5k runner to ultra marathons
There is one important reason why the transformation from 5k runner to ultra marathon happened. Purpose.
In 2015 I co-founded Understand Pain with a then patient, Georgie, who was suffering CRPS (complex regional pain syndrome). During our time together as Georgie came to understand her experiences and what she could do, we considered different ways of raising in awareness of the problem of pain. We started by clarifying our strengths and our picture of success.
Georgie is a singer, songwriter and musician, which we tapped into with #upandsing with Rock Choir. This was a series of singing events with hundreds of singers, recognising how music and song transform our state into one of joy together with the simple physical benefits.
I knew about pain and helping people understand their pain so that they could put that knowledge into practical action. I also ran casually and had a thought about building to marathons. It was a distant thought at that time. Then the opportunity to run the Royal Parks Half Marathon arose and I went for it. I had a purpose.
Since that time, #upandrun has continued to build, in particular over the past 4 years. I am fortunate to have an old school friend who has been on a running journey, now regularly running marathons and ultras (distances more than a marathon) from whom I could (and still do) glean advice. Having ran a few more halves, and a super trail run over Box Hill organised by Salomon, I then had the chance to run the London Marathon — the flagship 26.2 miles that is the No1 marathon in the world. That day did not disappoint!
I thought that I may stop after that and resume casual running. Ha! No chance. I was hooked.
Last year on my birthday in October I ran the Beachy Head marathon, which is a most glorious of trots across the South Downs taking in wonderful views of the coastline — highly recommended.
My wife and supporter Jo did the 10k and was starting to feel the joy of running. Any runner will know the vital importance of a supportive wife or partner…especially when kit is to be found all over the house…
In July last year I went to pick up my old mate at the end of his monumental 100k run, Race to the Stones. Whilst I was nowhere near ready at the point, I knew that this was the next goal. There was no stopping that thought. Mentioning it, the thought became real and I signed up for 2019. Nothing like committing by paying!
In preparation I knew that back to back runs were going to be important. I lined up the Brighton Marathon in April and the Isle of Wight Challenge in May, taking the stpe from marathon to ultramarathon. The day after Brighton I went out for a 25k trot to get the feel of consecutive days running with tired legs. I felt stiff and sore, my legs were heavy and tired from the efforts the day before, but I knew I had to find a way to keep going. Purpose.
The IOW Challenge is 106k around the island. I chose to do this over two days (52k on day 1, and 54k on day 2), with the back to back training being in my plan for the ‘main event’ in July this year, Race to the Stones 100k. What a weekend it was! This was not simply preparation for longer runs. Instead a super event, well organised and a great introduction to ultra running. Seeing the island on foot was a privilege. The first section along the south coast was inspiring as you ran along the coastal path, the white cliffs below, sea stretched out to the left and rolling hills to the right.
I was slightly disappointed that the full challenge did not pass The Needles. We cut right beforehand. However, the final stage on day 2 took us right along the cliff edge, which was exhilarating for someone who does not like heights! I was not stopping to take photos at that point, beyond 100k, the end in sight.
The last few kilometers are always fascinating. Often there is an unnatural burst of energy that allows for a sprint — or at least it feels like a sprint! It was certainly not relief to be near the end, instead an incredible feeling of private achievement that is highly addictive. This is probably why soon after crossing the line, you are looking for the next race…
There are many ways of keeping going during the hours running. If you have a purpose greater than you, such as running for a charity, this is a potent driver. The suffering endured by the long distance runner is usually short-term in comparison to those you run for; in my case chronic pain. Then there’s thinking of important people in your life, funny situations, pumping tunes (AC/DC worked well for me this time: Back in Black and Highway to Hell), the scenery, and perhaps a time that you want to finish under. All are valid and worthy, and work. Preparing a bag of coping skills and extending these out before the race is a worthwhile exercise.
Before you know it, you’re done. Again, those last steps towards the finish line are ones to be utterly mindful of, as you near the end and the ripple of applause, the award of a medal, a glass of bubbly and some staggering around. You glance about and see other finishers. You know who they are because they are walking as if they have…..you get the picture. There’s a particular way of walking after two days of running.
So, onto Race to the Stones in July. Or so I thought.
I just could not shake the feeling of wanting to keep going. July seemed too far away. The inevitable search for races began together with looking at routes to run independently. The latter are to come having discussed the Thames Path, Hadrian’s Wall and other possibilities. Then I saw the London to Brighton Ultra Challenge on May 25th. Straight away I knew it was the one. 1 Day, 100k, Richmond (appropriate place to start) to Brighton. Booked and now preparing.
It all starts with a jog or even a walk. Each step is into the unknown. 5k to 10k to 22k to 26.2 miles to 50k to 100k and beyond. That’s the exciting bit. Running helps you discover what is under your hood. One major lesson I have learned is that with each step you know that you CAN. You can give it a go with everything you have and discover so much. Tap into your potential to achieve a dream. And dream big, because that is one of the habits of peak performers. Without a dream, without a clear direction, we meander and achieve mediocrity. To be successful, we know where we are going and focus on each step in the best way that we can, whatever it is you want to achieve as an outcome. On we go.
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