A friend of mine often gleefully recounts the time I told him I’d never do anything more than a 10km race, and certainly never another half marathon.

“My knees hurt too much, and I’m probably doing them permanent damage, so…”

Fast forward to this year, where in July I completed my first 100km ultra-marathon Race to the Stones.

So what changed? And why did I make a huge leap from a handful of 10km races and one terribly de-motivating half marathon in 2010, to something over four times the distance?

In truth, it wasn’t entirely my choice, and started life as a group challenge, but in a moment of madness I said yes.

This was mid-way through 2017 and at this point, I would occasionally run to work (5km downhill into the centre of Bristol) and had a just-passable level of base fitness from the Bristol 10km back in May.

I was not (and still am not) particularly fast, and didn’t consider myself “good” at running.

Get a plan

I knew that the only way I’d motivate myself and actually achieve something, if if I had a plan. I started by downloading a Hal Higdon marathon training plan and imported it into my Google Calendar. I customised it to increase the longest training run to 60km instead of the prescribed 30km. It’s common to never run the full distance in training, as once you’ve got to 60%/70% of the race length, you can trust that your limbs & lungs will be able to cope with it, plus doing more than this during training risks injury and takes a lot more time.

My plan roughly resembled this:

  • Monday - Rest day
  • Tuesday - Hill reps / HIIT (High intensity interval training)
  • Wednesday - Gym work / stretching (30 mins - 1 hour)
  • Thursday - Easy run (5km - 10km depending on the week)
  • Friday - Low impact / Cycling (30 mins - 1 hour)
  • Saturday - Easy short run (10km - 15km)
  • Sunday - Long run (gradually increasing from 10km to 60km!)

 

Action it

I bought a pair of trail shoes in a running shop sale and the following Saturday I set out to break them in on a scenic 15km trail route that I’d done a couple of times before with my aforementioned running pal @tuckera. If you’re familiar with Bristol landmarks, the route heads out over Purdown which offers sweeping views of the city and its northern suburbs, then Eastville park (baby ducks and herons),  Snuff Mills (alongside the river Frome) and Frenchay village (quiet, upmarket suburbia).

There’s something special about trail running that I don’t feel when road running. There’s the obvious addition of landscapes and scenery, the feeling of being closer to nature and a chance to absorb the sounds of flowing water and birdsong. There are playful dogs, an excuse to eat food on the move, but most importantly for me is that the difficult terrain seems to be much more rewarding. It takes longer, but skipping down rocky paths and winding through field footpaths is memorable and exciting.

If you’re someone who finds road running boring, or a strain on the knees perhaps, then I highly recommend giving trail running a go.

Soak it up

Over the next couple of months I started to subconsciously absorb information on running, reading more blog posts, and talking to other runners. I found myself following ultra-runners like Francois D'Haene and Killian Journet on Instagram, buying Trail Runner magazine, subscribing to nutrition products like Tribe and continuing my blood testing from Forth. I joined my local library (nothing encourages me to read like the threat of late fines) and got a couple of running books like Eat & Run by Scott Jurek.

As time went on, I began to feel myself getting stronger, fitter and slimmer (I’ve lost 10kg so far this year). I could see my abdominals and obliques making an appearance and I could run for longer without tiring, and climb the stairs at work without getting out of breath.

I was starting to love running.

As you’re reading this, I probably don’t need to tell you about the health benefits of running, or that running can be good for joints and preventing injury. Perhaps I do need to mention though that you can do anything you set your mind to. It sounds trite, but it’s true.

I didn’t start to comprehend the magnitude of a 100km run in one day until I started telling people about it with friends and colleagues. And this is another important motivating factor for me. If I hadn’t exposed my goal to everyone and their dog, I may not have even entered the Race to the Stones. With the encouragement of everyone I knew, it was starting to feel like I could really do this thing.

Perhaps something else that had been gnawing at me for a while was the fact that I was now in my thirties and I felt a desire to do something I’d never done before and try to get in shape in the process. My first ultra-marathon seemed like a good start.

I’d recommend setting a big goal like this, get organised, get inspired and get out there and surprise yourself.