I heard something on the radio recently that got me thinking. Apparently, on average, we spend 26 years of our life asleep.
That is a lot of sleep. Well, if done in a ‘oner’, it would mean I’d have been largely out of it for all but two years of my life so far (no need to comment…).
Obviously, we don’t endurance nap our lives this way. Yet, that’s what the average person will do overall.
If I look at the miles I run per month, I don’t tackle these in a oner either. That would be bonkers. If I thought about it yearly - well, it's a crazy thought. But a little and often, and by pushing further, more does get done. This is how I approach long distance running – and it’s why I think it is possible for anyone to run a long way.
Two memories of transitioning into something along the lines of endurance sport. One was being dragged by my parents to do a walking challenge on the Austrian Tirol, aged about 7 or 8. I remember not being enthused by this. However, I came around to the idea on the basis of the fact you could achieve shiny badges, and it also turned out a boy from the hotel was giving it ago - and if he could do it, then so could I.
The other was the first time I ran ten miles. I was in was my early 20’s, I had just got into running off road, and I had no idea what running ‘far’ looked like. Ten miles seemed pretty far. So I ran a circuit around where we were living (a circumference of about 2 miles or so) until the mission was complete. I remember that weekend quite vividly – going around and around until the job was done, and feeling quite mesmorized by the entire process. Also a great sense of achievement (and a feeling that I now knew that path very well).
Somehow those kind of events started to mould the concept of mountain endurance running that I now immerse myself with. Running, further, higher, and having a lot of fun.
My first ultra marathon was in Chamonix, with approximately 3000m height gain over 50km+ and my previous race distance was a half marathon (queue the joke about the fact I did not know what ‘ultra’ meant when I signed up). Now, don’t get me wrong, I didn’t just wake up one morning, think “I’ll give this a go” and headed off onto the horizon on race day and it all worked out. It took some prep, some injury setback, some steep learning curves… but the point is, I signed up in January, and by the end of August it had happened, with a top ten women’s result.
If you know me well, you’ll know I spent seven years in a city. I also completed the aforementioned race, while still living full time in London. I am not stating these facts to big myself up, but actually to invite you to consider the possibility that you can also do this, regardless of where you live, and however long you have run before. Want to run a long way? Well, do - it's not half as bad as it sounds!
The Big Walk Theory
Ultra races are pretty competitive (anyone ever seen Kilian Jornet race?) but ultra-marathons are also… long. So before you assume there is a sub 3-hour marathon sprint pace happening over Mont Blanc, there isn’t. Ultra marathons need a bit of thinking. You work with what you’ve got, both in your physical state at any time, as well as contending with the changing ground beneath you. You need to think ahead, think positively, and plan a bit.
But the big point to be taken from this – racer or not – is that long distance running isn’t about a road marathon pace that happens to go on an upwards trajectory forever. It’s a measured affair, and I bet, if you went out for a trail run, with the mentality of “steep hills I will walk, the rest I will jog, I will chill out when I want and need” – you will be amazed at how far you will have gone in a day, not to mention how much energy you will have left.
Racing of course intensifies the situation. But the Alps are surrounded by some pretty steep mountain profiles with racing happening up to 2500m+. I have never not walked, at points, in a mountain race- and I’m someone who likes to compete.
Run & Sleep: Keep it balanced.
If you slept too much you might become like a sloth, but running all your miles at once won't make you a panther.
Just because I only raced a half marathon before my ultra, does not mean I did not put in the mileage, steadily, up until my first 50km. In fact, I ended up with an injury from getting too keen to quick. So approach long distance running with the kindness to yourself that this is a progressive sport. Build up and accumulate slowly. Feel the kick of knowing you did that extra KM this time, and next time, you’ll add one, maybe two more. Take into account terrain also. Don’t beat yourself up if you only managed 10km, feel knackered, but guess what – you actually just tackled the biggest hill in your area. Sometimes I go out for my ‘long easy run’ and cannot believe that I’ve only covered a bunch of kilometres yet been out for ages. Then I remember I’ve just been up 1000m+ ascent. So you know, peaks and troughs.
Find A Friend
This makes me laugh as my friend Sam and I genuinely used iphone ‘Friend Finder’ the other day to locate mates on the hill. Yet failed. But we still had each other for an epic outing.
One really good way to start running longer is to run with someone.
Tell someone you went and trained for well over seven hours and it sounds ‘hardcore’. Break down the day, and what actually happened was for the majority of it I was with a fellow Salomon girl, Jana, and we chatted, chilled and laughed our way around the mountains, and ended up covering quite a bit of mileage (and getting in a bog - standard). Take a friend, aim to go a bit further, and run, walk or indeed ‘talk’ your way around.
Tell yourself if you reach that 10/15 km/mile target, you will go and eat a cheesecake. Many of my runs finish with bakery stops. Sometimes it is all I can think about for the last 5 km.
I mean, eating is part of the whole debacle, and racing is great in this respect. You power stride, you power up and down mountains, and you without hesitation, power eat, to keep going strong.
But incentivising reaching goals doesn’t need to be about food. Buy something nice, do something nice, celebrate – you just went further. Those Tirol badges spurred me on all those years back and I am not sure much has changed.
I am not a coach nor a sports scientist, so I am not going to tell you how you, individually should run longer. But I will tell you, that you can. So get psyched about that. I did, I continually do and I know that as human beings, we are kind of built for this.
Get your watch and go surprise yourself.
Want to join a group of girls who can get you psyched for running on mountains? Check out my mates Sam and Nikki at The Adventure Running Company