(The Gear Loop) - Running a marathon is an iconic feat of endurance. It requires a level of commitment, mental toughness and - eventually - fitness that forces people outside of their comfort zone.
For most, it’s all the challenge they need. But there are also runners who want more, to explore what happens in the miles beyond. I’m one of them.
Little seeds for personal endurance experiments plant themselves into my brain and become very hard to shift. That’s exactly what happened two weeks before I was due to run this year’s Virgin Money London Marathon and I was given a watch with an epic battery life to test.
On paper, the COROS Vertix 2 claimed to last 140 hours using full GPS. That’s a lot of running. At the time, I was too slow and massively under-trained to chase a personal best at London.
Then I had the idea: why not make things more interesting by putting the watch and myself to the test? Why not run seven marathons in seven days, finishing at the iconic London race? What started as an epic benchtest for a fitness watch quickly became one of those very endurance experiments I just had to carry out.
How do you plan for running seven marathons in seven days?
If one marathon is challenging, running seven in seven days around work and family commitments takes things to a different level. And the running is only half of it. The logistics are equally testing. When’s the best time to run? How do you find a route? How should you pace it?
Then there’s the kit: fuelling and hydrating without the back-up of organised race aid stations. Plus, after each run, you need to consider recovery time, nutrition and getting enough sleep to rest and heal. All while trying not to be an absent parent.
I decided the only real option was to run early in the morning, from around 6am onwards. I aimed for around 4.5 hours of runnign time. That’s a pace I knew wouldn’t destroy my muscles but was also quick enough to esnure I’d have time to recover, get some work done, pick up my son from school, keep other plates spinning and get a decent night’s sleep.
I approached it like a military operation. I laid out my kit in individual carrier bags (mid-run nutrition in freezer bags) for all seven runs before the week started.
Each night I prepped the next day’s kit, I filled my soft flasks with water and hydration tabs. I even got all my breakfast stuff ready. So that every morning when I awoke at 5am, I’d made the process of getting from bed to the front door - via a hearty breakfast and a huge coffee - as easy and as efficient as possible.
Every day I was out of the door at 6am in the dark to run roughly the same route along the Thames, carrying all the food, water and essentials I needed in an ultra race vest, clocking my mileage via the Vertix 2 - as well as keeping an eye on its battery life.
How do you train to run seven marathons in seven days?
People often ask how I trained to run seven marathons in seven days. The truth is, I’ve been training for a decade. Everything I’ve done over the past ten years has built the foundations for this epic run.
From my first half marathon and full marathon, to short ultras, coastal runs, mountain marathons and 100km river runs, these have all helped me to prepare. Later came multi-day adventures, like the Marathon des Sables, and running 190 miles along the Thames from source to sea in three days.
You obviously need a base level of fitness and physical resilience, but perhaps more importantly, you need to build an endurance mindset, a well of experience that you can throw your bucket into whn the going gets tough, tricks and tools to draw on in order to keep you going when you really want to quit.
How do you manage the mental side of such an endurance feat?
The experience I mentioned before has armed with the tools to spot recognisable cues and ways to combat them. For example, I know that legs so stiff that you can’t walk down stairs will eventually loosen up a mile or two into your second, third or fourth day effort. It’s all about mind over matter.
I know never to judge a run too early, never to start counting the miles or the minutes too soon. I know at points, I will feel invincible, at others, I will feel defeated. And that all of these emotions eventually pass.
So you don’t trust the highs and you don’t fret the lows. You just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Eventually you will get there. I know that a well-timed phone call can be the lift or the distraction you need. I understand when to whack on a fast uplifting song and when to dip into a playlist of tunes that carry meaning.
I used tactics like planning my route to run past my son’s school at around mile 16, 2.5 hours into my run, so that I’d be able to wave him off at the school gates. It helps to have a micro target to hit, something to look forward to, a way to split the miles into manageable chunks.
Experience of embarking on multi-day ultra events has taught me that after a few days, your body often accepts running silly miles. On day one, the novelty gets you through, by day two, the body grumbles a lot, but by day three, it’s like you’ve reached a new normal.
And then there’s the need to stifle ego in the pursuit of self preservation. You need to run with consistency and control. In the final moments of marathon five and six, I felt I could run faster.
My ego started chiming in with dumb thoughts like, "how good would it be if you ran each marathon faster than the last!" You have to ignore these, stick to the plan, so you’re fresh to run again tomorrow. Save the heroics for the final miles of the final run.
Having the right kit is also crucial. Blisters never get better during a challenge like this, they only get worse. And you definitely don’t need any extra pain. Your ligaments and tendons will provide enough of that.
So, if you’re thinking of taking on a similar challenge - or you just want some tips for reliable kit for racking up serious miles - here’s the gear I relied on to get me through this 183.4 mile challenge.
The seven marathons in seven days kit list
Coros Vertix 2
I used the COROS Vertix 2 to track my routes and monitor my intensity levels mid-run. The watch also offers post-run recovery time recommendations, tracks your fatigue and I usd its ECG function to track my heart rate variability daily, to see how my body was responding to the strain.
But the killer feature here was the incredible battery life, which is designed for multi-day running challenges like this. From a full charge, it survived more than 2 weeks, including my seven marathons.
That’s 30.5 hours of GPS running, with four of those runs using the highest accuracy, most draining All Systems + Dual Frequency Mode. Plus all runs used optical HR and one run used it’s built in music player, direct to headphones for three solid hours.
Another weapon in the war on blisters, a good pair of socks can be the difference between success or failure on challenges like this.
BRAV’s selection of high-cut performance running socks are built for comfort over the long miles but also look the part. You can’t really ask more from a sock, considering I experience nothing in the way of hotspots, blisters or sore bits over 183 miles of back-to-back running.
CimAlp 2-in-1 Twin Trail Shorts
When it comes to longer distance efforts, you need easy access to all your essentials on the move. These mass storage shorts have four pockets, two zippered on the outer and two stretch pockets on the base layer, beefing up your stash options.
You can house your phone, gels and bars, gloves and other items quickly. They’re lightly compressive, lightweight and cut for speed. But they do come up a tad small, so consider going half a size up.
Jaybird Vista 2
Music is a powerful tool for shifting gears up and lifting moods when running. I also found it helpful to chat to my sister on some days when the going got tough around mile 20.
With eight hours run time on the buds, wing tips and gels for a lock-tight fit, excellent durability and clear call quality, the Jaybird Vista 2 were spot on. Among the best true wireless headphones for running.
Premax Anti-Friction Balm
Underestimate chafe at your peril. A good lubing of all the bits the bears would eat first is a non-negotiable for me.
In the past, I’ve used 2Toms Sportshield but for the 7 in 7, I tried (and loved) this anti-chafe balm. It’s easy to apply to your nethers and nipples and doesn’t leave the kind of greasy residue you tend to get with Vaseline. Over the course of the week, it kept my crown jewels as protected as Her Majesty’s.
Salomon Sense Pro 10 Vest
Designed for ultra races and long days on the trails, this lightweight vest covered all my hydration, fuelling and gear-porting needs.
With two front chest pockets for 500ml soft flasks, easy access stash pockets for bars, chews and gels and a decent capacity main compartment for stowing jackets, gloves and other essentials, it's all the pack I ever needed.
However, it’s not waterproof and I’d like to see a popper introduced to close the open main compartment, but otherwise it’s a solid option for plodding or racing at pace.
Saucony Endorphin Speed 2
I actually wore six different pairs of shoes during this challenge and then chose my favourite for the final race at the London Marathon.
Despite some stiff competition, including from some carbon-plated options, the nylon-plated Speed 2 came up trumps. This shoe offers the punchy response of a carbon plate racer but with better stability.
It’s light and comfortable and has all the facets of a shoe that’s versatile enough to handle a range of paces.
VALA Energy Gels
As with running shoes, I used a lot of different products for fueling my seven marathons. Everything from bars to chews and dates to Liquorice Allsorts. But one product I turned to when it mattered most was VALA’s gels, which are made from seven simple real-food ingredients.
You get a 24g carb hit from maple syrup, date paste, lemon juice (5%), lime juice (5%), powdered chia seeds, matcha tea powder and Halen Môn Welsh sea salt. It’s all in a compact package that’s easy to open and is one of the few gels you actually look forward to eating.
Theragun G3 Pro
To help the body survive seven marathons in seven days, it helps to hit the recovery hard. Every evening, I used Therabody’s take on compression boots to help boost blood circulation, flush metabolic waste and return fresh, oxygenated blood and speed recovery.
Then, every morning, I worked on the tighter areas, like lower calves, soleus and hip flexors (very gently) with the Theragun G3 Pro massage gun.
Switching between its broader selection of heads and using it’s range of pressure settings, I was able to do enough to ease my muscles and sooth my tired feet ready for the first tentative miles.