Eddie Izzard: Marathon Man review

Mark salutes the most unexpected sporting hero, as Eddie Izzard attempts to tackle 43 marathons. In 51 days.

Normally on Den Of Geek, we plan what we’re to write about, but I just couldn’t help myself in spouting about this well hidden nugget of British TV. Eddie Izzard is a unique personality who has successfully combined acting and being a stand-up comedian, but a sportsman he’s not. So it’s with some degree of incredulity that I tuned into BBC Three to watch the first of three documentary episodes where, for the charity Sport Relief, he sets out to become an extreme athlete.

In the first of three portions he starts his running career in London with the objective to run to an old family home, with bitter memories, in Wales. The terrifying reality is that Eddie has committed to run more than a marathon’s distance six days out of seven, a horrific total of 43 in just 51 days. He attempts this with just a few weeks’ training and no history of running! It’s obvious from the outset that the future for Eddie involves pain and personal sacrifice of a nature that most of us will never actually experience.

The shock, and I don’t think this is a giveaway, is that Eddie might be a transvestite, but there is nothing ‘girly’ about his determination. Beneath that amiable exterior he’s a man of steel.

Adding to his adventure are a support team of people, some there to capture his initially awkward running style and torturous feet-repair sequences, others drive his accompanying ice cream van and provide other means of practical or moral support. They all seem very nice people, but it’s also plain to see that they’ve met in a pub beforehand and rationalised that Eddie isn’t fit or marathon ready and is a ‘comedian’. And, as such, if he gets through the first of the 43 days on the road it will be a miracle, and any more are highly unlikely.

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Some of the giveaways to this are things like the battery-assisted tricycle they bring along to film him, which after a few days has entirely flat batteries – like they’d assumed it wouldn’t need to go that far.

They also, as things get tough (and they get tough very quickly), keep trying to offer him ‘outs’ which, frustratingly, Eddie almost entirely refuses to take.

I was massively impressed by his determination, given that I’d be dead in a gutter before I’d got out of earshot of Big Ben. One day turns into two, into three, into six. Eventually he gets a ‘rest day’, which is tempered by the information that he’ll need to walk 15 miles on that day just to stop his legs seizing up entirely.

As an interesting extra dimension to the athletic challenge, Eddie also runs to the home in Wales where, as a small child, he had the traumatic experience of his mother dying. This isn’t presented in an overly sentimental way, but in more of the context that, as we all get older, we’re often drawn to connect with powerful events from the past, even painful ones.

The first episode ends entirely implausibly with Eddie having ten Marathon distances under his belt and even more pain on the horizon. If his courage doesn’t make you want to sponsor him, I’m not sure what might. My only concern is that the BBC decided to relegate this to the relative viewer-free pastures of BBC Three, which makes me wonder what it is exactly Eddie would need to do to justify a BBC One or Two slot? Those that made that scheduling decision should be forced to repeat his challenge, I’d suggest.

Episode two is on at 10:30pm BBC Three on Thursday, and I’ll be tuning in to see Eddie run….

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