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Having moved to Scotland. Having finally bought and moved into our new house I can now focus on running and getting outdoors again and I’m loving it. Having moved to a small semi rural location just outside Falkirk I find myself in the enviable position of having trail runs and walks on my doorstep and dozens of public rights of way that lead to all sorts of exciting trails.

Every night for the last three weeks I’ve set off with the task of finding a new trail or finding new ways around a trail I’ve been around previously. I have no preconceptions about areas because I’m new here and so I park up (usually after work) and chuck on my shoes and see where I end up.

Fitness being what it is at the moment and my back injury still plaguing me (probably even more than ever), I’ve been keeping it fairly sensible. What this means in practice is 30 to 40 minutes and usually a couple of hundred feet of steep elevation and I’ve found something wonderful – joy. Then there’s the added bonus of the hiking that I’ve very much taken to!

Running and exploring in and around London had become a chore rather than something I enjoyed (not helped by having a Vitality plan that needs servicing). I was running because I had to rather than because I wanted to and this meant I simply fell out of love with the sport that has given me so much.

I’d always said that the move to Scotland was as much about getting outdoors more as it was about the stupidity of the English in their ‘leave the EU’ voting and now I’m finally making that happen. I’ve spent most of my time exploring the locations around work and home, which has included Westquarter Glen, Callendar Woods, Polmont Woods, Dechmont Law, California, the Union Canal, Roughcastle and the Falkirk Wheel, Blackness, the Lomond Hills and more. But I’m fortunate enough to have travelled a bit around Scotland and run much of the West Highland Way, parts of Arran, Skye, Loch Ness, the Tweed Valley, Fox Lake, the Cairngorms, Jedburgh and of course my favourite place – the Ochils.

It is the Ochils that I see when I leave for work in a morning and it is the Ochils that remind me why I brought my family here.

Each weekend I now take the GingaNinja and ASK up to the Ochils to hike one of the hills. I tend to downplay the steepness and the challenge that each climb presents just to add a bit of shits and giggles to a family outing. However, these activities are helping me to prepare me for greater hiking and running challenges down the line. They’re also very much central to my belief that our quality of life here can be so much better than more suffocating one in the south east of England.

I realise that I’m fortunate to have a family that are interested in bounding around Scotland with me and in the six months that we have lived here, all of us have grown to love our surroundings.

But it’s more than the family benefits it’s very much the trail benefits. Scotland’s running trails have absolutely everything you could want and I’ve been testing that as much as I can. There’s much joy to be found as I go running around Scotland and the abundance of oozy mud, bloody hills, tricky ascents and blistering descents make me want to take early retirement and feast on the great Scottish outdoors.

So there you have it, one mans love of the great outdoors but there are some practical tips that I’d offer to make your own adventuring all the more pleasurable and sustainable.

Get everyone involved

Hiking up a hill on your own is a lovely thing, the peace that this can provide is immeasurable in my opinion. However, some of the best hikes I’ve been involved in have included friends and family.

Red Screes, Catbells and Skiddaw in the Lake District will live long in my memory and the ultra marathons and racing around Skye (as an example) was a truly unforgettable experience with people I really loved meeting – some of whom helped inspire my move northwards.

Basically, people and company can make a hard hike easier, they can be enthusiastic and supportive when your legs feel like jelly and they can offer advice when your brain is frazzled. So why wouldn’t you invite friends old and new along.

There’s also the opportunity to join local and national groups – the ramblers are probably the best known but there are others. With the advent of social meetings through the likes of Facebook and Meetup you can hopefully find a group (or start one). The opportunities are open ended and just waiting to be explored.

Get exploring local maps

Scotland has so many amazing trails but the famoud ones, such as the West Highland Way, as with anywhere, can be reasonably busy. Therefore I’ve found it wonderful looking for trails that are less well used. I did two things that have helped, the first was to buy an annual subscription to OS Maps and the second was to invest in a series of paper maps. Since getting hold of maps I’ve been exploring my local and not so local trails looking to find places where I can very much ‘get lost’ on hidden trails. Obviously there is some hit and miss in this approach but broadly I’ve been lucky to find exciting new routes. More importantly by going into the undergrowth and wending my way through the path less travelled I’ve caught sight of all manner of wildlife and beautiful scenes. By getting lost, by following my nose (and the maps) I’ve been discovering a Scotland that others might simply pass by.

Develop outdoor skills

Map reading is a key outdoor skill to have, GPS isn’t always accurate and an accident or battery fail is often only a minor incident away. Therefore I would advocate for the value of map and compass skills. Sensible first aid knowledge is also useful as is kit knowledge and basic survival skills in what kind of water you can drink and when you shouldn’t.

As you go further afield, as you go further into nature there is an increased responsibility on you to ensure you are safe and that you know how to get off a mountain yourself. The ability to navigate, strap yourself up and basically survive is essential.

I came to the idea of being sensible a little late but for my Scottish adventures I’m very pleased that I’ve developed a bit of common sense.

Be prepared to take shelter or abandon a hike

There’s a moment, regardless of your preparation, when the weather comes in or the conditions turn to shit and you have to decide what to do. When I’m running then I’ll generally keep going regardless of the conditions

However, when hiking I take a different approach, especially when my four year old daughter is alongside and will take a sensible more cautionary approach. I suppose that running and hiking are slightly different mindsets for me because I’ll happily run up a hill with no more than shorts and a mars bar but I wouldn’t dream of hiking without at a decent waterproof jacket and a stout pair of shoes.

Regularly check the weather

As we all know Scotland can be a little unpredictable with the weather, one minute sunshine, next minute rain and the next – snow! In the hills and mountains this unpredictability is multiplied many times, cloud cover coming in and thick, horizontal rain followed by blazing sunshine in a matter of minutes is not uncommon. So check the weather and pack your kit for all eventualities.

Beware ticks and insect bites

Little bleeders! Post hike, post run, post wiping your own bum, make sure you check for ticks – the consequences of not dealing with ticks properly is devastating. A simple tick check as part of your post hike/run cuppa is a worthwhile investment of time. And on the investment front – make sure you buy a tick remover!

Despite my warnings I want you all to get out in your local surroundings and have fun. For me that means hurling myself around the hills and mud of Scotland but for you it could be somewhere else, somewhere old or even somewhere new. I suppose the message I want to send about our great outdoors is

…enjoy yourself and see you out there.

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No matter how prepared you are you can never tell what will happen on the day and I’ve had some epic failures in running. Off the back of my most recent failure I wanted to revisit some of them to try and better understand how I’ve achieved responsibility and hopefully get myself back in the right headspace for MIUT.

Perhaps also in light of the awesomeness of John Kelly and Gary Robbins last weekend I think it’s ever more important to understand that ‘I’m responsible for me, nobody else’.

With that in mind this is what I’ve learnt…

What: No training, still injured
Race: Winter 100
End: DNF
Distance: 45/100 miles

It’s one of the few races I’ve never reviewed in full because this one still rankles nearly 3 years later. I’d been running injured for months and months prior to the start line – making the hip injuries I had ever worse and my physiotherapist made me promise that if she could get me to the start line that I’d have a few months off after this.

It didn’t help that UltraBaby arrived 6 weeks before the race and so I turned up to the start line having not done any training for around 8 months, having completed, badly, a handful of ultra events in that period and having had a very busy time as a first time parent in the run up to the start line. I managed to run the first 25 miles reasonably well but the second leg was nothing but agony and at around 45 miles the pain in my hips was so severe that I had to quit.

I recall sitting quietly in the village hall as the volunteers discussed their upcoming races and I found myself filled with rage that I wouldn’t be able to join them on any of these exciting adventures. I remember seeing Susie Chan coming through the door at the main central aid station and greeting me, sympathy being poured upon me, but I just wanted to leave and get away. It wasn’t that I was ungrateful I just knew that I was responsible for the mess I was in, I alone had caused this and I alone could fix it – but not here and not while I was so filled with rage at myself.

The Winter 100 caused me to understand that running while seriously injured has long term implications and it took a long time to return to being able to to run even halfway well again (and I’ll never recover properly it seems). Intensive physiotherapy and lots of rest allowed me to return to running only six months later and I’ve been much better at seeing the signs ever since but these and this race are mistakes I do regret.

What: Titting about
Race: National Ultra
End: Completed
Distance: 50km

Six months prior to the W100, having flown in from Budapest less than a dozen hours earlier I rolled up to the National 100km, in the early days of my hip injury and on a third of four ultras in 42 days.

I was tired when I heard the bell sound at the start and I decided as it was a cycle track I’d take it relatively easy. By about 20km I was bored and started messing about, joking with the spectators and basically being a bellend. In hindsight it comes as no surprise then that at about 27km I slipped off the track and twisted my knee in a bizarre and ridiculous accident.

Expletives rang out around the track but this was own stupid fault and so rather unwilling I dropped down a distance and cried off at 50km having hobbled slowly the 23km to the finish. The GingaNinja had no sympathy for me when I relayed my sorry tale of woe to her and quite rightly she let me stew on my own juices.

2014 was a year of massive mistakes and huge learning but it wouldn’t be until 2016 that I’d learned to mostly cut out the self inflicted mistakes.

What: 12 inches? No just a foot
Race: White Cliffs 50
End: Completed
Distance: 54 miles (and about 6 extra miles)

This remains my favourite ultra marathon story – probably one that has been embellished over the years but is very much based in truth.

  • I did roll my foot at mile 14
  • I was titting about for the cameraman
  • I did break my toes
  • I did hobble 2 miles to the checkpoint
  • I did change into Vibram FiveFingers
  • I did then manage to finish the race

The incident here would set an unfortunate precedent that no Ultra would occur without incident, injury or plain old poor fortune. I probably should just have retired here – become a ‘one and done’ but I didn’t and when I reflect like this it drives me mad at the level of stupidity and lack of respect I’ve shown to the races I’ve attempted. It’s only in more recent times that I’ve found myself turning up to events and showing the required level of dedication and mostly this is being rewarded with better running and better results, although still with a huge chunk of improvement to be made.

What: Shoes too small 
Race: The Wall
End: Completed
Distance: 69 miles

The Wall was a bit like ‘I know best’. I didn’t need fitting for shoes, I didn’t need help sourcing kit, reading routes, I didn’t need any help at all. Well the truth of the matter is that having done one ultra marathon when The Wall came up I was in no way prepared to take on a jump of nearly 20 miles in distance.

And when I rode in at mile 47 to be greeted by the GingaNinja I knew that my feet were in a bad way – we removed my shoes Adidas XT4 (or something) and inside, screaming out in agony, were two feet with more than 25 blisters adorning them in every possible place. It turns out I was wearing shoes that were 2 sizes too small and about 6 inches too narrow. My arrogance and self belief ensured that the final 22 miles of The Wall were simply the most painful I’ve ever faced. It’s fair to say I probably deserved those 22 miles.

The lesson was learnt – being assured is one thing but over confidence will chew you out!

What: Slip sliding away
Race: CCC
End: DNF
Distance: 55/110km

12 miles in and I was confident that after I had conquered the first major ascents that the race down to CP1 would be fast and carefree. Sadly the race to CP1 was fast but it wasn’t so much carefree as ‘loose’. I lost my footing once, then twice and then with control out of the window my legs buckled under me and I flew down the descent on my back, arse, head. I rolled and slid far enough for the runners around me to stop and check I was okay and while the immediate agony was my ego I knew I’d hurt myself. I stumbled along for another 25 miles before calling it a day but once more my over confidence had been my downfall.

What: Blisters, Blood, Vomit, Poo
Skye Trail Ultra
End: Completed
Distance: 75 miles (and a few extra)

I don’t want to paint a picture of a tortured ultra runner in this post, I’ll ultimately take responsibility for my own failures and hopefully find strength from the times I overcame adversity.

Skye is my ultimate triumph of overcoming that adversity. Even if you take out the hideous travel sickness I had on my 18hr journey up to the island and my efforts to recover from that with just 12hrs before the race started and only focus on what happened in the race – then my finish at Skye is still one of my greatest achievements.

However, it all looked likely to unravel when at 25 miles in I stopped running, I simply couldn’t continue – bent double in pain. My stomach had become what Obi-Wan might describe as a ‘wretched hive of villainy’. I made the assault of the final climb (or so I thought) of the ridge and I lay dying in the sunshine. I puked up the contents of my stomach and a few feet in the other direction my arse exploded a putrid green and neon yellow Jackson Pollock. I used the last of my water to clear my mouth out and simply lay back waiting for the DNF to take me.

Thankfully that fateful moment never came and I proceeded to spend nearly two hours lost looking for checkpoint one, but having survived the nightmare of my own body rebelling against me – I ploughed on with a determination to finish.

And I did… finish that is, I was finally starting to understand what it would take to be an ultrarunner.

What: Burning Balls
Race: Ridgeway 86
End: DNF
Distance: 54/86 miles

My infamous bollocks of fire where an issue at the Ridgeway and is second only to the even more infamous burning bullet hole of ultras when we are taking about running pains. Stood on the trail in the dark with my shorts round my ankles attempting to Vaseline them up and place a buff around my red raw testicles is something I’ll never forget.

I plan on returning to the Ridgeway to complete this event as I enjoyed it a lot, was well organised and genuinely scenic event – I simply made some poor kit choices and that’s easily remedied.

What: Turd Emergency
Race: Mouth to Mouth
End: Completed
Distance: 28 miles

The need for a poo on the trail is something that has dogged me for a while, so much so that a decent amount of toilet tissue always joins me for a race.

When possible I use the ‘Pre-race Flat White Coffee’ solution, as for some reason this delicious hot beverage has the ability to offer the clean as a whistle requirement my bowels like pre-race.

I digress…

The lack of cover at the M2M meant I needed to run several kilometres before nature overtook me and I had an urgent rush to the worlds smallest spikiest bush and created a mountain on the South Downs!

In subsequent races when I’ve felt the urge I have resolved that little problem more quickly and found that doing that has incurred better running – lesson learnt.

What: Head torch failure
Race: UTBCN
End: DNF
Distance: 73/100km

I was running really well at the UTBCN, strong, relaxed and, while unlikely to win anything, I would go home with a medal I could be proud of and a feeling that I was on the right road to my ultimate running aims.

The debacle with my head torch failing at the start line is an annoyance and, while I was angry with Petzl, ultimately it’s my fault for not carrying sufficient spares (I did have a spare head torch – it just wasn’t powerful enough). I let myself down by and while the kit fail shouldn’t ever have happened – it did.

The solution has been to buy new head torches and they will be fully tested before they go into battle and more importantly there’s two of them, both over 200 lumens, both adequate to see me through most ultra marathons.

The future?
By accepting responsibility for my actions I’m hoping that I can go to MIUT and beyond, giving my all as I run. I’m trying to drive myself to accept that I can do The harder races, the real challenges and that if I fail then I simply need to pick myself up, find the useful parts of whatever happens and continue my running journey.

I’ve found this post quite therapeutic, reminding myself about failure and the lessons I’ve taken from them (and indeed the successes). I’m hoping that information I’m gathering is influencing my performance and enhancing the recent progress I’ve been making in distance, endurance, speed and attitude.

So, with the disappointment of the UTBCN all I can say is, ‘come on MIUT – let’s see what you’re made of’.

There’s lots of really good running and fitness blogs out there, some more regularly updated than others, I’m a regular contributor to blogging not because I’m particularly interesting but because I like to keep a record of the things I’ve done and I believe at least some people get something out of my wittering.

When I started blogging (about design related things) I never imagined that I’d end up writing about my running adventures – now five years later the design blogging only happens when I feel the need to change jobs and the running blogging has morphed into a blog about my adventures in life and running. Three and a half years ago I started writing under the UltraBoyRuns moniker and I’ve never looked back, I find it therapeutic and I find it rewarding but the question I mostly get asked about it is, ‘How do you find things to write about? How do you find the time? Why would I write, surely nobody would be interested in what I’ve got to say?’

Everyone will have their own way of doing it, their own things to say – I can’t tell you how or what to do but I can tell you how I go about it. Below are they key stages I go through to bring a blog piece to life. Hopefully you’ll find something useful here.

Read lots: While I have ideas for blog posts that simply pop into my head I also draw on my environment, I read lots of blogs, newspapers, news reports, advertising, social media postings, business reports, research (and not just about health and fitness – that would be quite limiting). This quality research and inspiration time is the foundation of good blogging.

Adventure lots: You’ve got to have something to write about and the best way I believe to have something to write about is to go and do things. So in the last few months I’ve written about Haria Extreme, adventures in ice skating, Lanzarote theme parks, running in the Arctic Circle, trespassing on to the airfield at the Isle of Skye and a whole host of other stuff.

I genuinely believe that life should be filled with and fuelled by cool stuff. Life shouldn’t be a passive experience, it’s for living and your blog will benefit from a life less ordinary

Brainstorm ideas: You’ve done loads of research, you’ve had groovy adventures, you’ve sat down to write about something and it just won’t come. Jot a few ideas down in a list, on some paper, on your computer, watch some TV, listen to music, relax, let all the things you’ve seen and done roll round in your head and a title will come.

Join in social media (Twitter/Instagram/Facebook/Reddit) conversations: Social media isn’t for everyone but amongst the crap there are little gems of ideas, conversations, arguments, very real people discussing serious and silly topics that might give rise to new posts to inspire you or might give you a thought for a post you can bend to your own experience. Twitter I find especially useful for insight into how individuals look at a topic even when expressed over 140 characters. Interacting in these conversations also allows you a mouthpiece to express opinions as well as get them which in turn can have the effect of supporting the building of a readership. It’s not rocket science – you’re engaging in community and the community might want to hear what you have to say.

Photograph your adventures: Nothing offsets a great blog piece better than a quality or narrative enhancing photograph. I very rarely add professional photographs to my site but then in my role as a graphic designer I do quite a lot of photography so I like to think that some of that experience translates. However, the acquisition of an action camera (GoPro Hero 4) and the use of my iPhone 5S have meant that I’m pretty much able to capture all the run and race photographs I ever need and they simply help me improve the telling of my tales.

Note down a list of working blog titles: As part of my working process whenever a new blog topic comes to mind and I’m happy with it I note it down and then add it to my working list to be expanded on and developed later. This can be anything from being inspired by a tangent in a post I’m writing, a post from someone else that I’m reading or something I’ve seen or heard.

Pick relevant blog posts to write about and know your audience: You’ve got to write about things you want to write about but you’ve also got to have a focus. My original blog mixed graphic design, art, running and general gubbins – but that proved too scatter gun and so the audience was never quite sure what they were getting. UltraBoyRuns is all about adventure, that said though, this year I’ve used it to discuss politics, refugees and my ongoing fears about the way Britain is headed. You just have to be careful not to stray too far from your original intention otherwise what you’re saying becomes confused and you yourself will lose interest in what you’re doing

Know where you are headed and understand the value of a structure: Try and know roughly where you are headed with a post otherwise it will ramble and be less coherent. It’s okay for posts to be long just ensure they have a structure and narrative that lead to a satisfying conclusion.

Be Interesting, be passionate: One of the hardest things to do is to believe that your life is of interest to anyone else. But everyone, no matter who they are does and witnesses interesting things. When you write, when I write, I try and look at the finer detail to bring out interest. For example in a recent post I could have written ‘I had 5km of pain and then found a bush to take a poo behind’ instead I looked at the detail of being ‘bent double in agony’ ‘stabbed by the protruding thorns of the bare bush I was cowering behind’. Adding colour and texture, while remaining true means your readers can join you on your adventures, even if they are about poo.

Find your most creative time: The only time I write is when I’m on the train, I’ll occasionally do backend blog maintenance at home but mostly it’s all done on my phone in the 50 minute (plus delays) train ride I have (usually the morning commute). Blogging requires me time and RunBlogging requires quite a lot of me time given that you’ve got to do the time on your feet too. I understand we all have busy lives but you may find that by writing something like this it allows you to blow off steam. Blogging shouldn’t be a distraction from the things you feel you just do but it giving it half an hour a couple of times a week is what I call ‘me time’.

Try not to care who reads it: If you’re writing as a way of getting Salomon to notice you so they’ll send you free kit then this blog post probably won’t be of any interest to you (and it’s quite hard I believe to get the big boys to be sending you kit). I tend to think you should write honestly about real experience and (much like a race) leave nothing out. This way not only do give an honest account of who you are but you’re audience will enjoy it all the more – yes you may never be as popular as Usain Bolt but does that matter? write for yourself and an audience will find you.

But your blogs seem so quick (post race)? My blogging post race may seem quick – usually the following day or two but that’s because I do lots of the preparation work before the race began and I have dedicated time on my commute to use

The writing of a blog post normally takes me between 45 and 90 minutes or two commutes. The pictures will already be on my phone and I will have already worked out the structure of the posting before I start. I still require inspiration to start and that may be an incident in the days leading up to an event or it might be a conversation had with someone or it might even be my thoughts as I’m holding my medal for the first time.

Then it usually just flows from there. 

Tell people: the bit I hate is telling people about my blog posts, I still to some degree assume nobody wants to read what I write, this years ‘hits’ suggest otherwise though and so each blog post goes out to Twitter, Instagram and Facebook (although I think I only know a dozen people of FB so I can’t remember why I bother!). If I’ve posted late at night I might tweet a reminder in the morning so that those interested might see it and I’ll add relevant hashtags but ultimately that’s all I do. I write for me and if someone else is interested then I’m deeply honoured and humbled. You might find more interesting ways of telling people about your site such as in forums and adding it to communities such as The Running Bug but you’ll decide how far and wide you want to branch it out.

Have fun: The most important thing though is to have fun in your adventures and your writing and follow your own path – these suggestions above are just that – suggestions. They work for me but I’d be interested to hear about how other people do it. Enjoy

The key points

  1. Do Research
  2. Do Adventure
  3. Do Brainstorm
  4. Be Organised
  5. Be Passionate
  6. Be interesting
  7. Be True
  8. Be Confident
  9. Just Enjoy

Ultra running and parenting are two things that require a genuine level of dedication where you must give your all if you are to get the rewards you desire. Now despite my best efforts I’m feeling the strain of that dedication at the moment – it didn’t go unnoticed in my dismantling of my failure at the CCC that it was not helped by the fact that the two weeks prior to the race had seen the baby more restless than normal and my (already limited) sleeping pattern further hindered.
UltraBaby is a genuinely good child when it comes to letting us rest and catch up but with teething now in full swing I’m starting to understand the struggles that runners have when young children are involved.

The Before Pre-UltraBaby it was easy to get home from work, change into running kit, kiss GingaNinja goodbye and then go running for several hours. Pre-UltraBaby it was easy to say ‘I’ll run home from work tonight – all 40odd kilometres.

The Now Now I spend most of my time wondering if I’ll get back in time to collect her from the childminders or get home in time to put her to bed so that gran doesn’t have to. By the time this is done, baby and work prep for the next day and well you don’t always feel like going and banging out 20km or more.

The Commute None of this is helped by (on average) my 2 hour commute (each way) from my Central London job to home in sunny Kent and it’s further compounded by my partners regular late finishes which simply make me feel like I’ve got to get home. Weekends are equally prone to fracture with the GingaNinjas work and a lack of family network close by that we can draw on for support – therefore running is now challenging.

I do as many of the right things as possible. I run pre and/or post work most days. I’ll parkrun, I’ll buggy run and I’ll race regularly so I’m still achieving bigger distances even when training isn’t going well. But there’s only so long you can keep going like this before the lack of coherent training, sleep and even eating cause some mischief.

I’m Lucky Really I shouldn’t complain, I have it relatively easy, I have a supportive partner, a baby that isn’t too demonic and a dedication to the medals – I just want my cake and to eat it too – and I mean the whole cake, not a slice! Running is my primary hobby but UltraBaby is my responsibility and so I need to learn a greater degree of balance to ensure that I can continue to successfully parent but without too much compromise in ultra running!

What about you? I’m curious to hear how other running mothers and fathers manage to get the ‘time on their feet’ in and what ‘little tricks’ they’ve developed to make running, especially ultra running possible in the face of full time work, children, commuting and the plethora of other things that seem to get priority over running!

1. Don’t race too much
The last couple of years I’ve raced on average once every two weeks, this year I’ve raced big distance at around the same amount and what I’ve learnt is that the body doesn’t have time to recover and that training is badly affected because you feel as though you are in constant taper. Worse than that, when your training takes a hit then your race pace drops off. Racing should be part of your running I believe because it gives us targets and opportunities to test ourselves but it shouldn’t be at the cost of regular training.

2. Train enough
One of the things that many runners do is get to a point and suddenly think that’s it, they can do it and they can just continue to do it but the reality is a little different. We need to make sure that we continue to train year round to maintain the continuous health benefits of running. It doesn’t take much to actually feel much better from running but by the same token it doesn’t take much to feel lethargic when we don’t. Your training will be determined by many external factors but it’s worth keeping your running consistent and doing it regularly. Short but often pays bigger dividends than long and occasional.

3. Listen to your body
Believe me your body knows best, listen to it when it calls out for rest, listen to it when it says it go faster. Don’t ignore your body be they good times or bad.

4. You will be your own worst enemy
You’ll become a bit like a petulant child, wanting to do more, achieve more and you’ll push yourself, you’ll go too far either physically or emotionally – I think we all do at some point. Try and listen to common sense, if something sounds stupid then it probably is.

5. Make sure your shoes fit
I’ve spent the best part of my running in shoes that are too small for me. I should be a size 9.5 (UK) but I’ve been running in size 9s, it’s not a lot but what it does in my case is push my toes against the end of my toes and leaves them susceptible to blistering. Over longer distances this is exactly what happens and each person is different – so if you haven’t been fitted, please go and get fitted, there really is nothing worse in running terms than a pair of shoes that just aren’t right.

6. Don’t get caught up in technologies
Calorie Counters, GPS, video cameras, hydration systems, number belts, boosting trainers, minimal trainers … the list of things we apparently cant live without goes on and on. Running stores are constantly offering us new ways to part with our hard earned cash. Sometimes all you need is a pair of trainers and any old clothes. yes having the kit is great (and I’ve got a lot) but there is a lovely sense of getting back to those first few runs when you pick out a comfy pair of runners and hit the trail. Remember the joy of running.

7. Don’t run before you can walk
You know that feeling just after Christmas when you’ve put on a few pounds and you suddenly think it would be a bloody amazing idea to start running? Then you see yourself as a bit of Usain Bolt and that first run you feel like a legend – you probably did a kilometre, maybe two – then it takes you a week to get back out there? I’m not the only one who has been through these various stages. Anyway, the point is that as you come to running it is important that you take things slowly – build up your endurance, your distance, your speed, work on the way you breathe and learn how to get the best out of both body and kit. Plus remember that doing 5km where half of it was walking is still more impressive than sitting on the sofa watching cat videos on YouTube.

8. Eat for the running regime you do
I should listen to my own advice on this one – I’m a terrible eater, I don’t carb load, I barely eat vegetables, I don’t like fruit very much and my one remaining tastebud is targeting Mexican food and Mexican food only but because of this (partly) I can be prone to weight that bounces around and a lack of energy because I haven’t fuelled properly for my runs. Eat properly! Eat enough! Eat the right things!

9. Get to know other runners
Each runner is very individual and we all have our nuances and idiosyncratic ways but we’ve all been there and done it. We know what it’s like to lose toenails, to buy I’ll fitting shoes, to wear neon in public. I turn up to ultras now and there is almost always somebody I know or at the very least have met and chatted with before, infact I’ve raced so much in the last three years that even when I turn up to a 10km race there is a very good chance I’ll meet someone I know. This community spirit is in part why I really love running, but that same community is a great source of information, inspiration and fun. Next time you’re out running maybe just say hello to a fellow runner and see where it leads you.

10. If the plan isn’t working, change the plan
Training plan says ‘Monday AM – 10km jog’ and you get there and you simply can’t manage it or you don’t feel like it but by Monday PM you are feeling guilty. What to do? Change the goddam plan! No sense in being ruled by your training plan, you are in control and if something hasn’t happened then do something else. Don’t give up because you miss a deadline

11. Enjoy running, if it regularly becomes a chore something’s wrong
We all have days when the wheels have come off and you don’t feel like running and that’s fine but when it’s a regular thing you should perhaps ask yourself if there isn’t something else you can be doing. We run for pleasure (most of us) therefore if it makes you miserable step away from it. I’m the moments when my mojo has deserted me I tend to rock up and watch a race or two and I know that the moment I see runners streaking last me I’ll want to be out there – doing my thing and earning my bling.

12. Vary your training
A necessary evil? Probably. However, mixing up the way you train means that you are more likely to be successful on completing the races you do. For me I’ve found that varying my training has meant that I can roughly retain a respectable pace for a 10km while still running ultra distances. If I focused on one of these things I’d be much better at it but the training variations mean I can keep completing these races even if I’m not a a competitive any longer.

13. Vary your locations
There is nothing more fun that running down a new street, hitting a new trail, finishing up at a new cafe, getting lost in a country that you don’t speak the language in. Whatever you do try new routes, variation – see the world through running eyes because believe me it’s amazing what we miss as we drive to places. I found that I was getting bored of my evening commute from Regent’s Park to my mainline station in the evening and so to jolly it up I remembered that I live in one of the most exciting cities on the planet and so I started looking for memorials, sculptures, signs, famous buildings, infamous places and even culture events to run through, beyond and even in some cases – above. This meant I had to go via different routes, sometimes just a single street but now each night I see something new when I run and that fills me with joy.

14. Leave the GPS at home
I love my Suunto, I love watching running data and yet I love the freedom of not tracking what I’m doing and just running free. During races you can be held accountable to the watch, equally so in training – beating yourself up for not reaching the six minute mile, annoyed because you failed to do the whole 13.1miles, getting only to 13.02 before you’re stood outside the gates of your house. Humph! Leave the GPS at home sometimes and throw off this (very awesome) bind.

15. Do other sports
Running is very much my sport – I love every minute of it, even when I hate it but it does produce a tremendous amount of wear and tear on our bodies and we are susceptible to injury, fatigue and even occasionally a bit of laziness. I’ve found that by mixing up my running with other sports that I gain a better all round fitness.

I tend to find I focus on swimming, hiking, ‘countryside outdoor pursuits’, cycling and Pilates as my other sporting activities but team sports are equally wonderful and all you need do is tap into your personal interests and find something that you enjoy.

16. Run in the dark
Actually this should be ‘run at different points in the day’ but for me not enough runners run at night time and this in my opinion is an awesome time to do it – there’s peace, the roads are quiet and you really get to the heart of your thinking process and focus on the job at hand. For ultra runners the benefit is that we acclimatise to the fears that come during the night time, there is nothing worse than seeing shadows moving and fearing the worst – the dark can be a great friend.

17. Buy last seasons trainers
You want the latest kit? But the truth is that this stuff is usually untested by the majority – by buying last seasons kit not only do we benefit from runners experience and reviews but also it’s usually cheaper.

18. Always save something for the end
Jimmy McKenna, the only man who ever gave me running training (aged 8) left me with a piece of advice that has stuck with me for nearly 30 years. ‘Always finish strong, doesn’t matter how you run but cross that finish line like Steve Cram’. And he was right, I finish my races with a push, arms pumping, chest thrust forward and both feet off the ground. It always makes me feel good.

19. Don’t be afraid of failure or the DNF
Who cares? Well you will when and if it happens, you may well even cry but the important thing is to get straight back in the saddle. A DNF can show a positive attitude to your body, if you’ve pulled up with injury what’s the point in risking more damage by continuing. Equally though knowing when not to DNF is vital as you should try not to give up unless it’s necessary. Some of the most useful learning I’ve had as a runner have come when things have gone wrong, perhaps the most important thing is to learn from this and hope not to repeat it.

20. Have pride in your achievements
Wear your medal, wear your shirts, brag about distance, brag about times – like the manufacturer says ‘just do it’

21. Don’t mull over a slower than expected time
You’ll run pretty crappy times periodically – both in training and in racing – get over it. Don’t let one bad experience ruin a week or month or a years hard grafting on the road. To dispel he myth of bad running I simply adhere to the idea of producing a PW or personal worst, this means I’m always achieving some form of target even if it’s a rubbish one 🙂

22. Don’t forget the back end
Running takes huge swathes of our time in both the training and the getting ready to run. Sadly kit doesn’t clean itself, Suuntos don’t magically upload and races don’t book without you. Running isn’t a hobby it’s a lifestyle.

Three ultra marathons in 2013 (five in for 2014 so far) and the thing I really enjoy is the little nuggets of advice you get from fellow runners. Below are some of things they have suggested that I consider as an ultra marathoner to be worth listening to.

1. Walk the big hills
2. Walk the big hills as quickly as you can
3. Drink before you are thirsty
4. Eat real food
5. Prepare physically, do the miles
6. Prepare mentally, think positive
7. Train at night, prepare to feel lonely
8. Keep your feet dry as long as possible
9. Get kit you’re comfortable with, cheap, expensive, branded, white label – just make sure you’re happy with it and make sure it’s fully tested and fully prepared
10. Make friends as you run, chatting to make those miles drift away and if one of you struggles the others might offer words of encouragement
11. Know your route, maps, recces, GPS files (in my case my iPad mini has been known to go with me)
12. Always remember this is endurance and not a race, it’s more about completing it than sprinting it
13. Run your own race and own pace and don’t go out too quick
14. A crew can be invaluable, if you have people willing to join you as support on the course then take it
15. Be prepared to give up! Sometimes the best thing you can do is stop, injury, exhaustion or mental fatigue can kill an ultra. Not completing an ultra doesn’t make you a failure, it probably makes you a hero – knowing when to stop is as important as knowing when to push on.

I’m sure there’s lots more advice, contradictory advice too in some cases, but these bits are things I broadly agree with. I’m looking forward to Country to Capital to pick up a few more useful things. One day I’m hoping someone will advise me about how to read a map…

really (not) a runner

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Robbie Roberts

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