights had come true and the gun had been fired on Vincent. Vincent told me to keep running and finish the race for him. This got me a bit choked up and was a real low point on my holiday.

For the rest of the race I was in a slump. With Vincent’s race over mine was as well. People commented that I looked fed up. I was. I came in with a 3:33 – 1st place.

10g
Two heartbroken kids at the finish of day 9

Day 10

The drive to the start was emotional. The 235 miles prior to the day had been a rollercoaster both physically and mentally. All that was left was one last push, 26.2 miles to see this off. If I put in a respectable marathon time the Phoenix 10in10 series would be mine. No Vincent to strike fear into my head, thoughts of me being cut down by an unstoppable force. I didn’t come to compete in this thing but this was just the way the race went for me.

Down at the pub it was photo mad with a team TiT photo, lots of hugs and talk about how strange the return to reality would be.

There is nothing worth mentioning about the race apart from all the cheering all the TiTs were giving each other on that last day. The team spirit out there was phenomenal. I kept my cool and put in a 3:29 – 1st place clean sheet.

What was worth mentioning was the support I got from friends and family for the last 6miles. I had Becky Hall who I am amazed has come to a few runs now to spur me on who quickly became my water boy for the back end of the race. My Godmother Joy and her daughter Laura also getting excited as the tension of the finish line loomed. My mum turned up on the last lap with my sister in law Jo, niece Jemima and then finally Jo Manby, my wife and two boys who walked me over the final finish line.

I am forever in debt to the people listed here and others that helped with duties outside of the race so I could continue to carry on for the 10 days. They had taken the strain of my day to day life so I could be here.

I had won the TiT marathon race. All the camera phones came out. Rik handed me all my race SWAG and shook my hand as I quickly made it to the rest of my family.

My usual routine was to leave pretty much straight after each race but on day 10 the atmosphere was so alive with family and friends that I couldn’t leave. I had to see some newly made friends cross the line. I was there a while and my family had all gone home. It was the most emotional finish line I had ever seen and one I am not likely to see again. I could name them all but I loved seeing people like Rob Cowlin, Rich Watts, James Welfare, Richard Keatley, Lucy Fern and Ollie Dawson to name a few cross the line. I wish I could have stayed for everyone and I apologise that I didn’t!!

I loved being a TiT and whilst some people do not want to repeat the process the chaos inside me would love to do this again.

I must thank in no particular order: Alex Staples, George & Theodore, Mum, Jo Ashworth, Jo Manby, Debbie Livingston, Rik Vercoe, the Marshalls and all the TiTs who took part on this amazing race. Mole Valley Runners (a club I have now joined!) for their continued support via the MVR marathoner’s page and all the people of FB spurring me on. Without you lot I wouldn’t have been able to have done this.

I am still trying to weigh up what I found harder. The 100 miler or the 10in10. Jury is still out. 100miles in a day is an amplified marathon where the stress, tension, fatigue and all things psychological are so overwhelming that it requires such a determined mind to complete.

The 10in10 is a relentless slog day in / day out. Finding a routine that can fit to complete the journey. Each day being tough but never at the stress levels of 100miles. But I have to say for experiences, comradery, friendships made and character building, I think a 10in10 outweighs a long ultra any day!

 

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