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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Time To Crank It Up

On December 30, 2011, in Running, by Robert Dallison

It’s funny how the calendar can play tricks with one’s perception of time. Until just a few days ago, everything about Brathay 10 in 10 was qualified as “next year”. And because 2011 has been a year of major upheaval and adjustment (all very positive fortunately), things labelled “next year” have taken something of a back seat…

Until now, that is. All of a sudden, “next year” is right around the corner — and with it my crazy challenge of running 262 miles in 10 days.

In just two weeks from tonight I will be at the the Brathay training weekend, having dinner with my fellow 10 in 10 runners. And the next morning (Jan 14) I will be running my reconnaissance circuit of Lake Windermere. We only have limited running time (4½ hours) to complete the full marathon course. This is less than 40 minutes longer than my best marathon time, so I have little or no margin for manoeuvre, given that I am far from race-fit at the moment.

Suddenly it’s all become very real. Those 10-day training series with ever-increasing mileage? I can only squeeze in a limited number between now and May. And weekends (only 19 left) are now a precious resource, to be used wisely — including for family time, because I’ll be spending so many hours out on the road due to work and running…

But my training plan is taking shape nicely, with a scattering of events every month. Early February I will be running the Enigma Quadzilla — four marathons in four days — which will give me a taste for what lies in store. In March comes the Bath Half Marathon, by which time I will hopefully be fit enough to shoot for a sub-1:45 personal best. And last but not least, early April the Sussex Marathon will be a good dry run for Brathay, as apparently the course is hilly and challenging.

The challenge of Brathay 10 in 10 is just as intimidating as it has ever been. But I’m loving every minute of it, even if the adrenaline tends to buzz a little every time I think about it!

2011, you’ve been great. 2012, here I come. It’s time to crank it up!!

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I Want Some Grit for Christmas

On December 16, 2011, in Running, by Robert Dallison

“Grit” was the word uppermost in my mind this morning as I drove to work through the first snow and icy roads of the winter.

I couldn’t help thinking, “that’s what I want for Christmas” — a massive dose of grit and determination, as I train for the Brathay 10 in 10 — ten marathons in ten days around Lake Windermere!

Actually, that’s not all I want. I also want you to help me attain my goal…

I am undertaking this crazy challenge to raise funds for Brathay Trust, the event organiser. Brathay Trust is a charity that supports and empowers young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, equipping them to take a constructive and fulfilling place in society, against all the odds. Click here to learn more about Brathay’s work.

My fund-raising target is £5,000, and I must reach £500 early in January.

My perfect Christmas gift would be if everyone I know could give a couple of pounds (or dollars, or euros) to help me reach this target.

Please check your back pockets to see what you can spare… And just as importantly, please take a few minutes and tell your friends about my running challenge and this very worthy fund-raising cause!

Thank you in advance for your generosity. Stay tuned to hear about my training, and to follow the event itself!

If you’re a UK tax-payer, Brathay will receive an extra 25% through Gift Aid. And if you’re not UK-based, you can still donate using a credit or debit card — your donation amount will be in pounds sterling, and your bank will convert the amount automatically.

Photo credit: John Stillwell/PA Wire

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Running With My Brain

On November 1, 2011, in Running, by Robert Dallison

Ten marathons, ten days. Run 26.2 miles, eat, sleep, repeat 9 more times. The more I think about this challenge, the more I realise that mental preparation will be as important as physical preparation, if not more so.

Since I started running in 2009, I have read my fair share of literature on the subject. One book that marked me particularly is Brain Training for Runners by Matt Fitzgerald.

You can click on the link to read synopsis and reviews [see my note below], but the basic idea is that the perception of our physical sensations is largely a product of our brain, which can be trained and controlled with a view to making our training and race performance more effective. In other words, when you think you are exhausted, you almost certainly have energy left in the tank — but your brain tells you that you don’t, as a mechanism to avoid over-exertion and injury.

If you have ever run a marathon or half-marathon, you may well have experienced an extraordinary rush in the final quarter mile, where suddenly your fatigue drops away and you find yourself sprinting with energy that you could only dream of a few minutes earlier. That energy, argues Fitzgerald, was there all along. It did not suddenly materialise from nowhere. It seems plausible that the brain “lifts the foot off the brakes” and allows your body to deploy its true reserves, because with the finish line so close there is little risk of physical damage.

What if we could harness these reserves, and tap into them at will? Therein lies Fitzgerald’s thesis, that it is in fact possible to retrain the brain and its mechanisms. Of course, these mechanisms are unconscious and deep-seated, and getting one’s brain to relearn them requires time and persistence. Also it is clear that injury and over-training are a risk, so it is essential to listen closely to one’s body and not be a slave to the training plan.

My quest to finish a marathon in under 4 hours was successful in Jan 2011, largely thanks to the ideas in Fitzgerald’s book that I adapted for my own purposes. Specifically, this involved teaching my brain how to perceive pain and fatigue differently. I deliberately created training situations designed to familiarise my body with the discomfort of miles 20 to 26 of the marathon, which from personal experience I knew to be massively more difficult than the first 20 miles combined.

Thanks to this training I developed a much deeper awareness of my own capabilities, and learned to use pain and exhaustion as gauges of what I could still accomplish, rather than as warning signals to be obeyed blindly by stopping at the edge of the road.

Now I am faced with a challenge of a different nature, one of endurance on a scale which I find intimidating every time I think about it. As I enter now into the critical 6 months before Brathay 10-in-10, I am exploring and testing new ways to use these same “brain training” principles.

The challenge I apprehend the most is that of avoiding injury despite the absence of recovery days. Having completed one series of 10 back-to-back training runs, my next yardstick will be to complete a “100 miles in 10 days” training series. Hopefully this exercise will give me a good idea of where I need to set my “cruising pace” so as to maximise my next-day recovery, and I fully expect it will teach me things about running that I have yet to imagine.

What a journey, and something tells me it’s only just beginning…

As always, it’s important to keep a sense of perspective. The physical challenge is tough by any standards. But it also has a purpose — to raise funds and support the excellent work done by Brathay Trust. Every pound, dollar or euro that you donate will help a disadvantaged young person extract themselves from hardship and deprivation, and will give them a fighting chance to make something of their life.

Please take a moment to visit the Brathay web site, and then click on this link to make a donation.

[note] Yes, that book title up there is an Amazon link. If you end up buying the book — which I do recommend if you want to explore new ways to train — I will donate my affiliate commission to Brathay!

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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