Running the 26.2 miles of a marathon is enough to break most mortals, both mentally and physically. I also think most of us would find it hard to imagine running another step by the end of it, let alone contemplating getting up the next day and doing it all over again. Yet, in April 2018 David O’Connor did exactly that, running a staggering 10 marathons in 10 days in order to raise money and awareness of positive mental health.
So, in the build up to my own 7in7 Challenge I wanted to understand what drives people to take on such events and see what I can learn from them.
For me the most interesting part in all of these challenges is understanding someone’s why, as I’ve before it is the why that drives us and pushes us above and beyond our own physical abilities, something David clearly agrees with “We’re all capable of achieving so much more than what we give ourselves credit for; I wanted to show people this by making a bold statement for emotional fitness. I’ve been affected by a serious lack of confidence & self-belief throughout my life & this was my way of stepping out from the shadows & offering an ideal of hope for anyone who has been suffering.”
David wanted to promote positive mental health and to fund raise for Aware Ireland, a Charity who provide support & information for people, and their loved ones, who experience depression or bipolar disorder, by setting a challenge which was as symbolic as it was hard, “The reason I chose the track was to offer a metaphor for the continuous loop & never ending feelings of pain one may associate with mental illness.”. The ASLAA complex in Dublin, Ireland, hosted David’s incredible marathon challenge.
So how on earth do your prepare for such a challenge? “The first thing is time as well as the understanding and backing from the important people in your life. That’s absolutely crucial. If you have family, children or any dependence it needs to fit the bill at home. No success is worth a failure at home.” Something I think more active parents can empathise with.
“Regarding the physical and mental challenge, you need a plan. You can’t take on something so large on a whim. The end goal is the challenge but performance goals right throughout your training and preparation is vital”. David trained in 10 day blocks, steadily building up his mileage with each session, followed by 4 or 5 days of recovery. “I listened to my body all the time and if I needed an extra days recovery I took it”.
As the challenge approached, the training focused changed, switching from a running focus to an emphasis on mobility work and the getting in to the right mind-set, “I made sure to chill out and relax – listening to plenty of podcasts, reading books and watching films in order to switch off. It’s important to remove yourself from the excitement & expectation of what’s coming.” Again O’Connor is keen toemphasis the importance, in respect to your mental preparation, of having the right people around you, “We built an incredible support base throughout the campaign, so it was easy to feel up for it and ready to go once Day 1 came around.
Eating for 10 marathons
Fueling 10 back to back marathons starts before you even set foot on the track apparently, “In January I was 68kg which is perfect weight for me in the real world but I needed to get up to 72kg in a healthy manner for the start of the 10 marathons.”
During was ably supported by Aine Kelly, a Dietitian and Triathlete, who’s insights and guidance helped fuel the marathons. The aim was to consume 4,000 calories per day, not an easy task for anyone, particularly when your exhausted. “I’m fortunate in that I can consume solid foods while running I know a lot of people struggle with that. So every day was pretty much the same. Porridge, toast, fruit, nuts, cereal bars, ham rolls, jelly babies, chicken, turkey, potatoes, vegetables, more porridge, more fruit, more nuts. You get the picture!”
“It became difficult to consume so much food as I came closer to day 10 & in the end I did lose some weight which is understandable. I was happy with the planning & execution, but I think I was most happy when I was handed a 12 inch pizza at the finish line!” These challenges have to have their rewards right?
The after effects
I think most of understand the physical requirements needed to take on a marathon, it isn’t something you can do without adequate training. But how do you prepare your mind for the long hours, the inevitable discomfort and boredom? “Make yourself hard to break in your training both mentally & physically but on top of all that it’s important to enjoy & fully embrace the experience.”
Like David, I feel like I’ve got the grit for my own challenge, but the unknown of what to expect in terms of the physical toll this will take on my body is what worries me. “Bizarrely I didn’t even get a blister over the 10 days!”, which David puts down to a regimented rest and recovery process. “I had no injuries, no cramps nothing sinister except on the final day I got a build-up of fluid in my left knee & I couldn’t bend my leg so the last marathon of the series was an absolute slog. You can’t run 260 miles in 10 days without a few nuts & bolts creaking in the process.”
The track in Dublin where David took on his challenge is part of a larger leisure club, incorporating a health club, “As soon as I was finished, I ate & made my way straight to the pool for some movement & stretching exercises & then relaxed in the sauna and jacuzzi. It was perfect & a massive psychological boost knowing that’s what was waiting for me once I finished.”
“Once I got home I had the first of two dinners and then went back to bed for an hour. The rest of the evening involved some light cycling on the exercise bike, a couple of ice baths & a lot more food!”
Does it change you?
Can running change your life and more than that, the world? “It’s not that simple,” but David is clear that the act itself is powerful for his own mental health, a reminder of his assertiveness & achievement, “and this is true legacy for me, to take that confidence and self-belief I had heading into this & putting it into other areas of my life such as my relationships, my career, my role as a father.”
But the challenge showcased more than just O’Conner’s own determination and desire to make a difference, the amount of support he received over the 10 days was incredible with a conveyor belt of people come in the gates to cheer him on. It’s easy to go through life and not put yourself out there, but when people like David do with such passion for their cause, it brings out the best in people, “that is the biggest thing I’ve taken from the entire campaign; if you create something that people can understand & relate to then they will buy into it. Similar to Field of Dreams; if you build it, they will come.”
I asked David, what one piece of advice he’d give me for my own running adventure, “Enjoy the process, even the hard parts. You’re doing something different, something unique, writing a fantastic chapter in your story and you have the capability to make that an amazing story. Own it.”
1055 laps, 260 miles run in 10 days – an incredible achievement, but David isn’t going to stop there and are more challenges ahead. On the 17th of November he’ll be running 50k through Dublin in order to raise €1,000 for Pieta House, an organisation aiming to help prevent suicide and self-harm. Why? Well €1k will provide a full programme of counselling for one person with Pieta House, so the motivation is about making a very real difference for one person.
Follow David’s amazing journey – Instagram @performance_doc