On first contemplating the marathon, the distance is unimaginable. You have no frame of reference, 26.2 miles has never held any significance as a distance. After several marathon cycles and races, you know the distance, now the challenge is to do it better.
Going further is something else. I find many non-runners, my previous self included, are under the impression that the marathon distance has some significance attached to it in terms of human performance. That we will possibly expire if we travel one step further. This is not the case, the history of how the marathon came about is sketchy at best. The popular story is that Greek messenger Pheidippides ran roughly 25 miles from Marathon to Athens to announce victory in battle.
However, it has emerged in recent years that he actually ran over 150 miles prior to this between Athens and Sparta, in one go!
When you think about it, it does seem ridiculous that as a species we would spend hundreds of thousands of years travelling on foot and not be able to traverse huge distances. Stick your nose into Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run for a more comprehensive history of our running prowess.
After 6 or 7 marathons, I started to itch for something more. There is a fairly logical progression to be had from marathon to 50k, 50k to 50 mile, 50 mile to 100k, then onto 100 miles. This trajectory also opens up the world of trail running (more on that later) as 100 miles of road closures would be a logistical and knee-crunching nightmare!
I’ve performed ok at the 50k, 50 mile and 100k distances, actually the 100k was probably my best ultra to date. I finished feeling pretty fresh in 11:54 at Race To The Stones in 2018. These races are a different type of test, they are slow, they are torturous in places, but are so rewarding, and a real test of mental fortitude. I can’t recommend them highly enough.
I have chosen the North Downs Way 100 in 2019. The race is actually around 103 miles long, with 10,000 feet of climbing. I will be posting plenty more about this in the coming months. As the weather improves, I’ll move onto the trails more. I plan to push through the 100 mile week barrier this year for the first time.
I know this race is going to push me to my limit, which is what I need. Remember…test yourself, know yourself. If I can complete the NDW100, fit and healthy, it will be easily my proudest moment…and one to savour.
All I’ll say for now is. If you’re finding your road running in a bit of a rut. Sign up for an ultra this summer and get on the trails. It’s a totally different sport!