“Let me tell you what I wish I’d known
When I was young and dreamed of glory
You have no control
Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?”Hamilton musical
My adventure was not supposed to end this way. Even if I couldn’t run I told myself before I started that I would march around the full distance. After 100km I had been doing the maths and I knew that I could comfortably walk the rest and still get back in under 24 hours. But after four hours of marching I found myself limping across the road to a deserted beer garden. I had to admit to myself that the pain in my feet and ankles was not going to sustain another eight hours of walking, or at least not without causing damage. I had been out for over 15 hours and had reached my limit. As I crumpled into the nearest chair I knew it was over and a wave of emotions swept right through me.
Some of you may recognise the lyrics above from Hamilton as the other characters remember his life. Hearing those lyrics at that moment brought me an intense feeling of peace. For so long It had felt like I had been pushing myself as I dreamed of my own glory, my own moment to shine. Yet here I was I revelling in a time when my dream was over. I discovered the joy of failing. I say this not for any sympathy or rallying cries of “you didn’t fail”. The facts speak for themselves… I embarked on a quest to complete 100 miles on foot, and I came up short at 75 miles. But I don’t see it as a failure. I gave everything I had on the day and I found my limit. Having the drive to keep pushing yourself can be powerful and energising when used to good effect. But it can also gnaw away at you and leave you chasing shadows that only you are casting. Therein lies a problem – an unhealthy compulsion.
Reaching my limit had brought me peace within myself.
But that’s not quite the end of the story. You see the unexpected stars of the show were my neighbours and the outpouring of support (and sponsorship). Realising I would not make it home in any good condition I made the tough decision to text the street WhatsApp group to mobilise a rescue. Even after 11pm at night the response was instant and decisive. A short while later I was wrapped in a blanket and bundled into a car by a gallant neighbour, only to then be welcomed by a posse of “fans” when we reached home. This was a show of support I will never forget.
Aside from the loud cheers of the neighbours and my mother-in-law and the surprise guests on the course (Anthony, Jon and Sam), there is of course one other unsung hero in this tale. The runner’s wife.
It wasn’t until the end of loop one that I fully appreciated the crucial role Carly was playing. From preparing food and drink parcels, recruiting neighbours to cheer me home and whipping up sponsorship she was living this challenge every bit as much as I was, just from a different angle. We make a great team although I know she welcomes the news that I’ve satisfied my running bug for a while.
I guess in the end it turned out that this quote both inspired and defined my adventure:
“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”T.S. Elliott
I now know my limit and it has brought me peace.
My Friday in numbers:
- Distance: 122km (75 miles)
- Time: 15 hours 45 minutes
- Calories burned: 8,888
- Steps: 122,000
- Average carbs per hour: 65g
- Donations received (at latest count): £3,450
As I have said before, I never actually wanted to run a hundred miles. I knew it was going to be miserable for most of it and I felt underprepared despite focusing my training on it as best I could for a year. But for a long time I have been driven by this compulsion to see how hard I can push myself. I don’t even like running THAT much – I enjoy the endorphins from a good interval session, I love being able to explore new places and to visit sites you can’t get to on two or four wheels, and I prefer chatting to friends on a run than having a pint. But three times a week is enough for me.
So what went wrong?
As far as I’m concerned the main cause of my downfall was simple – my body just was not prepared for the physical abuse I tried to put it through. I did not give myself enough time on my feet in the build up. I made decisions about my training plan based on injuries sustained during the year and fitting around family life in lockdown. This meant my longest run was 5 hrs 30 mins (60km) and the most distance I ran in a week was 93km (that same week). Here I was lining up on a start line trying to do 160+km in one go.
Getting to 100km on the day itself was a big milestone but also a big wake-up call. I reached it in 12 hours, a full two hours longer than my previous 100km in 2017. Of course it’s not comparable as it was a different route (with 5 times as much ascending as 2017) and I had to carry more water, but even so.
Ultrarunning is as much, if not more, of a mental challenge than a physical one, but from my experience you need an appropriate foundation of physical strength to allow your mental strength to carry you through. Others may disagree, but I know how I felt in the heat of the moment.
What would I recommend to others attempting their first 100 miles?
Let’s put aside course selection, aid stations and all that, and focus on the rest.
- Spend more time on your feet – whether it’s running or walking, you need to get your body used to moving forward for an extended period of time. Don’t make the mistake of overtraining by ramping up your running too quickly. Walking (or a combination) is a great way to safely get your body ready.
- Split sessions really work well for busy schedules – splitting my long runs on a Thursday morning and Thursday evening helped me to increase my mileage, recovery more quickly and fit in a long session during the week.
- Strength training is essential – most runners nowadays understand, I think, the importance of incorporating strength training into their regime. I embraced the exercises given to me by my physio, particularly the single-leg weighted exercises.
- Use energy drinks as a base fuel – during training I was struggling with my stomach during some of my longer runs. I stopped using energy drinks a few years ago as I found them too sweet. But for this event I got used to them again which meant I didn’t have to eat as much while on the run which helped massively.
What’s next for me?
For what feels like the first time in a year my training will be guided simply by what I want to do on the day I want to do it. I have unsubscribed from Ultrarunnerpodcast – it’s excellent but it plants too many seeds in my head of bigger and harder challenges so I feel I need to cut it out of my life. I’ll probably also enforce a Strava break to avoid overthinking what everyone else is up to. I’ll have a break from my heart rate monitor and stop obsessing over the statistics.
I may have another pop at breaking the illustrious 3-hour marathon at some point but for now it’s time to chill out, enjoy a summer of cycling and other pursuits and do more of the things that make me happy.
Over and out.