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.
Day 1, Sunday 26th April: Lucca to San Miniato, via Altopascio (30.8 miles).
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)
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)
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)
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!
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)
Day 6, Friday 1st May: Montefiascone to Sutri (38.5 miles)
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!