Last Saturday I completed my first ultra marathon – the 52 mile ‘Race to the Tower’ along the beautiful Cotswold Way from Stroud to Broadway Tower. With about 7000 feet of ascent with a mixture of hard, bumpy and muddy terrain, It was one of the most challenging and exhilarating things I’ve ever done.
I’m struggling to remember when Kerry planted the seed. Last June we both went to Sierra Leone to run the Street Child Marathon in Makeni, and we talked about ultra running, and running in general. I had been running for the love of it for a few years, and had done the London Marathon, but the idea of running a double marathon seemed a little bit insane – but I think that appeals to some people. Kerry after all, runs these distances for breakfast. Kerry gathered a few possible gullible types like me in a pub here in Bath and we discussed doing an ultra, and which one to go for. The deal was pretty much sealed that day. I committed myself to Race to the Tower and asked Kerry to train and advise me all the way.
6 months or so of training for an ultra was a commitment for both me and my family. To make it as feasible as possible, Kerry and I discussed a training plan that fitted in with my other commitments. Before, I was running once at the weekend because that was all I could justify. During the week I’m largely on my own as Gail works away, so I get our 2 young kids ready for school, take them to school, come home, do the laundry, shopping, tidying, get to work and then get the kids from school. At weekends we often have a busy schedule as well and it’s nice to see Gail and do things with the family! So training for an ultra was always going to be tricky.
Kerry recognises this. She has an even harder routine herself! But she also gets that it’s important for all of us to carve out time for ourselves and do the things which make us happy, to face personal challenges, and the importance of keeping fit and well when life seems to get in the way. Kerry got me to slot in a few shorter (hour maximum) runs during the week which I just about managed. The weekend runs got a bit longer. But over-all it was do-able and the focus of the ultra forces me to stick to the plan. Sometimes I beat myself up for not sticking to the plan, but I would get back on it and Kerry was always both reassuring and encouraging. I’m lucky that Gail also loves running and was generally really encouraging, although I sometimes didn’t get home ‘in time’. Sorry Gail.
Most important of all, for me, is the question – ‘why?’. I’ve been thinking about this all along. Why do we do things like this? For me, running here around the hills of the west country, through all seasons, exploring new paths – is exercise, exploration and most of all, meditation. I listen to a lot of new music and think a lot. Sometimes I run with friends and talk about politics and rail against the world. Generally, I’m in a bubble of nature, movement and music.
Everyone has a different motivation. For me, every run is different. I’m good with an OS map and I now know pretty much all the paths around where I live. With technology now it’s easier than ever to get out and explore and record new routes. I used to do a lot of hiking. I don’t have time for that right now, so I do day long hikes in 3 hours. Distance running is immensely empowering and triggers something primordial – the feeling when you’re miles from anywhere with nothing but a bottle of water and a bit of food, and you look at the far horizon and think – ‘I can get there’