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Too much too soon, lessons from the LtW evening with Seb

by @garyfallsover
Tuesday 4th November 2014
Tags  Gary Dalton   |   Seb Chaigneau   |   Jez Bragg   |   Like The Wind   |   Like the Wind pop-up   |   Like the Wind magazine

Prompted by an evening with Seb Chaigneau and Jez Bragg at the Like the Wind pop-up at Shoreditch, Run247 columnist Gary Dalton debates the wisdom of patience versus the 'I want it NOW' approach

Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t normally spend my Saturday nights sitting on hard backed plastic chairs in the basement of an art gallery in Shoreditch. In fact I go as far as to say it would have to be something special to drag me, a fairly unreconstructed middle aged Irishman, into the heartland of sculpted beards, wooly hats and ironically worn cartoon t-shirts.

When I saw that the new magazine Like the Wind was hosting a week long  popup, I was initially quite blase about going. It’s a long way to traipse across London to look at kit I can’t afford, and being injured at the moment I wasn’t sure I needed to be surrounded by runners talking about how magnificent running is. It’s only magnificent when you can do it and for someone who has a propensity for falling down mountains on a startlingly regular basis, maybe watching movies with more mountains wasn’t a great idea. Then again, anyone who knows me in person knows that I’m full of things which aren’t great ideas.

For anyone out there who hasn’t heard of Like the Wind (www.likethewindmagazine.com), it’s the brainchild of  Simon, Julie and Julia from the freestak media and social event  management team (www.freestak.com).

It’s quite difficult to pin down exactly what Like the Wind is, but essentially it’s a running periodical, elevated to art level. Now that does sound kinda pretentious, but I assure you it’s not. It’s a stunningly illustrated, beautifully written homage to running and it’s as far from Runner's World as the Venus de Milo is from Razzle. Or at it’s most basic, it’s a really really good running magazine.

So I found myself wandering through the back streets of Shoreditch, ignoring the whispered ‘psst, wanna buy a mocha latte?’ from darkened doorways, stepping over discarded alpaca beanie hats in the gutters until I found the beacon of light that was Ashmei.

What was it that dragged me from the comfort of west London? Why did I brave the tube on the Saturday after Halloween, studiously ignoring attention whoring teenagers, who finally had an excuse to wear too much makeup? Well it was to see and hear from Seb Chaigneau and Jez Bragg actually.

For the years I’ve been involved in the sport there have been a few people I’ve followed as I thought their philosophy of running was similar to mine. Athletes like Jornet and Krupicka and Jurek are incredible, but I’ve never really felt any kind of connection to them. With Seb I’d always gotten the impression, through seeing him race and watching his interviews, that winning races wasn’t his driving force, he was genuinely there for the pleasure of spending time in some of the most beautiful places in the world. He never gave the impression that he ‘was at one with the trees’, like some of the American runners that may or may not look a little like Jesus. He raced with a smile on his face.

The first film was An Endurance Life,  a twenty five minute journey through Seb's philosophy of running.As interesting and beautifully shot the film was, I couldn’t help but watch it with one eye on the man himself. I was sitting in the row behind and slightly to the side and I was just as interested in his reaction to the movie as the film itself. To my eye it was almost one of proud embarrassment. I’m not sure if that’s the right way to term it, but I thought I saw a man who was quite shy about seeing himself on screen. Humble I guess. And if all that sounds like my man crush has gotten even greater, then yeah, I’ll go along with that.

It was what said afterwards, in the Q&A hosted by Ian Corless of Talk Ultra, however which really struck a chord with me. It’s something that I’ve been wanting to write about for a little while now, but I’ve never really known how to tackle it. It’s a controversial subject and I didn’t really want to just wade in, in my usual bull in a china shop fashion.

With the growing popularity of ultra distance events, there’s been a huge increase in runners wishing to step up to the increased distances. What I’ve noticed over the last couple of years however, is that a great many of these runners aren’t going through what used to be referred to as the ‘trials of miles’ before they do.

Ultra running, up until a few years ago, was pretty much an underground sport, even within the greater running community. Now it’s beginning to creep into the general fitness consciousness and more and more people are starting to take up the sport. Races like the UTMB are having to increase their field size, whilst simultaneously tightening their entry criteria; iconic races are almost all ballot entry only now and if you were so inclined, you could probably run an ultra every weekend in the UK.

Which is great, more exposure means more races, greater choice of events, etc etc. What this greater exposure also means is that more people are joining the sport, who maybe haven’t  had the training base, that I believe is required for longevity in ultra running.

I’m a member of several running forums and Facebook groups and not a day goes by that there’s isn’t a question posted by a well meaning new member, that doesn’t make me question their sanity. In the last six months I’ve seen questions like ‘what is a base layer’ to ‘what’s the best trail shoe’ or ‘I’ve broken my leg but I have a 50 miler next week, if I strap it up will it be ok?’ Ok the last one was an exaggeration, but it’s not far off some of the questions asked.

It used to be the case that we, as people, would learn by experience, trial and error and we’d use those trials and tribulations to grow, both as people and as athletes. Now it seems everyone wants everything now. We want shortcuts to everything, there is no growth period, there is no journey, it’s all about the destination. It seems to be that instead of finding the answers for ourselves and finding value and pride in that, we have a need to learn vicariously. 'Instead of the trials of miles I’ll shortcut that and just do what Anton does. Or Kilian. Or even more likely, a random bloke from Facebook I don’t know and who doesn’t know me, but because something works for him, it’ll work for me.'

What Seb said, and I’m in agreement with, was that to sustain a long career in ultra running, whether it’s at the front of the pack like him, or a completer like many of us, you need to have put in years of training, to get your body used to the demands of ultras. He suggested a training base of five years to allow the body to adapt to the rigours of ultras, to train the stomach and the tendons, the joints and ligaments. Now I don’t know if five years is the answer, but I do believe that rushing into ultras is a recipe for disaster.

I’m sure we all know of people in the ultra world, both elite and local, who’ve burst onto the scene, seemingly destined for greatness, only to burn out within a couple of years through either injury or fatigue. I suppose the best known of whom would be Geoff Roes who has been extremely candid in his blog (akrunning.blogspot.co.uk) about his descent from Western States winner to someone who was barely able to get out of bed. Prolific racers like Mike Morton and Mike Wardian have both spent significant periods of time off injured in the last couple of years and they’re by no means unusual within the sport, either at elite level  or further down the field.

Running, particularly ultra distance running, is a tough sport and the more time you spend on conditioning, the longer I believe you’ll last uninjured. Both Jez and Seb talked about rest being as important as activity, building in periodization into their programmes so as not to continually stress the same muscles and tissue and to allow the body to adapt to the stresses put on it over time.

So I guess I took away a couple of things from the evening. I’m too old and grouchy to have heroes, but I do have people I admire and it’s always difficult when you meet them in person; if they don’t measure up to the image you’ve created of them, it can be disappointing. In meeting Seb and Jez I can happily say I wasn’t disappointed.

The second thing was: Take your time. Enjoy the journey. The pleasure you’ll gain from making a discovery for yourself and the sense of achievement will have far greater depth than if you’d  found your answer on Google. Find your own answers, take your time. The finish line isn’t the end, it’s just a punctuation mark. Make sure your own personal journey is a book rather than just a chapter.


About The Author

Gary Dalton

Gary Dalton is a rugby loving, crime fighting, white Irish Muslim ultra runner. Despite all this he's not a complete eejit. 

Gary is originally from the west of Ireland and can't actually remember when he moved to London - he blames a heavy diet of being tackled by prop forwards and potatoes for the memory loss. He hates going out for runs, canals and borderline hypothermia and loves ice cream and going out for runs. 


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