Why everyone should run an ultramarathon

If you’d asked me a year ago, perhaps two, whether I thought I could realistically run an ultramarathon, I would have laughed in your face and probably said something like ‘no, and I don’t really want to either’.

The root of this belief was:

1) That I found (and still find) running 15km very difficult so could never imagine how I was supposed to run over 3x that amount and not die…

2) If I believed I could, I knew that I would have to give it a go. ‘Giving something a go’ means months of hard training, anxiety, doubt and the possibility of ‘failure’, which many of us aren’t inclined to experience, let alone seek out.

Last month I ran my first ever ultramarathon, 50km across the gorgeous Peak District hills. I signed up 3 weeks in advance of the race with no expectations, no ‘goals’ per se, just a desire to race at least once in 2020 and spend time outside. The race went better than I ever could have expected, and I truly loved every minute.

Image by Benedict Tufnell

4 weeks later I took part in my second ultra (depending on your definition) – 48km along the Jurassic Coast – simply because it was close to home and I know how beautiful the route is. I signed up one week before, and the whole experience was a delight.

Image by Jake Baggaley

From what I’ve seen of ultramarathons, they are friendlier, prettier and far more forgiving than your average road marathon. People rarely run the whole thing, you have support the entire route (in the form of checkpoints with water, foot, medical aid etc every 10k or so) and everyone is so friendly! Walking isn’t frowned upon and you see people of all shapes and sizes signing up – there is far less judgement than I think people expect from these events. Because it’s a small community too, you tend to get to know people pretty fast!

Somewhere between childhood and adulthood, people stop believing in trying out new experiences in favour of keeping to the known and the predictable. In short, people stop believing in themselves.

With this comes the knowledge that you’ll probably always be OK, but equally, probably never have the best time of your life, never find a new hobby and never experience all that life has to offer. Fear of the unknown, combined with mental images of elite athletes laughing at you for hobbling around a 50k course is enough to put anyone off… but I’m here to say that it shouldn’t!

Reasons to run an ultra:

  • Without pushing your body, you will never see what your body is capable of. It’s a lot more than you think.
  • Humans like to see progress. There is almost nothing more satisfying than seeing physical progress in running, whether that’s running to the end of your road, doing a faster 5k, or simply enjoying your run for the first time!
  • Trail ultras are far more forgiving on the joints than road marathons and similar, which means you’re less likely to experience running related injuries.
  • People (women especially) tend to improve or maintain endurance long into their 40s, meaning it’s the sort of hobby that you can take with you through your life, or pick up late! Runners (contrary to popular belief) actually have better functioning joints in older age than the average person.
  • It’s essentially an eating competition – the longer the run, the more you need to eat. If eating is one of your favourite pastimes (I know it is for me), you’ll probably do pretty well in an ultra!
  • The views! Maybe you think running is boring. Ultra running is NEVER boring. Choose one in a place you want to explore and enjoy the views!
  • You can’t pressure yourself to get a particular time on an ultra. Unless you’re an international champ, there’s no ‘doing well’ or ‘not doing well’ on an ultra. You signed up and showed up – that’s pretty epic! If you finish, you get a medal. Everyone is a winner here.
  • Training is about time on feet rather than pace or even distance. One of the hardest things about an ultra is being out on your feet all day, but if you have a busy job and spend a lot of time standing up, or enjoy walking a lot, you’ll probably be really good in an ultra. Of course, running training is important, but you have a head start if you are used to spending hours on your feet, even if you’re just standing still!
  • You get space. You might enjoy running with thousands of people around you – in which case I’d suggest doing a road marathon or something like the Great North Run. For ultras the chances are you’ll meet plenty of people along the way, but will never be penned in or surrounded by people.
  • It’s an adventure. While many road races feel quite similar, ultras are all different. They’re a great excuse to travel and explore somewhere new.
  • It’s a life experience. Ultras, especially multi-day ultras, can take over your life for up to a year, but the chances are they’ll also become one of the best things you’ve ever done. I’d say that’s reason enough to sign up!

If this blog post makes you keen to sign up, check out my vlog ‘10 things I learned from my first ultramarathon‘ and vlog of the ultra itself – I hope it’ll inspire you to get out there and give it a go!

Image by Jake Baggaley

Chewton Glen

Nothing beats a relaxing weekend in the countryside, especially when you get to celebrate it with someone you love! I had the privilege of taking my boyfriend to Chewton Glen, a luxury 5* hotel and spa in the New Forest, Hampshire. Nothing screams romance as much as a break that involves huge rooms, comfy beds, incredible food and an amazing spa.

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As we were only staying for one night, Fiann and I wanted to arrive as early as possible on day 1. We arrived at 3pm and were immediately made to feel welcome. We were given a little tour of the hotel and then were shown straight to our room. I was amazed at the size of the room – it had enough floor space to dance around it (I can confirm) and swing many cats (I didn’t try this one). The bathroom boasted a huge bath, mirrors everywhere and a double shower with four showerheads. We were staying in the croquet lawn room – a midrange room – and I have never stayed in such a plush room. If you want luxury, this is where it’s at. As it was still light and sunny, Fiann and I headed down to the coast, a short and pretty walk away. If you happen to be a surfer, the surf looks amazing! If you’re not, the rest of the beach is beautiful too.

That evening was Fiann’s birthday dinner, so we booked into one of the hotel’s restaurants, The Kitchen, a relatively relaxed restaurant with a seasonally changing menu, where many of the ingredients are grown on site and others are from local suppliers. As it is situated up the drive, we were transported to and from in a cute little van/golf buggy, which was quite sweet. Pros: the food was delicious, and they rustled something up when we asked for things that weren’t on the menu. Cons: as we hadn’t said in advance that we were vegan, we had to go half-vegan, half-vegetarian for the dinner, as the cuisine is classic English countryside – plenty of meats and cheeses. However, what we had was delicious, and I would recommend it to anyone passing by – the restaurant is open to anyone, not only hotel guests! If you let them know in advance, there are vegan options available.

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Our breakfast in the morning was a delicious buffet followed by foods ordered from the kitchen (because is it even a meal if there aren’t two courses). I can’t really fault the food or atmosphere, everything was perfect! One small irritation was that all the sugar cubes were individually wrapped in plastic, which for a hotel hot on local foods, felt a little wrong. I will be feeding this back to them because other than that the whole experience was perfect.

We checked out of our room at 12pm, but were encouraged (with very little resistance from us) to stay and experience the gym and spa. These are both available on a day pass if you don’t have time for the full weekend – there is a big swimming pool and then another room with hot tubs, jets and other fun spa things. There’s a ‘health food’ café as well as a gym and plenty of other spa-y things in each changing room. Despite being relatively busy (it was a Saturday), the spa was big enough for all, and thankfully very quiet in all the relaxation areas. The gym isn’t huge but has much more than most hotel gyms I’ve been to! Would definitely recommend the wellness day passes even if you can’t stay overnight.

Overall I absolutely loved my stay at Chewton Glen. We were made to feel so welcome by all the staff (and there were a lot of them!), and they pulled out all the stops to make it a special weekend for Fiann’s birthday. 100% would recommend for anyone looking for a unique weekend away – there are rooms available for every type of weekend break, and the hotel really thinks of everything for you. They even provided much needed hunter wellies for our walk to the coast. Take a look at the rooms to see how perfect it is for yourself!

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Nb/ The overnight stay was provided free of charge, however as always all views are my own.

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New Years resolution ideas

I have mixed feelings about New Year’s resolutions – on the one hand, we should be being the person we want to be year round, and any day is a great day to make a positive change. On the other hand, it seems that the idea of the New Year can encourage people to make changes they’ve been waiting to make for a while.

However, when you look at the statistics the results aren’t promising – 40% to 45% of people in the US make New Year’s resolution, yet only 8% of people stick to them for the first month. The most common resolution is to lose weight, but instead of taking things away from your life, why not add something in? Take a look at these slightly different New Year resolution ideas. The goal here is happiness gained, not pounds lost, and the chances are, once you find that you’re enjoying the changes, you’ll be part of the 8% that stick to their resolutions!

 

Social media
Social media free times
– whilst eating, before bed, or any other time when being on your phone may distract from your enjoyment or achievement of something, put it away. This is a good exercise in discipline – we’re all so used to being able to reach for our phones every two minutes that we end up distracting ourselves throughout the day. Putting your phone down for certain parts of the day can improve concentration, productivity and enjoyment of whatever activity you’re doing!

Be more true to yourself. Everyone knows instagram is a highlight reel, which has an effect both on yourself (pressure to produce ‘perfect’ content) and others (comparing their real life to your ‘perfect’ instagram one). Changing my instagram to reflect real life as much as picture perfect life has helped me reduce pressure on myself and hopefully others too. Why not show a bit more of your personality on your facebook/twitter/IG as well as the highlights?

 

Mindfulness
Write 5 things you’re grateful for at the end of everyday for a month (or longer). This has been proven to increase positivity by changing your mindset from picking out the negatives in a situation to searching for the positives. It takes time but is an amazing exercise to do!

Learn something new each week by podcasting. Try to listen to one podcast a week. See my podcast recommendations here!

Call your friends/parents more. Everyone knows they should do this but actually doing it is a different matter! Stick in some headphones and call a loved one whilst on a walk. It’ll make their day and you’re getting the benefits of a walk too.

 

Health
Drink more water
. Water increases energy levels, improves your skin, flushes out toxins and ensures you remain hydrated, which is important for all your bodily functions.

Give up caffeine. Caffeine in itself is not bad for you (up to a point), but reliance on a morning coffee can have effects on our mental state (not to mention that it’s expensive). Try giving it up or limiting your intake. You’d be surprised at the difference it can make!

 

Environment
Go vegetarian/vegan
. Cutting out meat (and dairy products) can have positive effects on your health, the environment and your wallet. Red meat is by far the worst, so even if you don’t want to go full vegan, consider cutting out all red meat/meat/meat and fish/meat, fish and dairy. Any change is a positive change, and you’ll likely to find that there are a lot of amazing recipes out there that don’t require harm to the the world. Read my reasons for being vegetarian (ex-pescetarian).

Quit single-use plastics. That coffee cup you pick up on your way to work? That’s not recyclable. The plastic bag you use to take your shopping home in? That’ll not break down for up to 1000 years. Consider reusing any plastic you already have (water bottles, bags etc.) and give up buying any more over January. It’s a fun challenge and will make you more aware of how much you can do to help the environment.

 

Work
Stop procrastinating
. Whilst procrastination can have some positive effects (reduced stress, displacement activities etc.), we undoubtedly have times where things don’t get done because of procrastination. There are two easy ways to stop this happening.

  • 2 minute rule – if something is going to take 2 minutes or less, do it now. Washing up that pan, replying to an email, putting on a wash – these things aren’t difficult or time consuming, but for some reason we like to put them off. Over January (at least), try implementing the 2 minute rule.
  • To do lists. Become a pro at writing to do lists (by hand!). Writing them correctly will break down big tasks and make them much more achievable.

 

Take breaks from your desk at uni/work. Despite the majority of employers allowing hour lunch breaks, only 45% of employees regularly take any breaks at all. However, taking regular short breaks and getting out at lunchtime can improve productivity and overall happiness at work. The top 10% most productive employees take 17-minute breaks for every 52 minutes of work they put in, so this may be worth a shot.

 

I hope you found these ideas useful. I’d be interested to hear of any other resolutions you might have! Let me know on my instagram.

 

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Happy New Year everyone!