For most people, preparing for and running just one marathon is an all-consuming affair, incorporating months of training and preparation. How, then, was it possible for Eddie Izzard – a 54 year old, champagne-swilling smoker – to run 27 marathons in 27 days without keeling over?

Ultra-running places our bodies under serious stress

Izzard has become a national hero after he ran a total of 707.4‑miles (1,139km) across South Africa, battling dehydration, injury and sunstroke along the way as he raised over two million quid for Sport Relief. On his final day he ran a double marathon – 52.4 miles – to compensate for missing a day when he fell ill and was taken to hospital. Little wonder, eh?

The greatest hazard to our bodies when ‘ultra-running’ is the pressure we put on our joints and limbs. The physical impact jarring through the body is intense – your feet thud against the concrete around 20,000 times each, placing the full force of your body weight through your hip, knees and ankle joints.

And the stress we place on our hearts is not to be underestimated – the heart can actually be scarred from too much endurance running. Other effects can include premature aging of the heart, stiffening of the heart muscles, and an increase in irregular heartbeats.

So what is Izzard’s secret?

Almost disappointingly, Izzard’s secret is quite simple – run slowly. Verrrrrry slowwwwly. There would be absolutely no hope of running daily competitive marathons, but multiple charitable runs without the taxing pressure of competition are eminently achievable provided you stick resolutely to a sedate pace.

Izzard stuck to a pace of around 12-13 minutes per mile. It’s not always walking pace – Izzard clocked a respectable five hours 34 minutes for his fastest marathon, while the slowest was completed in a rather more laborious nine hours 45 minutes.

Back in 2009, Izzard completed 43 marathons in 51 days – off the back of just 5 weeks training. His preparation consisted largely of 10 to 15 mile runs. The key then, as it was recently in South Africa, was simply to go slowly.

Mental strength and determination is another essential ingredient

The other key factor is mental strength. The record for multiple marathons is believed to be held by a 41 year old Danish woman Annette Fredskov, who ran 366 marathons in 365 days. She completed a marathon a day – plus two on the last day for good measure – purely as an act of defiance having been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.

The older we get, the greater our mental strength tends to become, explaining how the likes of Izzard and Fredskov are better equipped to complete such epic challenges than, say, a 24 year old hedonist.

Do not be fooled – it is still one hell of an achievement

Despite his relatively simple secret, Izzard’s immense achievement cannot be taken lightly. And he can’t just get home and slob out for months either. He now faces weeks of essential healthy eating and drinking, otherwise he risks vital mineral, vitamin and iron deficiencies.

So there we have it. His achievement can rightfully be described as super-human, but should you wish to take up a similar challenge, it is well within your grasp.

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We champion the sport so the athletes taking part can develop their confidence and we always encourage new people to take part or support their running club.

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