Monday, January 4, 2016

Run Until You Drop?

“Fancy a 28 mile Ultra?”

Pah I hear you say - “I wouldn't get out of bed for an ‘ultra’ that short.”

“How about a 28 mile Ultra after a 27 mile Ultra the day before?”

“That's just a decent back to back” I hear you say.

“What about a 28 mile Ultra after a 27 mile Ultra after a 26 mile run the day before that?”

“Can we just cut out this mythical conversation and get on with the article?” I hear you say.

OK, OK - for those who didn't see the social media event organised this year by Paul Ali and James Adams the idea is quite simple.  Run 1 mile on February 1st, 2 miles on February 2nd and keep adding a mile a day until the end of the month.  You don't have to run the mileage all in one go - just get it done in that 24 hour period.

It all sounds quite simple and not too difficult until you do the maths. The first week isn't too bad, a low mileage week of 28 miles but after that it stops being easy. Week 2 is 77 miles, Week 3 126 miles and the final week a whopping 175 miles. There aren't many top ultrarunners doing weekly mileage like that and it was certainly well above anything I’d done. 2016 is a Leap Year so if you're planning on doing it you’ll get an extra 29 mile day at the end.

So what was like? In a word ‘consuming’. The first week was fine - I knew all my local routes and I didn't do much more than my local commuting runs but after that it all changed.  I spent an inordinate amount of time each day planning when, where and how I’d fit in the required miles.  By the 3rd week it became THE thing I thought about.Any spare idle moments were overtaken by “I wonder how far it is from X to Y” or “I wonder if I can squeeze a few miles in at lunch time.”

Finding the time became a challenge in itself and the alarm clock started getting set earlier and earlier. I spent somewhere in the region of 60 hours running in February.On some days I’d misjudge a route and have to go out to ‘bag’ an extra mile or two here and there.  If all you had to do each day was run then the challenge might not be too hard but fitting it all in around work and a family life became difficult. How many of us regularly run a half marathon or more before a day in the office and then go for another longish run straight after work?

I guess I was lucky in that I didn't pick up any twinges until the 2nd day of week 4. Only 5 days to go - I could tough this out. It was then I worked out I still had 130 miles to go. Luckily the twinge didn't get too much worse - many others weren't so lucky and had to drop.

So was it worth it? I think so. As base training goes it was great. Lots and lots of very slow miles, 420 in fact. Off the back of it I ran a sub-20 hour 100 miler later in the year, something I couldn’t have done before the challenge. It also built my mental strength in a big way. There were lots of days when I just didn't feel like running, or running again. Going out and doing it anyway proved something to myself. When I’ve found myself in dark places mentally since I think back to February and remind myself it’s not as s*@t some of those dark mornings in February.

That might not sound like the best sell for the event but I’d do it again. Being in a full time job I couldn't have done another week but given the opportunity I’d love to see how many days I could reach - injury free I reckon I might make 50 or 60. So if you find yourself at a loose end or 29 in February why not see if you can run until you drop?

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