Day 5 – Turning Things Around?

On May 15, 2012, in Running, by Robert Dallison

Finish Time — 08:25:21
Average Pace — 19:17 per mile
Steps Taken — 63,270
Mantra of the Day — “I may feel pain but I will not fail”

Today I decided early on that I had to adopt a strategy that will get me through to the end of this event — not just to the end of the day. The worst part of yesterday’s 8-hour ordeal was to feel everything deteriorate the more miles I covered. Psychologically this leaves you on a negative note at the finish line, and it is all too easy for this negativity to carry into the next day.

Sure enough, I woke up this morning feeling awful, and very unsure about my ability to complete the whole event. Roxy from Body Rehab was brilliant – during my morning physio session she sat next to me and helped me talk through it, so I was feeling a little more confident when I actually got out on the course.

My strategy, then, was to walk as far as I needed in order to preserve my ankle and give it a chance to heal. If it took me nine hours to finish, so be it. But more than anything I want to be running again by the end of the week!

The first nine or ten miles were very tough, but after another chat with Aly by the side of the road, I managed to toughen up a little bit. I took a leaf out of Stuart’s book and started alternating — 100 paces walking, 50 paces running. 100 paces walking, 50 paces running. Rinse and repeat. This was my entire focus until mile 16 or thereabouts, at which point I found the walking too long and the running too short. So I switched the count… and a mile or two later I dispensed with the walking altogether.

The net result of this was that after taking 4:42 to get to Newby Bridge, I made it back to Brathay in just 3:43. Painfully slow, but a massive negative split nonetheless.

I don’t want to jinx anything by getting excited too quickly, but in my body I feel that things are back under control, my ankle injury is healing (thanks again to Body Rehab!) and I may actually get back to the full running experience before the end of this event.

We’ll see how everything goes tomorrow, but this may just be the day I turn things around.

And in any case I have now completed 5 consecutive marathons, I am halfway through this adventure, and I finished my day believing again that I will complete it!

Thank you again to everyone for your messages of encouragement on my blog and Twitter and Facebook and email — I cannot begin to describe what a difference your support makes in the dark moments!

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Day 4 – Embracing The Fear

On May 14, 2012, in Running, by Robert Dallison

Finish Time — 8:17:40
Average Pace — 18:59 per mile
Steps Taken — 69,460
Mantra of the Day — “Embrace your fear”

This morning I woke up to bad thoughts of not finishing today’s marathon, and worse, to thoughts of what would happen if I could not start. My left ankle was still swollen and inflamed, painful from the first step of the day. I didn’t feel much like walking down to the main house, let alone going out for another 26.2 miles around the lake.

Still, we are not here to give up so easily. At breakfast I chose my mantra of the day from Class 4’s card — “embrace your fear” — and lodged it firmly in my mind. Then I headed for Body Rehab where Maria, Tracy and Tamara did some amazing work to get me back on my feet. Against all expectations I took to the road at 8:30am, feeling that I might actually make it to the finish line.

The outward stretch to Newby Bridge was tough, but manageable. I walked the uphills and jogged the descents, trying to preserve my ankle and minimise any further damage — while also trying not to over-compensate which could cause problems elsewhere in the body. Above all I forced myself to think in terms of a 7-day strategy that would get me to Sunday’s finish line, not just today’s.

After making the turn at the foot of the lake, the ankle was starting to make its presence felt. Matt cruised past me, then Sally and Keith and the other front-runners of the main pack. It’s good to see your friends after 3 or more hours grinding it out on your own…

From mile 14 onwards the task became progressively more difficult. Although I was running certain stretches, my biggest goal was to avoid additional damage to the ankle. Not easy when you have to take thousands of steps on it to complete the course!

Aly and Mac and Andrea were incredibly supportive up this back stretch, as were the rest of my 10-in-10 friends who stopped and chatted as they came by. The weather turned nasty after Bowness, but having anticipated a long day with changeable weather, I was wearing full protective gear so managed to stay warm and dry.

After a long, long time I finally made it back to Brathay and was actually able to run most of the last two miles. With the help of the miracle workers at Body Rehab, I am hoping that I might actually begin to improve over the next few days and actually enjoy a couple of the remaining runs rather than having to endure them!

I had a lot of time today to think about why I am doing this event in the first place. So many young lives will be changed for the better by the funds we raise; and when you focus on this, it suddenly becomes easier to get through the tough moments. Then too I remembered the day’s mantra, and on more than a couple of occasions I literally put my arms out to embrace the shadows and doubts that were dragging me down, and said “No way you’re stopping me, you’re coming all the way back to Brathay with me”. Sounds weird, I know, but after a couple of bad days in an event like this, I think you get into place in your mind that is very intense and primal.

A special mention goes to Howard, who interrupts his pre-race routine to come and cheer me off at the early start (as well as scolding me to get to bed earlier!); and also to Foxy, who popped out of the bushes today at mile 24. He had finished his race, then came back to run the last couple of miles with me. True 10-in-10 spirit! His timing was perfect, I was beginning to flag even though the end was in sight. I hope that before the end of the week I will be able to repay the favour or pay it forward to someone else who needs the support.

To end on a positive note, I have now covered 104.8 miles so triple digits are in the bag, tomorrow marks the halfway point, and I still believe that I can finish this challenge!

Oh, a little challenge for Class 4 and anyone else who wants to play — see if you can guess why I have chosen today’s picture… If you think you know then leave your comment below!

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Day 3 – Anything Can Happen, And Probably Will

On May 13, 2012, in Running, by Robert Dallison

Finish Time — 7:01:14
Average Pace — 16:04 per mile
Steps Taken — 63,940
Mantra of the Day — “With a spring in my step and a smile on my face”

Because of my long and difficult day yesterday, I decided to join Toks and take an early start today at 8am, instead of the main field start at 10:30am. Physio treatment went on a little longer than planned, so I did not get on the road until 8:10am, but it was definitely the right decision.

The daily routine at Brathay is somewhat frenetic — breakfast; balance and proprioception testing; pre-run physio treatment; run a marathon; post-run stretching; protein intake; lunch; balance and proprioception testing again; ice bath; shower; prepare next day’s drinks and fuel; laundry; dinner; post-run physio treatment. In some ways the marathon itself is the calmest time of the day!

Running early means there are no drink & food stops between mile 6 and mile 18, so fuel and fluid strategy is completely different because you are carrying everything you need for almost half the race. No problem though – I much prefer to deal with this in return for arriving back at Brathay with a couple of extra hours in hand!

Last night I slept longer and better, so I started today’s run feeling calm and re-energised. In fact I made it as far as Newby Bridge (13 miles) before feeling any real fatigue, and even then it was nothing out of the ordinary. My running stayed strong all the way past Bowness (mile 20) and I was on pace to finish in about 5:50, about 40 minutes faster than yesterday.

Then suddenly from nowhere came a really disagreeable pain in the front of my ankle, that basically made me run so slowly that I was able to power-walk faster than I could run.

Within a couple of minutes I made the tough decision not to run any more at all, but rather to walk the last 5 miles and give Roxy’s miracle workers at Body Rehab the best chance of putting me back together.

In the end I finished in just over 7 hours. Absolutely infuriating after making what I thought was a strong comeback from yesterday’s performance. Still, I finished — if not with quite such a spring in my step, then at least with a smile on my face!

At physio tonight I was treated to poking and prodding and ice and laser treatment that hopefully should get my leg back in shape by tomorrow morning. With a bit of luck all I will have to deal with is the traditional Lakeland weather that has now rolled in from the hills…

This event is gruelling by any standards, and demands respect. At all times you have to listen carefully to your body and be prepared to make tough decisions in the field based on getting through several more days, not just today. Most of all, you must never forget that even on a day that starts well, anything can happen and probably will!

If you’re following this adventure and would like to support me in my fund-raising for Brathay Trust, then please make a donation at

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Day 2 – Tough Day But Still In One Piece

On May 12, 2012, in Running, by Robert Dallison

Finish Time — 6:31:24
Average Pace — 14:56 per mile
Steps Taken — 54,740
Mantra of the Day — “Keep calm and jog on”

If someone tells you Brathay 10-in-10 is hard, don’t believe them. It’s harder. Much harder.

Today was my first reality check here at Brathay. Every hill felt steeper than yesterday, every mile felt longer.

Physically I am doing fine — so far so good, no real niggles or discomfort. But for some reason as early as mile 4 I started to feel depleted, empty. It was different somehow from the energy crash or “wall” that you might expect at mile 18 or 20 if you are under-fuelled. More like a general fatigue, maybe lack of sleep over the weeks leading up to this event.

Long story short, I slogged it out mile after mile and finally got round in just over six and a half hours. For anyone who might be wondering, yes that’s quite a long time to be out on the road.

I’d like to take the opportunity to thank Aly and Mac (from Brathay Trust) for their dedicated support out on the road and for knowing how to say the right thing at the right time. They are just amazing.

My chosen mantra for the day proved to be perfect. I did start to panic a little bit at one point, then I remembered “yes, I can do this!” — if only I stay calm, believe in my preparation, and keep moving, even slowly. Thank you to Class 4 for including this one in their amazing card which now has pride of place on the motivational wall of our athletes’ HQ!

I have to say that even in the hard moments, I keep in mind that the kids for whom I am raising funds don’t have the luxury of walking away from their challenges and tough situations. So when I finish this ordeal next Sunday, I will be thinking of the children and young adults who will have to continue enduring damaging and abusive environments that we find it hard to imagine. Please help me accomplish my goal of raising £5,000 to support the work of Brathay Trust, and visit my fund-raising page at Thank you for your support!

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Day 1 – Good Day But Some Tweaks Needed

On May 11, 2012, in Running, by Robert Dallison

Finish Time — 5:07:43
Average Pace — 11:44 per mile
Paces Taken — 51,576
See below for the day’s pictures

Day 1 of Brathay 10-in-10 started for me today at 6:30am, with the BodyRehab team taking baseline measurements for posture and balance, which involved functional squats, one-legged squats, overall balance and posture photography. They will be taking these same measurements morning and evening throughout the 10-in-10, which enables us to be very precise and scientific about how our bodies are suffering!

After sorting out my fuelling logistics for the day (gels, bars, shot blocks), a hearty breakfast was in order before the “media start” at 10am. The highlight was the Brathay gamekeeper complete with tweeds and deerstalker, firing his shotgun to sound the off. After dashing across the lawn for the cameras, we headed down to the road for the real start.

I’m not going to write a long race report. Suffice it to say that Windermere fully deserves its reputation of being one of the hardest road marathons in the UK.

Contrary to what one might expect, the course does not hug the lake shore. The total elevation gain and loss is about 2,000ft, which comes from a seemingly unending series of climbs and descents as you crest every single spur and shoulder that drops from the Lakeland fells down to Windermere.

Curiously the second half of the course feels much more difficult, even though the elevation gain is only 800ft (as compared to 1,200ft on the first half). The hills between Fell Foot and Bowness seem to go on forever. In fact, after a while even the downhill stretches begin to feel as if you’re climbing…

As a result I struggled from miles 16 to 22, but before and after this stretch I was in control and very much enjoyed the run. Because of that tough stretch I missed my goal of a 5-hour finish. My objective over the next few days will be to eat and sleep as much as possible, to avoid that mid-race burnout.

The afternoon and evening has been a bit of a blur… today’s run has put me in that zone where time doesn’t seem very important, and psychologically I am already preparing for tomorrow’s marathon.

Of course before signing off I want to thank BodyRehab and their magic hands… And I have to say that I am looking forward to the ice bath again tomorrow! 10 minutes in a bubbling jacuzzi at 3.7 degrees centigrade will do wonders to get the legs ready to hit the road again…

Please remember though, that I am not running for fun. I am trying to raise £5,000 to support Brathay Trust and the work they do with some of the most vulnerable and under-privileged young people in the country.

If you have a few pounds or dollars to spare, your contribution would be welcome at my fund-raising page, Thank you for your generosity and support!

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Day Zero Is Finally Here

On May 10, 2012, in Running, by Robert Dallison

Well here we are, back at Brathay. Suddenly everything is very real. The first marathon starts *tomorrow*. Gulp!

It’s great to be back with the group — and it really doesn’t seem like 4 months have gone by since we were last here.

After a long drive up through the rain and wind, I am happy that this amazing event is finally kicking off. All that’s left to do now is get a good night’s sleep!

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The Best Team Of Supporters I Could Ask For

On May 10, 2012, in Running, by Robert Dallison

This morning’s visit to meet Class 4 in Otterton was the best possible thing I could have done to kick off Day Zero of the Brathay 10-in-10.

It is a huge psychological boost to see how these young students are excited about supporting me, my fellow runners, and Brathay Trust.

We spoke for an hour and a half, and it was not long enough – I think they will agree that we could easily have continued all day!

We did a vote to select their Team 13 t-shirt design; they had me do a trial run around their playground perimeter to test my running style (!); we took pictures with a local journalist; I showed them Vibram FiveFinger shoes and running medals and a foam roller and refuelling products; they told me about all their ideas to raise funds for Brathay; and they asked me a lot of questions about running – really good questions that I often ask myself! What will give you the courage to finish the 10-in-10? How will you deal with failure? Who inspires you? Will you change the pace or style of your running for each marathon?

I’m not going to tell you how I answered these questions (and all the others!), because at some point I expect to host a guest blog from Class 4 where they will give their own account of our meeting.

But I will tell you that they presented me with the most extraordinary card, which has a drawing of all the 10-in-10 runners and a collection of running mantras that they have come up with. This card will go up in our team headquarters here at Brathay, for me and my fellow runners to take inspiration from every morning at breakfast.

To the boys and girls of Class 4, I would like to say a heartfelt “thank you” for inviting me to join you this morning. You are the best team of supporters I could ask for! Your enthusiasm and your support will be fresh in my mind as I get out on the road tomorrow.

To everyone reading this blog, you can play your part to support Brathay Trust by contributing to my fund-raising page, at Even if your donation is small, it will be valuable, and appreciated. And you can help too by spreading the word to your friends and acquaintances!

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The Amazing Story Of Class 4

On May 7, 2012, in Running, by Robert Dallison

Tucked away in a cute, typically English village near Exeter on the south coast of Devon, Otterton Primary School is a little gem of the British educational system.

As a topical project for 2012, Class 4 and their teacher Mrs Evans have been exploring the Olympic values of Pierre de Coubertin:

  • respect — fair play; knowing one’s own limits; and taking care of one’s health and the environment;
  • excellence — how to give the best of oneself, on the field of play or in life; taking part; and progressing according to one’s own objectives;
  • friendship – how, through sport, to understand each other despite any differences;
  • as well as the paralympic values of courage, determination, equality and inspiration.

The 13 students of Class 4 may be just 10-11 years old, but they never do anything half-heartedly. They have decided to organise a project around these themes. Each of them will individually raise funds for charity through a personal “Olympic enterprise” which could involve anything from washing cars to baking cup-cakes.

When Mrs Evans told Class 4 about my challenge to run 10 marathons in 10 days, they decided they would add a “relay marathon”, no less, to their Olympic values project. As part of their maths lesson, they measured the perimeter of their school playground, and calculated how many laps they would have to run in order to cover the marathon distance of 26.2 miles.

On 15th June, each student will take it in turn to run 2 laps at a time, sporting a Team 13 shirt. They expect to finish the complete distance in just over 3 hours. Yes, I am jealous of their speed!

Class 4 will be asking their families and friends for sponsorship to run this marathon. The funds they raise from this, and from the proceeds of their “Olympic enterprises”, will be donated to Brathay Trust.

These young children have displayed amazing autonomy and initiative. They have sorted out their own objectives, written and submitted their project plan to the school head for approval, and taken responsibility and ownership of their own project. Mrs Evans tells me that she has rarely seen them work so hard! I am sure that their enthusiasm will be matched only by their success.

Every penny of the funds raised by Class 4 will help Brathay Trust equip disadvantaged young people with the tools to regain their self-esteem and take charge of their own future. It is fitting, somehow, for Class 4 to be supporting their less fortunate peers.

I am honoured, and humbled, by the selfless and spontaneous support of Class 4. Their attitude and values will make for balanced, responsible adults later in life. We have much to learn from them, and I commend them as an example to follow.

If you would like to show your support for Class 4, and for the young people that Brathay helps, then please visit my fund-raising page at

Thank you sincerely for your support.

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Half A Million Steps

On May 4, 2012, in Running, by Robert Dallison

For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by how we perceive distances, amounts and numbers. Two things intrigue me. First, that our perception of large or small depends so much on context; and second, that most of us find it impossible to visualise numbers that are outside a certain range.

I think most people would agree that a marathon is long. (Anecdote. Many people ask me, “Are you doing a 10-mile marathon or a 20-mile one?” Breathing slowly to stay calm, I remind them gently that a marathon has to be 26.2 miles, or it’s not a marathon…)

Now my daily commute is just over 25 miles each way, close enough to marathon distance. It takes me about half an hour, which compared to most people’s commute is short to average. I certainly think it’s short. But I still think 25 miles is a long way to run. (Even so, I’ve considered running home from work one day when the days get longer…)

“OK,” I hear you say, “but when you commute, you’re in a car, you’re not running!” Alright then, what do you think about driving 25 miles and back to have dinner this evening? “Mehh, that’s too far…” Ha! So the short distance suddenly got longer — in your perception.

You get the point. It’s all about your frame of reference.

Frame of reference also comes into play when we try to understand extremely large and extremely small numbers (or distances, or quantities). Nuclear physicists routinely trade in extraordinary units like tera-electronvolts (TeV). An electron volt is the energy given to an electron by accelerating it through 1 volt of electric potential difference. And a tera-electronvolt is 1,000,000,000,000 electron volts. WHAT?? Don’t worry, I don’t understand either.

Try this though — a tera-electronvolt is the energy of a flying mosquito. Suddenly it becomes more manageable… the frame of reference is familiar! (But wait a minute – a mosquito is small. How can CERN smash subatomic particles and explore the origins of the universe… using the energy of just 8 flying mosquitoes? Bzzzzzzz…. I will never look at a mosquito the same way. Especially not if it’s approaching at the speed of light. A bite at that speed would just create too much anti-matter.)

Digression. If you’re interested in reading about advanced physics in terms that normal people can understand, you have to visit my friend Jon Butterworth who works on the Atlas experiment at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider. He’s a serious physicist! But his blog has helped me understand a lot of stuff that was previously obscure. His prediction that the faster-than-light neutrinos were almost certainly due to experimental error was correct — if not for the right reason — but also, and more importantly, understandable by a non-physicist!

So, digression over, I come finally to the point of my article. At the training weekend for Brathay 10-in-10 back in January, the physical therapy support team gave an excellent presentation on what we should expect. Tucked away in the middle was this innocent statement:

“To complete the 10-in-10 you will have to run about half a million steps.”

This has echoed in my mind almost every day since then.

To start with I did not understand. I had no frame of reference to measure it by. Worse, I found it scary and hard to believe, so I did the calculation for myself.

  • 10 marathons
  • Finish time approximately 5 hours on average (barring major problems), or 300 minutes
  • Stride cadence 160-180 steps per minute (yes, we step faster and shorter in minimalist running)


  • lower range 10 x 300 x 160 = 480,000 steps
  • upper range 10 x 300 x 180 = 540,000 steps

And if my finish times stretch out beyond 5 hours, well, I’ll be too tired to count. So just go ahead and calculate it for me, would you? Much obliged :)

Mind boggling. I don’t even know what half a million means. Do you? I mean, do you intuitively get what it means? I certainly don’t. Such a large number is not in our normal scale of understanding, and so we need a frame of reference.

The only way I can get my head around this concept is to visualise an enormous pile of pennies, and to say that every step I take during the 10-in-10 has a penny assigned to it. A pile like this would probably fill my living room.

Half a million pennies makes £5,000. And right there is my fund-raising goal for Brathay Trust.

If you’re reading this, I’d wager you have a few spare pennies that you wouldn’t miss. Me, I’m running half a million steps to help young people who may never know the luxuries that you and I enjoy. Please consider throwing a few pennies on the pile to support me — and them. Whatever way you look at it, the finishing line is a long way away. If nothing else, knowing that you have chipped in will help me take a few more steps towards my goal!

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Minimalist Endurance Running

On May 3, 2012, in Running, by Robert Dallison

As many of you know, I have been running “minimalist” for over 2 years now — in other words, 75% of my running career.

“Minimalist” doesn’t mean I’m trying to be cool and trendy. Actually, it makes me a little marginal. I get plenty of strange looks and skeptical comments when people see me undertaking a marathon in shoes that look like foot gloves.

What minimalist means to me is that the human body is an extraordinary mechanism, a finely tuned orchestra of bones, joints, nerves, muscles and tendons. Regardless of how fit you are, your body is capable of working with maximum efficiency — if you will allow it to!

Your body will always strive to protect itself, and will do what is best for it under the conditions that you subject it to. This can sometimes lead to unexpected results. In the case of “normal” running shoes that are supposedly designed to “protect” and “support” the feet and lower legs, there is a growing wave of public opinion that says these shoes are in fact an impediment to ideal gait, stance and proprioception.

Back in 2010, after doing a lot of reading on the subject, I decided I could not pass judgment on this debate without trying minimalist shoes for myself. So I made the leap and found a new freedom in my running that I had not anticipated.

Two years later, I know for a fact that I will never again do any recreational or race running in so-called “normal” shoes. Indeed, if at some point I do transition away from the Vibrams that have given me such good service, it will most likely be to adopt full barefoot running!

But this is for the future. Right now I am facing the enormous challenge of running 262 miles in 10 days to support Brathay Trust, and as far as I know I will be the first person to complete an event like this in minimalist shoes(*). I know — all this proves is that I am marginally more crazy than my 17 companions. But only marginally…

(*) Of course I am happy to be the third or the three-hundredth, so feel free to set me straight in the comments if that’s the case!

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  • Running PRs

    5K - 23:17 (Oct 16, 2010)
    5K - 23:37 (Mar 13, 2010)
    5K - 26:23 (May 23, 2009)
    10K - 49:09 (Oct 3, 2010)
    10K - 49:36 (Nov 26, 2009)
    10K - 51:36 (Oct 4, 2009)
    13.1 - 1:46:28 (Mar 07, 2010)
    13.1 - 1:52:23 (Nov 13, 2009)
    26.2 - 3:53:49 (Jan 30, 2011)
    26.2 - 4:39:14 (Jan 31, 2010)

    Running Goals

    5K - 22:00
    10K - 45:00
    13.1 - 1:40:00
    26.2 - 3:45:00
    Feb 2012, four marathons in 4 days
    May 2012, ten marathons in 10 days