It’s the 8th of December and I’m ill. I’ve just spent 14 hours in bed trying to recover from whatever illness I’ve managed to catch. And for some reason, like a dickhead, yesterday I signed up for the 41 mile Millennium Way Ultra marathon.

The Author

It’s definitely worth pointing out this isn’t an amazing success story, yes it was a success not only did we finish the race but it was within the time. Due to plenty of illness and as a knock on effect an unusual lack of training for once we finished as some of the last runners. But the point of this isn’t about winning the race or about how fast we did it. It’s the fact that we did it at all, and the fact we can run this far and for the most part enjoy ourselves!

I’m writing this as I haven’t really ever fully put in words what I go through training for an ultra marathon so I thought it could be interesting. This however isn’t actually everything, as it’s slightly different every time. It’s important to point out I don’t eat super healthy all the time either, just on and off a bit healthier when I’m training. However the food I ate in Peru and the convenience food I have on the way to work has definitely put pounds on me. Despite the fact that I spent a good deal of the trip to Peru hiking up a volcano and Machu Picchu. I’m way too heavy for me right now, at the moment I weight 12stone 5.5 pounds, though admittedly the Peruvian girl I was seeing did tell me their food was going to make me fat. I told her I didn’t care and it would be worth it, though I think maybe the Alpaca pizza might have been pushing it maybe a little. Thinking about it though, that extra five pounds I seem to have put on could just be all the snot in my lungs right now.

What’s the Millennium Way Ultra?

As I mentioned before it’s a lovely calming 41 miles of race, it runs the course of the Millennium Way which is one of the UK’s national trails. What’s more it’s flat for the majority of the course which for us (at the time based on our past experiences all being sea cliffs and coastline) sounded like taking a holiday. The reason why it’s so flat as for the majority of the trail it just uses canal path’s and old train lines. And to run this entire course you have twelve hours. It start’s in Newport and after passing through a few smaller area’s eventually takes you all the way to Burton On Trent.

Why Would You Run That?

So why the hell would you even do that to yourself? You may be asking yourself this question as you read this blog. Well, if you are a goal focused person this is great for you and it’s a huge effort what’s more it is a huge achievement and it puts everything in perspective. Missed the bus? Who cares? you ran 41 miles yesterday! Someone cut you up? So what you could have died yesterday! You get the idea. Personally I really find it helps with my anxiety for that very reason even though it might not sound like it would. Now the reason why we are doing this one in particular is because it is intended as training for more ultra’s later in the year. The idea is to start us off gently for much further races on the more challenging terrain we’ve previously enjoyed on The Jurassic Coast Ultra and The Isle of Wight Challenge. Now in retrospect these over races never happen because of course the slight matter of the global pandemic. And instead I’m now as I write this trying to shake off lock-down weight and get ready for another ultra in March 2021.

Any endurance runner will tell you that running long distances takes far more than just training and fitness. It takes a good mental game and mental toughness which you can build in training, but it might already be part of your personality. It also really helps if you are a bit of a daydreamer, which I used to be and still am when I’m out running. In fact I can let my mind wander and think of some super random things. When things start to get really painful you can then just start to ‘zone out’ and trust me they will definitely get painful. Not that I’m trying to put you off or anything. Really if I haven’t put you off the idea of doing an ultra by the end of this blog you might end up doing one.

When you are running this far I find you need to let everything go and focus on the task at hand. The smallest worry or the smallest injury will slowly across the time of the race grow to something much bigger and damaging. The other thing is to be able to push away negative thoughts because if you do have a great imagination and you zone out with negative thoughts, you will just destroy yourself mentally, as I did myself when I was silly enough to have a crack at the Windermere One Way Swim. That challenge in particular due to difficulties the day before and the start meant I went into that race negative, and I promise you it really doesn’t help. I’m sure that blog highlights you can’t always beat the negativity, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t plan to.

It’s also worth considering that your body is going to deteriorate across the course of the race, it just will. Luckily all the small pains and niggles all eventually become one, whole body pain which I always feel is much easier to deal with. (That probably makes me sound like a total sadist) That’s unless of course something just falls off part way round. Obviously training helps a lot as your body gets used to this, well as much as is possible. It’s not normal to run this far so be prepared to sprain things, suffer with bruised feeling feet, sore joints, lose whole toenails, blisters and a whole host of other potential issues. And that’s just in training! And talking of training for ultra marathons…..

For once the training goes: incredibly badly

It’s true when they say you can’t win them all but in this case I’ve not really set myself up for success. Day one of training is painful, I still feel sick and tired and what’s more it’s raining heavily and only a few degrees outside. You might think we’d be used of it in the UK and we are but some days it would be nice to just have a sunny day. However if you want to do anything in the UK you better be prepared to do it in the rain.

Day two is more even more of a bitch. The weather is still grim, and I can barely get out of bed. I’m going to give it a punt down the canal and see if I can get to maybe 5 or 6 miles. This is a horrific jump from 2.5 after really winding down, but to get locked onto my proper training plan I’ve got to be able to do at least 6 to 8 to even start. I get to about 4.5 miles in the freezing rain get drowned by a passing car, and have to stop before I vomit. This is how some training days are, some just suck.

The Other Days: Making use of the cold

It might come as a surprise considering some of the stuff I do (if you have read any of the rest of the blogs) but I do like a bit of comfort in fact too much so I have to balance it out by using some more brutal training techniques. When I’m pushing for a distance in winter which during this part of my training it is, I’ll only wear only enough clothing to keep me warm if I’m running. And if I stop I’ll literally freeze. I don’t take any cash, and because of this I have to complete the run because I’ve removed the choice of just giving up and getting a bus train or taxi home. In fact a lot of the time I’ll just make sure I’m running a route where the only way back is by foot. You can be quite surprised what you can achieve when the choice to give up is totally removed.

Unfortunately a few weeks into my usual training, just as I’m starting to get my fitness back again I’m hit with the flu and I get set back by just over a week of training. I only just get myself back together in time to fly out to Singapore on holiday and I have to continue my training while I’m there. But at least it will be nice and warm.

Hot Weather Training

Running the MacRitchie reservoir in Singapore is probably one of the best runs I’ve done while training for an ultramarathon. And bar nearly stepping on a baby monkey and luckily not getting bitten in retaliation it was a great bit of training. You can read about that HERE I do actually find this is really good for endurance as everything feels ten times harder when you are in heat. And even worse when it’s humid. Incidentally running in Singapore is like running in a steam room.

A week later and a few shorter runs in Singapore I’m now in Western Australia and it’s time to run 17 miles of the Swan River in Perth. I know training in this is brutal , not only is it 35 degrees but there is no shade, however I need to do this to keep myself in shape. Honestly though I wouldn’t recommend running in the heat of the mid day sun unless you are planning on doing something even more insane like the Marathon De Sabe. Plenty of Australians will tell you not to go out and do something like this in this weather and as a nation they love their fitness!

My older brother Russ starts me off and rides part of the way through Freemantle with me to show me the trail I’m taking, then laughs at me for being insane and rides off to leave me to. He’s off to catch up with my folks for the meal I’m slowly running towards, hours later in Perth. I’m sweating from bits of me I didn’t know could sweat. I wonder if this is how ant’s feel when small mean children frazzle them with magnifying glasses. It’s hot-hot I’m expecting to turn into pork crackling at any second.

Getting High Off Your Own Supply

Part way through the run to Perth I finally get a runners high heading out of Freemantle when I eventually get a bit of a breeze locals refer to this as the ‘Freemantle doctor’. These two things together are a nice brief sense of relief from the pain and the intense heat. The runners high is essentially your body feeding you with drugs (endorphins) to relieve the pain. Basically you are your own drug dealer, yet some unfortunate people are their own narc’s and don’t get a runners high. Personally to me that just sounds downright depressing! Then again you can’t really miss something you never had!

How can I describe it…. Sometimes sudden feeling of well being and like you could run forever. Sometimes a slow but noticeable mood improvement and ignorance of pain. If you have a running partner you might start laughing and joking. If you are alone (and I do like a solo run) you might break out into a semi psychotic looking grin like I do and terrify passers by as you run full pelt towards them. The only thing is, and maybe it is only me I have noticed that the further I can run in training the longer it takes for this to happen. So when I’ve really got my training dialed I might not get a proper runners high until twenty or thirty miles into the race. Unfortunately runners high’s don’t really last and by the time you are getting towards the end of the race, the pain just takes on a life of it’s own and you need actual painkillers. Personally I’d recommend anything that doesn’t upset your stomach, you’ll find out why later!

Finishing this brutal run to Perth is a massive relief and sitting down with the family drinking proper Aussie beer after literally being toasted alive for four hours is about the closest to thing to heaven right now. Clocking in at a very slow paced (because of heat and stopping to take photos) seventeen miles I’m not far off around being able to run half the distance I need to be able to cover for the race. Personally my feeling on ultras is that if you can train up to a point where you can at least run half the intended distance without much difficulty you are on track to be able to complete the whole race. Usually though I tend to try and train for either the actual distance or way beyond if I have time.

My training this time really does not go as planned, following the return from Singapore I am really ill with flu like symptoms and a cough, and what feels like total exhaustion for weeks. It is unlike any way I have felt before and at one point my staff at the shop I run actually tell me I need to go home as I’m pale white and I keep getting very dizzy. It’s only now in retrospect I start to realise that It’s very likely that I could have had Corona virus, stupidly this is still months before our government in the UK decide to do ANYTHING about it.

Its probably needless to say this absolutely cocks up my training, in fact I’m ill for a full two weeks and I just can’t shake it. I’m not back to square one but honestly I’m not far off.

Half marathon Feb 23rd: Canals to Dudley

It’s pretty much the last chance we have to train for the race after my far more exotic training days so me and Andy hit the local canals and head to Dudley (which is far far less exotic) via them. This makes sense to us as the race itself is mainly canal. Also to make things even more interesting part of our training run ends up going down the longest creepiest tunnel possible which is the Netherton Canal tunnel. Just to make this more difficult we don’t have head torches. We are nowhere near the kind of distance we need to be pulling off in training at this point and deep down I think we both know this race coming up is going to hurt like a bitch. At least the conditions we are training in are as grim as we can expect on the actual race however.

The Race

We start off by gathering on a freezing cold car park, and everyone immediately forms a huge queue for the tiny toilet block . It could be nerves it could just be because the English love a good queue.

The race does not start as planned for me, despite eating the right things. For the first time I’ve got one of the most dreaded and causes of the DNF (did not finish) and that’s a dodgy stomach. I’m literally running along trying not to soil myself. I couldn’t even tell you how I’ve ended up with a dodgy stomach. Some friendly older runners ask me whats up and offer me some baby wipes which I take as a possible option but we aren’t exactly miles away from everywhere. I don’t really fancy having a hundred plus racers watch me drop one in a bush.In fact it’s so bad due to the lack of places to go number two we have to temporarily re route the local Asda. Luckily this fixes the problem but it leaves me feeling slightly less than my usual form and it’s added a good 20 minutes onto our race time. Honestly though I’ve never wanted a race that bad that I was prepared to poop myself.

Another thing we really haven’t prepared for is the damage 41 miles of canal path and concrete is doing to our legs and feet. Usually we run trail Ultras which I prefer way more than anything road or canal based. We both begin to really suffer about a marathon distance in, with seriously sore knees and feet. Just to make things even more fun the river from Stafford onward and for the majority of the route has burst it’s banks because of heavy rain, and we spend a good few miles literally running through river. Even though I have to admit this does break up the monotony of the canal paths a bit! In fact it’s probably my favourite bit of the race so far.

Trenchfoot time

The end of the race is particularly grim, as like something out of a world war 1 film, the fields are clay mud and in some places its about 30 to 60cm deep , keeping balance and not loosing our footwear during this is really difficult. All races tend to have a massively demoralizing section and apparently this is it! To make things even more fun a lot of the mud is about half mud and half green and brown cow poop. I seriously think about if it’ll be worth burning my trainers after this for sanitary purposes.

Eventually with the sun setting we manage to make it to the finish, where we are greeted firstly by a huge pile of utterly trashed running shoes and some perky race hosts. And finally we get to limp over scan our race chips and collect our medals.

I think really for this one I’m just happy I completed it, considering the lack of training and the constant illness along the way personally I feel like everything considered I/we did pretty well. Definitely my worst race however, but as usual I survived. Even though I think I may have picked up some trench foot on that last section.

The thing is with these kind of races is to have just completed them in the first place is a challenge, in fact the moment you start to surpass the marathon distance mark you are doing something that most people will never experience. Being able to do something like this in the days after (usually not straight away) and usually during the inevitable week of starving hunger you go through as your body tries to regain all the obscene amounts of calories you have burnt, in a show that resembles the sort of food rampage a munchies inflicted stoner would undertake, limping around like someones taken a baseball bat to your quads, you gain a new appreciation of just what your mind and body are actually capable of.

Have you take part in this race? How did you get on? Let us know in the comments below!


I hope you found my blog useful or entertaining, any donations given go towards more adventures and therefore more blogs and equipment reviews! Donation is voluntary, and you can donate as much or as little as you wish, or not at all.

Thanks for reading and your support!

I hope you found my blog useful or entertaining, any donations given go towards more adventures and therefore more blogs and equipment reviews! Donation is voluntary, and you can donate as much or as little as you wish, or not at all.

Thanks for reading and your support!

I hope you found my blog useful or entertaining, any donations given go towards more adventures and therefore more blogs and equipment reviews! Donation is voluntary, and you can donate as much or as little as you wish, or not at all.

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