This article with written for and published in Ultrarunning World.
Impulsiveness: a tendency to act on a whim, displaying behaviour characterised by little or no forethought, reflection, or consideration of the consequences.
That accurately sums up every running challenge I’ve set myself.
I can’t overstate how much I never thought I’d run any sort of long-distance, never mind an ultra-event, but an impulsive nature can get you into all sorts of situations. My first 10km, I immediately said yes over dinner when a friend asked if anyone was interested. My first marathon, I declared myself ‘in’ to an entire WhatsApp group after a few in the pub. D33 Ultra in Aberdeen, all it took was a casual morning run with my friend, Caroline. She floated the idea to me and by 10km we had committed to our first ultra together.
As the pandemic hit in March 2020, my longest distance was twenty miles in preparation for the Paris marathon, so to run 33 miles one year later felt surreal. However, with the D33 canceled due to you-know-what, I wasn’t in Aberdeen, but toeing a makeshift start line in Edinburgh. The time was 7am, I was holding some balloons, a sign etched with ’33 to go’ and ready to be waved off by both my family…and my training partner Caroline.
Things hadn’t gone to plan at all for my first encounter with the ultra world. I was now running a new route on a different date with no official event and without my training buddy. However, I learned a lot about myself through training and running the event I rebranded my ‘Edinburgh Lockdown 33 race’.
The big lessons
It’s time to figure out my ‘why’
External factors are undoubtedly what makes organised events special. Visualising crossing a finish line or adorning a medal helps on those long training runs. But with events off of the cards, I needed another focus to keep my training in check. I had to evaluate why I run and use that as my motivation.
Before the ultra, I didn’t really know why I ran, I just did. Looking a little deeper, I realised that I love pushing myself further than I ever thought I could, not only when it comes to the number of miles, but in other aspects of my life.
It’s taught me the discipline I need to show up for myself and how to achieve targets only I can hold myself accountable for. I’ve also learned the art of consistency and patience. It’s not something I’m great at in a world of constant multi-tasking and the expectation of quick results. ‘Slow and steady’ was a lost concept on me until I saw my incremental progress each week. Ultimately, what I loved about my training was realising that it can’t be cheated. The results were a direct reflection of the work. I couldn’t get faster or fitter without showing up. It felt pure, something that I was in complete control of, and I loved that.
Now, my why isn’t only the foundation of what motivates me to finish a race, it’s what gets me out the door and helps hone skills I need when handling other parts of my life.
Training in difficult weather can be fun (honest)
Some winter mornings were perfect. The sun would peek over the horizon, shining its orangey glow on my face as the frost thawed. I’d be high on life, mentally patting myself on the back as I ran along the promenades of Portobello getting the miles in.
Other days were awful.
My alarm would sound, roof slates rattling above me from gale-force winds. I’d pull the covers over my head and try to convince myself that going out was a terrible idea. 20 minutes later I’d begrudgingly get up, pull on my gear and mentally prepare to get my ass-kicked for four hours by Scotland’s unique ability to combine rain, snow, wind and sun into its own unrelenting weather Megazord. However, this winter I learned that bad weather training really isn’t that bad at all. It’s actually really fun.
One of my most enjoyable runs was a 16-mile trek through puddles and mud, in the driving rain with gusts of piercingly cold wind. My friend (who I’d met on a bit of running ‘blind date’ a few weeks before) and I got lost twice, dealt with closed paths, collapsed bridges and diversions. Our feet were soaked and faces ice cold, but I absolutely loved it! The weather was awful, but it was barely a thought in my mind as we shared our life stories and got to know each other more. Every hurdle simply another chapter in our morning adventure. The company and obstacles made the morning more exciting than some of my perfect weather runs. When we finished, I was so cold I couldn’t feel my hands to open my front door, but it was worth every soggy step.
Imperfect conditions do not mean a run will be bad. Embrace them. Get up, run whatever the weather and bring good company.
Ask your community for help
At every setback in life we can either give up or crack on. The D33 was canceled, not something I was surprised about, but the big hitch was Caroline having to pull out five days before running the distance locally. She got sick and continuing wasn’t an option. At this point I had a mild panic, not only because our plans were up in the air, but because I was worried about her health.
Caroline was determined to support me, and I her. After lots of conversation, we decided I would run the distance and she will do her 33 miles later this year. With no support in place, I reached out to my local running community and Instagram friends for help. The response was overwhelming. When plotting the route, I arranged for runners to join me at different locations. I even had another running ‘blind date’ with an Instagram follower who joined me for 26.2 miles to complete her own marathon! There was a support team WhatsApp group, people online were leaving me comments of encouragement and my friends were dotted around the course with signs and snacks.
My panic turned into excitement and it was all down to the kindness of the running community, both on and offline. In all honesty, the uniqueness of the day made me enjoy it so much more than I ever thought I would.
Since starting to run, I’ve only ever come across people who want to lift others up and help out. Event support, kit advice, motivation techniques. Whatever it is, if in doubt, ask about it. There is a community there to help you along the way.
The Littles lessons
Not everything in my journey was as deep or detailed as the above, but it was still equally important, such as:
- Carry a spare pair of socks. I changed my socks at mile 18 once, it was a game-changer.
- Have backup headphones with a wire. When the wireless pair run out halfway through, it’s not fun.
- Always give the unspoken nod or a passing ‘hello’ to fellow runners. It can be a real mood booster when you’re in a bad headspace.
- End your run at the front door of the local bakery.
So, will I do something longer in the future? Now I know what my body can do, a multi-day running event is seriously tempting. The foundation of my ‘why’ is the same, but the boundaries are different now. They’re even more exciting.
My impulsive nature tells me this won’t be the end…