Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Money in Ultra Running - Cool Move or Fool Move?

Ok, so if there was a talk show about Ultra running, with the host perhaps being a figurehead of the UK 'scene', and various panellists, what would they have to say about the following question: 'Money in Ultra Running: Cool Move or Fool Move?'

Well, why would that question even need to be asked in the first place? More to the point, who would have a right to say one way or the other? Of course everyone would be entitled to share their opinions, but what do we mean by 'Ultra running' as a thing? Are we talking about official races? Do all races count? Is anyone in charge of ultra running? Does anyone own ultra running?

Prize Money

If we're talking prize money, that's hardly a new thing. Way, way back in the late 1920s Charles C. Pyle, America's first sports agent, offered a colossal $25,000 (a serious, or should I say stupid, amount of money back then) for the winner of the 'Bunion Derby'; a footrace across America he had organised. There was plenty more prize money on offer besides and some of the leading runners of the day jumped at the chance of a big payday for this endeavour that many would attempt in years to come, including by far the most famous instance of a run across the States'; that infamous journey immortalised in James Adams' 'Running and Stuff: the Book' (available from Amazon.)

A book was also written about this great race; a book that Adams himself rates very highly, and I won't spoil it by revealing any more about the events that unfolded. However, it would seem that prize money has not always been on offer, as in recent years when there has been talk of different races offering prize purses it has been said that this will attract more of the top runners who are battling hard to be able to make the sport they love their profession.

I guess if we are talking about prize money then this will only have a direct impact on those at the sharp end of the field. If I was to enter the Petzl South Downs Way 100, for instance, there wouldn't be a cheque with my name on it for the win unless there was an absolutely unprecedented number of drop-outs amongst the top runners, equating to basically probably the whole top third of the field. However, if prize purses increase for races throughout the world then we are likely to not only see more of the top runners entering these races, but some who are yet to give ultra running a try could be tempted, which would be extremely exciting for 'the fans.' In contrast to many sports, the fans of ultra running are very often lining up on the same start line as those who make it a sport that even has fans. If there were significant prize purses available at races like Western States, UTMB and West Highland Way Race would we start to see an influx of African runners? Would this be good for the sport?

Unfortunately, there is a commonly held, and probably sadly true theory that an increase of prize money into the sport would see a few cases of doping. What would be the impact on ultra running if there was ample prize money on offer, a top athlete came over to the West Highland Way Race and set a phenomenal new course record, described as 'game changing' by the hype men, but then it turned out he'd done so with the aid of performance enhancing drugs? Would you trust again that any incredible feat of ultra running was done without the aid of doping? Would it call into question any of the previous feats that had been achieved? Would Kilian's Hardrock 100 course record have people scoffing "Hardrock 100? More like 'Hard Drug 100'? Would Kyle Skaggs' record before that have people saying......actually, never mind!


Throwing money at it

So if we're not talking about prize money, and all that may bring, good and bad, are we talking about a kind of commercialisation of the sport? Well, nowadays there is a lot of expensive kit out there - Garmins, poles, shoes, tracking devices, compression clothing, jackets that can keep out arctic winds, buffs that double up as toilet paper.....oh no, that was just a bit of mid-race resourcefulness from someone who later became a successful spartathlete. So yeah, there are lots of companies trying to jump on the back of ultra running and make money, but why wouldn't they? Ultra running has become more popular in recent years, perhaps due to social media and books by Dean Karnazes and Chris McDougall making it more widely known, and through word of mouth. Everyone needs to make money; this is not a communist society in which we live, and so adequate housing, food, clothing etc. are not seen as basic human rights that need to be met by the government; they need to be earned. Therefore if a company designs and markets running shoes for money then of course they're going to say that their shoes are the best. To do otherwise would mean there was no point in making the shoes in the first place.

For me, Henk Van Der Beek put it better than I ever could at Caesar's Camp in his pre-race briefing, saying "I'm old skool. All you need is a bottle." It's nice to have the option of all the kit that is now available, but very little of it is actually essential. Basically as long as you can stay hydrated, eat when you need to, dress for the weather conditions you are presented with and have shoes that work well for you (or no shoes if that's your thing) then you don't actually NEED anything else. Companies are going to try and make money, but no-one is forcing you to buy their products. Some races have specific kit requirements, but if your opposition to buying the required kit is stronger than your desire to enter the race then there are plenty of other races out there, or the nature of the ultra running community means that if you wanted to have a solo attempt at a route you'd almost certainly find a willing support crew.

Can someone buy their way into ultra running success? When I was part of the twitching scene back in my teenage years, there would be an annual year-listing endeavour, where some people would try and see as many different species of bird in the UK as possible within a year. Those at the advantage would usually be the ones with the most money and the most flexible working hours. There are only so many birds that are resident, or part-time resident, in the UK, and so in order to achieve the highest total you have to see as many of the rarities (those that end up here by accident) as possible. Naturally, someone who can afford £600 to fly to Shetland at the drop of the hat for a bird blown off course from Siberia on migration is better placed than someone who can barely afford £60 for the petrol to drive to Yorkshire and back for a similar occurrence. Also, someone who is stuck at work all week for a 9 to 5 job can only claim a stomach bug so many times to dash off to Cornwall for an American vagrant that turns up (possibly in disguise nowadays, as it's harder to pull a sickie convincingly since the advent of social media), and so is less likely to get to as many rare birds as someone who can pretty much choose their own hours. But does this happen in ultra running? Well, I guess in theory if someone can choose their own hours they can train whenever they want, but time is money for the self-employed, and so really this is only a big advantage if somebody has sponsorship and can afford the time to train more. Again, to get significant sponsorship you have to be a pretty good runner in the first place, and so money in itself is not an advantage. Also, someone with more money can afford to run events like Marathon des Sables, but does that make them a better runner? Are they more likely to win prize money on offer at different races? I'd say not. You can't throw money at ultra running and achieve spectacular results; really it's only a significant advantage if you're already a very talented runner. If someone wins the lottery and spends a lot of the free time their money allows training then perhaps they could get to a higher level than they ordinarily would, but would they become one of the best if they didn't already have it in them? There are more ingredients than money that are required to get to the sharp end of the field.


Sponsorship and Media Coverage

So if we're not talking about prize money or money in general, what about sponsorship? Some ultra runners are now sponsored so they can pretty much become professional runners. What benefit does the occupation of professional runner have for others? Well, on the face of it not a whole heap, but people are inspired by the performances of these top athletes, and if that helps to lead people out of unhealthy lifestyles, and the subsequent endorphin highs lead these people to be more focused, more balanced and more determined to make good of their lives then how can that be a bad thing? It's about more than entertainment; the inspiration of top runners can actually lead to big changes in peoples' lives. It doesn't always, but there are many who have turned their lives around after discovering ultra running, and for that to happen there needs to be a certain degree of coverage afforded to it, and performances to inspire. These performances don't just come from those at the top of the field, but people who overcame the odds to run ultras, although often these can be one and the same; a number of top ultra runners have had challenging backgrounds.

So, sponsorship of races - is this a good thing or a bad thing? Well, if it allows races to continue taking place then surely it's a good thing, right? Mind you, does it matter where the money comes from? There are events such as the Hoka Highland Fling and the Petzl South Downs Way 100 that are sponsored by companies with a clear link to ultra running, but there was a degree of bemusement in the ultra running community with the announcement of the Carphone Warehouse Race to the Stones. What have Carphone Warehouse got to do with ultras? Does this mean there will be people at the race in phone costumes trying to get you to sign up to a contract? Surely that's not what we'd want. Also, in a world in which the Olympic games are sponsored by McDonalds (a bizarre juxtaposition if ever I saw one) are we going to see the KFC West Highland Way Race or the Benson & Hedges Viking Way Ultra one day? (B&H used to sponsor cricket after all!) Despite the amount of junk food guzzled by the average ultra runner during a race, surely there is some responsibility to be promoting a healthy lifestyle, as running is part of this in the first place. People who run across America, such as James Adams and Dean Karnazes have not been shy about their love of a good McDonalds meal, and I have to admit that during the Oner I guzzled more coke than the average person who guzzles quite a lot of it guzzles in a week (possibly!) Is it hypocritical of me to be against any company that is promoting unhealthy habits to sponsor an ultra race? It probably is, but that doesn't mean I can't still know what's right. Personally I'd like to see sponsorship of races staying relevant to the sport. If it becomes impossible to put races on without taking Big Bad Ronald McDonald's money then does something need to change? With the ever-increasing popularity of ultra running it's likely that there will be ever higher numbers of people wanting to do these races. It's already getting to the point where it's difficult to get a place in several of the Centurion 100 milers, and I can only see this going one way. It would be hard to increase the size of the field massively, as you simply couldn't have 3,000 people running en masse along the South Downs Way - there would be huge queues at the aid stations, masses of disgruntled dog walkers and of course more potential for littering and peldrigude-like behaviour from agitated runners who are being prevented from achieving a sub 24 hour time by the congestion up ahead. What are the alternatives? Many popular races inevitably decide the fairest way is a lottery system. You can always volunteer and get a free place for some races, but there is a limit to how many people can do this.

So the increase in popularity of ultra running means a number of races are getting harder to get a place in. The increased popularity of the sport, partly, has led to the emergence of social ultras, which are yet another indication of all that is splendid about the ultra running community. But what is the ultra running community? There are a number of related groups on facebook that already do or are soon to have their own merchandise, but what makes you a part of the ultra running community? Do you have to attend a certain number of races? Do you have to volunteer at them most weekends you're not racing? Do you have to know a certain person, or have read..... actually, never mind! For me, if you enjoy ultras then you are part of the ultra running community, but there has been a certain indication recently that some of those who have been part of the scene for years are a little disgruntled by those who are new to the sport coming along and not having served their apprenticeships, just signing up for a 100 miler without spending years building up to it and buying all the kit but having no idea what it's really for. The same thing used to happen in twitching, and those who'd been part of it for years would get disgruntled, but this is pretty much down to human beings not liking change. Ultra running is changing, and yet it isn't. Ultra running in itself is still exactly the same as it always was. It is simply running further than a marathon. For the reasons I've outlined, I'd say money in ultra running is a cool move; if the ultra running 'scene' becomes too commercial there will always be lower key races that you can go to; races that will be untarnished by commercialism. What sayeth thou?




If you want to read about a series of fool moves interspersed with cool moves, which is essentially what life is, then I wrote this tome about the significant cool moves and fool moves in my life, and about how running changed everything. One of the coolest moves was to get into ultra running, one of the biggest fool moves was almost ruining my health to the point where I couldn't run at all through addictions. You quite possibly know all this already, but there are copies available via this link for anyone who is interested.....

http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Everything-Will-Work-Out-in-the-Long-Run-signed-personalised-copy-Dave-Urwin-/251664671472?pt=Non_Fiction&hash=item3a986222f0



Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Lessons learnt from Born to Run

 
 
After seeing a post on the Ultra running Community forum and thinking about the events of the past few years, I thought it was time to revisit Born to Run, as in the book by Christopher MacDougall. If you've not read it and you run ultras then you followed a different path into ultra running than I did. Before I read it I thought that ultra running was just something a select band of people with far too much time on their hands did when they got bored of running marathons. I was right. However, reading 'Born to Run' made me want to become one of those people, and made me believe that I could. Well, in a roundabout kinda way. It planted the seed of ultra running in my head, and did so in an impossibly entertaining way. I awkwardly glance around the room now when I think of how I was in the months following my reading of this book. Basically I would tell anyone who would listen, and probably many who wouldn't, that the Tarahumara were living the life we all should be living, and that there's this incredible thing called Ultra Running going on in the world without many of us knowing about it. Come on, you need to hear about this, people. Basically I was evangelising, and 'Born to Run' was my bible. When the initial excitement subsided and I got to know more about the sport I learnt that there was a fair amount of hyperbole going on in that book, and that the picture painted of the life of the Tarahumara didn't quite match the reality. The reality was in fact closer to that I'd already learnt of first-hand during my travels in South Africa; that their traditional way of life is under threat now they're learning how life is in the first world and wanting a piece of the 'action.' Many of us westerners believe that their humble existence is far superior to our vacuous, technology-driven way of modern life, and many of them believe that our vacuous, technology-driven way of modern life is new and exciting, and something to be strived for. I guess it could be said that there are pluses to our way of life and the Tarahumara's way of life. If I had to pick sides I'd say I'll have their day to day life but in a woodland glade on Exmoor or a leafy lane on the Isles of Scilly rather than the Copper Canyons.....and perhaps with the odd hot shower, and a washing machine.
 
 
 
So what is my point? Well, ultra running is awesome, but essentially it's people running from one place to another. When you look a little closer there is a story behind everyone's run from one place to another, and what led them there, but ultimately it doesn't make motorway service stations prepare wholesome, nutritious and affordable food. It doesn't stop politicians from lying. It doesn't stop pharmaceutical companies from making billions from highly questionable drugs, many of which may be doing more harm than good. Once you remember that you can forget what ultra running isn't and celebrate what it is. If someone doesn't 'get' ultra running then they're not going to, no matter what you say, unless they give it a go, and are willing to push through the pain barrier to discover the unparalleled beauty of the colossal endorphin high. Gimme a truckload of 70s LSD and it wouldn't come anywhere near the feeling I have experienced during the latter stages of an ultra run. That feeling of having gone way beyond my perceived limitations, come out the other side and seen the world through unweary, idealistic and tranquil eyes. There are such parallels for life in ultra running. The late Caballo Blanco said that the way to get through life is to have faith in something, and that's the same way to get through an ultra. He wasn't wrong. What ultra running has taught me is that I am capable of enduring a whole heap more pain than I thought I was. At first I felt I could only apply this to ultra running, and not to daily life, but when I think about the person I was three years ago and the person I am now it becomes clear what a difference the running has made. What I gained from ultra running also ultimately led to me getting to know God, but that's a different story for another day (and a few tens of thousand more words.)
 
 
What are my final thoughts on the matter? Well, I could talk about this all day, but I recently spoke to Toni Bernado, the national marathon record holder of Andorra, who shared Emil Zatopek's famous quote "If you want to run, run a mile if you want to experience a different life, run a marathon"may I add to that "If the different life you experience from a marathon isn't quite different enough, run an ultra." The messages of Born to Run (not the barefoot running thing, the messages about what ultra running can do for you) are all true as far as I'm concerned. Maybe there was a lot of journalistic license used, but if there hadn't been then maybe it wouldn't have blown my mind quite so much at a time when my mind really needed a shake-up, and I'm sure this is true for many others as well. Ultra running is getting more and more popular all the time, and that can't be a bad thing. No-one owns ultra running; we live in a capitalist society, but ours is a communist sport and always will be, so to speak.
 
 
 
*Signed copies of my book 'Everything Will Work Out in the Long Run' are available - am currently running a special promotion whereby a certain number of copies will be FREE POSTAGE (UK only sadly - rest of world has a postage charge). To get hold of a copy please follow this link.......  http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Everything-Will-Work-Out-in-the-Long-Run-signed-personalised-copy-Dave-Urwin-/251664671472?pt=Non_Fiction&hash=item3a986222f0 *

Thursday, 25 September 2014

My name is Dave Urwin and I am the marathon champion of Nauru


My name is Dave Urwin and I am the marathon champion of Nauru

Ok, so I can guess what a number of you may be thinking. Of course there will always be a few clever folks around who know exactly what and where Nauru is, but I’m guessing a lot of you are thinking something along the lines of “Nauru?? Where’s that???”

That’s certainly what I thought when I learnt of a man named Karl Hartman running a 3:48:06 marathon there on an unknown date way back in 1968, some fourteen years before I was even born. Little did I know, when I ran my first sub 4 marathon at the New Forest in 2012, I ran through sustained moderate rain and dodged New Forest ponies that thought it was a game to finish in 3:47:38, that I was conquering an island country in Micronesia in the South Pacific. That’s right. Nobody from that nation has run a marathon in less than 3 hours and 48 minutes in over 40 years since the day Karl Hartman smashed it. According to that source of all accurate and trustworthy information, Wikipedia, the island is 21km squared (half a marathon squared) in size, and so I’m guessing running a marathon there involves taking in a fair bit of the nation. It is a small country, and how many people actually run marathons there? I don’t know, but I do know that if I was to gain citizenship then my 3:36:02 at 2013’s North Dorset Village Marathon would be the national record by a colossal twelve minutes. What’s more, I know that performance doesn’t represent the best I am capable of by some way. I have never trained specifically for a marathon; both of my best efforts to date came at a time when I was either training for or recovering from an ultra, and I didn’t go into either knowing I was aiming for the best time I could possibly achieve having trained long and hard to do just that. If I was to really go for it could I set an unassailable Nauru marathon record? Quite possibly not; it’s entirely likely that if somebody was to turn up there and brag about being the new Nauru marathon champion then many of the locals would feel indignation and try and take his crown. Would they? Or would they think “We are from Nauru, we have the threat of potential catastrophes from a rising sea level, the threat of a major unemployment crisis ahead of us and all kinds of things that give us no time for trivialities like marathon running”? Well actually, looking at nations that have levels of national strife almost incomprehensible to us in ‘broken’ Britain, Waheed Karim of Afghanistan managed a 2:28:46 in the USA in 1990, and Sadoun Nasir of Iraq ran a hugely respectable 2:21:54 in Baghdad back in 1982. Couldn’t somebody from Nauru have popped over to London one year to post a sub 3? Surely the London Marathon organisers would have been in favour of giving financial backing to help somebody set a new marathon record for this nation?

 

So why is it that nobody from Nauru has beaten Karl Hartman’s time? Surely people from there must have run marathons since. It has to be down to the population, right? Well Nauru has a population of around 11-and-a-half-thousand. Ok, so that explains it…..or does it? Russia has a population of around 143 milllion, and yet the fastest time recorded from anyone of Russian origin is Aleksey Sokolov’s 2:09:07 at 2007’s Dublin Marathon, whilst people from the relatively tiny European nations of Belgium, Italy and even Moldova have run faster marathons than that! Yes, Moldova, with its population of 3.6 million, has produced a 2:08 marathoner -  Jaroslav Mushinschi did that at Dusseldorf in 2010. I could go on, and I will – China has a population of comfortably over 1 billion, and yet the fastest marathon anyone from there has produced was 2:08:15. This may be 16 seconds faster than the Moldovan effort, but lowly Bahrain, with its population of 1.3 million, has produced an athlete capable of a 2:06:43. Yes, Shumi Dechasa produced that stunning effort in Hamburg, Germany this very year.

 

So population has nothing to do with it. It must simply be because Nauru doesn’t produce good athletes. Right??.....NONSENSE!!!! Who has run the fastest over 100 metres and 200 metres since records began? Jamaica’s Usain Bolt. Which nation always wins the 4x100 metre relay? Jamaica. That Caribbean island produces sprinters who dominate the world stage…..and yet the fastest marathon run by anyone from that nation is Derrick Adamson’s pedestrian effort of 2:16:39 way back in 1984 over in Philadelphia, USA. If Jamaica produces such incredible athletes then Adamson, with a time like that, must have had time to get in one little fight during the race, after which his mum got scared and told him he was moving with his Auntie and Uncle in Bel Air once he’d finished….well at least that would explain it if the marathon took place in West Philadelphia. 2:16:39??? For that to happen surely he’d have had to do some chilling out, relaxing and maxing all cool and shooting some b-ball upside of the school around mile 24? Or could it just be because a nation producing great athletes doesn’t necessarily equate to there being brilliant marathoners? Well let me ask you, can anyone name me a world-beating Kazakhstani athlete? No? Then how did Nikolay Penzin, from that very nation, run a 2:11:59 in Prague back in 1978? A time that would still be a Jamaican national record by nearly 5 minutes today if anyone from Jamaica was to run it?

 

So there you have it. The level of national strife, size of the population and athletic pedigree of a nation have absolutely no bearing on the potential for that place to produce excellent marathon runners. What does this prove?

 

My national marathon record for Nauru, if I was to gain citizenship, would be pretty solid! ; )
 
 
The moment I broke the national marathon record of Nauru!
 

 

 

If you wish to order a signed copy of my book ‘Everything Will Work Out in the Long Run’ , which sadly contains no other fascinating facts about national marathon records from around the world, but contains the story of how I battled addictions and their horrific aftermath to become the marathon champion of Nauru, then you can order one from this link……
 

Sunday, 7 September 2014

When a marathon is half-empty or half-full

Bonjour! Well, let's start with the facts. This weekend, over the course of two races, I ran 39.3 miles at an average overall of around 9.31 per mile. This may have been quicker, but for a massive falling apart in Saturday's marathon at around mile 17 that I didn't really recover from for the rest of the race (although the sprint finish I managed indicates that there may have been a psychological element involved.) I'd last run Somerset Levels and Moors Marathon on my 30th birthday in 2011, so I knew roughly what to expect, although the passage of time had allowed me to forget just how brutal the hills at mile 19 and mile 24 (roughly) were. A mile or so before the first hill, after an uncomplicated steady run, almost stride for stride with my brother Joe, something changed in an instant. I have a number of theories on why this may have been. Looking at it holistically, I'd done very few long runs this year, hadn't had a brilliant amount of sleep in a long time, my diet could have been better of late, I may not have been too well hydrated (partly because a lot of my water went over my head rather than down my throat) and psychologically I may have known there was a big hill climb coming, and that I wouldn't be able to sustain the same pace going up it. During the first half of the race I'd seen a man head-butted by a horse (he was fine, just a little confused for a moment or two!), and had nearly lost my footing once or twice running through a potato field. Aside from that though, nothing especially out of the ordinary had happened and I'd enjoyed a comfortable run through stunning scenery with great company. When the low point came it marked the start of a deterioration that just didn't lift. If this had been an ultra race then perhaps in another few miles I would have felt better again after getting plenty of fuel on board and having slowed my pace for a while, but seeing as it was a marathon I just wanted to get to the finish as quickly as possible. It turns out this wasn't very quickly. It made me think of one of the standard "If you've done 100 miles this'll be a walk in the park for you" comments I'd overheard before the start between other runners. I'd commented at the time that in some ways a marathon is more difficult than a long ultra, because during a marathon there's an expectation that it should be one constant effort rather than being broken up into sections. If I had been on a long ultra I'd have taken time at the aid stations to properly refuel, but during this race I tried to just take on a little liquid, then take some for the road, not stopping for more than a few seconds each time. The shorter the race, the more expectation there is to just get it done, which brings us on to Sunday's effort......

For a bit of fun, seeing as I had a rare free weekend, I'd signed up for Bridgwater Half Marathon the day after the marathon. I had no idea how it would go, but seeing as it was 'only' a half, I still expected to run every step continuously. It may not be quick, in fact I wasn't even sure if I'd break two hours, but I was hoping just to enjoy the run and prove to myself that I was getting back towards a reasonable level of fitness compared to that I'd achieved in spring last year (probably the fittest I've ever been so far.) From the start I could tell that my legs weren't fresh, but I had also feared that it would feel like an absolute suffer-fest straight away, which definitely wasn't the case. In the first mile I was constantly overtaking people, and then gradually over the next one began to reach the point in the field where everyone had hit a steady pace. For the next few miles I would focus on somebody ahead who I would try and gradually reel in. Occasionally something would make me run a tiny bit faster (the sound of distant gunfire around mile three for instance), but I pretty much kept up a constant sustainable effort. Between mile 4 and 5 I overtook some people I'd been reeling in for some time, one of them saying "Hey, are you that writer?" as I passed. I had a brief chat, remembering a few people yesterday who told me they'd enjoyed my book and thinking that this is something that may happen during many races I run from now on, then a mile or so further down the road 'Eye of the Tiger' was blaring from some speakers in a house. I had a little bit of a dance, much to the enjoyment of the locals it seemed, and hugely enjoyed the next downhill section. I did have a bit of a low patch between miles 8 and 9, but there was never a point during the race when I was thinking I'd have to walk; the effort always felt totally sustainable, which is what I'm aspiring to in every race. During an out and back section I got to see those at the business end of the race, and tried to imagine where abouts I would be in the field if I'd entered on fresh legs. Before too long it was my turn to go past people who were further behind, and was surprised to see Jon Pike, who I'd met that day, just a short way behind Jon Tofts; Mr Pike had estimated a finish time of around 2 hours, 35 minutes whereas Mr Tofts had been aiming for around 2 hours. In the end they both finished together at around the 2 hour mark, but when I saw them close to each other with a few miles to go I was thinking either I'd been running a lot slower than I thought, or that the two Jons had both run like warrior poets. Luckily it was the latter, and although my last couple of miles felt tough I felt myself accelerating slightly, particularly towards the end. No sprint finish this time, but I did have a protein shake thrust into my hand just after I crossed the line. For the record it was disgusting but I drank it anyway.

So overall, during the course of these two races I got to run a lot in the sunshine, had some stunning views over the Somerset Levels and generally marvelled at how wonderful the outdoors is, got to chat with lots of great people about this sport we all love, and got to stuff my face after the races. What's not to like? A number of people have commented that what I did this weekend was crazy, but it just reminds me how all things are relative. As I sit and type this Adam Holland is shortly to begin his fifth marathon in five days, and after today he will only be half way through the whole challenge. On Saturday I met Isobel Wykes, who will be running round a 400 metre running track for 24 hours in a few week's time, presumably whilst trying not to be driven slowly insane by the monotony of the situation, and perhaps inventing lots of games to play throughout (shame I-spy doesn't work with one person.) About four years ago I was worried I wouldn't be able to run every step of one 10k race. Seven years before that I wondered if I'd ever even be able to walk a mile again. Putting one foot in front of the other is, like most things, something you just get better at with practice and more able to endure the more you do it. If you are able to run and you think a challenge like this is beyond you then the first thing you need to change is your mindset. Do that and the rest will fall into place.





Signed copies of my book 'Everything Will Work Out in the Long Run' are now available on a print on demand basis, can be ordered via this link.......

http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Everything-Will-Work-Out-in-the-Long-Run-signed-personalised-copy-Dave-Urwin-/251631809022?pt=Non_Fiction&hash=item3a966cb1fe

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Rebuilding ultra fitness (and making it stronger)

Thought it was about time I put a few words down as it's been a while. So, the possibly exciting news is that my name will be in the ballot for next year's Grand Union Canal Race. I have already begun training, so that if I get in I will be somewhere approaching ready to start ramping up the training by the time I know I'm in. If I don't get in then I'll be in a position to not waste the fitness I've built up and sign up for something else as a back-up plan.

So, how do you train to run 145 miles and come as close as you personally can to winning in the process? Well, my previous thinking was just to run a lot, but I have since come to learn that it's not only how much you run but the manner in which you do it that's important. If I was writing a column for a tabloid newspaper I'd no doubt draw a few comparisons here, but seeing as this is my good, wholesome family blog I will instead say that in order to train for the aforementioned I plan to run plenty but mix it up, and do some things I don't particularly enjoy usually, including the dreaded speedwork. Now don't get me wrong, there is something exhilarating about running fast, but I used to never see the point in running fast in preparation for an ultra, because when I have run fast during ultras it's normally only gone one way, which is a recovery death march that has dealt a blow to my chances of finishing in a time that won't make me miss any more meals than would have been strictly necessary otherwise. I usually rally later on; during the Oner I fell apart a bit after a relatively blistering start, but then during the final 40 miles or so I didn't ever feel particularly bad until right before the end, when the enormity of how far I'd travelled on foot hit me. Anyway, why am I saying all this? Well actually speedwork is a vital component of training for ultras in my mind. Why? Because it encourages good running form; you can't get away with sloppy form if you're running fast and will naturally compensate if your form isn't up to scratch. This will only help you when you're running long - more efficient form will make everything smoother and easier. Also, a good speed workout will arguably increase your overall fitness more than a 30 mile plod will. What's more, the faster you can run, the faster the pace you can comfortably sustain will be, and this will minimise your suffering during the race. Ok, so you may get less value for money but you may be finished in time to have a slap up meal at a suitable time and perhaps even to sleep at a reasonable hour depending on the start time. This is why I plan to incorporate intervals, hill sprints, tempo runs and all the rest into my training.

What else?? Well, I've never done enough cross training, and so it's time I got myself dahn the swimming baths a little more often. Also time to get the press-ups, planks, squat thrusts etc. on the go and to do them consistently, as boring as I find them from time to time. I'm thinking of perhaps setting myself challenges to keep myself motivated. Oh, and I've even thought about getting one of them kettlebells. I can't argue with the results I've seen so far, with people who are into all that stuff doing one-handed handstands and crazy stuff like that. I need me some of that. There'll still be plenty of honest to goodness runs as well, and the occasional long, slow run but nowadays due to less time on my hands and wanting to make every run a quality one I'll probably do very few 20-30 milers. Time on your feet is all good, but if you spend consistent time on your feet most days then it's probably worth more than if you stay off your feet plenty and then grind out a marathon-length training run. That would be perhaps somewhat akin to making a juice once in a blue moon and then claiming to be healthy despite not eating brilliantly much of the time.....but who would do that???

The thing that's been most intriguing to me is hearing tales of the kind of people who finish fast in the GUCR setting off from the start at 9.30-10 minute miles. Ok, so it's a very, very, very, very long way, but despite not being one of the quickest by a long shot I find it very difficult to limit myself to that kinda pace for any length of time. However, I also know for sure that this is where I've gone wrong in all of my ultra races to date; I've been thinking "I feel fine, so I'll keep cranking out some faster miles!" but you wouldn't sprint at full speed early in a 1,500 metres race would you? No, I'm going to have to teach myself to run very slowly, and keep running very slowly. I remember a time I ran a 20 miler with a clubmate at 10 minute miling roughly, and I still had masses of running in my legs at the end of it. There's an extremely valuable lesson there. So that's it, I will train for this race by running fast, running slow and running just right....and by doing stuff other than running. Easy!


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Monday, 14 July 2014

Back in the game, back to reality with a resounding thud. My back doesn't hurt.

Good morning, everyone

How are we all today? Well I can't speak for anyone else, so seeing as it's my blog I will only speak of how I am today. Well as ever I am thankful that I get to appreciate this beautiful morning, and that I have what I do, but tempered with this today is the knowledge that I am back on the mainland breathing the putrid air, drinking the questionable water, having to drive to get around and not being able to wake up every day unflustered and so inspired in multiple ways, but instead waking up every day hurried and with various different pressures closing in from every angle. In short, I have just spent around nine days on St. Mary's; the main island on the Isles of Scilly. Whilst there I breathed ample pure air, drank plenty of pure water, did a little swimming in the sea, ate plentifully and bountifully, slept wonderfully and woke up naturally every morning with the light of the sun, and covered plenty of distance by foot, including.....yes, you won't believe it, a fair bit of running! The running included some hills, and occasionally included me pretending I was leading in the final mile of Western States 100, looking back anxiously over my shoulder every so often to make sure I wasn't being too closely pursued by whoever was in second place.

There's something about being somewhere of stunning natural beauty and of great silence that inspires me to move my feet in some kind of rhythm, and when this doesn't entail Morris Dancing it leads to plenty of running. Having the time away from all the aforementioned pressures, of which I didn't mention any in actual detail, also allowed the time to get back into some kind of running form without wondering if I ever would again. This unhurried method reminded me how simple a thing running is, and that all I needed to do in order to run like I had run before was to actually do it. Just to run. My muscles (atrophied as they were from underuse) could remember how to do it, I just had to actually do it. Ok, so I couldn't go and bust out a sub 20 hour 100 miler tomorrow, but I would feel fairly confident of jogging a marathon in around 4 hours if there was a delicious banana cake at the end of it. Despite the even further increased pressures on my time that are to follow this time away, seeing as some unforeseen expenses at the end of it have left me right at the brink financially, I am absolutely determined not to lose this moderate level of running fitness I have crowbarred back into my life, and so whether it takes the occasional uber-late night jog, or the occasional uber-early morning one I most certainly WILL keep it up. In fact, I even plan on sharing the little wisdom I have accrued from my stumbling into running over the previous few years to coach people who are just starting out and help them to achieve their goals. Ok, so I'm not gonna coach anyone to take down Kyle Skaggs' seemingly impenetrable Hardrock 100 course record......hey, way to ruin my clever ultra running reference, Kilian!!!......Ok, so I'm not gonna coach anyone to take down Kilian Jornet's stunning Hardrock 100 course record, but maybe I can help someone who was where I was a few years back to get to where I did or beyond. Whyever not? Details soon to follow.

Ok, so it's a while since I did an epic blog, which is mostly to do with time constraints, and so to end this I shall mention the concept of shorecraft - being able to tell whether a tide is coming in or going out the minute you get to a beach. How is your shorecraft? Does it need work? I can help with that too! Take much care until next time......


Many of you already know this, but if anyone doesn't this is a book I wrote that fills in a few gaps left gaping by this blog post.........


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Thursday, 26 June 2014

It worked out in the long run (sorry outdoor buzz for stealing your title ;) )

Ok, so I haven't posted in here for quite a while; never seem to find the time nowadays for such things as blogging, which could either indicate an extremely busy life or merely nothing to blog about. Maybe even both.

Well this is just a little post about what long runs have done for me. Well without wishing to be overly dramatic, I just don't know how I might have coped with elements of the past few years without being able to get out and run long. Simply put, just going out there and running long when I never had showed me large pools (I won't say vast oceans as that may be a little OTT) of strength and determination that I never knew I possessed. It's not an original thing to say, but knowing I had the determination to keep putting one foot in front of the other when my body was begging and pleading me to stop by firing up pain receptors in a number of different places allowed me to believe that I would be able to keep putting one foot in front of the other in life too, and deal with whatever could be thrown at me. I have two perspectives to share on this that can help back up my experience, the first is from a little tome known as The bible - you may have heard of it. This is from James 1: "For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing."

Whether you read the bible or not, the above verse speaks a truth that is surely relatable to any ultra runner - we have all been through those lows in races that seem like they might derail our chances of getting to the finish, but invariably if you push through them you will come out the other side and find new sources of strength to keep you moving forward. Having the knowledge that the lows will come but you can deal with them as long as you keep looking after yourself and putting one foot in front of the other is enough to bring any challenge into the realms of possibility.

The second sentence I would like to share is from the late Caballo Blanco; I saw a talk he gave in Bristol a few years back, around six months before he died, during which he said (not word for word): - "The way to cope with the challenges of life is to have faith in something. Look at running 100 miles; you will inevitably have times when you suffer, but you get through it. It's the same in life; you have low points, but you get through them. All you have to do is believe."

That is what I am getting at; once upon a time running a marathon seemed like an impossible dream for me. There came a time when I would think nothing of doing a marathon length training run. The long run allowed me to make the distinction between 'Can't' and 'Won't' and is still an analogy that helps me to realise I can get through the challenges life presents. Ok, so maybe I can't literally have a few hundred pounds taken off my debts by running long (oh how I wish it were that simple), but knowing what I have achieved by pushing through the lows in a running sense shows me what is possible, and is part of what stops me from spending each day freaking out about things I can't change with a click of the fingers.




My book 'Everything Will Work Out in the Long Run' (signed copy) is available via this link.....


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