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7 Marathons in 7 Days
Toughmann seemed liked an event worth experiencing. A 10km distance with 1,000 ft of ascent and 25 obstacles to overcome sounded intriguing, and there was a light-hearted, non-macho feel to the race website which made me think the aim of the game was to provide a testing challenge rather than a chance of permanent injury. Add to this the location - the Isle of Man, a place I've visited before and know to be beautiful, friendly and well worth seeing more of - and it's no suprise that I was very tempted...
My only issue, when I was considering signing up for it, was whether a 10km adventure race was worth the long-ish journey. I live in the south of England so to get to the Isle of Man involves a 2 hour commute to the airport, 2 more hours of hanging about and then an hour or so of flying. Which isn't that much travel, admittedly, yet, it was more than a couple of hours in the car, which is what it generally takes me to get to the London Spartan, Tough Mudder or Dirty Dozen events. Could I possibly get more out of the trip if I just thought about it a little?
Five minutes of pondering had me come up with a plan. I'd go for a week rather than the weekend and I'd run a marathon every day, with the Toughmann Adventure Race being the last 10km of the final marathon distance. That way I'd see a lot of the island and the trip would feel to me more worthy of the travel time and expense. Now I know that running a marathon every day for a week is no small thing but earlier this year I'd run 14 marathons in 14 days so I was pretty certain I had what it took to do it. I was to discover, though, that running 14 marathons whilst based at home is very, very different to running 7 marathons whilst staying in a hotel. Not easier, perhaps, but having no access to my home comforts, especially my blender, certainly handed me a new set of challenges.
I had no time or headspace to plan my daily running routes before I arrived, apart from the first run. The week before I left for the Isle of Man I'd had an epic 130 mile run to contend with so what with getting myself hyped up for that, and then recovering from it, I just couldn't begin to think about future marathon routes apart from that first run that I'd complete on the afternoon of arrival. Google maps showed a cycle path leading across the middle of the island from the town of Douglas where I'd be staying to Peel on the opposite coast that, if I ran it both ways, would offer me a traffic free, flat-ish marathon to start off with. It sounded ideal. With that in place I felt confident that I could get my adventure going and then fill in the route gaps by speaking to locals or searching websites after I'd arrived.
I decided to travel with hand luggage only to cut down travel delays; I was due to land in the Isle of Man at about 14.30 on the Sunday and needed to get a marathon in that afternoon so an hour less waiting around at the airport for my bag was an attractive prospect. Obviously this effected what kit I could take and required a bit of thought. I'd need trail and road shoes, ideally, and running kit for changeable weather, and then there was the very muddy Toughmann Adventure Race to cope with, I'd be wanting some old trainers and clothes for that, I guess? And I'd like to Skype home and do social media updates so my laptop would have to come with me, and of course my running nutrition, I couldn't leave that behind...
Well, all that couldn't fit in to my hand luggage, so here's a list of what I considered the bare essentials.
My flight arrived late but I was off the plane, in a taxi and heading from airport to the town of Douglas within 10 minutes. I asked Pat, the taxi driver who was to take me about all week to the start point of runs, to stop briefly at Tesco's so I could pick up some supplies. I wouldn't want to leave the hotel room that night after the marathon, I'd be too tired for that, so I needed to get some food ready, as well as have some snacks handy for following days.
I loaded up with 3 litres of pineapple juice to help with hydration and inflammation, 12 apples, 6 oranges, 10 bananas, a bag of spinach, a pot of humous and a pack of brown pitta breads. That should do it for starters, I thought.
Pat dropped me at my B&B, the Inglewood, by about 3.30pm. Rain was falling and a heavy storm was forecast but Andy, the B&B owner, cheered me by leading me to a spacious sea view room.
He'd upgraded me, he said, he thought that since I was staying a week I'd appreciate the larger room and the view. He was right, the room was huge and to see the sea right there out of my bay windows lifted my spirits. It was a stunning, relaxing, chilled out sight and I knew that I'd look forward to returning to such a room each day, it would be a perfect place to recouperate after each marathon.
I'll describe each day's running soon. But first here's a short film I made of the runs and the Toughmann event, to give you a brief idea of how it all went. I'll try to include what I consider is vital information in the route descriptions afterwards but if you need to ask any questions, please go ahead via email - firstname.lastname@example.org
Here's my film.
Below is a map showing the Isle of Man; my running routes are shown in purple. Together with the route descriptions and links listed below it should give you a start point if you're looking to plan your own adventure on the island.
Below that are are my distance and time statistics for the week, gathered from my GPS watch.
There are a couple of things that need explaining.
Firstly, on Monday 27th it appears as though I haven't done the full marathon distance. This was because the watch lost it's charge early, and stopped working just over a mile from the finish.
Secondly, on Friday 31st I didn't do 32.75 miles, I did just over 29 miles, but I caught a tram for nearly 3 miles and forgot to stop the watch whilst I did so.
And finally, on Saturday 1st, the watch says 22.16 miles, that was the distance I covered up until the start line of Toughmann. To get my true distance for the day, you have to add on the Toughmann event, which takes total mileage up to just over 28.
During the challenge I did think of naming this a '7 Ultra Marathons in 7 Days' adventure but it seems a little silly and boastful to do that now I've thought about it, even though technically it's true since anything over a traditional marathon distance of 26.2 miles is considered an ultra nowadays. But an ultra should, in my opinion, be substantially over a marathon distance, and my runs weren't, so marathons they will be.
The first run took the cycle path from Douglas to Peel. I got my information here - www.iomguide.com/heritagetrail.php
As with all of my runs I took the following 'fuel' with me. A 500ml bottle of water which had a couple tbsp of chia seeds in it, along with a dash of spirulina and a sachet of lemon flavour vitamins. Then an orange and a Push running gel. I found that this was sufficient as the weather was always around the 15 degree mark so I never sweated too much, and I'm used to burning fat now as I've run many marathons so don't tend to need too much solid food during the course of a 3 to 5 hour run.
The webpage where I got my info states that the route is just 10 miles one way, so 20 miles there and back, but my GPS watch clocked the out and back route at 27.22, as you can see. Perhaps this was because I ran all the way into Peel and also because my start and end point was at the far end of Douglas promenade.
It was an easy, flat route and perfect for a stormy day as whilst it was blowing a gale on the coast I stayed relatively dry because the route is often flanked by trees. The path is easy to find, you just head out of Douglas on the main road to Peel and when you get to the main roundabout look ahead and left, opposite the pub, and there will be a service road with a sign on a wall saying 'Pedestrians Prohibited'. Ignore this, it's only relevant during TT week. This is the start of the route and very soon you'll start to see notice boards telling you about the 'Heritage Trail'. This is a route I found myself using often during the week, in one way or another.
My second run was down the west coast, starting just south of Jurby and following the Coastal Path to Peel before taking the Heritage Trail back across to Douglas. I got my route information from here - www.iomguide.com/roadgull.php
The first 4 miles were very slow; I struggled to get my pace above 3.5mph. I thought that perhaps this was due to the unstable surface of the stony/sandy beach but the next evening I was speaking to my sister back in the UK and she said they'd all been struck down with a stomach bug. None of the household could eat anything apart from toast, and they'd all taken the day off work. This was what was slowing me up, it was clear in retrospect. I didn't feel like eating or drinking, either during the run or that night and every step was a big struggle. After the beach section the Coastal Path followed a track slightly inland which was overgrown in places, although never difficult to follow. I found during my week of running that whilst the footpath signposting could have been better I never lost the way for long, and I was never carrying a map with me so as long as you spend a little time familiarising yourself with the route online the night before you run, you should be able to find your way quite easily. Then once I reached Peel I got onto the Heritage Trail and made my way back to Douglas. I had a meal booked that night for a decent restaurant called 'Coast' but it wasn't the best experience for me, I had scant appetite and what I did eat felt like it was going to come back up at any time.
I'll take a break here from route description to talk of food. Ideally, when I finish a marathon or any hard workout I refuel with a fruit and superfood smoothie. That would usually include pineapple, bananas, nutritional powder, maca powder, chia seeds, ginger and a pint of water. I find a smoothie perfect as I rarely actually feel like eating when I'm exhuasted yet I know I have to get the nutrients in if I'm to recover quickly. But with no blender available to me in my room I had to eat the fruit, which I often just couldn't do, and make up a quick-fix drink of nutritional powder, maca and chia seeds. This was one of the biggest tests for me, trying to recover from a marathon each day without what I would call the correct nutrition.
Another challenge was just doing the stuff you have to do after a run, which at home you might have some help with. Like, washing out your clothes, or massaging your own legs, or fixing yourself a hot drink when you really don't want to get up off the bed to put the kettle on!
My third run started in Castletown and followed the Herring Road to Peel, before taking the Heritage Trail once again back to Douglas. I got my route information for the Herring Road from here - www.iomguide.com/herringroad.php
The route signs aren't great on the Herring Road and I got lost several times, and once I reached Glen Maye I just followed the road into Peel rather than try to find the route once again. It was pretty at first though, passing through a damp, wooded glen and then a high, misty peak. The going was firm yet I still felt rough from the stomach bug so I was slow once again. My right knee had started to ache on the Sunday so I'd taken to strapping it up with a full leg stocking and at times a knee brace but on this third run the brace started to rub the back of the knee so to try to prevent sores appearing I took that off and just tried to hobble without compensating too much with my left leg. This was an injury I'd picked up the previous week on my 130 mile run and it was to stay with me throughout this 7 in 7 challenge. It wasn't enough to stop me finishing anything but it did contribute to a woefully slow pace, which in turn meant I spent more time running than I should have, which cut down the recovery time available to me.
My fourth run took me down the Coastal Path from Douglas to near Castletown before picking up the Millennium Way back to the Heritage Trail and then onto Douglas. I got my information for the Millennium Way from here - www.iomguide.com/millenniumwaytrail.php All of the previous runs had been almost entirely on the trails, which had been great. The first half marathon of this one was also on trail, and a most beautiful one at that. The coastal path may be overgrown in places and rather difficult to run on with any speed, due to it narrowness and sheer cliffs, but it is incredibly scenic. There were lovely views every step of the way, and plenty of deserted beaches too. I'd recommend any runners, or walkers, visiting the Isle of Man to take this walk. Added to the scenery is the old world charm of the steam railway that runs between the path and the distant road. In many places the road is too far away to hear, so what you're left with is the lowing of livestock and the tooting and chuff chuff of the steam engine. There aren't many places in the world where you can have this experience, which conjures up memories of gentle times long past. After I got lost just north of the airport I headed inland and picked up the Millennium Way, which followed minor roads north for several miles before picking up the Heritage Trail back to Douglas.
My fifth run was along the northern section of the Millennium Way, starting near Ramsey and continuing over the high central part of the island until the Way crossed the Heritage Trail, which I once again followed back to Douglas. Like the previous day's run, I got my information for the Millennium Way from here - www.iomguide.com/millenniumwaytrail.php This was my favourite run of the week as it had the most beautiful, desolate scenery and plenty of it. There was a stiff climb at the start but then the Way levelled out for a while before offering just 2 more climbs to handle and 3 long descents. In all it was perfect trail running. The ground was mostly solid and the grass short so I didn't have to keep watching for rabbit holes or other problems that might potentially cause twisted ankles. I got lucky with the weather, and for sure, you will want to check the forecast the day before if you want to get the most out of this run as mist often covers these highlands. The Way is marked well but as it crosses Snaefell you do have to search hard to spot the markers across the hillside and a little low lying cloud might make this impossible to do. As it was though, I had perfect weather. A little cloudy but with great visibility.
My sixth run started at Jurby, as my second run had, but this time I took the Coastal Path north and around the tip of the island before following the minor road back to Ramsey and then the main coastal road to Douglas via Laxey. Again the beach running was slow going but I didn't mind, I saw 5 or 6 seals floating a few metres offshore and since I was in no rush to get back I stayed with them until they got bored and sank beneath the calm surface. My objective was to complete the mileage and leave enough in my energy stores to get up one more time and run the next day, so I moved slowly. The rain became heavy as I neared Laxey and the electric tram stopped just as I passed the station so I hopped on for just under 3 miles. I knew I had more than enough mileage planned to cover my marathon (I ended up running over 29 miles this day) so it was no big deal to cover a couple of miles by tram, and escape the bad weather at the same time. If I'd had more energy I'd have taken the Coastal Path all the way back to Douglas as I was told it's as lovely as the path south of Douglas is. Next time I'll consider that option.
Day 7 was the big one for me. I had to get my mileage in before Toughmann started on the other side of the island at 1pm, so I began running to and fro along Douglas Promenade at just after 5.15am. The promenade is just about 2.5kms long and with perseverance I managed to churn out 13 miles by breakfast. I popped back into the Inglewood B&B, refuelled, and then met Pat the taxi driver outside at 9.30am so he could take me to Peel, where I'd take on the final part of the run up the coast to Ballaugh, where the Toughmann event would begin. I'd already run the Coastal Path south along this particular route on day 2 so I stuck to the road this time, just taking it easy as it's a nice stretch to run along. Not too busy and with fine views over the sea to the left. On a good visibility day the mountains of Ireland appear impressive across the sea but on this day although the sky was the clearest blue the horizon was flat with sea morphing into air seamlessly. I arrived at Ballaugh at 12.30, there was just enough time to collect my race number and stretch my legs out before we started. I was tired, my knee was aching badly and I was going to have to take this race very slow but at least I'd made it to the start line!
Hopefully the film gives you a fair idea of what the Toughmann Adventure Race was all about. Overall it was a challenging, fun, scenic and muddy race. To pad out what the footage shows I'd add the following.
There was a really friendly, casual atmosphere from start to finish. Usually at obstacle races it isn't like this. Your fellow competitors might well be friendly but the spectators are mostly only there to cheer on their own friends or family rather than the spectacle as a whole, whilst at Toughmann the crowds were there to support the event as well. This might seem an insignificant point but when you're taking part in an event and the crowd is cheering you on, regardless of if they know you or not, it's really heartening.
The relaxed, friendly attitude was apparent during the race as well. There were marshalls dotted along the course and at each obstacle but whilst at other races if you don't complete an obstacle you're made to do 30 burpees or handed a time penalty here it was a case of, 'well, it's your choice, you've paid your entrance fee, if you don't want to do the obstacle it's up to you.' Of course, if you're a front runner and your rival skips a few obstacles and wins as a result of the time they saved over you then you're not going to be too happy, but I suspect that didn't happen in this race. The general vibe on the Isle of Man is an honest one (there's virtually no crime at all even during TT week when thousands of bikers visit the island and the alcohol is flowing freely, there's something about the place that chills you out and makes you want to act decently) and I felt this on the start line. If the prize money was raised and you started getting hard core overseas athletes in who's desire to win might overwhelm their desire to do the right thing then this relaxed attitude might have to be addressed, but for now I think it's a unique feature of the event that I appreciated very much.
The runners were released in waves of 50, yet these waves weren't pre-arranged. If you wanted to get in the first wave to have a clear run at the obstacles then it was just a matter of getting to the front of the queue of runners by lining up first.
As well as a prize for overall winner there was also a 'King and Queen of the Mountain' award, for those who first reached the top of the big hill that loomed over the start line. I managed to come around 130 out of roughly 660 entrants on this hill stage but my knee stopped me from progressing well and eventually I finished in 181st position which considering the exertions of the week I was pretty happy with.
The obstacles were fairly standard - tyre carry, net crawl, monkey bars, cargo net climb, reverse wall, 12ft wall, slippery curved wall, skip filled with icy water, tunnel crawl, etc - yet where this event really excelled was in the amazing views it offered from the top of the hill, it's stunning sections of trail running that took in the views out to see and inland to the mountains, the gully descent and also the mud traverse.
The gully descent was spread over a km or so of downhill and you were moving along a narrow stream-bed with room for just one at a time and ferns, nettles and thorns close in on both sides. There was plenty of scope for injury here as the stream bed was largely hidden due to vegetation and it was covered with unstable rocks; it made for a technical, tough descent if you wanted to take it at a hard pace and for slower runners like myself it was just a really interesting adventure trail. I loved it, very different from the exposed hillside running but every bit as memorable.
The mud traverse was pretty special too. Full immersion was a must although the pool wasn't deep enough to have to swim and there was plenty of getting out and in via slippery, exposed banks to tax weary muscles.
Every finisher got a race t-shirt and a voucher that they could exchange at the bar for beer, cider or soft drinks. The sun stayed out all afternoon and since there was plenty to occupy families - mini obstacles for kids, a band playing and many spectator points around the obstacles - the event was crowded until the prizegiving ceremony at around 4.15pm.
A bonus was that you not only got free photos of yourself in action, they were sent to your Facebook page almost immediately. Before the event I'd had the option to enter my race number and sign up to have my photos delivered to my Facebook page but I couldn't do that as I didn't know my number until the day. So, I signed up for this free service online when I got back to my room after the event and within an hour 12 photos had been added to my page.
What a cracking week of running. I'd seen a great deal of the island, taken part in a challenging, unique race and tested myself in a new environment. My only slight mistake, in retrospect, was in making the Toughmann event the end of my challenge. If I'd had made it the first thing I did and then continued doing marathons for the following week, I could have finished off with the official Isle of Man road marathon, which takes place the following weekend. But that's a small thing; overall, what a great adventure it had been!
To discover more about the Toughmann Challenge, please visit www.toughmann.com
I stayed at the Inglewood B&B
I ate at a number of places, the following I can recommend.
I used running nutrition, and running and travel kit, from the following companies.
And to discover much of my local travel info I used www.visitisleofman.com