12 Marathons of Christmas

By Tompky - 9:35 AM

December and the final challenge of the year for myself was the ’12 Marathons of Christmas.’  This involved starting on the 11th December and running a marathon each day for 12 days, finishing on Sunday 22nd December.  Due to work commitments a lot of these were going to be run after work, starting at around 6/6.30pm, with the weekend ones starting at around 9am.  In order for it to be achievable I kept the routes local, on routes that I had ran before so I had a rough idea of distance, as with running 12 back to back I definitely didn’t want to end up running 27 or 28 miles because I had left myself stranded away from home!  I also had a strong support team who followed me around each day, generally giving me refreshments and a few words of encouragement every 5 miles or so.  I have mentioned it in previous blogs, but I put a massive importance of setting up stations where you see familiar faces when you do any endurance challenge, as a few positive words from family/friends can keep you going an extra 5 or 10 miles I have found.  My general aim was to do each of them in around 4/4 hours 30 mins which I felt would keep me reasonably fresh and also allow me enough rest each evening to recover as well as I could.

I set off on marathon number 1 in good spirits.  This was to be a 2.5 loop route close to my home, with a stop every 6.5 miles for food/drink.  I was aiming to average 6.30min/km which I thought would ease myself in.  The first 17/18 miles went as soundly as I could have hoped, and I was probably closer 6 minutes a mile for most of this time.  I then started getting a pain on the outside of my right foot.  Although this hampered me, I was still able to maintain a good pace until the last 3 miles.  At this point, with self-preservation in mind I slowed right down, as ultimately I wasn’t trying to set any PB’s during this series, and I trotted home in a time of 4.34.  I had a quick meal, and went straight to bed!  I think at this point it dawned on me what a difficult task this was going to be!

My girlfriend dropped me at work the next day, with my plan for marathon 2 to be to run home from work (about 17 miles) and then add on the rest of the distance close to home.  My foot was still hurting from the previous night, and so I decided to adopt a run/walk technique.  I was still hopeful at this point I could maintain a 4 hour 30 pace.  The first 5km of this marathon were really tough.  Whilst my legs felt pretty sound, my foot was in quite a bit of trouble throughout and I knew the whole thing was going to be a real struggle.  This was probably the first point when I thought I may have to throw the towel in, not ideal with 10 marathons still to go!  I grit my teeth and battled on.  I had finished work at midday, so I knew I would have a bit longer to recover after this marathon, and after mixing between running and walking I managed to finish in 5 hours 8 minutes.

Day 3 started well, the longer time my foot had to recover seemed to do it wonders, and I started off feeling as strong as I had on day 1!  I got through the first half of the marathon in 2 hours 10, I was feeling fit, and thought that I would be able to complete it in under the 4 hour 30 mins.  Unfortunately, in any marathon a lot of things can go wrong, and just after my refreshment stop at 13 miles, I felt a very sharp pain in my foot.  By mile 14 this had become pretty unbearable and had reduced me to a hobble/walk.  With it being a Friday night and no work the next day, and also because of me doing the first half reasonably quick, the pressure was off pace wise it was purely about completing it.  I managed the last 12 miles in just under 3 hours, and completed in a time of 5 hours 5 minutes.

With marathon number 4 being on a Saturday, and my foot in a bad way, I decided that I would try rest it (whilst completing a marathon!) and I would briskly walk the distance, hoping that it would be right come the end of the weekend, when I was back to evening marathons and had a bit more time pressure!  This made for a very long, slow, boring day and it was much more of a mental battle then a physical one.  My support team kept me in good spirits, and doing it during daylight made a positive difference too.  I walked as quickly as I could, but still took 6 hours 13 mins to hobble around the course!

Number 5 was a Sunday, and again with no work, I decided to do a similar route with a similar plan as to the previous day.  With not much to report, it was a similar mental battle and remarkably I completed it in much the same time, with only 9 seconds separating the 2 days.

The resting whilst marathoning seemed to ease the foot slightly, and I also figured out that if I walked making a big effort to strike the floor with my heel first, and walked with a bit more of a power walking stride, this made things a bit easier on my foot, and was also a quicker way of moving!  Although whilst definitely not back to my quickest, this did well for my morale and gave me a bit of a much needed boost.  I was able to knock half an hour off my weekend times, and get back under 6 hours, finishing in 5 hours 46 minutes.  I never thought I would be so happy to complete a marathon in under 6 hours!  When taking on these challenges it has been as much a mental journey as anything else so anything that gives a little boost is pretty important!  It gave me a real feel good factor, and it also was a great feeling to know I was half way though the challenge.

I strapped my foot heavily on day number 7, as it felt like it had again taken a bit of a backward step in how it felt, so at this point I felt like I needed all of the help I could get.  I am not normally big on strapping and the like, so I was pretty surprised when after the first 500 metres it felt a lot easier.  I tested it out with a little jog and to even more surprise it held up pretty well.  I didn’t want to push it too hard so kept up a slow jog throughout. Having not pushed myself too hard physically the previous few days in terms of fatigue, the rest of my body felt pretty fresh and for the first time in 4 or 5 days I felt really positive.  I got to the half way stop in about 2 hours 20 minutes, which I think shocked most of my support team as it was 40 minutes quicker than I had managed on the previous 3 days!  I finished strongly, and ended in 4 hours 48 minutes, again not wanting to push too hard knowing I still had 5 marathons to go!

Day 8 followed on from where day 7 finished, and again with my foot heavily bandaged, I felt as fresh, if not fresher than I had on day 1!  It felt as if my body had got used to the fact I would be covering 26 miles each day, and with my foot feeling strong and 2/3rds of the way through, I felt like I could really give the last few days a crack and move back towards the 4 hour and under mark.  Still, knowing I still had 4 marathons to go after this I opted for a steady approach, again hitting half way in about 2 hours 20 minutes, before finishing up in 4 hours 43 minutes.

Day 9 again started off feeling strong, although with a long week of work and running, it was starting to have a bit of an effect on me.  This was a Thursday night though, and I had the Friday, Saturday and Sunday off work so it felt like it would be the last real challenging one.  Unfortunately it proved to be a real challenge, and although I didn’t really get a pain in my foot, in the last few miles I did get a real pain down the front of my shin in the last 5 miles.  I have had shin splints before, and knew the familiar pain all too well, and knew they would have to be managed very carefully.  A slow last 5 miles saw me finish in 5 hours and 3 minutes.

I woke up on the Friday morning, and the pain in my shin had not got any better overnight, despite our best efforts of icing and elevating it.  I wasn’t sure if the strapping on my foot had put the pressure all to a different part of my body, or what had happened, but the pain was pretty unbearable throughout.  Again I was reduced to a mind-numbing hobble throughout, with the ice on the pavements not helping matters in the pace department either.  I managed to hobble round in 6 hours 16 minutes.  My girlfriend and I had planned to go to Christmas markets on the night, and in the end she was left pretty much carrying me round as walking was becoming too painful.  From the highs of the previous few days I was absolutely gutted at this point, feeling like I may be left stranded with 2 marathons to go, however we agreed I would have a good sleep and see how I felt in the morning.

Waking up on the Saturday morning, I decided that I would at least have to give it a shot of completing the final 2, even if it did mean crawling over the finish line each day.  We shortened the route, and made it so I was effectively walking around the block where my home is, which I would need to do 9 times to cover this distance.  I did this for a few reasons, one it meant that I could always pop in and get food, drinks and see someone every 3 miles, but also it meant that I could ask friends to come and walk with me as I thought if I was walking with someone it would take my mind off injuries and they could always carry me along if need be.  Thankfully a few people took this up, with my mam and dad doing a couple of laps each, and a few friends doing one or two laps meaning I was never alone at any point, and that I could struggle over the line in 6 hours 46 minutes.

Sunday brought about the final marathon, and I was a mixture of relieved and nervous about actually getting through 26 more miles.  There was a finishing line celebration organised, which I had organised for 12pm thinking that a 4 hour marathon would mean start at 8, finish by 12 which would have been perfect.  Unfortunately now that they were taking nearly 7 hours, I had to be up at 4 for a good breakfast, before setting off at 5!  I did the first 3 laps on my own, before my dad and girlfriends dad met me and did a couple of laps with me.  From then on, again friends and family got alongside me, and kept me company and spirits high, whilst trying to drag my tired body over the remaining miles.  By mile 24 I was in pretty serious pain, and it was very slow going, but I was surrounded by 6 of my best mates, who joked and laughed their way through 2 miles of me limping about.  Within 200 metres of the finish line, they convinced me I had to try a little run, which I just about managed with them filing in and running behind me which made for great scenes!  I was met by around 20-30 of my closest family and friends at the finish line, which made for a very memorable and emotional end to the year of challenges.

Through doing the 12 challenges, I have raised just over £10,000 for Great Ormond Street (or £12,000 if you include Gift Aid too).  There is still time to donate, with donations closing in the next week, so if you would like to donate please follow the link àwww.justgiving.com/fundraising/tompkystwelve

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