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Running over the years after completing my first marathon back in Chicago became something of a bug, and then it became a lifestyle habit.
I still remember turning up to the Chicago start line on race day – and a local runner next to me asked how many marathons I’d done.
‘This is my first!’.
He was impressed as well as shocked.
I guess it’s not an ordinary approach to go out and run your first marathon on a continent you don’t live on (North America) and then train for it across two other continents without once training in your actual home country (Europe and South America).
And this was to set the tone for all forthcoming marathons.
So as my journey running marathons continued – I started to rack up ‘5’ completed and get closer to the magical double digits of 10.
Along the way, I ran with my good friend Daniel Botcherby in Oslo. I ran with my cousin Ajay in Barcelona and Paris, and we had some great adventures together.
Helsinki marathon 2012
Invariably though, like so many other adventures I’ve embarked upon – this was ultimately going to be a journey I would make alone.
A lot like the process of writing 52k words!
I’d run an ultra by now (in the Brecon Beacons) and in search of continued challenges – I decided in 2013 that I would run 4-in-4 whilst I was living in Northolt, London.
If memory serves correctly – that would be London, Vienna, Helsinki and Stockholm
Planning and preparing for these marathons is relatively involved:
Especially when you’re on a budget.
I had to scour CouchSurfing to try to find accommodation. It’s a platform where local people essentially let you stay at their place for free.
You meet all sorts of interesting people there. Ultimately I couch-surfed in Olso, Pisa, Vienna, Chicago and probably a few other places I forget now.
The challenge really was tough; finding accommodation as a single, male and brown traveller with the name ‘Deepak’
Unfortunately, we still live in a world where your skin colour still matters – but we’ll come to this in another letter I’ll write.
Nonetheless, Couchsurfing searches would begin 4-8 weeks out and would consist of dozens of applications and having to read people’s profiles, personalise applications and strategise a way to get a ‘yes’.
Mostly it didn’t work and when it did…some surfers were totally freaky (nudists and the like).
Outside this – with each city I was to travel to – these were all the things involved:
I needed to organise:
- Flight bookings (EasyJet, Ryan Air)
- Bus transfer to the airport (London>Airport)
- Accommodation booking (when Couchsurfing failed I turned to Hostelbookers or Hostelworld and would share a dorm with 6-12 people)
- Bus transfers from the airport to my accommodation (Marathon city>Hostel)
- Marathon registration (usually outside the city centre)
- Marathon kit purchase (gels mostly tbh)
Of course, when you decide to run 4 marathons in 4-weeks across 4 different cities, the organisation involved with countless Couchsurfing applications and juggling this between trying to get an actual hostel booking in time (they fill up weeks before) is difficult.
All of this stood alongside the reality that you actually need to train for these things.
The marathons themselves (after the first marathon) became the training – so no running happened between events.
It didn’t feel like it made sense to keep training between marathons given they were 7 days apart each.
However, the challenge and scary part with all of this was really just trying to manage everything.
The psychology of running 4 marathons in 4 weeks and what that would physically do to my body.
The reality that as much as I was excited/scared/nervous about the whole journey –
I’d be going to all of these cities alone with a vision of the future I was trying to build for Daniela and myself.
At this time – she and I were living in a double bedroom in my cousin’s place on Makepeace Road, Northolt (a really shitty area).
I was flitting between contracting for my uncle at his media company, Diversely Digital, a couple of days a week (for which he paid me £800 a month) as well as doing some tutoring on the side.
Life was certainly a struggle at that time. The money coupled with Daniela’s income of £7-8 per hour didn’t really take us very far.
The marathons, however – were definitely something of a guiding light that gave me some respite and direction.
My tutoring agency Gobsmackers was beginning to take off with my first couple of clients but it still felt all too slow. In fact, it was all too slow.
Daniela and I as a couple were struggling and my finances weren’t great – but marathons gave me something to work towards that I could be proud of.
I’m also proud of having ultimately completed all 4 of these marathons and having got a better time as each week passed.
But what I also want to do is explain some of the components involved in training for a marathon and running 4 marathons in 4 weeks.
So there are several things to consider:
- If you wish to do something well – you must enjoy the process (e.g with my later application to the British Special Forces I DID NOT enjoy it at all so ultimately failed)
- You must commit to some degree of consistency and the way you do this (for me) is by setting milestones (in this case booking 4 marathons)
- And you must talk about it (whether internally or externally) with others – because thoughts become things
- Shocking your body is a little high risk but an excellent way to jump-start or progress your activity – this can be via just going out and determining to run 18 miles (but ultimately – significantly further than you may have done before…)
Now I’m someone who has never run a sub 3.30 marathon, so given I’ve run 33 marathons I’m really not very good.
For me, I’ve taken a volume-based approach to how I do things – as it’s the high throughput of doing lots of things at once that excites me.
(And it may be the case that this has been a downfall for me my entire life)
So it wasn’t just the running itself – it was the different cities, the couch surfing, a number of marathons and all of it combined that excited me.
Alongside the endorphins that the marathons give you, long runs and pain left within me that proved a great foil to the depression, anxiety and self-doubt that I lived with at that time in my life
Ragni, my CBT therapist changed my life in many ways when she recommended that running helped me cope with my own internal anxiety…I should simply do it more.
The therapeutic journey that I ultimately went on took me through 100+ hours of counselling and 100+ hours of official marathon running.
London half marathon in 2010
So running 4 marathons in 4 weeks set a new benchmark for me in respect of what I could do – because I did it.
My knees felt horrendous by the time I was done – but it did get done and it got done without incident I want to preface something that I’m sure is pretty obvious to you all – already.
Taking massive action is for me the quickest way to find success.
At this time in my life – the best success I could find was through completing marathons.
My relationship with Daniela was troubled, my self-esteem was far from its best (it probably still isn’t) and there was nothing about my career that was going to take me anywhere interesting.
Travelling from London to Vienna, to Helsinki and then to Stockholm was excellent.
It was filling my life with adventure.
I ran to London and then caught a flight back to Vienna whilst Daniela’s family came to see her, and then headed to Helsinki before finishing up in Stockholm (and staying out for the week).
It was a grand old adventure and would also be the last time I raised money for charity. My network stopped caring about my runs (and rightly so) after I ran the first few and despite me thinking they’d care about this one – it was much the same.
Running 4 marathons in 4-weeks ultimately felt like a wonderful achievement to go after and several years later that feeling hasn’t changed – so whilst my personal and professional life was littered with issues – sports continued to be a beautiful means of escape for me.
And it is my personal life we will turn to in the next email.