Updated: Sep 20, 2019
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 and 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 11miles. I mean, I cover a lot of ground playing football, maybe 9-11km during matches, but as a specific road/trail run, 11 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?"
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.
The next part of the race meandered through open top hills and narrow trails. I took it steady. Very steady. I started to analyse my own performance. How could I of gone from thinking about completing a sub-9hr to basically being on the verge of having to stop? All within the space of 5 miles?
I ran through a checklist in my head:
‘Self Talk? Good, continue to reaffirm what an absolute animal I really am’.
‘Why you doing this? To grow. To become more as a person and be therefore be able to contribute more and add more value to others. Also, raising money for a great cause’.
‘How’s your body? Good. I am strong. I’m too fast, too strong, to quick, too fit’. (In reality, I had been cramping badly since mile 19, but I refused to let myself have an excuse. – more on this to follow).
‘Nutrition? Solid. I can eat a bit more I suppose. All you’ve done so far is stock up on gels, fruits and sweets so maybe have something a little more at the next stop’. (more on this to follow).
With my mental checklist complete and with re-assurance I was still on track, I put my lethargy and lack of energy down to the fact that it was because I hadn’t run this far until now. Each time I had ran further in my training, there was a glass ceiling in my mind that needed shattering. Whether I made the step up from 11 miles to 15, or 21 miles to 26.2, each time I had the same feeling. Physically aching and in pain, a mental block and questioning myself as to whether I was able to do it, and the odd emotional outburst.
I hadn’t shed any tears, but the other two points were very true in relation to my current situation. It was amazing to think that only 2 months previous, I was inconsolable upon finishing my first marathon; and now I was approaching 35 miles and actively analysing where I can improve to ensure I finished a 53.5-mile race. When this dawned on me, it reaffirmed why I was here. Why I was putting myself through this. The growth I was experiencing mentally, not only today, but in the months prior, was unprecedented.
When I speak of mental growth, this does not limit me to growth in running, but in my life.
Through using running as vehicle to enhance mental capacity and growth, I could grow more as a person, which allowed me to create and live a more fulfilled life.
I was benefitting from a better relationship with my girlfriend, family and loved ones; a business where I could add more value and knowledge to those I am in contact with; and generally live and experience a happier, more meaningful and passionate life.
Anyone who has achieved anything in their life, whether that be a physical goal or mental one, knows how amazing it is. This doesn’t have to be extreme, but when you achieve a goal that you at one time weren’t sure you could attain, how much pride and appreciation did you feel? How immense was that feeling? Most importantly, how did it change your perspective on the person you were prior to achieving that goal?
That’s what I was experiencing. The ‘Matt Young’ of 3 months ago seemed a distant memory to the 'Matt Young' of today. Mentally that guy wouldn’t be able to get near me. As I learnt many years ago, LIFE INTENDS FOR US TO GROW, and if you’re not growing, you’re dying.
That’s what all this was about for me. Put the running to one side, what I was ultimately trying to achieve, was GROWTH. And up until now, I had done a pretty good job of staying on track with that.
With my in-depth self-analysis over, I was approaching checkpoint 5. For the first time, my ‘crew’ would not be meeting me at this checkpoint. As I climbed an almost vertical hill to reach the summit and the checkpoint and with both of my groins cramping worse than ever before, I checked my watch.
6 hours 46 mins
Average: 10.31 mins per mile.
Considering the state I was in when I left checkpoint 4, I was reasonably content. For the past 3 or 4 miles, I had been consciously focusing on something completely different.
I had shifted the frequency in my brain to focus on solutions and outcomes as opposed to the current pain and discomfort.
I found this to be extremely beneficial. For the first part of the race, I was focused on the present. The here and now. I was fit physically and fresh mentally, and able to focus on the beauty that surrounded me. That yielded great results for my first part. When my physical fitness dropped and my mental clarity become clouded however, trying to focus on how amazing the 600ft climb in front of you looks is a little more challenging!
Therefore, I had to find an alternative. I had to find another way to stay in possession of my mind and direct it in a way that would ultimately benefit me. I commanded myself to reaffirm my purpose, my why. I directed my focus into analysing what I could improve, what I could do in order to bring myself out of this ‘funk’ and ultimately succeed in this race. Without coming to any concrete plans physically in how I could improve, I managed to mentally ‘free’ myself from the rut I was in. How? By commanding and taking control of my focus to an outcome which I desired.
I spent precisely 4 minutes at this checkpoint. How I know this for sure is that upon leaving the aid station, where again I fuelled up on skittles, jelly babies and 4 cups of flat coke, I checked my watch.
"3 hours 10 mins to finish this race in under 10 hours. 15 miles left. YOU’RE GOING TO DO THIS".
I felt myself going down the route that a couple of hours ago nearly ended my race. I swiftly took back control of my mind.
"NO. Just stay on this trail of thinking. Chunk it down. Just focus on making it to the next aid station. Then see where we are from there".
Little did I know at the time how valuable this sentence would become.
As I trotted up the path and onto the grassy knoll, I worked out that my next aid station was 4.8 miles away.
‘Cool' I thought, 'you’ve got time to play with here. Take it steady. Don’t have to rush. Get there by 7 hours 45 mins and you’re laughing. Plenty of time’.
The magic 10-hour time was still in my mind now, but I decided that adopting the same approach as before would be idiotic.
So I opted to just play it safe. 55 mins to run 4.8 miles should be comfortable enough. That way I can take my time; appreciate my calmness again, and still be in touch with the 10 hour goal without piling all that pressure and enormity onto myself.
Having this outlook was great, and if I did it again, would do the same thing, however, when you’re 7 hours into running and contesting with multiple hill climbs, I came to realise very quickly it’s not always so easy to just plot and plod.
The next 4 miles were tough. Upon seeing Checkpoint 6 in the distance I glanced down at my watch.
Almost instantly I kicked myself into gear and picked up my pace for the last half a mile.
I reached checkpoint 6 where all my family and friends had re-emerged. Taking out my phone, I recorded my time.
7hours 56 mins.
Average: 10.58 mins per mile.
I was slightly behind my planned time at this stage.
I ran into the runners area at checkpoint 6 like a man possessed. I ran straight pass my Dad who was waiting with a bottle of water and over to the watermelon.
“You alright?” Dad said as he came over.
“I’ve got to do this. I have to”.
“What? The 10 hours? Relax mate, take your time, you will don’t worry”.
I wasn’t having it. I can’t really put into words the intensity that came over me and how I was feeling. My sister said afterwards that when she came over to check on me, the first thing she noticed was that my pupils were huge and my eyes looked like they were going to bulge out of my head. I was intense. I didn’t want to speak to anyone. It was honestly like an out of body experience. I remember recognising how I was feeling, and thinking how charged up I was.
“Tunnel vision… tunnel vision… tunnel vision”.
I kept repeating this phrase over and over.
8 hours. Right time to go.
“Right I’m off”.
“Will you just calm down a minute. You need a rest, just relax, go again in a couple minutes. Here mate, can you tell him he needs to sit down and rest a minute”.
Dad was trying to summon another runner who was resting at the aid station to talk some ‘sense’ into me.
“No. I’m off. Dad, I can beat 10 hours here. 10 HOURS. Do you know how good that will be. My first Ultra and I can beat 10 hours. I can’t be stopped. I’m going to do this. Watch me”.
Off I went, took off and straight round the bend. I was so emotionally charged that as soon as I left the checkpoint, I nearly went the wrong way and a direction that would of lead me 1.5 miles down a path opposite to where I was meant to be heading. It just so happens another runner set off about 10 seconds after me and called me back in the right direction.
(NOTE: Emotion clouds clarity of vision. Whenever you feel emotive, whether that be negative or positive, always try to take a moment to re-centre yourself and think about the situation logically, before making a decision).
My Dad had told me the next checkpoint was only 2 miles away. I had just under 2 hours left to complete 10 miles. Normally, that would be a doddle for me. After 44 miles however, thousands of feet in terrain climbed and a mentally, physically and emotionally taxing 8 hours… not so simple.
However, I stuck to my ‘new found’ chunking method. It seemed strange upon reflection after the race I hadn’t ‘chunked’ it down earlier. I mean, I knew it was a recipe for success. In all other areas of my life, I chunk daily. Whether it is tasks, goals, outcomes or just daily schedules, I break them down to smaller, more measurable outcomes that ultimately lead to my larger goal. But for some reason, I hadn’t chosen to do that for the first two-thirds of this race.
I figured if I made it to checkpoint 7 by 8 hours 20 mins then I’d be ok. 2 miles in 20 mins. I would have to pick up my pace, but I knew I needed a bit of back up time to play with towards the end of any unknown reason that may crop up. I kept what I thought was a decent pace. The terrain was probably the most even it had been all day.
My watch clicked past 8hours 20mins and I couldn’t see an aid station in sight. I was still steely eyed and determined.
When I approached the aid station, a large sign was posted saying “46.5 MILES. - 7.1 MILES TO GO”.
Checkpoint 7 was 2.9 miles away.
8 hours 33 mins.
Average: 11.20 mins per mile.
I felt better, but I was going to have to pick this up.
For the first time in the race, I slipped below my 10 hour pace.
Having said this, I felt a massive improvement within myself. I was a different man now. The man who 15 miles ago was knocking on deaths door was a man of the past. I was possessed by what felt like a purpose far larger than myself.
It wasn’t my ego taking control that made me so determined to break the 10-hour barrier.
It’s what breaking the 10-hour barrier signified and represented.
Firstly, that I can originally set a wildly ambitious goal, go out and achieve it.
But more importantly, that I was able to come back from a time when I was finished. Down and out mentally and physically, and find the tools to be able to still get the result. That’s what I was striving for.
Using my personal experience to be able to pass on to others and show them tools that I have used and experienced FIRST HAND to create incredible results.
· Whether that was using the perspective of David Goggins and comparing my situation to his, and knowing he has been much further physically and mentally and still got results.
· Whether that be using the art of self-analysis in a time when emotions and mental frailty are heightened. Being able to clearly and concisely look at your situation and find solutions in the heat of the moment.
· Whether that be using the incredible power of your mind to change the frequency in your head and focus on something that will empower and inspire you, not something in your current situation that is leading to consistent negative results.
· Whether that is having such a tunnel vision, that any other outcome other than the one you are striving for is incomprehensible.
· Whether through the process of ‘chunking’ you can take what is seemingly a largely ambitious goal, chunk it down into smaller pieces, and achieve what it is that you truly want.
That is what was ultimately riding on all this for me. That is what was in the forefront of my thinking as I guzzled down a Lucozade and earnestly checking my watch.
“How you feeling mate?”
A fellow runner was also resupplying before our final 7 miles.
“Yeah good, my legs are struggling, been cramping bad for ages. Final push though I’ll be fine”.
“When’s the last time you had your salt tablets?”
“Salt tablets. You are carrying them, aren’t you?”
Carrying them? I hadn’t even heard of them let alone carry them! Anyway, as for carrying anything, I didn’t have a think on me except a few jelly babies stashed in my pocket.
“Bloody hell mate. You haven’t had anything?”
“I’ve had my family at checkpoints and been stashing up on sweets and gels along the way.”
The look on his face said all I needed to know. He just shook his head and said, “here you are, and have another one for the journey”.
I placed the salt tablet into my cup of water and down it went. I would later come to realise how ill prepared I really was. Near enough every other runner had a running pack with them that contained protein bars, energy gels, salt tablets, blister plasters, spare socks, sandwiches! It comes to show the naivety I had in approaching the race. It also explains why I was cramping so bad and couldn’t seem to get rid of it for the best part of 30 miles! Again, lesson learnt.
Looking back at my watch I was ready for my final ‘chunk’. 7.1 miles in 1 hour 20 mins, to get under 10 hours.
I had purposely given myself extra time to reset and re-centre. A lesson I had learnt from the previous checkpoint.
As I left the checkpoint a marshal said to me, “take it steady, you’ve got a nice 1km incline coming up”.
That’s not what I needed. I had worked out that I needed to run 11.10 minutes per mile to get within my 10 hour time goal.
With an incline which will most likely need walking however, this is going to be a hell of challenge and that time will need to much quicker.
Immediately as I left the checkpoint the hill confronted me. A long, gradual incline that felt like it was closer to 1 mile, not 1km! As I approached the peak, I glanced very briefly at my watch to see what the time was. 8 hours 54 mins. The incline had taken its toll and it had taken me just over 14 mins to reach the peak.
My brain started going into overdrive. I was trying to put together sums in my head and work out where I was at. In the end I gave trying to officially work it out.
"This next mile needs to be a ‘10 minuter’ and you’ll be back on track".
Across the next few miles the terrain ebbed and flowed. I tried as best as I could to take my mind away from focusing solely on the time, and use markers along the course. I marked people in front of me, certain trees in the distance, gates along the trail. Anything I could use to pull me forward quicker I did.
At one stage, I remember using a tall overhanging willow in the far distance as a marker. I just focused intensely on getting to that tree as fast as I could. In doing so, I passed a few other runners who I thought must have been on their last legs due to the fact they were taking a slow steady walk. ‘Come on mate, keep it going, we got this’ I said as I passed one guy who seemed particularly in need of a ‘pick me up’.
When I reached the willow, as it so happens, the 49-mile marker was perched just beneath it. Upon glancing over my shoulder to see the runners I had passed making their way towards me, I realised why they were walking so slowly.
In a complete haze, I had just run a long gradual incline that had taken roughly 8-10 minutes. In my focus on drawing that willow tree closer to my being, my external reality became irrelevant. All that mattered was getting to that tree as quick as possible.
In doing so, and for the first and only time during my race, I run an incline that was roughly (0.75 – 1.25 miles).
I took a few moments as I walked along the trail to work out timings. I honestly cannot remember my exact time at this stage, but I do clearly recall knowing that I set myself the goal of reaching MILE 50 by 9 hours 20 mins. I figure I must have been around the 9:10 mark at this stage, but either way, I was clear on what time I had to approach mile 50.
In my mind, if I approached mile 50 by 9 hours 20 mins, that would leave me 3 miles to run at a 10-minute pace and 0.5 mile at for 5 mins. This left me with an extra 5 minutes spare for any ‘emergencies’ that I needed to allow myself.
I know reading this now it may seem a little far-fetched to believe considering that after gradually getting slower as the race progressed, becoming increasingly more fatigued both mentally and physically and demanding myself to run a 10 minute per mile pace when I hadn’t done so since around mile 25.
There were two reasons for my planning. One being that upon looking at my ‘tattooed’ map terrain on my forearm, I saw that the next few miles were mostly downhill, with one small incline placed in the middle. I figured that I should be able to knock a few minutes off there. Running downhill had been a big advantage of mine throughout the day. It was a time when I felt like I could ‘let me legs go’ and I would take off. By the time I reached the willow tree and mile 49, it was a welcome sight to see.
More importantly however, as strange as it may sound, finishing this race in under 10 hours had now become concrete in my mind. There was no other alternative. I honestly didn’t see an outcome where I finished in over 10 hours. I genuinely tried to visualise myself finishing in 10 hours 2 mins and the feeling of disappointment but I couldn’t. Obviously I didn’t want to, I was trying to use it as inspiration. But every time I tried to visualise it, that picture scene in my mind just became absorbed by this scene of me running and crossing the line with a few minutes to spare and knowing I have just smashed my 10-hour time barrier.
Over the past 6-8 miles or so, I had relentlessly affirmed and reaffirmed to myself that I was going to finish this race in under 10 hours.
“I am an animal. I can’t be stopped. I will never be stopped. I have completed this run in under 10 hours. I’m an absolute joke. Watch me do this”. Over and over and over I repeated this. So much so, that by now, it was done. Although I still had the best part of 4.5 miles left to run, it was done.
Please note, I do not go into detail telling you this part of the race to inflate my own significance or try to ‘impress’ you. On the contrary, my aim is to show you in this passage that no matter what your external environment may be, the power of taking possession of your conscious mind and commanding yourself through repeated affirmations and visualisation can help lead you to your highest goals and desires.
By now I was looking at my watch every 20 seconds or so. Watching the time tick by…
9 hours 17 minutes… 9 hours 18 minutes… As my watched ticked over to 9 hours 19 minutes I was running in an overgrown and quite tricky grassy trail. I saw that maybe 200m in front of me the path opened up, so again, I focused solely on making it to the opening as quick as possible. As I did, I glanced down, 9 hours 20 minutes.
‘Where is Mile 50?’
I honestly couldn’t make this up but as quickly as that thought entered my mind, I raised my head to see the blue sign post sitting perfectly alongside the trail. MILE 50.
Right then, here we go.
40 minutes to go.
10 minutes per mile for 3 miles.
5 mins for the last 0.5.
5 mins to spare for ‘emergencies’.
I was set. I upped my pace and took off down the grassy trail which had now become a vast, open terrain. As it goes, it was downhill too. The cramp and pain that had been plaguing my legs for the past 30 miles now didn’t seem so disturbing. The noise in my mind questioning what I had left to give only 10 miles or so back was now a thing of the past.
All that was left was a clarity of purpose and a Mind & Body that were totally in tune
with one another
I reached mile 51 in a split time of 8.22 mins per mile.
Writing this now and reliving that moment is quite surreal. The first thing I thought was, ‘you’ve just allowed yourself a 12-minute mile, good man.’
Another half a mile away a sign post read ‘2 MILES TO FINISH’. 9 hours 33 mins. I felt the emotion in me now beginning to stir. 27 mins to complete 2 miles. 14 minutes per mile. I was so close.
I carried on, carefully plotting my way along the trail ensuring I didn’t falter at the final hurdle. The terrain had levelled off slightly by now and I felt myself take it a little steadier.
I knew I had time to play with so I felt in control. Whether I finished in 9 hours 48 mins or 9 hours 58 mins was irrelevant to me – all that mattered was that magic 10-hour barrier.
As the trail took us back into civilisation and the town of Winchester, I must have missed any previous signs which as the next one I saw read ‘1 MILE TO GO!’. I glanced down at my watch and looking back up at me was a time that said 9hours 42 mins.
I ran around the streets of Winchester which was now lined with applauding supporters and cheering groups of people.
My emotions were coming to a peak. I felt a small tear trickle out as I asked one passer-by where the finish line was.
"25 meters up, do a right and you’re there".
I ran up past the cathedral boundary wall and turned right.
The next part I will never be able to put into words half as well as what this video does.
I finished my first official ultra-marathon in 9 hours 53 mins and had the joy of being greeted by my family and close friends. Upon finishing, my Dad said, “well done boy! You’ve got an experience there which will last you a life time!”.
“Yeah”, I said. “Never again.” ……….
This post was made to use as a guide for anyone who is currently pursuing a goal or dream. The intention is to impress upon the reader the significance and power of taking possession of your mind and how by direct commandment and affirmation, you can place yourself in a state of being where you open up solutions regardless of your external circumstances.
Upon reading this post for the first time, I highly recommend you re-read and note the key aspects of how to take possession of your mind, how to direct your focus and how to apply them to your current situation.
THE LESSONS LEARNT FROM THIS PASSAGE HAVE NOT BEEN NOTED AS IT WILL HAVE MUCH MORE OF A LASTING IMPACT ON THE READER TO IDENTIFY AND REALISE THEM FOR THEMSELVES. THAT WAY YOU POSSESS THE TOOLS TO IMPLEMENT THE LESSONS WITH FULL AWARENESS OF HOW TO USE THE SPECIFIC TECHNIQUES.
*An aid station is essentially a checkpoint. A place to refuel, get some food in your stomach and rehydrate. You may meet family or friends there and runners often use it as a ‘mental reset’.