(Cape Town) – Under the blazing South African sun, comedian Eddie Izzard is days away from completing 27 marathons in 27 days, in aid of charity and to honour former President Nelson Mandela’s time spent incarcerated.
The English stand-up comedian, actor, and writer aims to raise funds for the Sports Relief charity to support disadvantaged people in the UK and abroad.
Izzard will run about 1127 km in total, a daunting distance for the mere mortal who finds a walk to shop tiring.
The start of the marathon saw Izzard crossing the Mbashe River and passing through Madiba’s home village of Mveso. His route also takes him to Robben Island and to Union Buildings in Pretoria. Four years ago, Izzard attempted the same challenge, but pulled out due to health reasons.
His first marathon was on February 23 and he will end on March 20 at the Union Buildings. Of course, completing marathons of this nature will be no easy task. The biological effects of this are swelling, delayed onset muscle soreness and can weaken the immune system.
The 54-year-old is not new to such athletics feats. In 2009, he completed 43 marathons in 51 days also for the Sports Relief Charity. When asked why he would put himself through such physical torture, Izzard replied, “27 marathons in 27 days is nothing compared to what Nelson Mandela did by serving 27 years in prison…”
Speaking to The Guardian, Izzard revealed how coming out as transgender prepared him for life’s other challenges:
“I’m counting down – that’s how I work each marathon. I’m more than halfway through my 27 marathons in 27 days challenge through South Africa for Sport Relief – 27 days to mark the number of years Nelson Mandela spent in prison. My final marathon ends in Pretoria, South Africa, on the steps of the Union Buildings where he was sworn in as president. I’m knackered and both legs hurt to varying degrees. I run each day until I’m done, which takes about seven hours. I don’t listen to music because the cars go really fast here – I don’t want to get hit. I link in to what’s around me – buffalo, tortoises and turtles, wildebeest, ostrich, zebra. If you’re listening to some band, it cuts out a whole bunch of senses.
It’s tough fighting boredom; when I get very hot and tired, my brain doesn’t work right. If you’re morose, you won’t finish the run. I sometimes mutter to myself or sing. I like singing the theme tune – a Mozart concerto – from Out of Africa. I’ll witter to myself on occasion, too. You have to keep your mind happy to make sure the dopamine is flying around the brain.
How do I prepare? It’s about building confidence. I wasn’t very good at the start, but I gradually got stronger. That’s what human beings do. I’m quite ordinary like that, but my determination is good.
I came out as transgender 30 years ago and that was tricky to do. It sounds bizarre but, ever since that point, I’ve been able to do quite difficult things. Walking out of the door wearing heels and makeup was so hard. I had to get my brain ready to do that. But it prepared me for everything else difficult that I’ve ever done in my life.
My only advice if you want to run a marathon is: listen to your body. We’re animals, but we’ve stopped listening to ourselves, so if something is aching stop pushing against the muscle; if you want to keep going, then walk it out or change the way you’re running. But listen to the signals.
I’m aware of my health this time around. In 2012, I came here and attempted this challenge but had to stop after four marathons in four days. After the third, my pee turned brown. We discovered it was a reaction to the medication I was taking for my cholesterol. The heat was pretty bad, too.
This time, on day five, I was told to rest – we couldn’t tell if the problem was heat exhaustion or my kidneys. I went to two hospitals and the specialist said I was fine, but that I needed to keep my hydration up. I fell a day behind, which means I’ll have to run two marathons on the last day, it’s called the Comrades Marathon – 56 miles in a day is what I’m going to attempt.
Still, I haven’t been this healthy since I was a kid: I eat porridge with honey for breakfast, boiled eggs, then banana, dried mango, and at night I eat salad, meat and fish to rebuild muscle.
Running has changed me – seven years ago, I ran 43 marathons in 52 days for Sport Relief around the UK. I’m a different person now. I’m the child that I once was – running around and climbing trees. I can look around and say: “Hey, look, there are some mountains over there. Let’s run over to them.” It’s kind of crazy but that’s how I feel running around. I’m 54, so if I can do 26 miles every day, anyone can.
For daily updates you can follow Eddie Izzard on Twitter: @eddieizzard