A version of this post first appeared on Fetch Everyone on 27th September 2020.
When the London Marathon went virtual last year and I decided to combine it with the ‘mile an hour for 24 hours’ challenge, I thought that it would be fairly straightforward – just go out every hour and run, right? Still, I knew that I should probably practise doing that for a few hours a day, and I’m glad I did, because it turned out to be *slightly* more complex than I expected. A few things I learnt from my 24-hour challenge training…
1. I realised I wouldn’t be able to eat proper meals for the entirety of the 24-hour challenge, because eating an actual proper meal less than an hour before running was resulting in a horrible stitch while I was out on the run. As such, I ended up grazing on small snacks for the entire day instead, and it was a bit of a balancing act making sure that I was (a) eating enough, (b) not getting a stitch or making myself feel sick, and (c) making sure also to eat stuff that was healthy and not just pure sugar!
2. Related to (1), it turned out that there was an exact correct number of mini rolls to eat in between 1.2-mile laps. That number was 2, or sometimes 3 if it was later in the day.
3. The neighbours all thought I was mad, having observed me running up and down the street several times a day, and I’m not sure my breathless explanations did much to mitigate this. The situation did not improve much on the actual day, when I went out 24 times in total, starting from midnight.
4. The running itself was not the challenging part, although my legs did complain a little when I insisted on going out for multiple runs just a couple of days after the Virtual GNR. The recovery in between laps seemed to be long enough that I could keep going out again without getting fatigued. This was definitely more of a mental challenge than a physical one – and a week before the event, the doubts that crept in about my ability to complete the challenge were absolutely nothing to do with not being able to run it. Physically, I felt like I could run a mile every hour forever (well, not really, but you know what I mean). It was more about being nervous that I wouldn’t have the mental endurance to keep going out again and again and again.
5. However, while the 45-ish minute period during which I sat down between laps may have been long enough for recovery, it certainly didn’t feel long enough for anything else! I couldn’t really get into some work or a book or a videogame, or do anything other than a bit of Facebook browsing – because the next thing I knew, I needed to go out for another run. Most of the people doing this challenge on YouTube used the time in between runs to get stuff done off their to-do list, and I take my hat off to them, because I wasn’t able to manage anything else on the day besides running, refuelling, and trying not to fall asleep!
6. During the training, I felt incredibly embarrassed and guilty about spamming my followers on Strava with up to six running activities in the space of a few hours. I didn’t, in the end, do an apology post for the 24 separate activities that clogged up their feeds on the day of the challenge – but I seriously considered it!
7. I still can’t decide whether I actually ran a marathon or not. Initially I was of the opinion that ‘no, it doesn’t count, I’m not running it all at once’, despite the fact that I was going to be in the results and get my medal and t-shirt and everything… but in the run-up to the event, (a) the London Marathon social media channels were very encouraging of people splitting the distance into multiple runs and (b) I discovered through my training and the actual challenge that going out for 24 runs in a day is its own type of tough, so maybe I should bestow the title of ‘marathon’ upon it after all. I don’t consider it a PB, though, even though my total moving time was a lot less than the last time I ran a marathon!
8. Running in the middle of the night was an interesting new experience, and I was relieved that, on challenge day, nobody along the route got suspicious for some random reason and called the authorities about the madwoman running past their house once an hour in the dead of night (see also (3)). I’ll actually did a few practice midnight runs in the last week before the challenge in order to scope this out…
9. Sleep deprivation was also an interesting obstacle. I planned to spend a couple of days in the run-up turning night into day so that I could sleep most of Saturday in preparation for starting at midnight… but this didn’t work out, and so I ended up staying awake for about forty-two hours with no sleep breaks. Strangely, the adrenaline prevented me from getting sleepy!
10. Somehow, despite running it exactly 64 times in training for the challenge, I wasn’t sick of my 1.2-mile route by challenge day. However, after running it another 24 times on the day itself, I couldn’t really face the same route for my recovery run the day after!
11. I had to do some strict laundry scheduling in the last few days pre-challenge, as I discovered that hanging around between runs in the same kit feels grim as hell and so I needed to change clothes after every few laps in order to feel marginally less grim (even my between-run trackies needed refreshing every once in a while). This was also necessary due to the fact that, as it transpires, even the most comfortable of sports bras starts to chafe if you hang around sweating in it for too long.
12. Stretching after every single lap was boring and possibly unnecessary, but I continued to do it anyway because I had remained uninjured during training and didn’t want to do anything to jeopardise that.
13. Multiple run practice was the only reason that I actually managed to keep up with the Fetch Everyone ‘Run The Sum’ game (where you run the sum of the date in kilometres every day, e.g. on the 17th you run 1+7: eight kilometres) in September. I certainly don’t think I could have managed it on just one run per day!
14. Related to (9), I had to try to learn how to drink coffee in between laps without feeling ill, because I thought that Pepsi Max alone probably wouldn’t cut it for caffeine on the day. As it transpired, neither agreed with me on the day and so I didn’t consume very much caffeine at all!
15. Next door’s cat has all sorts of hangout spots for different times of the day that I would never have known about if I hadn’t been out doing multiple run practice at all hours. Cats are fascinating.
16. Geth, it turned out, thoroughly liked the idea of ‘crewing’ for me during the challenge, which was something he’d picked up from watching hundreds of YouTube videos about ultrarunners doing impossibly long races. He thus ended up accompanying me during middle-of-the-night runs, helping to record video for my running vlog, and generally not sleeping as much as he would normally have done on a weekend. Reciprocity demanded that I go out to meet him at various points on his October long runs with fresh supplies of water and gels, which was quite nice (and a good excuse for a walk in those slightly less locked down times!).
17. In the 10-15 minutes before my next lap was due to start, I found myself at a loose end, impatient to go, and was often tempted to start the lap early. Related to (5), the 45-minute downtime was a really awkward length. However, as set out in the terms of my challenge when I first announced it, the plan was to go out every hour on the hour, and I was determined to stick to that… even if I would probably have been done with the marathon a lot quicker if I’d kept shaving 10 minutes or so off the rest period!
18. It felt a bit awkward running past the same council workers doing the roadworks every hour on the hour. I also observed more than I ever expected to observe in terms of the progress of said roadworks.
19. While I was regularly doing non-multiple-run-practice days up until the Virtual GNR a few weeks before Virtual London, the period in between was really dedicated to training for this challenge and so I found I was starting to miss both (a) running for longer than 1.2 miles at a time and (b) running on other routes. I planned to do a lot of exploring and venturing out to new places once the challenge was over! (This didn’t transpire as I was a bit burnt out.)
20. I was having some serious issues around my shoe rotation. I run every day (I started my run streak on 1st January 2020), have three pairs of running shoes currently in use, and never wear the same pair two days in a row due to all the standard shoe rotation arguments about shoe foam needing more than 48 hours to decompress and thus live its best life. However, does all of this go out the window if running multiple times per day? Should I have been rotating my shoes from lap to lap? Was I interrupting the foam decompression process by pulling on the same ones again 45 minutes after I took them off? So many questions.
21. Much to my surprise, in training, my laps sped up throughout the day. I tended to start off with a nice gentle lap that worked out any stiffness from overnight, and it seemed to get faster naturally from there. This trend did not continue on the day of the challenge; on the whole, I was fairly steady. It didn’t really matter to me, though, as I was just happy to finish each hourly mile.
22. ‘Needing’ to make my own goody bag to open at the end of the challenge (due to London Marathon not sending the medal and t-shirt until after the fact) was a really, really good excuse to buy new running gear. Not that I ever seem to need one.
23. I’ve never had a problem with arithmetic, but for some reason, when it came to the number of laps I’d done so far in a day, I could barely count to three. I kept finding myself arriving home thinking, ‘So, I’ve got two laps to go… is that right? Have I really done three laps already? It doesn’t feel like I’ve done three…’ I don’t know what I’d have done if I didn’t have my Garmin to keep count for me. This was even more ‘interesting’ on the day when I needed to keep track of 24 laps while sleep-deprived!
24. As fun, intense, and different as this challenge was, I have really, really missed real races over the last year, and I can’t wait to be on a proper start line again – not least the proper start line of the proper London Marathon in October 2021. Things are looking a bit bleak and endless at the moment, so I just have to keep crossing my fingers that we will be able to race again by then!