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Eddie Izzard: Million Pound Marathon Man

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Dana Stevens | 16:17 UK time, Friday, 26 March 2010

350x200_eddie_resized.jpg To be honest I'm lazy and doing any sort of exercise makes me grumpy. So I've been totally floored by the amazing 43 marathons that Eddie Izzard ran in just 51 days. That's 1,160 miles all around the UK. Just stop and think about that for a second... it's nuts! A crazy idea by anyone's standards. And I really didn't think that watching someone run for that long would make such compelling telly. But it seems that loads of you were as amazed as me, as the Eddie Izzard: Marathon Man reached OVER 10.3 MILLION of you. (If you missed the programmes you can still watch them now on iPlayer).

Of course Eddie Izzard was doing it all for charity and the best bit of this story is that he's raised well OVER A MILLION POUNDS for Sport Relief. That's a huge amount of money! (You can still donate here.)

So while the challenge will clearly have a lasting effect, what about the long term damage to Eddie's body? I can't believe he survived it! How did he cope with such a ludicrous amount of exercise? To find out I spoke to Greg White, fitness expert extrodinaire. Not only did he train Eddie for his marathons but he's also worked with Christina Bleakey for her water skiing challenge, trained celebs for the Million Pound Bike Ride, helped Chris Moyles and the other celebs hike up Mount Kilimanjaro last year and guided David Walliams to victory in his goose-fat covered swim across the channel. So he really knows what he's talking about.

Greg, how did you feel when you first heard what Eddie was attempting to do?

GREG: It's an incredibly tough challenge, even for a seasoned ultra-endurance runner. It's incredibly tough to run 43 marathons back to back. And then if you add on top of it that Eddie had very little running experience and importantly he'd only had about five and a half weeks to get ready. It made it extraordinary. It's something that even the ulta-endurance runners will look at and think that it's an incredible achievement.

So let's talk about what happened to Eddie's body, in the show we saw his body seizing up and loads of gross blisters being popped.....

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GREG: It's really all about adaptation. Exercise is an incredibly potent stimulus and actually it's an insult on the body. What the body does is it responds to cope with that insult. But over time it starts to adapt and that is what training is for. Obviously the problem for Eddie was that he actually didn't get that adaptation process as part of the training. He had to adapt during the challenge itself. And that's really what made it incredibly different for him.
In terms of his health, we had to deal with things like the blisters and loss of toenails but also things like calorie control. You get suppression of immune functions, so the likelihood of getting coughs and colds rises with this sort of exercise. Then, of course, you get orthopaedic injuries; injuries of ankles, knees and hips. So it's not just about performance itself, it's about keeping him healthy enough to repeat that performance day after day for 51 days.

I was really interested in the fact that even on his day off he had to walk for seemed almost cruel! I guess you can't just stop running after all that time?

GREG: I'll always remember one of the things that Eddie was disappointed about was that he didn't lose any weight. Actually that means that I was successful in the sense that what I'd done is given him an energy balance, and we've actually maintained his weight between 43 marathons which is no mean feat. It means consuming huge numbers of calories. He was probably consuming somewhere in the region of 6000 calories a day - which is absolutely enormous. And so I guess what you have to think about is that he moves from 43 marathons and he finishes on the final day in Trafalgar square, used to eating 6000 calories a day for a month and a half, and the following day he moves into nothing.
So what you have to have is a de-adaptation following the challenge to bring it back to a normal way of life, particularly with regard to calorie consumption, but actually with regard to exercise as well. So I set a programme for Eddie of running once we'd finished. So that he could effectively wean himself off an incredibly arduous challenge over an incredibly long period of time.

So how long after finishing did he have to keep running....a couple of weeks or days?

GREG: It's an interesting one as he's actually still running now. Not every day, but he runs as much as he can. What you tend to find with these guys is that it's a life-changing event taking part in these incredible challenges. Because what they start to do is they start to make exercise part of their daily routine and their culture and they actually continue to exercise once the challenge has finished.

Phew! I'm exhausted just thinking about it

Professor Greg White is a professor of Cardiovascular Physiology.
Dana Stevens is content producer for BBC Three online.



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