On July 27, amid the early morning commuters making their way through London's Trafalgar Square, a 47-year-old man quietly set off on a journey unlike any he'd ever experienced.
It was quite the accomplishment for someone who can sell out three consecutive nights at Radio City Music Hall and is considered one of the greatest stand-up comedians of all time. For Izzard, his quest to complete the equivalent of 43 marathons during the course of 51 days was about something bigger than solidifying his notoriety.
Putting one foot in front of the other and armed with nothing more than five weeks' worth of training and naked determination, Emmy-winning British actor and comedian Eddie Izzard ran unnoticed at the start of his 1,100-mile trip through England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.
"I saw this as a big adventure," he says. "I think everyone needs to create their own big adventure."
To understand the motivation behind his epic run, Izzard says you have to begin with his childhood. Growing up in Bexhill-on-Sea, a small, seaside resort town south of England, Izzard says he not only discovered a passion for sports, but also for recognizing that life is what you make of it. "Everyday life isn't all that exciting," he says. "Nothing much happened in the small town I grew up in, and so I discovered that I like to make things happen."
When the organizers of Sport Relief, a biennial charity event sponsored by Comic Relief and BBC Sport, approached Izzard, he saw it as a perfect opportunity to marry what was a long-dormant love of running and a desire to give back in a big way.
By the end of his journey, Izzard raised $250,000 for Sport Relief, which helps the less fortunate in Britain and in poor countries worldwide.
"This seemed to be a way that I could finally make a contribution," he says. "Plus, I could kick-start something I loved from my childhood, dropped as a teen and have regretted doing so ever since."
What kept Izzard motivated during those long runs?
Running experts suggest months of preparation before running just one marathon, much less 43. Izzard, however, spent only five weeks with Olympic trainers and coaches to ready himself for the road. Though Izzard estimated that running such lengths would use up a large amount of his emotional reserves, he wasn't prepared for how much.
"It was 95 percent mental," Izzard says. "I never could entertain the idea of quitting. I had a film crew following me to help me raise all that money, and so it raised the stakes. I had to get through the feeling that maybe I wouldn't get up that morning and do it. It would have been all over, and it would have been embarrassing to back out."
And so with so much on the line, Izzard found inspiration in the rolling hills surrounding him, running through the very fields and countrysides where his ancestors once farmed. "I realized that centuries passed by in these fields," he says. "I used to run on a treadmill and listen to music, and out there I just couldn't deal with that. I needed to be in touch with everything around me, to be in tune with it all."
The opportunity not only provided Izzard a sense of his family's history, but also his own.
"There were those moments, when the sun was shining and the running was easy, that I felt like I was a kid again," he says. "There was a lot of recapturing my childhood out there for me. It feels like I now have a continuous line extending from my childhood to my adulthood.
"We all just dump what we learn from our childhood, don't we? Well, I'm all for everyone finding something to reclaim that feeling."
Are you inspired to take on a big challenge?
Izzard says anyone who is inspired to take on a similarly extreme challenge has his full support.
"I say go for it," he says. "Look for something, carve it out and go do it. Playing on that big field, to make it your own, that's a great American trait. Actually, it's a great human trait."
Celebrating humanity was at the forefront of Izzard's mind as he ran, considering his efforts would help people as far away as Brazil and Bangladesh, providing services such as counseling, food and, in some instances, an education. He says running was a very "primal and basic way" of expressing how similar people really are. Regardless of wealth or background, most people can run.
"Sure, we've all got different fingerprints, but we're all the bloody same, all the way around the world," Izzard says. "If we can get to realizing that, we'll be a lot better off."
When he made his way back to Trafalgar Square on September 16, 2009—this time surrounded by hundreds of fans who'd gotten wind of his efforts and came to cheer him across the finish line—Izzard's body was wracked with pain and blisters and he'd lost all his toenails. His spirit, however, was fully intact.
"I'm going to keep this up," Izzard says. "When I finished marathon 14, I couldn't enjoy it because I had to move on to marathon 15. I was quite messy, doing it how I did, but I'm not done. I've run 5 miles since I came home, and I'm about to go run a few miles right now. I've come too far to go backward."
The European leg of Izzard's recent stand-up tour, Stripped, picks up again October 23, 2009. The tour makes its way to the United States in January 2010, with a stop at New York City's famed Madison Square Garden—a performance that fulfills a lifelong dream for him and reminds him of what he's just accomplished.
"I like doing these things that break the humdrum," Izzard says. "I'd love for people to be inspired in to go out there for themselves. That inspires me."
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Printed from Oprah.com on Tuesday, March 11, 2014
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