Don’t ever think you can’t do this! My personal journey…

October 30, 2011

This is for anyone that thinks they can’t do this or it is too late.

This is a race report I wrote 2007 about my early days of ultra running. I now compete on a regular basis in the UK and have have some good successes, placing in the top 10 of a few races.

A little context before I get into it properly.

Date : February 2005
Location : Landing at LAX in a Qantas Jumbo.
Situation : Massive chest pains, on the verge of passing out.

So that was me – 33 years old, 94KGS (78 at the time of writing), very unfit and thinking that I may not see my wife and son again.

Thought I better do something about my health.

Date: July 2006
Location: Goldcoast Hinterland, Australia
Situation : Half way around the 96km Kokoda Challenge course wondering if I’ll make it!

Had gotten dragged into this event by some friends. Not really knowing what I was doing.  Finished the course in 26hrs, came in the top 20. (but this is another story)

Date: December 30th, 6:50am
Location : MacRichie Reservoir carpark, Singapore.
Situatio : About to start a 12 hours Ultramarathon.

So there I am.  Dressed in white Skins and wearing a goofy fishing hat (my theory was to help fight the heat), with a recently bought double water bottle holder from NorthFace, two pockets full of GU Gels and an Eski full of Accelerade, more GU gels and my wife’s browies.

The question I wanted to answer was how far I’d come since that plane journey in 2005.

The race format is simple.  The MR25 Runners group ( <> ) had marked out a 10.5km route.  The target was to do as many loops as possible in a 12 hour timeframe.

The event was really well organized with three water stops and food available for all competitors.  Anyone could attend and do as many laps as they wanted.  If you completed 5 laps (52.5kms) you received an Ultramarathon certificate.    About 190 people competed.

Before the race

It’s never cold in Singapore, but I still had goosebumps.  Could all the effort I’d put in get me through this event?  I’d done a two lap recce run, I’d run a 4hr Marathon less than a month earlier, but was I up to this?  There was only one way to find out.

My strategy was simple.  Try and do a few quick(ish) laps before the Sun got too hot, hang in there during the hot period and then power through towards the end.

Lap 1

I set off at what was probably too fast a pace.   I was running with a friend (we’ll call him James) who’s was going to do three laps, go home and then come and acts as a pacer for me towards the end of the day.  Up until a month before this event, James was having real trouble with the Singapore heat.  We’d done some 10 and 20 km runs on the flat in training and the guy really suffered.  The good news was that he had an excellent running history, the bad news was that (although still in shape) he hadn’t run for a while.

We set off in the mass group.  There were many runners who only planned to do a few laps, but most wanted to hit the 5 lap Ultra target.

A year of planning all came to this.  50m down the road I had to stop to adjust my North Face Boa’s (that was embarrassing), another 100m down the road one of my water bottles fell out (that was more embarrassing), 200m down the road a large a large snapping noise could be heard as I tried to tighten my drinks holder.  This wasn’t the start I’d hoped for.  At the first water point I stopped to repair my running belt.  Nothing permanent, just a loop had come undone.  I must have looked ‘interesting’ to all those that passed me in my all white outfit as I sat there on the floor making field repairs.  You see I broke one of the Cardinal rules of Ultra running ‘don’t try anything new on the day’.

Once repairs we’re finished we set off again. First lap took 1hr 9mins, 33 seconds.  Feeling good and strong.

Lap 2

Uneventful.  Still feeling strong.  Watched many of the other runners drop their speed significantly at this point.

Time, 1hr 8mins, 33 seconds.

Lap 3

Still feeling good, but know I’ve run more than a half marathon across tough terrain.

This is James’ last lap for the moment and he pulls up at the 7km point and starts to walk.  No shame there.  I keep running, but then hit a hill path with nothing but twisted roots and tree branches.  I decide to walk for a bit.  Ten minutes late James catches me up.  We run the rest of the lap.

Time 1hr 24 mins 0 seconds (getting slower)

Lap 4

James is gone now.  Only myself to listen to.  Was good having a friend to take my mind off of things.

In my mind I knew two things.  This lap would take me to marathon distance and I still needed to cover at least one more lap to qualify for that Ultra certificate.

It was past 11am now and the Sun was getting hot. There is one section of the run that is totally exposed for about 3kms. The Skins and the fishing hat really paid off.

Time 1hr 38mins 32 seconds (now things are getting tough)

Lap 5

I knew this was the keeper.  I’d not run much more that this distance on the flat recently, so doing it cross country was new territory.  Even though I was slowing down I knew I could do this. That fat weak guy on the plane was getting smaller all the time.

Time 1hr 33mins 49 seconds (wow, somehow I’d gotten faster….but pride comes before a fall).

Lap 6

I’d done it, completed an Ultra.  That mental and physical challenge was beaten, but what now.  Only one thing for it. I had plenty of time left so everything from this point onwards was bonus, but man was it starting to hurt.

It was during this lap I spoke to the eventual winner briefly.  He was a lap ahead of me.  This is a mistake I won’t make again.  The knowledge that someone was that far ahead really wasn’t a positive thing.

By this point I’d gotten to the point where I’d lost track of how many GU gels I’d had.  My plan was to take one everyone 45 mins and a brownie every lap.  I think I maintained that for the first four, but now I was on nothing but instinct.  Had to fuel the machine, but the machines computer was getting confused…..had to guess.

My trusty Garmin 305 was doing it’s job well, just that I was somewhere else.

The others on the run had started to know who I was too.  I was ahead of many runners, but all they wanted me to do was do well.  Loads of them kept shouting ‘keep going Richard’. What a great crew.  I’ll never forget that.

Then it hit me, that sensation that says ‘if you keep running, those white Skins will be brown very soon’.  Runners trots.  Nightmare!!!!!

I was about 2kms from a ranger station with good bathrooms.  I managed to make it there (very carefully).  Took a serious hit on time, but also lost a lot of fluid.  Needed to be careful for the rest of this lap.

Time 1hr 44mins 29 seconds (slow, slow, slow….but with clean pants!!!!!)

Lap 7

I was starting to feel good again after that lap ‘interesting’ lap.  The stomach upset was gone.

I’d arranged that James would meet me around 3:30pm to help on the last two laps.  I got to the lap point at 3pm so kept going.  He caught me around the 6KM mark.

Turns out he’d sprinted as hard as he could to catch me.  He’d asked if anyone had seen me.  Wearing the white outfit I wasn’t hard to spot!  He eventually got a guy on a lookout tower to look for me.  I was about 1.5KMs ahead.  I’ll always be grateful for him running with me on those last two laps, but he came to regret that sprint later.  Having him back with me giving positive encouragement helped massively.

James told me that my wife and son were waiting at the lap point.

This was a double edged sword.  I really wanted to see them (which pushed me on to finish the lap), but on the marathon a month ago when I met up with them at the 35KM point my focus totally went.  Could I maintain it?

So I got to the lap point and there was my beautiful wife and great little son.  She was there with her trusty Pentax DSLR, he was there shouting ‘GO DADDY GO!’.

For a moment I thought to myself ‘is seven laps enough’….the focus was going.  Then I remembered the marathon.  Keep going Richard, Keep going.

Whilst I took on water at the Lap Point one of the organizers came up to me and started asking my shoe size.  ‘If you can do this lap around 1hr 30mins you’ll win a prize.

My prize was already won, I’d forever banished that weak man of 2005.

Time 1hr 35 mins 27 seconds

Lap 8

James and I set off again.  Simple plan.  Walk the hills, run the flats and down hills.

I knew I had 1hr 55 left to complete this lap.  No problem, but I wanted to push right to the end.

At this point things were really tough.  James had started to carry my water bottles.  I tried to run where possible, but the previous 10hrs were taking effect.

I wasn’t bothered about the prize by about the 2km, just wanted to finish that lap within the 12hr limit.  My mind had woken up and the maths was working.  If I walk for ‘x’ mins here, here and here I can make it in time.

We made it to the Ranger Station at the 4.5KM mark.  I asked James to fill the bottles and catch up.  He said he didn’t think he could.  I told him he could.  Turns out he couldn’t.  The poor guy cramped up.

I left him and kept running expecting him to catch up, he never did.  I was now running the last 6KMs with no water bottle.

This is where I start to shout at myself.  ‘Come on you fat b*stard, you can do this’.  Every step was pain, every bump in the ground felt like a hill.
Somehow, this was the first lap where I started to feel any pain in my feet.  A blister was starting on the inside of my left foot.  It was all just noise at this point.

At the 7km point my Garmin 305 started to give me the low battery warning.  I’d was relying on it to work out when I could walk or run.  If it died the only way to be sure of getting in by the 12 hour cut off was to run all the way.  I decided to start running (shuffling really).

As I round the corner to the last stretch before the end I knew I’d done it.  There was my wife and son, but also there was a whole bunch of people who I’d never met before that were cheering me on.  The last surge of adrenalin came and I crossed the line.  I’d made it in the time needed.  I was 10th.

Time 1hr 35mins 33 seconds.

The End

In total I covered 84kms in 11hrs 40 mins and came 10th overall.

If you want to see the full details of my run use the link below. <;unitSystemPkValue=1&amp;episodePk…pkValue=4678435>


So there you have my little story.  From fat bloke to Ultra runner.  I hope you find this report interesting and that it maybe helps anyone else out there who thinks they are so out of shape that there is no coming back.

James got in with two minutes to spare, so will receive his Ultra certificate.

All the best


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