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Why I ran 35 marathons in 35 days

When his dad suffered a stroke, Alan Corcoran set himself a task – to run 35 marathons in 35 days. Now he’s written a book about it.

I was always a runner, from escaping my cot as a baby to having ants in my pants as a toddler to getting into athletics aged eight after a poor performance at the school sports day. The wooden spoon prize turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The loss spurred me on to join the local sprinting group. I came back and won the 100-metre race the following year, and, years later, I represented Ireland in sprints and multi-events, accruing a few national titles along the way. 

I didn’t make the grade when I entered the senior competition level and, like many, quit running at university. Then my dad, Milo, suffered a stroke when he was 60, and I was 20. It turned my world on its head. Dad’s and my mortality crashed into focus, and his health crisis compelled me to act. 

Inspired by Eddie Izzard’s Sports Relief TV show, where Eddie ran a heap of marathons untrained, I signed myself up to try to run a lap of Ireland – 35 marathons in 35 consecutive days. The effort would raise funds for the Irish Heart Foundation’s stroke awareness campaign, the National Rehabilitation Hospital’s stroke rehab unit and the Football Village of Hope, a charity my dad helped establish. The challenge and positive mission invigorated me at my lowest and returned a sense of control. 

Time felt precious. I gave myself a foolhardy deadline of less than a year to attempt the feat because stroke recurrence is common, especially in that first year, and I wanted my dad to be an integral part of it. The slight problem was that I’d never run a 26.2-mile-marathon or a half-marathon. The furthest I’d ever run was 10 miles as a one-off school fundraiser event as a teenager. 

As my dad began his near-impossible journey from hospital bed incapacitation to stroke rehabilitation, I took to the roads and trails, clocking slow miles on my feet. Before my official training began, I signed up for the Dublin City Marathon to see what the fuss was about, with four weeks of cramming done. Though I finished in 04:13:00, I’d have felt better if a heavyweight rugby player tackled me head-on. I was bedridden for days and gravely concerned about my upcoming challenge now that I was better informed about long-distance running.  

Many people know the sacrifice to run one marathon. My crash course to prepare myself for 35 consecutive marathons was intense. I started at 30 miles per week and climbed to 116 miles per week, ticking off 10 solo training marathons, including a 39-mile ultra-marathon around the spectacular Connemara wilderness. Still, there was a monumental question mark over whether my body would hold for five weeks of covering 26.2 miles per day on the concrete – 183.4 miles per week. 

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You might think that sounds like a lot of dreary misery, but I had a great crew of friends join me on the road to provide plenty of relief from the blisters, joint pain and nipple chafing. Though there were many struggles, there were more laughs along Ireland’s coastal and mountain roads. The fun translates into my book and many reviewers have commended my story’s humour in the face of adversity.  

In many ways, preparing to run a lap of my country was much like the writing process for my book, Marathon Man. It stemmed from a crisis. Instead of a family crisis, the world was in chaos this time – the Covid pandemic. Rather than lace up my runners, I booted up my laptop in the grey confines of
London homeworking lockdown to relive the running adventure before and after my desk job. 

Marathon Man book cover
Marathon Man: My Life, My Father’s Stroke and Running 35 Marathons in 35 Days by Alan Corcoran is available on Amazon (£9.99) and Audible

You can’t train for a 1,000-mile run by cramming on the last week or month. It’s about doing little and often with a long run or two per week, and that’s the habit I carried over to get my book completed. I took a risk and self-published, writing and managing every production detail myself, from the book’s cover design, illustrations, font type, page size, editorial decisions, and much more. Thankfully all the work paid off.  

With so much encouragement from sales and positive reviews, I recently completed a documentary film and drafted my second book, about my 500-kilometre length of Ireland sea swim, called Unsinkable. Let’s hope it has more success than that other famous unsinkable Irish creation! 

Marathon Man: My Life, My Father’s Stroke and Running 35 Marathons in 35 Days is available here

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine. If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member.You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

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