RunningPhysio has a real treat today – a great story from ultra marathon runner Matt Dunn (@_mattdunn) who attempted the infamous 10 in 10….
At that point I had only been a runner for 4 years, but I was already a multi-marathoner and had also run a few ultra marathons and the training for the 100 miler got me in pretty good shape. I started planning races – I needed lots of marathons and some back to backs. The obvious one was the Enigma Quadzilla in early February – 4 marathons in 4 days. I initially had some trail races (inc. ultras) in my list but somebody quite rightly pointed out that I still hadn’t done many road marathons and I should plan more of those in ahead of the 10 days on the roads in the Lakes. I ended up fitting in 15 marathons (only two off-road) in between the NDW100 in August and the 10 in 10 in May, plus a couple of HMs and 20 mile races.
As well as planning my training, I had a big job on to raise funds for the Brathay Trust, the charity who organise the 10 in 10 and the Windermere Marathon. Brathay are a small charity who work with underprivileged children and young people around the UK. The other runners and I agreed to raise sponsorship as part of our contribution to improving the lives of those young people who are most disadvantaged or vulnerable. As a bit of a social media nut, I spent a lot of time using Facebook and Twitter to promote what I was doing and I was lucky that the running community are so generous and I was able to raise a lot of money through those channels.
In mid-Jan, we all headed up to Brathay Hall for a “training weekend”. Train up on Friday, lots of sessions going over logistics, fundraising, media and filming, health and safety, nutrition, physio and so on. Oh, and a quick 5 miler on the Friday as soon as we got there, ran the whole course on the Sat morning and then a 5 mile recovery run on Sunday morning as the sun started coming up. It was great to meet all of the other runners and the Brathay and BodyRehab (physio) teams. The advice we received from Graham at BodyRehab was quite blunt – basically we shouldn’t be trying to do this – there will be injuries. Hmm. Running the course was great – it was cold but sunny and the lake and surrounding countryside looked stunning. However I was a little concerned about the course – I knew it was a tough course but 3:52 (including stops for drinks etc) felt much too much like hard work for a training run.
The Thursday afternoon/evening saw us get settled into our new home, Shackleton Lodge – a hostel style cabin in the woods near Brathay Hall. I was sharing a room with Paul Dewar (landlord of pub in nearby Ulverston), Paul Foster (Scottish bloke, likes to swear) and Jim Meta (Scottish bloke, purple beard, definite Billy Connolly stuff going on). Great lads. Then followed the first bash at getting drinks ready for the first marathon. There are 12 drinks boxes put out on the course, roughly every 2 miles or so. We had big containers of hydration and energy drinks available to us (in ‘Wild Berry’ and ‘Orange and Passion Fruit flavours), supplied by Team Nutrition, as well as water or anything we wanted to bring for ourselves. I rarely use energy drinks but I’m a big fan of hydration drinks such as high5 zero. When it comes to racing, I don’t get too hung up and generally use what’s available on the day, and that goes for gels etc too. So I made up a selection of drinks, got myself thoroughly confused and basically hoped for the best. I didn’t think I’d need something every 2 miles but in the end decided that if I didn’t need it, it wouldn’t hurt if it was there just in case. We had a get together to go over some logistics again and a lovely dinner with the Brathay CEO and trustees, and the legendary fell runner Joss Naylor. And then a beer in the bar. I was pretty nervous, but I don’t think I was alone!
Friday morning started for me at 7:30. After a quick shower and brekkie I headed off to get started on a research study that was taking place – half of the athletes were to have posterior chain power taping (taping entire “movement chains” to reduce fatigue and enhance muscle activation) daily and everyone was to be measured by a machine whilst performing squats, balancing etc, twice a day (before and after each marathon). I think the idea was not only to see how the daily marathons affected our posture, balance, flexibility, etc, but also to see if there was any major difference between those of us with the tape and those without. I got taped up, from each hip, across the lower back and up to the shoulders. It felt like a gentle bit of postural support – all good. We had a ‘media start’ where the groundskeeper fired his shotgun and we ran off as if starting the race, whilst being filmed for BBC regional news etc. I may have been a bit excited and ran off at the front! After that we ambled down to the road for the real start and off we went. I decided to run comfortably for day 1 and not to push the pace and ran for the first 4 miles or so with Keith, Lee and Foxy and then I pulled ahead a little. Somehow I finished quite comfortably in 3:44:21, second place and about 5 mins behind Sally. Then it was time to get into the post-race routine. We had a room in the hall set aside for us (the athletes room) and there was soup, sandwiches, crisps, recovery drinks and a couple of beer fridges, which we’d stocked up pretty well. After some food and a guinness, one of the bodyrehab team helped me with some light stretching and I was feeling good. It was then time to face the ice bath.. Fozzy (Paul F) and I shared the pain. The shock of the 2.6 degree water at first made me feel hot and dizzy and not at all good, but that passed. The pain of the water eventually started to pass as everything from hips down started to go numb. Somehow, with lots of swearing and gritting of teeth, we lasted the whole 10 minutes. Walking back to the hall with completely numb legs and feet was very odd, and once the feeling started coming back, my toes were killing me. By the time I had a nice hot shower though, I could already feel the benefit.
That evening I made a list of what drinks, gels, etc I wanted in each drinks box, which I stuck to for the rest of the event bar a few tweaks. Fab dinner (the food was amazing) and some treatment (massage, elbows in glutes, etc) and I went to bed.
Day 2 started with some treatment again which was a bit of a battering – I didn’t realise I was that tight. I didn’t really feel properly woken up and that together with some warmer weather set the tone for my run. It seemed so much harder than day 1, which was a little worrying with still 8 days to go. Had an amusing moment about 8 miles in when, at a drinks station, Aly (amazing Brathay lady who along with her husband Mac is basically in charge of the 10 in 10) asked if I wanted the top off as she held out my gel. I responded with a cheeky “just off the gel thanks” and a bit of a running joke was started! I finished 5th (by about 4 secs) in 3:52:28. That evening after treatment, dinner, etc, I went to the bar to blog and was joined by some of the others. A beer and two glasses of red and I was ready for bed!
Day 3 was much better. I got to the start line with two breakfasts in me and I felt somehow fresh. I used the first 4 miles to Hawkshead to see how things were feeling and I felt great and pushed on, passing Sally and taking the lead. I felt like I was flying around the course – the uphills weren’t bothering me and I let myself go on the downhills. It was very odd being at the front of a race, and from about 4 miles in. I finished really strongly in 3:30:36 and I was over the moon to win a marathon!
Day 4 was another good day – first home again in 3:33:23. Starting to get much tougher though, even though I put in another good time. By now the daily routine was well established – up, breakfast, treatment and taping, breakfast 2, get race kit on, assemble, run, eat, stretch, ice bath, dinner, treatment, bar. The evening blog/beer/wine contingent was growing daily also 🙂
Day 5 and a couple of nice surprises – some lovely photos from home and a care package from a friend in Scotland. The run felt much more like a race early on, with Sally and I passing each other a few times. I developed a bit of pain in my right knee which indicated a tight IT band – not a surprise at this stage. First again, 3:33:04. Three wins in a row which was incredible and not something I expected at all. The Brathay PR people published a story bigging up the competition between Sally and I – Sally was still ahead overall but the gap was narrowing. Neither of us found that particularly helpful – we were only halfway through and I think it added a bit of unwanted pressure. Treatment that evening was painful, and straight after a big dinner. More painful quad and ITB massage in particular. During a couple of particularly painful moments, when the moans and screams (and moo noises if you’re Rob) come out, I erm.. passed wind. Whoops, sorry! It was quite amusing though (for everyone else) – I was mortified.
Day 6 was a major wobble. I felt emotional and a bit fragile and Sally and I were interviewed before the race about our “battle” for the top spot. We both played it down brilliantly. I set off first at my now usual pace, but I felt like I was working harder than usual. It was a little warm which could have been a factor, but I didn’t feel like I could get my breathing under control. My quads were really stiff and my right knee started making itself known about 16 miles in and I think I started feeling a bit sorry for myself. About 19 miles in, Sally flew past me going strong. She had an army of support out on the course and they got to see her take the lead in style which was pretty cool. With about a mile to go I noticed Keith wasn’t far behind and I pushed on to hold onto second place, somehow putting in my fastest mile in 3 days to finish in 3:35:42. I really don’t know how I managed to hold onto such a good time on that day. I felt mentally and physically exhausted after the run, although some fish and chips that one of Sally’s supporters got for us perked me up.
Day 8 and for a few days now sleeping had been getting more difficult. General tightness and soreness meant it was hard to get comfortable and then I’d wake myself up in pain when turning over. I felt a lot more positive though, probably due to the knowledge that my family were arriving that afternoon. The painful right quad of the previous day was behaving, although my left quad now started coming out in sympathy. It was Sally’s turn to have a rough day and Keith pushed on into the lead. I caught him at around 20 miles and passed him, finishing first in 3:37:31.
Day 9 and the end finally felt in sight. I’d tried a herbal tea before bed which helped get me off to sleep so I felt reasonably rested in the morning. I’d had acupuncture on my right quad the evening before which seemed to help, but by the morning my left ITB had really tightened up. Some treatment in the morning sorted that out and the bodyrehab team were in party mode – party bags and banging tunes at morning treatment. The run started well – Foxy led us out (he was reaching 1000 miles round the lake early on in the run) and I soon passed him and took the lead. Things went well until about 8 miles when the outside of both quads (IT bands really) got very painful very quickly. I stopped a few times to stretch my quads which didn’t really help – in fact it seemed to make things worse. By now we were all pretty exhausted and I wasn’t really thinking straight – I was trying to stretch my quads out when it wasn’t really my quads that were the problem at that stage. Sally, Keith and Paul D passed me. I saw my family at Lakeside and pretty much broke down in tears. I struggled on and Fozzy caught up – we ran together for a bit before he pushed on. Aly suggested that bodyrehab meet me further down the course for some emergency treatment which I thought would be a good idea. I got to 14 and a bit miles and they found me – Maz and Tamara (two of the amazing physios) got to work on some trigger point massage whilst I was sat on a broken slate wall on Maz’s car mats! That got me going again and the support out of the course was a real help too, including bodyrehab giving out jelly shots and party food on top of ice cream mountain at 21 miles. A very painful 4:22:43 and sixth place. Keith got his win which was really good – the overall competition was now between him and Sally.
Day 10 and up at 6 as our run was starting an hour earlier than normal. Lots of IT band and quad treatment and I got both taped up in cow print rocktape! Our normal quiet pre-race routine had been transformed into a frenzy of activity with hundreds of runners getting ready to run the marathon, starting an hour after us. We were led out of the hall to an amazing reception and had a huddle and a few inspiring words before walking down the drive to the start. Loads of people came to cheer us off – amazing! Off we went and after the excitement and noise of the start, it soon quietened down and I made myself settle down into a steady pace, not wanting a repeat of the previous day. I soon found myself in 5th place and made it my own. It was a much warmer day than we’d had for the previous 9 and I shed my compression top after 6 miles – much better. Twinges of pain in my legs came and went, reminding me to keep it steady. Somehow after about 12 miles, things started to loosen off and I gradually sped up. I got through the 4 hilly miles before Bowness and the lead runner in the marathon passed me just before ice cream mountain. By now I was on a mission – sub-4 had looked a bit of a stretch early on but now it was how much under 4 hours could I manage. At around 22 miles, the second place marathon runner passed me and he looked knackered. Pete soon passed me and had the other guy in his sights, passing him not far ahead of me. That was awesome to see and put a big smile on my face. I got progressively quicker over the last 4 miles and stormed up the Brathay Hall driveway, as I had done every day. I had the finishing straight to myself, my name being called out on the PA and loads of support. I loved it. 3:54:34. My family were at the finish and each put a medal around my neck 🙂 So, 37:39:28 overall and 3rd place out of 18. Approximately 3:45 on average.
I hugely exceeded my expectations, as did the event as a whole. It was mentally and physically very hard, but we were treated like athletes for 10 days and that was incredible. The few quiet moments we got in the athletes room after each run, or around the breakfast table at the lodge in the mornings, or in the bar in the evenings were really special. I got through this without much in the way of injury, but some of the others had some terrible injuries and still got through it. Amazing strength of character. I’ve made bonds with people that can never be broken – the other runners, the Brathay staff (particularly Aly and Mac), and bodyrehab team. It’s absolutely incredible what the human body and spirit can achieve. As well as all 18 of us completing the 10 days, we’ve raised over £150,000 for Brathay, which will allow them to do so much good.
If you’d like to know more about the event visit the Brathay website. You can read my blogs from during the event here and you can see the daily video diaries. If you’d like to make a contribution to Brathay you can do so via our Justgiving page. – many thanks!