For those who have yet to complete a marathon this may sound odd, but a whole new world beckons beyond the revered 26.2 miles (or 42.2km if you’re fully metric like myself). The lure of “going long” frequently arises after successfully crossing the marathon finish line and the mind automatically questions “what next?” Sometimes that might be chasing your marathon PB or completing a marathon on every Continent or in every European country or in cities beginning with every letter of the alphabet or setting a multi day target (30 marathons in 30 days anyone?)* All these fit the bill. However for a growing proportion of runners, the allure of an ultra is simply impossible to ignore. A mental itch that demands attention as the brain cells connect and ruminate on endless questions…
What would happen to my body after 42.2km?
What would I think about for all that time?
How would I fit the training volume alongside work and life?
The list continues…though, I promise if you have the mental drive, determination and discipline anything is possible.
My relationship with ultra running started nearly nine years ago in the classic manner with a reoccurring niggle for something more after finishing a number of marathons. On reflection the CCC (Courmayeur-Champex-Chamonix) part of the Ultra Tour de Mont Blanc race series at 98km and 6,000m ascent might not have been the most sensible introduction though my interested was captured. Since then, I’ve pushed the distance ever higher culminating in 100 miles and several multi day events with even more in the pipeline.
The whole process of signing up for your first ultra online through to standing on the start line might seem slightly (completely?!) daunting, though once committed the camaraderie and support from the ultra running community will sweep you along. If you’re on the hunt for your first ultra, XNRG (http://www.xnrg.co.uk) organise the perfect introductory races, all accompanied by endless cake en route. One Friday evening at the beginning of July I headed over to the Isle of Wight where Cowes was buzzing with the prospect of the annual Round the Island yacht race. Over 1,800 sailing boats of various shapes and sizes create the perfect backdrop for the two-day XNRG “Round the Island” running event that covers 70 miles with 2,035m of ascent.
The Isle of Wight coastal route firmly reminds us of the stunning scenery outside our front doors in Britain. I regularly use running as an excuse to travel and explore the world both locally and further afield. It can be easy to slip into the default tunnel vision mode and almost run blind to the surroundings so I regularly incorporate a 360-degree scenic appreciation ritual to soak up the view with the odd selfie along the way. Next time you head outdoors for a run make a concerted effort to look up and appreciate the view.
The “Round the Island” ultra course winds down narrow lanes, through quintessential villages and along the famous Sandown promenade. It’s not all easy going, and care must be taken to avoid any runners’ rage incidents, especially towards the latter end of the event. As the general public basks en masse in the sunshine, it’s occasionally tempting to launch the odd four-legged fur ball that has been allowed to meander across your path and block gates, its owner oblivious to the scale of your efforts.
The last 11km of the first day follows an exposed coastal path to Brighstone, which appears to be a mirage just beyond reach in the far distance. A relentless cross wind, perfect for the yachts, but a scourge for the runner requires you to dig extra deep and encourage your tired legs to get to the day’s end.
Ultra running does place a considerable amount of stress on the body physically and mentally so it’s essential to maximise rest and recovery, especially on multi-day events. The first day involved a larger percentage of Tarmac than I envisaged which wrecked havoc on my poor quads and shins so the expert sports massage provided by the newly graduated sports therapists from University of Worcester at the finish of Day 1 was a welcome relief. If a post-race massage is ever on offer you'll generally find me at the front of the queue.
An evening social event is a central part of the XNRG race ethos. There is always an opportunity to swap running related stories, identify future goals and conjure up new dreams, in this case aptly encouraged by Nathan Montague's (XNRG sponsored athlete and Round the Island course record holder) presentation about his Elephant Trail race adventures in Sri Lanka.
Another significant part of my recovery routine to set me up for the next day's challenge is sleep. The overnight break at Brighstone has a tent or chalet accommodation option and it’s definitely recommended to book early if you're after a comfy deluxe chalet rather than slumming it under canvas. I’m a self-certified sleep monster and relish any chance to squeeze in extra zzz that ultimately supports my body to recover in tight time frames.
Once you get going again on the second day, anger, frustration or even sometimes fear may occur when a couple of navigational errors invariably creep in (despite the trusty Garmin 920XT with GPX file downloaded). But that can lead to humorous moments too, such as when a fellow competitor appears on the path running towards you; cue total confusion – only one of you can be right, who is it?!!
Just under 10.5 ‘running hours’ after we set off from Cowes, I was delighted to cross the finish line setting another XNRG course record (my previous XNRG record was set at the Cotswolds Way in September 2016 - see “The Perfect Moment” blog post) finishing first lady in 10:26:41 and 2nd overall behind Nathan Montague. Another race ticked off which had a bit of everything!
If you're even slightly tempted to move beyond marathon distance, XNRG races offer the perfect opportunity to break new horizons. The Cotswolds Way, Humanity Direct “Free to Enter”, The Druids Challenge or The Pilgrim Challenge all offer a gentle introduction to the ultra world.
Go on…Take the plunge and go long.
I’d love to hear about your ultra training and racing achievements at @rfmcoaching
Nutrition is an essential part of any ultra and I’m regularly asked how I balance my food intake. Ultimately everyone responds differently and it’s essential to trial different options during training. During Round the Island I was fuelled by:
Vegetable & chorizo homemade muffins (spiral courgette, mushroom, sun dried tomato & spinach)
En route fuel:
9Bar cereal bars
"Nut bag" incl almonds, cashew nuts, cacao nibs & toasted flaked coconut with a pinch of cinnamon.
Post race eats:
Lots of homemade cake made by Anna (Neil’s wife from XNRG team)
Sardines in Olive oil
Note* Insert any similar challenge and I’d love to hear about your progress.
Anna-Marie is a performance coach and founder of Reach for More. She loves heading into the great outdoors running and has Weymouth 70.3 (sorry purist runners!!), Cappadocia UTWT Future Series and The OMM on the race calendar over the next few months. Anna-Marie is supported by Ultra Trail World Tour (UTWT) and the French endurance company WAA (be in touch for discount code). Check out www.rfmcoaching.com or @rfmcoaching
This blog post was originally published on The Running Stories website