They say the best things in life are simple, and in many ways, this challenge was. You had to run/walk the amount of miles for every day of that month, February. Didn’t matter how long it took, or if you did it all at once or in bits, the only thing that mattered was that you did the miles for that day. One on the first, two on the second… thirteen on the thirteenth…. Welcome to 406 miles/649 kilometres of Run Until You Drop.
I started off doing my first mile in airports, as I was on my way from Marrakech to Beirut for some work. Other travellers looked at me oddly, as I marched up and down the transit corridors, spurning the travellator. The airline lost my luggage, so I went and bought new kit and then ventured out for the next two days, walking/running after work in the dark streets of this unknown city. I think it may have been a mistake to listen to Brian Keenan’s, Desert Island Discs on the plane. He spent four and a half years as a hostage in Beirut, much of it blindfolded and handcuffed to a radiator.
Back in Marrakech, the first ten days sped by. I could incorporate lots of the challenge into my daily life. One evening, our new flatmate, Abbey, and I walked to Jema El Fnaa to have dinner at the open air food stalls and then walked back. Six miles – bang.
By week three, though, it was getting harder. I found that my energy for anything else had sunk really low. I was also trying to combine it with a 1200 calorie a day diet. I am doing 3 months, on three diets to see the different effects they have. 1200 wasn’t really enough as the mileage crept up and I increased it to between 1500 and 1800. On the third week – 76 miles – I was really good for five days but then pigged out for two, thinking that all that running/walking would surely burn off the pounds. Nope. Not. One. Ounce. Then I remembered that Mo Farah is always on a diet and felt a bit better.
There were three great things about the challenge: being out and about so much, the camaraderie of the group on facebook, and feeling my strength and endurance increase. I was splitting my effort up during the day, going out twice/three/ four times to do the distance and much of it was walking. I got to know all sorts of regulars in my neighbourhood. The street sweepers who are out from before dawn in their smart red and yellow uniforms, the camel herders in the Palmeraie, and my fellow runners on the circuit. I also got to see Marrakech from dawn till nightfall. Pink sunrise over the snow-capped Atlas in the distance, giving way to bright blue afternoons, then back into sunset splendour and eventual darkness.
It was a mental battle, though. My body was hurting and there were lots of long, long miles still stretching. This is where the Run Until You Drop group came in. I loved the fact that the mothers who were competing, Kate Hayden and Wendy Shaw, were dragging their kids out with them in all weathers, “Mummy, Mummy ANOTHER 10 mile walk??” Dave McNamara had made it all the way through to day 24 but just wasn’t feeling it until he was revived by the amazing powers of that underrated super food – curry. He went out for one, came back revived and launched out at 9.10 pm to finish the distance before midnight and stay in. There were different stories every day. Paul Ali and James Adams, who devised the race, set us a little daily bonus challenge which became something to focus on and laugh about when we logged in at the end of the day – wearing blue, best hat, biggest wild animal, different shoes, saying hello to everyone.
Thank God and the Licence Fee for BBC Podcasts. That was what really kept me going as the hours loomed into tedium. When embittered, over-privileged, under-informed MPs, many of whom are happy to take money from all and sundry, tell you that the BBC is bad value for money and the licence fee should be abolished, please take the time to think what you are actually getting for that £11 and a bit a month and how much the rest of the world envies it.
I was having to spend all my mental currency on keeping going, and could barely speak some evenings, but the old body held up remarkably well. I had a wobble come week 4 when my Achilles started swelling up and getting lumpy and my IT Band was a river of pain, but apart from that, everything kept churning on. I could feel myself getting stronger and fitter as well. Ten miles seemed a lot on the 10th February, by the 22nd it was a mere bagatelle. That feeling of strength and vigour is something you can’t buy, and it feels good to earn it.
I hadn’t talked about doing the challenge much, because I honestly didn’t know if I was capable of finishing it. Week three was really the testing point. The mileage was high ( 14 – 21 ) and there was still lots to come, but when I got to week four, I had invested so much already, that I knew I would finish, unless something drastic happened. I did almost manage to knock myself unconscious by running smack into a road sign which gave me a nice big, blue egg above my eyebrow, but that was the only hitch.
The last day, I split the 28 miles into 4 shifts. Before breakfast, before lunch, after lunch and sunset. The last 6.6 miles should have felt like forever, but my flatmates, Serena and Abbey, joined me, so it ended up being fun.
Then I was there, I was DONE. No finishing line, no medal, no bottle of water, but an overwhelming sense of achievement. 406 miles/649 kilometres in February. I’ll take that thank you.