Sport on TV: Izzard can barely stand up but his remarkable feat is no joke

Fans of the movie 'Marathon Man' will recall Laurence Olivier's Nazi dentist hissing: "Is it safe?" Now Eddie Izzard is no Lord Larry – although he does a mean James Mason impression – but in Eddie Izzard – Marathon Man, the answer to the question is a resounding "No".

The "actor and comedian who also happens to be a transvestite" (as the narrator, David Tennant, refers to him) promises to run 43 marathons in 51 days for Comic Relief. He's 47. He has never been running before. He's got flat feet. And doctors recommend three weeks' rest after running just one marathon. Even the camera crew's rickshaw breaks down before he does.

It's an astonishing feat of endurance, making David Walliams' inspirational swim across the Channel for the same charity in 2006 look like a mere drop in the ocean.

At least Izzard doesn't try to do it in stilettos. But he regularly puts on fresh trainers. "A change is as good as a rest," he says. "I learned that in high heels, actually." He is given a moment's pause for thought when he wonders if his toenails will drop off and the nurse tells him that he should be more worried about his nipples falling off first.

Dr Mike Loosemore at the Olympic Medical Centre, the British boxing team's doctor, goes very quiet and looks the other way when he hears the plan. Izzard begins his 1,166-mile odyssey around the UK after less than six weeks' training. He is constantly distracted by what's going on around him, his early efforts taking 11 hours as he stops and chats and tweets and devours ice lollies. But there is a darker side to the bravado.

For a while he is joined by the former British distance-runner Bruce Tulloh, who ran 2,876 miles across the United States in 64 days in 1969. "Usually some traumatic experience causes this," Tulloh confides to the camera, and he's right. In addition to the punishment he puts his body through, Izzard suffers emotional torture.

His first destination is Skewen in Wales, where his mother died of cancer when he was six years old. "Why did I go back?" he muses. "Probably to recapture the time before my mum died."

In addition, his publicist, Karon Maskill, makes the point: "He has no fear because he's a transvestite." This supreme physical test is being taken by a man who has never felt comfortable in his own body.

At the end of this absorbing first episode of three, Izzard states: "The brain is telling the body, 'We're gonna run for our life'." He says he has become a machine, but it's a machine that's protecting a fragile and fascinating humanity.

"Maybe I'm just a big kid who's determined to do these adventures that I invent in my head," he says. It's appropriate that he should be running for a charity which helps those who cannot help themselves, especially children.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Guru Careers: Lead Systems Developer / Software Developer

COMPETITIVE + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: A Lead Systems Developer / Sof...

Recruitment Genius: Social Media & Engagement Manager - French or German Speaker

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: The world's leading financial services careers...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Marketing Executive - 6 Months Contract

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Digital Marketing Executive...

Guru Careers: Account Manager / Senior Account Manager

40-45K DOE + Benefits: Guru Careers: An Account Manager / Senior Account Manag...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory