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14 Marathons in 14 Days
During the spring of 2015 I ran 14 marathons in 14 consecutive days on the trails and pathways of the city of Toronto. Before this I'd run marathons 2 days in a row on only 2 occasions several years ago, and both times it had broken me so badly that I’d had to lie in bed for 2 or 3 days afterwards to recover. I tell you this to let you know that I'm by no means a super athlete, or some sort of great ultra runner. The truth is, I'm just a regular 47 year old man with an interest in nutrition and running and a bit of time on my hands at the moment.
Here on the left is a read out from my GPS watch, listing the distances and times of each days' run. A few friends asked me what it felt like to do these 14 marathons, why I did them and how. So I’ve written this collection of thoughts down for them, and I thought I’d share it with you too.
These are by no means the words of a scientist or a qualified coach, just the words of somebody who is talking about something that he's just done himself. So, you can believe what I say or not, I'm just relating some thoughts, nothing more...
I have to say, I didn’t set out to run 14 marathons. I just wanted to run 3 or 4, then see where it went from there. There are so many people saying that they do their feats of endurance for this cause or that nowadays (like, they spend 4 nights a week away from their family training just so they can run a marathon to raise money for cancer research…really, is that really the main reason they are doing it? It doesn't seem so to me, it's more like they feel like they need an excuse to explain away doing something for themselves to the family/people in the office who understand little but the act of earning money), or just for some personal publicity, that I wanted things to be free and easy with this thing. If I felt like stopping I’d do just that, if I felt like going on, I’d do that too. As it happens it felt right to stop after the 14th, so that’s what I did.
For those who just want the bare bones of 'how', here are the practical details.
The foods I would say most helped me stay fit and able to complete the marathons are;
Salba Chia seeds - (Learn more about Salba Chia here) Salba Chia was the centre of my diet, I'd have several tbsp per day, in my shakes, over my cereal, in my baking, wherever I could fit it in.
Tumeric powder - for inflamation
Ginger - for inflamation
Pineapple - for inflamation
Beans (chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils)
Kale and Spinach
Apple cider vinegar
Berries (blue, black and strawberries) - for inflamation
And if I baked anything like bread of cookies I used high protein flours like spelt and quinoa.
I also added Vega Nutrition Powder, which included 50% of my daily protein need in one scoop, to my recovery shakes.
Helly Hansen Pace Trail Shoes - I wore these on 11 of the marathons. My pair are over a year old and I did dabble with wearing the On Running shoes on 3 of the marathons but went back to these as they felt the more comfortable.
On Running Cloudsurfer Shoes
Helly Hansen Winter Running Tights
Gore Running compression socks, Magnitude top and underwear
To carry water I have a small waist belt. A hydration pack would have been better but mine is in storage and I figured I could get by with the small belt and this was the case.
For the first week I used 3 of my home-made power balls per marathon and no water. It was sub zero cold and I never felt in need of drinking. The power ball recipe is at the end of this article.
For the second week the weather warmed up and I took a 400ml plastic bottle full of Salba Chia fresca with me (the recipe is 2 tbsp chia, the same of lime juice and top up with water). This was just enough to last me for a marathon on a 20 degree day.
I would plan my marathon routes out each night on google maps, and then wear a Tom Tom GPS watch as I ran to tell me how far I had gone. I stayed mainly on concrete cycle paths but occasionally went into the forests when the boredom of city-scapes got too much. The first 13 marathons were just me, running on my own, whilst the 14th was the Goodlife Toronto Marathon.
Most days there was some little niggle in my knees or ankles to take care of. Both my ankles were bruised at times and puffed up/yellow in colour. I used arnica cream on them and this helped. The soles of my feet were always feeling like they’d been beaten hard but nothing happened that made me think I should stop running.
Just as importantly, the injuries to my tendon and also my back that I’d had before the 14 marathons began were barely longer noticeable within the first week of running. The slow running (each marathon was between 4:20 and 5:10 long) seemed to have cured me.
I have run several marathons during the past few years in a conventional way, using 4 or 5 fuel gels per race, and drinking whenever a feed station appeared. This was because the sports nutrition companies generally say that you should top up regularly and that you should consume calories before you feel you need them.
But in the last marathon of the 14 (the Toronto Marathon) it seemed natural to run it differently, to listen more to my body and ask, do I actually need fuel right now? This flies in the face of the sports nutrition companies advice but I guess the previous 13 marathons had given me confidence in my own judgement.
So I only ate when I felt I needed to, which as it turned out was 1 gel during the entire race, and that was only because a guy at a feed station was holding it out to me so I thought I may as well take it. I think this means that my body had got far more used to burning fat whilst I run, or that the sports nutrition companies have been lying to us all this time. It's incredible how we can convince ourselves what we need to do if we blindly take notice of so called science; athletes in poorer countries can't afford gels yet they run brilliantly, isn't it sensible then to assume that we don't really need to take them either?
I also drank far less, stopping only at about half of the feed stations simply because I was drinking when I needed to, as opposed to when I thought I should do.
Additionally, the last 10k of the race was the strongest final 10k I have ever run in a marathon.
As for my weight, I was 72 kilos before the 14 marathons and 70 kilos afterwards. I am not the sort of person who tries to starve themselves and I would advise against it, especially if you're completing a serious physical challenge. Far too many runners are borderline anorexic as they see loosing weight as an easy route to running faster. This tactic works for a little while but your body needs fuel in order to rebuild your muscles and repair any injuries. If you deprive it of that fuel you’ll be on the couch injured, perhaps permanently so, within a year.
I eat well, often, and each day, after my marathons, I was constantly thinking of ways to get more nutrients inside myself. I also took the opportunity of trying out many new foods and ways of fuelling myself.
Mentally, I think that by setting out with no clear goal I had no pressure on myself. Nobody was looking to me to raise funds or raise awareness of a certain project, nobody even knew I was doing this apart from my immediate family (who aren’t interested in running so didn’t understand what I was up to) and Facebook friends. This was good. I gave myself the space to achieve in a completely relaxed environment.
As a result of the marathons I have become stronger mentally as well as physically, it literally feels like somebody has lifted the ceiling off my personal roof and now there are no limits as to what I can do in the world of physical achievement. I understand that there is very little that separates us all performance wise. If I want to climb Everest or run the Ultra Tour du Mont Blanc I know for certain that this is no problem. I just have to ask myself, can I be bothered to put in the training? If so, the experience is there waiting for me. Of course, putting in the training, and scraping together the funds to make it happen, are no small things but for sure my body is not the thing that will stop me doing these things, only my will and my finances can do that.
Another thing to note is that if you're doing something similar to my challenge then you shouldn’t expect the world around you to change just because you are doing something amazing. I guess I half felt it would. I felt that those around me would be full of praise, of understanding, and that afterwards they would have a new found respect for me. But the reality is, in my situation, this wasn’t the case. The only thing's that have changed are my own phyiscal condition and mental attitude.
As for the reasons why I decided to start running, they are, in no particular order;
1/ I had been thinking about trying to create a solid fitness base for the ultra races I have planned for the summer. So I read Scott Jurek’s book ‘Eat and Run’ in which he talks about preparing for his ultras by running back to back mountain marathons at the weekends and I thought, I have no mountains where I am, so how about I run back to back marathons on flat land instead? You’ve got to work with what you’ve got, and back to back marathons in any terrain has got to help a little. This was just a thought though. If the injury that I’ll talk about later hadn’t happened, I’m not sure the 14 marathons would have either, despite my wanting to improve my fitness.
2/ I have interviewed a few famous ultra runners recently and doing so has cut through the mystique that for me had previously surrounded them. I could see that much of what they are supposed to be is just media hype and that they aren’t the natural supermen/women that I’d thought they were. They just train a lot, that’s all. It was also clear that much of what they said and did within the media was for their sponsors benefit, or to appear like some modern day Henry Thoreau character. Since moving to North America I’ve often been starved of authenticity and had thought I’d find it in the ultra running community, but this wasn’t turning out to be the case. There’s much authenticity in the Americas, of course, but it seems like the moment most people here picks up a pen or a microphone, or gets a sniff of a few dollars sponsorship, then any truth they have attached to their soul soon becomes under pressure to fall away, and generally that is what it seems to do.
So instead of just moaning about it I had thought, I can’t be the only person who feels this way, so why don’t I set a better example and do some serious ultra running myself since I’ve got the time and mental energy spare, and do it just for the love of it. Not for the sponsors or to raise my public profile, not for some charity, but just for me, to see how I handle it, to see where it goes. Again though, without the injury, I’m not sure whether I’d have had the get up and go to do something about this.
3/ I said above, ‘since I’ve got the time and mental energy’. This is a very important point. I have time on my hands at the moment, to rest up and mentally stimulate myself, and the importance of this can’t be over-emphasized.
It’s said that over 90% of people who enter triathlons earn a 6 figure wage and this is meant to illustrate that you have to be smart and driven to complete a triathlon. I don’t see it like that at all.
I say that there are brilliant athletes all around us. On construction sites. In day care centres. Driving trucks. Working in McDonalds. Everywhere.
But in order to have the time and energy to train as much as you need to in order to compete to your maximum you need to be doing a cushy, interesting office job that pays well, really. Training hard takes time, and winning takes money. The gear you need (do you ever see a person on a $500 bike winning a triathlon? No. It’s all too often not the fittest athlete who wins, it’s the one with the best gear), the high price of decent nutrition, it all costs a lot. If you’re on a hundred grand a year then no problem, relatively speaking, but this isn’t the case if you’re struggling on twenty grand and tired out from standing up all day doing a mind numbing job. I’m not saying that you have to be in a physically easy, mentally stimulating, high paying job in order to compete in amateur athletics, but if you are it’ll be a hell of a lot easier for you than if you’re slaving away on a building site all day for a pittance.
So since I have the time and mental energy right now it seemed right to take advantage of it, to turn my unemployment into a positive and use the time to try to see what I could do as a runner.
4/ Now to the injury that proved to be the catalyst for the 14 marathons. I injured myself at a 10k race just over 2 weeks ago, the day before I started the 1st marathon. On the start line, just as we set off, I felt my left tendon ping and I ended up running a very slow race which was naturally disappointing to me.
I say ‘naturally disappointing’ as we runners all seem to focus on times nowadays, don’t we. We're all searching for that personal best time, or at least, going as fast as we can. But after that 10km race I sat there and thought, where did this all go wrong for me? Why am I so sad about getting a bad time in this race, about not going as fast as I thought I could. It was a lovely day, the sun was out, the crowds were good, the race was well organised, so why is my timing that important?
I remember being a teenager, going running up onto the North Downs in southern England every night after school, dressed in an old track suit with a bin liner as a jacket, holes torn in it for my arms and neck to go through, and I just ran with joy, 7 or 8 miles every night, and if it rained I loved it even more. I didn’t join any athletics club, I didn’t care about any of that, and when I beat the regional champion over 5km at a school race – well, I thrashed him really, I was out of the showers and dressed by the time he got back in 2nd place – I didn’t ask to be put forward for any competitions or think that I could be somebody in the running world. It was just running, and there was simply nothing more to it than that for me. The love of being outside, of moving, of there being as little as possible between me and what was real, that was so important to me, even though I couldn’t have verbalised it like that at the time.
And now I’m an adult and it’s all geered towards timings, and as I sat there feeling sorry for my injured leg I felt like I’d lost something far more than a personal best time. So I thought, how can I take a positive out of this injury, and perhaps regain something that I once loved.
I knew that I had the Toronto Marathon in 2 week’s time. It was supposed to be a very fast race, perhaps personal best territory, but did I want to do that any more? And if I did, could I even run fast, or at all, with this injury?
There was no way of telling so I decided to try to do one of these long, slow back to back training runs that I’d read about in Scott Jurek’s book the next day and the next, and build a base for the summer. If my leg gives way whilst trying, I thought, then at least I know that I have to pull out of the races I have planned and organise something else to do with my time this year. And whilst I am out there, how about I try to regain some of the joy I felt as a lad, running just for the fun of it. No medals, no timings, no crowds, just running.
So that sort of sums up why I did it. Now to the how.
I set out the next day, a Monday morning, and ran slow. The rain was torrential at times, I felt like I was back in Sri Lanka during the monsoon season. For the first half marathon my left leg felt awful and it buckled 2 or 3 times. I fell once, it just didn’t feel like my leg could hold my weight. I was careful not to try to compensate for it though, I knew if I did that then this could cause problems in other parts of my body. I was going to put my tendon and leg in general through it’s paces and if it failed, so be it.
But it didn’t fail, and towards the end of the marathon I was running ok. Very slow but that was fine by me, I wasn’t looking at the time, or at least, I was trying not to look at the time. Old habits are hard to break.
Tuesday’s marathon was a real test. The west wind was blowing and hail fell, and I guess the temperature was below zero when you took wind chill into consideration. Instead of running in the open, which I felt would have been too much for me – that hail was really hitting me hard in the face! – I stuck to a bike route that was sheltered from the wind somewhat by trees. But this route was just 2km long, so it was a case of going up and down it 20-odd times. The concrete path was easy enough on my leg but not on my mind. So boring, so mind numbing, so hard to keep on going because, the truth is, I am not good nowadays at being present, in the moment. My mind is always racing, and here it could not race anywhere. I had no music playing, nothing to take my mind off this monotonous course. It was good for me to encounter this though and I was so pleased to have faced it and overcome it.
Wednesday came and I thought, why not just keep on doing marathons, one a day, or at least try, for as long as possible. I’m learning lots by doing this, my injured leg seems to be holding up well, I’m getting to see something of the city that is my new home and also, I’ve been having back problems recently due to sitting at the computer for too long. This is keeping me outside, moving, and I feel so much better for it. Obviously tired, but better inside myself.
So Wednesday’s marathon came and went, no drama, and then it was Thursday, and that was a tough one. Snow fell, the wind took it down to sub zero again and I returned home a little shell shocked and tearful having been so cold for so long (the run had taken me nearly 5 hours). But happily, thanks to this litany of slow running, my left leg seemed to be almost healed by now.
Friday it was cold again, and the marathon was my slowest yet, and indeed my slowest for many years. My right ankle blew up after the 21km stage and it was a hobble from then on in. The wind was brutal too, taking the temperature once more to below zero, but it wasn’t until I was coming indoors and the warmth hit me that I thought, wow, I’ve been so very cold for the past 5 hours, how blessed am I to have a warm place to come back to. I pass many on my marathons who have no such luxury. People who are living in makeshift tents in the valley, others who I see pushing their belongings about in supermarket trolleys. How lucky I am to have this opportunity to test myself, thanks to my family, to run, to eat good food that fuels me well, to have a warm place to return to, to shower in, to sleep in.
The up side of running in sub zero temperatures is that I didn’t have to think about drinking during the run at all. I’d have a big drink before I left the house and then I didn’t need to drink again until I returned. I didn’t really feel too thirsty on the runs either; I wasn’t sweating much at all so this had a lot to do with it. As for eating I’d take 3 of my home made power balls with me on each marathon or if I didn’t have them I’d take some regular chocolate biscuits, or cookies that I made. I understand a little about nutrition for runners so know about sugar being bad for me but after the first few marathons I decided to experiment. I had nothing to loose, so why not see how my body fared with different foods whilst I ran?
On Saturday it was time for marathon number six. My right ankle was yellow when I woke up but by midday, after a lot of tumeric and ginger tea, it had gotten easier to walk on, so off I went and the marathon ended up being easier than the day before, I think perhaps because I took more care of my nutrition before the run. I’d spent an hour in the kitchen that morning preparing a new batch of power balls, and some gels (from molasses, maple syrup and cacao), to fuel me and it paid off. I wasn’t trying to go fast, but I ended up knocking twenty minutes off yesterday’s time and finished in about 4:26. Not that this mattered so much, I just mention it to say how important good nutrition is to a runner.
I’ll veer off talking about the daily marathons at this point to go into nutrition more. Several runners don’t think of their nutrition at all. Others go crazy over it. I’m not sure what to think entirely. In the 1970’s runners used to swear by eating a big steak before a marathon, more recently people talked about eating pasta and now some are even scoffing at the idea of proteins and carbs entirely in favour of just concentrating on getting their amino acids. In the meantime, my uncle is dying because what the government thought in the 1960’s and 70’s about what was safe and right working conditions was untrue, so I’m cautious about standing on my own soapbox and shouting about what diet is right and what is wrong because I’ve no doubt if I did say anything with certainty, somebody could point at it in a few years time and laugh about how naïve or uniformed I am/was. Even worse, is my diet slowly killing me, in the same way as my uncle's working conditions were him? Who's to know.
So, all I can say is that I'm a vegan and that my diet seems to have allowed, and helped, me to run these 14 marathons with no major side effects.
I'm a vegan for ethical reasons. I hear several high profile athletes here in North America saying that they’re vegan because it makes them perform better. I think this is appalling. You expect that sort of rubbish from regular people but not from thoughtful vegans. Of course, they’re just saying it because they want to appeal to the paying public, many of whom are scared by the word ‘vegan’, but all the same, it’s a poor show. I wouldn’t care if science told me that eating meat 3 times a day would knock an hour off my marathon time, I still wouldn’t eat it. Caring about all the other living things on this planet should mean far more than running faster in a race or even extending my own life a couple of years.
But as it happens, if you do want to perform better in long distance running then current science seems to suggest that adopting a plant based diet is the best way to do that.
I'm currently compiling a list of recipes that I used to refuel me after my marathons. That’ll become available soon. But in short, after your long training runs you’ll need to reduce any inflammation you may have, and the best way of doing this is by drinking a shake made with anti inflammatory foods such as pineapple, ginger and berries.
You’ll also need to get protein into your body. Some might disagree with that, but at the moment I think it’s essential. I do this by eating lots of freshly, lightly cooked beans, tofu, fresh veg, Salba Chia seeds and by having protein powder in my shakes.
And ‘freshly and lightly’ is my main aim when cooking, anything. I believe that the less you cook things, the less nutrients they lose in the cooking process and if you can bake things instead of boiling them, even better. So, for instance, a great recovery meal would be sweet potato with broccoli and carrots, all baked for just 10 minutes and topped with a homemade vegan cheese sauce, followed by a desert of raw nuts.
I also use Salba Chia seeds in all of my smoothies, shakes and many of my meals. I believe that this ingredient alone has been instrumental in keeping me healthy during my 14 marathons. It gives me protein, all my Omega oils, loads of fibre and many vitamins and minerals. I got in touch with Salba Chia after researching them online, they produce the best chia seed in the world and I wanted to work with them. Luckily for me they felt the same way, so I use their produce all the time now.
Another couple of routines that I have revolve around drinks. I’ll have a turmeric, ginger and apple cider vinegar tea every evening to help with inflammation. Every morning I’ll squeeze half a lemon into a glass, top it up with water and then put a spoonful of wheatgrass powder into it. Then before my marathons I’ll have a smoothie with banana, pineapple, miso paste and spirulina in it. Finally, whilst running, as I've said, I’ve come to enjoy Salba Chia fresca. This is very refreshing, no matter how warm the water gets.
As I mentioned I didn’t have to drink anything whilst running the first few marathons, but by the second week it was shirts off weather and then not drinking during the run wasn’t an option, and this is when I started to take a small bottle of chia water with me.
Getting back to the day to day running, marathon number seven, was awful. Just, terrible. The first 7km were fine but then a wave of tiredness came over me and my pace dropped from 10km per hour to about 8, and at the same time my left ankle felt like it had strained. I knew then, this was going to be a hell of a run. It was just going to be a slog for the next 4 hours with little or no joy to be gained from it. I went into some woodland trails to change the scenery and that was a blessing, because at least when I felt the urgent need to poop I could do so in peace and not worry too much about upsetting any weekend walkers. I usually get my pooping done at home but these marathons - and the near constant eating they entail - had messed my routine up I guess. The last time I had to poop outside here in Toronto though it was minus 20 and you can imagine how unpleasant that is, so to have a very easy plus ten degrees to go in was luxury, and probably the high point of the run.
It just wasn’t my day. I get that in races sometimes, and there seems no logic to it. Sometimes I run well but this seventh marathon was bad and more and more painful as it progressed. It took such a huge effort to remain calm as I came indoors, and not sit there weeping on the floor.
The things that had to be dealt with after the run each day were perhaps just as difficult as the run itself, probably because I was tired by the time I got to doing them. I'd get in and all I wanted to do is lie down but no, this wasn’t possible, I had to make a recovery shake. That took about 10 minutes as I was sooo tired and there’s lots of ingredients. The ingredients vary but mostly it’s stuff that can help with any inflammation, as I’ve already mentioned, such as ginger, turmeric, pineapple, greens, berries, Salba Chia, hemp and some protein powder.
After drinking that, whilst sat slumped on the kitchen floor, I would do some stretching. Then I'd give my legs a massage because nobody else was going to do if for me (which was a problem I could do nothing about; if you've supportive people around you then you're a very lucky runner indeed and I'm envious of you!), take a shower, hand wash my running clothes as I'd need them fresh for the next day and then think about what to cook for dinner as I couldn’t rely on anybody else to do it for me. My family would happily cook for me but so few people understand about food, they think that they have to cook something to death for it to be good when really current science suggests that if you cook it for too long you might as well be eating thin air for all the nutrients it’s going to give you. So I always cooked for myself as I needed to make sure I got the nutrients I needed. And after dinner I used to think about my nutrition for the next day, what I’d need to have for breakfast, what to eat just before I run, where I was going to go, and if I was going to sleep well that night.
Which mostly I didn’t. You’d think that with all this running I was tired right out. Which I was, but that didn’t mean I could sleep well. I don’t know why but I didn’t get more than 4 or 5 hours sleep a night until after my 12th marathon. I just lay there, frustrated, with my legs aching, feeling happy and satisfied but also just wanting to sleep as I thought that this was essential to my recovery.
My eighth marathon in eight days was a real learning experience. I struggled to get out of bed that morning and then, having had breakfast, I struggled to get off the sofa. I lay there thinking of the kitchen cupboards. What was in there? Do I have flour? What about baking soda. And baking powder? I needed energy! Mmm, if I had these things, and more, I could make cookies, and that might help. But I didn’t think I had any baking powder.
So with great effort I got to the kitchen and opened the cupboard, and that was a moment of great joy.
‘Yes, yes, yes, I HAVE BAKING POWDER!!’ So I made cookies. They were lovely, and they did rouse me and give me energy after I ate a few, and later I was to take 4 with me on my marathon and they saw me through that too, so I do recommend them. The recipe is at the bottom of this article.
And then after baking there followed a period of me settling back into the sofa, not really wanting to go out. My wife said to me,
‘Why are you doing these marathons? It doesn’t look like it’s making you happy, in fact it looks like you’ve lost something by doing it, your eyes are all vacant, so why do it?’
It was a question that could easily be viewed as insensitive. My answer could be, thanks so much for your support, so you just want your husband to be a regular guy do you? To earn a little money, to sit back and watch crap TV and talk rubbish about inconsequential matters the same as almost every other man does, do you? To wear hip clothes, occupy his time lusting after other chicks, or pretending he’s smart by keeping his nose stuck in the latest New York Times best seller, Dostoyevsky or Hamsun? To never push his own personal boundaries, to not become as much as he can be…What is happiness, is it more than contentment, is it always linked to being comfortable, to complete repose, and safety?
But that would’ve been unkind of me, as the question wasn’t put in that context and if it seemed to me that it was it’s probably just that I was so tired inside that it was easy to snap at the small things and see a simple question as a personal attack. That was one of the many challenges of running consecutive marathons. It wasn’t just the running that was tough, it was the mental exhaustion, and being surrounded by people who had absolutely no clue as to how tired you were and that you were in the middle of something momentous in your own life.
You could also take the question as a stepping stone to think more, and after a moment’s pause that is what I chose to do. Why was I doing this? Because I said to myself that I would, and if I can’t keep a promise to myself, then what sort of man was I? Was that it? We each have our own bottom line. Part of mine is that I don’t break my word, ever, even to myself.
And perhaps I was continuing to do it because it was becoming clear that it was a journey, and a journey of the best sort.
If you set yourself the challenge of climbing a mountain with a few friends, then it is an easily definable challenge. You bond with your friends, you exert yourself, you may or may not reach the summit. But that is too easy, and if you’re not very careful you will be concentrating so hard on your set objectives that you won’t give the real jewels that the journey is hiding the chance to come into your life.
On the other hand, if you stand before a mountain with no friends around you and say, I’m just going to walk, to climb, and maybe I’ll go to the top, and maybe I’ll just go see what’s around the other side, I’m just going to see what happens day after day, well then you might just have a real journey on your hands.
Plenty of people do the 10 in 10 challenge. That’s 10 marathons in 10 days, usually tacked onto a major marathon event as an extra way to raise funds. They set out in groups each day, supporting each other, and they have an easily definable goal. To run that marathon. Then at the end of each day they probably say encouraging words to each other and get each other motivated for the next day’s run. Again, their journey is so hemmed in that the real value of it will probably not be allowed the chance to enter into their lives.
In summary, it's my belief that you just have to leave space in your journey for the unexpected to enter and touch your life. The process can be boring at times, and in the past some journeys have passed with nothing remarkable happening at all. That is a chance you take, and if in the past my journeys were wasted then it was probably because I was not exhausted enough to really let go inside or experienced enough to travel without boundaries.
But when things do happen they might seem so slight at the time, yet over time they will touch your heart deeper than you could imagine. If you want the chance to see into a different plane of existence then either you plan to have no plans, and that isn’t easy, or you put yourself into a position of complete exhausted abandon to do so. There might well be other ways to do this, it’s just I haven’t stumbled upon them yet.
Anyway, I was about to go out after this discussion with my wife when I got an email saying that Bruno, a dog we knew from Marrakech, had been murdered recently, because dogs are deemed unclean by many uneducated Muslims. He had been poisoned. These murders of friendly dogs happen frequently in Morocco. I was so angry. So very angry.
And before I knew it I had run an hour at a very high tempo. I looked at my running watch and it said I was going 12.5 km per hour.
‘Hang on. I’m supposed to be tired, what am I doing here! I’d better slow down or I’ll blow up at the half marathon stage and not make it home.’
It made me think of Yiannis Kouros, the great ultra runner, who says that he uses soul stirring, Greek music to keep him running when others stop. For me, my indignation and anger at the murder of Bruno had masked any leg pain or exhaustion I'd felt. That was amazing, to see that so clearly in myself. To see my body almost like a bull, and my first mind waiving a red rag at it and telling it to go, go, go, and my body doing just that until my second mind kicked in and said, hang on, wise up, conserve your energy.
And I was shocked, then, to see how easily my body can be tricked. I was a little ashamed of it, for being so dumb, really. It’s my body, surely it should be smarter than that! But no, it’s just as dumb, it seems, and just as capable of moving faster than it thinks it can, as everybody else’s. And my mind is just as manipulative.
So the eighth marathon went ok. I didn’t hurt until about 35kms, which wasn’t bad at all, and I fuelled myself with just 4 of my cookies. The pains I used to feel in my lower back and upper legs, from bad posture due to too many hours at the computer, had now totally gone.
I did have to concentrate hard as I ran though, to try to prevent injury. If there was an ache in my leg I’d focus on it, I’d think what could be wrong. Usually it was me, my posture, so I’d reset myself and all was fine. This all happened in a matter of seconds. But it was constant, as the aches just moved around the body. This was ok, the pains weren’t great, it just meant that I had to concentrate all the time, and that was tough for me as I wasn’t used to being so ‘on the ball’ for 4 or 5 hours at a time.
Marathon number 9 was a good one. I woke to a very sunny sky and the temperature was that sort of perfect blend of chilly but with the promise of getting warm very soon. When I set off it was 5 degrees but within 2 hours it was a lovely 18. I was in no rush so I got myself lost in the woods twice - there are some great mountain bike trails here - and then stumbled upon a public toilet that had a tap. Not very much can match the joy of cupped handfuls of cold water when I've 25km under my feet on a hot day.
My 10th day of running marathons also went well. Things were easier now, I was handling the miles better. It was a lovely 18 degrees; to think that the previous week I’d run my first few marathons in sub zero temperatures, snow, hail and rain. For now I ran much of the marathon on trails under a clear blue, warm sky. It was slow, but who cared, not me! I was now in full flow, and thinking, ok, I shall definitely keep it going now, a marathon a day, until the Toronto marathon on Sunday, which will make it 14 marathons in 14 days. And maybe I shall continue after then, who knows!
On my 12th marathon I took music with me. I'd never done that before. I don't think it will become a feature for me, it might help on longer runs but I do like to hear all the forest around me, but, it was fun and at times when I was tired the sound of The Who and other favourite bands did provide me with a lift.
My 13th marathon was run along my regular route, down the #45 cycle path from Don Mills to Lake Ontario but then I cut off through Toronto city centre to the Toronto Marathon expo centre where I picked up my bib number for the next day’s marathon. I did this in the morning so I’d have a much a rest as possible before the big city marathon.
I’ve made a review and short film of the 14th marathon that you can see here. In short, what happened on the day was a surprise to me.
I really imagined that I was so tired that this 14th marathon was going to be as slow as the others. I didn’t think I had any energy left in me to actually run it as a race. But as soon as the starters gun went off, the previous day’s exertions were almost all forgotten.
At about the 15km mark I began to feel it in my legs. My left tendon reared it's head as well, telling me not to push it too hard. I was on target for a 3:30 marathon, which is far from my best but as good as I thought I could hope for on a day like that and anyway, this wasn’t about timings for me. I told myself that but really, as I said before, old habits die hard and during the race I was glancing at my watch now and again and thinking, mmm, this is going really well, I might be in for a good performance here.
By the half marathon stage though many people were passing me. I resigned myself once again to a slow race and was just happy to keep going and wave at the crowds. It was a hot day and easy, flat running. I considered eating a gel often but when I really thought about it, my body just wasn’t in need of fuel. Not until the 15 mile mark, and then I took one.
And then the final 12km’s came into sight, and it was a mixture of the lovely lakeshore scenery taking my mind off my tiredness and also my mind telling me to lift myself one last time – I had 95% decided that I wasn’t going to run the next day – that helped me to feel as fresh as ever, and I ran that last stretch at an average pace of about 12.5kmh, passing everybody in my sight. It was an exhilarating last effort, totally enjoyable.
So that is the end of my account. I feel I'm much readier for the summer ultras now and whilst I've not lost much weight, it has transfered a fair amount from stomach and arms to legs. I also know myself much more as a runner, and would advise anybody, if they're at marathon running level and want to get better, to do a few back to back marathons. It's not nearly as difficult as it may seem, and it's very beneficial to your mental and physical health.
The aftermath, for me, was that I had to rest up for a week. Aches and injuries that I hadn't noticed during the 2 weeks of running came to the surface following the final marathon. Ankles, shins, knees, hips, shoulders; I guess my mind had kept them under wraps so that I could finish what I had planned. It shows what a powerful ally the mind can be for the long distance runner.
Here is my power ball recipe
½ cup raw cacao nibs
½ cup raw cashews
12 medium dates
¼ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp red pepper
¼ tsp salt
2 tsp melted coconut oil
½ cup goji berries
¼ cup coconut flakes
2 tbsp maple syrup, start with 1 and see how the mix comes together. Some dates are more juicy than others and if your mix is too loose it might not hold together as well when you take it with you running.
¼ cup Salba chia seeds
¼ cup hemp hearts
1 tbs Orange zest
Mix it all in a blender, make into about 15 balls and roll the balls in some ground Salba Chia. Refrigerate for 20 mins, then transfer to an airtight container. I usually use 3 of these balls on each marathon.
Here is my cookie recipe
½ cup coconut oil
1 cup brown sugar
¼ cup almond milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup quinoa flour
1 cup plain flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup vegan chocolate chips
1 Salba Smart chia egg (1 tbs and 3 tbs water)
Dash of cinnamon
Quarter cup of dry cranberries
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees
Thoroughly mix together the coconut oil & brown sugar, then add the almond milk & vanilla.
In a separate bowl mix the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
Combine the wet & dry ingredients, then fold in the chocolate. Roll into Tbsp sized balls & place them on a sheet of parchment paper, then flatten them out a bit with your palm. Bake for between 10 minutes and 20 minutes though, you just have to check as they are baking to see if they're done. Touch the top of one gently and if it's got a little give in it, it's done (they harden up after you take them out the oven so you want to remove them slightly before they're finished).