Mind and Matter - Last minute tips for running 100 miles

This is not a training guide, just a collection of things I've found useful over the years and a shortened version of this general advice thing that I wrote a long time ago.


I think the first two words to the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy are probably the best ultra running advice you will ever get. This was written with someone thrust into the depths of the universe in mind. You may feel the same. Keep saying it to yourself.

Don't compare your insides to someone else's outside's. You might toe the start line looking around at all the other runners and think things like "those guys are so much better prepared than I am", "They don't look worried at all". You are wrong. I think everyone feels a bit daunted at the start of a 100 mile race, be it their first or fiftieth. People do a great job of keeping things looking good on the outside while fallilng apart on the inside. Don't stress about everyone else appearing to have it all under control. They are feeling it too.

And don't start comparing training that has been done before. There will be someone here who has run more training miles who will finsih behind you. There will be someone who has run less and will finish ahead of you. What's done is done. I've found that these kind of events are less about what someone puts into the training and more about what they are prepared to do in the next day (or two).

Afraid? Good. You should be. 100 miles over some really tough terrain is a really really tough challenge that is going to take a lot out of you and is going to require all that you have to finish, maybe even more than you think you have. Fear canbe a good thing, it is an emotion that keeps us from getting outselves into bad situations but also overcoming such fear is a thoroughly exhilirating experience. I always like to remember a Mark Twain quote "Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, NOT absence of fear". If you are afraid it means that you are about to do something emotionally significant. Something that you'll never forget or regret.

Matter - Don't overdrink or ignore early thirst/hunger

Bit of a tricky one here. My view of hydration has changed since last year where I thought that you couldn't really get into much trouble by drinking too much. You can. Despite what the drinks manufacturers will have you believe about needing to be constantly drinking this is not the case.

Drinking to thirst is the order of the day and this includes if you are thirsty early. I know sometimes we get carried away and not drink for a few hours because our bottles are really hard to reach or you are running at 12 miles an hour.

Similarly don't drink to a schedule, drink to how you feel. I take electrolytes as do most runners I know (evidence is still inconclusive) and so consider taking those.

Same applies to hunger. You may have heard of some elite runners who can smash 15 mountains in a day fuelled on three prunes and Werther's Original. This isn't you though is it? In ultras I've found that eating is the solution to many problems. A friend once said "If you are grumpy that means you are hungry, so eat". So remember if you are grumpy it's because you need food. Or perhaps in really bad company.

Matter - How fast should you set out?

Ha ha. How long is a piece of string? Actually best not go there. This is one of the great hitherto unanswered questions in ultra running. With anything up to a marathon it's easy. Take the time you want to do, divide that by 26.2 and that is the pace you should set out. Experienced runners can keep the same pace going for 26 miles however even at the top end of 100 mile running even pacing is rare. Everyone slows down, even in some of the worlds best performances. And read here on Stu Mills' excellent blog about the fallacy of the negative split for distance running.

This is not a license to set out like a whippet though. You don't want to run yourself into the ground early and have an 80 mile death march. You should run at a pace that isn't lung busting. The hills, the food stops, toilet stops and navigation will mess with your average pace. The point is that no one yet has found this "ideal pace" solution and therefore you should not stress about exactly what it is for you.

Also, I find that I hit the wall at around 16-20 miles in every run I do, whether it's a Marathon or a Spartathlon. It's just that uncomfortable time when your body starts burning it's fat reserves. Nothing to worry about. Remember those first two words.

Mind- Thing big and think small

100 miles is a bloody long way. There, I said it. You already knew this. There are times when it all just feels too big, when the size of the task feels so huge that you end up thinking that you can not do it. When the size of the job feels too big then this is the time to switch to small thinking mode. Think about every step, if you can put one foot in front of the other you are doing fine. Don't think about how many you have to do, just do them, one by one. Think of the next few meters, of every sip of drink, every signpost. All of them are progress. Think small, think boring, think detail.

Sometimes the here and now is too painful, or too dull. You legs hurt, you feel tired or hungry and the present is not a very nice place. Now is the time to flip the switch and think big. Think of the finish, think of the joy and satisfaction of completing a 100 miler, think of the stories you will tell to your friends and family, think of the glow of satisfaction when you lay down to sleep after such an incredible feat. Feels pretty good doesn't it? Well worth the pain right now.

Matter - Dress for the hot and cold

Your body is an incredible machine for disipating heat when you are hot. It is also an incredible maching for holding into heat when it is cold. The problem is that during this race you'll be requiring both and the body might not change modes quick enough. Starting at 6 am, you'll be running a bit faster and generating some heat but the air will be cool and it will quickly disappear as the body then shunts this away. Then when the sun starts to glare this equilibrium will be challenged, you may get hotter with no increase in effort and become uncomfortable.

This is the easy part, it's when it gets cooler (as the sun goes down, as you slow or if the weather turns). This can happen quickly. It only takes a few minutes of breeze to zap all the heat out of your body (and your body will still be pumping blood and losing even more heat). Be careful about getting cold. Be aware and wear the right stuff.

The key to keeping warm in the cold is layers. Wearing two or three tops gives you extra air between the layers to insulate you. If it's going to be cold then I suggest taking an extra layer. Keep moving if possible, swing your arms to generate more heat if needed. Think about what to put in your drop bag. Perhaps a change of clothes if you get wet early on and a chance of socks.

But then don't forget the Sun. It is going to get light from about 4am and you'll spend most of the race exposed to the sunlight. Even if it's not hot you should not underestimate the slow sapping power the Sun has. Protect your head particularly the back of the neck. Even in Britain you can get sun stroke and heat exhaustion.

Mind - Plan your funeral

OK so you are not actually going to die but this is one of the most effective ways I have ever used of getting away from negative and depressing thoughts. When you've been running for a long time your brain lets in lots of negative and destructive paranoid thoughts. Like your friends mocking you, sneering at your awful efforts to try and finish 100 miles. You'll believe that the whole world is conspiring against you, that every wobbly stile or rusty gate is there to impede you personally. That a loose rock or an exposed tree route has been placed there by some devine for intent of ending your race. This is normal. And funny.

In these times celebrate every little victory you can. Every person who lets you past, every dog that does not bite you, every child that yells "well done" or "keep going". Every time the sun comes out, every time you see a route marker that lets you know you are on the right track. All of these little things help.

And if you really are struggling mentally start planning your own funeral. Imagine a scene when you are in a box about to be buried and everyone close to you in your life is there. Imagine the things that they will say, the ways you touched their lives. It will obviously only be great things they will say. You can be as egotistical as you'd like, no one needs to know. Every word spoken will be about how awesome you are. If they have nothing good to day then don't invite them to your funeral.


I know you might be thinking that the race organisers take some sadistic pleasure in making you carry stuff around and that you can shave a precious 10 seconds off your 100 mile time if you weren't burdened with the crippling weight of some spare batteries. You'll find kits lists like this in events like this all over the world for two very good reasons, your own personal saftey and the saftey of others.

It goes without saying how some of these items can save you if you did get into trouble. Instead think about how the safety of others would be compromised by your own failure to take responsibilty. If the organisers or rescue services are dealing with someone getting hypothermia due to not packing the mandatory clothing it means they are stretched if another incident occurs, such as a bad fall. I've seen this happen and it's often the more experienced runners who take these risks. Don't do it, it's not just your own saftey that you'll be compromising but that of your fellow runners and of the existence of the race.

Race directors talk to each other. They exchange notes on the chumpers who get hypothermia due to not taking the correct kit, or those who disappear from a race without telling anyone. You don't want to go on the list of chumpers do you?

Oh and while I'm here just a reminder to LEAVE NO TRACE on the paths. A great thing I've heard at races before is a call for runners to pick up at least one piece of litter on the trail. If you drop nothing and pick up one thing then the trail is cleaner foer your presence, much cleaner for the race and therefore no one can complain.

 If your Saturday nights involve this man you are wasting your life

Mind - Enjoy the suffering

After 24 hours of running, you'll exhausted, you didn't sleep the previous night and you might not sleep tonight. You legs hurt with every step, your feet are on fire. You feel hungry but unable to eat, you may feel cold but burnt. You still have a long way to go and fear not getting there. You mind is tormented with the scenrios of failure. You start asking yourself "What if I don't finish?", "what will people say"?  "What the hell am I doing out here?"

Times like this I think of the people back at home, on a Saturday night in their living rooms waiting for a long line of musical wanabees get cut down by a sneering record exec to make good TV. I think about those who don't really know what it's like to be outdoors in the cold and dark wondering what the limits of their physical being are. I think about those who are going to sleep in a nice warm comfy bed to wake up the next morning and have nothing to do and all the time to do it. Perhaps watching more TV, having another breakfast or reading the same old stories in the newpapers. Those who will stay indoors if it's raining. Those who might drive to the gym later but probably won't.

I think about how these people are suffering so much more than I am. They just don't know.  

See you there :)

The British Spartathlon Team

OK. The anxiety is over. No more waiting for my Spartathlon number. I got an email last night that confirms that I will be number 65 this year. I can't believe 64 people got in before me, I was up at 3am entering my details. Anyhoo, stress over for me and many others, now is the time to get on and think about running the race.

I first toed the start line of the Spartathlon in 2009, I was a boy amongst men. I listened in awe of some of the running achievements that my fellow runners had completed. It was a magical but humbling experience that I will never forget.

I also remember looking around at the truly international field that was present. It really is. I looked at the beautiful kit of the Korean team, the Japanese, the Croatian, Hungarian, German and Brazillian. They all looked amazing in preparation for this wonderful event.

I looked back at us Brits. We had guts and experience and resilience and speed. However we looked like the cast from Shameless.

And so I thought, why don't we have our own kit? This happened first in 2011 when Peter Leslie Foxall designed a brilliant T-Shirt with the slogan on the back "What have the Spartans ever done for US?"

Last year Stu Shipperly created an amazing T-Shirt which I wore for the who race (and bled on). Suddenly The Brits were looking like a smart outfit. SHAMELESS???

This year I want to take this further. I want to create a real "team" atmosphere. I think I have done well in my own personal objective of convincing others how magical this race is and take some pride in knowing that I have at least helped convince some people to attempt the worlds greatest race.

But as we all know, starting the race and finishing the race are very different things. This is one of the few races I know where finishing is not a given. I want more Brits (or anyone really) to kiss that foot because I can never put into words just how amazing it feels.

And so I have created website (with great help from Mimi Anderson, Matt Mahoney and Mark Woolley) for the British Spartathlon team which I hope will serve as a resource for all those heading out to Greece this year. I am hoping it is something that all Brits will find useful and will want to contribute to. I want this to be a longer term project too, not just for 2013 so if you have any designs on running the Spartathlon then this is for you.

Hopefully we will get some sponsors on board that will help our athletes on their journey to the feet on Leonidas. Also we are hoping to organise a "Spartathlon Boot Camp" in Spain to get us pasty Brits in the sunshine.

I am quite excited by all of this and hope you are too. If you are a Brit who has been accepted for the Spartathlon then please let me know. Any feedback, suggestions, contributions are most welcome. The site is in it's infancy right now as I collect content and figure out wordpress. In the meantime enjoy :)

British Spartathlon Team Website


Country to Capital IV - 2013

Photo - Kris Duffy

A paradox. Sam Robson would like this. There is a queue of 10 runners climbing over a stile. They each take two seconds to climb over. If there is a stile just 50 meters later then why does another queue form? Should they not all be 2 seconds apart?

Anyhoo, my head was starting to hurt as the hangover kicked in and I felt low on energy and two small packs of pork scratchings didn't really cut it. I was intending to continue my no sugar experiment for this race but decided to have a GU gel shortly after joining the canal at about 25 miles. Ahhhhhhh canal.

Running For Their Lives: The Extraordinary Story of Britain's Greatest Ever Distance Runners

These two runners could stake a very good claim on being the greatest British distance runners of all time. Not only did they achieve such great things but they did so at a time when running for sport was relatively unheard of. There were no books to read on how to optimally run long distance, they had to find out via experiementation and much of what they learned and did became the standard practice. 

The two runners are Arthur Newton and Peter Gavuzzi. Newton took up running to protest against his treatment in South Africa and used it first as a means of gaining publicity for his cause. He managed to gain some by winning the first four Comrades races. Peter worked in the docks in Southampton and first met Newton in 1928 in Los Angeles.

The book charts their close relationship over the years from their first meeting in 1928 at the start of the first ever Trans America Footrace. Arthur Newton was invited by the race director CC Pyle to give some credibility to the event as he was perhaps the only known world class runner there. Newton dropped out in the first two weeks with injury but carried on in the race as medical/morale support. While doing so he became close friends with Gavuzzi who was winning the race all the way up until 400 miles to go when he had to drop out with infected gums. He had nothing to eat for days and was wasting away. He was pulled out of the race by the medical team.

Newton and Gavuzzi both vowed to go back the next year, when the race was being run from New York to LA. Newton didn't finish for similar reasons to the previous year. I won't spoil the incredible ending to this race other that to say that Gavuzzi proved himself to be absolutely world class.

After the events of the second trans USA race Newton and Gavuzzi remained close training partners and were a class above everyone else. Newton held the records for everything from 30-100 miles and he and Gavuzzi were a formidable team. They agonised over the choice to become professional runners and try to make a living with thier amazing gift, having plenty of rifts with the UK Amateur Athletics Association as they did.

The book is a great account of many of their adventures, snow shoe races in Canada, record breaking in the UK and France, what they got up to when they were held in France during the war. It is a fascinating insight into how elite runners at the time lived and also contains a huge amount of Newtons own advice and principles on running long distance. 

A brilliant account of two runners who the UK should be immensely proud of. And has inspired me to ahem "organise" a run from Bath to London later in the year to follow the footsteps of Arthur Newton when he broke the world record in 1929 for 100 miles (14.22) then broke it again when he was 51 by running 14.06. 

Amazing runners and amazing story.