PH Ambassador John Miskimmin and his teammate Aaron Woodman completed the epic Denis Rankin Winter Round in 19 hours in December 2020 - setting the second fastest time ever for a winter round of the 90km route in the process.

John took on the challenge after his physio had told him that he couldn't be called a "real runner" until he'd completed the Rankin Round (and its 6,500m of ascent) in the Mourne Mountains. 

So, we caught up with John to find out how what it takes to prepare to become a "real runner" and take on the unforgiving conditions in the mountains of Northern Ireland... 

Hi John, congratulations to you, Aaron and all of your team and support crew on completing an epic challenge. First of all, how do you approach training for your ultra events?

I train seven days a week and have been doing so for about 18 months now. Camille Heron is my coach and so all my training is planned and prepared for me. All I gotta do is go out there and get it done. 

Camille and her husband Conor seem to get the best out of me at the right moments - be that preparing for a 5km race or for long distances like Spartathlon. I hit all my races at peak condition.

My normal training week consists of:

Day Session
Monday 9-10 miles recovery run (after long run on Sunday)
Tuesday 10 miles easy run with strides
Wednesday Speed or Hill session (usually 10 - 12miles)
Thursday 10 miles recovery run
Friday 10 miles easy run
Saturday 8 miles easy run with strides
Sunday 15-22 miles long run (first half easy into progression/tempo second half)
I work on good nutrition and hydration during this run

I also walk my dog every day too which adds another 2 hours a day. So total training hours would be 20-25 hours per week.

There will be other sessions thrown in depending where I'm at on my training cycle. It's great and really works for me in managing training, working, and family life. It's essentially marathon training but that works for me.

Did you have to change things up in preparation for the mountains of the Rankin Round?

Preparing for the DRR didn't look very much different to my normal weekly training. The key difference was that we recce'd each of the five legs of the course, doing one leg per week. 

The days I was up in the mountains training would be tough but the recovery day I got the next day was left pretty easy to allow me to recover well.

Leg 1 of the DRR has the most elevation coverage (2500m over 13 miles) so the first day training in the mountains was hard work. It was a shock to the system too as I wasn't a mountain runner before this and spent pretty much all of my time on the roads running.

But my ethos has always been “the body achieves what the mind believes” so as long as my mind was prepared and I believed I could do it, then there was never a question that my body wouldn't get in line and follow on.

But even so, the DOMS I had the day after Leg 1 was a bit tasty. 

What would be your best piece of advice for anyone who's preparing for their own ultra challenge in a new environment?

Getting out there and having a look at the course if you can is definitely the best thing to do. It's a real education and a great introduction to the mountains and what they have to offer. Mentally it 100% helped me on the day.

We had the routes on our Garmins that we could follow but they don’t tell you what the ground is like, so getting that knowledge was priceless. 

Tap into other people's knowledge too. A guy called Billy Reed - a tough mountain runner who ran in the famous Barkley Marathon over in the USA - helped us with our recess.

He came out with us on the very first leg to show us the ropes and the best lines to take to cover the really bad bits of ground. He was the first ever person to do the DRR and spends every weekend in the Mournes so his knowledge was priceless. He's an absolute gentleman for coming out and helping us.

That sounds ideal. And I imagine nutrition and hydration were pretty big factors too - how did you prepare in the days leading up to the challenge?

Absolutely, before the event I started to carb load - I love pizza so that's my go to prior to any race. 

The night before I sipped on 1 litre of PH 1500 between 7-9pm. This ensures that I'm loaded up the right way with all the good stuff.

And on the day, I started sipping on another 1 litre of PH 1500 and I started doing this two hours out from the start time.

During most long distance events, I carry two 500ml bottles - one has PH 1000 in it and the other will either have water or flat coke, all depending on how I am feeling.

I try to make sure I drink at least 500ml of liquid per hour and I do generally stick to this quite well. However each leg of the DRR is over two-and-a-half hours in length so I had to ration my intake more than usual. But I would top up water from the fresh water streams that we would pass over. 

Oh, and hot sweet tea. Love the stuff. It's a real morale booster. I never drink tea at any other time other than when I'm racing. I don't know if that's why it works so well for me but it does.

Image Credit: John Miskimmin ©

And what was your main source of fuel during the challenge? 

I’m a potato man - I am Northern Irish after all! 

I always plan on eating baby potatoes during all my events and I do get through quite a few. It was the same for the DRR too, although this time I was eating sweet potatoes and mash potatoes made up by one of the crew, Andy. 

When out in the mountains, I carried gels and flapjacks, Kendal Mint Cake, and Jelly Babies. There does come a time when I can't get on with them, so having potatoes is a must. The savoury foods really hit the spot later on in a race for me.

And how much did your nutrition strategy change during the course of 19 hours of running? 

I always have a plan for nutrition and hydration for every event I go into. Do I always stick to it? If I'm honest, I have to say no.

I always start off really well but as the hours pass on I really have to concentrate on what I'm taking on board. I tend to ensure I'm drinking every 15 minutes and eating every 30-45 minutes but that does fall by the wayside sometimes.

I do pay the price for that and I'm still learning with all the nutrition elements of ultra running. I'm not sure if I will ever find the holy grail for nutrition.

I'm not even sure there is a perfect nutrition plan but I am still learning in that aspect.

Thanks John, it's been really useful to get an insight into what goes into prepping for an ultra-challenge in new conditions.