Last updated: 06-Nov-18
By Kerry Sutton
Joseph took part in his first Ultra at the tender age of 13. He was hooked from that day on.
Q. Joseph what was it that motivated you to do your first ultra?
A. I have always enjoyed doing sport and when I was 12 I started running with Team Bath Athletics Club. I only really did it to keep fit and because it was good conditioning for other sports. When I was 13 (year 8) I took part in a 20-mile fundraiser organized by my school. I came 3rd losing to two boys who were in sixth form (17 or 18 years olds). I was really proud of myself and was keen to see how far I could push myself, so later that year I did the Centurion Challenge 100 miler and became the youngest to complete it at the age of 13. After that I was hooked.
Q. Can you put into words what is it that you love about ultra running?
A. I am extremely competitive when it comes to sport, but I noticed that I can become too focused on who I am competing against. What I love about running ultras is just completing them. I never really think about winning, so it is a real contrast. I enjoy the camaraderie and encouraging atmosphere, which is very unique to this kind of racing. Mostly though, I love the immense sense of satisfaction when I finish!
Q. What was the most challenging part of the ultra for you?
A. When I did the Centurion 100m for the first time I didn’t really know anyone and spent long hours on my own in the baking 34-degree heat. I also had very little idea of what I was doing. I was very naive and forgot to eat or drink. As a result I started to hallucinate and became exhausted. I remember crying quite a lot and stumbling around trying to get to the next aid station. What made it hardest, was that it was all so unknown. I had long periods when I felt like I was going nowhere, didn’t know where anyone else in the field was, and had no idea what to do. I was very lonely, scared and probably had some doubt that I would even finish. Relief came occasionally, when other boys would catch up with me and I was able to walk with them. Although I barely spoke to them, it was great to have someone near me. Motivation also came from seeing my family who had driven over an hour to come and support me. My Dad, in particular, who had volunteered to marshal, was able to ride up and down the course on his bike to let me know where other people were. That offered me some comfort.
Q. How do you train for an ultra?
A. I run with a middle-distance specific group at Bath University as part of TeamBath AC. I train with lots of great runners, most of whom are older than me. In an average session I run 5km to about 12km depending on whether we are doing hills, cross-country or track sessions. I also do a paper round from Monday to Saturday, and I will usually run the 4-mile loop. This helps to add base miles to my training. Apart from that, I do Strength and Conditioning twice a week. I try to live a very healthy lifestyle and love to Ski and Skimboard. I also play in both local and school sports teams. I enjoy Rugby, Football and Hockey. In total I train about 15 hours a week.
Q. You have achieved a lot in such a short time already. What is your proudest achievement to date?
A. My proudest achievement in ultra running was becoming the youngest person to complete the Centurion Challenge and at the same time becoming the first Year 8 ever to complete it. The Centurion Challenge is an ultra organized by my school. It is a gruelling 100 miler that has to be completed within 48 hours and is raced from Bath to Hungerford and back! The attrition rate was huge. Of the 80 or so that started only 27 finished. The year I ran it was one of the hottest weekends on record, topping 34 Degrees which added a new element of difficulty. It was my proudest moment because it had never been done before. Everyone in my school, teachers and pupils alike, congratulated me and I felt very humbled and proud as a result of the experience. It was very special!
Q. Who or what is your inspiration to complete ultras?
A. I am a big fan of Kilian Jornet and enjoy watching his YouTube series, Kilian’s Quest. I am really inspired by the amount he trains and the way in which he wins some of the world’s toughest ultras. It is also my Dad who has helped me a lot. Often he is the reason I don’t stop. A great example of this was during one race I sent him a text saying “Do not let me pull out” he was able to motivate me to push through and find that little extra within me to keep going.
Q. What have you learned by doing ultras?
A. I suppose I have learnt I can keep on going for a long time! I have also learnt how to push on through and not give up, the importance of persevering. It has given me more self-belief and confidence and this has had benefits in others aspects of my life. I have also gained a lot of experience on how to complete an ultra. Things like which shoes to wear, which backpack to use, what equipment I need and what to tell myself mentally. These are fairly transferable skills in a lot of areas of life.
Q. Do you have any helpful sayings or beliefs that have helped your running?
A. When I was travelling to the ultra my whole family were in the car. The song “Carry On” by Fun came on the radio and they sung along but added “Joseph” in the lyrics. Its moments like that which remind me of how much they want me to do it and how much they support me. I find that inspiring and motivating. Apart from that I just keep thinking about the very end. I never really think about getting to the next aid station or getting halfway, I always think about getting to the end of the day and how good that will feel!
Q. What race are you doing next?
A. Obviously my age prevents me from doing lots of events so I will carry on doing my school events. As soon as I am able, I will do other races, particularly the Cotswold Century because I live 2 minutes away from the finish. I’d also like to do the Lakeland 100. I have never raced over-night and the idea of it sounds quite fun (I don’t know how fun it will be in practice!)
Q. What do you hope to achieve with your ultra running in the future?
A. I would like to see how far I can push myself and to find that point at which my body does eventually stop. I prefer events that are not too hilly. There are enough mental hills involved in ultras without physical ones as well! I would like to compete against some of the best in the world. I suppose it would be Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, just a shame it is on one of Europe’s biggest mountains (so much for not too hilly!) Maybe I will go on to complete something like MdS, or perhaps I will find my limit during the Lakeland 100, it will be interesting to see.