Sarah: Welcome to the Tough Girl podcast which is all about motivating and inspiring you.
Today I'm delighted to be here with Amy Hughes who set a world record for running 53 marathons in 53 days.
Amy, hello, and welcome to the show.
Amy Hughes: Hello, thank you so much for having me.
Sarah: Oh you're welcome. 53 marathons in 53 days, that's absolutely incredible. I was just hoping you could sort of take us back to, how did this idea even come about?
Amy Hughes: Oh thank you. Basically I think a lot of people are quite surprised because I wasn't even into sports, especially running, in school at all!
I was the artsy type. I was always the one that forgot PE kit. I just thought, I'd left school and started college. I just literally one day, I thought, right, I need to get fit. I went for run super early so no one would see me. I think I went running about 6 o'clock in the morning one day, didn't even run half a mile and it absolutely killed me, but then just kind of fell in love with it and then kept going, kept working at it, and started to enter marathons, and like I said, fell in love with running.
I started realizing more and more that people, especially young females, there wasn't many young female role models around. I think a lot of females, they look in magazines and they just want to be skinny and they think, they don't really know about what they should be doing and what they should be eating.
They just think, "I shouldn't eat." I wanted to really promote the importance of keeping fit.
I decided I wanted to do some sort of massive challenge to try and raise a little bit of awareness, I didn't really think it would have the effect it did.
I'd been thinking about it for a long time and I was reading a lot of books. There's a guy in America called Dean Karnazes he ran 50 marathons in 50 different states. I just loved the idea of that, of travelling, and obviously seeing places while doing something you loved. I came up with the idea of wanting to do something, obviously in the UK.
At the time, the original plan was to run the major cities in England. I think it was about 51 because the world record was actually kind of the last thing on the list for me. The more I was googling and friends started helping me plan stuff, it was obviously coming up what the world record was 52 at the time.
That's where 53 marathons came from and then I just went for that.
Sarah: I love how you started getting into the running. So actually you weren't that sporty at school. You just decided to get fit and do it.
You started running in marathons, how did your first marathon go? Can you remember back that far?
Amy Hughes: Yeah, do you know what actually, because I was living in LA at the time so my first marathon was the LA marathon, which is pretty cool. My family came over to see me, so it was actually, it was an amazing day. I like thoroughly enjoyed it.
You can probably tell as well I'm kind of an all or nothing kind of person. I didn't really go for 10Ks or half marathons, I just was like, right, I was training and was like right, "I want to do a marathon." It was right there and I just signed up and then yeah, went for it. It was cool.
Sarah:That's awesome. So you did all your planning, you decided on 53 days, how did it then come about, when did you sort of set your start date?
Amy Hughes: To be honest, I came up with the idea about, oh it was about 2 years ago now, or over actually, I kind of kept it, I didn't really tell many people because I think, if you go start telling people you're going try and run 53 marathons 53 days or whatever, I think people, a lot of people were quite negative.
A lot of people didn't think I would do it. It's quite hard to tell people that and to go to companies and try and get help with sponsorship and things like that. Especially when nobody knows me. If you were a celebrity or you've got a big team behind you, it's easier. It was literally just me.
I just kept it quiet. I kind of just kept the idea for about a year and a half. I actually went to Uni to do physio so I started late, I was 24. I actually did 2 years of physio. I decided it wasn't for me.
If you think about it as well, it was such a hard thing telling people that I wanted to finish the course when I only had a year left.
Obviously people ... They were like, "You're crazy, you need to just finish it." In my mind, I knew it wasn't for me, so I knew there was no point in me finishing it. I finished and then that's when I kind of decided, I was like, right, "I need to do something now. I need to do, I've been really passionate about doing this challenge so I'm just going to go for it."
I literally just gave myself a couple of months. It started off a few of my friends trying to help me organize it, but you know, obviously with jobs, people are busy. It kind of fizzled out.
I was the only one that just stayed with it, and just like literally planned it all my, well, planned it all myself at the beginning in terms of .....managed to get some fuel sponsored, my friend gave me a Sainsbury card. It was all kind of like, it was weird, because it was all rushed but it all just kind of fell together and worked really well.
When I started the challenge, my friend's mom jumped on board and she organized, she got hotels donated for every night and a meal donated. She was just amazing.
Then obviously my boyfriend came with me, he was a huge support. Friends came along the way to help support.
Really, I think people thought it was some sort of massive organization and I had a massive team with me, but when people turned up to run with me, it was literally just me and Dave and maybe me and another friend. People were just like, "Oh, where's your crew?" And it was just like, "This."
Sarah: You were actually raising money for charity weren't you? Could you tell me a little bit more about the charity you were raising funds for?
Amy Hughes: Yeah. The charity is called the Isabelle Lottie Foundation. It's a children's brain tumor charity. They try and raise obviously awareness and funds for children or families with brain tumors. The reason I run for this charity is just because they're a local charity and basically they stepped up last January because a family from Oswestry, their daughter was diagnosed with a brain tumor 2 or 3 years ago. She's actually been given the all clear now. They were just inspired to do something. They wanted to give back because obviously they'd been through so much and they wanted to help other people in similar situations. I think, before I started 53, I think they were on about 5,000 pounds. Then I managed to bump, I managed to raise the whole 53. It's been a real big help for them, too, to help raise their profile which was good.
Sarah: That's actually fantastic, 53,000 pounds is absolutely a stunning amount of money.
How do you prepare mentally for running 53 marathons in 53 days?
Amy Hughes: To be honest, obviously mentally, I just have to stay super strong. People would always say to me, "Oh God, do you think you're going to do it?" or, "What if you don't do it?" or 2 marathons in and it's like, "Oh you've got 50 more to go."
I literally just tried to block everything out and just focus on that day.
I was just waking up and thinking of it as a job.
I was loving what I was doing, I was loving travelling around, I was loving meeting new people. It was just, thoroughly enjoyed it.
I just definitely think it helped as well, having the support of people. People would constantly send me messages just to congratulate me and they were donating. I just tried to keep thinking of the charity, of how much money I could be raising for them. That kept me going.
Mainly it was just the support, to be honest. About 10 marathons in, as well, I tried to think of how many I'd done because even if I'd of had to pull out for injury, or whatever reason, to me 10 marathons in 10 days was still pretty good for me.
I just kept trying to stay positive about how much I had done not how much I had to go.
Sarah: Was it all plain sailing as you were going through your marathons?
Amy Hughes: No, God no, definitely no. Running one marathon is hard enough. Having to just wake up every morning and do the same again, it's tough. I think the hardest bit was the first chunk of it, the first quarter.
My body was just like, "What on earth on you doing to me?" I did think it started to adapt further down the line, don't get me wrong, I did have bad days. I was ill, I think it was day 40 I was really ill. I was up, I had been sick all night, obviously the next morning I was having to wake up and run, that was a really slow one because obviously I felt awful. It wasn't easy but, there was definitely more highs than lows.
Sarah: How would you structure your day?
Was it just, get up at 8:00, run it as quickly as possible or would you just sort of vary it?
Amy Hughes: Every day was actually pretty much the same. The time varies slightly obviously day by day. Our routine was exactly the same.
We were staying in the hotel, so breakfast normally in the week started at 6:30. It would be just a matter of getting up at 6:00, eating at 6:30, letting my food digest and then we'd be on the road. We were always putting out Tweets out for people to join us, so we'd Tweet, and we'd always start 9:00 from the hotel.
Generally I'd be running for about 5 or 6 hours. My times did get a little bit quicker towards the end, but generally 5 hours-ish.
Then we'd obviously get back to the hotel, we'd have to jump straight back in the camper and then drive to, try and find the next city and find the hotel. We'd get to the hotel, check everything in, then we'd have to drive to the restaurant which was normally booked quite close the hotel, then obviously eat. I was getting so many messages, and then obviously the radio stations started to hear about us, so they were calling to do an interview, then by the time we'd done all that it was obviously like 10:00, so it'd just be bedtime.
Then like, eat, sleep, repeat, it stayed exactly the same for the 53 days. It sounds quite boring, but because we were always in a different city and we were always having people join us, different groups, and so it was the same but always different if that makes sense.
Sarah: Absolutely. We talked a little bit before about your mental preparation. How did you physically prepare? How did you get your body ready for this challenge?
Amy Hughes: You can't really train for 53 marathons.
I wasn't going to go out and train and run and do 20 marathons back to back, sort of like a train and run. I just tried to really concentrate on food. I was eating really well.
Eating, obviously all of the right stuff. Then, just training wise, because I was a fitness instructor, I was always teaching different classes. I always tried vary it, so I'd do tons of yoga, tons of strength stuff.
Strength stuff, I really tried to up so my body was ready for it and then obviously just trying to get the time on the road rather than miles.
So I just slowed by pace right down and go out and just run slower just so I was getting the hours on the road so my body was used to it. Definitely not to that scale. It definitely was shock to my body, but as I was going through, day by day was kind of a training run too, if that makes sense.
Sarah: Yeah. I've run a marathon as well. The following day, my legs had all seized up, it was a struggle walking.
How did you get passed that? Were you having massages or anything? Or was it just sort of sheer will power?
Amy Hughes: Yeah. To be honest, the first, I'd say 10 days, but I think it could have been more actually, if you'd have seen me, if anyone would have seen me get out bed, people would be like, "Oh my God, there's no way you can run."
Then I'd start running and after about half an hour my legs would sort of ease back into it and it'd be all right.
I had some good advice from a physio because I was trying to have ice baths. It's hard as well because it depends where you're staying. Some hotels, most of them did, but some didn't have baths, so I would just have to make do. I've seen a physio and she said to me, "If you legs aren't, start to not hurt, then just try not to have ice baths because ice baths are completely refreshing your legs, whereas if you don't have an issue, it gives your legs time to get used to it, which is what you want to be doing." Once my legs started to feel not so bad, I just started to ease off the ice baths.
To be fair, I was having quite a lot of massage. I was trying to get it in as much as I could. I'd probably say on average, I had it about 4 times a week and then just depending on the area if people contact me, if people wanted to help, or we try and find masseuses.
Also football teams are really good, I know one of the physios, she's a ......football club and everyone's kind of connected so we knew other physios around the country and tried help out in that way. They were really good.
Sarah: When you're running, were you listening to music or was it just you sort of running along with your own thoughts?