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Ultra running is proper bonkers

by Martin Yelling
Wednesday 21st July 2010

Ultra running is proper bonkers

Martin Yelling - photo mhonfy.com I recently had my first foray into going long and I’m definitely not convinced. Sure, bang on about the how it’s a personal challenge and how you really can ‘find yourself ‘ out on the trails. But you know what, there are many other much more enjoyable ways to spend a weekend and I’m comfortable with who I am. I ran 100 miles from Winchester to Beachy Head along the South Downs Way. I took the soft option (split in over 3 days – 26, 34 and 32 miles) with the luxury of camping inbetween.

A few things I learnt from the ‘journey’:

  • There are 13600 feet of ascent and descent along the SDW trail that follows the old routes and droveways along the chalk escarpment and ridges of the South Downs. Flat is isn’t. Long, undulating and hard it is.
  • Don’t ignore preparation. You really do need to train long and slow and, yes, you really do need all the gear in the kit list.
  • Ignore everyone else at the start. Some people are way too enthusiastic at the off.
  • Have some sort of plan. I’d read (note ‘read’, not trialled) that a run:walk strategy was best for ultra’s and opted for the run 30mins-walk 3 to 4 mins and walk all the up hills (and any steep downhills) as a start point plan. This was harder to stick to than I thought as progress was slow and as soon as I’d caught people up I stopped and let them go again. This didn’t sit comfortably with my former competitive racing brain but being disciplined is vital for long term survival.
  • Don’t get lost and run further than you need to. A loss of concentration at around mile 31 and a wrong turn took me down a steep hillside off course. That far into the first day going wrong wasn’t on the plan and I struggled to find motivation and pace climbing back up what was the biggest hill of the day back onto the correct route.
  • Blisters on blisters hurt but the pain turns to numbness if you keep running on it. Although it’s not pretty when you stop.
  • Stopping totally isn’t option. This entire journey was really one of self preservation. It was about dealing with the waves of pain that frequently swept over my body, getting my head down and keeping going. Sometimes the pain would be in my knee, my blisters, my shoulders from my backpack, my old Achilles injury, my new foot injury. As soon the pain disappeared in one area it reappeared in another. But it never really hurt, it wasn’t ‘deep pain’, rather ‘suffering’. Learn to suffer and you can do an ultra.

Personal ‘world records’ set at the SDW Ultra Challenge

  • Most number of jelly sweets eaten in 3 consecutive days
  • Most blisters on both feet achieved in 3 days
  • Furthest run in 3 days
  • Furthest run in a single day
  • Biggest swollen foot at the end of any race
  • Slowest pace ever run in a race
  • Most number of shouts of ‘you’re mad’ from passers by on any one run.

About The Author

Martin Yelling

Martin Yelling used to do a lot more running that he does now.   He once sneaked a AAA’s medal over 1500m, finished in the top 10 in the National XC, clocked some sub 30min 10k’s and even won a few races. 

Once his legs stopped enjoying the pounding quite so much switched to multisport and won the British elite duathlon championships a couple of times, competed at some scarily fast world championships events, came top 15 at Ironman Switzerland and bagged the big one in Kona. 

Now he enjoys running on leafy trails, trying (and failing) to keep up with his wife (2xOlympic marathon runner Liz Yelling), and helping coach runners and triathletes of all standards achieve things they’d previously thought impossible.  He also likes trying to paddleboard, eating the same amount as he used to when training very hard and smiling. www.lizyelling.com


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