For many people, running one marathon is a lifetime’s achievement. However, one Runner’s World forumite has set the bar considerably higher. The challenge for Selina Da Silva (aka Shades) was to complete the agonising Brathay 10 in 10 Challenge – 10 marathons in 10 consecutive days – as she attempted to become the first woman to have achieved this monumental feat.
Many of you will already know Shades as an active, much-admired and long-standing RW forumite. You may even be following her marathon training programme. A veteran of 181 marathons – 40 of which have been ultras – she is certainly no stranger to endurance events and the physical and mental commitment that goes with them.
Why would she put herself through this? "I thought it was a shame that no woman had completed the challenge," says Shades. "I wanted to show that women can do it as well as men."
The 10 in 10 team
On May 8 she arrived with 10 other competitors at Brathay Hall near Ambleside, Cumbria, home of the Brathay Hall Trust and the Brathay 10 in 10 Challenge.
Together, the three female and eight male competitors lived in the Lodge on the Brathay Estate for the duration of the challenge. In such close proximity, you would be forgiven for expecting tempers to fray occasionally.
"It was fantastic how well we bonded and supported each other. We were a real team. Sometimes during the challenge we were so tired we couldn’t be bothered to eat, but that fact that we all ate together meant we knew when someone was missing a meal."
In fact, their relationship is such that they are already planning a reunion at the Connemara Marathon next year.
Preparing for the Challenge
Despite the unique nature of the Brathay 10 in 10 Challenge, Shades’ training sessions didn’t change from her normal routine – 100 miles a week up until Christmas before then settling down to 70-80 miles a week.
"Once I entered the challenge, Steve Edwards – who ran it last year (and went on to break the World Record for the fastest 10 in 10 time this year) – was a great help to me. I asked him endless questions. The most important piece of advice he gave me was to get to the start of the challenge injury-free."
Unfortunately it looked like Shades wouldn’t be following Steve’s advice. "I sprained my ankle two months before the start date during the Duchy Marathon in Cornwall. I was terrified I had ruined my chance of competing. I felt dreadful about all the people I would be letting down and all the sponsorship money that had been pledged for the Brathay Hall Trust.
"It was only two weeks before the challenge that I knew I was alright to run. I completed the Lochaber Marathon without feeling a single twinge in my ankle – what a relief!"
The weather during the challenge turned out to be less than ideal – blazing hot sunshine most days – and Shades was even surprised by the course itself. Considerably more challenging than she had been expecting she soon realised that to successfully make it through the challenge she was going to have to slow down her pace.
The race started an hour ahead of schedule on Day Two to try and avoid the worst of the heat, and as early as Day Three sleep deprivation and depleted energy levels were already beginning to show.
"The third marathon was very hard but I didn’t tell the physio John how bad I was feeling in case he pulled me off the course," she says. "I hadn’t expected to have such problems sleeping. The pain in my legs got so bad it woke me up every night. That must have had an impact on my racing."
Aside from this the biggest surprise for Shades was picking up an ankle injury from her socks. By Day Six she had also picked up a calf injury and fellow competitor Sue Adams had to pull out with a suspected stress fracture. The strains of the challenge were now really taking their toll.
With her energy waning, Shades completed her seventh marathon in 6:52. And the following day, the race had to be delayed by 30 minutes to give the physios enough time to treat the whole team. At least the sky was overcast and temperatures were cooler. It was at this point that Shades confronted the reality of her situation.
"I realised there was no chance of me achieving the female World Record on Day Eight. Michelle Atkins was too far ahead for me to catch up."
Despite this personal setback, spirits remained high among the team as they gathered for a drink at Brathay Hall that evening. No more so than for Shades who was unaware of what was in store the following day.
Day Nine turned out to be critical: Shades came within a whisker of dropping out of the challenge. "I’d been picking up injuries throughout the event and my calf muscles on both legs were so sore. I owe a great deal to two people who kept me going: fellow RW forumite, Marathon Maiden – who ran with me for a couple of miles – and our physio John, who told me to concentrate on finishing that day’s race and then take stock of how I was feeling.
"Without their support I’m pretty sure I would have called it a day. Thankfully though, I finished the race with a clearer head and knew I would be able to tackle Day 10."
Mentally and physically this was the lowest ebb for Shades. But the end was so close: nine races down and just one to go: the Brathay Windermere Marathon.
"Overnight I got my head together and was determined to finish. I decided to set off an hour earlier than the rest of the team. The first five miles were hell but the support from other runners and the crowds was fantastic. I knew that nothing would stop me from finishing.
As I crossed the finishline in 6:25 the rest of the team were there waiting for me with plenty of hugs, kisses, tears and champagne. We went straight to the beer tent and had a few drinks, instead of going for our physio. We’d finally done it!"
Throughout the challenge the support Shades received from other forumites was phenomenal. "It was so inspiring and really kept me going when things were getting tough. Knowing that people who I had never met had sponsored me meant I couldn’t let them down. I was taken back by the support I received.
"You start to feel isolated when you are competing so the messages of support were an important part of my motivation. It was difficult keeping everyone updated with my progress as I didn’t have regular access to the Internet to update my dedicated thread. But since I’ve been back home it has been heart-warming to read the messages of support and encouragement on the RW forums."
How does she feel having now completed the challenge? "I’m really proud of my achievement and happy for Michelle to be the first (and fastest) woman challenger after all we went through together. So far I’ve raised almost £2,200 for the Brathay Hall Trust.
"I’m still injured though. I went for a recovery run this morning which felt like my feet and legs were being fed into a paper shredder! After the challenge the physio said my calf would take six or seven weeks to heal and my shin two to three weeks. I asked him whether I could just run through them, at which he shook his head and said that he couldn’t wait to deal with 'normal' people again."
Physio John certainly wasn’t banking on her racing for a while but Shades had other ideas. "I took part in the Cork Marathon last week (June 2) and my next big race will be the East Hull Harriers 24-Hour Track Race in July."
Does she have any advice for aspiring 10 in 10 Challengers? "Make sure it is something you really want to complete. Don’t do it if you don’t really feel the hunger to achieve it or you won’t. And realise that it is going to hurt – big style."
After becoming only the second woman to complete the challenge and run 263 miles in 10 days, does she feel the need to challenge her time and do it all over again next year? "No, Never!"