Ten marathons in seven days

At the end of April 2015, Miles Skinner achieved the amazing feat of running 263 miles, from Lucca in north Tuscany, to Rome – the equivalent of ten marathons in seven days. He did so in order to raise money for the Martino San Martino Trust and as a tribute to his late grandparents. John Simkins tells the story.

Miles Skinner strides out

Miles Skinner’s barely credible achievement of running ten marathons in seven days, from Lucca to Rome, had its genesis early in 2014 after the death of his grandmother, Jo Skinner. The run was to be in tribute to Jo and her late husband Stan, a PoW at Sulmona. Jo had asked Miles, a strong marathon runner and now aged 29, to get involved in helping MSMT, which the family has always strongly supported. Clearly, the run needed to be in Italy – but where?

Working with John Simkins, MSMT’s Administrator, Miles hit upon the Via Francigine, a pilgrimage track that winds down Europe to the Vatican City and which, thanks to the Francigine Association*, is well waymarked and has inns along the way. Conveniently, the stretch from Lucca, in north Tuscany, to Rome is 262 miles long, equivalent to Miles’s goal of ten marathons. Despite entreaties to take more time, he was adamant he would do it in seven days.

Accommodation was booked with the help of sloWays, the Francigine tour operator, and a brilliant support team enlisted to accompany Miles and provide painkillers, pills and potions. In the back-up vehicle were his mother Dominique and sisters Charlotte and Chesca. Also present throughout were his aunt Corinne de Aranda, soon to be joined by her husband Pedro and son Juan. Miles’s great-aunt, Baroness Chalker of Wallasey reinforced the team in the later stages.

Team Skinner, from left: Pedro, Juan and Corinne de Aranda and Dominique, Chesca and Charlotte Skinner

And then there were the athletes. Miles’s right-hand man, who ran or bicycled from start to finish, was Mike D’Arcy, a Territorial soldier with the SAS. Frequently with them on a bike was Carlos De Aranda, and they were joined on the final two days by Miles’s friend Anthony Dolittle.

All set then for the start on April 26th… Miles merely had to run. He has a personal best time for a single marathon of 2 hours 52 minutes and previously had run an ultra-marathon (100km) to raise money for a children’s hospice. But this run was to be of an entirely different order.

It required more than one marathon a day, so the stages varied from 30 miles to 48 miles. The first four days were through very hilly Tuscan countryside, with long spells of torrential rain that sent water sloshing into Miles’s trainers. Sometimes the grass was knee-high and streams had to be forded. The eight-mile climb to Radicofani at the end of Day 4 was a killer.

The rain, as Dominique says, was just one of several unlucky blows. Also, on one occasion one of the cyclists got detached and had to be searched out, and the de Aranda car had a flat tyre.

Most unlucky of all, on Day 5 a dog bit Miles on his right calf, causing him to shift his balance which brought pain to his left knee. Upon reaching Montefiascone that night, his leg was hurting badly. It continued to plague him, sometimes forcing him to go backwards downhill. By the time he reached Rome he could barely drag the left leg along. He had huge blood blisters and was so run-down he had picked up a sore throat. All this on top of cortisone injections before the trip to calm down a shin injury.

The athletes in St Peter’s Square, from left: Anthony Doolittle, Miles Skinner, Mike D’Arcy and Carlos de Aranda

However, Miles still managed a mile every ten minutes on the last day. “Saturday was the worst day, my knee was hurting so much,” he says. Two police motorcyclists escorted him for the final 10 miles from La Storta, ensuring he didn’t have to stop at red lights. Miles says: “My fear was that, if they took us on a short-cut I might not do as much as 262 miles. But luckily we got lost a few times on earlier days, which meant that in the end we did 263 miles.”

That is not the only big number. Thanks to Miles’s friends and colleagues at CBRE, by the middle of May 2015 he had raised nearly £18,000 for MSMT.

Miles has no doubt that the run would not have been possible without his fellow-athletes and the wonderful Team Skinner. “They were an ever-dependable rock, fuelling, motivating and keeping me sane – not to mention navigating and taking away logistical headaches.”

But, he adds, “Mum reiterated a number of times, ‘Never again!’”.

Miles’s day-by-day blog on the run itself is at http://prod.msmtrust.org.uk/gallery/blogs/miles-skinners-marathon-blog/. His training blog can be read at http://prod.msmtrust.org.uk/gallery/blogs/

Miles’s Justgiving page is at https://www.justgiving.com/Skinner2015

Watch the interview with Miles on the Sunrise programme of Sky News. The presenter said his marathon plans were “mind-boggling”!

Miles Skinner’s Sky News feature

*A great deal of help in preparing for the expedition came from the Associazione Europea delle Vie

The invaluable police escort into Rome

Francigine (AEVF), which formally extended its sponsorship to the MSMT project. Besides booking accommodation at the end of each stage, sloWays, the tour operator of the Slow movement, organised a police escort for the run into Rome on the final day, which was greatly needed.

The Trust is very grateful to AEVF for its help. The Francigine is becoming increasingly popular with walkers and lovers of Slow Travel, given its out-of-the way rural attractions. The Association and sloWays do excellent work in promoting it. (See http://www.viefrancigene.org/en/ and www.sloways.eu).