In the Land of epics ……………..
“DNF’s and DNS’s are all part of living in the land of epics ” …. a quote from a friend and fellow outdoor adventurer, I will allow him to remain nameless but he certainly knows about epics and has won his fair share of hard races , even he didn’t complete all of them every time though .. read on dudes !!!!
After almost a full year of Ultra running I have learnt so much and had many great experiences , Its been a very steep learning curve and one that has certainly been filled with both success and failure and at the same time elation and disappointment . I trained hard to get Ultra fit , building up to and following 100+ mile a week schedules up to the MDS , Over a harsh winter I ran and did well in various single stage Ultras in both the UK and Ireland , literally ran up as many Hill races as I could and found 30+ mile runs to be a staple part of my weekly diet .. often finishing with ease .. it all changed though once I hit the MDS , I was fit enough but my feet blistered badly , forcing me into a pain filled last few days and then several weeks of rest before again lining up to race in the Scottish Ultra , 150 miles and 20000+ feet of steep ascent .. I actually did very well in this , my fitness had carried through from my training before the MDS and I was racing on my home turf , the 3 week rest hadn’t done my muscles any ill but my body was obviously still very run down as my last stage was ruined by a dose of Cryptosporidium which floored me flat !! I was headed over to Cyprus for a vacation the day after the race and luckily I was staying with my mother , the first few days I continued to be very ill and it took nearly 14 days to get myself sorted , I was far to ill to consider any running while I was out there so another rest period entailed , I returned to Scotland a few weeks later on the friday night where I had a full day’s rest before running in the Edinburgh Marathon , this I had no end of bother in , a niggle in my groin from the Scottish Ultra turned into a full-on strain by the end of 26 miles and I was forced into a 2 week rest again , so at this point due to various injuries I had not been able to do any consistent training at all over the summer , very frustrating !! , I then embarked on the Helvellyn hill race and my groin flared up yet again … forcing me into yet another long period of rest , this went on for weeks before I eventually managed to get out and try a few miles , my groin was tight but with the Gobi race looming in late July I had to do something , so between running hilly 10Ks and my mountain bike I tried to stay fit , the last 2 weeks before I left for Mongolia I did manage to get in some good long runs in , including the Lairig Ghru Ultra and the deceptively gruelling Pentland Skyline , I wasn’t able to apply much intensity to them but I completed them none the less ,unfortunately on reaching the Gobi my lack of consistant training showed badly , my fitness was lacking and I ran out of legs on day 3 , this made it harder for me than it ever should have been , both physically and mentally I was badly prepared for the enormity of a second desert race so early and with the onset of bad blistering I pulled the plug on Day 4 .. but that’s just the way it went …. at the time I didn’t care , I just wanted out , mentally and physically I’d had enough ,it was just one desert to many in to short a period for me !! eventually it turned to disappointment ….but that’s life , we can’t turn back the clock on our decisions , but we can learn from mistakes and move on positively , which is what I intend to do. Right now my fitness level is at its lowest ebb but I am preparing a good consistent build up again , I am finally relatively injury free , even my toe nails are looking normal again !! granted a few are missing. I started it all back in 2010 as a running virgin and I threw myself at it hard but it wasn’t enough , I know now that I took on way more than I ever should have , but I don’t care !! as far as adventurous years go it was one of the best , a crazy helter skelter of effort , adventure , endurance and pain !! It was amazing !! and it’s not over yet ….
My experiences although pretty extreme even for a hardened Ultra runner have made me see how difficult it is to run regular Ultra races and remain injury and illness free , we subject ourselves to huge stress in our training , you can train smart but you can’t cheat the mileage in Ultra , “use it or lose it” baby !! so out we go and batter our feet , toes and knees , we are out in every weather , we are out with colds , flus , injuries and often even in the middle of the night , we never truly recover , not even in taper , our bodies are constantly fighting to rebuild and recover when maybe they should be fighting off diseases and building up immunities , our little niggles build up into full blown injuries , none of us want to take our foot off the pedal so we don’t listen to our bodies when we should , maybe we do but most of us have selective hearing when it comes to rest , and eventually our bodies kick us where it hurts , literally with a groin strain!! it shouts time to stop and halts us dead in our tracks , a torn muscle , a flu virus , a 24 hour trip to the toilet!! … I used to be fit and healthy but since I have been able to run 100+ miles a week I am merely fit !! and that’s the truth !! In fact I have just this week suffered a viral Flu , the result probably of not resting on my return from the Gobi .. I am of course my worst enemy !! C’est la vie !! I believe there is a very delicate balance between being fit and being healthy , some people can handle it better than others but most of us will suffer at one time or another … “when you push beyond the safe zone it is not safe” … stay there long enough and something will happen , there’s nothing surer !
Most importantly is our mental state for without a strong mind , a strong body cannot be driven , we need our brains to push , to motivate and to lift us when our body wants to drop to its knees , it can push us forwards on will power alone , it can drag every microjoule of energy from our body and keep us moving forward , it is the brain that takes us to the start line and the brain that sees the finish , but let it get tired or out of control and truly “the wheels are off the wagon” in a big way , its like a wild stallion , full of untapped energy but to get to it we need to feed it , stimulate it , yet train it , make it obedient , sometimes its just not going to happen but when it does , and we hit the Ch’i spot !! … hang on to your running shoes because were off on a roller coaster of running fun … oh yeah !!!! 🙂
I have followed other Ultra runners over the year , watched and listened , observed their races ,even followed the progress of some of the big names in our sport and I have seen a pattern , one that nobody escapes unscathed from , we all peak and dip , we train hard and on a “good” day can accomplish miraculous feats , but we don’t always have good days , none of us are 100% consistent , no matter how planned our training is and how perfectly we implement it , how good our diet is , how fit our legs and heart are, or how strong we are mentally which never forget is the real driving force behind everything we do . For us to do our “very best” we must use all these abilities in synergy , we must have all “the wheels on our wagon” , it only takes one aspect to be out of synch and its trouble !! at the starting line the difference between DNF or Finishers medal can be very small , finite !!, we could still blast a decent 10km , or get a good 10 miles in or even squeeze 20 but ask yourself what happens over 40 miles, 50 miles or even 100 !! it just magnifies and gets worse as we go forward , sometimes we can fight through , some times we cannot or just will not , that’s life at the extreme end , when your really pushing the limits , most of us only want to finish respectfully , we have a buffer zone , one where we can just back off and drop the pace , but if your up front racing for position you do not have this luxury , its all or nothing ,for the top athlete there is no backing off , for them reaching the race 100% is everything , positions can be only seconds apart , consistently performing perfectly is impossible but top runners dedicate their year and training schedule to getting as close as they can , trying to peak bang on race day , it takes dedication and can be the difference between a winner and a loser , its a skill gained by years of dedicated experience and then theres still the mental aspect leading up to the startign line , matching factors , repeating rituals , setting the pattern for success , all skills that take a lot of fine tuning until they all slide into place !! Ultra-running is not the only sport where this comes into play but I doubt that there is one where it needs to all fit together for such an inordinate length of time.
Get it right though , hit that peak when we are mentally in the right place and body fit to go hard , this is when we reach the finish line of our greatest challenge , where we complete the Extremest of Ultra events , races that take us to the max , races like the West Highland Way race , Ultimate Frontera , UTMB , CCC , Marathon Des Sable , Gobi races , Indo and Arctic Ultras , 24 hour races and even 24 hour tread mill records …. that’s why we keep trying , what all the hard grinding work is for , why we put up with sore feet and give up our precious time , the reason we get up at 6am and don our cold running shoes , why we ignore the niggles and snuffles , it is why we dream of great things !!! so lets have some of that in our lives , lets live hard !!! Yassssssssssssssssssss………………………………… now wheres my trail shoes ???
“remember all my blog posts are my own experiences and my own interpretation, if you feel I’m wrong say so in the comments and we can also learn from your experience ………”
Id like to thank the Teviotdale Leisure Centre for its continued Support