Record-breaking ultrarunner Damian Hall has come a long way in a very short space of time. Since running his first half marathon at the age of 36, Damian has gone on to set five Fastest Known Times over ultra distances and win the Ultra Tour Monte Rosa, as well as securing top-five finishes at UTMB and the Spine Race.
We spoke to Damian after he joined Team PH to find out more about his rise in the sport and his epic achievements...
Damian, you're a relative latecomer to the world of ultrarunning - could you tell us about your background and how you ended up getting into ultrarunning?
I’ve always been outdoorsy and fairly sporty, playing football and enjoying trekking. But I was feeling a little unfit in 2011 and signed up for the Bath Half Marathon, aged 36. I loved it and wanted more.
So the next year I ran my first marathon, dressed as a toilet. I had a charity place via WaterAid and people shouting “you look a bit flushed mate!” was funny for the first half, but then I really needed the toilet...
I was curious about what it would be like to run further and in 2012 I also did my first ultra - The Wall - which was 69 miles over two days. I instantly loved the camaraderie, the scenery, the aid stations, the sense of achievement and the whole emotional rollercoaster you go through.
I knew I wanted more and soon afterwards I was doing my first 100K, my first 100 miles and the 268-mile Spine Race.
That's a hell of a move up from half marathon to 268 miles! Considering what you've learned in recent years, what would you go back and tell yourself ahead of your very first ultra?
Don’t run the downhills so hard (it will come back to haunt you)! Also, there’ll be another aid station in about 10K, so you don’t need to carry 2kg of jelly babies.
What has been the biggest thing you've learned from ultra racing?
That it’s mostly in the mind. If you think something daunting might be possible, there’s a good chance it is.
And what would be your best piece of advice for an ultrarunning newbie?
Aim for consistency above all else. Which is more likely to be accomplished if you mostly run your easy sessions easy, and you're able to back off if you have a niggle, a cold, are tired or stressed.
Strength work, running with good technique and visiting a physio routinely will all help too.
When it comes to nutrition - what would be your ideal sources of fuel during a 100-mile run?
Chocolate’s good. But often it’s the liquid calories and ‘wet’ foods that get me through; soups, porridge, mashed potato, rice pudding, custard.
And on the hydration side of things, what did you learn from your Sweat Test experience with Andy?
I saw you guys out at UTMB a few years back, which planted the idea that I could have an individualised hydration plan.
Take the free online Sweat Test to get a personalised hydration plan
Some bad experiences with cramp during races made it logical for me to belatedly get in touch and the Sweat Test showed I’m an above average salty sweater and needed to take on more electrolytes. No cramps issues since!
What have been the top-3 moments of your running career?
1. Placing second at the 2016 Highland Fling, a British trail race which led to me representing Great Britain.
2. Finishing the 105-mile Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB) in fifth place in 2018 was a career highlight, but the two years previously my two kids joined me for the last 100 metres and I think in time I’ll value that more.
3. Setting a new record/fastest known time on the 268-mile Pennine Way.
What does the future hold for you in terms of races, FKTs and ambitions?
2020 changed lots of things for lots of people and although I’d done some record/FKT attempts before, this year I realised I enjoyed them more. They had more meaning than races, which I haven’t missed as much as I thought.
So, even if most races are on next year, I think I’ll race less and do more personal projects.