Eddie Izzard: how will the 54-year-old fare running 27 marathons in 27 days?

Eddie Izzard is no stranger to ultra-running having completed 43 marathons in 51 days back in 2009. Seven years on, he's attempting 27 marathons in 27 days. How will the comedian's body deal with this stress?

Eddie Izzard: Marathon Man

In 2009, Izzard ran 1,110 miles for Sport Relief. This year he's aiming for 27 marathons in 27 days across South Africa for the same cause. The significance of the number 27 comes from the number of years Nelson Mandela spent in prison. Along the route he aims to delve into the history of his surroundings.
 

 "Of course, 27 marathons in 27 days is nothing compared to what Nelson Mandela did by serving 27 years in prison. 
He was a great soul and leaves a fantastic legacy for the world."

 

The comedian will have to endure temperatures up to 30 degrees while he runs the 700-mile route. Prior to his previous run, Izzard had no running experience and only began training five weeks before the event. This seems like quite a feat.

 

According to the Evening Standard his daily regime at that point was as follows:

8.30am: Large bowl of hot porridge.

10am: Warm-up exercises. Stretching legs. Set off on run.

During the day: Eddie will eat four or five energy bars and suck on gels which contain salts and electroytes. He may also have fruit and an ice cream from the van that has been following him.

6pm-9pm: Finish marathon, hopefully before dusk. If late, will eat spaghetti cooked on the portable stove in the support vehicle. If on schedule, will return to the hotel and stock up on carbs. Pasta and extra new potatoes, the more the better.

After supper: 15 minutes in an ice bath at -10C to get the blood circulating again. Followed by a massage from sports therapist Jo Denby and application of surgical spirits and plasters to any blisters.

10.30pm: Sleep.

Of his training this time round he told the BBC, "You can't really train for 27 marathons, it's mental training. It's about getting your health into the right place, eating the right food, and getting mentally prepared for it. There's no luck in it, you make your own luck really."

 

How will the run affect Eddie Izzard's body?

Eddie Izzard 27 marathons in South Africa

Dr Francois-Xavier Li from Birmingham University told the BBC of potentially dangerous biological effects under this sort of exertion.

"Swelling is possible. You can grind your teeth and so on, but at some point you have to make a decision: 'Am I ready to risk permanent damage to achieve the goal I have set for myself?' It's not just a joke, there are realistic risks involved."

Surprisingly, this isn't the first time Izzard has attempted this run. He first attempted it at the age of 51, but had to stop due to health problems. But the comedian insisted on trying again, stating that if he fails this year it will not stop him making yet another attempt in the future. 

 

"Older people have a little bit more resilience, a little bit more patience, a little bit more long-term view, and they are able to cope better with this kind of thing."

 

Issues likely to affect Izzard during the run

  • Hallucinations: A combination of extreme fatigue and shadows in the wee hours are bound to play tricks. This is nothing that a nap can't resolve.
  • Temporary blurred vision: It is possible that during longer runs the cornea can swell affecting vision.
  • Cuts and bruises:  During a run along uneven terrain, cuts and bruises are bound to occur.
  • Muscle cramps: Although it is not known why cramps strike, it seems fatigue has a part to play.
  • Stress fractures: Feet, pelvis, femur, tibia and fibula are all at risk of fracture among ultra-runners, feet being the most common.
  • Blisters: A combination of sweat, water, rocks and dust all lead to pesky blisters.

Othe things that long-distance runners need to be aware of are things like heart problems. Although they are rare, running generally makes the heart and circulatory system stronger. But there have been studies to indicate that distance runners are at a slightly higher risk of atrial fibrillation,  aka an irregular heartbeat.

Respiratory ailments can occur, this is largely considered to be due to running in dusty or floral areas.

In the heat, Izzard may need to be cautious of heat illness too.

 

Will Izzard's age cause any issues?

If anything, age will work in his favour. A recent study showed that performance during long-distance running is U-shaped. That it will take the same amount of time for an 18-year-old to finish a marathon as a 55-year-old.

The main difference is recovery time, the older you get, the longer this takes. Dr Li says that getting older does give a distinct edge, "We see in ultra-endurance, people of older age perform just as well as much younger people, probably because a lot of it is mental. As I mentioned we can do a lot more than we think and if we put our mind to something we can achieve more than one would expect, and maybe older people have a little bit more resilience, a little bit more patience, a little bit more long-term view, and they are able to cope better with this kind of thing."

As far as Eddie is concerned he says: "This time I must succeed." Team Reader's Digest wishes you the best of luck!

You can sponsor Eddie's Sport's Relief attempt here

You can also follow his daily video blog on YouTube as well as watching his progress on BBC Three.