First Ultra Marathon

Two years ago, I decided that I needed to run a marathon as something to tick off my life-list. It was great; the instant respect you get from people; the sense of accomplishment; the feeling of ‘belonging’ in the runner’s community. I knew right there and then that I needed to do more of this.

The problem is that even as you get better at them, faster and stronger; that feeling of accomplishment is not quite the same. I’m not saying they get easier… Actually, yeah I am. I’m saying they get easy; completing a marathon has become so routine and normal, it has become almost mundane.

I realised that what I missed was that feeling of pushing yourself to the next level; doing something you’re not even sure you can manage. So it seemed a pretty natural idea to graduate to ultra-marathons.

Much to people’s confusion and often dismay, races over 100 miles long do exist; and plenty of them to choose from. I decided that there are maybe 1 or 2 stepping stones before diving into 100+ mile races. The race I selected was called ‘Run to the Castle’ in Wales; a terrific coastal run finishing at Harlec castle and a cool 40 miles.

Gathering at the start line. First  few miles straight down the beach!

Gathering at the start line. First few miles straight down the beach!

Setting off down the beach was a pleasant affair. There is a certain informality I quite liked here immediately; there were no frantic scrambles to get to the front; no prima donna’s; everyone seemed more than willing to have a chat on route. I myself was running with the leaders for the first 17 miles or so before their superior fitness became depressingly evident.

I hit a wall at around 20 miles; a bad time to hit a wall, as it coincides with that little bit of arithmetic telling you you’re half way.

It confused me, as in training I’m usually good for 25-30 miles before any kind of noticeable fatigue kicks in. It was then I assessed in my head that I really hadn’t eaten enough the day before; so engrossed with preparation of equipment and travelling, I forgot the eating bit! Oh well.. You live, you learn.

Let the psychological head battle commence! “It’s too hard, you need to stop” “no it’s not, shut up brain!” “seriously, it’s still REALLY far” “no it isn’t, just keep putting one foot in front of the other for a bit longer” – That kind of thing.

I got lucky; at around 30 miles, during a bit of confusion over the route, I ran into (not literally) another runner of pretty much my own standard. We trekked the last, gruelling 10 miles together, cleverly distracting each other of the discomfort; proving conclusively in my mind, the concept of ‘mind over matter’. The human body is incredible what it can do; the brain often just tries to trick us into thinking we can’t do it. Using the absurdly simple technique of positive thinking and a measured dose of distraction, we crossed the line at the same time in a masterful sprint finish (this is where the brain realises you’ve finished, and gives you back some of that energy you didn’t know it took from you earlier).

The race was brilliant, well organised and the sponsors ‘9bar’ were very generous and accommodating to all the runners. Once again, I never cease to be impressed with the entire running community; runners really do make the best people.

A successful experiment; I’ve completed my first ultra-marathon and I’m not broken (although the skin around my little toe might disagree with that statement).  Next one in 2 weeks time, in the Peak District; not too far off having the confidence to enter 100+ mile one now surely.

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