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.
Richard Guy, 47 years of age, born and grew up in London and have lived in Portsmouth since 2017.