Extreme Running, Extraordinary Man

Eddie Izzard

On Sunday I ran the NYC Half Marathon.  I was delighted with my finish — 1:57:46, more than four minutes to spare to make my goal of 2:02, because that’s the time I needed to qualify to run again next year, or to run the NYC Marathon.  But I’m pretty certain I’m not going to do another marathon.  All along I said the marathon I did was just to have done one, to cross something off my bucket list (it’s really the only thing I’ve put on my bucket list).  But I got such a high from it, especially when I came off the Queensboro Bridge and turned up 1st Avenue, the waves of people running as far as I could see in front of me, the crowds along the sides of the road cheering, the soaring, beat-heavy pop music pulsing through my ear buds.  Maybe I’d do it again?

Nope.  Sunday’s half marathon was just as fun, gave me just as much of a high, and was only half as hard.  So I think I’ll be sticking with halfs.

But how about 43 marathons in 51 days?  Or 27 in 27?   Do you know Eddie Izzard? He’s a very funny man and amazingly determined and he’s done that many marathons.  “A 54-year-old cross-dressing comedian with a middle-aged paunch, who smokes and drinks, Eddie Izzard is hardly what you’d call an athlete,” as the Daily Mail says.

David and I saw Eddie Izzard perform when we were in London last month.  He was wrapping up a three-year tour with shows in his hometown.  Even though we could only understand about half of what he said — he talked fast and with a serious British accent — we laughed almost nonstop and are still repeating lines and schticks from the show and cracking ourselves up.

It was reading more about Izzard after that show that we learned he had run 43 marathons in 51 days in 2009, running across the UK to raise money for Sport Relief, a charity that supports vulnerable populations in the UK and poor countries around the world.  To get ready for those marathons (not actual races, but running 26.2 miles each day), Izzard did only five weeks of training.

Sunday, when I ran the NYC Half, Izzard had just finished running 27 marathons in 27 days across South Africa, this time in honor of Nelson Mandela but also to again raise money for Sport Relief — over £1.35 million in fact.  This time his training consisted of a few runs of 10 to 15 miles.

How does he do it?  He credits coming out as a cross dresser, which boosted rather than decreased his fan base, with giving him the determination he needs to do difficult things. ‘”Walking out of the door wearing heels and make-up was so hard. But it prepared me for everything else difficult I’ve ever done,” he said.  Izzard calls himself an “action transvestite.”

And physically he didn’t try to run the marathons too fast, at a 12 to 13 minute mile pace, using a lot of slow jogging and steady walking to minimize the impact on his body.  Every night he spent an hour in an ice bath and he kept his toenails cut to the quick so they wouldn’t bang up against his shoes (those of you who’ve run marathons or halfs will understand that — my toenails hurt more than anything else after the marathon I ran).

Still, 707 miles in 27 days?  Oh, and he missed a day because he was sick and had to go to the hospital.  I missed a day of my training for this half marathon because I was sick and just let my long run for that week go.  What did Eddie do?  He did a double marathon on his last day — 52.4 miles.  In a day!  What a man.

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