Inspirational Interview with Gerry Duffy, who ran 32 Marathons in 32 Days

Gerry Duffy grew up just like most of us. He played some sport as a teenager, grew up, got a pretty good job, and was pretty comfortable with his life. Then, in July of 1995, he saw a picture of himself and he realized just how comfortable he had become.

Not only was Gerry overweight by about 60 pounds (4+ stone), but he was also addicted to smoking cigarettes. He knew he wasn’t living up to his potential as a man, and decided then and there to start running.

Skip ahead to present day, with a brief stop at a Tony Robbin’s seminar, and Gerry has completed some incredible physical, mental, and charitable feats including:

  • running 32 marathons in 32 days with his best mate Ken Whitelaw for charity and raising over €500,000 (~$650,000 US)
  • completing 10 Ironman Triathlons in 10 days
  • completing a Double Ironman (no rest in-between)
  • running a 50 mile ultra-marathon over a mountain, with plans to run more ultras this year, including a 100 miler

Gerry also managed to kick the smoking addiction and hasn’t touched cigarettes for 10+ years.

We’re very pleased to bring this interview to you, and hope you get as much out of it as we did. Gerry is an extremely inspiring man!

Full Video and Audio of the Bodyhack Interview with Gerry Duffy

Audio: Get the MP3 here. (Right click and save the file.)

Key Learnings from the Interview with Gerry

  • The best way to transform your life is to commit and be consistent and not look back
  • If you’re trying to quit cigarettes or any behaviour, chances are you won’t be successful the first time. It took Gerry hundreds of times to quit, and eventually, over the course of a few years, he was able to kick the habit for good. Don’t give up, even if you fail and fail and fail, keep trying to quit. Eventually you will, just don’t lose faith in yourself!
  • “A small key opens big doors.” Little actions to get outside your comfort zone on a regular basis will eventually lead to a transformation. It’s not an overnight process, it’s a journey.
  • Be the best you can be in all areas of your life. If you like to run, push yourself to compete in a marathon. If you like to do yoga, push yourself to get licensed and teach some classes.
  • Your choice to not fulfill your potential is affecting others. This one is important folks: Imagine if Gerry and his best mate Ken never decided to run the 32 marathons. That’s $650,000 that would have never been donated to Autism research. That’s the many tears and unique experiences of people running marathons for their autistic child that never would have happened. What is the world missing out on by you NOT living up to your potential?
  • Pushing outside your comfort zone is scary, but it is the only way you can bring your unique gifts to the world

Raw Transcript

Spencer: So the first question I have is for the viewers that may not have heard of you yet, can you tell us a bit about your story

Gerry: Sure can Spencer. Well at the present day I am 43 years of age, almost 44. I took up running about 17 years ago. From up until the age of about 17, I was into all kinds of sports, and would have been very, very, active, but from the time 17 to 27, I did a complete opposite: I stopped it all, with the exception of golf. I played a lot of golf and I certainly was a golf fanatic. It was my big thing growing up. My dad was into golf so…

Spencer: Why was it that you stopped everything at 17?

Gerry: Well I guess I stopped physical exercise with the exception of playing golf. I just became consumed with golf and I gave up any physically active sports with the exception of golf, and let’s be honest, you don’t need to be overly fit for golf. Any exercise is good exercise, but in terms of working up a sweat, certainly golf wouldn’t necessarily do it.

So at the age of 27, I realized I had a significant weight problem because in the preceding 10 years, I had put on 4 stone or over 4 stone of weight, so about 60 pounds. So I would have been weighing in at just under 17 stone, or about 240 pounds give or take. I’m only 5’11, I’m not overly tall so I had one of the seminal moments: I had a photograph taken and I was a bit taken aback by it so it kind of jolted me into doing something. I realized OK, what do I need to do? I need to lose weight, how do you lose weight? So I started running and that’s how I got into it initially.

Spencer: Was running your first choice? Did you explore any other options?

Gerry: That’s a good question. Yes I did actually… I started walking first, well, I started running immediately, but what I used to do is 3 or 4 mornings a week, I used to go run 3-4 miles, and in the evening time I went for a 1 hour walk, so I probably walked about 3-4 miles. My theory behind that was that I had taken to running immediately and I loved it, but all through the day I changed my whole dietary intake, but after dinner at 7pm, and then at about 8pm, I used to go for a one hour walk. I did that 5-6 nights a week for a couple of years, and that’s how I lost the weight; a combination of all of those.

Spencer: What was it like the first time you decided to go for a run, after not running for such a long period of time?

Gerry: If the truth be told I probably could remember it. It was in July 1995, I can be that specific because I do recall it. I know it was a Friday, I know it was about half past six in the morning, I know it was a lovely sunny day for whatever reason, and I went and did 3 miles. It probably took me about 40 minutes. I didn’t overly have a difficulty with it, maybe because I played so much sport as a young guy. I was going very, very easy, 40 minutes for 3 miles is a relatively easy pace, but my one and only thought is that I was always a morning person. Even in the 10 years I was inactive physically, I was still a morning person because I used to get up at 10 to six in the morning anyway, and I’d never lost that. But what I did was I got up around six and I went for the run, and I had always liked being up early anyways, so I got that positive feeling, but in reality the only thing I thought for that 40 minutes was how quick can I get home to have a cigarette, because I was a smoker as well.

That was my problem, my overriding ambition was to get home as quickly as I could to have a cigarette but in terms of the physical demands of the first run, I’m not saying it was overly taxing because that wouldn’t be the truth. I’m sure I found it hard, like at 17 years ago it’s hard to remember the exact detail, but I took to it immediately. I’m not certain but I probably went for a run the next day as well.

Spencer: You know how a lot of people will set New Years resolutions to get into good shape, and they’ll start going to the gym in January and when February comes they’ll stop going? Did you go through anything like that when you started running?

Gerry: I kept the running up all the time. I never waned on the running or stopped, in fact, quite the opposite. Over the next 2 or 3 years I stretched it to the point where I was running 5-6 miles or an hour of running. What I did in terms of the other challenge that I had which was the smoking end of it, I gave up cigarettes for a year and a half, but then I went back. So I had a significant challenge with that, but I never stopped running. I haven’t stopped running since and I’ve been doing that actively for 17 years albeit in the last 7-8 years I’ve hugely elevated my involvement with it.

Spencer: With the smoking, that’s a huge issue people deal with, how did you deal with that?

Gerry: At the time I tried everything… I tried 100 times to quit up to 1995. I used to give them up for sometimes a day or 2 days, and the odd time maybe a month, but I just kept going back. At the end of 1995 I said I’m not smoking anymore, so for all of 1996 and the first 4-5 months of 1997 I didn’t have a single cigarette, not one. But then in about April or May of 1997 I went back to them. Over the next three years I would give them up for 3 months and then go back, then give them up for a week, then go back, and I did this maybe 50-60 times. On the 1st of January, 2002, not the 31st of December, but on the 1st of January (I had decided I’d wait another day because I’d tried so many times and on New Years Eve I think we sometimes put a little too much pressure on that), so I said wait another day, and then on the 1st of January I said you are never ever going to smoke again. I think as a result of that I found it even more difficult this time. For 6 months I found it hugely challenging. I did quit cold-turkey but I also used a nicotine inhaler for a short period of time, only a couple of weeks, but I kept it for another year but without any nicotine in it. So I had this small inhaler, maybe two inches in length, and I used to have it in my mouth periodically, but there was actually no nicotine in it, which I guess proves that it is just a habit, as it was a crutch that I kept for about a year in my pocket, and then eventually I managed to give it up.

I did try to go back to cigarettes six months into it, believe it or not, but it was in an environment where I couldn’t actually get access to a cigarette. It’s a long story but I was on a holiday and we were in a karaoke bar in Tokyo, and I wanted to have a cigarette. There were 4 smokers in the group, and not one of them had a cigarette on them believe it or not, they had all run out because it was 4 o’clock in the morning. I sobered up and said, “you know, you were not meant to smoke,” and that’s the closest I’ve ever come and that was about 10 years ago at this stage.

Spencer: Do you still get cravings?

Gerry: No, not now I don’t. I had a craving maybe a year after that, but not in the last 8-9 years thank goodness, but I did have to go through some major mental obstacles to continue to be successful in giving them up, probably in the first 12 months, but since then I’ve been pretty OK.

Spencer: So with running, you did some crazy things, like the 32 Marathons in 32 Days, can you talk a bit about that?

Gerry: Sure. I ran for maybe 7 or 8 years, and I had never entered an event of any kind until about 2002, and then I was introduced to triathlons by a family member, and I went and took part in that and I took to it immediately. Then I went to a motivation seminar about a year after that, and that seriously encouraged me to question myself and my ability in every aspect.

Spencer: Was it a famous speaker?

Gerry: It was, and somebody you may have heard of: Tony Robbins.

Spencer: Yeah he’s huge!

Gerry: Yeah he’s huge physically and he’s huge in other areas as well. [The seminar] certainly had a huge influence on me to the point that I seriously came back and questioned not where I was going in life, but I said, “you’re not in any way reaching your potential, and you’re going to have to get a lot more professional in anything in your life that’s either important to you or that you love or that you’re passionate about.” One of those things was running. I was up to about 6 miles and had never even run a marathon. I said, “you’ve never even run a marathon and yet you’re passionate about running, why don’t you go and do a marathon.”

So one of the first things I did when I got back, was I went and I enrolled in the Dublin City Marathon. I did that, and very quickly after that, as part of me questioning my ability to do things, I decided to upscale myself in all aspects of life: in work, in sport; I enrolled in a lot of courses and seminars, and one of the seminars I went to was an Ironman distance triathlon. I went and I was hugely taken by that and I signed up for a few of those. I’m fast-forwarding two or three years, compressing this.

I went and did a number of those, and I then ordered a book. It was a Dean Karnazes book, I’m sure you’re familiar with Dean Karnazes. I googled this guy [for] research and I learned the amazing things he’d done. I found out he had ran 50 marathons in 50 states in the United States, and that’s where I got the idea because there are 32 counties in the island of Ireland and I said to myself, “gosh I’d love to do that here.”

So I immediately had the self belief to think I could do it because of all the challenges that I had done, but I knew I wasn’t fit enough so I said, “well I’ll give myself two years,” and we also decided to make it a bit more challenging. I brought a friend of mine on-board who’s also into ultra-running. We decided we would do it for charity and we set ourselves a hugely challenging goal in terms of how much money we were going to raise. In terms of dollars it was probably the equivalent of trying to raise around $400,000 for a children’s charity. So we came up with these two goals, to run 32 marathons in 32 days, and to raise €300,000 which I think is about $400,000.

Spencer: And you guys ended up surpassing that too right?

Gerry: We did Spencer. The final total, in terms of euros, was €504,000.

Spencer: How did you guys decide on what charity to pick?

Gerry: The principal charity we did it for was a charity called Irish Autism Action and 2 reasons:

1. I had done a small bit of work for them before through a mutual friend that had a motivating reason for being involved and I just helped him out on a few events,

2. But also a friend of mine I met roughly around the same time had a three year old boy who had just been diagnosed with autism, and when they went to enroll him in the local autism school, because autism requires 1 to 1 attention so the ratio is 1 teacher to 1 pupil, he was told there were 35 children ahead of him on the waiting list to get into school, so that was a big motivating factor in committing to doing it principally for autism.

Spencer: How did you arrange the logistics of completing the 32 marathons in 32 days?

Gerry: 2 years of work. We were passionate about it which was a big help. We said if we’re going to do this, this is a lifetime challenge, and even though it was a new ambition, it was still a life-time goal, because these are not the kind of things you do at the drop of a hat. We didn’t underestimate a couple of years of not just logistics, but also preparation in terms of physical training. At this stage I think I had done 2 Ironmans, and I said to myself, “an Ironman is 5 on the fitness ladder, 32 marathons in 32 days is a 10, you have no business telling anybody about this event until you survive a 7, so you need to go and do an event that is a 7 or an 8, and if you’re physically able to do that, well then people might just take you seriously if you announce [the 32 marathons].”

Ireland is a small country so we knew we would get significant attention. The challenge I found for myself, because Ken is a lot younger and a lot fitter than me, is that I knew that I needed to do a 7 or an 8, so I came up with a double Ironman distance triathlon, where you double the distance. So I trained a year for that, and I did that in August of 2009 and that took, in terms of physical time on your feet, it was 28 and a ½ hours. So I knew when I did that event, when I crossed the finish line I was unbelievably tired, but it gave me the physical belief to think I could do it, and also the mental belief because it was hugely challenging, but I learned so much about myself, about what I was capable of doing, and I felt when I came back, “OK, that’s your 7 or 8. Now another year of training if you ramp it up even higher, you can pull this off.”

Spencer: Can we talk a bit about the training you did for the double Ironman and how it ramped up in training for the 32 marathons?

Gerry: OK, so in terms of the distance involved in the double Ironman, it was 4.8 miles for the swim, 224 miles for the cycle, and 52.4 mile run. So I must confess, I had to get my head around it for starters, because it is certainly out there in terms of a challenge. I looked at what I had done for the Ironman distance, and I had done 2 of them over a couple of years, so I had learned a lot about myself in that challenge because that is a serious challenge as well, and I had learned so much at the experiences of those, so the first thing I did was got out the training programs for those.

I figured, “OK you need to probably up the workload maybe 25-30%,” but I was also conscious of the fact that you can only do so much training—you can’t replicate that kind of a challenge. So I figured I’d ramp it up about 30% and that that would serve me well, and then after that it is a matter of staying injury-free and at some stage, tapping into your mindset to get the belief that you can do it, because belief is half the battle I think.

So I simply elevated the durations of what I did, so all of the sudden 1 ½ hours swims that I would peak at became 2-2 hour 15 minutes of a swim and a 6 hour bike [was] ramped up to a 9 hour bike, but obviously [I’d] work up to that over 5 or 6 months. Obviously I did two or three 6 hour bikes for the Ironman, so I did those, and then I did a 7 hour bike, an 8 hour bike, and then a 9 hour bike. All the time just elevating; it’s a bit like how do you go from a 5k to a half marathon, it’s no different I guess. It is simply over 5-6 months, just slowly raising the bar every week in each of the three disciplines.

Ironically something unusual did happen, at the end of 2008 I had to go in for a knee operation. I got a knee injury at the end of a marathon in 2008, and ironically, in terms of running, long story, but I couldn’t run for about 3 months give or take. So January, February, March of 2009, and this was supposed to be a peak time of training for the double because it was scheduled for August of 2009, and here I was in the spring of 2009 and I found I couldn’t run, so I had to go cycling.

With hindsight it was probably the best thing that happened because it was time off my feet, but cycling I found for me is wonderful for legs. I only found this out in August because I ticked all the boxes in terms of swimming, I ticked an excess of the boxes in terms of cycling because I couldn’t run, I had to devote even more time to cycling because I didn’t want to lose out, and I was conscious of the fact that I had to do even more because I wasn’t running. So as a result I spent hours and hours and hours on the bike, not just the hours I was planning on doing but hours that I found I had because I lost the ability to run. And it wasn’t really until probably April or May of that year that I could go back to running.

So all of a sudden I had a lot of catching up to do, but I didn’t want to overstretch it and I knew I was very fit because I was so fit from the bike and I don’t have my training program in front of me but very roughly I would’ve done maybe ten ½ marathons in training, one 18 mile run in training, and one full marathon as part of the Ironman that I did a month before the double Ironman. And that was the limit of my running for the double Ironman distance in terms of my preparation. I used an Ironman distance as part of my last long, very long training run for the Double which would be four weeks to the day after that.

Spencer: With your knee, how did you injure it and as far as recovery, did you find anything really helped recovery aside from the biking and did you also find anything didn’t really work well for recovery?

Gerry: I injured it in the last mile of the Dublin City Marathon in October of 2009 and I made a classic error. I should’ve been very grateful for everything that 2008 had given me, it had given me so much, I have achieved this burning ambition to do an Ironman, not only that but I had been lucky enough to do a second one only six weeks later, and I’m very philosophical about how fortunate I am to be doing this and I remind myself of that every single day.

I forgot it for about seven minutes and on the last mile of the Dublin City Marathon because the time of that particular marathon was irrelevant, I was doing it purely for fun, at mile 25 I felt unbelievably strong and I said, “I’m gonna push this last mile and maybe do a six minute or a six and a ½ minute mile for the last mile and I shouldn’t have because I actually didn’t realize that at the time but only about two weeks later I realized I had picked up an injury.

As a consequence I had to go and have a knee operation just before Christmas and the doctor told me to take three weeks off. I was on crutches for about a week and he said I wasn’t allowed to do anything of any kind for about three weeks but I knew immediately after three weeks that it hadn’t healed. I went and I jogged maybe a mile and it actually came back immediately. I didn’t have to go back under the knife but I just knew I couldn’t run so I had to back off immediately, but I knew the cycling didn’t affect it because when I went cycling there was no pain and obviously it is non-weight bearing, and I probably won’t pronounce it correctly, but I think it was a palmoral dysfunction (EDIT: spelling unclear). If you want I can get the exact term, but that was the nature of the injury that I got if you want to be specific on it. I knew the cycling wasn’t doing it any harm, because I checked back with my physio and I felt that by cycling I would actually strengthen it, because it was non-weight bearing it would allow me to get a workout on the knee without any major wear and tear or weight bearing activity.

I guess I just had to be very, very, very patient. A couple of times I went back to try and do it and I just knew instantly I had to back off. Then I tested it by Easter of that year, and 2 or 3 days before Easter, in conjunction with my Physio, she suggested that I go for a run on soft ground, so I picked my local golf course and I went and I ran 2 or 3 kilometers, and I had no pain and I was instantly extremely happy to the point that the next I went and did an olympic-distance triathlon. I managed to do a sub-40 minutes 10k. Straight away I just knew gosh this cycling really has helped your running because sub-40 minute 10k is a fast pace, particularly with having no running in a couple months. I was very happy coming home.

A couple of weeks later I did a half marathon as part of the simulation half-ironman training and that was on a Friday, and on the Monday, it was Easter week, on the Monday because we were off I went and I did an 18 mile run and that was a mistake, because I should’ve been grateful that all of the sudden this injury had healed, and yet 3 days after doing a half-marathon, I went from running 13 miles to 18 miles, and I picked up an injury again, to the point where I was out another month. That was a silly, silly, error.

But thankfully 3-4 weeks later it had sufficiently healed to the point that I was able to go and do the Ironman and subsequently it cleared up completely thankfully, and I went and I did the double Ironman distance and the reason why I feel that cycling helped me significantly was I went and I did the double Ironman distance, and I’m happy if you want me to go into that, but suffice to summarize, I had one very low moment in the middle of the bike, 15 or 16 hours into it, but somebody just had the right word in my ear. They said hang in there because in three hours time you’re going to get to do your favourite discipline which is your running. At 5am I started the run, and I ended up running the 52 miles non-stop, and I got through it without any difficulties whatsoever. I felt physically strong for the entire 9 hours it took me to do the run.

Spencer: Would you say when you were biking there you hit the wall that a lot of runners talk about?

Gerry: I definitely hit the wall Spencer.

Spencer: Another question Gerry, do you find that in a double Ironman you hit the wall more than once?

Gerry: I can only speak from my own experience having done it once. I didn’t hit a physical wall, I hit a mental wall. I have a hugely clear recollection of it, I documented it heavily, I actually wrote a book and I significantly talked about it in the book. To paint a picture, we started at 9:30 in the morning, we got into a swimming pool, an indoor swimming pool, so we were to swim 304 lengths of a 25m pool, and that took me exactly 2 hours and 30 minutes, which was to the minute ironically I was hoping to do it in.

We began the bike sometime around 15 minutes after mid-day, on the Saturday. The first 20-30 miles was fine, but then the weather changed and we had horrendous weather conditions for about 4 -6 hours, to the point of just torrential rain, and I managed to get through all that. I was very keen on nutrition, and I was managing the pace and strategy perfectly because I had a great crew with me, and that’s one thing I’ve learned, is the importance of surrounding yourself with great people in any goal. I had a great crew of people there. I had 6 or 7 of the crew watching me and telling me what to do, because there were times I needed to be told what to do in terms of pace and nutrition, but I guess fast forward to 10 o’clock…

It was just getting dark but ironically to give you an idea about how tricky the conditions were, in Ireland or England it doesn’t get dark until 10 o’clock in August, but at 6 o’clock we had to put on high-visibility gear because such was the nature of the bad weather we were having. So by 10 or 11 o’clock my mood was starting to change. We’d been on the go for 9 or 10 hours at this stage, and we were starting to face into, not an overnight cycle, but a good [amount of time left].

At about 1 o’clock, still feeling fine, I was into about 150m of the cycle, but then negativity starts creeping in. It was a combination of all the different external factors, and the mental challenge of knowing I still have about another 70-80 miles of cycle and the one thing you have to look forward to is you still have to run not one but two marathons, and the nature of the course was it was a 14 mile loop that we had to do 16 times, so we kept coming back to the same point, which actually makes a lot of sense. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Sometimes people can’t understand that, but it makes so much sense for a lot of different reasons: logistical, medical, physical, nutrition, positive people, music, rest—if you want to rest for a couple minutes, but at half way I came back and I was in a bad way mentally. First time I’d had a sad, low moment. The reason I think it took so long was because I was so positive, and I just loved doing this kind of thing. So I don’t necessarily find it mentally hard up to a certain point, but at this stage, we were going for 15-16 hours, and I guess you wouldn’t be human if you didn’t have some kind of a low: physical or mental. At 1:32 AM I hit that mental wall. I came back and there was another lady that just happened to be there that was crewing for somebody else, and she literally had the right word in my ear at the right time and she said, “I watched you come in here and you’re actually one of the strongest people. We’ve got the weather forecast, the weather for tomorrow is fantastic. It’s going to be bright in five hours time, just hang in there, remember all the hard training sessions you’ve done to put yourself in this position. You’re well up there in the ranking, just hang with it, I guarantee in three years time you’re going to have a totally different perspective.”

I must confess a can of red bull helped as well. I had a bit of nutrition, I think I would’ve had pizza or something like that, anyway, I stuck with it and within a half an hour I was back to myself, and two or three hours later I got off the bike and I felt absolutely on fire and I ended up running the two marathons non-stop.

Spencer: So what was it like when you began training for the 32 Marathons after that?

Gerry: What we did was, we’re up to about August of 2009 at this stage, and I knew coming back there I had the credibility to be able to announce this and people would take it seriously. One of the people on my crew for the Deca and a good pal of mine who had done an Ironman, I had a word in his ear because I wanted to create this event, and Ken wasn’t on-board at this point, I told nobody the real reason I was doing the double Ironman until about a week before the Double [Ironman] because I felt the timing in these things is everything. I told my crew about a week before the real reason why I was doing it, and Ken was on my crew and when we came back home, I asked him would he be interested in being involved because the nature of the challenge, raising all that money, and getting significant media attention was something I wasn’t awfully comfortable with because I am a quiet person by nature.

I had never done anything in terms of media exposure before, I just welcomed the opportunity of maybe someone else coming on board to share that responsibility and maybe to share that ambition with me, and I kind of had an inkling that Ken might like to be asked, and he immediately or almost immediately said yes.

About two or three months after that we had been meaning to get at the training, but I took a couple weeks off, just to rest up, and then we straight away went to about 50 miles of running for the next couple of months. I did the Dublin City Marathon at the end of October, and we kept things ticking over up to about 50-55 miles of running up until Christmas and then we started to ramp it up a little bit maybe to 60 miles over January, and then on the 1st of [February] we started the 23 week training program.

Here’s an interesting thing for you: as I said earlier surround yourself with great people. In terms of running consecutive marathons, with the exception of the double, I’d never done it before, but I found a guy who had taken a world record named Richard Donovan, and Richard had run seven marathons in seven continents in six days, which is an impressive [feat].

Spencer: How did he travel between all the continents so quickly?

Gerry: Well it’s very relevant and I’ll tell you why in a second. He did it on commercial travel which I think is even more impressive. The previous record holder was Sir Ranulph Fiennes, and I think it had taken him two weeks, but that is subject to confirmation [EDIT: took 7 days]. But Richard did it on commercial aircraft and ironically tomorrow morning [Richard’s] starting again to try and break his own record. You’d probably find something on the Internet about that.

On the 1st of February, which is tomorrow morning, he’s going to try to do it in 5 days and again he’s going to do it on commercial aircraft so he could be a good guy to follow for the next 5 or 6 days. I was in touch with him last week, he didn’t even tell me that he was doing it but I read it in a newspaper article. He’s a very modest guy, he didn’t even tell me that he was flying out the next day to Antarctica to begin to prepare for this.

But Richard is an Irish guy, I didn’t know him but I sent him an email and I asked if he’d be kind enough to put together a training program, and so he did. He put together a 23 week training program for us which began on the first of February of 2010 and it took us up to a couple of weeks of taper before we would start.

So on the 1st of February we started, and the program slowly but surely built up to about 110 miles per week. We did 40 miles, 45 miles, 50 miles, and then came back down to 45, and then the next week we started 50, 55, 60, and that was the general theory of how we did it. If you want I can email you that training program to have a look at.

Spencer: What was it like running 32 marathons in 32 days?

And what was it like going into that too?

Gerry: Very nervous going into it, a couple of days before because we had to go and create an event around event because we committed to raising all this money for charity, and the way we were committed to do that was to find 32 different runners to join us everyday, so we would be met by a different set of runners everyday that would’ve had to fund-raise to be part of that particular marathon in their home county, and that magnified the workload 10 thousand times.

But that was the nature of it, nobody forced us to do this, that was the nature of the challenge. We were very excited by it, very motivated to do it, but a couple days out I was very, very scared because all the sudden, at the time about 800 people had signed up and we didn’t know any of them, and they had all fund-raised and they had trained for about 5 or 6 months for this, so there was a lot of pressure riding on our shoulders. I would describe it as the [feeling] of a lifetime because I was so excited about it and so was Ken, but then we had to go and do it, and that was significant pressure I don’t mind telling you. 6 days into it Ken got injured, to the point that he had to overcome a whole different range of challenges to ensure success. If you go on to the website, you will see all the blogs of the different days.

Spencer: Going through the 32 marathons, what was it like? Did you hit a wall during that period?

Gerry: We certainly had some challenging days, absolutely. I hit some physical challenges on 3 or 4 occasions. I guess to summarize it, the first week was all about learning about our bodies experiencing something we’d never experienced before. The first day I think we did a 4 hour 39 marathon, and ironically at mile 15 both of us felt sore. And I think that was because we had a very easy 3 week taper to the point that we took it very easy, so all of the sudden we had to go and run a marathon not having done any training in 3 weeks, but I think I described it as dusting off cobwebs.

The next day in Dublin, the second marathon, was difficult as well, and the third one was difficult. Our times for the first few were roughly 4:39, 4:30, and 4:35. Then for the next 3 or 4 days it was more physically challenging because again our body was going through a period of getting used to this grind. Then on the 6th day Ken got injured so that presented a whole different set of challenges for him, significantly. Whereas I on the other hand was much more lucky, it could’ve just as easily been me that got the injury but that was the luck of the draw.

Our first week of marathons, we averaged 4 hours 39 minutes. In the second week of marathons, 8 through 15, my average was 4 hours 23 minutes, so it was 16 minutes quicker, and definitely after the second week, all of the sudden I started to break through to the point that, I’m not saying it was getting easy, but it got easier, the body was definitely becoming used to the daily grind of running 26.2 miles.

On the third week of marathons, I was 3 minutes quicker on average, so it went to 4:20. Towards the end of that week, all of the sudden, it was like bursting through to a whole different level of fitness because I went from 4:20 to 3:55 on average, and I was still holding back because we were still conscience of the fact that so many people were waiting and there was so much responsibility on our shoulders that we couldn’t push it maybe as much as we would like because there were days I felt unbelievably strong, but we still had to respect the bigger picture.

Marathons 22-28 averaged 3:55 and we both ran our fastest marathons on the 27th day, by pure coincidence. Ken did a 3:47 and when you consider where he had come from in terms of the challenges he had in the first and second week, that was monumental because this guy had his debut marathon five or six years ago and did a 2:54, so that will give you an idea of the quality of a runner that he is, and that was his debut marathon. But all of the sudden he was down to walking for 9 hours at the beginning of the second week, that’s the level of discomfort and pain he was in. So 3 weeks later, despite not having a single day off and coming back from injures, to think that he could do a 3:47 given the conditions, not just the challenge we had, but the additional challenge he had having to come back from injury, 3:47 was staggering.

On the same day, I did a 3:17, which was the fastest. I had done a 3:24 three or four days before that, on the Monday, and then the 3:17 on the Friday, and it actually felt effortless, it wasn’t even hard, to the point that I could’ve gone faster I felt if I had wanted to. It was a difficult day, it was very, very wet, but 3:17 wasn’t hard, and it’s funny that the 3:24 on the Monday which I think was day 23 or 24, was the easiest run of my life.

My partner Jacinta was with me on the bike, and it was the easiest three hours and 24 minutes of my life. I could’ve gone 10, 15, or 20 minutes quicker if I wanted to, though I was conscious of the bigger picture. The reason why I ran a 3:17 was because I wanted to push myself a little bit more, because I felt so strong, but I still had to be respectful, you have to be careful in case you get an injury. So that was on the Friday, we were due to finish on the Monday. The last four marathons I averaged 3 hours and 32 minutes, which was 25 minutes quicker again than the previous week.

The last marathon on day 32, both Ken and I did a 4:08, but we were actually running with friends. We actually probably ran 30 miles, it was easy, it wasn’t difficult, and that’s the level that we’d broken through. We’re not elite athletes in any way, shape, or form, but that was the level [we’d reached]. It was 2 years of training, it was 1 year of specific training, with the mind thinking of a goal a year ahead, it was the double Ironman, it was 23 weeks of very focused training put together by a professional distance runner, it was a combination of ice baths, nutrition, professional physio everyday, it was 25 pieces of a jigsaw and to give you maybe one very quick story of how important all of those pieces were…

On day 22 or 23, we finished a marathon in about 4 hours or whatever it was, Ken and I, and part of our regime everyday was to have a recovery protein smoothie at the finish line everyday, and half an hour after that to have a juice, and an hour after that to have our first carbohydrate meal, and then four hours after that to have another meal. We finished the marathon, we got the smoothie, we got the juice, but there was no catering facilities where we were that day and we said, OK we’ve only one hour drive to our next location, we’ll wait and we’ll have the first meal there. But we got lost and the one hour journey took us four hours, and as a consequence when we got there we had to wait another hour for dinner.

So we didn’t think much of it at the time, we were hungry but we didn’t think much of it, but we actually had one meal that day. The next day at mile 18, Ken turned round to me and he said, “How are you feeling?” And I said, “I feel terrible. Why do you ask?” “Because I feel terrible too.” It was no coincidence, both of us on the same day felt really bad, and we both spent the next 8 miles trying to figure out why we both felt bad on the same day, and then we realized why that happened. It took us a good hour and ten minutes [to figure out] what was different yesterday and it brought home to us the importance of getting all the different pieces of the jigsaw correct, and the one day we got it wrong, we paid the price the next day.

Spencer: I know we’re at 45 minutes, so we can begin to wrap this up a bit Gerry. I have a couple more questions for you. During the whole 32 marathons, you were saying your times got quicker and quicker. Did you expect that to happen?

Gerry: Part of the reason I think why we were successful is because we left absolutely no stone unturned in training, and I mean we ticked every single box. To give you an idea of how committed Ken was, one particular three day section of training had 7 miles, 26 miles, 26 miles, on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. So on Friday Ken did a seven mile run, he was in Dublin, and I live about 50 miles from Dublin, and he rang me up, and this was after picking up a niggling injury and he said, “I’m very conscious of the fact that I’ve picked up an injury, but tomorrow I have to run a marathon, I don’t want to miss that, but I can’t run, I think I will provoke this injury if I do.” So he actually went and he walked the marathon, and then he went and walked the marathon the next day as well, and that’s the level of professionalism that two amateurs brought. To answer your question specifically, when Karnazes did it, he got faster and I studied him to an nth degree as part of my training and part of my preparation. He had shown the fact that he got faster, and I said maybe that’s the same experience we will have, and as it turns out, I wasn’t surprised by it. I’m not saying I was necessarily expecting it. It took probably 2 weeks before I really started to feel a significant elevation of performance, but definitely the last 14 or 15 marathons were much easier than the first 14 or 15, which is hard to credit but it’s what my research had shown and it’s what our experience was.

Spencer: One of the last things I want to touch on is comfort zone. You talked about that on your website and getting over your fear of speaking. What was that like?

Gerry: The hardest thing I’ve ever done. I guess, to give an idea of how big a fear it was, the first talk I had to give in a work sense, where I felt I had to perform, was about 8 years ago, and I had to go to a hypnotist. Very simply what the hypnotist did is he rationalized the situation, he said, “Well, on the face of it, is there any reason why if somebody else can do this, why you can’t do it?” And I said no and that’s the parameter with which we began the discussion. I brought this into marathons and into other goals in business, and he got me to project to a time forward when I would be finished, and to focus on that and realize that sooner or later that time is going to come, and I brought that in if I was running a marathon and at mile 20 I was feeling bad, I’d say, “No matter what, in an hour and ten or an hour and a half you’ll be finished this no matter what, just keep putting one foot in front of the other and eventually you’ll get there.”

In terms of the comfort zone, I went and I did a talk, there were only 4 people at the talk and that should give you an idea of how big a fear it was and how big of a comfort zone I had to get out of, but I survived it, it didn’t kill me. It gave me such an adrenaline of confidence in myself, but the first thing I did was say that I had to go and do this again, because like learning to drive a car, if you don’t continually drive the car, then it may come back, but the irony of that, fast-forward 8 years later, it’s now what I do for living, to the point that I have been very humbled and fortunate to address hundreds of different companies and organizations.

Some of the biggest companies in the world I’ve been invited to to address their workforce. I guess if I hadn’t overcome that fear and got out of that comfort zone 8 years ago, and I use the phrase a lot, “a small keys opens big doors.” I gave a talk about a week ago to an audience of 500 people, the same guy that had a fear of speaking to four people. If I hadn’t got out of the comfort zone 8 years ago, I certainly wouldn’t have been able to do this.

Spencer: What’s next for you Gerry?

Gerry: I did an event last summer and I’m very conscious of the fact that I still need time to recover. The Deca [Ironman] challenge that I did, I researched a guy that had done one many, many years ago, he said in his book it took him 12 months to recover from it, and he was 27 when he did it, and I was 43. I do feel I’ve recovered now totally, but only in the last month, and it’s been nearly 7 months now, but I also think that if I was to challenge myself to do something like that I might not necessarily be successful.

So in terms of physical endurance goals, my goal this year is to do a low key 100 mile race in September. I did an ultra-marathon challenge about two weeks ago in the middle of the night, which was a 54 km [EDIT: we think he meant miles] run over a mountain, and that was hugely challenging. To give you an idea, the last 30 miles of it took about 3 and a half hours to give you an idea of the challenge of the terrain. So I did that about two weeks ago, I’m doing another ultra-marathon next week, another in April, and hoping to do a 100 mile run in August.


Some more videos about Gerry Duffy:

32 Marathon Challenge – Ken & Gerry introduce the event

Gerry Duffy, DECA Ironman, Interview Day 5

If you would like to support or get in touch with Gerry you can find him here:

His book is available at Amazon: Who Dares Run, from four stone overweight to running 32 marathons in 32 days

Further reading about Gerry:

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  • Ashley Greer

    Spencer! Love this one! What a guy! Passed on the link to a few people at my gym!

    • Spencer Morris

      Great to hear Ashley. Thanks for the support

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