This weekend I had a camping trip away to Bury St Edmunds (we were very lucky with the weather 😎), I had planned to do the local parkrun on Saturday morning followed by a lovely relaxing day on Sunday. I really did think that a Sunday off would do me the world of good after all the miles I’ve been doing of late, I was starting to feel generally tired. The alarm was set for Saturday morning, the closest parkrun was half hour away but I love a bit of parkrun tourism so this didn’t bother me. Until I heard the rain coming down hard on the tent. It was at this point I had second thoughts, my husband wasn’t going to be running it himself and it was so cosy inside the tent that I couldn’t bring myself to wake him up to drive me half hour and stand in the rain whilst I ran 5k to then bring me back again. So Saturday turned into a rest day, which wasn’t the end of the world, although for some reason my legs ached more than they have done in weeks!! What is that about?! My left hip was borderline painful and my quads were screaming at me, I did a few stretches throughout the day and actually found the more I moved the better they felt.
Sunday was a lovely day so I took the opportunity to go for a nice walk at a country park right by the campsite. Again my legs were feeling rough first thing so I made sure I did more stretching throughout the day and I’m sure the walk helped by keeping them moving. Although this was a rest from running I think the walk was a good idea, we just did a couple of miles through a nature trail route and managed to get some nice pics on the way. All I could think of was how lovely it would be as a running route 😬
Following on from my previous post where I have asked ultra runners to answer a few questions for me, my next reply came from Darren Smith, known as @runnersknees on twitter and Instagram. Some very useful tips here and a brilliant set of answers:
1) Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into Ultra running.
Hi, I am RunnersKnees on Twitter/Instagram. I have been running for just over 5 years and took it up in my late 30s. The original challenge was to somehow get to a point of running a half marathon that first year, as my wife at the time and best friend had Amsterdam marathon booked and I had taken the plunge and signed up for the half. I did the Couch to 5K in March 2012, then my first race the BUPA London 10K in May, a few more 10s and then I was offered a place at the Royal Parks half a fortnight before Amsterdam. I jumped at the chance and did it, got injured but still ran Amsterdam and loved it.
You challenge yourself, and you need to feel progress. So my first year was a few tens and a three halves in the end, my second year was mostly halves (I think I did a dozen), third year all halves and my first marathon, then last year I ran 5 marathons and my first Ultra, the Race to the Stones.
As you keep progressing and pushing yourself either in time, or distance, I live by the motto “if you can’t go faster, go further.” And so this year I ran, or will run, 12 marathons and two ultras, maybe three.
So, how did I get into ultra running? I guess it is just a natural progression. Once you eliminate the fear of a distance, and trust me, I was scared of 10K until I did one, half and full, you look to the next step as a challenge. Ultra is the next step after a full for me.
2) When, what and how far was your first Ultra? Tell us a bit about it / add pictures if you have any.
My first ultra was Race to the Stones, part of the 3 race Threshold Series, it was in July, the ground was baked hard and so I ran in road shoes, and it was 100K. Race to the Tower and Race to the King (that I also did), are double marathons. In those you can run all the way through for 52 miles, or run a marathon a day and camp overnight. Race to the Stones is a step up and is 100K, and again you can run it all the way through or camp overnight and do 50K a day. I decided, as 50K to me was a marathon and then a walk to the pub afterwards (wearing your medal), that I wanted to run the 100K all the way through.
It was particularly tough, but I had good company at times, fuelled correctly, and saved my energy by walking when I needed to. It took 16 hours of running, and 3 of talking and eating and drinking tea, to get through. So it started in the morning, and finished in the early hours of the next day. I went through every emotion, took some photos, tweeted a lot and responded to tweets to keep myself going as I struggled through cow filled fields in pitch dark.
3) Which Ultra would you now put down as your favourite and why?
Next year I am running three multi-day ultramarathons including the famous Fire and Ice Ultra (5 days of 50K a day across Iceland). I have a feeling that will become my favourite, as well as the last Threshold event Race to the Tower (I did King), and either the Jurassic Coast Challenge or the famous Green Man ultra. I did love the start of Comrades in South Africa, hearing everyone sing Shosholoza and the sheer camaraderie. But the last one I ran, the Ultraks Matterhorn ultra, up in the Swiss mountains, that included 3600m of climb (more than the 3 peaks put together), that was stunning and my favourite.
4) Do you follow a training plan?
I ran most of the Race to the Stones training plan, and some of the Comrades one, although I tend to race too much so never follow them fully. They supply you with them which is great. But mostly I stick to own plan. For an ultra it is all about TOF, or time on feet. So I will run up to 3 hours in training a few times a week, but I also walk everywhere. I normally walk a half marathon or so (which takes 3 ½ hours) too, at least once a fortnight.
5) What advice can you give for those looking to complete their first Ultra?
Slow down! If you are running anything more than a 50K (which you could run at marathon pace), you need to conserve your energy. I would drop your pace down by 2-3 minutes per mile because if you are on your feet for 20 hours, you need all the help you can get. And be prepared to walk. You will walk. Don’t get hung up on running the whole way and forget a finish time, it is just about finishing.
Either get used to Tailwind or learn to eat on the run. I like to describe ultras as a day eating, with a bit of a run between courses. You need to eat little and often, and drink little and often.
Buy salt tabs, as you will need them to combat swelling and nausea as you would have sweated out your own body salts.
Buy a good head torch, and comfortable trail shoes. I went through several pairs before finding the right ones for me. And get used to running wearing your kit and carrying the kit you will take. You have to remember we run most races in a vest, for ultras you will have a rain jackets, and backpack with mandatory kit in it. When I ran Dartford Half last year there were loads of guys and gals running in their Marathon Des Sables kit, getting in the practice.
And train. You need to train on trail, as most ultras are on trail, road just doesn’t come close, although I have done a road ultra. And get used to spending a LOT of time in your head. Running a 4-5 hour marathon is one thing, but 20 hours? You need to mentally prepared more than anything. I recommend getting used to talking to your fellow runners. It really does help. Music and podcasts. I listened to a marathon playlist and the first season of The Hitchhikers Guide of the Galaxy radio play at Stones.
6) What fuel do you take on when running long and how often?
I mix it up. I am not a huge fan of Gels and never train with them. I have the tasty Torq rhubarb and custard and raspberry ripple gels in case I feel really grotty, but normally I will have mini Mars bars and Mint Creams (basically individually wrapped Kendall Mint Cake), salted peanuts, SOS powders, and then eat something at each of the checkpoints. At ultras the checkpoints are normally a smorgasbord. The Tunnocks Tea Cake I ate at KM90 of Race to the Stones was the greatest thing I have ever eaten.
7) What is the best equipment / clothing you have every purchased for running?
I spent a lot of time finding the right kit as you need to be comfy. I wear On cloudflash or cloudracers for road, cloudventures for trail. Unilite PS-H8 headtorch, Salomon calf sleeves, OMM Pace shorts (as they are double skin and have a generous pocket in the back for phone/tissues/ipod/snacks). Thinking about them all I would say the OMM Pace shorts. You need to be comfortable on a run, and chafing on a 24 hour race can be hugely demotivating.
8) What would be your dream race?
I like the heat, although not to be too hot, and like humidity. I think my perfect race would be through a rainforest, on semi decent paths, preferably with a bit of road, tree canopy overhead, the humidity like a wet hug. I have a thing for natural beauty as am a city boy and am usually surrounded by skyscrapers. A race on Hawaii would be good, or in South America or Asia. Having the Matterhorn in view as I ran my last ultra was awe inspiring.
9) In one word describe how we can expect to feel whilst completing our first Ultra.
10) Favourite re-fuel food?
A blue cheese burger, chunky chips with a lot of ketchup, and several pints and probably a fruit crumble and custard, and more pints.