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?
Amy Hughes: When I'm by myself I normally do listen to music, but because there was always someone with me, and there was always a group normally joining me, or sometimes it was just one or sometimes it was just me and a [inaudible 00:11:31] and they're on the bike or friends on the bike, so there was always people to talk to. Obviously, I was in a new place each time so I was quite enjoying the scenery and things like that. So I wasn't, the whole 53 I didn't listen to music, but obviously if I was by myself I definitely would.
Sarah: For someone who may be listening who hasn't gotten into running but it's something they want to do, what advice would you give them?
Amy Hughes: To be honest, I'd just say, just start small. Just, obviously, don't be scared of it. I think a lot of women, especially I was, that's why I went so early, I didn't want anyone to see me out running.
Don't be scared of, you know, everyone's in that same boat at some point in their lives. Just get out there and you'll just feel so much better even if you just run a tiny bit. Just run a bit, walk, run, walk.
I just think as well, join a group. I think it's quite nice, or make your own sort of little running group. Try and get friends to come out with you. I think it's easier when you've got friends. You can obviously help motivate each other. Which is another thing, I've just moved to Cheshire and I really want and try to start up again a running club. I just think, I think some running clubs can be quite intimidating, even if there actually not. I think looking from an outsider who wants to start running, I think they can be quite scary. I say, just don't be scared, just start and you'll soon get into it and soon think, "What was I even worrying about?"
Sarah: The final day, what was that feeling and where did you end up?
Amy Hughes: It was really surreal to be honest. Obviously it picked up such a hype, and it was picked up momentum and it was on the news and more and more people were hearing about what I was doing, and more and more people getting involved and come to join and sending messages. It was coming up to that final day and it was quite scary.
A lot of people were saying to me, "I bet you can't wait to finish." I was actually, it was quite a sad feeling because we just had such a blast. I really didn't, I wanted to keep going.
At the same time, I remember the last day in Manchester I was just, it was an amazing feeling. Even now it's just really surreal. I knew I'd finish, but it was like, "God what am I going to do tomorrow?"
It was such an amazing feeling, knowing that'd I'd actually completed the whole challenge. It was really surreal. The next day I felt like I was living in slow motion. I was having to get up and walk everywhere. It was really, really, strange.
Sarah: What did you end up doing afterwards then? It must have been quite strange, you know as you just said, from not running everyday, to suddenly ...
Amy Hughes: Yeah. Straight after we had a huge party, celebrated. I just tried to, I had a bit of a break from work, then I went back to work. To be honest, I was really busy for a couple weeks after. I was just really busy with interviews......and London and then I had, I was invited to a few events.
People were asking me to do talks. It was weird, it was like a break but then almost straight after I was actually super busy just doing thing from 53. It was still kind of like an ongoing thing. It still felt like I was still doing it. Even now, I'm still doing talks. I've been doing quite a bit from that.
Obviously I'm a Dame Kelly Holmes Trust mentor, so I've been busy with that. That's really good. It's all been good, it's been busy, but good.
Sarah:That's fantastic. You mentioned Dame Kelly, being a mentor for the trust, could you tell me a bit more about what that involves and what you actually do in that role?
Amy Hughes: Yeah. Basically Dame Kelly Holmes is a charity, basically what their charity does is it runs programs, especially the main program is called GOT, it's Get On Track. They use athletes to run the programs. They try and help get people that have kind of gone down the wrong route, so have gone into drugs or their homeless, or addiction, whatever issues they have. We run courses. The longest course, it can vary, we can do day courses to, I think the longest one's 14 weeks, where we just try and engage with the young people. The young people are between 15 and 25 and then just try and help them get back into employment basically. It's a great, great, charity, obviously I'm really proud to part of it.
Sarah: No, definitely. Are you still running at the moment?
Amy Hughes: Yeah. I'm not sure if you've heard, but because I just did a challenge back in April, so I ran from Oswestry, my home town, to London which is about 220 miles and then ran the London marathon with Blue Peters, Lindsey Russell also.
That's kind of my last big challenge. I've got a few other things up and coming. So I'm still training. Me and my partner started our own charity, it's called the 53 Foundation.
We actually ran our first event last week, which was..... We have ten runners on our team, it was an absolute blast, they did really well.
Sarah:That's brilliant. Tell me a bit more about the 53 Foundation.
Amy Hughes: Yeah so basically, my boyfriend spent most of the challenge with me, on the bike, driving, last year. It just really inspired us both to do something ourselves, and set up our own charity.
I've met quite a lot of people with disabilities, I just really wanted to create a charity to help people with disability get access. It's really hard for people to get to the gym obviously ... To be honest as well, our charity varies, it could mean helping someone by, he's blind, start running or people in wheelchairs use the gym.
We eventually want to create our own events for people with disabilities. At the moment, we're obviously really early stages. We just kind of want to be a middle man.
We want obviously to raise as much money as possible and for people to come to us individually with projects or issues and we want to choose who, obviously we want to donate money to. We want to donate money to different charities to help them do different activities within their charity, if that makes sense.
Sarah: That's fantastic. Do you have a website for your 53 Foundation?
Amy Hughes: Yeah, it's just, the53foundation.co.uk.
Sarah: Fantastic, so people can go on there to find out more information about your charity and potential future events that you'll be running.
Amy Hughes: Yeah, yeah, exactly, it's all on there.
Sarah:Let's just quickly go back to something you said, sort of, that you'd run from Oswestry to London, around 220 miles and then did the London Marathon. Tell me a bit more about that, that's absolutely amazing, how long did it take you to do that?
Amy Hughes: It was hard, felt like it was harder than 53 marathons. It was 6 days. The first day I ran 38 miles, the second was like 30, and then 29, then it was a 15, and a 22 and ... yeah so I ran basically for 6 days. Had I days rest and then ran the London marathon. It was literally just me, one of my best friends on the bike.
I've been helping train Lindsey to run the London marathon. It's a project I've been working on for a few months with Blue Peter. Then actually, yeah, ran with her on Sunday which was her first marathon, she did really well actually.
I've worked with both Lindsey and Barney Harwood, he's the male presenter. I originally trained him to run the Olympic park 10K and then once we'd finished, they'd asked me to help Lindsey run the marathon, so I was working with her for about 12 weeks. Just trying to get, I wrote her training plans. Obviously, the studio's in Manchester are based in Manchester, so we did training sessions and then yeah, she completed it. She did it in 4 and half hours, which is good for a first one.
Sarah: That's absolutely fantastic.
You mentioned before about one of the reasons that you wanted to become sort of a role model because there wasn't that many sort of young female role models out there.
Do you have any role models or any women who inspire you at the moment?
Amy Hughes: I always say, my mom's been a massive role model for me because obviously it was just the two of us living together, I grew up with just her. She always worked so hard, I hope I've got my work ethic from her.
Also Kelly Holmes has been a big one, to actually be working for her. I'm not sure if you've seen as well, she actually, Kelly Holmes and Paula Radcliffe both sent personal video messages to congratulate me on the challenge. The charity chose me on day 53 so that was really surreal but incredible at the same time. Obviously Paula Radcliffe is amazing, so I think they're probably my two main heroes.
Sarah: What about you, what's next, or is going to be your next big challenge?
Amy Hughes: Well actually, well hopefully we've got another big challenge in September. We've challenged Sophie, I'm not sure if anyone's heard or chatted with her ...
Sarah: Yup, we've actually, we did an interview with Sophie on the show, so yup, I think everyone will have heard of her now.
Amy Hughes: We've been talking together and working together for a bit, and she's lovely, so we're really excited about this project. We want to do sort of a different take of girls on tour. The aim is to run around the whole circumference of Ibiza in September which is about 250 kilometers I think. So that is, yeah really excited about that. We're just in the process of planning it at the minute. But I'm also, me personally, I've been working with a lady, we're actually trying to plan another big challenge for next year. It's going to be running challenge and it's going to involve different countries. That's all I can say. I really want to tell people what it is, but I can't. Keep your eyes peeled, there'll definitely be something coming up for next year that's big.
Sarah: Have you got any advice and tips for ladies listening out there who want to get involved with more challenges but they're sort of maybe a little bit scared about doing them. What advice would you give them?
Amy Hughes: To be honest, I say, find what you love.
Running's not for everyone. People are into different things. I just say, try as much as you can. Try different things. If you don't like, it, you don't like it, but kind of find your passion and go for it. If there's a challenge or if there's something that you want to do, just think how amazing you're going to feel after doing it. There's nothing to be scared of.
I've got this thing, I know it's a bit cheesy, but if got this sort of picture on the wall and it just says,
"If your dreams don't scare you, then they're not big enough."
Just try and remember that and just go for it. A lot of people were saying to me throughout the challenge, and well even now, people say, "God, I used to see what you're doing and think, 'If you can run 53 marathons, I can go to the gym or I can sign up for this 5K'". Which I loved.
Personally, I really want to carry on trying to promote that and show women that they can do things if they put their mind to it. Just go for it, you've got nothing to loose.
Sarah: Absolutely, and great words of advice. It is just about finding whatever it is you love and it doesn't have to be ...
Amy Hughes: Yeah, definitely. People always say to me, someone asked me question the other day saying, how does running fit into my life. There's not just one answer for that. Running fits into my life because I love it and I can do it, I can use it for a number of different ways.
I can use it socially, like enter in races or going out with friends, it's quite a nice social thing to do. Or if I've had a horrible day and I just want to clear by head, I can just go out by myself.
Or if I want to push my body, I can do sprints and challenge myself more. There's so many different benefits of doing it and that's what I love about running.
Sarah:You do have a website and you are on social media. Do you just want to share your links and how people can reach out and contact you?
Amy Hughes: Yeah. I'm on Facebook, it's just 53.53 Marathons.
My twitter name is @53marathons.
I have got a website which is just 53.53 marathons, I'm having to think actually, or is it just 53 Marathons? But I'm actually in the process, and it should actually be finished today, we've just done a revamp of the website. We've got a new website which should be, amyhughes53.co.uk so fingers crossed that will be up and running by today or definitely by the end of the week. That'll be the new website that I'll be pushing. I'll have all my events on there and a blog and it'll have, obviously tell everyone what I'm doing on there.
Sarah: You're also, you're acting as a role model aren't you, for a British beauty brand, underwear, isn't it?
Amy Hughes: Yeah that's it. It's a family run business from Sheffield. It's such a great company actually, I've really, really enjoyed working with them. They're called Panache. It's an underwear company and they just did a campaign called, "My Role Model".
There's 6 of us, one lady has been to Africa to help with Ebola, Hannah's a Paralympian and there was a lady that started her own charity when she was 19. All of us, obviously with me with 53, had our own story. They wanted to use real women that have done amazing things. It was just, the way they've done it, I'm not sure if you've seen it on YouTube like the videos and things and they just did it really well and it was really tasteful. The campaign's done really well. I've seen so many photos in shop windows and it was in Times Square. It did really well. I'm really proud to have been part of that.
Sarah: I think it's true about sort of real women doing real things. I think there's such a lack of media exposure of women who are doing these incredible challenges.
I've interviewed women who've, you know, they rowed across the Atlantic, they've run across Africa. You mentioned Sophie, cycling Alpine to Alpine.
They're just these incredible women such as yourself who are doing these incredible challenges and they're such an inspiration for real women out there.
I hope that, they're definitely inspiring more women to go out and keep fit. I know that's something that you're very passionate about as well.
Amy Hughes: Definitely.
Sarah: You're a fitness coach and a nutritionist and what other things do you do?
Amy Hughes: Yeah, well at the moment I feel like I'm doing a bit of everything at the moment, but yeah, originally my main job is I'm a personal trainer and nutrition expert. I do stuff online and off obviously here in Cheshire. I really want to start doing more online stuff. I want to sort of create a community, where people, women, all over the UK can get together.
I totally agree with what you were saying then, it's so true, I'm hoping that more women can start inspiring more women.
I think this year is such a big year for it as well, with this girl can campaign and the Panache did "My Role Model" campaign. I just think this year's a big year for women inspiring women. I think we should just take that and really push it.
Sarah: Absolutely. There's so many great women out there which is absolutely fantastic.
So Amy, just want to say a massive thank you for being on the Tough Girl Podcast.
It's an incredible challenge that you did, well, all of them that you've done, running 53 marathons in 53 days, running from Oswestry down to London and doing the London Marathon, and being part of the Dame Kelly Trust, super excited about hearing more about girls on tour and the challenge, that sounds fantastic.
I will be including all of Amy's details, website, social media links in the show notes so please do check her out and go and say hi to Amy.
So Amy, thank you very much indeed for your time.
Amy Hughes: Oh no, thank you so much for having me, it's been a pleasure.