Ultra Marathon Adventure
Let me say firstly and categorically that I am not an Ultra runner! I have never ran further than a marathon at one go and there is every chance that I might never do it again after this challenge. I classify myself as a triathlete who’s strongest discipline is running and ive also completed about 8 marathons at this stage. This is simply a blog about my experiences in the lead-up to one of the biggest challenges of my life – the Mourne Way Ultra Marathon. It’s being held on 11th June 2016 and travels from Rostrevor to Newcastle and back again via the historic Mourne Way Trail. I have agreed to partake in this challenge for a number of reasons and dragged a good friend Aaron Gallagher along with me:
- With my 40th birthday celebrations looming I thought I should do something a little mad and Las Vegas was out of the question 🙂
- An Ultra Marathon has been on my bucket list for a long time
- The Mourne Mountains are my spiritual home and ‘happy place’, so where better to knock the stuffing out of myself!
- With Baby No.1 getting big and bold and Baby No.2 on the way ive wanted to raise some funds for the Temple St Children’s Hospital for a while so this seemed like the perfect opportunity.
My preparation for this race has not been ideal, but then that’s standard for me, ive never had a race with perfect preparation so why change the habit of a lifetime! My targets for this year are a sub-3 marathon, an Ultra marathon and a sub 4.45 Half Ironman. Well I had a great Jan – March building up endurance in cycling and running, then things started to go downhill! An extended family holiday in Spain at the end of March meant I was slightly behind my training schedule which I tried to claw back – fatal mistake! After a solid 3hr run one weekend I tried 2 light runs on subsequent evenings and it took my calf 4 weeks and 2 trips to the physio to recover. I should have learned by now to listen to my body and it just doesn’t like running numerous days in a row without recovery. Then just when I was on the cusp of recovering after 2 weeks rest I entered the Glendalough Adventure Race to ‘try and loosen it out’ as I was sponsoring the race anyway and though I managed to finish my calf was in a worse state by the end of it. This was 9 days before Belfast marathon and my sub 3hr marathon attempt…
Now the timing wasn’t ideal but I was already signed up for Belfast and on the weekend of the marathon the calf had improved a lot since the Adventure Race I was able to run freely again and I felt confident that I would be able to finish the race. On the morning I felt really good and I only had to knock 25secs off my PB to achieve a sub 3hr so I lined up with the 3hr pacer, thinking that if anything went wrong I would just ease of the pace. Up until 10 miles I was on pace but then I started feeling my calf and it gradually got worse until I had to walk to Mile 17 when I got the bus back into the city. No point finishing just for the sake of it and I was worried I would just damage my calf even more. This was my first DNF in nearly ten years of racing and over 100 races so I haven’t done too bad!
Thankfully I eased back in time during the Belfast race and didn’t damage my calf further, so within a week I was running freely again, albeit on sand and grass but this gave me confidence that a Ultra Marathon in 6 weeks was still a possibility. As the Ultra marathon is a trail run anyway I was happy enough to focus on ‘softer’ ground running for the next few weeks and since then I have gradually built up the distance and intensity. Im still a long way away from where I would like to be ten days out from my first Ultra, but im now confident I will at least finish. 2 weeks ago i completed the tough Slateman Savage Triathlon (sprint race on saturday followed by Olympic race on Sunday) with no issues on a hilly trail run leg. My biggest run of the year was last weekend – a 4hr15mins mountain / trail run, after a solid weeks training and followed the next day by a decent 2hr cycle. So it’s now taper time, i’ll gradually reduce the miles over the next 2 weeks so at least I’m well rested for the biggest run of my life. Hardest part of this will be reducing the calorie intake alongside the reduction in training, generally im not too bothered about weight, but any extra pounds are unwanted when you have to carry them over 52 miles! Ive done a bit of research in the lead-up to the race and spoken to a few people that have done Ultra’s before and my key learnings would be as follows:
Teamwork – it’s a long day to be on your own, unless you are used to this type of thing so it really helps to have a buddy or team with you. I’m delighted to have Araon my old running buddy with me, we’ve done a few races together but have never finished at the same time so all going well this will be the first. I know we will keep each other going, we will have a laugh and will both be looking forward to a few celebratory pints later.
It’s all about pace – Go off too fast at your peril and you will have a long day ahead. Much better to start slow and conserve energy for later, you can always speed up after 40 miles if you want! I read somewhere that to get your target for an Ultra multiply your quickest marathon time by 2 and add 3hrs, but to me 9hrs is unrealistic on this route (certainly after my build up) so our aim is 11hrs (5hrs first half, 6hrs second half). Anything better will be a bonus and anything more will be taken gracefully. Whilst it is called a race, im not approaching it like a normal race and will be happy to stop, take photos, stretch, walk up hills, eat real food, have a nap haha… This one really is about the marathon not the sprint!
Get the head right as well and the body – 11hrs or whatever it will eventually take us is a huge drain on body and mind. For many people it just appears totally alien to do exercise for a whole day and that can be a big barrier to get across. Thankfully I have previously completed an Ironman (in just under 12hrs) so this helps when contemplating the challenge ahead. According to Aaron this challenge is 90% brain and 10% body and whilst I would argue the legs have a bit more to do with it, it is certainly a lot to do with positive mental attitude.
Gear – sometimes on long runs I just use my Amphibia backpack and its fine for normal use, plenty of padding and a chest strap. But for this run I have bought a special bladder backpack as I want as little weight and movement as possible. I fretted over trainers as well – should I get new trail runners, or new normal runners before the big day? But my normal runners had a few miles left in them, they are really comfortable and im used to running trails in them so it was another variable I wanted to reduce. I will happily retire these ones when im finished… and mightn’t have any choice if the trail is spongy! Otherwise its travel light and just pack the essentials. There are plenty of aid stations along the way and i can have a back-up bag and extra gear at the half way point.
Training – ok so as ive said I haven’t been able to put in the running miles that I would have liked in the lead up to this race, but whats done is done, and ive put in enough sweat on the trails over the past few weeks to give me confidence. Ive loved running for years and I know the countless runs will stand me in good stead. Ive done lots of biking over the winter as well, which is good to reinforce the running muscles. Every winter I promise that im going to do more core and yoga type training and for once I have managed to do this to a certain level and maintained it until now so I know this will help on the day. All that has suffered has been my swimming over the past few months but hopefully I wont be needing that during this race! The weather will have a big impact on the race and my performance, but it’s the one variable we cant control, so ill keep a close eye on the forecast and plan accordingly.
This is one race that really proves the old saying “It’s about the journey not the destination” and if you are just thinking about the finish line for 11 odd hrs then it will drive you mad. This is a beautiful part of the world so I will be lapping up the scenery and trying to ‘enjoy’ the sights. On events of this distance the camaraderie between the competitors is normally top notch so im sure this will be no different. It will be great having my old buddy with me as well as I have only ever raced solo. Finally I’m delighted ive been able to get Amphibia involved as well from a sponsorship point of view for the race. It’s always nice to ‘kill 2 birds with 1 stone’ at these events, partaking in the challenge myself whilst the Amphibia brand gets associated with a challenging and well organised endurance event. It’s always extra nice to cross over a finish line decorated with Amphibia branding and for this event we will have the Charity dimension as well so all I have to do now is finish!