Marathon Runner Amy Hughes: Why I Love/Hate Running

Welcome to Love/Hate Stories, the 657Journal’s series exploring our unique relationship with exercise, by those who’ve fallen for it after years of stubborn resistance.

Amy Hughes is a phenomenon. And possibly a bit of a sadist.

In 2014, not content with simply running one marathon, she resolved to race 53 in 53 consecutive days around the UK. Last year she took this method of self punishment one step further, running 521 miles on a treadmill in one week.

Both set world records and raised a huge sum of money for The 53 Foundation, her charity aiming to help people with disabilities become more active.

Yet these feats are all the more remarkable given she only ran her first marathon in 2009. Despite the torture she inflicted on her feet covering these 1,909.6 miles in total (equivalent to legging it from London to Istanbul), Hughes is as passionate about running as ever.

Here she talks about her love affair with the sport that’s brought her relative fame, fortune and blisters in abundance.

I hated sport at school. I hated anything physical. The only subject I liked was art. When I was at college I started to notice I was getting really unfit. I started putting on weight and thought I need to change this but I didn’t have a clue of what to do. I was a bit embarrassed and wasn’t confident going to the gym but I thought I’d get up super early in the morning when no one can see me and go running. That’s where it all stems from.

My first run nearly killed me. I barely ran half a mile. I found it virtually impossible but liked that feeling of how it had pushed me out of my comfort zone. I loved the challenge of it. I loved how it helped clear my head. And I started enjoying it. I started running more and more and fell in love with it.

I loved the challenge of it. I loved how it helped clear my head.

I got the bug after my first 26.2 miles. It was the 2009 LA marathon because I was living in America at the time. I skipped the 5K and 10K and went straight for the full distance. I’m an all or nothing kind of person.

Ultramarathon runner Dean Karnazes inspired me to take on the 53 marathons challenge after I read his book 50/50: Secrets I Learned Running 50 Marathons In 50 Days. I absolutely loved it. He’s my running hero.

I wanted to inspire young people, especially young women. I didn’t feel there were many young female ultrarunners to look up to. Initially I aimed for 51 to match the 51 cities in the UK but found out the world record was 52 consecutive marathons for men and 17 for women so nudged it up to 53.

I wanted to inspire young people, especially young women.

My favourite of the 53 is Lake Windermere. I’ve done it a few times and I really love it. The scenery is amazing, the people are really friendly. It’s hilly as hell but it’s a really nice course.

Six months after doing the 53 marathons my immune system was really low. I didn’t get any injuries, just blisters, but I was getting really ill. It was my body’s way of coping. I took a big rest off and when I started training again I found it quite boring because I had nothing to aim for. That’s when I decided to target the treadmill challenge.

I didn’t think about how hard breaking the treadmill record would be. In 2016 the aim was to beat the record of 517 miles in a week and I got to 521 but I didn’t actually realise how hard it would be. I was running for about 20 hours a day, sleeping for two to three hours. It was just horrendous.

On day two I started getting blisters on my tongue. It felt like my throat was closing up.

To get through it I was eating like a baby. Any time I ate I felt sick. On day two I started getting blisters on my tongue. It felt like my throat was closing up — it was pure tiredness. Everything tasted horrible so I had to force food down. Luckily my physio and boyfriend were there to make sure I did, serving me mushed up protein pancakes, chicken and sweet potato, protein bars and isotonic drinks.

Afterwards my body was an absolute mess. I finished with 13 blisters and was completely knackered. For more than a month afterwards it felt like I had done a brutally heavy leg session. It was mostly due to exhaustion from lack of sleep. A month afterwards I still had no feeling in my toes. Mentally I felt ready to train but my body was so tired.

“I am strong. I am fearless. Don’t stop”

Running on that goddamn treadmill was the toughest mental battle I’ve ever faced. I’m normally quite positive but there were so many times I wanted to quit. Messages of support usually pick me up but I kept losing faith until three sentences stuck in my head: “I am strong. I am fearless. Don’t stop”. I started repeating that in my head over and over and it helped. I now use that for anything. It’s my slogan.

I can’t not have breakfast before a run. If I go running first thing in the morning I’ll have to get up earlier and have something like peanut butter on toast. In the afternoon I’ll have a snack like a banana or a protein shake quite a bit beforehand.

I don’t stretch beforehand. I find it makes your muscles relax too much. Instead I start running slowly and build up my pace gradually. Then I stretch afterwards. I’m a massive fan of yoga too so will try and do a session afterwards and everyday I’ll use a foam roller to massage my legs and iron out knots in my back.

There is a sport or activity for everyone. I never used to think there was one for me but I found mine.

Country music always gets me out of a hole. Don’t tell anyone, ever! Anything upbeat kicks me out of a funk but sometimes a mix of slow songs helps me keep a good rhythm. As long as I have my phone and an isotonic drink when I go out on a run I’m happy. My favourite country artist? Zac Brown Band. You’ve outed me as a country music lover. It’s out there now.

I’m not telling you to run. It might not be for you. But I feel there is a sport or activity for everyone. I never used to think there was one for me but I found mine. Running’s my thing. I tell people to try as many things as they can, get out there, don’t be scared and you never know what you might end up enjoying.

You can learn more about Amy Hughes here and follow her on Twitter at @53Marathons. To find out more about The 53 Foundation click here.

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