Miles: Can I measure the distance from the sofa to the fridge?
Ultramarathons this year: 1
Days until next ultramarathon: 22
Resting heart rate: 52
When I look back on my running log for the first week of January, I can scarcely believe my eyes. Following a particularly unhealthy Christmas and New Year, during which I excelled myself in gluttony, sloth and alcoholism, I struggled to finish a flat 5k at any sort of pace without feeling utterly out of breath. That first week, I managed a total of 7 miles (11km) across three days. Fast forward 22 weeks, and I have just completed a 29-mile ultra over 4,500 foot of incline. Over a period of 9 days, I ran 62.5 miles (100km). I can comfortably run 10k across any terrain whatsoever, and with a few hundred foot of incline, in under an hour, at any time of any day (or night). And, of course, I can summon up the energy to run the final mile of a 29-mile race – the longest run I’ve ever done in my life – and still muster a smile and a jump for joy. I was practically in tears at the end, but they were of relief and pride rather than pain and exhaustion. I can say in all honesty that I almost didn’t finish; there were two points during the race (miles 10-12 and miles 27-28) when I didn’t think I would, for different reasons. But I did, and now I can reflect.
There are peaks, and there are troughs.
This one is a really important one. Just like life, there are highs and lows. After 10 miles, I felt spent, exhausted, like a total and utter failure. 10 miles and 2 and a half hours later, I was running a 9-minute mile and feeling fine. Stick with it, trust your training.
If you’re hungry, stop and eat.
The most important thing I learned. Don’t wait 2 miles until the aid station because it “seems pointless stopping so soon before”. Eat. Do it, you absolute tool. If you don’t, you’ll become exhausted very quickly.
Spend the money on the kit. All the money.
Running these kinds of distances is expensive. Like, high-class hooker expensive (so I’m told).
Trail shoes: £120.
Road shoes: £110.
Supported socks: £12 (x2)
Leggings: £28 (x2)
Running underwear: £18 (x2)
Ankle compressions: £9 (x2)
Running tops: £10 (x8)
Accessories to meet the over-the-top kit list requirements: £47
Camel Pack: £25
Running Bag: £25
Total spend: £541
But here’s the killer. I was 109kg with my 11kg bag. That’s over 17 stone. My shoulders were in absolute agony from mile 10. I had six ibuprofen over the last 18 miles and the lady who gave me my sports massage on Tuesday gasped when she found the knots (although not as much as I did when she set upon them with her unnaturally strong elbows). I now need to buy extremely lightweight waterproofs – not the heavy hiking stuff I had to carry to meet the kit list requirements. I need a smaller bag, smaller camel pack, smaller everything. I can’t carry 11kg over the mountains in October. So, I need to buy specialist lightweight waterproofs, but ones that still have taped seams (£90 + £60), a specially designed bag (£40), a bivvy that meets specific 2018 requirements (£18) and a few other accessories and sundries (another £50), to take my total spend to just over £800, not including upcoming petrol and accommodation costs, of course. But I do need to – I must have looked like a complete idiot to the other 58 runners, all about 9 stone wet through, carrying bags that they nicked off a particularly advanced set of neighbourhood ants.
What “pocket full of cheese” will mean to me forever after bankrupting myself buying lycra and socks
Beware post-race blues
After I finished, I spent two days boozing and eating. And eating. And eating. And, so help me God, eating. But after the initial elation had subsided, and I had stopped creaking like a door out of a horror film every time I moved, I started to feel quite depressed – probably the lowest I’ve felt since starting this whole bizarre business of accelerated one-foot-in-front-of-the-other-ness. You build yourself up and then when it’s over, what is there? I’ve had to be quite mentally resilient and re-calibrate. 22 days until the next ultra. Get back to the training programme – go out, do the miles, the stretches, the sprints. The last one doesn’t mean anything now.
It’s hard – especially if you’re not exactly famous for overwhelming cheeriness. Each time you feel low, it’s an ultramarathon in itself to pull yourself back up – but one of the mind. And, as with running, there are peaks and troughs – moments that you want to give up.
I think this is the point I want to end on. It seems fitting, after the sudden and tragic deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain this week, to remind ourselves that everyone around us is going through battles of their own. Just because you can’t see a physical hill, it doesn’t mean that someone isn’t two-thirds of the way up one, weary, and just about ready to quit. And just as I wouldn’t have made it to the end of my race without people around me, so we need to help – really help – those around us to finish their races, then pick themselves up and move on to the next ones. Because the helplines and the pictures with the ribbons – they don’t help everyone. People help.
And, for me, running helps.