Name a source of ultra-marathon information and I’ll bet that I’ve consulted it in recent months. Common advice amongst them all: it’s all in the mind. For that reason, at 9pm the night before the Wendover Woods 50, sitting in my hotel room I’m trying to think only positive thoughts. I settle on three main points to repeat to myself:
1. You’ve run this distance before; you’ve got this
2. This isn’t a 10k – stay calm, run slow and take it easy; no problem
3. Yes it’s hilly, but you’ve recce-run the course, run cross country and done laps of Hampstead Heath; how hard can this be?
17 seconds after arriving at registration and I can’t remember a single positive thought. Look how athletic that guy looks! Check out the gear this bloke has on! Wow, he’s warming up for an ultra?! How fit must he be to feel he can spend any energy on warming up?!
I try to pull myself together...
"10 seconds...”; don’t race these guys, come on, stick to your plan... “5, 4, 3…”; yeah, that’s right, you’ve done this distance before, don’t panic... “2, 1, GO!”
... HOLY COW, I thought this was an ultra, these guys are sprinting! Reign it in, you’ll pass half these guys when they tank later on. Stay calm, run slow and don’t worry about… OOO, a sub-5 minute kilometre for the 6th KM… and it felt super easy… maybe you can race this… sure, it was all downhill, and… yes, you’ve still got ~75km to go but… NO. Stay calm. Who are you kidding?!
A wall-like hill and a km-split of almost double the one proceeding it and I’m back down to earth.
The course is 5 laps of a 10 mile loop and the first 2 laps pass without too much trouble. It’s a lovely day, I’m in beautiful surroundings and the aid stations are essentially a picnic every hour – what’s all the fuss about? Everyone should run an ultra!
After dallying at an aid station I lose touch of the runners I was tailing. I spend the next hour or so completely alone. As a result, lap 3, all 100 minutes of it, are torturous: You’re not even half way; you’ve gone off too quick; people will come flooding past you soon; the leaders will be lapping you any minute; why did you ever think you could run 50 miles?
Starting lap 4 I’m a new man. 2 laps left? That’s nothing. Channelling the oft-aired Hoopster motto half way through a track session: it’s all downhill from here.
Except it isn’t. Lap 5 sees the return of negativity: 10 more miles?! How can there possibly be 10 more miles?! Oh, this hill. This is the worst hill. By now, the paths are churned up making the impossible hills all the more incomprehensible. Daylight is fading and like a top-class ultra-rookie I decide that the 30 second pause required to grab my head-torch is not worth it. Countless trip-ups later, and a growing sense that a lack of visibility might result in a slower running pace, I cave. The tunnel-vision of following a beam of light allows me to re-focus… that and your fiancée (and all important ride home) calling to ask: “will you be much longer?”
You’ve come this far, you might as well throw all hell at what’s left.
Running: It’s all in the mind.
“Now if you are going to win any battle you have to do one thing. You have to make the mind run the body. Never let the body tell the mind what to do. The body will always give up. It is always tired morning, noon, and night. But the body is never tired if the mind is not tired. When you were younger the mind could make you dance all night, and the body was never tired... You've always got to make the mind take over and keep going.” ― George S. Patton Jr.