Don't try these at home, try them on a canal.
OK I've been asked quite a bit for advice on how to run this race based on last years success. None of this is about training, more things to help you through the day(s) of the race. If I have forgotten anything then let me know.
I’m hardly the authority on long distance ultra-running, however for what it’s worth here is some stuff in no particular order that helped me the first time round and some stuff I’m going to do differently next time.
Don’t take every little set-back personally. After a long time on your feet you start to suspect that the whole world is conspiring against you. It is easy to start thinking that it is raining because the clouds hate you, that a dog gets in your way because it hates you, a gate is a bit stuck because the guy who was supposed to fix it hates you and your support crew forgot the jaffa cakes because they really hate you. Thinking this way will make things worse (and possibly your friends to desert you)
To combat that try to take pleasure out of everything that goes your way, no matter how small. Like when a dog does not attack you, or someone stands aside or opens a gate, or some path that is nice and flat and not covered in mud. Smile when these happen, it helps.
Eat what you want to eat. You may get told that the absorption rates of the high protein content of your food may not be optimal for the blah blah blah. Hit that person with the large boring textbook they were reading from. Sometimes a burger or some piece of greasy saturated fatty meat just feels good, and that is more important.
I took crisps, pepperami, pot noodles, jaffa cakes and sweets. I also got sausage rolls, a burger and a subway. I carried protein bars from point to point without eating them. I knew they would do me good but like a kid who does not want to take his medicine I didn’t eat it. A big reason why people don’t finish races like this is because people don’t eat, and not because they eat the wrong things. Absorption rates, digestion and carb/protein rations are irrelevant if you are unwilling to put the stuff near your mouth in the first place. Think about what you may look forward to eating and take that.
I did drink huge amounts of High-5 4-1 energy sachets. Drink lots and early. If you have a crew get them to mix the stuff before you need it and then just pour it into your bladder/bottles.
A flask with hot water/tea/coffee is always useful to have for a support crew. At the time of writing the facebook group “A cup of tea solves everything” had 211,299 members”.
Don't stress too much about the sleep. You'll probably not sleep much on the friday night (this doesn't mean you shouldn't try..). Humans obviously need an amount of sleep to function normally but we are also are designed for occasional sleepless periods (such as mammoth hunts). I took some caffeine drink as it got dark on the first day and at no point did I feel like falling asleep. I did no night running beforehand.
Don’t try too hard to avoid things like water/mud. If it rains you and your feet are going to get wet, don’t fight it by wasting energy jumping about all over the place trying to avoid the water.
Don’t try to guess the exact distances you have covered using the maps (or even gps and things). You will naturally slow down a points when you are exhausted and your perception of time will be different. Don’t think too much about whether you’ve done 95 miles or 96, just concentrate on how you feel.
Support Crews – Try and resist giving exact distances unless you are sure. Saying “3 miles to the next checkpoint” when it is 4 will only lead to resentment. Try to make them feel better but not by lying. Imagine you are telling a friend that his new pair of pink lycra shorts look ludicrous. It hurts at the time but it’s for his own good.
When in pain and suffering think about the people who are not doing this race. Feel sorry for them, they are suffering much more than you, they just don’t know it.
Remember that this will be a learning experience for the crew too. They are likely to get things wrong, not be in the right place all the time. Think about the time they are dedicating to you, be thankful of having friends like that.
Similarly for the crew, remember that your runner may not be themselves at some stages. Don’t get offended and just accept it for now. There will be plenty of time after the race to play their tantrums back to them.
Fresh shoes/socks and T-shirts were a joy to put on, like sleeping in freshly laundered bedsheets.
The course leaves the canal twice. Once at about 45 miles and again at about 62 (check this). Otherwise no navigation is required. Try to remember these points and know where to go, neither are difficult but the paranoia of running some extra meters can reduce many a man (or woman) into a gibbering wreck.
2 days before this race I went to the supermarket and bought a weeks worth of food. I then spent the next 2 days pretending I was Rik Waller.
Take with you memories of races/runs where you felt really shit at some point and then turned out ok. Concentrate on how you felt rather than times/pace/positions etc. A few examples of the things I remember are;
The Jurassic coast challenge, 3 marathons in 3 days. The start of the third day I would barely walk, yet I could run most of 30 miles over huge hills. I learned not to trust my legs too much when they told me to give up
Dunwich Dynamo 200k bide ride. Done in the pouring rain in the middle of the night I spent the whole ride paranoid (completely unjustified) that my chain was going to snap and I’d have to find a barn or something to sleep in. It was freezing regardless of how much effort I put in. I learned from this not to take too much notice of my brain when under stress.
Round Rotherham 50. Again, freezing cold, wet and with indoor checkpoints that called me like sirens. They were so hard to leave, as soon as I stepped out I froze and wanted to go back indoors. Each time I’d feel better once I got moving. I learned not to focus on how I was feeling now but on how I could potentially feel in the future. It is often very different to now.
Shakespeare Marathon. I got a marathon pb the day after running a 24 mile fell race. I learned from this that sometimes stuff just doesn’t make sense.
Remember – The Tesco in Leighton Buzzard is NOT a 24 hour one. They won’t open at 3am, regardless of whether you explain why you are there.
The “importance” of Planning. I’m going to labour this one, it wont be relevant to most, but it may be for some, including me.
No doubt you will have read running books and magazines that spout auto-rhetoric about “planning makes perfect” and “failing to prepare is preparing to blah blah blah blah....”. While many do seek confirm and find use in careful preparation, others may find the process of planning difficult, stressful and ultimately counter-productive.
When I was meeting my support crew a week before with the intention of “planning” my run I could not tell them anything, it was too hard. The thought of thinking that far ahead as to what I may require at different stages was making be more stressed and more resentful of the race. I only paid lip-service to a “plan”.
On race day I arrived with no idea of how exactly I was going to do this, but I did know that along the way I’ll have to deal with stuff that I have dealt with before and with stuff that I hadn’t. I had no plan of how to deal with it, I just knew that I could. I winged the whole thing.
I’m not saying that this is the approach that everyone should take. In fact I suspect that 90% would benefit more by planning, which is fine. It’s not fine for running coaches/books/magazines to say that those who don’t/can’t plan are consigned to failure. It’s like saying that left handed people can never succeed.
Getting bored while running? If you have read this far you are not easily bored so you’ll be fine.
If you have a support crew at all it means that there are people who love you more than you may realise. That must make you feel better?
Remember during the race how far you have progressed as a runner in the time that you have run. It is humbling to recall the time I thought 4 miles on a treadmill was enough to kill me. How terrified I was of my first marathon, how I could not walk the day after my first ultra. These all sound silly to me now and I looked forward to the time when my apprehensions of this race seem silly.
Receiving the race number made the race a very real thing for me. Until I got the number and instructions through the post the GUCR was just some crazy thing that I had to do in the future sometime. I went from wanting to talk about it constantly to not wanting to talk about it. From being excited to being nervous. From dreaming about a glorious finish to actually wondering how the hell I was going to do this. There is no real advice in this paragraph, just some weird thing that happened to me.
Think about the finish constantly (from today until the second you finish). At some dark moment on the day(s) you may forget why you are there. You are there to experience the amazing thing that is the finish line. It becomes really easy to drop out if you can’t remember that.
Take heart in any “performance” results you may have had in the lead to this race. The times themselves are unimportant, however feeling like you are in the shape of your life is important. I got pb’s in the marathon, half and 10k in the build up to this. It helped me believe that I could do anything.
Think outside yourself if you are struggling with keeping your mind together. Think about what your friends may say if they were describing your race or imagine watching yourself talk at the end of the race. Thinking about yourself in the 3rd person is a great way to escape. 3 years pissing around on Facebook has made James very good at this. If you want a real ego trip then why not plan your own funeral? Who would be there? What would they say? Who would get really drunk and divulge some sordid secret about your past to others who didn’t know?
Blisters – Don’t have a lot to say on them as I just run with them and slash them at the end. I suggest that if you can run on them then do, but don’t try to change how you run as this will cause injury.
Take a phone and programme a list to send texts to. The constant drip of replies was uplifting.
If you get a chance to talk to passers by about what you are doing. Some dumbfounded looks and remarks you get are priceless. I’ll never forget the guy who nearly fell off his boat when I told him, and that was just a 50 miler.
Try to remember everything, the good and the bad. It will be part of you forever.
Don't try these at home, try them on a canal.