Embracing the Fear of Ultramarathons

Running and Stuff (2015) by James Adams


Motivation

Using a ‘stream of consciousness‘ writing style, Adams relays the details of how he tackled some of the toughest ultra races in the world.

Uninspired by running marathons, Adams becomes motivated by other runners’ abilities to overcome intense and prolonged pain. After running his first ultramarathons in 2007 (the Tring 2 Town Ultra) and 2008 (the Grand Union Canal Race) he learns his body can cope with high mileage weeks and racing frequently.

He writes a frank and humorous blog to chronicle his journey towards running extreme distances.

Experience

The Briton Adams completes multi-day races as well as the famous Spartathlon 246 km race (twice) and the Badwater 135 mile race with fearless stubbornness. Rather than spending his life attaining material possessions, these incredible feats of endurance are his way of sharpening his mind and collecting stories.

He compares his experiences to giving birth and believes injuries caused by running can be fixed by more running. He enjoys regular banter with other runners and meets many people that assist him, a measure he finds more important than the display of a watch. He finds that over time, training and running for long distances will squash his nerves and desire to quit.

His adventure concludes with a gruelling 3,220-mile run across 13 states of America, which takes him 70 days, in which time he requires hospital treatment for severe dehydration. He also suffers days of post-run depression.

Guidance

Despite his laid-back and daring persona, Adams discovers important lessons on the most effective means to train for ultramarathons.

  1. Run marathon races as training.

  2. Focus on how you feel whilst running, because this determines the outcome of a run.

  3. Always consider how you want to feel the day after a race, as this will ensure you embrace your weaknesses early and spend time overcoming them.

  4. Races require you to become ‘emotional imperfectionists’, willing to risk failure so you can achieve indescribable highs.

Ultimately, Adams proves that to run extreme distances you do not need natural talent or tactical mastery, just a love of running combined with a lack of fear.

5 Ways Swimming Developed My Athleticism

My mum introduced me to swimming at an early age, paddling in the training pool. In primary school I took lessons. I had a instructor who was encouraging, friendly and patient. I accumulated six local school badges, including 25 metres unaided, and overcame my fear to pencil dive. Swimming was one of the first sports in which I gained personal success.

I took a long break from swimming throughout my teens and later picked it up as training for my sprint triathlon. I swam with friends and colleagues from my university sports centre. I enjoyed the challenge even though it took a while to regain the correct technique with the aid of a nose plug, goggles and cap.


Swimming has taught me to be a better athlete.

There are many components to any action – swimming is difficult because you have to find a rhythm with your breathing, as well as arm, leg and head movements.

Confidence in enduring discomfort is essential to progress – my fear of drowning, especially at the deep end of the pool, taught me to focus and recognise that this was a barrier to my athletic development.

The importance of a mentor can never be underestimated – my instructor gave me the necessary knowledge and self-belief to continue even when I could have easily given up.

Feeling relaxed is the optimal state for performance – considerable practice and calmness during exercise are essential to realise your full potential.

Accumulating mementos can inspire you – a motivating factor growing up was to obtain the next badge, which continually pushed me to achieve more than I would have otherwise.

I am not the best swimmer, not least because I find it hard to stay afloat. However, it is an exercise that requires immense concentration and helped me overcome personal weaknesses growing up.

Fear and My First Marathon

29 September 2013.
The sign was not clear. A marshal repeated his mantra “half marathon straight on, marathon to the left.”
I heard my mum say it was fine to finish the half marathon.
Despite the pain I had eliminated that option before the race.
I took the turn, away from the crowds.
Away from the finish line.
Away from my comfort zone.
I stopped to use a port-a-loo. My legs stiffened as I descended into the country park. A large lake appeared. I was to run three quarters of it.
An ambulance soon passed me, forcing me and other runners onto the grass. My calves were so tight I was reduced to jogging and walking. My muscles threatened to cramp.
The sports drinks and water did nothing to help.
When I caught up with the ambulance a runner was sitting on the grass, his race finished.
I knew it could be my fate.
I had to dig deep to keep moving forward. I tried to count seconds to establish a rhythm but I could not concentrate for long.
I started to doubt myself. I feared I would not finish in the allocated time and be disqualified. I was unaware of the cut-off time and could not work out what my projected time would be. The mile markers were also further than my Garmin recorded.
I continued along the River Trent, passing people enjoying the sun.
Every step was another shock to my body.
I soon had to squeeze through pedestrians and marshals as I went over the final bridge.
My mood worsened as I felt the race would never finish.
Yet I sprinted the last metres to the line. The fatigue was tangible as I forced back tears.


Fear got me through the race. Fear of the unknown. Fear of letting myself down, and my family who supported me. Fear that I may need a medic to take me to the finish. 

Fear also got me to the start line. I had imagined running a marathon for some time and I worried I would never achieve it. I had forced myself to enter the race a month prior; evidence that I was unsure of the challenge.

I had convinced myself that with less training I ran better. But I was wrong.

It was my greatest achievement to date because I used all my mental resolve to overcome severe physical discomfort. I reminded myself I had chosen this, that I wanted to run because I enjoyed it, despite the pain.

Best of all I learnt a great deal about the person I am.

Robin Hood Marathon