Alan Corcoran recently release his book, Marathon Man, sharing his journey of becoming the first person to run a lap of Ireland.
As a 21-year-old student, he ran around the coastline by completing a marathon (26.2 miles) every day for 35 consecutive days.
Here are four things he learned from pushing himself to the absolute limits…
1. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail
I was a track sprinter growing up. I’d represented Ireland on several occasions, sprinted to under-19 national championship gold, and trained with the country’s best.
As a third-year university student, though, I had enough of the demanding schedule and sacrifices. I quit athletics when the effort didn’t match the reward. For a few months, with the aid of 99p drinks, I integrated nicely into Dundee University’s nightclub scene, swapping 15 hours of training with socialising and curing the hangover.
Then, my dad suffered a stroke. It frightened the life out of me and lit a fire under my arse. I was only 20, and he was 60. I needed sports more than ever. Rather than sprinting laps of the track, I raised my sights to a lap of Ireland, inspired by Eddie Izzard’s Sports Relief achievement. I’d try to replicate Eddie’s 43 marathons in 51 days, Irish-style and in aid of national stroke charities.
Eight months until my advertised start date, there was a slight problem: I’d never run an ultra-marathon, marathon or even a half-marathon. With time running short and fresh off a boozy holiday in Santa Ponsa, I signed up to run the Dublin City Marathon to see what the fuss was about. I stupidly gave myself four weeks of preparation.
I might have been a national sprint champion, but the marathon broke me. I was bedridden for three days, incapacitated, as if after five rounds with the UFC heavyweight champ. Seven months and ticking…
2. Share to inspire
Talk is cheap, and actions speak louder than words. That said, if Eddie Izzard didn’t document and share the Sports Relief journey, I wouldn’t have dared to run a lap of Ireland. Eddie showed me what was possible.
Likewise, if it weren’t for Sean Conway’s swimming challenge, I would never have swum the length of Ireland. What they’ve achieved is incredible, but if they never shared their experience and knowledge, I wouldn’t have done what I did.
Achieving a goal is great. Sharing it is infinitely better because it can raise others, creating a butterfly effect. I hope my book pays it back and passes on the baton of inspiration, whatever your ambition is.
3. Success requires consistency and discipline
After my horrific debut marathon experience, I thought, How the feck am I going to run that distance for thirty-five consecutive days?
I put the intimidating goal at the back of my mind. Today is what mattered, and that was a four-mile run. That, I could manage. There were no incredible feats of endurance for a couple of months, just daily bite-sized pieces to unnoticeably build a concrete endurance base.
Three months later, I completed a solo training marathon. This time, my body could cope much better with the strain. The plan was working.
With another month or two, my training peaked at 116 miles in one week, including a 39-mile ultra-marathon. This was still nothing like the 184 miles I’d have to run for five consecutive weeks, but it was a hell of a ways from the crippling debut marathon.
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4. Fools wait for perfection
In September, I had shaken hands with a senior charity representative to run a lap of Ireland in June for their cause. In turn, they volunteered and committed to organising food, accommodation, physio and transport for the 35-day challenge. We had eight months to get into shape.
As the start day loomed, with thousands of hours of solo training miles completed, it was evident the charity hadn’t taken their commitment as serious as I did. There were few logistic pieces in place.
Less than a month out, they asked me to defer the project by a year. They even suggested running a handful of marathons across some European cities instead. That wasn’t the dream. That wasn’t the agreement. By hook or by crook, I was running a lap of Ireland. Without meals or accommodation in place, I threw caution to the wind and started regardless.
Preparation is rarely ideal. Waiting for perfection secures the failure of many feats. There comes the point when you have to go and trust in yourself to roll with the punches and figure it out along the way.