You don’t become a runner by winning a morning workout. The only true way is to marshal the ferocity of your ambition over the course of many days, weeks, months, and (if you could finally come to accept it) years. The Trial of Miles; Miles of TrialsJohn L. Parker
I was not really a runner. I had done some ultra-distance stuff on trails including a few Skyruns, but at 85kg+, I had survived on pure grit, and I was far more comfortable going long on a bike. The tipping point was during the 2019 Outlaw X, an end of season middle-distance triathlon in the English Midlands. Training had gone well. I treated the 1.2-mile swim as a warm-up for the bike, I controlled the cycle, keeping to my conservative heart rate target and flew along the rolling hills that resembled my training routes just 40 miles south of the race location. As I pulled into the transition area at Thoresby Park, a lean and sinewed cyclist pulled alongside me and thanked me for the 56 miles of pacing and disappeared into a sea of bike rack. The relatively flat and familiar roads were much faster than the hills around Marbella from my first 70.3 Ironman earlier in the year, I had completed the first 57.2 miles in under three and a half hours, and I was on for a much faster time. The question in my head was ‘Can I get below five and a half hours?’
In short, the answer was no. What followed was two hours and five minutes of leaner fitter, and more prepared athletes passing me as I shuffled along. I finished in under 5:35 which I would have been thrilled with at the start of the race and my half marathon time was not any slower than my training had suggested, but mentally the race took a toll. If I was going to commit time, money, and annual leave from work to travel around Europe for endurance races, I needed to take them seriously; I needed to make myself a runner.
The most exciting thing for me about endurance races is the challenge of not knowing when I start if I can complete it. The Tromso Skyrun in the very North of Norway, at 57km long and with 4800 meters of elevation across some of the wildest mountains in Europe was a race that I knew I would need to commit to fully. In the Hamperokken Skyrace, I had a challenge that would force to become a runner. I set myself the target of running 1500 miles by the start of August before I lined up on the start line and a further 500 miles for the remainder of the year for 2000 miles in total, and signed up for six months coaching with the Skyrunning and obstacle course legend Jon Albon.
The Tromso Skyrun and all the other races I had signed up for were cancelled, but on Christmas Day, I completed the 2000 mile challenge. My final run was the seven miles and 500 meters of accent up to my local hill and back to my house in under an hour, cutting my best time from the previous year by over 12 minutes. I also completed a solo half marathon time trial on the 20th December in one hour, thirty-five minutes, and nine seconds, cutting down my PB from the start of the year by over 20 minutes. But more importantly, I am now a runner.
10 things I learned running 2000 miles in a year
- To run high mileage, you need to run at least six days per week every week. Know your daily target average and get it done.
- Spend time every day taking care of your hotspots – the niggles, pains, and tight areas you get while you run. If it starts to hurt, deal with it.
- Have a big scary audacious goal, then have a plan to achieve it. If you can afford to get a coach, they will accelerate your progress and help you avoid injury (Jon Albon is fantastic). If not, pick a programme and follow it, trying to execute each workout perfectly.
- Train all your running muscles to get faster, even if you are training for an Ultra. Train very short, very steep, very fast hill sprints, tempo runs, durations over 90 minutes and everything in between.
- Run your quality sessions on the road and for everything else explore the trails. Use the Strava Explore Routes function to find new and exciting trails every time you go out.
- Only buy premium running gear, your body will thank you. Premium stuff lasts, I have a Helly Hansen Lifa from over ten years ago, and it is still going strong. Focus on running shoes, running shorts, and a great watch (headphones too if you run with podcasts or music), the quality of the rest is less variable.
- Fuel to recover. Drink lots of water each day, get consistent amounts of protein, and eat more carbs on heavy training days. Drink a recovery shake and eat a piece of fruit straight after hard sessions.
- Running is a full-body activity so get your whole body strong. Do sit-ups when you wake up, then another set before bed, practice the deadlift and overhead press, and work towards a 1.5x bodyweight deadlift and ten pull-ups. It might not make you much faster, but it will make you healthier, less prone to injury, and much more confident in your body.
- Read books by and about runners for motivation and make to make it part of your life. I recommend everything by Percy Cerutty including his biography Why Die, The Golden Mile by the legend Herb Elliot, From last to first by London Marathon winner and Olympic bronze medalist Charlie Spedding, and the novel Once a Runner by John L. Parker.
- Be a part of a running community or have a few running friends to do some group training runs and races. Create a Whatsapp group with some runners to keep you motivated and suggest a yearly run streak.
I have transformed my running this year, not only am I faster (not yet fast), but I look and feel far more fluid when I run. I do still, however, have several things I need to work on. I am terrible at doing my core strength exercises, and the community element has been challenging this year, two things that should be easy fixes. Fast runners are lean, and I love sugar, I will have to start eating like an adult if I want to be fast. Finally, I can make myself suffer in an effort on a bike, but I don’t feel I can push myself as hard when running. Developing more mental strength when running, losing some excess weight, doing my core work, and running with others can get me to the next level on my distance running journey.
You can find out about Jon Albon’s coaching on his website. There are cheaper coaches, but Jon is a world-class athlete and self-coached, so you are getting a lot for your money.
Let me know on Twitter if you have any questions on anything in this post.