Longest Day Run – What a difference a year makes

A year ago I took part in my biggest running challenge to date. Longest Day Run (@longestdayrun) is the brainchild of Simon Walkden (@mazymixer) and involves setting a personal challenge around the weekend closest to the Longest Day. How far can you run in 24 hours? Having completed my first (and so far my only official) marathon in April 2012 and lacking a goal until my next race in October I decided to try to run 30 miles, 15 on the Saturday afternoon and the same on the Sunday morning. Running on the flat and on pavements and footpaths I managed to complete this in just under 6 hours in total. I was surprised to be placed quite high up on the Longest Day Run leader board as a result. This gave me the confidence and belief that I could run the North Downs Way 50 (NDW50), particularly as I’d not really done any focused training after my marathon.

Fast forward a year and I’ve now run a further 3 half marathons, a (solo) marathon and umpteen long runs on the way to completing the NDW50. I know that I can cope with the longer distances (even if I’m not that fast) and did back-to-back long runs pretty much every weekend during my #projectultra training.

My training since the NDW50 has been sporadic. I didn’t run for a week afterwards and have only been running 2-3 times per week since then. The longest run I’d completed before this weekend was 12 miles, so I thought I’d set the bar high(ish) for one of this year’s Longest Day Runs. I decided to run 20 miles on Saturday and a further 12 miles on Sunday. Not a ground breaking total but more than last year and with one longer run as well. I’m conscious not to overdo it so early in training for my next race – the Clarendon Marathon in October – and of the need to build my weekly running mileage back up slowly. However, I felt a good test would be 32 miles in the 24 hours and I’d then resume the training plan I’ve developed from next week, building more gradually.

So on Saturday I set off for a 20 mile trail run. I decided to run to the top of Kingley Vale, a nature reserve with stunning views of the coast from Bognor to Portsmouth and inland towards the South Downs. It’s a truly amazing place to be on a clear day. You read see more about it and see some great photos here.

However, there was the small task of finding my way there as I had only run part of the way previously. As is becoming a regular occurrence on my trail runs – and I guess it’s part of the fun while exploring the trails – I took a wrong turn just after 2 miles and found myself running through a field with no visible footpaths but lots and lots of waist high nettles, thistles and long grass. This is definitely not what the field looked like yesterday….


Making a beeline for Racton Ruins I managed to skirt around the field and find a way through the hedge to the bridal path I know so well. Only 3 miles into the planned 20 mile run this wasn’t a good start. Less than a mile later I began the first of many climbs towards Kingley Vale along a footpath which was delightful last time I ran it but has since become very overgrown and, you guessed it, made friends with nettles once again.

Thankfully, once through the field and onto the trail heading towards Kingley Vale I was in familiar territory with some great views through the trees which lined the route.


Arriving at the top of Kingley Vale I was once again greeted with stunning views like this:


I continued my run, exploring new routes and making my way towards Chichester to pay a surprise visit to my mother-in-law on her Birthday. Beth and Andrew had driven over to see her after I set off on my run and I had planned my route to pass by their house. After looking at my OS Explorer map many times during this run I managed to find my way to their house via the footpath around the back. Okay, I had to call Beth first as I got lost again! I had run a half marathon already, mostly on trails and with some serious inclines. A 10 minute pit stop later and I was on my way home. Unfortunately, this involved running almost exclusively on country roads (and a few more inclines) and by this time I was seriously flagging.

I found myself running and walking in almost equal measure for the rest of this run and got home wondering whether or not running another 12 miles in the morning was a good idea. My quads were on fire and I was exhausted. However, I completed the 20 miles in just over 4 hours, which I was pleased with given the number of times I had to stop to look at my map and the delays caused by getting lost.


I soon decided that I would run on Sunday morning, even if it might be a slow and meandering run/walk. I guess I am competitive after all as I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to overhaul last year’s Longest Day Run total.

So I set off early on Sunday to run a 12 mile loop I did last weekend. More trails, inclines and fields. Just the ticket. Along the way I crossed the railway tracks twice, ran through fields and woods, past stables and didn’t get lost once! I felt fine for the first 5 miles or so but then I struggled for energy. I was running and walking and not enjoying it. Reaching a field I’ve run though several times before without incident only to find tens of sheep and their lambs blocking the footpath made me pause. Now I’ve gone through fields with sheep in before without a problem by walking and giving them a wide berth but here there was no opportunity to do this. I entered the field but was greeted sternly by a couple of noisy sheep so decided to turn back and find another route.

This led me up and down (inclines again) a busy country road until I found the footpath I was looking for. I went through the gate and crossed the field to another style. The footpath went through the next field and there were about 25 cows congregated right by the style at the end. I wasn’t comfortable pushing my way past them so, once again, I backtracked and found another route. This involved passing by the cows on a footpath/track and they took more than a passing interest in me, which made me feel like I’d made the right call a few minutes earlier…



Anyhow, I managed to find my way home and competed the remaining 3 miles without incident but with a lot of walking and some shuffling rather than running. Only when I was within a mile of home did I break into anything resembling a decent pace. I finished the run in just over 2.5 hours.

Overall it had taken me around 6.5 hours to complete the 32 miles of running. Given the terrain I was running this year compared to last I can see just how far I have come in the last 12 months. Even allowing for some walk breaks and the hills I’m clearly in better shape and the hours invested in hilly trail runs for #projectultra have paid off.

Once again, taking part in Longest Day Run has given me a valuable confidence boost. I’d recommend taking part in the next one. In the meantime, you can always take part in the Virtual10k (@Virtual10k). This is my idea, inspired by Longest Day Run and a cancelled race in July 2012, and will take place for the 3rd time this September. Get involved and run 10k wherever you like on the race weekend. Why not try running somewhere different? It worked for me.

What next?

Since running the North Downs Way 50 last month (5 weeks ago now) I’ve been:

– running a bit
– resting a bit
– eating a bit less than during my ultra training

I’ve also been enjoying running for pleasure with no targets, no plan and just for fun. In fact, my first run after NDW50 was up to the top of Butser Hill (look it up, I think it’s the highest point on the South Downs) and I loved it…


I relented after NDW50 and signed up for the Clarendon Marathon, after months of saying “probably” to my weekend running buddy Phil (@bigphil137). This is a cross country marathon and I’d much rather do a trail marathon than a road marathon. Here’s the details:


Now that I’ve signed up for my next running challenge – only my 2nd official marathon – I’m glad to be back on a plan. I spent an hour last weekend putting together my own training plan. This is the first time I’ve has the confidence to write my own plan. Whether it’ll work or not I don’t know but I’m looking forward to finding out.

I’ve built my plan around 4 runs per week – long run, speed session, hill session and recovery run – plus cross training (mountain bike and/or elliptical cross trainer) and regular stretches. I pledged to work on my core for the last 2 races but failed to do so. Having read Brain Training for Runners by Matt Fitzgerald I’ve decided that I can’t make excuses any longer. There are key exercises to follow in the book, which start with 3 weeks of basic stretches and build in difficulty as the weeks progress beyond that. So far so good. I’ve done the stretches 4 times so far this week (I targeted 5 days if stretching per week).

I’m also looking to build in some basic yoga (maybe) and kettle bell exercises to help with flexibility and strength. The hope is that cross training combined with less running but better quality, focused sessions will improve my speed and endurance. Judging by the pyramid session and cross country mountain bike session  this week it’s going to test me but I’ll feel better for it.

I’ve also focused more on my diet. Although I am fed well by my wife as we eat lots of veg, salad, pasta and fruit (plus some great home made flapjacks and cakes) I went a little overboard with the chocolate. I got used to eating a chocolate bar every night (Topic, Mars, Snickers) and need to shift a few pounds and a bit of a belly. I’ve cut back on the chocolate and no longer have a bowl of cereal every night. I had an enormous appetite when I was training for NDW50 but need to reign it in now.

Bring on the rest of the training. It’s good to be back.

Now I need to think about whether or not I want to do a 100 miler next year. After watching Dan (@DanPark81), Ashley (@TheMonkeySmokes) and Glen (@gee_will_i_e) complete the SDW100 last weekend and Kevin (@maximisemylife) run 85 miles at Endure 24 I am sorely tempted. How far can I go?

Lots to consider on my long runs, starting with the @longestdayrun challenge tomorrow…..Now I just have to decide how far I think I can run given my longest run since NDW50 is 12 miles.