2020 vision: My next big challenge

I’m sure the feeling of fear, as long as you can take advantage of it and not be rendered useless by it, can make you extend yourself beyond what you would regard as your capacity. If you’re afraid, the blood seems to flow freely through the veins, and you really do feel a sense of stimulation. – Edmund Hillary

It’s Sunday 13 October 2019. I’m sitting in Goring village hall, tucking into a sausage in a bun and talking with my Mum, my brother Greg and my pacer Liam. I’ve just completed the 4th and final race of the Centurion Running 100 mile Grand Slam, the Autumn 100, and endured some pretty testing conditions underfoot and hours of rain. My legs have been hating me since a few hours into the race. I’m knackered but I’m smiling as I am one of 32 runners who have managed to get it done and I now have the coveted Grand Slam buckle.

I find myself saying that I think it’s time to take a break from running such long distances and that “I think I’m done with 100 milers now.” My family wonder if I’ve come to my senses at last. Liam just smiles.

Time passes. After eating everything in sight for a good few days and taking another 2 week break from running post race – which served me well as a recovery tool between the Grand Slam races – I start to think about my next running challenge.

I decide to try running faster and sign up for the Imperial Series of 10 mile races in February and March 2020. I figure it’ll be good to get my legs turning over more quickly and to have a crack at a new 10 mile PB after focusing on long, slow endurance running for most of my training over the last 2 years.

I return to running, struggling for consistency and it gradually dawns on me that my Grand Slam journey has taken much more of a toll on me mentally than I thought it would. I decide to ease myself back into training, not to stress over missing a few runs here and there in the initial weeks. Oh, and a couple of sessions with the excellent osteopath Oliver Curties have (thankfully) confirmed that I don’t have achilles tendonitis and can keep running.

There was still something missing. If you’ve ever worked towards a running goal then once the race is done the post-race blues will probably be familiar to you. In the past I’ve got over these by signing up for another race before completing the race before so I have something to look forward to and focus upon immediately after a short post-race recovery period. Having been solely focused on the Grand Slam since Summer 2018 I hadn’t booked anything else yet. So, what to do next?

I volunteered at the inaugural Copthorne 50k, 50 mile and 100 mile races by Canary Trail Events in late November and spent the morning in the company of my friend Mark Thornberry, fellow Grand Slammer, and Grand Union Canal Run (GUCR145) finisher before helping out at the aid station on this brutal course. One for the future? Certainly. I’m not sure about the 100 miler – 10 loops of the course with over 20,000 feet of climbing along the way – but the 50 miler appeals in the same way as the Wendover Woods 50 miler that I did in 2018.

With the one and only Mark Thornberry at the top of Box Hill in Surrey on a frosty Saturday morning in November. Mark was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer in 2017 and given less than a year to live but he’s still here and paying it forward with his simply incredible fundraising efforts for Kings College Hospital in London. If you can spare a few pounds please donate here to make a difference to others by funding research which will help those suffering with this devastating disease.

The stunning scene that greeted us when we arrived at the top of Box Hill

What race would get me excited and get me training with a glint in my eye again? I seriously considered Mark Cockbain’s 25 hour track 100 miler in October 2020 – after all, even I with my less than stellar navigational skills couldn’t get lost on a track! I looked at the 75 mile Pen Llyn Ultra, a race that looks tough and a potentially wonderful adventure on Welsh trails, as well as thinking about entering my first multi day ultra at the Ring O’Fire around Anglesey and taking on the Jurassic Coast 100. Decisions, decisions!

Then, after meeting up with Rich Cranswick for a coffee and discussing his new races I decided I’d take on the Summer Solent Backyard Ultra in July 2020, a race where participants complete a 4.17 mile trail loop, starting on the hour every hour until there’s only one runner remaining!

That was it. I was set and happy with my choice of race. This would be an opportunity for a 100 mile PB if I managed to stay in the race for at least 24 hours and a good mental test. The track 100 miler would have also been a big, big mental test but the SSBU was local to me and provided the opportunity to run further than 100 miles if I could manage it. Perfect.

Then Goggins intervened….

I was listening to yet another David Goggins interview on my way to work and my mind drifted to the Kennet Avon Canal Race (KACR145). I don’t know why, but as soon as I parked up at work I quickly Googled the race and started to smile. The nervous energy started to build as I reviewed the race information on the website and started to look at race reports!

“As humans, we’re reading books everyday to try to figure out how to be someone else. What we don’t do is go inside, turn ourselves inside out, and read our own story. You have to look inside to find out what you really want.” – David Goggins

Err, hang on a minute … Oh heck! This race scared me. It also excited me. Why the heck couldn’t I run from London to Bristol? 145 miles with a 45 hour cut off. What if I could? I felt an excitement that I hadn’t felt since signing up for the Grand Slam. Could I? Should I?

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Always be asking yourself “what’s next?” While it is very important to be proud of what you do and have accomplished in life, it is more important to keep your mind challenged with a fresh new task at hand. Your mind is always trying to find the easiest way out so once you accomplish a major task, your mind tells you “it’s time to celebrate!” While celebrating is good to do, don’t sit in that celebration for too long! When I asked the young man what was next, he had no answer. Make sure you have an answer for questions about your life. The second you don’t have one, that is time wasted. You don’t find those answers by not asking yourself the appropriate questions. Where do I see myself next year? What do I want to accomplish? What are my weaknesses? Where do I want to be two years from now, etc? It is important to spend time with yourself figuring out what the fuck you want to do and who you want to be. A lot of us have trophies on the shelves, certificates and plaques hanging on the wall or sitting on our desks BUT, make sure to look at the dates you earned these awards and the recognition. If they are more than one or two years old, it means you haven’t done shit since then. Don’t sit back on past accomplishments! A lot of people believe that once greatness is earned it is permanent. That’s bullshit! Once you lay your head on that pillow, you are back to scratch again! Earn greatness everyday! Make sure your list of goals and things you want to get done in your life is one long-ass list that you are continually adding to while crossing things off. An unfocused mind becomes a lazy and undisciplined mind! Once again, I am not saying not to celebrate your accomplishments but I am saying the longer you keep your head up your ass, the less oxygen you have to breathe!

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I thought about it all day at work. Then when I got home I thought about it some more. I couldn’t stop thinking about this race. Having never run further than 103 miles before, the additional miles were daunting. Would I have it in me to finish a race of this distance, almost 50% further than I’d ever run before?

I signed up!

There’s only one way to find out. I have 7 months to get race ready. I’ll either get it done or I’ll gain experience to help me on future races. Win or learn. And I guess I ought to take my own advice as well:

I’m fully expecting to face challenges along the way and am currently working on a training plan to prepare me and enable me to overcome them.

After using TrainAsOne for the last 2 years I’m planning to use the experience gained and insights from Jason Koop’s excellent book Training Essentials for Ultrarunning to put my own training plan together. I did this for my first 100 miler in 2015 and it worked well so I’m keen to have another go now that I know my body and understand my physical and mental capabilities even better.

Onwards.