Let’s face it: marathons are so last year, right? And seriously, why should the fun stop at 42 km? When you run somewhere, you just run somewhere, no matter how far it is. You just want to reach your destination, whatever the distance.
The thing is, I didn’t know that ultra running even existed until a few months ago. I grew up in the countryside, and running up and down the hills (especially walking up, and running down in my case) all day long was what you’d do. As it turns out, this activity has a name: it is called ultra-running. I didn’t know. It made me wonder where I had been. Probably working, and bringing up my kids as best as I could. Anyway, we are where we are, no need to dwell on the past.
Granted, I will never be a champion. But it doesn’t mean that I can’t be a fun runner!
So here I am, at the starting line of the Thames Path Challenge in Bishop’s Park, Fulham, wondering whether I will make it in one piece at the finish line, in 50km. Why do I love running? I have no idea, but I believe that it has something to do with the fact that when I run, I can’t think of anything else, I just have to carry on. And for once my priority is, well, me. Just me. Pure bliss!
Everybody thought I was mad. Because I happen to be 42 (almost 43 if you must know), I was told (in no particular order) that I would hurt myself and especially my knees, that I wasn’t ready, that I should run a few marathons before (I didn’t), that I was addicted to running, and so on, and so forth. So here is a newsflash for everybody: I am fine, thank you very much.
In case you absolutely need numbers, here it is: I finished in a little bit over 5 hours 35 mins (including breaks). I am pleased to report that I didn’t injure myself and that despite the fact that my legs still feel a bit stiff I really enjoyed the whole experience. So what did I learn during the process?
- If you want to run an ultra, well, just do it. No need to listen to all the well-meaning friends and colleagues who have probably never done it before. Go for it. Whatever happens, I guarantee that you will learn something about yourself.
- You will walk quite a fair bit, and it’s completely alright. As for me, the first 30k felt like my Sunday morning long run. The last 20k were, well, slightly more challenging! I also made up this rule that I was allowed to walk on the road and on concrete. The whole point of an ultra is to run on a trail anyway! What can I say? I am becoming picky.
- You talk to other participants. This is because you spend long stretches running on your own, and it is nice to walk or run with someone for a while. You will make friends of all ages, because ultras appeal to a broad range of people.
- The buffets at the stops are great. A bit too great, if you ask me: I was always going for second or third helpings of cakes. No wonder I always wanted to stay a bit longer.
- It’s not about a time, it’s about finishing the challenge. The time will take care of itself. And everybody knows what a good time for a marathon is, but nobody has a clue for ultras anyway.
- You are never 100% ready. I certainly wasn’t. That said, I am pleased to have achieved my target, because I know where I need to improve. You see, I am still a work in progress. Yes, even at my ripe age. Running an ultra is a humbling experience.
- Of course you need to be prepared. But it’s also about not giving up.
- You will be extremely thirsty. So much that the orange squash at the station will feel like heaven on earth. Unbelievable.
- Everybody talks about blisters and the likes, but in fact, you will also have rashes in places you didn’t even know existed. Enough said.
- Of course you will almost collapse at the finishing line, but you will want to do even more. This is because the joy of finishing is far greater than the pain of enduring. You will start thinking of a longer distance. Or maybe a multiday event. That’s just the way it goes, you can’t fight it. And I am afraid I am no exception. Watch this space.