“It is going to hurt. Probably a lot. But it will be so much fun.”
This is what you need to know if you have signed up for your first ultra marathon.
This is part of a series of posts that chart Gareth Kilshaw’s preparations to run 127-miles, on his birthday, for the RNLI. Raising some much needed funds for a great charity that has been impacted by COVID.
This post reflects some of my experience of working with Gareth and his team. Of being immersed with some dedicated runners and amazing people.
It is a few nights before Halloween, Gareth Kilshaw is in great form. It is just 1 week until his epic run for the RNLI and he seems ready. He seems calm. He is prepared. The training plan has been executed, the weights lifted, and even his kit is packed.
It is a relaxed atmosphere as we chat, over Zoom, (such is life right now) with a glass of wine in hand. We are joined by his “chief ass kicker”, Nicola. Gareth has described her as his coach, but she quickly dismisses that concept with her wicked laugh by threatening to alter the final week of her even wickeder training plan!
Working with Gareth and his team over the last few weeks has been a blessing. I have been drawn into this ultrarunning world and, I have to say, I am inspired by it. The people. The personal stories. Their resilience and determination. I look up to them.
As I share my reflections, I find myself being recruited: gently teased towards signing-up for an ultra event. Whilst also being not so gently teased in general – mostly by Nicola!
As we laugh, we reflect on the preparation and all the work and we look forward to the event. At the outset, I had asked the question, “What on earth makes a runner want to go further than a marathon?”
When the modern Olympics were founded in 1896 the marathon was the blue-riband event, that signified the glory of ancient Greece. Its name has a mystique. It comes from legend. When news came that the Persians’ had been defeated in the Battle of Marathon the messenger did not stop running until he delivered that message to Athens.
We use the word “marathon” in our everyday lexicon to describe gruelling situations and epic events, “A marathon day in the office”, “A marathon shift”, “A marathon trip”.
The idea of doing more than a marathon sized portion of anything isn’t supposed to be appealing. And yet there are runners who want to go further than a marathon. And they love it.
Now that I know just a little more than I did, the best I can offer to explain the challenge of ultrarunning is that it is one-part physical, one-part mental and two-parts spiritual. And I am finding myself drawn to that mystique.
Having now been recruited and feeling already like there is no backing out, my mind turns to the horrors that could beset a debut ultramarathon.
I beg for wisdom. This is the kind of sport where you should avoid your own mistakes and learn from the misfortune of others. Gareth Kilshaw & Nicola Bruce begin to share:
- Don’t set off too fast = No problem there
- Eat little and often. And start eating early = Again, no problem. I’m a good eater.
- Do your homework. Know the route and, if possible, reccie it. Hilly or flat? How’s the terrain? = Makes sense and I’m a swat.
- Test EVERYTHING. Training isn’t just the miles. Test kit, hydration, nutrition = Roger. That appeals to me.
- Have rules for eating and drinking. You’ll be tired so it must be second nature = Okay
- If anything irritates you, deal with it immediately. Like a stone in your shoe or a noise from your pack… just stop and sort it. = Okay
- Train hard and enjoy the challenge but prepare that it is a mental challenge too – its not all fun = Ooookaaay
- Most runs are in beautiful locations – take a moment to enjoy it = Love it.
- Don’t stay in checkpoints too long. You should know exactly what you need as you arrive = Okay. I’m going to need a Carole! 🙂
- Pack well and for the event. Only take what you will need. The only kit you hope not to need is your first aid kit and Bivvy bag = Daunting
- Walk the hills – but with purpose = Sounds better than running. Purpose will need practice. I’m a moocher.
- Run the flats = Okay
- Cross the line as friends.
This final sentiment sums-up Gareth and Nicola perfectly. It also chimes with the awesome GB Ultras community that is so close to their hearts. An individual, endurance sport with 11,000 team-mates.
I like the sound of it. I’m in.
And so I asked that community of Ultra runners the same questions. And then the anecdotes, advice and good vibes started flowing:
- Run your own race. Enjoy it. Chat to positive people. Walk the ups. Don’t get ahead of yourself and got out too fast. Understand your body. Never stop learning
- Invest in good kit, test it and then practice with it. Break in your shoes.
- Plan ahead. Know your route, reccie it. Understand terrain and conditions. Know what you are doing at check points and prepare for them.
- Pack sensibly. Remember your kit! Pack for toilet breaks! Pack for comfort – not for spine bleeds!
- Practice getting your nutrition and hydration right. Lots of horror stories of what fizzy and food combos can do to a stomach. Or of what a change of routine on race day can do.
- Err Chaffing – its probably going to be a problem… we recommend Bepanthen with crisps!! (it turns out the crisps aren’t to be applied… they are to occupy your running partner whilst the other gets creaming)
- During her first Ultra, Nick was told to remember to drink lots of water so decided to carry a bottle in one hand at all times, which was fine until the temperature dropped in the Yorkshire Dales and her hand turned to ice. She DNF’d on the verge of hypothermia a mistake she never ever made again.
- Don’t run straight into a canal. You’ll be remembered for it for ever!!
- If you do mis judge your hydration don’t drink out of cow troughs!
- If you find yourself running with the fun-bus or the tuckshop you’re in for a roaring good laugh.
- Don’t give blood three days before a race
- Train more than 13.1 if you are running a 50!
- At some stage you will be running stupid – if someone tells you to eat a sandwich, just eat.
- Be precise with deep heat applications
The most commonly cited “mistake” – was regretting not having entered their first ultra-years earlier.
Support Gareth Kilshaw’s challenge by clicking on the Just Giving link below
Read our series of posts and learn how Gareth Kilshaw has prepared for the challenge: