From little acorns do mighty oaks grow – transition from 10km runner to hopefully an Ultra Runner!

The book above arrived in the post today. I was expecting it, and in the back of my head I have already got myself prepared in a way, even pushing myself to a couple of runs last week after an exhausting working week. But the book, with the title Running Your First Ultra has now made things epically real!

So how is it I’m now looking ahead for the whole of next year planning and fitting in training to be able to run an Ultra Marathon? Well all runners start from somewhere, and for me, it was the lure of 10km races a number of years ago. Now looking at me you’d never think I were a runner, I’m completely the wrong build for it when you compare me to the runners you see on your tv! And to see me run, well, I have had some people assume I’ve ran a marathon after only running a mile with my shuffling gait and pained expression! But that is just me, every runner has their uniqueness to approaching running, obviously some are more better than others for lessoning injury risks and improving speeds, but if the run brings you no pain and you’re just doing it for the fun of things or to gain general exercise, then hey, don’t let anyone tell you how to run! But getting back to the 10km, I cannot even remember my first one, suffice to say it would have been something I entered naively, “I’ve never run before, but how hard can 10km be??”. Although I can’t remember the race itself, I do remember the feeling at the end of “oh dear god I’m dying”, trying not to collapse in front of everyone else, bent over trying to breathe in every last bit of oxygen off everyone else! I’ve always been competitive against myself, and my poor effort (in my own mind!) meant I automatically started looking at other 10km races and this time preparing for it. Now in the scheme of things, 10km is short, and if you are a regular runner, you rarely need to train for one, but back then I was mega unfit and therefore saw this race as a wake up call I needed to get fitter!

Over time, with increased runs around my local streets gradually increasing in length, I decided I needed another challenge, and it so happened one of my friends had registered with the Nottingham Robin Hood Half Marathon. I’d never done much more than 8 miles running by myself, generally finding regular runs of 6-7 miles enough to keep my fitness levels in the healthy spectrum, so to run 13.1 miles was a big step up. Continuing the common theme of being naive, I just assumed if I increased some of my runs to 10 miles every so often, then I’d be able to push on for the final 3 miles at the end. I didn’t do any preparation, I didn’t study the route, I didn’t taper or do any hill reps or speed runs, just some of the things you’ll find in recommended running guidance. Come race day, I once more suffered as a result, I lasted well up to 10 miles, but then found that my legs started cramping up, I got a horrific stitch and I had to slow right down.

This race taught be something important that day. And that was not to be arrogent and thinking that running every few days at different distances is sufficient training. From then on, on other races I attended, I looked around at guidance on the internet, books, I asked my experienced running friends for advice, everything I could do to better prepare myself. I made sure I tried to eat better food, I incorporated different aspects of running into my training, basically following proper guidance! And it worked, on repeating the Nottingham Robin Hood Half Marathon in 2014 as part of my overall London Marathon training (See my post on my London Marathon experience) I got my Personal Best! Part of this was thanks to my mate I was running with, she is amazingly fast and I just wanted to try and keep up with her the best I could so I had that added incentive. But the training enabled me to keep my pace and stamina up for a sustained period of time. To be honest I needed to do this kind of training, because I had obviously signed up for the London Marathon the following April.

That’s my problem in life, or could it be called a character definining trait?? I see these big races, then without thinking through things properly, sign myself up spontaneously, only realising what I’ve done when I receive the confirmation email!

It was the same with the marathon, up to that point I had never run such a distance before but getting into the training programme did lead me to questioning my sanity! My post on the run itself describes the pain I got into but that I completed it. What that post doesn’t say is that the injury was so bad, I required physio treatment, and apart from a couple of runs here and there, I ended up being out the running game proper from April 2015 to January of this year. By then I had become a right mardy sod (erm, that’s East Midland’s slang for being grouchy!) because I wasn’t able to do any exercise at all, and running had become my form of release from stress in life. I was struggling badly to get back into it, mainly because I feared setting the injury off again, and then I was getting angry with myself because my pace and stamina from my peak fitness for the marathon had dropped to beginner levels. Even though by now I consider myself a fairly experienced runner, and should know better, until you’ve suffered a long term injury, these sensible thoughts go out the window. However, a couple of friends were great, they kept reminding me to get back into running for fun again, and forget about trying to get back into a training regime straight away. It’s pretty tough getting into a training mindset at the best of times, let alone nearly a year out with a serious injury. I was too focussed on looking at my watch to see what my split times were, getting too frustrated how my minute per mile time had dropped and this compounded to my overall feelings for running. That is until one day towards the end of January. The whole of the country had been covered in a dusting of snow, enough that my Derbyshire hills had got a few inches. Even though the day was cold, it was one of those perfect winter days, the sun was shining, the air was fresh if a little brisk, and having been cooped up inside for a few days, I needed to get out. I own a pair of Innov8 Mudclaw trainers that I had bought a year earlier when I had just started getting into trail running and which were perfect for the muddy ground I intended on running along. I delibrately left my watch at home, deciding instead just to see how I felt jogging at a slow pace, and this was the best thing I could have done.

I set off, and instead of constantly checking my watch to see how I was doing, I looked around me, I enjoyed the views across the hills still covered in their snow, I took joy in running through the mud like a 5 year old again, I found a public footpath across a field covered in virgin snow so I started making giant strides, imagining people following on behind wondering who this giant legged person must be! I worked out on getting home that I had probably only covered 4 miles, but that didn’t matter! For that day had done something more important than logging miles in a certain time, it reinvigorated my love for running again! I had a smile back on my face, I had the familiar endorphin release that I had been missing for so long, and boy let me tell you now, the endorphin release after a good run is better than any drug out there (not that I know! Don’t do drugs kids!). It helped there was a local running club in my area which I had joined in the year previously but which I had stopped attending with my marathon training. Even though it was winter, and the runs would be taking place in the dark british cold and wet evenings, simply being around other people also helped, it spurred me on to get back into the running game properly.

A difference had come over me though and which I felt came to light more in these runs. I think it is a by-product of my hip injury which came through over training on the hard road surfaces. I no longer enjoyed road running, I felt nervous about pushing myself in case my bad hip started aching again, and as the evenings got lighter, I found simply they were boring to do. Even though I live in the countryside, where the views are better than dirt towns and cities, being on the road restricts your views around you, high hedges stopping you seeing the fields around you, and you have the additional issue of having to constantly keep an eye out for those drivers who think they are the next rally racing champ! So with the club, and with my regular running buddies, I focussed on off road running, getting to explore the countryside through trails or fells through different local races. I love them! You see the views you would if you were hiking, but at a much faster pace! And these trail/fell races encourage you to see parts of the countryside you probably otherwise wouldn’t see. I for one have discovered vast areas of Derbyshire I didn’t know existed, and it is so heartening to see that not all of our countryside has been lost to development!

Over the months I have got into trail running more and more, to the extent that one evening last month, a runner from my running club posted on facebook about undertaking a 100 mile Ultra Marathon (The Pembrokeshire Coastal 100 Mile Run). I think it’s pretty obvious from the long post what the result of that was! So here it is that I have my first training book as a guide to what to expect and what to do, and this week brings along my latest challenge! I won’t lie, even now I don’t think the full implications of what I’ve signed up to do has hit me. I don’t think it will until I find myself having to drag myself on a dark and rainy run in the winter for a few hours instead of enjoying fish and chips by the tv. The full realisation will come on race morning, I think I will be sh*tting bricks as the expression goes! However, all this spurs me on; it was a moment of rashness signing up, but I’m determined now more than ever to do it. I love the idea of being able to say (I hope, I know I’ve still to get there yet!) “Yeah, this medal? This is my Ultra Marathon medal..yeah..didn’t you know? I’m an Ultra runner”. And I really cannot wait to experience the coastal views as I’m running along. But lets not get to far ahead. Right now I’m still your standard short distance runner, but over time I will be writing about how my training is going and what I discover about myself!

So I hope you’ll join me on this journey, and if any ultra runners read this and have any tips for a novice, please feel free to pass your words of wisdom on! Right, time to get on a quick 4 mile run before bed!



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