“Grit” was the word uppermost in my mind this morning as I drove to work through the first snow and icy roads of the winter.
I couldn’t help thinking, “that’s what I want for Christmas” — a massive dose of grit and determination, as I train for the Brathay 10 in 10 — ten marathons in ten days around Lake Windermere!
Actually, that’s not all I want. I also want you to help me attain my goal…
I am undertaking this crazy challenge to raise funds for Brathay Trust, the event organiser. Brathay Trust is a charity that supports and empowers young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, equipping them to take a constructive and fulfilling place in society, against all the odds. Click here to learn more about Brathay’s work.
My fund-raising target is £5,000, and I must reach £500 early in January.
My perfect Christmas gift would be if everyone I know could give a couple of pounds (or dollars, or euros) to help me reach this target.
Please check your back pockets to see what you can spare… And just as importantly, please take a few minutes and tell your friends about my running challenge and this very worthy fund-raising cause!
Thank you in advance for your generosity. Stay tuned to hear about my training, and to follow the event itself!
If you’re a UK tax-payer, Brathay will receive an extra 25% through Gift Aid. And if you’re not UK-based, you can still donate using a credit or debit card — your donation amount will be in pounds sterling, and your bank will convert the amount automatically.
Photo credit: John Stillwell/PA Wire
Ten marathons, ten days. Run 26.2 miles, eat, sleep, repeat 9 more times. The more I think about this challenge, the more I realise that mental preparation will be as important as physical preparation, if not more so.
Since I started running in 2009, I have read my fair share of literature on the subject. One book that marked me particularly is Brain Training for Runners by Matt Fitzgerald.
You can click on the link to read synopsis and reviews [see my note below], but the basic idea is that the perception of our physical sensations is largely a product of our brain, which can be trained and controlled with a view to making our training and race performance more effective. In other words, when you think you are exhausted, you almost certainly have energy left in the tank — but your brain tells you that you don’t, as a mechanism to avoid over-exertion and injury.
If you have ever run a marathon or half-marathon, you may well have experienced an extraordinary rush in the final quarter mile, where suddenly your fatigue drops away and you find yourself sprinting with energy that you could only dream of a few minutes earlier. That energy, argues Fitzgerald, was there all along. It did not suddenly materialise from nowhere. It seems plausible that the brain “lifts the foot off the brakes” and allows your body to deploy its true reserves, because with the finish line so close there is little risk of physical damage.
What if we could harness these reserves, and tap into them at will? Therein lies Fitzgerald’s thesis, that it is in fact possible to retrain the brain and its mechanisms. Of course, these mechanisms are unconscious and deep-seated, and getting one’s brain to relearn them requires time and persistence. Also it is clear that injury and over-training are a risk, so it is essential to listen closely to one’s body and not be a slave to the training plan.
My quest to finish a marathon in under 4 hours was successful in Jan 2011, largely thanks to the ideas in Fitzgerald’s book that I adapted for my own purposes. Specifically, this involved teaching my brain how to perceive pain and fatigue differently. I deliberately created training situations designed to familiarise my body with the discomfort of miles 20 to 26 of the marathon, which from personal experience I knew to be massively more difficult than the first 20 miles combined.
Thanks to this training I developed a much deeper awareness of my own capabilities, and learned to use pain and exhaustion as gauges of what I could still accomplish, rather than as warning signals to be obeyed blindly by stopping at the edge of the road.
Now I am faced with a challenge of a different nature, one of endurance on a scale which I find intimidating every time I think about it. As I enter now into the critical 6 months before Brathay 10-in-10, I am exploring and testing new ways to use these same “brain training” principles.
The challenge I apprehend the most is that of avoiding injury despite the absence of recovery days. Having completed one series of 10 back-to-back training runs, my next yardstick will be to complete a “100 miles in 10 days” training series. Hopefully this exercise will give me a good idea of where I need to set my “cruising pace” so as to maximise my next-day recovery, and I fully expect it will teach me things about running that I have yet to imagine.
What a journey, and something tells me it’s only just beginning…
As always, it’s important to keep a sense of perspective. The physical challenge is tough by any standards. But it also has a purpose — to raise funds and support the excellent work done by Brathay Trust. Every pound, dollar or euro that you donate will help a disadvantaged young person extract themselves from hardship and deprivation, and will give them a fighting chance to make something of their life.
[note] Yes, that book title up there is an Amazon link. If you end up buying the book — which I do recommend if you want to explore new ways to train — I will donate my affiliate commission to Brathay!
There are days when your running goes according to plan. Most days, in fact. You’re in control, you’re on track for your goals, and you feel capable of anything.
And then there are days when your running takes on a life of its own. Turns around and gives you a slap in the head. Nothing too brutal, mind you – just an unmistakable reminder that it deserves some respect, and so does your body (which by the way is no longer 25 years old).
Today was quite a wake-up call for me. I breezed out on a 14-mile towpath run – slightly rough terrain, but dead flat – planning on an easy 9-minute per mile pace. Without warning, at mile 10 all my indicators suddenly hit the red zone. Complete energy depletion, dead-weight legs, heavy stride, breathing off…
I applied all the “out-on-the-road” fixes I know, including breathing exercises, slow recovery intervals, and concentrating on my stride. Ultimately though, I only covered the last 3-4 miles with a combination of mental grit and stubbornness, as well as moral support from Alex who was along for the ride (thank you coach!).
So what happened? Why did my wheels come off, on what should have been a moderately easy training run?
Part of it was certainly due to the 10-miler I ran yesterday, which included a stiff climb up to Claverton Down. But the whole point of my training for Brathay 10-in-10 is to prepare for challenging back-to-back runs.
The real reason, I suspect, is that I am just trying to do too much. Today’s “bonk” was my body’s way of reminding me that I really do need to sleep 8 hours a day, and attach as much importance to rest as I do to active running. Without this I will never be able to build up to a regular training mileage of 50-60 miles per week, at the same time as holding down a demanding professional activity.
Mental grit is good. Stubborn is good. These are what got me from mile 20 to mile 26.2 in my first sub-4 marathon finish. But on their own they are not enough. What really got me that 3:53 finish was preparation, discipline, common sense, and listening to my body week after week, for over a year.
So as I prepare for Brathay in 2012, I will be applying the same principles. Respect your body, and respect the event. (Hard not to, “intimidating” doesn’t do it justice.)
Above all, any time my wheels come off, I will take a step back, and think of the young people that Brathay Trust exists to help. Many of them suffer hardship that we cannot begin to understand, and yet they find a way to rise above it. Lessons to be learned there, for sure.
Every mile I spend out on the road during the next 291 days will be a mile closer to the start of Brathay 10-in-10. To prepare for this 262-mile event, I will be training somewhere between 2,000 and 2,500 miles in 9 months…
I hope you will help me prepare in your own way, by contributing to my fund-raising goal of £5,000 in support of this very worthy cause.
Stay tuned for another post very soon, about my projected training plan. That’s what I was going to write about this evening, but after today’s experience I think it needs a little extra revision before going public!
I started running in 2009 at the age of 43. Until that point I was convinced I hated running, but I was surprised to discover that it brings me a unique combination of challenge, discipline, and relaxation.
After running a couple of decent 10K races, and breaking 2 hours in my first half marathon, I set myself the goal of finishing a full marathon in less than 4 hours. It took me over a year to accomplish my goal, and in the process I ran almost 1,500 miles and burned off 20lbs of unnecessary body mass.
I finally made it in January 2011. Curiously, within minutes of crossing that finish line, one of the first thoughts in my mind was: “Where do I go from here?”
Over the next few months I started to think more and more about ultra-endurance running. During this time I had the privilege of meeting Chris MacDougall (author of Born to Run) and Scott Jurek (ultra-marathoner and Badwater champion) at a book signing event. They both gave me some great advice, and above all reassured me that yes, ordinary people can run extraordinary distances – so long as they train properly!
Then in May 2011 a friend told me about this extraordinary challenge called Brathay 10-in-10. I followed the 13 participants on their daily blogs and video reports, and could not stop thinking about next year’s event. Finally I filled out the application form, and just a few days ago learned that I have been accepted to participate in 2012…
Right now I am still coming to terms with the fact that I am indeed one of next year’s 19 runners, and that I will have to run 262 miles in 10 days.
In addition to the massive physical challenge, I have to put together a solid fund-raising programme, as well as a training plan that will get me in some state of readiness for the event. Both tasks seem monumental right now, but I have some good ideas about how to get started, and some great people supporting me!
More about the training plan and the fund-raising in separate posts. In the meantime, if you are interested in following my journey to Brathay, please follow me on Facebook, on Twitter, or subscribe here to receive updates via email.
You can also click on the “Sponsor me” button to donate to the Brathay Trust, and help me reach my fund-raising target of £5,000. Thank you for your support, and stay tuned for another update very soon!