“What the hell are you running from?” It’s a question I’ve been asked on a near-weekly basis since 2009, when I completed my first marathon on a lovely spring morning in Paris.
Since that day I’ve run 15 marathons, six ultra-marathons and 43 half-marathons – and I ran 31 of those half-marathons one after the other, in quick succession.
I’ve done more running in the past six years than I’d done in the previous 31 put together. So when my friends and family ask me what I’m running from, I’m not really surprised.
The truth is, this obsession started the moment I crossed the finish line in Paris. I’d been exposed to a highly addictive but very simple idea: I could set myself challenges I’d never dreamed I’d be able to achieve – and I could finish them. I, Kieran Alger, could get shit done.
Asking yourself what you’re made of and getting a positive answer is powerful
Once this idea sticks it’s hard to shake. I love running, it keeps me sane. But the thing I’m really addicted to is completing challenges.
Asking yourself what you’re made of and getting a positive answer is powerful. The problem is that you keep on asking yourself increasingly extreme questions…
And about six months ago I asked myself, “I wonder if I could complete the ‘toughest footrace on Earth’, the Marathon Des Sables?” Problem was, I’d already secured sought-after places in the Boston Marathon and London Marathon.
I’m running 156 miles across the Moroccan Sahara, carrying all my own kit
These three races happen across three weekends in April. I decided I might as well do the lot. That’s how the Eight Marathons, Three Continents, 20 Days Challenge was born.
I kick off on 6 April with the Marathon Des Sables. 156 miles in six days, across the Moroccan Sahara, carrying all my own kit (around 8.5kg) in temperatures up to 50 degrees Celsius. Nine days after I cross the finish line in Africa, I’ll be on the start line in Boston. Six days after Boston it’ll be London.
How do you train for a challenge like this?
My training has been intense. Under the helpful guidance of the team at the PaleoGym. I’ve been training six days a week with a combination of strength sessions in the gym, brutal interval hill-runs and midweek long-runs carrying my backpack.
I’ve also completely changed my diet to a modified version of the Whole30-cum-Paleo diet. In short, that means: no sugar, no dairy, no soy, nothing from grain, no gluten and no alcohol. Okay, limited alcohol…
I’ve been spooning fish oil into my face at 6am to help shed fat
I’ve been spooning fish oil into my face at 6am to help shed fat, and I’ve been eating something called primal fibre. I’ve no idea what that is either, but it’s helped me to drop my body-fat percentage from 20 per cent down to 14 per cent in two months. The less blubber I carry across the desert, the better.
I’d be lying if I told you that all this hadn’t affected my life. It’s been tough. But the results have been well worth it. I’m sleeping better, I feel better and I’ve finally shifted my 36-year-old gut.
With just over 40 days to go, am I confident? Well, I’m getting there. When I worry I might not make it, I go back to the thought that carried me around that first marathon in Paris: take one step at a time, deal with whatever’s thrown at you, and pray everything will be okay.
More often than not, it is.
Follow Kieran’s progress at his blog, Man Vs. Miles