Multi-marathon man

Multi-marathon man
(Image credit: Unknown)

Why did you decide to run a marathon every day of the year?

As a child I had very bad asthma. I’m still a chronic asthmatic, with lung capacity 30 per cent below normal. The doctors told me never to do sport, which made me want to do it more. I wanted to set a record that wouldn’t be broken. I also wanted to inspire people to be more active in their daily lives.

Which was the hardest marathon you ran during your challenge?

Mexico. The altitude was tough and I ate something wrong in a restaurant which damaged my stomach really badly. I couldn’t eat for two days, so I had no energy. While running, every 15 minutes I had to go to the toilet.

What was the worst injury you sustained?

Nothing at all. I had little pains every day, but nothing bad. I asked my team always to look for a good road, not too hilly. I didn’t want to run on hard surfaces. Forest and dirt tracks were best. And everywhere I went in the world I either had my personal physio or I found a local one.

Did you run every single one or did you walk parts?

I ran every single one. I stopped in Mexico for stomach reasons, as I said. Sometimes I stopped to change my clothes if I was too cold or too wet. But for the Guinness Book of Records you must not stay still for longer than 15 minutes.

How many official marathons did you run?

I only ran 13 official marathons because, of course, they are not on every day. The rest were unofficial ones, most in my home town of Ghent.

How did you measure the unofficial marathons?

The Guinness Book of Records had certain stipulations for the unofficial ones. I had to run with a GPS. I had to have a photo taken of my finish with a clock showing the time. Every day I had to hold a newspaper with the date. I had to have two witnesses who had to sign my diary. A solicitor from Belgium sometimes visited my runs to witness them. He would sometimes make surprise visits.

Did you run into any trouble during the challenge?

No trouble at all. Maybe a dog sometimes chased me, but I never got bitten. But this was my second attempt at the challenge. Eighteen days into my first attempt (in January 2010) I slipped on ice and injured my foot. I had to start again from scratch in February.

What did your training involve?

I trained for a whole year before. I started by running 100km every week, increasing it by more and more until the last few months when I was running between 200km and 300km a week. The December before I started I ran ten marathons in ten days. I was really dead after that, I was not happy. But I was due to start my challenge in January so I couldn’t say to my team that I didn’t believe I could do it.

Do you have a background in endurance events?

I’ve run 15 hours every week for the last 25 years. I’ve done lots of marathons - my PB is 2hrs 57mins, and triathlons – one year I did 20 Ironman triathlons. My wife left me because I trained so much.

What kind of support team did you have during the challenge?

Petra, my girlfriend, was my assistant. She did all the admin, organised the travel and she stayed with me the whole year. I also had a physio, a doctor, a blood analyst, a writer, a cameraman, two website managers and a media person.

What did you learn about yourself during the challenge?

Endurance runners always say, ‘I feel pain, my legs are tired’. I learned that it’s only your mind saying this. You must train your mind and say to it, ‘No, your legs are not tired’. I trained my mind so much that I didn’t feel any pain.

How many pairs of shoes did you get through?

Twenty-five pairs. Every two weeks I changed my shoes. Luckily I was sponsored by Asics. On the Mondays when they gave me the new shoes I always felt good.

How long did it take you, on average, to complete each marathon?

My average time was 4hr 15min and my best time was 3hr 23min. That was at a new marathon in my home town, Ghent, which I helped to set up. It was a really beautiful atmosphere. It’s now a regular marathon called Marathon Ghent.

What time of day did you run them?

Not too early, not too late, although it depended on the season. Often I ran between 4pm to 8pm so people could join me after work – there were a lot of people running with me. For 99 per cent of the time I had other runners with me. I could count on two hands the number of times I was running alone. In Belgium I was like Forrest Gump: 200 or 300 people running behind me. When I ran abroad, if the local media did my story, then local people would run with me.

What did you do in your time off?

Apart from sleeping and eating, I did a lot of interviews. I often had meetings with my support team to plan my travels. What I most liked was meeting my friends. When I was at home in Ghent, every evening I would go and meet my friends after my run.

What music inspired you to run?

I have an iPod with 10,000 songs on it and I always just put it on shuffle. Radiohead is one of my favourite groups to run to. I also got inspired by Arctic MonkeysArcade FireMassive AttackPortishead and Bruce Springsteen.

Do you have any other challenges in mind?

No. Nothing physical. I’ve done enough. In the future I’ll do running, biking and swimming, but just for fun. Maybe I’ll try to beat my PB in the marathon. I think 2hr 52min is possible. But I will do something new. I don’t know what yet. Someday I will wake up and have an idea.
Visit for details of Stefaan Engels’s new book, out in April 2011. If you're planning to run a marathon, check out our easy-to-follow marathon training plan.