Imagine devoting some of your personal time to an activity which keeps you physically fit, develops your mental strength and also provides some serious thinking time to help you explore, develop and achieve some really big goals in your life. For ultra athlete Andy Stewart, these are some of the benefits from running ultramarathons. Here he tells us about goals and what it means to embark on the long journey to the ultra finish line.
Why would anybody run an ultramarathon?
The journey to get past 26.2 and beyond is filled with highs and lows, serious levels of commitment both mentally and physically and finding an ability to push yourself harder than perhaps you ever have before. So why go the long haul?
‘The first thing to think about is goals’, says ultra runner Andy.
‘And the first obvious goal is to complete the ultramarathon, but this is probably not enough of a motivation in itself to help you get there! Ultra marathon training is hard and requires commitment. So what do you need?
‘In his talk on completing (and winning) the Yukon 300, Neil Thubron talks of internal goals and the power of external goals. Defining some big life goals and setting yourself a vision of your future self, makes completing your first ultra, simply a significant milestone in achieving your big vision. By the way, very few people only do one ultra, the rewards are so powerful why would you stop?
Very few people only do one ultra, the rewards are so powerful why would you stop?
‘The starting point should be to write down what you want to achieve. This sounds so easy. Many of us devote a lot of time and energy to defining our work and career goals, but not so much for our personal lives. But by making ourselves key and defining what we want to achieve for ourselves and our families, our lives would be so much richer and more rewarding. There are many books which can help you: I found Tom Rath’s ‘Are You Fully Charged?’ a powerful tool which, with some guidance from a mentor and a lot of doodling from me, has provided focus on what is truly important.
‘Whilst it may seem a little strange to be thinking this way, establishing the big vision and purpose in your life will provide you with a deep sense of drive and motivation which will help you through the troughs along your ultramarathon journey. Hard work and endeavour invested when the going is tough will reap enormous dividends later.
‘Whether you are an experienced marathon runner or someone just starting out on your running journey, everyone needs a plan. And ultra runners love plans! Just watch competitors packing their race sacks on the morning of a multi-day event. Meticulously packing race kit and checking that everything is in the right place so that when you are exhausted on a trail, you are best prepared to support yourself to the end of the race.
‘So you will need a training plan and an event plan, and alongside this, you’ll need to be able to mentally visualise yourself achieving your milestones as you work towards your goal.
‘Plans can (and often will) be changed, having a goal to run each week will give you a sense of purpose, and building some regular races in to your training as you work towards your ‘A’ race not only breaks up the training in to more interesting and manageable chunks, but also provides you with invaluable race experience.
I have achieved much more in my life overall thanks to completing my first ultramarathon.
‘Like most things in life, the training journey is more rewarding than arriving at the destination. I had lots of powerful emotions rushing through my head when I crossed the finish line of the 2011 Marathon des Sables. 3km from the finish, I entered the small desert oasis town of Tazzarine, and put my feet on to tarmac for the first time in a week. I was full of excitement and joy, and had an enormous feeling of satisfaction. But I as I headed for the finish line, I also felt a sense of loss, or disappointment. I had trained hard for three years, at least four or five runs a week, with a long run pretty much every Sunday. This often required getting up at 5.15am, not so easy in the middle of winter, with just your head torch and icy breath to keep you company.
‘But as I stood in a queue waiting for my post-race food, I realised that I had enjoyed my training journey so much, that I was sad that the journey had finished; I was so focused on achieving my big goal, that I had not set any more goals!
‘Call it inner-belief or self-confidence, but I have achieved much more in my life overall thanks to completing my first ultramarathon. I am now also almost fifty years of age, a milestone in anyone’s life and although not the leanest ultra-runner..… I am strong, fit and as I enter my second half century, fortunate enough to be healthy. That in itself provides you with a spring in your step 🙂