'Marathon running is all in your head'

Eddie Izzard, patron of the Marathon of Marathons, explains how to keep on running through the pain. After his extraordinary 43 Marathons in 51 days, he should know better than anyone.

Transvestite comedian and actor Eddie Izzard, one of the world’s outstanding comic talents, is a patron of the Marathon of Marathons. In 2009, he made endurance history by running more than 1,100 miles across Britain – completing a mindboggling 43 full Marathons in 51 days, and raising more than £1 million for Comic Relief. In early September, he was at a MoM training run in London led by our resident expert Bruce Tulloh, who also coached Eddie during his extraordinary UK feat. After a speedy run in Green Park, we asked him about what it takes to keep on running when the pain starts to bite. 

What made you decide to support the Marathon of Marathons?

I heard about it from Bruce Tulloh, your coach. Bruce is an incredible athlete. It was he who inspired me to run Britain, by telling me about his run across America in 1969. He was my trainer, and his son Clive made a TV documentary of the run. I owe them both a great deal, so when Bruce told me about the Marathon of Marathons, I wanted to help. It’s a brilliant initiative, supporting great causes. And it’s in Athens, 2500 years after Pheidippides – how good is that? I’d love to be there myself, but I’ll be filming in Los Angeles that week – it’s going to be tight.

What’s your advice to the first-time runners in the MoM pack?

Izzard with the Marathon of Marathons team in London

This isn’t my line, but somebody once said: endurance running is 90 percent mental resolve, and the rest is in your head. This is absolutely true. Get your brain to decide that you will get there, and you will get there. 

What if your brain wants to give up?

That just cannot happen. You cast it in iron that you WILL finish. And also: when you’re out there, you must keep drinking. If you do both, you will carry on running. Oh, and do talk to the people around you, talk as much as you can. It will keep your mind engaged. If you stop talking to people and start looking at your watch instead, that’s when you get into trouble. 

When the going gets tough, what do you think about to keep yourself going?

I don’t think about any particular goal, like getting to the finish or anything like that. What I do is, I get into the history of where I run, and think about what would have been going on in these places back when. It fascinates me. If I were to run across America for example, I’d read up on Native American history beforehand. The Athens Marathon will be great for this sort of thing too, of course. 

During your 43 Marathons around Britain, was there ever a moment when the task seemed beyond you?

Somewhere between the 3rd and the 15th Marathon was the hardest time I had. The rain was rough, everything was rough. But I was getting fitter as I went along. Once you get into multiples, it gets easier. When I got to Brecon Beacons in Wales, I felt like a real runner and not just some berk. I knew then I’d be able to do this.

Was it the hardest test you ever had to pass?

I’d say the second hardest. Doing Stand-Up in France, in French – that was way harder. Quite scary, actually. But again, after the first few gigs I got used it, and it got easier.

Are you running much at the moment?

I did do a Marathon cold not long ago; I felt like I hadn’t done one in a while so I got up and did one. Wasn’t easy, took me six and a half hours. Lately I’ve been getting more into barefoot running, and also swimming, because I’m training for an Ironman Triathlon. There’s quite a few things I still want to do, actually. For example, I quite fancy doing a triathlon when I’m 90. I like the idea of hitting my physical peak when I’m 90 years old – and why not? It’s all in your head, remember…

Have you ever considered running a Marathon in high heels?

No. Do women run them in high heels? 

Eddie Izzard is currently starring in “Race”, a play about racism on Broadway. You can follow him on twitter.com/eddieizzard.

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