On the 11th and 12th July, I ran my first ultramarathon: the 100km Race to the Stones. In the days since I did my ultra marathon there seem to be two common questions from my non-running friends, ‘Why?’ and ‘How?’
The first question, ‘why?’, I’m not even sure I can answer. There are too many answers and while they all make sense, at the same time they don’t always make sense. So perhaps the best answer is because it is a challenge, and I want to see if I can do it.
The second question, ‘how?’, also takes some thought but it’s a bit easier to answer. At a very basic level, it’s simply left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot, repeated for 62 and a bit miles. But it’s much more than that. It’s not about the training: I’ve done the training and I trust my training. Getting through 100km is about mental strength.
Bill Rogers once said, “Running is 90% mental. And 10% mental.” And getting through any race of any distance is essentially about the mental challenge. On the second day, I ran almost 25 miles of trail all by myself, alone with my thoughts and those daft earworm songs – this particular one was ‘I’m a little coconut’ that I’d been signing with my daughter a couple of days beforehand.
In the end, I used three things to get through the mental challenge of running an ultra:
- Setting myself smaller challenges: run to that next bush/that next sign, and get to 13.1 miles down/half way/a half marathon to go. I focused on the challenge I had set myself and didn’t think about what had come before and what was still left to do.
- Having a mantra: I didn’t choose a mantra beforehand but at 20 miles one suddenly appeared in my head. “Don’t do anything stupid and keep moving.” This reminded me that I still had a long way to go and to push myself now could mean disaster later.
- Making friends: this one was particularly important to me because it meant I could chat with people I met during the race and distract my mind from what my body was doing. I met people whose pacing strategy was based on getting to the pub near the finish in time for last orders, another runner had come from the Caribbean and all we could see at the time was Didcot power station, and I ran the whole of leg 5 with Graham from Stratford whilst we chatted about training and food.
Nothing can prepare you for your first race at a new distance whether it’s a 5km or a 100km. And the bigger the distance, the more your non-running friends think it’s impossible.
So the best advice I can give you is this: you are not alone in striving to do what others may think impossible. Many, many others have been in your position - but by believing in yourself and using a few mental tricks of the trade you can achieve the impossible, you can achieve all you dream of.
As Jiminy Cricket said in the Walt Disney 1940 classic film, Pinocchio, "Anything is possible if you just believe."
Written by SisuGirls Community Ambassador, Kassia Gardner.
Kassia Gardner loves running. As well as running road marathons she’s also an ultra and trail runner. As an Event Director for junior parkrun Kassia is passionate about getting kids moving and believes that sports can empower girls and teach them skills such as teamwork, determination, focus, goal setting and dealing with failure. Her own personal motto is, ‘I don’t need easy, I just need possible!’