0 – 40 miles, or how I accidentally became an Ultra marathon runner

As the doms are now a distant memory from the 40 mile ultra marathon I completed in August, I wanted to reflect on the months of training leading up to the event and how I somehow managed to drag my body around my first ever ultra marathon on what turned out to be one of the hottest days of the year and some of the lessons I learnt about running and myself.

In January, I went out for my first run with my wife to help support her training goals for running the Manchester Marathon in April and I remember despite being reasonably fit from cycling 20km a day to and from work, dying a death running a mile at an 11 minute pace.

It really wasn’t that long ago but it feels like an age – mentally, physically and personally.

I’m by no means a great runner, but I’ve improved my fitness and stamina through hard work. I’m unlikely ever to win a race of any sort but not many folks do.That’s OK, to coin the parlance of so many entertainment channel programs, I’m on a “journey” to see how far I can push myself now.

It’s certainly been an interesting year. I’ve found a sport I genuinely enjoy, that gives me the option to run with my wife or alone and where I can compete and know that while I won’t win, I can enjoy the experience and almost certainly not finish last either because it’s very inclusive at all levels.

Zero to Marathon

It all started quite innocently in January with a plan to join my wife on a couple of short training runs for the Manchester marathon and turning up to do a parkrun in January – a timed 5km run on a saturday morning.

I was never going to enter a marathon, I couldn’t run 2 miles let alone 26.2.

As the training weeks went on, it was nice to have something to aim towards each week and the slowly increasing mileage of the Sunday long slow run gave us something to look forward to and an ever growing number of new friends that we’ve met through parkrun meant we always had company and encouragement.

It gets addictive.

The challenge of distance

I’ve found I enjoy distance running. No doubt in part because I live right on the border of the Peak District and have moorland trails on the doorstep so I don’t have to pound the pavements for hours on end but running in the mud, wet and cold exposed moors does have its own set of challenges.

Scheduling in the miles isn’t too tricky thanks to my commute and I’ve started running upwards of 40 miles a week now as I can run, depending on routes and how much pain I want to endure before work, 6 – 13 miles to work 3 or 4 days a week as well as trying to get a longer run in at the weekend although family is always first.

Distance running is a release and a chance to totally switch off for a few hours and get into a rhythm and clear the mind. I’ve been feeling the effects of burnout with the web for some time and running is an escape.

Trashed legs

Predictably enough, the quads take a pounding when you’re on the move for hours but so far I’ve found it just about manageable although who knows how that’ll go when I step up to longer distances over 50 miles. Since April if I count my training runs I’ve actually run over 20 miles several times and apart from general wear and tear I’ve been incredibly lucky with injuries and I’ve not had a single blister.


I initially ran listening to music but I actually found it got distracting after a while and I don’t really bother any more. I prefer to listen to my stride and the surroundings when I’m out and about. Running for 4-6 hours requires a certain degree of detachment and it’s probably what I like about it.


At the start of the year, I couldn’t have told you what a good running speed was, I had no personal bests and no real targets or hobbies. It’s all changed. I’ve become a competitor. I’m entering races for the experience and fun of it and training when I’m not racing.

The Manchester Marathon – April 2012

The Manchester marathon was brutal but we’d trained and were ready to get to the finish line with it being the first marathon we didn’t set a time target but the weather on the day was something I’d think twice about hiking in full waterproof gear in let alone shorts. Cold, driving wind and wind for nearly 6 hours as turned out (thanks to a muscle injury to the wife, we walked from 21 miles).

It didn’t break us and we knew once we’d got past 20 miles we were going to finish. With a near case of hypothermia but 5 hours 45 minutes later we crossed the finish line to be met by our families. That’s a sense of achievement and a lift you seldom get to feel without putting in a great deal of effort.

Finishing time: 5 hours 45 minutes

Marsden 10 mile challenge – June 2012

My first local race, it pretty much passes my house and features a pretty brutal 1250 foot climb in the first 6 miles followed by 4 miles of great downhill trail. It was tough, I knew it would be as I run these trails the other way to work but running them at race pace was truly hard work.

I guess as with every “first” race you’re setting a time to come back to next time and I’m pretty confident I could knock 10 minutes off my time with better uphill running.

Finishing time: 1 hour 28 minutes 29 seconds

Ultrapeaks 40 mile race – August 2012

Self portrait - Ultra marathon at 35 milesFinishing the Manchester marathon left me with a nagging feeling there was a little more left in the legs at the end so I entered the UltraRace.Peaks 40 miler.

Following a similar plan to one of the marathon ones available but with a couple of longer runs up to 30 miles and before I knew it I was at the start line of something that ultimately took 8 hours 30 to complete but if only a tenth of a percent of people complete a marathon then I suspect that number is significantly smaller when you increase the miles and the challenge.

I walked about half the ultra – the uphill bits – and that glamorous mugshot at 35 miles is me flagging but strangely confident and euphoric knowing that I am going to finish, even if I have to walk.

Ultimately I was over 3 hours slower than the winner – a running robot from the future I believe – but I managed to cross the finish line 47th out of 63 people. Not last!

Finishing time: 8 hours 30 minutes

Kirkwood Hospice 10k – September 2012

I don’t get to do many local races largely because my wife is so understanding about needing to do longer distance training runs at the weekend so I typically take our son along to cheer her in the local races but I did this one at short notice and despite totally forgetting to run my own race, got swept up in a quick start and finished weakly.

Finishing time: 46 minutes 7 seconds


So much of the joy I’ve got from running has come from the support and friendship of people Ally and I have met and got to know at our local parkrun and I’ve enjoyed the occasional challenge of racing myself for a PB.

Some milestones from parkrun include:

  • My first parkrun, 21st Jan 2012 – 29:08
  • Pushing a toddler in a buggy around – 26th May 2012 – 30:05
  • Breaking the magical 20 minutes – 15th Sept 2012 – 19:52

When I did my first parkrun, I didn’t even have a target time, since that first run I’ve knocked off more than 9 minutes and lost 2 stone.

If you’re interested in getting into running in any way, I honestly can’t say nice enough things about parkrun. It’s been a life changer.

The future

I’m more sure than ever that ultra distance running is something I could really get into. It requires a level of preparation and training that appeals to me. I’m running a 5 hour race soon but the aim is to start looking towards longer and longer distances with a 100 mile race possibly on the cards in 2013.

I’ve got a half marathon in Huddersfield in October but scarily I’m using it as nothing more than a training run with good company!

I know I’m a runner now, my most expensive footwear is a pair of bright green running shoes.

Your story

I hope this has been of interest, I know a lot of fellow designers also run at various levels, I’d love to hear your stories. Give me a shout on Twitter or leave a comment.