Things I learnt on a Multi Stage Ultra

Fiona Russell did a great job of summarising her 18 things she learnt whilst blogging for the Cape Wrath Ultra and I thought I would have a go myself.  Here are a few things I learnt whilst on the run…

I took too much food

My spreadsheet of calories and carbs required to get me through running more than a marathon per day for 8 days was, in a word, useless.  I had completely overestimated what I required, and what is possible to eat on 10-14hour days.  Sure it was nice to have a wide selection of food in my running pack, but eating only half of what I had packed started to weigh me down, literally.

Running uphill is easier than downhill

I love going up.  I hate going down.  It hurts.  I was in awe at some folk who could just let themselves go, it is certainly the easier and more efficient way of descending than slammin on the quad and hammy brakes.  The long contractions not a good combination when exhausted and tired.  It was painful and I had to work hard to go down.  Especially the latter days, when my feet and toes would be complaining on every step. However, the ups, were brilliant.  I could run, I could march up.

It’s a head game more than anything

Sure you’ve trained for it, prepared your body, muscles and cardiovasular system for the multiple days of running.  You have completed some back to back runs and you have walked everywhere.  I was prepared.  But Cape Wrath is 30% physical ability, 70% mental ability.  I’m not sure if these % are correct but I felt that the mind game was ever present and as long as you could tell you legs to go one foot in front of the other and to dismiss pain and discomfort then you would make it.  You had to want to do it, it has to mean something to you for you to be able to push your body to do it.  Train your mind for the pain cave and you can acheive anything.

To get through hills our group did the Alphabet – “I’m an ultra runner and on an ultra run I would take… an Apple… a bengal tiger… a Zebra to carry all this shit” This got us up some up hills.  Also thinking about something positive for that day when the day is shit… Day 7 we could only think of 3 things why we were positive that day but 3 is better than none.

I don’t pee as often as I should when I run

It was day 3 and I’d only pee’d twice since Fort William.  I think over the 8 days I pee’d only 9 or 10 times.  Usually in the morning and never at night.  I was slightly worried and earnt the title of “Mr P” from the medical tent.  My P was an OK ish colour and I was drinking lots on the trail, 4-5litres per day and I was drinking in camp too.  I just sweat a lot and clearly didn’t pee a lot.  I also learnt that ultra runners talk about pee and poo quite a lot.

Poles Poles Poles!

I didn’t practice much with poles but I firmly believe that they were essential kit toward the end of the race.  I needed them to rest on, to support me, and to help me charge up the hills.  My arms took some of the weight off my feet and they supported me when I was getting tired.  I was amazed that others didn’t have them – Owain! He was clearly much stronger than I was.  I certainly found them essential.

Soreen is a wonderful snack

I had my first encounter with Soreen when I was Mountain Marathon training.  I decided on a whim and last minute to take some Soreen.  Individual packs, with Chocolate flavour and Apple flavour they became a go to snack.  They were welcome relief from sugary products and also palettable with a dry mouth.

Your body is more resilient than you think

After finishing day 3, 67kms or so, and the previous day’s 11 hour run of 58kms my legs were pretty tired.  I’d be finishing and stiffen up immediately.  The very thought of getting up the next day and running would be furthest from my thoughts.  During the night my legs would ache, and I’d find it uncomfortable to sleep.  Yet when I woke up, the tentativness of getting up from the camp floor, and hobbling to the portaloo and mess tent, subsided to a walk and the ability to put one foot in front of each other got easier.  By the time we were ready to check out for the day, I would be able to jog / run/ shuffle.  Incredible.

Paracetamol works wonders

“You don’t take drugs until day 6” I heard someone say -Ian?.  Thankfully I very rarely pop the pills.  I don’t take ibuprofen as a matter of course on a run but I very rarely take Paracetamol even for headaches at home.  However, the end of day 5 I was starting to struggle with pain.  The pain of my injuries were getting to me.  Also my evening and nights sleeps were disrupted by achy legs.  I decided Day 5 evening that I would take some pain releif so I could sleep.  So I did, and I slept.  From that time, I was taking the maximum dose each day, and trying to keep 6 hours in between dose so that I could maximise pain relief and length of time in that relief.  Without it, I don’t think I would have been able to run on my injured feet.

Running with friends is vital

I’m a pretty solo runner when I train.  Partly as it is easier to run by yourself, you don’t have to rely on meeting times, pace, distance.  You can make it up by yourself with no pressure.  Most of my ultra training was solo.  Going into the race I expected I’d set my own pace and run by myself.  I was surprised by how I fell in with other folk and ran a race with them.  However, as I continued to run, it became clear that without Owain, Ian and Nikki I may not have been able to finish the race.  Our ups and downs as a group came at different times. The comaraderie, support and pep talks were essential for us completing the Ultra.  It became more than just a few runners choosing to run together, we became a group, a collective, friends. I can certainly say that my race wouldn’t have been as fun without these guys, and I thank them emmensely for that.


The ups and downs are real

My god the highs were high.  Singing Lion King on top of a mountain pass, not a care in the world, messing up lyrics, Nikki joining in making an ultra running band on the run, with fabulous scenery and awe inspiring mountains around us it was an amazing feeling. I sing when I’m happy and I was happy then.  Half an hour later, descending the mountain pass that gave me that high, I was questioning my run and why I would be putting myself through exhausion and pain.  I felt a million miles away from that high.


Sometimes you just need to cry

I’ve already blogged that I cried.  Cried like a baby.  I needed it, I needed that release.  Not only was it because at that moment I was in pain but also I was exhausted from 6 days of continuous running, of being in a bubble, of being emotional and building up all those feelings.  I needed a release.  I needed a talking to.  I had fully expected to be emotional crossing the finish line at Cape Wrath but it didn’t come.  Perhaps I had it on Day 6 and hadn’t any more to give and that at Cape Wrath I felt more relief than emotional?

Your perception of injured and what you can run on changes

I was looking at my feet, they were weird.  Two red marks on the big toe metatarsals on both feet.  Swollen, the skin smooth from being stretched.  Unable to bend my toes and with one nail bed red and icky.  My ankles started to swell and red chaff marks on top of my toes from rubbing too much.  Andy’s Ultramail that day said “I’ve been reading about your feet condition (Shin Splints) and the recommendation is Ice and Rest – how is that working out for you?”.  I laughed and thought, that ordinarily I would be really shocked and worried that I may never run again with feet like that.  Except I would need to run again, 68kms infact, and then the next day 57kms and the next day 26km!  Was I mad? Would I be doing permanent damage? I didn’t care because I had to get to Cape Wrath.


Never underestimate the power of support

The support of my new found trail friends was great but getting support from home was also powerful.  The Ultramail service was invaluable. Getting short messages from home, where someone took time to log in and write a message that was personal and encouraging really helped.  They would be delivered when we were in camp and I looked forward to receiving them and reading the messages.  Although signal was more prevalent than expected, and access to social media did occur, these ultra mails were still required.  The bubble that is Cape Wrath would have been harder without that outside link.  This one from my Brother made me laugh! 🙂 img_1639

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