Miles Skinner’s marathons blog

Miles Skinner reached St Peter’s Square, Vatican City, exhausted and with an injured knee, on Saturday May 2nd after running 263 miles – the equivalent of 10 marathons – in just seven days. He had set out from Lucca on April 26th. Through his amazing achievement, he raised over £16,000 for the Monte San Martino Trust. Here is his day-by-day blog commenting on the seven different stages along the Via Francigine in Tuscany and Lazio as he headed for Rome.

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Day 1, Sunday 26th April: Lucca to San Miniato, via Altopascio (30.8 miles).

Miles Skinner, left, and Michael D’Arcy at Lucca.
Miles Skinner, left, and Michael D’Arcy at Lucca.

We arrived in Lucca on Saturday morning a little jaded from an early start but nevertheless in good spirits ahead of the first day of running on Sunday. After a picturesque wander around and some much needed pasta, we explored further and it is undoubtedly a magical town. An afternoon siesta provided some good rest time and then we had a lovely dinner with round 2 of the delicious Italian delicacy…tasty, well crafted ice cream!

The mixture of nerves, excitement and probably too long a siesta meant that the night before the first day of running was rather restless but spirits were high on Sunday morning ahead of the start of the challenge. Very aptly, the run started from the San Martino Cathedral in Lucca. My good friend Michael D’Arcy ran alongside me for the whole day with my mother Dominique and sisters Charlotte and Chesca providing much needed support.

It was mostly sunny in the morning although this was to change as the afternoon brought thunder and rain. Certainly cooling and it added to the excitement. The terrain was very varied but we ran through some enchanting little villages and on one stretch we didn’t see a single person for an hour. The Italian people were incredibly friendly and welcoming. In the morning particularly when we needed extra water, locals were quick to provide this which was hugely welcomed!

The last mile of the day was a 500ft climb up to San Miniato but any pain in our legs was quickly forgotten when we discovered the sheer beauty of the town. Right at the top of the hill, the views were spectacular and the architecture extraordinarily beautiful. So Day 1 complete, 30.8 miles done and Day 2 is set to be a real test: 48 miles, very hilly and torrential rain forecast. Spirits are high so far though and my recent shin injury hasn’t been a problem so far. The journey to Rome is getting shorter!

Day 2, Monday 27th April: San Miniato to Monteriggioni (43.8 miles)

"One of the toughest runs of my life"
“One of the toughest runs of my life”

Day 2 resulted in one of the toughest runs of my life. The route was incredibly hilly which wasn’t wholly unexpected but what really presented problems was the torrential rain that was incessant throughout the afternoon. By the end of the run, streams had formed so trying to run up hills with water rushing past was quite a challenge. The elevation gain of 5,867ft resulted in heavy legs and in fact there was one monstrous climb of 1,243ft!  So, 74.6 miles now covered in the first two days and only 187.4 miles now to go before the Utopia of Rome!

A shorter blog today due to sheer exhaustion and the need to go to bed very early! Compression tights on, lots of stretching, relentless force feeding at dinner and tomorrow is another day. It could be a long week!

Day 3, Tuesday 28th April: Monteriggioni to Buonconvento (34.0 miles)

A hearty lunch in Siena, then off again

Another very long day and in fact my feet are currently soaking in iodine solution as I write this latest blog! Today was very much a day of highs and lows, and in fact pushed me quite close to breaking point. The day started with a shorter stretch of 13 miles to take us into Siena. Mike D’Arcy, who has accompanied me on every stretch so far either by foot or on bike, joined me for the running of this stage, which provided a much needed morale boost. By the time we had reached Siena, we were pretty wet from a short downpour and my feet were incredibly sore from blistering. We were also hungry and probably slightly dehydrated which certainly affected our spirits!

This stretch was also tough because of the mileage done yesterday and also the gruelling nature of that run, having to traipse through in the pouring rain which almost certainly brought about the blisters.

After a hearty lunch, to be completely honest I really wasn’t too keen to start running again. Walking pain-free was a challenge and 20 miles of running awaited. Mike jumped on his bike and kindly carried all my food and drinks – an unbelievable help – and off we set. Once the run started, the pain eased and my feet quickly moulded back into my trainers, having been boosted at the stop-off with extra blister plasters, talcum powder and Vaseline.

The last 20 miles were encapsulated by undulating hills and some remarkably boggy clay fields. This proved to be particularly problematic for the cycling as the heavy clay weighed down the bike bringing it to a standstill in parts. In fact, on one such occasion we desperately needed to remove the clay and as we approached an old farmhouse we noticed a hose, so began washing some of this clay away. At this stage, an old man came out and picked up a knife. To help us de-clog the bike! A wonderful help and in fact just one in a series of gestures which has typified the kind and generous nature of the local Italian people, something I’m sure my grandfather must also have benefited from.

The undulating hills and boggy clay fields were a feature of the afternoon run, although unperturbed we finally reached my mother, sisters, aunt and cousin before dark.

There is absolutely no doubt that without their amazing support there is no way this challenge would ever be possible. They have been unbelievable and have constantly been on hand to provide sustenance, special drinks, spare kit and, most importantly, phenomenal patience in the midst of high levels of fatigue, stress and sheer exhaustion.

The support has been amazing and is carrying me through. Four days to go, very sore feet, aching limbs and a slightly doubting body as to whether it will carry on for another 154 miles but 108 miles now done and edging ever closer!

Day 4, Wednesday 29th April: Buonconvento to Radicofani (38.0 miles)

Getting the breath back

The day started superbly: the sun was shining and the scenery we encountered along our route was breathtaking. Mike D’Arcy ran with me and my cousin Carlos cycled alongside us, providing much needed supplies whenever required. We had a brief checkpoint to meet Dominique (Mum), sisters Charlotte and Chesca and my Aunt Corinne and this was as efficient as ever – a quick top up of the electrolyte drinks, a few food supplies, much needed words of support and on we went. In fact, the whole morning was a success and we reached the small town of San Quirico in good time for a wonderful lunch.

My feet were holding up reasonably well at this stage and, despite some sore blisters, a change of socks and lots of talcum powder seemed to do a pretty good job. But just as things seemed to be going smoothly, we encountered the inevitably humongous hills! This damped spirits slightly but in fact was a welcome relief as running downhill was most painful for my feet as pressure went to the front of my shoes and where the majority of my blisters are located. Mike did a sterling job (by this point having switched to cycling) to ride on ahead and provide water when needed without me having to stop running.

Our real problems came about mid-afternoon when the heavens opened and there was just downpour after downpour. This also meant that we had to go through streams and as the water went into my trainers, the slight sloshing added weight and certainly didn’t help the blisters! The last eight miles were a constant uphill struggle and, by that stage, fatigue had really set in. With a few miles to go, we then came to a standstill. Certainly not because of sheer exhaustion or no desire to continue but because a herd of sheep was ambling down the hill on a narrow path and we had a bit of a stand-off. Eventually this obstacle was overcome so we had the pleasure of another ascent up towards the town of Radicofani and our final destination, of course with wind and rain in our faces!

Excuse me sheep, I need to get a move on

Pleasingly, the halfway point has now been reached with 146.6 miles covered and just 115.4 to go until Rome.

It is amazing how many ideas I seem to have during the hours and hours of running of what I want to write in each blog, only to forget them when it comes to collating my thoughts. One analogy did stick in my mind, however, and that was related to the extraordinary value of the support team alongside me. Certainly not my challenge but very much a huge team effort and in fact quite like a Formula 1 team. The driver would be useless without a well-oiled vehicle and it is each member of the support team who provides the essential repairs and fuelling required; in fact, when a driver succeeds it is always the support team that is greeted first and I do very much feel that without the patience and exceptional prop-up I have been given, I would never have made it this far.

So, three days to go and I just can’t wait for this all to be over!!!

Day 5, Thursday 30th April: Radicofani to Montefiascone (33.6 miles)

 As the week has gone on, it has certainly been a lot harder to get up each morning and taken significantly longer to function normally. Today was no different and everything seemed to be a struggle so it was a pretty sluggish start but once we got going, the morning run was quite promising. The sun was shining and we reached the support team after 14 miles, ready for some lunch, Mike cycling alongside me and boosting morale. My feet felt OK but this was largely down to the fact that I had such a sore throat that my body’s primary focus was on that pain, thus masking any other. Not really a surprise that my body is wanting to pack up and I’m incredibly run down but a mild annoyance nonetheless. The run itself though was quite straight forward and in fact I had a phone interview with a journalist from The Times for 20 minutes while going along, very much helped by gentle terrain so hopefully there was some coherence and I wasn’t too out of breath!
Still smiling
 The real drama of the day happened after lunch. Despite tired legs and sore feet, the first hour was bliss. We had left behind the hills of Tuscany, the sunshine was glorious and Carlos and Mike were cycling alongside me providing every drink or food supplement that I could possibly have needed. We then came across two barking dogs who had run out from a nearby house onto the path we were following and unfortunately despite slowing down to walk by, one of the dogs bit my right calf. It wasn’t particularly hard or painful but annoyingly I must have shifted the balance away from that leg quite awkwardly as it brought about pain to my left knee. We continued on our way, annoyed by the incident but not too bothered, only to find that my left knee was getting increasingly sore. The planned checkpoint with our support team was brought forward by 2 miles and I was fantastically well patched up with painkillers, magnesium oil sprayed onto my joints and muscles, voltaren cream applied and then I put compression socks and my knee support on. This seemed to be a promising interim solution but my knee became progressively worse so in fact every step and weight onto my left leg was proving very difficult.
It is hard to describe how many aches and pains set in after so much running but the worst of all is when the mind starts to falter or question if it is possible to carry on. It was a balance between being sensible and trying not to do too much more damage versus just plodding on regardless. Luckily, having taken a few wrong turns yesterday and the day before and having to deviate from the route, I have inadvertently ended up running more than the miles required so had a little bit of room for manoeuvre. At just under 34 miles, the decision was taken to get to the next hotel to rest up, patch me up and know that 2 huge days lie ahead so I need to make sure I can overcome them. Lots of painkillers, pills and potions, a good night’s sleep and I’m sure I’ll be all set in the morning.
 After all, the great quote neatly stipulates: “Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must, just never give up!”.
180 miles now run in 5 days and only 2 days left until Rome! Mind over matter and no pain, no gain (apparently!).

 Day 6, Friday 1st May: Montefiascone to Sutri (38.5 miles)

It took quite a long time to get ready this morning, largely because of exhaustion but also in order to best prepare my various aches and pains for the day ahead. I covered my feet with additional compeed plasters and then strapped up my knee, so was all set to grind out a morning of running.
Preparation for the aches and pains
Preparation for the aches and pains
 A promising start as always but a short while into the run, my knee was becoming increasingly painful to the point where every step was a bit of a struggle and I’m sure it would have been a very amusing sight seeing me hobbling along through the Italian countryside. Not quite in keeping with the aesthetically pleasing backdrop!!
 Nevertheless, the numerous painkillers, gels, taping and sprays, seemed to dull the pain and it was a case of getting my head down and just getting the run done. There was a huge amount of clock watching and the mileage count seemed dismally slow but I made the first checkpoint of 12 miles to meet our support team and was greeted by a very cheery friend, Anthony Doolittle, who had arrived from London the night before and was in full kit ready to join the run – a welcome addition to the team!
 The next leg was managed in reasonable order and we had a fantastic lunch which kept spirits high. A few more painkillers and off we went again, Mike and Carlos cycling, Anthony and I running. Pleasingly, the afternoon was largely uneventful, although I did have to go backwards downhill at times which was far more straight forward and avoided the pain of putting any weight or pressure through my knee.
With a few miles to go, my Aunt and Uncle had the ill fortune of a flat tyre but otherwise it was a successful day all in all and just one final day of running before we arrive in Rome. 218 miles now run in 6 days and just hoping that with a bit of luck and a fair wind, we will be in Rome after a long old journey!!!

 Day 7, Saturday, 2nd May: Sutri to Rome (43.9 miles)

I had a pretty poor night’s sleep ahead of the final day, partly because of an aching body and sore feet which woke me up when I twisted and turned but also because of a mixture of nerves and excitement. This culminated in fact when I woke up in the middle of the night and questioned Mike about mileage, something I vaguely remember but do recall worrying that for whatever reason we wouldn’t cover the distance required to make up the 10 marathons (262 miles). In fact we ended up at 263 miles overall.

It was an early 6.30am wake-up call so we could get up and go at a reasonable time in order to meet the police escort by 3pm which would take us into Rome for the final stretch. My knee was quite sore but I had been taking lots of painkillers and it was heavily strapped up. Anthony ran the first leg with me, with Mike and Carlos cycling. While the support team were understandably very excited about the final day, I must admit that I was just so exhausted that I wasn’t quite able to savour that feeling as we set off for the final time – I was just desperate to get to Rome and despite spending a lot of time thinking about how it would feel to finally finish, in the end the feeling was mainly of sheer relief that it was all over!

The first stretch was fairly uneventful, covering 19 miles and becoming tougher and tougher with tired legs. We had a quick stop to refuel, grab some food and top up with drinks knowing that the second stretch which would be about 14 miles would be one of the toughest of the whole week, and it certainly was just that!
On the home straight
On the home straight
Although the end was in sight, my legs were just exhausted and any downhill stretches were just agony for my left knee, particularly where the terrain was poor and footing uneven. Any pressure on my left leg sent a shooting pain to my knee so at times I was just hobbling, dragging my left leg up level with my right as I ran along. It seemed like this stretch just went on forever and made worse by having to cross a stream at one point with no place to traverse without getting my feet wet so yet more water in my trainers sloshing around!
 We finally made it to La Storta which was on the outskirts of Rome and it was here that we met up with two police motorbikes, who would escort us the rest of the journey (just over 10 miles) and into Rome. This was certainly a massive highlight of the trip – one motorbike went ahead of us and stopped all traffic even ensuring that we didn’t have to stop for red lights, while the other was behind us to make sure that nobody would try to overtake inappropriately. Our pace in fact quickened for this final stretch – Anthony and Mike were running alongside and Carlos cycling – and we averaged 8:40 minute/mile pace for the final 10 miles.
I really tried to enjoy the last stretch as much as I could, pretty tired by this stage to take it all in but it was such a fantastic feeling as we approached St Peter’s Square and the police motorbikes parted the crowds, whistling and hooting for them to get out of the way for us. As much as I loved this, I must admit that I was slightly embarrassed as people must have thought that we were trundling along incredibly slowly for anyone who deserved a police escort!!
Utter jubilation as we finally stopped and to be greeted by friends and family! Lots of photographs although to be honest I was far keener to sit down than stand for photos, but an incredible feeling to have finished.
The support team were truly unbelievable throughout.. Mum, Charlotte, Chesca, my Aunt Corinne, Uncle Pedro, cousins Carlos and Juan, Lynda, Mike D”Arcy and Anthony Doolittle. Incidentally, Mike was alongside me every minute of every day, either running a stretch or cycling. I cannot express my gratitude at how wonderful it was that they were an ever dependent rock helping fuel, motivate and keeping me sane, not to mention navigating and taking away any administrative or logistical headaches so I could just concentrate on running from A to B.
 This was particularly at times where due to sheer exhaustion I was probably less than responsive and close to breaking point on a few occasions.
 Mum has reiterated a number of times “Never again” and I will certainly be giving my body a proper break now for the months ahead. There is always a question of what next but I think it will be a while before the next big challenge and perhaps I should take up a new hobby! I am keen to play some cricket this summer and then who knows what might crop up on the horizon…!
Huge thanks to John Simkins, his daughter Katie, George Mitchell and the Monte San Martino Trust for their ongoing support. Ottavia at SloWays, who working alongside John, was instrumental in making the whole event happen – I am hugely appreciative. The total raised so far has exceeded £16,000 and I am so grateful to everyone who has supported this wonderful cause. The Monte San Martino Trust meant a huge amount to my grandparents and I have been delighted to help in a small way by running through some beautiful parts of Italy!