75 years old, 75 marathons, 75 days

Runner's World (UK) - - In This Issue -

Ray Matthews ran an in­cred­i­ble 75 marathons in 75 days…at the age of 75 AT­TEMPT­ING TO run 75 marathons in 75 days is a huge chal­lenge for any run­ner. But as a way of cel­e­brat­ing your 75th birth­day, it’s a stun­ning un­der­tak­ing, par­tic­u­larly if you only took up run­ning at 58.

But Ray Matthews, from Rother­ham in South York­shire, not only achieved his goal – last Septem­ber – he also en­joyed each of his 75 back-to-back marathons. ‘I didn’t once wake up suf­fer­ing aches or dread­ing the fact I had to put on my run­ning shoes again,’ he says. ‘The thing with run­ning is that you don’t just do it for the sake of it, you do it be­cause you love it.’

Far from search­ing out flat routes to hit al­most 2,000 miles, Ray sought va­ri­ety and chal­lenge. For in­stance, he ran two marathons in Rother­ham’s twin town, St Quentin in north­ern France. ‘I was in­vited to at­tend a civic re­cep­tion and run a marathon with some towns­peo­ple,’ he says. ‘I got up at dawn, ran a marathon, got the bus to Dover, the ferry to Calais and trav­elled on to St Quentin, ar­riv­ing just be­fore mid­night. The run the next day was lovely – but tough. There was a big group of us and the pace got pushed along. We did it in about five hours – not bad after 49 marathon days.’ To avoid miss­ing a day, he had to rise early and run the dis­tance again be­fore catch­ing the coach back to Calais.

Ray at­tributes his men­tal strength to the dis­ci­pline he learned as a young boxer. Com­pet­ing in an era be­fore videos of op­po­nents were avail­able, he would know noth­ing of the other fighter when he stepped into the ring. ‘It’s all on you in box­ing,’ he says. ‘You can only con­trol what you’re do­ing. It’s the same with run­ning – you have to be able to think on your feet.’

Ray gave up box­ing in his late 20s to fo­cus on build­ing his steel-con­struc­tion com­pany. But at 58 he de­cided to ease back on long work hours and set a new chal­lenge. ‘I wanted to do some­thing tough,’ he says. ‘At the time, the Lon­don Marathon seemed the big­gest chal­lenge avail­able.’

The dis­tances grew. In 2012, he ran 150 miles in 36 hours in the Row­botham’s Round Rother­ham ul­tra. He's also run the 100km Del Sa­hara – an ul­tra in the desert of North­ern Africa. ‘Each time I tried a new chal­lenge I thought it would flat­ten me,’ he says. ‘But it didn’t, so I kept want­ing to go longer.’

While his ‘75 marathons’ project was partly driven by the need for per­sonal chal­lenge, Ray was also rais­ing funds for New­man School, a lo­cal school for chil­dren with spe­cial needs and dis­abil­i­ties. ‘Lots of lo­cals don’t even know it ex­ists and that’s a shame be­cause it’s amaz­ing,’ he says. ‘They teach the pupils joy. When­ever I visit, it just blows me away.’

Ray’s fam­ily, friends and fel­low run­ners were hugely sup­port­ive of his chal­lenge. But not ev­ery­one was so en­cour­ag­ing. Face­book de­clined an ad to pub­li­cise Ray’s fundrais­ing ef­forts on the grounds that it made claims that were ‘un­re­al­is­tic’. Ray didn’t chal­lenge their de­ci­sion but it made him all the more de­ter­mined. ‘If I say I’m go­ing to do some­thing, I’ll do it,’ he says.

His in­cred­i­ble feat has not di­min­ished Ray’s pas­sion for run­ning one bit. ‘It took a lot out of me in terms of stamina, but what it gave back in terms of joy was worth far more.’

And as for fu­ture chal­lenges, he is al­ready think­ing big­ger. ‘One hun­dred marathons when I’m 100? I can’t see why not,’ he grins.

NEVER GIVE UP Ray Matthews en­joys be­ing tested; ( left) with staff and stu­dents from New­man School

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