Anyone can be an ultrarunner… including me!

“Anyone can be an ultrarunner,” says Scott Jurek, the world’s best ever ultrarunner.

That’s easy for Scott to say. This is man that runs 50 miles for fun – when he’s racing its normally 100+ miles.

To nearly everyone else, these numbers seem crazy. I mean, just running a 26.2mile marathon is mad enough, but to double that, triple it or even quadruples it…

Nope, sorry Scott, you’re on your own here I’m afraid. This type of thing can only be for a select club of elite athletes, people who have been running at a high level since they were kids.

Or so I thought…

…up until about 48hours ago when I had just officially joined the ranks of ultrarunning, becoming an Alumni of a group of runners who have successfully completed an ultramarathon.

My ultra?

50 miles of the North Downs Way (split between Surrey & Kent in the UK), taking in several thousand feet of elevation, while running through some amazing off-road scenery, that makes you proud to be British and live in this greenest of green countries.

It took me 12 1/2hours of continuous effort, much of which I was alone, with only myself as my motivator.

It was hard, actually, it was bloody hard. But I did it.

Why did I put myself through this? Well, this is my story….

I run, but I’m not a runner.

My last attempt to do anything notable was the London Marathon in 2010, where my body broke down in training and again on the day, resulting in me hobbling from mile 10 and finally crossing over the finish line something just short of 5 ½ hours.

My body felt so shattered after that experience I doubted if I would ever run again, over any distance. I’d really hurt my left knee and I genuinely thought “that’s it, game over.”

So I put my running shoes in the cupboard and didn’t do anything for at least a year.

If people asked me if I ran, I’d answer “that I used to until I hurt my knee.”

Looking back, I can now see that I used it as a way out – some kind of way to justify the fact that I was crap at running, or at least that’s how I felt about me and running.

Saying I got injured seemed ‘manly’, letting people draw conclusions that I must have been pushing it so hard that I got injured.

Yeah right, if only. Inside, I felt like a failure and, if I’m honest, I was scared to go back for more – wouldn’t you be?

Who wants to do something that they’re clearly not good at.

So, let’s wind forward a year…

I began meeting inspirational individuals such as Andy North, Richard Hume and Chris Brisley (within the interviews I was conducting for our Podcast).

I listened to them tell their life stories and their adventures, the way they built up to these incredible events, the way they dealt with knock-backs and how they remained motivated and full of desire.

They all had this same type of ‘can-do’ attitude. They’d all had things go wrong at some point, but they just chalked these up to experience and went back for more.

These guys were pushing it – in every direction. AND – they weren’t scared. This was the big part for me.

I’ll say it one more time – THEY WEREN’T SCARED.

I felt something change. A small spark maybe, but it felt like a part that was pretty tucked away was trying to spring back into life. It was faint, but it was definitely there.

Then my mind started to wander, firstly to implant images of running trails and the feelings of completing these exciting challenges that these people were doing – it was like watching a movie but being in it at the same time.

But then, over a little more time, instead of them (Andy, Richard, Chris etc.) being in the movie – it was me.

Something was beginning to form and with it my belief slowly began to return.

I got my running shoes back out of the cupboard, yet before I put them on to run and train blindly (as I had done before), I thought about what I wanted to achieve, how I wanted to train, how long I had to build up to my goal.

Importantly, I immersed myself in research, through listening to interviews I had done, or other Podcasts, and also finding blogs, websites and people on Twitter. I listened, learned and applied.

I soon found myself reading ‘What I talk about when I talk about Running,’ then ‘The Long Run,’ then ‘The Iron War‘ and most recently ‘Born to Run.’

All of these books were inspirational stories about people, running, challenges and ultra-running.

I more I learned, the more I realised that I didn’t know. I started researching nutrition and hydration and even learning about different events.

Each page, each interview, each tweet created a more concrete image in my mind, making it closer to a reality, until one day….

I entered ‘The North Downs Way 50mile ultramarathon’

I’d done it.

Phew, I could finally let out a sigh of relief. It was all over – complete.

Some of you will get what I mean in that previous statement, others will be sitting there going huh?

Let me explain why I said it was done and over, even though the race was still a year away and I hadn’t even begun my training.

What I mean by ‘I’d done it’ was that I’d finally tackled this issue head-on and overcome it. I was no longer running away or hiding behind excuses.

I’d dealt with it in my mind.

I’d changed my mindset from someone who thought that this was impossible for ‘someone like me’ to achieve and turned it into ‘I can do this – I will do this.’

I had convinced myself that I deserved to be a part of this, that I was worthy enough to stand next to the others on the start line of this extreme event.

I will write another article on the actual event, as I know people are interested to understand what it is like to train and compete in one of these, but that is not important now.

All I want the reader of this article to consider is that overcoming my fear of entering this event was the hardest part of this entire journey.

We’ve heard many wise people say that the fist step is always the hardest. Well, I can now verify this. It is completely true.

Once you’ve plucked up the courage to take that first, almost impossible step, then the rest just seems to fall into place.

My first ultramarathon won’t break any record times, but I did it. And although I was tired at the end, I was not broken. I was still smiling and I was still running.

Importantly, I’m looking forward to 2013 and my opportunity to do it all over again…

Article notes:

Firstly, there will be a part two to this article, where I give you a synopsis of my training, preparation and the actual race itself.

For the record, The North Downs Way Ultra was organised by Centurion Running.

And, just so you know who I am…. I’m Kevin Matthews, Producer of the Maximise Potential Podcast, and from time to time I try and put my own perspective on situations I’ve faced over the years and share the lessons that I’ve learnt.

If you’re a fan of TWITTER, please come and connect with me @maximisemylife and if you want to keep up to date with the articles, podcasts and videos that we post here, subscribe to Maximise Potential here!

About the Author

Hi, I'm Tom Burkinshaw, I co-produce the Maximise Your Potential Podcast and Website and my goal is to help as many people as possible be successful in life, careers and business, by offering free coaching and mentoring through a series of unique interviews from inspiring people who all display exceptional self-belief, mental toughness and desire to achieve. Thank you for taking the time to visit Maximise Your Potential!