Last time I chatted to Laura Jones for Lessons in Badassery, she was two marathons in to her huge ICANRUN7 challenge to run seven marathons on seven continents within a year. Pretty remarkable for someone who dreamt up the challenge when she could barely run a kilometre without stopping!
Since then, Laura has completed her epic marathon running challenge and has finished some of the most gruelling marathons in the world – including the highest marathon on the planet, the Everest Marathon, as well as the brutal Yukon Arctic Marathon, which saw her compete in eyelash-freezing temperatures of -40°! After finishing her challenge with the Kilimanjaro marathon in March this year, Laura filled me in on her massive running journey.
You dreamt up your ICANRUN7 challenge when you could barely run 1km. Seven and a half marathons later, are you a runner for life?
It feels crazy to think that less than 2 years ago running was never a part of my life. I actually used to look at people running and think they were crazy. Didn’t they know it was bad for them?! Didn’t they have a better way of getting around?! Sounds terrible now, but it’s true. And then I grew a love for running and feel like I’ve been on a rollercoaster of a journey ever since. So yes, whilst I’m able, I will be a runner for life.
How have you changed as a runner since you your first ever marathon in London in 2017?
I think I’m certainly a more confident runner now, both physically and mentally. I know when to listen to my body and what it’s trying to tell me. Mentally, I’m more confident in my abilities because I know what I’ve had to endure to get to those finish lines, and that I can do it.
Were there many moments in your training when you lost motivation for your ICANRUN7 challenge or has it all been plain sailing?
There were certainly times when it just felt impossible. My training wasn’t going to plan and I wasn’t getting the sponsorship support I needed and everything felt like it was against me – but it wouldn’t be a challenge if it were easy!
How did going from no running to running 7 extreme marathons within a year affect you physically? I’d imagine you’d feel exhausted?
I put everything into this challenge, and I think I certainly suffered with burnout just before the Kilimanjaro marathon. I had lost my love for training, and even though I only had one marathon left I just couldn’t find the motivation I needed. I was both physically and mentally exhausted.
Which has been your favourite marathon experience?
It’s such a difficult question because they were all incredible in their own way. But the challenge all started when I said yes to running the Everest Marathon. The journey to Everest Base Camp, the tough running conditions, and the sense of huge achievement when I crossed that finish line are memories that will stay with me forever.
And which has been the toughest?
When I look back it’s hard to pick the toughest because a lot of them had some element which I struggled with. In Australia I had to run in 30-degree sunshine and Patagonia 100kph winds. But I think if I had to pick the toughest it would be the Yukon Arctic marathon because of the freezing conditions.
In the Yukon marathon temperatures were as low as -40! Can you tell me a bit about that experience?
It was brutal and the temperatures made it impossible to run. At -40 the cold gets through every single layer you have on. If you move too fast and start to sweat then it’s a disaster because the layers closest to your skin start to freeze. The route is along a frozen river bed which creaks and cracks under your feet. I really struggled with this marathon because I lost the use of my hands, due to the cold, very early on in the run. Luckily my husband, Rhys, did this one with me and was able to be an amazing support. It was such an incredible feeling to cross the finish line with him after such an epic day and share that achievement.
What kit did you wear for it and did you manage to stay warm?
On my top half I wore a merino wool short-sleeve base layer, a merino wool long-sleeve base layer, a fleece, a synthetic jacket, a synthetic vest and a down jacket. On my head a bobble hat and a balaclava with a merino wool buff and some ski googles. On my hands I had wool liner gloves, fleece gloves and large mittens – and I still lost the feeling in my hands! On my legs I had merino wool long-johns and soft shell trousers. On my feet, I wore Salomon Snowcross. In my bag I carried two large Hydroflasks of hot tea, some snacks, and more layers. Plus an emergency foil blanket and first aid kit.
Despite all this kit I still froze. I lost the feeling in my hands and my numb fingertips took a month to get the feeling back. About 1 hour from the end of the marathon I was so cold I was no longer making any sense when I was talking – my body was in shut down mode. It’s pretty scary now, looking back.
Were there any of your marathons that you just didn’t enjoy?
I don’t think there is one marathon I could say that I didn’t enjoy. There’s always something about them to enjoy, even when times were bad I just needed to look around to remember what it was I was doing and that felt amazing.
You completed your challenge running Kilimanjaro. How did the altitude compare to the Everest marathon?
Unlike Everest I was lucky to have the view of Kilimanjaro without the altitude as the marathon was in the foothills of the mountain which meant the only thing to contend with was the heat.
During the learning curve of becoming a prolific marathon runner within months, did you make any mistakes you now look back on and have a giggle at?
One mistake which sticks out in my mind is running the London Marathon and a bunch of events prior to that in trail running shoes. It was only when I injured myself in the Banff marathon that I started to look into my running shoes and realised that I actually needed a road shoe which also gave me stability, as well as my very hard packed aggressive trail running shoe… Ooops!
Your injury during the Banff marathon must have been a major blow, and meant you had to find a replacement marathon. Mentally, how did it affect you at the time?
It was extremely hard. I’d gone from the high of Everest to the low of sitting in a hospital bed in just a few weeks. I remember not wanting to get in touch with anyone at home because I felt like I’d let everyone down and nobody was going to believe in me anymore. I was hard on myself for weeks after, however everyone around me was so supportive and I had comments from people saying that they felt my story was now a lot more relatable because of my injury.
You joined a running club at the start of your journey – would you recommend it?
100%! The running club [Dorset Doddlers] has been there for me since the start and has been very supportive. They were able to help when I just didn’t know where to start with my training. I would highly recommend joining a running club to anyone who would like to start running. It’s much easier to stay focused when you’re surrounded by like-minded people.
Do you have any mental strategies for tough marathon moments?
When I feel like things get tough, I start talking to myself in a positive way and try to push out all the negative thoughts. I repeat a couple of things over and over: ‘I can, I will’ and ‘Believe and I will achieve’, sometimes even writing them on my hand.
I also enjoy finding someone to run with. I have met so many new friends from all over the world just by running sections of marathons with them. You’d be surprised how time goes faster and pain becomes less when your mind is concentrating on chatting.
During your ICANRUN7 challenge what was your running training like?
My training was mixed between short runs during the week and a long run on the weekend. I would also do yoga and pilates to help with my core strength. During running club sessions we would do hills, intervals and sprints but I’d always leave that to the running club coach to set because I didn’t really know what I was doing!
You’ve run in some beautiful places around the world. Where was the scenery the most spectacular?
I have run in some truly mesmerising places. The scenery of the Everest region is just mind-blowing. When you’re up close and personal with some of the world’s highest mountains, it’s pretty hard to beat. Patagonia was certainly up there, too. The scenery in Patagonia looked like every incredible postcard you’ve seen and it doesn’t look real when it’s right in front of your eyes.
How did the added element of travel affect the challenge of running 7 marathons in a year?
When I began training for the marathons and entering smaller events in the run-up to the challenge, I’d started to get myself into a little routine of things I liked to eat on the run-up, for breakfast in the morning and how many hours before I wanted to eat etc. When you’re travelling this all goes out the window! You arrive off flights feeling tired and stiff, and when you’re staying in hotels you can’t just eat what you want, when you want. All of this added to the extra stress!
Do you have any pre- and post-marathon rituals?
I always have everything laid out the day before a run and I like to have breakfast 3-4 hours before the start. After a marathon I always make sure I have a packet of salty crisps waiting for me, and a nice hot bath!
What have been the highs and lows of your ICANRUN7 challenge?
The whole journey has been a high for me. The places I’ve been, the people I’ve met, the finish lines I’ve crossed, sharing those memories with loves ones. I’ve become a completely different person because of this challenge; I now believe in myself and I know I can achieve anything I put my mind to. With all challenges you have lows but I believe any lows I’ve experienced have only made me stronger along the way.
What are your three top tips for would-be marathon runners?
- Find like-minded people to train with, to be inspired by and to ask advice.
- Set yourself realistic goals and celebrate every single achievement, great or small.
- Focus on why you want to run a marathon and not what others think your marathon journey should look like.
Have you had the post-challenge blues?
I was ecstatic, overwhelmed and a little sad when I finished the project. I had gone from having a purpose to having no goal at all – it was a really weird time. I took a few weeks to get myself back on track. Now I have new goals to work towards and I’m actually training with a personal coach, Nikki. She’s helping me to continue to improve my fitness and endurance so that I can hopefully start taking on ultra marathons by the end of the year. I realised that I’m the best version of myself when I’m working towards a goal that keeps me motivated.
You can follow Laura’s running and adventures via her social media channels: www.facebook.com/icanrun7, www.twitter.com/icanrun7_, and www.instagram.com/explaura_. Laura’s website is www.icanrun7.com.