I’ve completed some decent training over the last couple of weeks and am pleased with the progress that I have been making.
The previous Saturday was another run of just over 20 miles. I’m getting used to running this distance now and feel comfortable doing so. So far this year I’ve completed 6 runs of over 20 miles and I know that there are plenty more to come. This Saturday I ran 27.08 miles – that is my longest training run of the year. Actually, that is my longest training run ever. I’ve trained for marathons in the past and completed 9 of them so far – I’ve never gone beyond the marathon distance in training or an event. Saturday provided me with the ideal opportunity to push beyond my usual limits.
I decided on a route that would challenge me both physically and mentally – a good mixture of road and woodland trails with plenty of hills. The weather was hot, and I knew this would add to the challenge. By going beyond my usual training distances, I knew that this was going to require both patience and determination to complete it. One thing I have learnt this year about ultra-running is it is OK to walk short sections rather than run, it means conserving energy and gives an opportunity to take on nutrition as well.
I’ve also learnt a lot about pacing runs properly – this isn’t like training for a marathon, and I would never run the full marathon distance in training usually. I was also honest with myself about my expectations – this isn’t about hitting certain times, it is about being able to move forwards at all times. I feel having realistic expectations is important.
I hit a bit of a mental dip at around mile 18 for a couple of minutes, but I soon managed to switch those emotions off – there was absolutely nothing I could do to change the situation and I told myself that this is what needs to be done so keep moving forwards, just concentrate on each step and nothing else. The mental dip didn’t last long. I’m resilient and brutally honest about my abilities. I’m also extremely stubborn at times and don’t give up easily. These are the traits I need when the going gets tough. I know that I need to become comfortable being uncomfortable – both mentally and physically. The key is to be able to switch off and accept that things are tough, not to quit, not to break, to be able to keep moving forwards when it feels painful and muscles are screaming at me to stop.
The remaining miles became easier – the terrain was still tough and hilly – because I was just focused on moving forwards and nothing else mattered. I had got to a place both physically and mentally where I felt fatigued, but knew I could keep going. It felt like I could keep going forever.
The more I was pushing beyond my limits the more I felt comfortable. When I finished the run, I looked at myself in the mirror – I saw someone who looked different, there was something different in the way I looked that went beyond fatigue. It was like I had opened a door within myself and revealed something stronger, tougher, and limitless.
Prior to the run I had envisaged that physically my legs would be shot to pieces and ache for days – in the past when I’ve trained for and run marathons walking downstairs backwards becomes the norm (those who know, know) but nothing.
As I reflect on the run I know I got to a place I had been searching for in training for months (maybe years) and I can’t wait to get back there again.
It was quite shocking to read that 21 runners lost their lives competing in a 100 km ultra-marathon in China over the weekend. High winds and freezing rain hit part of the course and many of those competing developed hypothermia, others got lost due to poor visibility in the mountains.
I’ve read some reports that said many runners started the event without adequate equipment or kit (whether this would have made any difference at all is debatable). I wonder if the event organisers had stipulated that competitors take minimum kit required (for example, water-proof jacket, foil blanket, first aid kit). In many events this is a requirement and if you don’t have it you are not allowed to take part (and in some events the kit also checked at aid-stations/checkpoints).
Endurance events are tough. The distances covered, the training required, the physical demands and the mental demands are there to challenge all who wish to take part in them. One of the ways I’ve changed my approach to training this year is to really focus on the mental aspect. As the training distances and weekly mileage have increased, the mental aspect becomes more important. The mind gives up much quicker than the body does.
I’ve started focused a lot more on being present and being 'in the moment.' I’m not worrying about how I’ve run or how far I have left – I don’t have a great deal of influence over either of those factors. Instead, I’m just fully focused on the next 5-10 metres and moving forwards quickly.
Fatigue is certainly a factor on those longer runs, but that is the purpose of those long runs, to fight that fatigue and get stronger. It has taken months of carefully planned training and preparation to get to that stage. There are also going to be times when the fatigue really kicks in, my quad muscles are screaming at me to either slow down or stop. This is where being 'in the moment' really comes to the fore.
I know that endurance events are tough. I know that training for and competing in endurance events, means that there are going to be mental highs and lows. The key is how you manage them. It is quite easy when feeling good to push the pace a bit more but at what cost later on? When having a mental low it is quite easy to stop or quit but the pain of quitting days after the event is going to be a lot worse.
Those mental lows can be caused by multiple factors – fatigue and tiredness, low energy levels, the terrain and the weather can also add to the suffering of trying to cover the distance. Many of these I have very little influence over. What I do have influence over is how I deal with them – recognising my emotional reaction, accepting it, and letting go of it. Focusing on it will only increase the duration of those negative emotions.
Today I put this into practice to my advantage. I did a 19.2-mile training run. I started it in the middle of a downpour and was soaked through in minutes; oh well. I didn’t think about the distance I needed to cover and the time it would take and having to do this in wet kit. Instead, I just focused on putting one foot in front of the other. Later in the run, on the return, (around 13 miles) the heavens opened again, with the added bonus of hail as well. I just kept moving forward, focusing on the next 5-10 metres. It wasn’t the greatest conditions I’ve ever trained in and being on a very exposed part of the route with a strong relentless headwind made it that bit tougher. I accepted it for what it was and just focused on moving forwards. I’d originally scheduled in to run 18 miles today but went on for another mile just because. My quad muscles were fatiguing, but that is the point of training long distances; to be able to push that bit further.
A part of me enjoys training when the conditions are not favourable. I enjoy that aspect of working towards being comfortable in the uncomfortable. I enjoy pushing my physical and mental endurance to see how I overcome issues and challenges that arise, how emotionally react and how I deal with it.
Less than 6 weeks of training left now, and I’m looking forward to this event.
Is sport as diverse as it can be and is it a level playing field (no pun intended) for all who participate?
It is an interesting question and something I’ve been reflecting on after watching a few TedTalks and some of the reading I’ve been doing recently. If we look at running as an example, men and women at a professional or elite level don’t compete together within the events they participate in. I looked at the world records for some of the track events – the current world record for the men’s 100 m is 9.58 seconds, whereas the women’s record is 10.49 seconds (that time would not have gained a qualification to the men’s 100 m final at the last Olympic Games in Rio). The figures and differences follow a similar trend as you look at 200 m, 400 m, 800 m, and so on.
Where this trends starts to drift is at marathon distance and beyond. There was no official women’s marathon at the Olympic Games until 1984!!!! Women had competed occasionally, but it wasn’t fully recognised. It wasn’t until the late 1960’s that women were permitted to run in marathons as elite athletes. This is staggering really as the evidence suggests that women are able to compete with men on an almost equal footing when the distances increase.
I did a presentation in work about 6 years ago as part of a course on the cyclist Beryl Burton (“Who?” you are probably thinking – and no one attending the course had heard of her either). Beryl Burton was a phenomenal athlete who held multiple national records in an amateur career that spanned 4 decades as well as winning multiple national and world titles. The most remarkable title she held was the national 12-hour time trial championship in 1967 where she rode 277.25miles. She beat all the men taking part and held the national record (for both men and women – the women’s record stood until 2017!!!!!!) I’m still of the opinion that had women been able to compete in track cycling at the Olympic Games whilst Burton was still riding she would be our most decorated Olympian – however, very few people outside of cycling have ever heard of her.
Within Ultra-distance running women are not only competing but are also winning events outright. Pam Reed won the Badwater Ultra in 2002 (this is considered to be one of the toughest footraces on the planet – 135miles through Death Valley!!) beating the first man home by over 4 hours and 30 minutes. It wasn’t a fluke either because the following year she repeated this by beating the first man to finish by 25 minutes (and that man was Dean Karnazes – one of the best male ultra-runners in the world!).
Mimi Anderson has also won multiple races outright as have multiple other female ultra-runners, but very rarely do we hear about it. Jasmin Paris made national headlines and received much media coverage in 2019 after winning the 2019 Spine Race (268miles along the Pennine Way).
There have been multiple studies and much research into why women are able to compete almost equally with men at ultra-endurance events – physiology and how the body uses fuel, pain threshold differences, mental strength, and ego-check (men are more likely to go at a much faster at the start and suffer for it later).
Interestingly, when looking at separate race divisions for male and female competitors the organiser of the Big’s Backyard Ultra (Gary Cantrell (aka Lazarus Lake) – the creator of the infamously tough Barkley Marathons – a race so tough that only 18 runners have completed the full course since 1986!!!!) decided to scrap the separate male and female divisions – in 2019 a woman won the event overall.
Outside ultra-running very few athletes get the media coverage they sometimes deserve for their achievements – now imagine if a woman was to win a mixed 100 m final at the Olympics and the media coverage that would receive. Imagine how inspiring and empowering that would be, especially for younger female athletes. I think it is a shame when we are looking at equality and role-modelling in sport that it is not as balanced as it could be and creating that environment where participation should be based upon ability and not gender.
Saturday was another long run; 20.2 miles and it was made that little more challenging by the weather. Rain and a very strong breeze. It was good to get the session done in those conditions as I must really focus on why I’m out there. It can be easy to pick the pace up when you are being pushed by a strong tailwind, however caution is required as that tailwind will be a headwind on the return, and this requires even more patience and energy. If you’re spent at the halfway point, then it is going to be a world of pain on the return.
I’ve reached that part of my training schedule where nothing but total focus is needed. I can’t and won’t take my foot off the gas now. I’ve spent months training to get to this point and I just need to keep this going for another couple of months.
I’ve reached that part of my training schedule where the long runs are becoming the norm. Between now and the Serpent Trail 50k I have 4 more runs of over 20 miles to complete plus another 2 of 18 miles. In between those longer runs I have the normal runs I do of around 6-12 miles. I have another 23 runs sessions to complete.
The mileage is really starting to ramp up now. This is the stage of the training I’ve been looking forward to. This is the stage of the training where I need to work the hardest and focus the most. This is the stage of the training where it gets tough, and I know I will need to dig deep at times to keep moving forwards. I enjoy that part of training. It is when you reach that point where your mind is telling you to quit, where your mind is telling you your body is aching and in pain and the way to stop that is to quit or rest. This is when the training gets interesting, and I know if I can endure those sessions then I have that focus to complete the ultra.
Total focus and nothing else.
I’m not really paying much attention to the outside world at present and don’t feel I need to. I’m busy in work, I’m busy with study, I’m busy with some other work-related projects, I spend a lot of time reading (I’ve already read 20 books this year), occasionally I’ll watch a film or a documentary on ultra-running, and the rest of the time is taken up with training or recovering from training.
Both the preparation for training and recovery are vitally important. My diet has changed this year, and I’m more aware of the food that I eat needs to give me the fuel I need to complete the sessions as well as recover from them. There are foods I’ve completely cut out of my diet and foods that I am eating a lot more.
I’ve realised the importance of adding in core work to supplement my training and I think this has been beneficial, especially on the longer run sessions.
I’ve got just under 8 weeks to go until I stand on the start line for the Serpent Trail 50k ultra. I know that by giving it my total focus, like I have done since I started training for the event, for the next 8 weeks I will be ready to give it everything I have, both physically and mentally to cross that finish line. I will have the miles in my legs and know I have done the training required, I will have my nutrition plan correct, I will have the belief that I’m good enough to be taking part, I will have the belief that nothing along that trail will stop me getting to that finish line, I will have the belief that I can overcome any negative self-dialogue that tells me I’m not strong enough, I will know that I will have total focus and nothing less.
Today is 3rd May 2021 and 2 months to go until the Serpent Trail 50k.
So far this year I’ve completed 105 training sessions. I’ve completed 52 sessions on the bike trainer and 53 runs. I’ve not missed a single session this year. I’ve already run 381.53 miles this year which is further than my entire total for 2020 which was 355.04 miles. I’ve not got a target for distance running in 2021 and am just clocking the miles up.
0520 is the time my alarm goes off twice a week, so I can get out for a run before starting work. I used to hate having to get up early and train but nowadays, it doesn’t bother me in the slightest, if anything I look forward to it.
There are 1,510 tracks on my MP3 player (and I still have a fair few more to add on) – when out running I try and name the track as soon as possible, there is some stuff I have no idea who it is!!!! The selection of music, genres, and artists is eclectic to put it mildly. I’ve got into the habit of singing along to one song on my longer runs, I try not to look at people when I pass them as I howl along tunelessly to ‘Bomber’ by Motorhead. There are exactly zero songs by Bon Jovi or Nickelback – they have zero place on any track list………. ever. I’ve stopped picking up the pace whenever a track by Slayer comes on – the long runs are not the time for that game anymore!
The Serpent Trail 50k will be the first race I’ve done for a while. I think my last race was a Park Run 5k just over 4 years ago. I’ve no idea how many races I’ve done in total over the years – there are probably some I’ve forgotten about completely.
After the Serpent Trail the focus shifts to the Great South Run and then the Portsmouth Coastal Marathon. The marathon will be the 10th marathon I’ve run – it will be a relief to get into double figures as it has been bugging me for years. The last marathon I ran was in Valencia in 2008.
I have a feeling the Serpent Trail 50k won’t be the only ultra-marathon I run. I’ve no idea how quickly I’m going to run it. The main aim is to cross the finish line, but I’ll be happy to finish in 6 hours (which is an average pace of 11:35 min/mile), I’ll be delighted with a time of 5:30 (which is an average pace of 10:37 min/mile) – most of my training runs have been anywhere between 8:30 min/mile to just under 10:00 min/mile. On the day, I need to keep my ego well in check and realise that it could be a world of pain from mile 23 onwards – this is where it is going to get interesting and it becomes more of a mental rather than physical effort.
I still have a lot of training to do and my longest run will be 26-28 miles – that’ll give me a more accurate idea of what I’m capable of finishing the event in, but experience tells me anything can happen on the day. I’ve already accumulated 5 blisters from my longer runs and have lost two toe-nails – it comes with the territory.
I usually have to check 7-8 times before the closing the front door that I have actually got my keys! I recently bought a new pair of trail running shorts which cost more than the last pair of jeans I bought – I sometimes wonder if I have got my perspectives correct. Then again I own more pairs of running shoes than I do normal shoes.
I’m planning to do a two-week taper in the lead up to the event – the number of sessions will be the same, but the volume drops considerably. I don’t enjoy the taper phase as I feel lazy and worry about slight tweaks and twangs in my muscles being impending injuries.
I’m trying hard not to eat my own body weight each week in home-made energy bars. I’ve watched countless documentaries on ultra-running and am baffled on how someone can run 100 miles at 8:30 min/mile pace - off-road and up and down mountain trails!
I’m 50 years of age in a few months’ time and never in my wildest imagination did I think I’d be training for an ultra-marathon. Then again I’ve never been one to limit their possibilities and that is the number one thing – don’t limit your possibilities.
What is success?
I reflected on this question over the weekend. It is hard to define success, and it is subjective to what you are trying to achieve. How we individually view success is very subjective as well. Some define success in terms of acquisition and material possessions. Others define success in terms of status and wealth. Some may define success as the outcome of a target or goal they are working towards. I looked at some of the goals and targets I am working towards this year and re-evaluated them in terms of what is success. Did merely ticking them all off mean that I’ve had a successful year?
I looked at my training for the ultra and looked at whether it had been a success or not.
I really broke this down into much smaller components. Firstly, I had identified something I wanted to achieve – finish an ultra-marathon. It has been something I’ve wanted to do for a number of years and despite a few previous unsuccessful attempts I feel that I’ve got my act together this year and because of the training and commitment I’ve put in I am going to achieve that goal.
Has the training been a success so far though? I’ve completed every session I’ve scheduled in this year (at the time of writing that is 98 training sessions). This is two-fold though – the planning can be a success but not necessarily the execution of that plan. I’ve spent time building up the distance and time so that every session is working towards building the endurance I need to finish the ultra.
At the weekend I did another long run (21.1 miles) and in terms of that session it was a success – my pace was consistent, the kit I used was suited to the purpose and worked really well, my nutrition was correct, and my focus was exceptional. I can’t pin-point one area of that session that did not go to plan. Compared to the previous weeks long run it was a much better run – whereas the previous week the last 3 miles were a slog this week I felt strong in the last 3 miles. I was mentally prepared for hitting a mental dip in places and knew how to overcome this and knew that physically I was able to move forwards.
But there is going to be a huge difference from finishing a 21.1mile training run and finishing a 31-mile event. Therefore, the sessions will get longer and the parameters of success will change – sometimes it isn’t just about the physical element or distance covered but the mental element as well – that ability to shut out the negative inner dialogue, to carry on when the mind is saying stop.
It got me thinking about what will I deem as being a success on the day of the ultra in just over 2 months’ time. Is just crossing the finish line going to be a success? In terms of achieving the overall goal it is, but other elements will also come into play. I’ve not got a specific time I’m aiming for – at present that is a bit of an unknown, and I’m only just scratching the surface in terms of distance. I’ll have a much better idea in the coming month as I work towards a long run training run of 26-28 miles.
Success on the day will also need to factor in how I handle things not going to plan and how I overcome these challenges. I know there is a good chance I will have an existential crisis during the event asking myself - Why the hell I’m doing this? What am I trying to prove? Why did I think this was a good idea? Being able to overcome my mental demons will be key to success.
Success will be sticking rigidly to my nutrition plan and fuelling properly before the event and during the event. Success will be standing on that start line, knowing I’ve done everything I needed to do to make sure that 31 miles later I am crossing that finish line, that I have done all the training required. There will be a certain amount of satisfaction in crossing that finish line and how I answer those questions of what I define as success will hopefully have been answered along the way.
Having completed in many, many endurance events over the years I know that after the event in the coming days and weeks many questions will arise – could I have done things differently? Could I have gone quicker? Could I find a different event with a more challenging terrain? Could I do a longer distance - 50 miles? 100km? 100miles?
Then the measurement of success changes yet again.
One thing I am learning is that the measurement of success isn’t always about achieving the goal or the target but the learning that takes place on the way to achieving it.
I completed a run of just over 20 miles on Saturday. It has been quite a few years since I’ve done that distance. It was good despite the last 3 miles being a bit of a slog and I had to dig deep a few times to keep going. I didn’t give up, felt motivated, and was fully focused on getting that distance completed.
It got me to thinking about why I enjoy endurance sports and where that interest comes from.
I saw my Mum on Sunday, and she had found some old photos for me (some of which I had forgotten about) – some of those may answer the question of why I enjoy endurance events.
I did my first triathlon 25 years ago. Back then very few people took part in the sport and my training was very much trial and error. Back then the internet didn’t exist, so my main points of reference were a book I had bought about triathlon (which wasn’t a huge help) and a few copies of Triathlon magazine (not a great deal of help either as it focused on what races some of the elite had done and what was happening in the USA). I trained for a few months and just hoped for the best on the day.
Looking at those photos on Sunday made me realise that my interest in endurance sports developed years before. There is one photo of me when I’m about 10 years of age having just finished a cross-country fun-run with my first finishers medal around my neck.
My Dad was into cycling and as a teenager I did a few charity rides with him – usually around 50-60 miles (which is a decent distance for a 14-year-old to ride. And looking at one of those photos and how skinny my legs look (!!!) I’m somewhat shocked I was able to ride those distances at that age). This led to being interested in races like the Tour de France (years before Britain even had a winner of the event – just having a British rider on the start line was a huge deal back then).
At school I played football, rugby, (hated cricket), and swam. I was OK, nothing exceptional. Outside of school I canoed for a little while (as part of my Duke of Edinburgh bronze award). I tried out a few other sports as well – again nothing really stuck in terms of wanting to participate long term. I went on a couple of outward bounds trips with the school to the Lake District and for a kid growing up in London that was a real eye-opener. The open space, the hills, the vastness of the place, and the sense of achievement making it up some of the mountains.
I remember going to watch the first ever London Marathon with my Nan in 1981. We stood outside Embankment station cheering and clapping the runners on, and I remember saying to my Nan that I would run a marathon one day (and probably didn’t realise what was involved, it just looked pretty cool to me).
I never joined any cycling or athletics clubs as a kid and at school there was never really that interest or encouragement from teachers to pursue any sports outside of school. I remember watching various sports programmes as a kid and that is where some of that interest really developed – city centre cycling shown on Channel Four, very brief highlights (2-5 minutes) of the Ironman in Hawaii, the Olympic Games in Moscow and Los Angeles (1980 and 1984).
When I was growing up there was a bloke who lived on the same estate who was a long distance runner and as kids we thought he was Superman!!!! We'd see him run off and then hours later (whilst we were still playing football and hitting windows he'd return, and we'd be amazed at how far he'd run!) All of those things have contributed in a small way to the journey I have been on in terms of endurance sports. All of those things have had a lasting influence on this journey.
There have been times when I’ve not entered events for a couple of years and just trained with no end goal or main purpose – but something has always drawn me back into finding an event, entering it, putting in the training, completing it and moving onto the next goal.
When I completed my first triathlon 25 years ago I wanted to see what else I could achieve and over the years went from short distance events to much longer distance events. When I completed my first marathon in 1998, once my legs had recovered, I wanted to see if I could get quicker over the distance.
I remember speaking to people that took part in ultra-marathons (and also reading a few books about the sport) thinking that is unbelievable and not for me, way too far. I think deep down I’ve always looked to push myself on my terms on what I can achieve. Taking part in endurance sports allows me to do that, and it has been an incredible journey and one where I have learnt a lot about myself. Pushing myself out of my comfort zone and seeing what is beyond that – both physically and mentally.
I look at that photo of me as a 10-year-old with that finishers' medal around my neck and wonder if someone told me then that in 40 years’ time I would be training to run 50 km what my reaction would have been.
Every time I think that the journey is complete there has always been something else that has drawn me back in, motivated me, fuelled that curiosity, made me wonder ‘what if’, and given me another goal to work towards.
Saturday provided me another opportunity for a long run, and it was a 15-mile session with a decent amount of off-road terrain. I’m enjoying the long runs, even more so when they are off-road. The long runs are providing me that opportunity to test out kit (this week was my new trail running shoes – perfect) and nutrition (again worked well, combination of energy drink, gels, and salt-chews to make sure my electrolytes are in balance).
Another way that the long runs help is with focus and this week I found that to be a lot sharper. I’d done some work for my external study (more on that in a bit) on mindfulness and ‘being in the moment’. I had a rough idea of the distance I wanted to cover on Saturday and the route. I just focused on what was in front of me there and then. I didn’t focus on the miles I’d just done or the miles ahead of me either (neither of which I can have any amount of influence over). Instead, I just concentrated on the there and then, nothing else.
I think that it is vitally important to put this type of training into practice in the build up to the ultra. Like the physical aspect, like getting my nutrition spot on, and like using the correct kit if my head and focus are in the right place that is going to count for a lot.
I’ve watched a few documentaries recently on ultra-distancing running and one of the things that is constantly mentioned is the mental aspect – having your head in the right place throughout. And these athletes are racing some very tough events (Badwater 135, Barkley Marathons, Hardrock 100, and Western States 100), much tougher than the 50k ultra I’m training for but that mental aspect is of the same importance.
The more I can focus, in training, on 'being in the moment,' the more beneficial it is going to be on the day. I’m covering the miles I need to do in training but if my focus and belief is not there then those miles count for nothing because when the going gets tough the focus will not be 'in the moment,' the 'there and then,' it will be on the miles I have ahead of me (and I can’t do a thing about that), it will be on things I can’t control, it will be those niggling little doubts.
There was another plus point that happened in the week as well – 12 week review with my tutor for my external study. I’d submitted around 6 pieces of work which hadn’t been marked or signed off just prior to the meeting. I was a slightly concerned and didn’t fancy the prospect of spending a few evenings making changes, rewriting parts and having to resubmit the work. There were also some doubts around whether I was good enough to be doing the study in the first place (again the imposter syndrome rearing its head to put those doubts in my mind once more).
The meeting went well. I’m ahead of schedule, the quality of my work is outstanding, I am showing a great understanding of the subject matter and how I am applying it. If anything, I’m doing work that I’m not evidencing, and I was told to include this as well. It was quite a relief but also highlighted that those self-doubts are still there but more importantly when I knuckle down what I can achieve.
I don’t always give myself enough credit for what I have and do achieve (I tend to focus more on what else I can do, what more needs to be done, or my personal favourite of what more I could have done – and this is almost belittling my achievements).
This was highlighted during the week when I was giving someone some advice on different aspects of run training – I didn’t think a great deal about it in the grand scheme of things and gave some advice based on personal experience over the years, what has worked well and what hasn’t, and a few other observations. I also wondered why they were asking me – and someone told me (because I don’t see it myself). I have a wealth of knowledge and experience of training for and competing in endurance events. Most people would be happy with finishing one marathon, I’ve finished 9 (and am planning to do a few more), most people would be happy to finish one triathlon, I’ve finished more than I care to remember including 4 Ironman distance and also raced for Great Britain. I don’t tend to place on a lot of emphasis on what I have achieved, the emphasis seems to be what I want to achieve or what I could have done better.
I remember over the years seeking advice from people with much more experience and knowledge of training and racing and being in awe of what they had achieved. Maybe, just maybe I’m now in that position myself?
On Saturday I did my longest run of the year so far – 16.6 miles. It was a pretty decent run. That is the longest run I’ve done for about 10 years.
Portsmouth is an island and one of the things I’d wanted to do was to run around the perimeter of it (where feasible as things such as the dockyard mean that this isn’t entirely possible). So, on Saturday morning I headed out to do just that – run around the island. It also gave me an opportunity to test out some of the kit I will be using during the ultra in July.
I know from experience that the long runs also provide an opportunity to get an idea of the ‘plan b’ if something goes wrong, it isn’t just about covering a certain distance, and there were one or two of those moments on Saturday.
So out I headed to run around the island, the pace at the start was a bit quicker than I had originally anticipated, but I wasn’t overly concerned. Then 1.5 miles in I noticed that the cable from my earphones was starting to get on my nerves a bit as it wasn’t tucked away properly – so a quick stop to sort that out.
Roughly 2.5 miles in and something was irritating my left eye. Again a quick stop to sort that out as best I could and off I go again only to realise it isn’t sorted and after rubbing my eye a bit more my contact lens had come out and had split (thankfully it had all come out). I had a choice to make now – did I head home and pop another lens in or did I carry on. I decided to carry on with the run – if that happens on the day of the ultra I’m not going to have the luxury of sorting that out until I get to an aid station (and is it worth carrying a set of spare contact lenses with me. Is that something I now need to consider doing? Again, what is the ‘plan b’ on the day.) Ironically, the problem with the contact lens happened just as I was passing the statue of Lord Nelson in Old Portsmouth!!!!!!!
My pace comfortable, I was in a decent flow, and it was going well.
I’d decided before I went out that I would walk, briefly take on fluids (and it was the first time I was using my ultra-backpack which has a hydration bladder in it and I can stow away my nutrition and anything I else I need) – again this worked pretty well but I do think I need to be able to take fluids on whilst running (so note to self – practice this on future runs). On the day of the ultra I’m going to need to fill the hydration bladder up at the aid stations and think about taking an additional soft flask to fill with flat coke for the later part of the run (flat coke works absolute wonders – a real pick up and energy boost).
I hit the half marathon mark (13.1 miles) in exactly 2 hours. This is the quickest I’ve covered that distance in training so far. The next 3.5 miles were a little slower, but I had anticipated this and had also decided to slow my pace slightly as well. I tried to push the pace a bit in the last mile and if I’m being honest it was a bit of a struggle. I’m not overly concerned about that at this point in my training though. I finished the 16.6 miles in 2 hours 34 minutes. I was relatively pleased with that and had noted a few things I need to be aware of for longer runs and during the ultra. My focus was brilliant, I just concentrated on moving forwards all the time and not being concerned about anything but moving forwards.
A bit of a mishap after I’d got back. I was waiting for some books to be delivered and just as I was stepping out of the shower the doorbell went. I went rushing across the bathroom floor and slipped landing heavily on my left knee and face-planting onto the floor!!! Ironically, one of the books being delivered was called ‘Bounce’ – not something I did when I went down in a heap!!! The left knee is bruised at the moment, but it won’t stop me from training.
In the past I would have let things like the contact lens and slipping over bug me, but they haven’t, I’ve seen the humour and irony of it and accepted it for what it is.
Doing the run around the island was great and something I can tick off of my training targets for the year. In terms of distance and terrain it was OK. The ultra is being run off-road on trails. All of my training has been done on road. I need to look at some different routes for my longer runs and get on some trails and in order for that to work well I need to be upping the distance to 20 mile upwards for those longer runs – and that is something I’m really looking forward to doing.
Whenever I look at setting myself a goal or a target to achieve I always look at why I’m doing it. I might already know how I’m going to do it and what I’m going to do to achieve it. The real driver to achieving it is why, the purpose of doing it in the first place. If you want to look at this concept in a bit more depth look at some of the videos the brilliant Simon Sinek has done on the topic.
I’ve always had an interest in endurance sports and have taken part in them since 1996 when I took part in my first triathlon. I didn’t know a great deal about the sport, motivation theories, or training back then (this was before the internet. I had one book and a couple of copies of ‘Triathlete’ magazine). It seemed like a good challenge and something I would enjoy, as well as feeling a sense of achievement.
That sense of why hasn’t changed a great deal 25 years later with the ultra-marathon – why am I doing it? I’ve never done a run of that distance before, so it is a sense of the unknown, it has given me a goal to aim towards this year, and the sense of achievement when I cross that finishing line are great drivers. It is something I want to prove to myself that I can do.
It has also had an impact on other areas of my life as well. My focus has improved, my diet has improved, my motivation is better, sense of well-being and the way I view myself has improved. I enjoy training. I can’t train for the sake of training though. I need a goal or target to work towards. There needs to be an outcome at the end of it. To me, it is more than just saying I want to be fitter and healthier (and this is very subjective and has multiple variables as well). That end-goal is important.
Knowing why I am doing it is important throughout. What the purpose of doing all that training is building to – physically, mentally and emotionally. I know there will be challenges along the way, but I also know I have it in my ability to overcome those challenges – I just need to return to the purpose, 'the why' I’m doing it.
There are times when I’m out running when I think about slowing the pace or even stopping and walking for 50 m or so but I manage that internal self-talk and return to the purpose and 'the why' to motivate myself to keep going – quitting is not an option. I’ve not missed one training session this year – every session I’ve completed no matter how I’m feeling or what the weather is doing – because I’m focused on why I’m doing this.
I’d much rather train when I don’t feel like it and/or train in the wind and rain than not even make the start line (let alone the finish line!)
The runs are getting longer every week now and every time they are getting longer I’m enjoying them more. There are probably a few reasons for this – the sense of achievement for building up the mileage and also being a step closer each time to achieving that overall goal. Running a couple of different routes recently has helped with the motivation – exploring different parts of the city and wondering where a certain trail or path leads is always pretty cool.
Having that sense of why and purpose has been filtering into other areas of my life as well, since the start of the year and the other goals and targets I set for myself – I think the motivation becomes contagious and those links are easily made. On the flip side of that, if the motivation isn’t there then that negativity also becomes contagious. I know this from times when my mental health has been at rock bottom – that purpose isn’t there, there is no why, there is no focus, motivation doesn’t exist. Having been at the abyss of trying to take my own life years ago I know how important it is to have that sense of purpose. I had nothing to drive me then.
Nowadays, I have lots of things that drive me. I set myself challenging goals – they are not easy, and they are not impossible either. I know that they will stretch me as I work to achieve them. I know I need to have self-discipline to achieve them.
As lockdown eases I know that I must remain as focused now as ever before, going out and meeting friends is not the main priority, easing off and kicking back to have some downtime is not an option for the moment. What is the priority is getting in those long miles in training, getting my studies done for work, focusing on ticking off a couple more of the goals I’ve set for myself.
I know when I’ve achieved them I can look in the mirror and be pleased with the effort, application, drive, sacrifice, and determination. And when that happens it is time to create new goals and targets, new purposes and finding the new and next why.
Richard Guy, 47 years of age, born and grew up in London and have lived in Portsmouth since 2017.