75 years old, 75 marathons, 75 days
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