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7 Marathons in 7 Days
I left this project open ended; I’d run a marathon every day with no fixed goal in sight and see where the experience led me. The Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon was just over 3 weeks away from my start date and it would be nice to continue the runs until then, I thought, but that wasn’t going to be a guiding star for me, only one that I hoped to reach and perhaps surpass if I felt fit and interested enough to do so.
Marathon 1. Sunny, 18 degrees
The route took me through Sunnybrook Park at first, where I generally do my regular exercise. I wanted to keep this exercise routine up on top of the marathon running so I slowed down here and took quick breaks to get my reps in. 5 sets of 40 press ups, 5 sets of 15 dips and as many pull ups as I could manage, which isn’t much right now, about 3 each set.
Then I was off down the Don Valley pathway to Taylor Creek Park, climbing concrete steps through the forest and emerging onto O’Connor Drive, moving onto Woodbine and on past the Danforth to Woodbine Beach.
I took a little water with me on this first run but discovered a wealth of public fountains en route, in Sunnybrook, then at Woodbine Beach where there’s also toilets, and then again at my next destination, Cherry Beach, so on future runs I wouldn’t take any water at all and just drink deep whenever I got to a fountain.
From Cherry Beach it was a simple, straight run up the Don Valley again, about 15km on cycle-path, to complete my 42km route. It was a rewarding route scenery wise and one that I was to make use of almost every day. That was a mistake of mine, I'm certain that if I’d have put more effort into creating new routes at the end of each day I’d have stayed interested past the seven day period.
Marathon 2. Sunny, 20 degrees
Lovely running weather again and after my stop in Sunnybrook to get the exercise routine over with (today I gave my arms a rest and instead did a stomach crunch/plank/yoga routine) I made good use of the time by listening to a Rich Roll podcast for half of the run, a smart conversation about dealing with depression, I recommend it if you're not already acquainted with Rich's work -http://www.richroll.com/podcast/kevin-breel-depression/
My marathon fuel was home baked chocolate cookies and energy bars. In the past I’ve liked to use gels but I’m uneasy now about the non-degradable packaging. Just think of it, all the marathons going on around the world and most of the runners using 4 or 5 of these silver packets every race, as well as during their training. Just where is all that rubbish going after it’s swept up? Landfill? Surely we who love to run in the outdoors environment can’t continue to act like there's unlimited landfill space, can we? Or that it’s ok for us to use those gels just so we can run a few minutes faster…
And that’s not even taking into consideration the dubious ingredients that are in some gels. The health and fitness world has got so confusing recently that it’s near impossible to satisfy yourself that what you’re consuming – whatever product it is – hasn’t got at least one ingredient in it that’s doing you more long term harm than good.
So I made my own fuel, according to recipes I’d originally sourced from the likes of Scott Jurek and Rich Roll and adapted to my own tastes, and I carried the cookies and bars in a paper bag that fits easily into a waist belt which also holds my small camera and house keys. You can see the cookie recipe at the end of this article Here
And when I got back from each run, I'd make a shake from a few simple ingredients to guard against inflammations and to try help me recover quickly.
Here's a film showing the shake making process.
Marathon 3. Showers, 19 degrees
Random things happen every day whilst running; much of it lifts the heart. Today it was kids’ toys left outside at a public playground. Just left there, with confidence that nobody was going to steal them. Amazing for a new immigrant such as I to see this as it just wouldn’t be the case in my own country. English people would be too scared to do this.
On previous days I'd passed football pitches that had their nets up even though there was no game on (the nets are actually left up here all season). Back in England there's little chance of this happening, certainly I've never seen it happen. I remember, as a kid, the caretaker of the local football pitch would stand guard before and after games to make sure we didn't play kick-a-bout in the goals. I'm not sure what breeds such ill-spirit, does the vandalism come first or is the vandalism a result of mistrust? Well, it was just nice to see that here in Toronto, in a not particularly wealthy part of town, kids can leave their toys out without them getting stolen or wrecked, and anybody can use the football pitches anytime without being made to feel like a criminal.
During past back to back marathons I’ve always felt tired at about the 35kms mark but I must be fitter nowadays as towards the end of the runs I just felt boredom and frustration rather than fatigue. Although the scenery was amazing it was the same views each day and since I took each run slowly - averaging just over 5 hours for the marathon – I had ample time, after a podcast and a little music, to mentally discuss matters past and present with myself. Which is ok, until I started to think about all I wasn’t doing…
As I mentioned, I’m a new immigrant to Canada. I’m searching for work, trying to create a meaningful life, to learn and study and also maintain relationships with friends and family. And I just wasn’t getting much done whilst running these marathons. Generally I’d wake up at 7am, get breakfast, be out running an hour later, get back about 2pm, eat, stretch, shower, process the photos I’d taken on the run and then start cooking dinner and more running fuel if needed. By the time that’s all finished it was early evening and I was getting tired; too tired to job search as effectively as I’d like to have been doing. Too tired to talk about anybody else’s day, or to watch decent films, or read. Too tired to learn Bengali (the language of my wife’s family, that I want to learn) or French, the dual language of my new country. All this neglect didn't feel good to me.
Marathon 4. Rainy, 25 degrees
I was doing my dip reps in Sunnybrook when an older guy, about 60-ish, walked out of the woods and took to the bars next to me. He lifted himself off the ground and then, rather shyly, in an east European accent, said
"I've always wanted to do this, to lift my legs off the ground and support my weight, ever since I was young. I couldn't do it until a few months ago." He looked so proud, and then, slightly embarrassed perhaps that he'd shared this important moment with a stranger, for he left the bars and walked off into the forest.
Lake Ontario was a dead calm, it was a time when ghosts could walk among us. No wind, no noise, hardly any people on the boardwalk either being a week-day, the water held me for minutes, looking out to where liquid merged with mist. Beautiful.
Marathon 5. Sunny, windy, 15 degrees
On the boardwalk at about 28km I slowed to a walk so as to enjoy the sun on Lake Ontario more. No reason to rush past such joy (and, being so slow on these runs anyhow an extra few minutes here or there made no difference to me). Trevor, a fellow vegan runner and good friend, ran past and since I haven't seen him in a while I tried to keep up with him, glad of the chance to talk.
I was getting bored with my running, and disenchanted with my reasoning. I was enjoying the scenery each day, the fact that I had to eat lots to regain my calories (and I do love to eat...) and the tired feeling that comes with running marathons yet, apart from the issues I have already highlighted, there seemed to be very little challenge for me in running back to back marathons on a route I knew well.
My body was coping ok with the stress of exercise and I had no injuries bar a few niggles. My diet was ensuring I’d get up each day as recovered as I could be and with energy to spare. I couldn’t put in a 3:30 marathon each day, true, that was too much for me, yet even if it hadn’t been I’d have questioned the sanity of doing it. What would be the point? To travel faster through the landscape, along that beautiful shoreline, and thus miss much of what was so appealing?
So what I was left with was the thought that it was all simply a mental exercise, a 5 hour meditation if you like, which is fair enough but even that was losing its appeal.
“Ok, I can do it, I’ve proved that,” I’d think over and over, “am I going to keep on proving it for the next 3 weeks? Why? I'm not trying to be Dean Karnazes, that's not my lot in life. I know I can do these runs, I'm so sure of it that the actual doing of them feels like just a formality. Shouldn't this sort of thing be more fun and fulfilling?…”
Obviously thoughts like this could be me trying to fool myself. True or false though they’re no good for motivation so when Trevor passed it was a great opportunity to distract myself away from such negativity/truth.
Marathon 6. Sunny, windy, 15 degrees
A slow marathon, for 3 reasons.
1/ I was tired.
2/ Toronto, and the Lakeshore in particular, was a glorious sight, and I couldn't run 5 minutes without having to stop and soak up the beauty.
and 3/ I added in some extra workout at Sunnybrook Park. A few final exercises were a lovely way to end the run, as the sun returned to the cool.
My right knee began to ache more than is usual during this run. It wasn't the sort of sharp, localised pain that tells you that you've got to stop, right now, although neither was it the sort of dull, vague pain that is something to be expected and thus ignored. It was between these, and I was unsure as to how best to deal with it, other than smother it in arnica and eat extra amounts of turmeric, ginger and berries/pineapple. Maybe I was reaching a physical limit.
Marathon 7. Sun/Clouds, 11 degrees
I ran much of the way with Trevor, along the coast just east of the city, around Scarborough. Great scenery, we also saw some deer, there was a bit of a headwind at times and I had very achy knees at the end of it. Very fast compared to my other marathons, mainly because I split it into 2 (first 18 or so kms in the morning when I had very limited time available before I walked my wife to work, the rest whilst out with Trevor in the afternoon).
I sat on my bed afterwards, rubbing arnica into my ankles, feet, knees and calves and once again questioning the point of doing what I was doing. This time another issue cropped up; in the back of my mind I'd thought that by doing this series of marathons I might be setting a good example, showing what a vegan diet can do for you. I’m no trained athlete but I am doing some exceptional runs, I’d thought, and since my success is entirely down to my diet then maybe I can turn people onto a plant based diet if I make loads of social media noise about what I’m achieving.
But I wasn’t feeling the success of this idea, you know. I wasn’t feeling that I was getting any message across at all. Perhaps I was imagining that I wasn't getting the attention I deserved, in which case, great, my ego always needs to be taken down a peg or 2. Although to be fair to myself it could have been another thing beside this awfully self centred part of me breaking through. To my friends I guess I’m just the running guy. Fairly one dimensional, focused on sport and perhaps travel, so why should it come as any surprise at all that I’m running a marathon every day. That’s what I do, right? I was feeling that perhaps my message was being dulled by familiarity. I certainly wasn’t hearing that any of my friends were cutting down on meat or dairy as a result of seeing what the vegan diet was doing for my health. I didn't take this thought too seriously though, I'm so used to feeling that I'm doing a number on myself that I believe almost nothing I think with the certainty I had in my youth.
Marathon 8. Cloudy, very windy, 8 degrees
I started, as usual, in Sunnybrook Park. A racoon crossed my path and I knelt down to feed it some of my cookies. I really enjoyed the 5 minute exchange, far more than I was looking forward to 40 more kms. I moved up the trail onto the forested ridge, the leaves were turning orange and red on some trees and I took my exercise reps slowly, so as to spend more time here. Once out onto the Don Valley trail it was no good, I couldn’t gather enthusiasm for the ongoing marathon. Here’s a snapshot of my mental conversation. Note, I’m not saying any of it was not just an excuse born from laziness, I do try to monitor myself and not trip myself up but I know enough to understand I can’t cover all of my own bases, all the time, and excuses will slip through.
“This is boring. I’ve got such good stamina that there’s no challenge in this. It’s like asking a fluent French speaker to read out loud in French for 5 hours. Of course they can do it. They’ll get bored, but there’s never a doubt that they won’t be able to do it. Same thing with me and marathons. Yes, my legs hurt, especially my knee and yes, I’m tired but I’m stubborn enough to tough it out. If I’m really dead set on finishing 25 or 30 marathons then it’s really just a formality and if that’s the case, who am I doing this for?…”
“What am I trying to do a marathon every day until the Scotiabank Marathon for anyway, so I can boast a little about how tough I am? So I can infer that I’m fitter or in some way more unique, if that’s even a concept, than others? Isn’t it pretty rude of me to turn up to the Scotiabank start line so tired that all I can do it plod around the course? Hundreds of people work hard to make this city marathon a success, for others just to finish it will be a massive achievement; shouldn’t I give it more respect that I am doing and treat it as a one off, rather than just part of something else?”
“I’ve been meaning to make up a few posters this week, advertising my photographic services, maybe even my dog walking services, posters that I can put up in local supermarkets and community centres, yet I’m always too tired to do it. I should be working towards contributing to my household, not taking on this selfish challenge of mine. I’ve got to start earning a wage, there are bills to pay and even if I can take care of those with savings I want a fulfilling life, and that life won’t just build itself, I have to start working on my direction!”
“That comment on Facebook today, some guy saying that my food advice isn’t for everybody because I’m a pro athlete who clearly has an income that allows him to buy supplements, has worried me. I’m unemployed, I don’t have much money, I just make intelligent food choices. Instead of buying junk vegan food like fake popcorn or whatever I buy apple cider vinegar, pineapple, that sort of thing. Yet if people think I’m rich and that what I say doesn’t apply to them, am I explaining it all wrong? Sure, they could just be making excuses for their own laziness with such comments but if there’s a chance I’m coming over all pro-athlete and that my diet is inaccessible to the average person, surely that negates part of what I’m trying to do? I really need to re-think my approach…”
"I didn't learn a single new thing this week, no books have been read, I'm not increasing my language skills, and god, my right knee aches. Is this the sort of quiet injury that'll creep up and cripple me by 60 if I don't take care? I might have to start taking into account that I'm not as fit and unbreakable as I like to think I am..."
So at just after the half marathon point I quit. I went home, showered and started working on my advertising posters and applying for jobs. I didn't feel too bad about quitting; I mean, bad enough to write an explanation like this but not bad enough to carry on, anyway.
The week long marathon streak hadn’t been wasted. I’d thought on that 8th day that I'd learnt nothing yet I was wrong, I'd learnt a fair bit, including…
1/ If I’m going to do this sort of back to back marathon thing again I’ll work hard to create challenging new routes every day so that I don’t get bored with seeing the same scenes every day. I'll also bear in mind that perhaps 7 days of back to back marathon running might be approaching my limit, now that my knees are getting older and worn.
2/ I love being able to run marathons but the speed at which I do them generally doesn’t bother me so in the future I shall run a marathon a week, just for fun, no speed-work involved. It’ll be part of a enjoyable keep fit routine that I’m fine tuning to suit my personal expectations and needs. Unless I'm exploring a new region, in which case, point #1 applies.
3/ I need to work on how I convey my vegan message, or if I should make a concious effort to convey it at all. Veganism is a passion of mine and it’s easy to shout about it too much, too easy maybe. The scientific evidence is overwhelming – if you want to cut your chances of cancer, diabetes, heart disease and stroke by up to 70% you simply stop consuming meat and dairy and start thinking about making informed choices about what food you eat – yet just telling people that not only is the meat and dairy industry cruel it’s also making you personally sick doesn’t seem to work. Maybe we're so used to click-bait style soundbites - I went vegan, lost 50lbs and ran my first marathon, that sort of thing - that this is all we want to listen to and process. Perhaps yet another social media update from Dave the guy who runs isn't really the way to go at all. We'll see, that thought pattern is one that needs to be talked out a bit between myself and friends, it needs further attention and earnest criticism to find it's form more.
Here are some images taken by me during the series of marathons.
And here are my distance and time statistics for the week, gathered from my GPS watch.