Last updated: 06-Nov-18
Your experience of ultra running
Q. How long have you been doing ultras?
A. I’ve been doing this for three years.
Q. How did you first get started doing ultras?
A. I’ve always done sport since I was 11. I played rugby and ran at school. I competed in triathlons in the 1990’s and completed several Ironman triathlons. I saw the James Cracknell documentary first which spurred me to do the Marathon des Sables (MDS). In 2011 I told my family that I was wanted to enter. My daughter was convinced I was going to die but I came 77th.
Q. What motivated you to start running?
A. I used to run for the county at school and was always a runner. When I first saw the James Cracknall programme, the MDS ticked all the boxes for me.
Q. When did you do your first ultra race?
A. Did quite a few races before the MDS – very first was in August 2011 – the Ultra Race Peaks 40miles – made it in 45miles because I did some long turns in the Peak District. I swore at 35 miles I would never do it again – but I entered another one within another few days. I did several short races through that year – 40-50 milers.
I then came across The Spine – a new race – which runs the length of the Pennine Way. It is 268 miles over a week in January – with a cut off in 7 days. Something about it really excited me. Only 19 entered and 3 finished – total escapism – an amazing journey. Did half of it the first time but got bad hypothermia and then did it a second time. You have to take full winter kit. I finished that at the beginning of 2013. The MDS was no longer the goal.
Q. Why do you keep running ultras?
A. You either get it or you don’t. I’ve taken the competition out of it. I’m only racing myself now – it’s all about the journey and the experience.
I did a race a few weeks ago – the Hardmoors Ultra 55 mile race, as the training run for the long Viking Way race in three weeks’ time.
I’m doing a few races this year (2014) – The Viking Way in 3 weeks (April 2014) which is 146 miles and Hardmoors, which is a 160 miler in May 2014. I’m doing The Tor des Geants in Italy – Courmayeur in September 2014 which is 330km (206 miles). It’s described as the UTMB (Mont Blanc race) on steroids – places went in minutes. You can do this race in 5 days continuously.
Q. What are the essential ingredients to being successful in ultras?
A. Knees – I don’t know. I think its drive, bloodymindedness. I love being outside – love doing scenic stuff – the MDS, the moors, the Lakes – ran for three days. Freedom and escape. Stamina and determination.
Q. What tips would you give to someone doing their first ultra?
A. Don’t lose sleep over kit and nutrition. Things fall into place. Don’t sweat over your training mileage. Time on feet is more important than absolute mileage. Make sure you do the long runs , some back-to-back to get used to running tired.
Q. What type of kit do you feel is essential for an ultra?
A. Shoes that are comfortable and socks that don’t give you blisters. You need a rucksack to carry water with bottles or a reservoir. It’s trial and error with kit.
Q. What is the one thing you never travel without?
A. I eat normal food – I don’t use many energy bars or gel at all. A peanut butter and jam sandwich is the ultimate food that I take with me.
The good times
Q. What is your proudest achievement to date?
A. Finishing The Spine last year and the MDS. I don’t think the MdS that difficult to finish but it’s difficult to finish well. The MDS was a very therapeutic experience for me.
Q. What has been your favourite ultra to date?
A. Generally there is something to be said for all of them. The Spine and MDS are my favourites.
The Lakes 10 peaks race goes over the highest 10 peaks in the Lake District – only 43 miles, but it took 13.5 hours. It was brutal – but the perfect route at the end of June – that was lovely.
Q. Which type of ultras do you like best?
A. Ones that are hilly and get you away from it – not roads or flat ones. I live in Lincoln which is about as high as the red sea but I’m only an hour and a half from the Peak District.
The rough times
Q. What has been the most challenging ultra to date for you?
A. The Spine is the hardest thing I’ve ever done – cold and 14 hours of darkness a day. It was a continuous race so only 3-4 hours of sleep a night. The MDS was also hard as I was not in best place mentally but I did better than I thought I would.
Q. What aspect of ultra running is the hardest for you?
A. Rain is the hardest thing for me.
Q. Who or what has been your biggest help in doing ultras?
A. Two things. Firstly Jenny my wife and secondly anyone I’ve had contact with in ultras. They are always friendly and helpful – a great community of people. You do make great friends doing ultras.
Q. Have you made any significant sacrifices to complete ultras?
A. Time – but it has generally been worth it – running has its moments.
Q. What have you learned by doing ultras?
A. In the 90s I thought that an Ironman was the limit – but there is no limit. The learning that if you get your mind and body in the right place you can do anything you set your mind to do.
Q. How do you feel ultras have changed you and your life?
A. There have not been big changes except a wall full of medals. I found my real niche – being in scenic areas and running. Running has given me an outlet.
Q. Any helpful sayings or beliefs that have helped your running?
A. No not really.
Q. How do you get motivated to do the training?
A. I enjoy the training. When I was doing triathlons in 1978, I used to plan it and was horrified if I missed a session. I do plan to a degree now but I don’t plan it out as much. Still there are times when I don’t want to go running. I am learning to be relaxed about the training. Try not to plan too far ahead and just run when I want to. I don’t play homage to the god of the training diary.
Training and Preparation
Q. How do you train for an ultra race?
A. The training depends on the race – if it’s a trail race you need to train on trails. If it’s hilly you need to train on hills.
Q. How does your training differ for each type of ultra race?
A. I train specifically for the type of race and terrain. The Viking Way will be more running rather than power walking the hills as it’s much flatter.
Q. What ultra race are you doing next?
A. The Viking Way in April 2014 – I did not finish it before so I need to put it to bed.
Q. What do you hope to achieve with your ultra running in the future?
A. Just keep on enjoying it.
Q. What would be your dream ultra event?
A. Something that took me somewhere spectacular – the Yukon ultra (or similar) or one in the Himalayas.