Wednesday, 1 July 2009


I follow the blogs of quite a few ultra runners; they're all different and all fascinating, so I've decided to make my contribution to the pool. It won't be a blow-by-blow account of my training, I'm nowhere near disciplined enough (either with the training or the writing), and it will certainly be about the "middle-to-back-of-pack" view of things as I'll never be a competitive runner, but maybe I'll be able to hit on a point or two of interest now and then. I'll try to post about once a week, on things that affect me or events I'm involved in, and how I'm feeling about them. I suspect also that sharing your hopes and aspirations helps to keep them realistic!

So how did I get involved in this game?

I used to spend my spare time climbing, ski-ing, mountain biking and most other ways of playing in the mountains. Then I got a job in Rotterdam. They don't have mountains there, not within hundreds of miles, so I had to find something else to do. The Rotterdam Marathon was being talked about at work, still six months to go to the race, so I entered, trained, and eventually made it round the course in a bit over three and a half hours, enjoying every minute except the last few miles. I was 55 years old but I had found a new sport. I started running two marathons a year, "collecting" the big city ones, Amsterdam. London, Paris, New York. I was now, after a fashion, a runner.

Three years later I was back in England, climbing again, but found out about the West Highland Way Race, a non-stop event along the 95 mile long trail from the outskirts of Glasgow to Fort William. The maximum time allowed was 35 hours. I just didn't know such races existed, but idiocy on this scale appeals to a lot of mountaineers so I had to have a go. I thought it would be a one-off, I would do the event, feel some satisfaction at having (hopefully) pulled it off, and that would be that. I had no idea as I sent off that first entry form that I was stumbling into the strange world of ultra running, and that it would have a serious impact on my life. Since then I have completed the West Highland Way Race three times, plus a number of other ultras of varying lengths, and I'm hooked.

Why do I do it? Probably impossible to answer but I'll tell you a few of the aspects that keep me coming back for more. Firstly, ultras nearly always cover great countryside, forests, moorland, mountains, the sort of places you want to be anyway, a million miles from pounding the asphalt in road races. Looking up the length of Loch Lomond in the early dawn, or battling the Pennine moors on a wild March day, these experiences stay with you a long time after the event. Secondly, although maybe the athletes up at the front of the field won't agree with me here, you don't actually have to run very fast. You get tired but not out of breath, you can enjoy the progression along the way, hear the sounds and smell the smells. In a fast (for me) half marathon, I'm gasping from about mile three to the end; in an ultra, if I ever get below a nine minute mile it's because it's downhill. Thirdly, the people you meet in this game are amazing. It's a friendly community and no matter how well or how badly you run there is some sort of recognition that everyone who commits to the journey is worthwhile. My daughter, having observed my progressive immersion from the fringes, says that ultra runners appear a sociable bunch of attractively deranged characters who behave as though what they are doing is completely normal.

Maybe that's the key. The idea of running 50 or 100 miles either appeals to you or it doesn't, and we shouldn't look for deeper meanings.

Enough for now.


Murdo80bob said...

"Bravo, monsieur!" Well done for taking the plunge, Andy. Am I the first subscriber to your column?!!! It will be interesting to see how your blogging "house style" evolves. Maybe one day I should join this medium. For now, watch this space but don't hold your breath.


Murdo80bob said...

"Bravo monsieur!" Well done, Andy, for embarking on this medium. I've sure your own unique style will evolve, and we can follow your ups 'n downs with interest. One day I must get around to it. One day.....


Anonymous said...

Cracking title for the blog Andy. Welcome to blogland.

Mrs Mac

Anonymous said...

welcome aboard. rather philosophical kick - off Andy !! beware though it'll be twitter next and then square eyes.
"ultra runners appear a sociable bunch of attractively deranged characters who behave as though what they are doing is completely normal"
best wishes.

Börkur said...

Thanks for last time (in Chamonix). Added you to my blogroll at


John Kynaston said...

Welcome to the world of blogging Andy. I have added your blog to the whwblog list so hopefully people will find it.

I'm looking forward to reading your thoughts as I know from your forum posts that you have a lot to share and experience to pass on.

John Kynaston