If your goals don’t scare you, even just a little, then they’re not big enough. Yet sometimes I wonder if being scared of every single goal is a healthy thing either.
Every goal I set is a real challenge. Sometimes I wonder if an easier target every now and again would make a nice change, but to truly grow you need to stress yourself and your limitations. This season will be no different.
The career path of an elite ultra runner usually involves starting with shorter distances and then building up. But that's not how things went for me.
I started with a marathon and things very quickly escalated to ultra marathons. Within 4 months of starting out actually. Running from London to Brighton to get an ice cream at the beach seemed like a fine idea at the time.
Fast forward to 2018 and I’ve run something like 15 races of 100 miles or longer, competed for my country on four occasions, medalled at a World 24hr Championship and won a few races.
Photo credit: Amorotto Trail, Italy
Next year I have my scariest goal yet on the cards, a record-setting traverse of the 600km Lake Baikal in Siberia, Russia. Every year the Lake freezes solid and people actually drive across the surface. Not wanting to take it easy, myself and a team of two others will attempt to break the record of 12 days and 23 hours set in March this year.
As an ultra runner there are plenty of opportunities to push one’s limits, but very often it is within the ‘safe’ confines of a race or with a support crew accompanying.
Over the next 8 months I’ll write a series of blogs for Precision Hydration about preparing for this awesome challenge, the goals and stories of the running season ahead and the lessons I learn along the way.
I work with Precision Hydration because I got my electrolyte balance wrong early in my running career, although it took a while to heed the advice my body was giving me. One 153 mile race across Greece became a dazed stagger for over 100 of those miles, simply because I had got the hydration balance all wrong.
So what’s the next goal? I want to get faster...
Faster over 5k
I firmly believe that your marathon speed is an indicator of your potential over an ultra marathon. Due to the huge number of factors involved it isn’t simply X = Y though, far from it. Repeatedly I will beat faster runners than myself because I'm a better ultra runner.
Being a good ultra runner isn’t about being fast. It’s about pacing, nutrition, hydration, mental toughness and a whole host of other aspects of running long. The longer you go, the more these things matter.
So why bother getting faster? Very few runners ever get close to their true maximum as an ultra runner and much easer and bigger gains can be had by working on those factors, but personally it feels like I’ve hit a ceiling.
It’s not that I’ve had countless perfect days, but repeatedly there’s been solid days. Getting the best out of yourself on any given day is all you can really do on race day. Reach the potential of that day. Going forward I want to increase that potential.
Photo credit: Amorotto Trail, Italy
Over than the Lake Baikal record attempt, my three main goals are shorter races. The Mont Blanc Marathon is 42km, the UTMB MCC is 40km and then the Valencia marathon in December is 42km and actually flat for a change.
All three will need speed. The first two up and down hills, the last one out and out road speed. That's the scary bit.
In general my top speed isn’t great but eventually, if you run long enough, everyone else slows down and you can trot past. The triathletes reading this might relate to this in that the best in any one discipline doesn't always win in a tri, but the most efficient at all three elements combined.
As an ultra runner it isn’t swim, bike run; it’s run, eat & hydrate. I’m good at all three disciplines and that normally shows in the second half of the race, rather than on the first hill. Eating is probably my forte!
My race plan
The plan is simple. Get used to running at race pace on the course (or just any section of road for Valencia). Build strength and work on speed.
Both the Mont Blanc Marathon and MCC come past my house (in Chamonix). Once the snow clears I’ll get out on the course and have sessions at the race pace needed to achieve my goals.
Knowing how it should feel and building up tolerance to the speed needed is going to be a key part of my preparation. Equally, practicing marathon race pace (I’d like to run under 2:30) will play a large part in the Autumn (Fall) months too.
Yet just doing that would be a little simplistic. I know running at threshold is also a strength. Getting to that critical power and holding it is something I do well.
So improving the speed and running economy is going to be key too. Faster midweek sessions - on both hills and the flat - will supplement the longer sessions on the course. Shorter races will push my limits, as will training with faster people, like my friend and mountain runner Ben Riddell, will keep pushing me.
Lastly I’ll be holding myself accountable to the PH community. Working with the team to make sure my hydration plan is spot on, but also sharing the journey with everyone else will make sure there’s no let up. No hiding.
If you have any questions you'd like me to answer in this blog series, just let the guys at PH know and I'll try and build them in. Or ask my on Twitter
What are your goals for the rest of 2018? Here’s to getting faster.
Robbie was recently the subject of a short documentary "Ultra Man", worth a watch...