My 10-marathon challenge is over. Here are 10 things I learnt along the way:
1. Marathon runners get the girls
After reading about my experience and my challenge in The Guardian, I received a tweet from an attractive young lady saying "Good luck with all your marathons this year" - I replied saying "thanks!". We then exchanged a few messages (she took forever to reply - literally days!) and I then said that if I ran my next marathon (the third in my challenge) in under 2 hours 50 minutes, she would have to go on a date with me.
I then proceeded to run 2:46, winning the race in the process, and messaged her straight away saying - "we have to go on a date now!" to which she replied basically saying she had absolutely no idea what I was on about, or that I was interested in her! Clearly my "charm" and "flirting" was way too subtle! However, eventually either my persistence paid off or she just felt really sorry for me because she is now my girlfriend and we got to run the Manchester Marathon together!
2. Sweatshirts are not lucky
Remember that lucky sweatshirt I used to bang on about? You know, the one that was responsible for the four consecutive marathons I won? Yeah, what a load of rubbish that was..
3. You can run a race anywhere
Whilst non-runners think the only marathon that exists is the London Marathon - (we have all been asked "are you running THE marathon this year?" sigh) even hardened club runners (myself included) are guilty of running the same old city 26.2 year in, year out (Brighton, Amsterdam, Berlin, Valencia, etc). So many club runners are stuck in the same old yearly cycle of Marathon training from January-April, 10k race from May-July, Half Marathon in September and Cross Country from October-December.
There are so many great events now to get you out of this rut, like Parkruns and trail races. This year I've run marathons on gravel, dirt, roads, grass and mud in parks, cities, seawalls, cycleparks, motorway flyovers, coastal paths, and valleys. You can literally run a 10k or marathon anywhere - so get out of your comfort zone!
4. But the London Marathon is awesome!
Okay so this kinda contradicts the last point, but in what other sport can you stand on the same stage as the World Record holder, live on TV around the globe, performing in front of hundreds of thousands of strangers screaming their support, finishing in front of arguably the most iconic building in the world, all for £35? For as long as I am physically able and continue to have the Championship qualifying time, the London Marathon will be a date permanently in my diary for years to come.
5. Injuries happen - it's the support that counts.
Running is one of the most physically demanding sports out there. Cyclists get to sit down, footballers get a 15-minute break and cricketers stop for lunch and tea - but we runners are relentless in putting our bodies through hell. Injuries therefore come with the territory - even a Ferrari breaks down occasionally! What is important and far too commonly overlooked is the psychological impact of injuries. We see physios and massage therapists (not that kind) when our calf hurts, but what do we do for the mind?
Social media and fitness apps like Strava can really make you feel like you are missing out and that you are no longer a runner. This is where the support of your friends, family and training partners is invaluable. It takes less than 60 seconds to send an email or text, but to the injured recipient it means the world to know that you haven't been forgotten about. If you know someone who is currently on the sidelines, be sure to drop them a line as it probably just the boost they need.
6. Horses are very fast
There is a bloody good reason why Mo Farah doesn't enter the Grand National. These long-faced stallions are rapid. Oh and add to that, Wales is definitely not flat. Never has the word "undulating" been more woefully understated. But we'll be back for Man v Horse 2017!
7. Make sure your teeth are stuck in properly
This one is really important. If you don't want to end up wandering the streets of Scotland looking for one of your gnashers, make sure your dentist doesn't get stingy with the glue
8. There is more to life than PBs
The sooner you can buy into this philosophy the better. For 99.99% of runners, we are never going to be professionals - running is not our job, it is our hobby. It is so important to remember that next time you miss your PB by 10 seconds. The reason most of us started running in the first place was for freedom - either from the stress of work and family life, or to escape the city and experience nature, or just to remember what it was like to be a kid playing outside without a care in the world.
When deciding to run so many marathons, I knew it would not be possible run a PB. Considering it was the pressure to improve that triggered my eating disorder back in 2013, it has been liberating to rediscover that feeling of running and racing for sheer enjoyment. Whilst it is undoubtedly satisfying to be able to PB and post that Facebook status or change the iittle numbers in your Twitter bio, ultimately we all run because we love it.
9. The UK is beautiful
I have been lucky to visit over 30 countries across 6 different continents, but before this challenge I had never been to Scotland, Wales or even the South West of England. We are all guilty of chasing the sun to some far flung destination, but actually these shores have so much to offer. Whether it is the stunning Welsh valleys, beautiful Somerset countryside, the historic streets of Edinburgh and Cambridge, or the culture and vibrancy of Manchester and London, the UK really does have it all.
Next time you find yourself on Skyscanner looking for a cheap European break to a random town beginning with Z in Croatia or Latvia, why not get in your car and explore Blighty! As Ferris Bueller once said "Life moves pretty fast, if you don't stop and look around once in a while, you just might miss it"
10. Your eating disorder does not control you
For the two years I suffered with bulimia, there were so many times when I felt out of control. My disordered thoughts, behaviours and strict rules dictated my social life, my health, my happiness, and I was simply the troubled passenger along for the ride. But by eventually confronting it and overcoming the worst, I am now the one in control. The road to recovery is certainly not straightforward. There will be difficult days and moments along the way, but this is where you have to remember how far you have come and lean on the support of others.
Here are the final results from my challenge:
- Flitch Way Marathon - 2:51:46 - 1st place
- Dymchurch Marathon - 2:50:39 - 1st place
- Valentine's Day Challenge - 2:46:31 - 1st place
- Cambridge Boundary Marathon - 2:51:45 - 1st place
- Taunton Marathon - 3:31:27 - 48th place
- Asics Greater Manchester Marathon - 3:52:19 - 3,494th place
- Virgin Money London Marathon - 2:49:46 - 840th place
- Richmond Park Marathon - 2:52:35 - 2nd place
- Edinburgh Marathon - 2:44:41 - 33rd place (1st fancy dress runner)
- Man v Horse - 2:39:55 - 3rd place
Thank you to everyone who has supported me along this journey. In particular, my girlfriend Coralie and my Mum and Step-Dad David, who between them have been to every marathon with me except two. Supporting someone at a marathon is a pretty selfless task. You travel for long distances, to stand for hours by the side of a road just to watch your runner fly by in seconds - and at best you may get a grimace for your troubles!
You then sit in silence for hours after the race whilst the runner sits glued to their phone and social media! But it really does mean so much as the runner to know that there is someone up the road waiting to shout at you, especially someone you care about. I am looking forward to returning the favour to Coralie in future marathons!
When I set up my Justgiving page in December, I did it basically as a way to tell all my friends about my eating disorder without having to do it in person - I never thought six months down the line I would be filming a documentary to be shown on CNN in America! A lot has changed during that time - I have finished my degree, I became an Uncle, I met Coralie and have been able to hopefully raise awareness of eating disorders, especially in runners and in men.
Personally, I have never been this happy. I am healthy, more confident, stronger and more at ease. There is still a long way to go but all any of us can do is to keep moving forwards and be the best we can be without comparing ourselves to anyone else. I have enjoyed a relaxing week and plan to take it easy (ish) for the rest of the month (ish), including a trip to Paris but after that I already have some ideas for my next challenge later this year! Thank you to everyone who has sponsored me so far - if you haven't and you would like to, you can do so via my Justgiving page here. I only set out to riase £1,000 so to have surpassed £2,200 is crazy!
Finally, if you or anyone you know is suffering with an eating disorder, please do speak to someone. You can contact Beat, the UK's leading eating disorder charity. by visiting www.b-eat.co.uk. Taking that first step is the best thing you'll ever do.
Thanks for listening. Tom x.