Interview with Nick Keen

Last updated: 06-Nov-18

Background

Nick, a property developer living near Devizes, Wiltshire, is a comparative newbie to ultra marathon running. In 2011 when he turned 50, he put running the London Marathon on his bucket list, got a place and finished! He describes himself as a “running amateur” but he successfully ran his first Marathon des Sables (MdS) in 2012 and is hoping to run in the MdS30 next year.

Read more of Nick’s top tips and ultra running experiences below:

Your experience of ultra running

Q. How long have you been doing ultras?
A. I’ve only completed one so far – the MdS in 2012.

Q. How did you first get started doing ultras?
A. My running career is relatively brief. I started in 2011 when I turned 50 and running the London Marathon was on my bucket list. After completing the marathon in 2011 and thoroughly enjoying the experience, I found myself in my local pub where Running The Sahara’s Sarah Chard challenged me to go one step further and try an ultra. After a couple of ciders, I said yes.

Q. When did you do your first ultra race?
A. It was the MdS in 2012.

Q. Why do you keep running ultras?
A. Well, I’ve only done one so far and I failed to get a place in the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) but I do plan to run next year’s MdS30. You get a great sense of achievement.

Top Tips for running

Q. What are the essential ingredients to being successful in ultras?
A. I’m not really qualified to say but I believe it’s based on 50% physical fitness and 50% mental toughness. You have to believe you can go beyond what your body thinks it can do.

Q. What tips would you give to someone doing their first ultra?
A. Good preparation is essential, you need the right kit and the right level of fitness – the mental side flows from that.

Q. What type of kit do you feel is essential for an ultra?
A. It’s all important but I’d say the right running shoes are pretty essential.

Q. What is the one thing you never travel without?
A. My running shoes.

The good times running

Q. What is your proudest running achievement to date?
A. Actually it was finishing the London Marathon in 2011 because I didn’t expect to do well.

Q. What has been your favourite ultra to date?
A. Well, I’ve only done the MdS so far but I’d like to do the UTMB at some point – 100 miles over two days in beautiful mountain scenery.

The rough times running

Q. What has been the most challenging ultra to date for you?
A. During my first MdS the most challenging aspect was getting through the first day – it was a real baptism of fire running through the desert in 51C heat.

Q. What aspect of ultra running is the hardest for you?
A. I think it’s the physical side.

Salvation time

Q. Who or what has been your biggest help in doing ultras?
A. That would be Doug Veitch, an ex-army guy who lives locally. He has run the MdS so could give me good advice – even small details which make a big difference whilst in the desert!

Q. Have you made any significant sacrifices to complete ultras?
A. Not really.

Learning

Q. What have you learned by doing ultras?
A. I think running an Ultra definitely changes your attitude to life. You get to realise that nothing is impossible.

Q. How do you feel ultras have changed you and your life?
A. There hasn’t been any dramatic change but I’d say that ultras can change your outlook on life.

Q. Any helpful sayings or beliefs that have helped your running?
A. No. I’m old-fashioned in that I just get on with it. I don’t tend to look for problems.

Q. How do you get motivated to do the training?
A. It’s about achieving what you set out to do. Once you’ve told your mates in the pub that you’re going to run a race you don’t want to let yourself down – you have to go on and do it.

Training and Prep

Q. How do you train for an ultra?
A. My training regime is to run 5 to 6 days a week racking up about 70 miles each week along a canal tow path near to where I live. As part of my training I ran the Bath Half Marathon (1:40min) after the event I ran home along the canal, which was a further 23 miles. The hardest part is all the preparation you do in the cold and the dark so that you’re ready for a spring race. When I ran the MdS in the heat and light, it was the total opposite to the conditions I’d trained in at home. Once you’ve done the training you’re halfway there really.

Future

Q. What race are you doing next?
A. I’m doing the Snowdonia Marathon at the end of in October, and I’ll be starting my training in August. I’d like to run the MdS 30 next year.

Q. What do you hope to achieve with your ultra running in the future?
A. I’m happy to run the occasional ultra, to do it as an adventure. I could be described as a non-runner who does running experiences rather than a dedicated Ultra runner.

Q. What would be your dream ultra event?
A. It would be the Mont Blanc UTMB as I love the mountains.

"Good preparation is essential, you need the right kit and the right level of fitness - the mental side flows from that."

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