My First Ultra Marathon

Updated: Jul 26, 2021

A detailed look into my thoughts and feelings having completed my first ULTRA!

There are 2 rules you should always bear in mind when thinking about running an ultra-marathon:

1) Don’t do it. You will probably be in the worst pain you have ever experienced, both mentally and physically.

2) Ignore rule number 1 because the feeling of accomplishment, pride and self-appreciation upon completing an ultra-marathon is beyond comparison.


The best place to begin with all this is probably at the start of 2019. I set out a goal to originally ‘complete an endurance event in 2019’.

However, 2 weeks into the new year, my goal had changed. My friend had lent me a new book he had just finished reading; Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins. (link). To be honest, before I read the book I did not have the first clue who David was; but by the end I sure did. I also realised that I had been selling myself short. An ‘endurance event’ is far too vague; it holds no accountability or measure of true success relative to what I want to achieve.

What I wanted to achieve through this goal was a significant amount of personal growth both mentally and physically.

The reason I wound up choosing to run an ultra-marathon was largely down to the influence of David Goggins and his incredible tales of determination, drive and hunger to constantly strive for more, but also the passion and relentless pursuit I personally have for growing mentally and physically. Before this book, I had never even heard of an ultra-marathon, let alone ran one! I thought a marathon was the biggest and most intense physical activity out there. My mind wasn’t aware of a whole new world beyond that.

An ultra-marathon is defined as any is any footrace longer than the traditional marathon length of 26.2 miles.

I scoured the internet for hours and hours looking for an ultra-marathon. The right ultra only had one condition; it was held between 20th May 2019 and the 28th June 2019. That way, it wouldn’t interfere with my football commitments. (It would be during off season, although specific training did start a while before). After weeks of searching, I found the right one.

A 53.5 mile (86.1km) trail run along ‘South Downs Way’, starting in Arundel, Chichester and finishing at Winchester Cathedral.

With 5,600ft of elevation and an average 10-14 hours of running, I felt assured that ‘Race To The King’ was going to be my maiden ultra.

Now, it’s at this stage worth noting, upon booking my place in the June 22nd trail run, the furthest I had run in one go was 6.5miles. I mean, I cover a lot of ground playing football, maybe 9-11km during matches, but as a specific road/trail run, 6.5 miles was my best… and that was 3 years ago.

Reading this now you may be wondering, ‘why? What’s the need to go to these extreme lengths’? You may be thinking that it some of it is fabricated, and really that I’m a runner who loves to get out on a Sunday and go for a 15 miler through Richmond Park. I can assure you I’m not. Prior to this race, I HATED running. Well long distance running. I couldn’t stand it. To me it was just pointless. Why run for 2 or 3 hours with no real purpose? If I’m running, it’s for a reason – like in football. I will run all day for my team; it’s for a purpose, to win.

To get up on a Sunday morning, stick on my running shoes and waste my morning just plodding around with no end purpose was absurd to me.

With all this in mind however, and with the influence of Mr. Goggins ringing loudly in my ears, in late February I booked my place.

I came to realise that the potential of mental and physical growth in completing this run far outweighed the dislike and dissatisfaction from running for that long.

And with that, I now had given ‘long distance running’ a whole new meaning. It wasn’t now just a ‘meaningless plod’ anymore; but a vehicle for me to achieve what I yearn for above all else, personal growth both physically and mentally.

With new running trainers at my disposal, I began my specific training in late February. A steady 8 mile run around the streets of South West London that took me 1 hour 11mins.

I remember before that first run a different feeling and approach to what I was about to do. I was excited. I was looking forward to getting out on the road! I had given meaning and a purpose to what I was doing and had linked it to what drives me most, and here I was, grinning from ear to ear along the bank of Thames just as the cold air lifted from the river. A few days prior, I had told my family about what I planned to do. They all, as you can imagine, were none to impressed.

- “You’re a bloody idiot, where has all this come from?”.

- “If it means so much to you, why not just try a marathon? You haven’t even done one of them yet”.

- “I just think you’re lost. You’re obviously not happy so you’re trying to fill that with something extreme”.

Harsh words I know!! But all I guess are valid questions, and some you may be asking reading this yourself, so I’ll address them so you are aware of the state of mind I was in approaching this.

1) Where this has all come from is a burning desire to constantly be more and become more as a person. I am always content when I achieve things, but never satisfied. I celebrate and appreciate whatever it is I have achieved, but then I am always looking for the next challenge. Mentally and physically. I am always looking to grow, to become more, and therefore share and give more to others around me.

There is no question David Goggins’ heroic story had an influence on my decision, but I was already looking for that next area of growth before his book came along. At the start of the year I said I wanted ‘To complete an endurance event’.

I knew that a physical and mental challenge was out there for me, I just didn’t know what.

2) Why not try a marathon? A very valid question and one I debated with myself… for all of about 10 seconds. This may come across obnoxious or self-inflating but I can assure you that is not my intention, I am just trying to be honest and up front with you. Even though I had never ran 26.2 miles, I knew I would be able to.

I knew I could complete a marathon before I ran it. That is meant in no disrespect whatsoever to the millions of people who graft and run for hours upon hours in preparation to run a marathon. Everything is relative to the individual.

I knew mentally I could complete a marathon, even if physically I had not yet completed one. Also, upon reading “Can’t Hurt Me”, a marathon just didn’t stimulate me enough in the areas of growth I was looking for. An Ultra-marathon did.

3) You’re obviously not happy. You know that I never really took this to heart. And probably just as well! I understood that this was coming from a place of love. My family had my best interests at heart, and to them, this was just absurd. To me it was far-fetched as well!

As people who love you looking in from the outside I can completely understand why these sorts of reactions came to the surface. The truth is, that I am beyond happy in my life.

I am at a stage where I am always looking to simply grow as a person, and contribute what I have learnt and know to others around me. I have spent years and years digging out the demons that haunted me, facing them head on and dealing with what was in front of me. It is through this, that I have a level of happiness within myself that I wouldn’t trade for the world. That doesn’t mean that all is done though. Now I have achieved this, mission accomplished? No way. Life intends for us to grow. If you are not growing you are dying. So when approached by a close family member with this abrupt statement, I tried as best I could elaborate the fact that it was BECAUSE I WAS SO CONTENT AND HAPPY, that I wanted to challenge myself, not use it as a defence mechanism to ‘run away from’. (pardon the pun!)


Over the next 4 months, I smashed out 27 specific road runs, covered 335 miles and climbed just shy of 11,000ft. Along the way, I completed 3x Marathons, and 1x 50km Run, (technically I suppose my first ultra!!). I am not ashamed to admit, that upon completing each of the 4 runs stated above, I cried like a child who had just found out about……… well you know!

I’d be lying if I said the outside influence of near enough everyone who I told about the run hadn’t built up in me. Literally everyone, and I mean everyone barring my girlfriend and close friend who lent me the David Goggins book thought it was too much and that I wouldn’t be able to do it. I’m sure even they had their doubts!!

Each run completed signified a checkpoint in my mind.

Another glass ceiling in my mind had been shattered and I was able to move onto the next one.

The tears were not a sign of weakness or insecurity, but of pride, joy and appreciation. Appreciation of the fact that I was fast opening doors in my mind where there were only walls.

When race day came about on Saturday 22nd June, I think it’s fair to say, I was shitting myself. In the days prior to the race, I had felt so calm, so collected, so assured with everything. On the day, I must have said about 10 words in the car journey to the registration point. My girlfriend’s parents had kindly offered to take me to the start point, which coincidently was only about 25 minutes from their home. We arrived at 6:45am, I checked in and waited for ‘Wave B’ to be called to the start line. ‘Wave A’, was for the more experienced of the ultra-runners. Those who were expected to achieve a time of 8-10hours. Upon booking the race, I had organised to raise money for FamilyAction. A Charity that helps provide practical, emotional and financial support to those who are experiencing poverty, disadvantage and social isolation across the country. On my virgingiving page, I had stated that my aim was to complete the race in under 10 hours. In the days prior, I had told myself ‘you just focus on finishing – forget all this time talk!’.

It was easy for me to get swept up in this ultra-running community. A community where people are running 50+ miles every other weekend and going all over the world to compete. Amid all the excitement, I had to remind myself this was still my first ultra and I had only 4 months of training behind me, not 4 years! With this taken into consideration, I opted for ‘Wave B’ – expected to achieve a time of roughly 10-12hours. (Roughly between 11.20 – 13 minute miles. Well within my pace but considering my inexperience, the terrain and heat, I believed it was a logical choice).

To finish in under 10 hours, I would have to run on

average: 11.11 mins per mile.

Race Ready! Prior to the start of RTTK

The clock struck 08:00 and my race began. Along the way there were 8 aid stations*, all at various locations, roughly 5-8 miles apart. I breezed my first 7.9 miles, feeling happy and confident, arriving at my first aid station/checkpoint.

Checkpoint 1

7.9 miles

1 hour 15 mins

Average: 9.30 mins per mile.

I felt so good that I didn’t even stop at the aid station. I ran straight through and onto the next one, at mile 15. (A decision that in hindsight, I probably wouldn’t do again).

I carried on at a decent pace, chatting with fellow runners and fully embracing the ultra-running community. With the sun beating down I found myself feeling a great sense of freedom and appreciation. I was actually doing it. I was running an ultra-marathon. 5 months ago, I didn’t even know this thing existed, now I’m running one. Not only running one; but smashing it!

I reached checkpoint 2.

Checkpoint 2

15.2 miles

2 hours and 10 mins

Average: 9.33 mins per mile

After a quick hello to my girlfriend and her parents, a stock up on nuts, a banana and a couple slices of watermelon and I was off again. The trail had been much hillier than what I had ran in training, but I felt comfortable. I felt in control and was pacing myself well. As I approached 23.4 miles and checkpoint 3, it dawned suddenly on me that I had ran just under a marathon. Until that point, I hadn’t even contemplated mileage, timings or anything of the sort. I was just completely present and in the moment. Appreciating where I was, and what I was doing. I believe that’s why I was able to run a very respectable 3 hours 39 mins.

Checkpoint 3

23.4 miles

3 hours 39 mins

Average: 9.22 mins per mile

From start to just under halfway I had managed to keep a consistent pace throughout, and although I was feeling a little ‘leggy’ now, mentally I still felt strong. I took about 8-10 mins at this checkpoint, which for someone who averaged about 5-8mins at others during the day, was quite a while. In my mind this was halfway, and I wanted to re-centre myself before attacking the 2nd half of the race.

I officially passed halfway of the race – 26.8 miles – in 4 hours 24 mins (average: 9.51 mins per mile). My pace had slowed right down. This was largely due to the fact that I took a longer pit stop and that this part of the run was renowned for being the ‘hilliest’.

However, over the last couple of miles I found myself thinking of that magic 10 hour completion time for the first time since the race began. For the first 25 miles or so, it hadn’t crossed my mind once. Instead I was focused on the present, the beauty of the hilly countryside and the incredible opportunity this race had afforded me. But now, my mind had wandered. I think it was when I passed the official marathon mileage of 26.2 miles I first started thinking of it. ‘Wow, I’ve just done one marathon in a little over 4 hours, do that again boy… you’re looking at 9 hours at most!’ It may have just been coincidental these thoughts came about at arguably the hilliest part of the race, but when I approached checkpoint 4, I knew I had gone wrong somewhere. My pace had slipped again to an average: 10.21 mins per mile and I was in trouble. I had dropped one minute per mile over the last 8 miles.

Checkpoint 4

31.7 miles

5 hours 28 mins

Average: 10.21 mins per mile

I stumbled, and I mean physically stumbled into the checkpoint and I was done. I couldn’t stand without being assisted. I was swaying all over the place and couldn’t string 2 words together.

In a bad way at Checkpoint 4. Much to my girlfriend's amusement!

My whole support crew which consisted of friends and family all tentatively watched as I gulped bottle after bottle of ice cold water. One of the race marshals was keeping a very close eye on me, and several times I remember asked me if I could continue. My support crew were trying their best to offer words of encouragement, but for the life of me I couldn’t recall what they said. I was drained and hurting, mentally and physically.

Amongst all the constant reassurance and restocking of essential food items, I do remember thinking that this was my time to really dig in. A time to truly come into my own. I vividly remember filling up my water bottle and thinking of David Goggins. When David ran his first ultra-marathon, (which by the way, was a 100-mile track race that he completed with zero training leading up to it), he spoke of a moment at when he was 70 miles in, he was finished. He said his body had given up on him, his mind had been broken and he literally couldn’t move out of his chair. In brief, he recalls that he managed to summon the power to bring himself to his feet and just move. He ended up completing the next 30 miles in a time that matched roughly the first 30 miles of his race.

‘If this guy can do that, then bloody hell Matt, what the hell is this? You’ve got loads left in the tank. You’re not half as broken as what he was. Yeah, you’re in a bad way at the moment, and what? You know it’s not even an option to drop out so pull yourself together, get some food inside you, and back after it’.

The race marshal came to me again for the 4th time and asked, "how you feeling? You okay?"

“All good”.

And with that I took off. With Goggins firmly at the forefront of my thinking, I took off like a man on a mission… for all of about 20 seconds.

Just as I left the checkpoint and around the corner, I was slumped again. I had zero energy. My groin’s were cramping every other step and I felt my left calf pulling up my leg.

‘Why am I feeling like this?’ I thought. I was cruising, and now here I was with nothing left.