I think I’ve run around 25 ultra marathons now. That doesn’t make me a pro or a great ultra runner – I’m neither. But I do feel I’m getting my head around things now.
The more you run ultras, the more you learn about yourself – your body, your legs and your mind. It’s an ongoing journey of learning and discovery. And one I love.
That said, below are the things I wish I’d known (or been told multiple times) that I think are super important:
Strength training is vital – you don’t have to be doing intense weight workouts all the time or anything. But if you want to reduce injury and make your races slightly easier, then regular strength training is the way to go. A resistance band and a couple of kettlebells and some YouTube videos = winning
Think about carbs not just calories – you’ve probably read that 300 calories per hour is good. What I didn’t know for ages is that carbs is important to. There’s tons of food and fuel which can give you calories but if the carb count is low you’re going to struggle. I just did a 50 last weekend and got 80g of carbs per hour in and felt well fuelled throughout
Don’t be surprised when it hurts. Any ultra is hard work but when you’re doing longer ones like 100k or 100miles then there will inevitably be periods of the race where you feel mentally and physically like sh*t. Don’t be surprised or downhearted – these will happen and they will pass.
Rest is super important. I used to stress about sleeping the night before an ultra, before I accepted that is tricky to do, given how nerves and energy is so high. I see the night before now as ‘rest’ – worse case I get little sleep but I’ve just laid there chilling out. Best case because I’m not pressuring myself about sleeping, I end up getting a good sleep!
Take photos – the longer the ultra, the less stopping here and there for a moment is going to impact your overall time. Over the course of a day, or 24 hours, you’re going to see daybreak, sunset, beautiful countryside and so much more. Take a moment to grab a photo or even just stand there for a minute taking it in – you earned it!
For 100milers – have a backup plan for hotels if you need to drop mid-race.. If you DNF in the middle of the night it’s bloody hard to find a hotel. A good way to hedge your bets is book something way in advance that’s super cheap (e.g. Travelodge, Premier Inn).
Don’t whinge (or at least reduce the whinging!). Yes ultras are hard, yes you will think about quitting, yes races will go to sh*t – but you signed up for it and trained for it. Be grateful you have the health and faculties to do this kind of thing. And smile!
Cut out fibre the day (or two days) before the race – your stomach will thank you for it!!
A relative kindly bought me the book ‘The Wim Hof Method‘ for Christmas. I’d heard of Wim and also the ‘Method’ before but never something I’d tried.
There’s plenty of info online about the WHM so I won’t detail it here but much of it revolves around breathwork and cold showers (not at the same time!). The book is a great read – as well as detailing the WHM, he tells you about his life and how he got to doing what he does (the guy is hardcore!). I downloaded the app afterwards as I like to have visual and auditory guidance (and also to keep track of progress).
The breathwork itself is super simple – a ’round’ is 30 rapid breaths (full inhale, then ‘letting go’ of the breath on the exhale), followed by a ‘retention’ (holding your breath just after exhaling). When I first started I could managed 40 seconds. As I’ve practiced this rapidly increased to a minute, to my ‘personal best’ today of two minutes.
Something I’ve found surprising and incredibly powerful from doing this is the psychological release it gives me, as well as an interesting meditative state when doing breath retention. Doing the 30 breaths, I find after the first ten, I get some kind of high from it, but also have a sense of being ready to ‘let go’ of stuff. So much so that tons of times I’ve cried whilst doing it. Not a sad cry but almost a happy letting go of… I don’t know what. Old stuff? Feelings? I can’t express it properly.
The breath retention provides an incredible (though brief) meditative state). As you’ve over-oxygenated your body, you can hold your breath for much longer than normal. I’ve been using this time to immerse myself with experiences from my past (nothing bad, just from when I was younger and things were simpler), and being reflective of time passing.
Whilst I haven’t explored most of the WHF physical exercises, I’ve been toying with doing press ups during breath retention. I use pressups in my normal fitness regime, but only to the extent of 3 sets of 10 once a week. I found straight away I could do 20 pressups during retention, which I’ve now built up to 30. It’s a crazy yet empowering feeling.
And about the cold showers – yes they sound horrible but again it’s amazing how quickly you adjust and build tolerance. I could just about bear 15 seconds a month ago, now I can do 50 seconds relatively easily. Although they’re not exactly pleasant, again it’s empowering, as it gives you a small feeling of having accomplished something challenging.
With the showers and the breathwork, I love how I’m able to expose myself frequently to pushing myself – even on a small level. I’m curious as to whether doing so will help with my ultra running and other races later in the year.
Finally, I should note an increased sense of wellbeing – however, I can’t exclusively credit WHM to this as I’m phasing out caffeine and generally being more active since Christmas.
Trigger warning: discussion of self harm and self injury.
At the age of about 16, I ‘discovered’ self harm. For me, like many people that self harm, this started through cutting myself. I would cut myself on my hand or arm. I don’t recall thinking much about it, it just seemed, well, the right thing to do.
When I was 17 I was briefly an in-patient at a psychiatric unit. It was here I became aware that other people self harmed (this was pre-internet so I had no access to social media or online resources).
My self harm history has mainly been cutting myself, with some burning, and, later in my life, hitting myself, either directly or with objects. Having written that sentence I know that seems very clinical and detached. But I think it’s important to be able to discuss stuff like this and push away the stigma it has. My aim with posts like this is simply for one reader to slightly change or challenge their opinion about mental health issues.
Many, many people self harm and do it in tons of different ways. Whilst cutting and burning may be more ‘visible’, self harming behaviour could also encompass alcohol abuse, drug abuse, reckless behaviour and more. Cutting is often seen purely as ‘attention seeking’ whilst all kinds of other behaviours are laughed off or seen as normal.
My history of self harm has left me with quite a few scars. Fortunately, none of them are huge. As the cut and burn marks are so aged, along with the fact my arms are both heavily tattooed, I often forget they’re there. (For clarity, I mainly self harmed on my arms but also used my legs).
Occasionally though I notice them. Maybe the light in the room has highlighted them. Perhaps the sun shines at an angle on them and I catch myself looking. Maybe I’ve run my finger over my arm and felt the bump of a largeish one on my left arm. As I’m typing this I can see on my left hand the faint remains of where I extinguished cigarettes on it when I was in hospital.
I Tried So Hard (To Cleanse These Regrets)
For a long long time I hated my self harm scars. It was one of the reasons I had my arms so heavily tattooed. I resented what they represented, I resented how they looked. I felt self-conscious. Weak. Guilty. Ashamed. Angry. Disgusted.
As I approach middle age (ugh that makes me feel old!) I now see my scars as part of me – not just in the physical sense, but in the sense of them being part of my journey through life. Like each of my tattoos, they act as a kind of connection to the specific time in my life when they happened.
They remind me that time heals. That whilst I am more than my mental health issues, they’re still a part of me. That I have survived countless phases of suicidal ideation. That I’m still here and that I’m blessed.
They remind me that it’s OK to not have a perfect past, nor a perfect body. That it’s OK to accept things that you’ve done or that have happened. They remind me that things change; that we grow and learn.
Whilst they remind me of bad points in my life, they also remind me that I got through them. That I had people around me that cared and supported me. That I’m fortunate.
One of the more prominent cutting scars connects me to the night I did it. I remember vividly how angry I was at myself, how I was so full of self hate and negative energy that all I could do is lash out at myself. I used to hate myself for that scar. Now I’ve learned to forgive myself for it. To realise that I didn’t have the coping mechanisms and skills I needed. That I wasn’t able to re-channel my self loathing into something positive.
So if you offered me the chance of removing all of my scars, I would say no. Because I don’t want to erase my own memory of how I became what I am now. Because I embrace being imperfect. Because I am grateful to be alive.
If you are considering self harm, please seek help. There are people out there that care.
I love SEO for many reasons. It’s a fast moving, exciting profession and one I feel really fortunate to be in. I often see people asking online, “how do I become an SEO?” and below are some thoughts from me.
Tip #1 – Learn how to effectively communicate
It may surprise you that my first tip isn’t about how to ‘do SEO’. The reason I’ve chosen communication is because to be truly effective as an SEO specialist/expert, you’ll need to:
Explain to non-technical people about technical concepts
Be assertive enough to make changes happen
Be able to fight your case with stakeholders
Write easy to understand reports
Create strategy plans
Evangelise SEO in a business
Present to clients or management
Convert your thoughts and concepts into something tangible
Invest time into developing your written and verbal communication skills. Take any chance you can to do presenting (even if it’s on a small scale). Learn how to debate.
Practical tip: Learn about an SEO concept (e.g. robots.txt, ht.access, schema). Test out your communication skills by trying to explain it to someone who doesn’t know what they are.
Tip #2 – Embrace Change
Things in SEO change all the time. Sometimes in small ways (e.g. Google’s ongoing algo tweaks), sometimes in huge ways (big Google changes). If change is something you really dislike, SEO is the wrong profession for you.
Any SEO worth their salt knows that what they know now versus what they will know in a year or two, are very different. With the rapid progression of AI and tech in general, this will be even more applicable to SEOs new to the business.
To thrive as an SEO you need to not only expect change, but embrace it. After all, change is what makes it so exciting (even though sometimes it’s super frustrating).
Practical Tip: Have a read up of the Google algo histories. Get familiar with old-school strategies like directory links, keyword stuffing etc. Now read up on new Google patents, AI, BERT etc. What do you think are the big changes coming in the next couple of years as you grow as an SEO?
Tip #3 – Learn To Code
With more and more websites being JS based, if you can be an SEO expert armed with JS experience (i.e. indexation/crawl issues of JS sites, knowing the impact of client side v server side rendering), it will give you a great edge over other job seeking SEOs.
Practical Tip: Check out some of the courses on Udemy, YouTube, and many other places. Learn how to build a static HTML page and style it with CSS. Then learn how to add some interaction with JS.
Tip #4 – Be Constantly Curious
The moment you stop being curious as an SEO is the moment you stagnate. There is SO much to learn in SEO and SO many unknowns. Having an open, curious mind is a fundamental characteristic of a great SEO. Always be asking yourself questions, for example:
Why is this competitor suddenly ranking so high?
How did that competitor do that cool looking thing?
What would happen if we did X?
Do our pages really meet our user intent?
How can I combine all the data sources we’ve got to generate some new and unique insights?
I’m ranking #1 now but how can I increase my CTR?
Why is Google rewriting my meta description in the SERPs?
Practical Tip: Do a Google search for a product or service you know little about. Browse through the first two pages of the SERPs and write down five things that you’re curious about. Now go look into them.
Tip #5 – Run Your Own Sites
I learned to code and have my own sites back in 1999 and I’m super glad I did. I’ve had various sites since then including when I dabbled into having my own casino/poker affiliate sites.
Having your own sites is really empowering because:
You can use them to blog on
You can use them for a portfolio if you have one
You can use them for experimentation
You can use them to learn to code on
You can use them to learn how to install and configure a CMS
You can learn how FTP, .htaccess and robots..txts are set up
Given a domain name and hosting is cheap as chips nowadays, there’s zero reason not to.
Practical tip: Go and buy one or more domain names. Buy a hosting package. Set up WordPress on one. Get your head around using CPanel, FTP, robots etc. Rando idea: Set up a blog to chart your progress as an SEO
Tip #6 – Experiment Like A Boss
In an industry like SEO where so many questions can legitimately be answered “it depends,” there is great power to be had in experimenting. Not only is it just super interesting anyway, but your findings can then be taken to other pages/sites/clients.
Going back to tip #5, here’s where having your own sites is really useful.
You can experiment on anything and everything, with the assumption that you have a clear hypothesis and clear way of measuring the outcome.
Get used to, and comfortable with, trying new things as much as possible. If you’re doing SEO in highly competitive niches, you need this constant learning to continually produce world class results.
Practical Tip: Think of a really simple, small scale test you could do. Write down the hypothesis. Run the test and record your results. Now critique the experiment.
Tip #7 – Understand the Difference Between Correlation and Causal Correlation
To steal the wording off Wikipedia:
“In statistics, the phrase ‘correlation does not imply causation’ refers to the inability to legitimately deduce a cause-and-effect relationship between two variables solely on the basis of an observed association or correlation between them.“
What does this mean for you as an SEO? Well let’s say you do 40 hours of amazing SEO work in week one. In week two, your site’s traffic doubles. There is a correlation between the two, however the traffic increase may not have come from your work (for example it might be seasonal traffic).
Practical Tip: Have a play around with Google Trends. See if you can find two topics that have similarly increasing/decreasing levels of interest but aren’t causally correlated.
Tip #8 – Make Your Own Mind Up
Whilst I encourage any SEO, new or established, to follow ‘SEO experts’ and read SEO blogs, don’t ever feel that your opinion, if it differs, isn’t valid. NOBODY knows everything about SEO, and, as I mentioned earlier, it’s changing all the time anyway.
Formulate your own opinions. Read, ask questions, discuss, and be curious. But don’t feel swayed by something you disagree with just because you read it on an ‘expert’ blog.
Practical Tip: Go to WebmasterWorld, Reddit or Quora. Read up on some discussions, find some opinions. Which do you disagree with and why?
Tip #9 – Carve Out Your Niche
Whilst it’s great to have knowledge and experience of all aspects of SEO, to make yourself really stand out (and also to challenge yourself), I recommend finding an area of it you’re really curious and passionate about. There’s a few skills that come to mind for me that I think will be increasingly valuable:
Server log analysis
SERPs SEO (featured snippets, PAAs, schema)
Practical Tip: Write down one or two areas of SEO that you think will truly excite you. What would you most love to a real expert of? Now figure out what you need to do to get there.
Tip #10 – Be Humble
To reiterate, SEO is changing all the time. Added to this, there are lots of unknowns. If you get to a stage where you’re being complacent, or arrogant about your skills, you’re failing as an SEO.
Embrace humility and being able to ask people for help and feedback. Embrace being able to say “I don’t know how do this”.
Practical Tip: Go to a good SEO Facebook Group or Reddit and ask for help on something.
It’s around 3am on a warm summer’s night. I’m laid looking up at the stars, with the occasional blinking light of a plane meandering over the sky. It’s not often we get to take time to appreciate the beauty of the sky and how it makes us realise how tiny we are in the big picture of the wondrous universe..
*Record scratch noise*
I’m laid on a bit of grass by the Julie Rose Stadium in Ashford, Kent. I’m covered in a foil blanket. Despite the warmth of the summer’s night, I’m fairly cold and have donned a waterproof jacket. I’m covered in sweat, puke and dirt having run 50 miles earlier on the hottest day of the year. A few metres away from me a fellow NDW100 runner noisily retches his guts out. The first train from Ashford isn’t for another 2.5 hours. I turn my gaze back to the stars and reflect on how I got here.
Background to my NDW 100 2020 Race
This wasn’t my first rodeo. It was the ninth time I started a 100 miler and, had I not DNFd, been my fourth finish. I’ve done the Centurion North Downs Way 100 course twice before – once finish (last year), once DNFd (2017 I think).
Also it’s worth mentioning that I HATE running in the heat. My body isn’t cut out for it and I struggle getting in enough electrolytes at the best of times. So as the predicted temperatures went up and up in the week before the race, I was quite nervous to say the least. However, most of all I was just super excited and felt blessed that the event was happening at all, given how many had been cancelled this year.
First Time On A Train Since March
The journey up to Farnham was interesting. I hadn’t been on a train since pre-lockdown so the experience of wearing a mask, seeing all of the social distancing signage etc., was surreal.
Got to my hotel with plenty of time to chill, get my gear sorted and relax. I actually had a good night’s sleep which isn’t easy to do the night before a big race!
North Downs Way 100 – Start
This year, due to Covid, James and the Centurion team had worked really hard to ensure the event ran. Part of this involved a ‘rolling start’ (i.e. you could start anytime between 5-7am) and also having your temperature checked at the start.
I actually preferred this to ‘normal’ ultra marathon starts – less nervous energy around you, no worrying about rocking up late – I’m a big fan! The temperature was pleasantly warm when I started around 0520).
The first few miles of an ultra marathon are, for me, a mix of getting a feel of how I’m feeling that day, warming up (both physically and mentally), and generally getting into a nice easy groove. As the sun came up we were treated to a beautiful day on the Downs, with some stunning countryside and views to enjoy. Additionally, a huge feeling of being blessed to be able to do a race, given how many had been cancelled this year. Here’s me a few miles into the NDW 2020:
My aim in the fist 20 miles or so was to a) take it really chilled out (had to catch myself a few times and really dial back the effort) but also b) hoping to do around four hours. Which I did:
Me in the earlyish bit of the North Downs Way, still smiling (photo by Stuart March, purchased):
Here Comes The Sun
In the weeks and days leading up to the NDW 100 race, the weather forecast showed it was going to be hot. Then hotter. Then hotter still. Late morning once the sun had broken through and a lot of the under-cover areas of the North Downs were over, it became apparent this was going to be quite unpleasant to race in, especially as I’m not great in the heat anyway.
At this point I was still eating and getting electrolytes in OK so despite my glum expression here it wasn’t awful. Yet.
The heat increased throughout the day, peaking at 33-34c in mid afternoon. I don’t think I’ve ever run in such high temperature, let alone raced in it. It was just brutal and sapping. The photo below doesn’t do the heat justice, but imagine a baking hot day with no wind, and the heat reflecting back off the chalky surface of the North Downs:
See this hill below? Hard to tell from the angle how steep it is. I f*cking hate this hill. Did I mention the temperature was 34c?
Miles 30-40 was when it really sunk in how hard today was going to be. I experienced tingling in my lips and fingers, which I’ve not had before, presumably due to mild heatstroke. As I had no crew, I had no access to ice or cold water to pour down me to lower my temperature. I found it increasingly harder to regulate my body temperature or heart rate. I then found it progressively more difficult to get food in, or electrolytes. So I was running on empty, feeling exhausted from the heat, with electrolyte levels all imbalanced.
Centurion NDW 2020 – DNF Time!
Cutting a long story short, in the mid-late 40 miles, the heat really got to me. I wasn’t eating, and my electrolytes were all over the place. After spewing into a field so hard I briefly fainted (thankfully there was another runner there who stopped to check on me – THANKYOU SIR!!), I knew I was done. I death-marched into Knockcholt, took a trip to the village shop, procured two Calippos, tons of cold drink, some crisps, then went and pulled out at Knockholt. Whilst Dan Park did try his best to banter me into not quitting (nice try mate), I knew I was spent.
I was a bit all over the place so they had the race medic check me over. His thoughts was it was dehydration. Apparently my blood pressure etc was fine. After a few sweet teas and some food, I felt tons better as my blood sugar level returned. But again I knew this wasn’t a day to push it and I had no intention of going out there and deathmarching the remaining 53 miles.
Here’s me with an ECG on (and very muddy legs!):
Whilst I didn’t get a buckle or a tshirt, for my troubles at the North Downs Way 100 I got this rather cool ECG printout from the race medic. Sadly there was no printout for ‘overly hot, dehydrated, hungry, tired and pissed off’.
As I sat there, quite a few others came in and DNFd. The day had been brutal to all of us. I commend anyone who finished, the conditions were super tough for a course that is challenging even in normal weather.
The drive in the ‘DNF Bus’ minibus over to Ashford was long (especially as the driver went most of the way to the wrong Ashford LOL), but it was nice to just be sat down.
Laying on the ground outside the stadium later it was bittersweet hearing other runners finish. But overall I felt blessed that I’d been able to do an event at all, and also of my good health and situation.
James and the Centurion crew are truly amazing. The volunteers at all the NDW 100 aid stations were absolute superstars – it really is like a big family – a true sense of community where everyone genuinely wants to help each other. Blessed.
Where Do We Go From Here?
“I get knocked down, I get up again,” ‘sung’ the God-awful Chumbawamba in their insufferably awful 90s hit ‘TubThumping’. Well, I’m down but not out. I’m still 100% focussed and set on doing a sub-24 hour 100 miler and I will do this in October at the Cenbturion Autumn 100. It’s a faster course (less elevation, less miles – 100 v 103), will be cooler, and all in all plays to my strengths as a runner. I refuse to be knocked back properly by a DNF (Did Not Fail), especially given the heat. Let’s do this!
With the SEO industry being so big and encompassing so many disciplines, there is a ton of news and information out there. If you’re looking to keep up to date with things (which, if you’re at all interested in being a great SEO you should be), it’s tough to know which to follow.
Over the years, I’ve tried tons but these are my go-to SEO newsletters/sites now:
Why I like it: Very compreshensive round up covering everything from local SEO to technical. Both the free and paid versions are great (the paid one is superb value IMO@$18pm). It comes with a podcast too. Tons of great stuff but also no fluff in there – covers all topics. Highly recommended.
Why I like it: A big round up of SEO articles from the week. Structured into sections (e.g. technical SEO). Also lists out case studies and how-tos, which are helpfully categorised (e.g. easy, intermediate).
Why I like it: With a title like that what’s not to like? :). Seriously though, a good mixed bag round up of changes and news in the SEO world. I like how there is a short summary of what each thing is about to save you clicking on stuff you won’t be interested in. Additionally, there’s a well-written SEO tip each week, and a section dedicated to non-SEO stuff which you can learn from. A very well curated newsletter.
Why I like it: Very well written posts on technical SEO. Oli covers tons of topics you won’t find elsewhere (example: “host a website inside robots.txt”, approached with a curious and methodical mindset.
Oli also runs OHGMCON – a niche mini-conference which I’ve heard great stuff about.
Why I like it: Bill has a very niche, specialist area which is around patents that search engines have done.
It’s not a ‘light read’, really one of those sites where you need to sit down with some time and focus to get the most of it. I love how he covers each in real detail and explores the implications of each patent. Fascinating stuff which can give you real insight into where Google is headed.
Why I like it: Probably the only source of SEO announcements from Google that have any clarity. A recent example would be the updates on mobile first indexing, along with tons of stuff about Google Search Console.
Remote working isn’t for everyone – it’s one of those ‘love it or hate it’ things. Personally, I love it and I’ve been doing it for six years now. Many people assume working from home is easy, or a cop-out, which it really isn’t. However, like anything in life, it takes some tweaking and work to get it right.
Here’s six things you can do to set yourself up for success when working remotely:
1) Have Your Own Space
Working in the place you’re living can mean there becomes a large blur between the two. This, if you’re not careful, can mean you’re tempted to do long hours, and generally make your work/life balance a nightmare.
The way around this is to have your own room, or, if that’s not possible, a dedicated space in a room, which is exclusively for work. I’m fortunate that I have an outside office – this creates a place where I can really concentrate, but also literally lock up and leave at the end of the day.
Whatever your set up – make sure you only use the space/room/area for work. Not only does this help you transition from work to personal life at the end of the day, but it helps massively in the morning transitioning from personal life to work. Basically you’re conditioning yourself to be able to switch on/off ‘work mode’ easily.
2) Be Strict With Your Hours
When you leave an office for the day, you’re basically done (admittedly there is the temptation of checking emails on your phone). It creates a clear division between work and home.
When your home is also your workspace though, it can sometimes feel strange ending your day. Your computer is still there, and if you’re working with other remoters, they may well be online still (especially for different timezones). So it becomes tempting to do ‘just a little bit more’, or to do work in the evenings or the weekend.
Get strict with yourself early on – don’t go down that route. Set yourself and your co-workers boundaries about your time and your life. More hours does not equal better work – it just dilutes what you do and eats in to your personal time. Anyone can work more hours, there’s no skill to it. There is, however, a skill in focussing your mental energy into your most important work, during your strongest hours of the day.
3) Manage Other People
I’m not referring to managing teams here but people in your personal life. you’ll find when you start working remotely that people think they can just drop in to see you/ring you whenever they want. I don’t think other people realise that just because you’re in your home, that you’re still working. Make sure you set boundaries and rules with them (whilst being polite!), otherwise you’ll get visitors in the middle of a big work project.
4) Manage Distractions
Here’s some of the distractions you could face when working remotely:
Other people in your home
What’s going on outside
That bar of chocolate you’re supposed to be keeping
The lure of Netflix
Realising your house needs cleaning
It’s vital to set yourself rules and boundaries. I think for anyone who works remote, regardless of how committed they are, the first few months are quite tough. There’s a lot to get used to and it’s a case of finding what works for you. After a while you’ll find that the novelty wears off, and it’s just simply a different way of working than going into an office.
5) Keep It Clean
Whilst I’m not suggesting anyone reading this is a slob, if you’ve come from an office background, you’re used to having a cleaner come in each week/day/whenever. If you work remotely, it’s all on you! It can be tempting to get slack with keeping your office or workspace clean and tidy. Get into the habit of putting everything away, making sure it’s all clean at the end of the working day. I
6) Make It The Best Place To Work Ever
The beauty of working remotely is you can have your workspace set up exactly how you want. Not only that, but you can change it whenever you want. You’ve got full control over what’s in it, what it looks like, what music is/isn’t on, what smells there are, whether it’s hot or cold. It’s great!
Some things to consider:
Laptop or PC set up – this includes monitors. Make sure the setup is ergonomic and comfortable
Plants – great to have in the office – they look great and they’re really relaxing to be around
Invest in a good chair and desk – your back will thank you for it
Clear or cluttered? I like a really clear workspace, minimalist ftw! Work out whether you want something with loads of stuff everywhere, or something more spartan
Noise – figure out if you prefer something like a Sonos, or music via headphones (by the way, well worth shelling out for some decent ones like Bose QCs, they pay dividends when you’re trying to concentrate)
Pictures and photos – I’ve put up a couple of Basquiat canvcas prints in my office, and a big canvas of the Golden Gate Bridge. Or maybe you like plain walls, or some wacky wallpaper. Whatever works for you is best.
Working remotely can be absolutely amazing – the key is to be strict, set boundaries, rules, and make your workspace epic. Remember also that working from home isn’t easy. If you don’t love what you do, it probably won’t work. If you’re someone who needs a lot of ‘real life’ interaction with people, it may not work.
The advantages massively outweigh the downsides though and I don’t think I could ever go back to office jobs. Oh, and it’s great if you have animals:
Ultra marathons (any running distance above the standard 26.2 marathon), are something I truly love. I made the switch from doing more traditional road races at half or marathon distance a few years ago and I’ve never looked back. Ultras aren’t easy – they’re not meant to be, that’s the point in them. They take hours and hours of training, then of course the physical and mental work of the race themselves.
During my races, I’ve learned that ultras do an amazing job of breaking you down to the core of who you are. That may sound brutal and a bit philosophical, but when you’ve been on your feet for 85 miles and your entire body and mind is screaming at you to quit, and you know you have hours left to go, it’s what happens.
Not only have ultras really shown me the ‘real’ me, but some of them have taught me really valuable lessons, and that’s what I’m going to talk about today. So let’s start:
In any ultra I’ve done, regardless of whether it went great, bad, or I finished or not, I’ve felt a huge sense of gratitude. You may ask yourself why I feel grateful putting myself through such events. I guess it boils down to three things.
Firstly, I’m grateful that I’m physically able to run. I’m healthy, all my limbs work, I’ve been lucky in my life. Knowing I can get out the door after work and run, or do a long run at the weekend, or of course racing, isn’t something I take for granted. My Dad (who passed in 2008) was someone who was healthy and able bodied. He loved hiking. When he was diagnosed with MND it seemed so unfair and crazy that would happen to someone healthy and fit. Seeing all that taught me never to take our bodies and health for granted.
Secondly, I get grateful for being able to run around the beautiful countryside (OK that doesn’t apply to the Thames Path leading up to Reading, or the canal section of C2C!), in different weathers and different times of the day. One ‘ultra memory’ that will always stick with me is overnight of Autumn 100, along the ridgeway on a clear night, a nearly full moon and being able to turn headlamp off. A runner near me said “we’re so bloody lucky aren’t we?”. Or during SDW100, walking up a huge hill in late evening, then seeing a fireworks display in the distance.
Finally, I’m grateful for the fact I’m here. As someone who’s bipolar and suffered mental health issues all their life, I’m glad I never took my life and that I’m still in this world. Each time I do an ultra (and especially the two 100 milers I’ve done), it’s like a big ‘screw you’ to depression!
As someone who hasn’t got tons of self-esteem, being able to genuinely feel proud about something or go “yep, that was me, I did something amazing!” doesn’t come naturally or easily to me. I’m very prone to writing things off as luck, fluke or apportion things to someone else.
However, in the case of ultras that I’ve finished, I can’t do that, because the proof is there in the finishing time, the medal, the photo and all the work that went into it. I’m not really one for keeping medals on display but the exception is my two 100 mile buckles which are always on display in my office. They’re a reminder that I’ve done amazing things and that I 100% deserve to be proud of them.
I’m proud not only of the ultras I finished, but also the ones I didn’t. I’m proud that I learn things, that I can be self-critical of things I didn’t do so well. And I’m proud of all the thousands of miles I ran in training. And I love knowing that nothing I or anyone else does, or anything that happens in my life, can change the fact I did these.
It probably won’t surprise anyone to know that to complete an ultra of any distance you have to be pretty damned determined. And you have to be determined before that, to put the countless hours and miles of training in.
Ultras have not just taught me this, but taught me how amazing it feels to know you’ve called up on your determination and seen things through to the end. Not giving up when things are insanely tough, keeping going when every fibre of your being is telling you to stop… there’s a big lesson there for life in general, not just ultras.
One race that springs to mind for this is the first time I did the Centurion Autumn 100. I’d trained, tapered and planned really well. The first half went great – 50 miles done in 9hrs 40mins, nice steady pacing, felt great. Not long after that though I took a downhill section way, way too fast and aggressively, and injured the tops of both my quads. Whilst I could still move, I couldn’t (without a lot of pain) raise my legs high enough to run. Well, I knew instantly my plans of a sub 24 hour 100 had gone – but I also knew I could walk/hike the race in and still complete it. Which I did, even though the last 50 miles took my over 17 hours. What I took from this was that if you make a decision to keep going at something, even though you know damn well it’s going to be hard, painful and even boring, you can finish it and be proud of what you’ve done.
The more you do things like that (and I don’t mean ultras, I mean anything in your life that’s worthwhile but takes grit, hard work and determination to get), the stronger you become as a person.
When things go wrong in any area of your life, it’s easy to blame other people, other events, other things – anything but yourself. It takes the pressure of you and means when things don’t go well you can say “it wasn’t my fault!”. It’s easy, yes, but it’s lame.
When you’re running an ultra, it’s on you. You do the training, you get your ass out of the door when it’s raining/snowing/cold/boiling hot. You decide and commit to do a race. You prep, you taper, You get yourself on the starting line. And you run the race, and you finish it. You.
My first 100 miler (Centurion Thames Path) didn’t go to plan. Why didn’t it go to plan? Because I didn’t follow my own plan! Simple, basic stuff like eating every X minutes and drinking every X minutes. Simple, basic stuff like taking an S-Cap every hour. Basic, easy stuff right? Well I didn’t do the basics and unsurprisingly, my race fell apart. I near enough crawled in to the half way point, feeling actually faint from low blood sugar. I struggled to keep food down from then on, due to low electrolyte levels.
I opened up my half way drop bag to find just a crazy amount of stuff. Food, cables, chargers, more food. I’d over done it and just ended up confused and annoyed.
I did end up finishing the race (thankyou Dan!) but not before a lot of me blaming anything but me. This included:
Of course, none of this was valid. The only thing to blame was me not following my own simple race plan.
Now I’m not saying this to beat myself up about it. My point is that the events in the race, once I’d reflected on them, made me realise how much I blame other things in my life when really it’s on me. Work, personal – everything. Running an ultra where you’re dependent on your own preparation, fitness, mind, strength and courage brings that home to you.
It’s easy in life when we’re doing something we’ve done before, or know a lot about, to either go on autopilot, or to just get complacent. Complacency has cost me two 100 mile finishes, and has meant I still haven’t hit a big goal of mine, doing a sub 24 hour 100 miler.
Autumn 100 – my second go.. I’d completed the course before, I was in good shape. Again I did the first half in under ten hours, I felt great and I had 14 hours left to do the next 50 miles. Physically and mentally I felt great. In the third party of the race, I took a wrong turning. Navigation in A100 is damn easy so this is quite embarrassing. Long story short, I ended up walking around in circles in the early hours of the morning, clocking up extra hours and miles. Why? Because I had never bothered to put the GPX file on my phone before the race. If I had, I would have been able to work my way out of it quicker.
The second time complacency ruined a race was SDW100, my second try. Bear in mind this race happens in the summer, and you’re running all day in the sun (obviously). You would think that an experienced runner getting ready for the race would take in his race pack a cap and some sunblock, wouldn’t you? Well, I didn’t. When I was getting my kit ready on the day I thought (at 5 am), it’s not too hot today, I won’t need it. You can guess what happened – I baked (as someone with a shaved head this is very easy). My race blew up about 40 miles in and all the cold water in the world thrown on my head couldn’t fix it.
Being complacent in any area of our lives puts us at risk of under-performing or not performing at all. Taking the little bit of extra time or thought into things (and not making assumptions) minimises it. All that time, effort and cost of the race and I blew it by not taking two items with me. Insane!
For me, ultra marathons are part of my life and who I am. They have a clear parallel to bipolar disorder (think, the highs of running and finishing versus the lows of DNFs or crawling your way to the end of a 100 miler). As I said earlier, they will break you down to the core of you are, to a point where you can’t hide from it. They teach you things about yourself – not just as a runner, but as a person. As a parent, child, sibling, friend, colleague or leader. Sometimes the things are great, sometimes they’re stuff you don’t want to think about. But in ultras you can’t hide from them. The lessons endurance running have (and will) give me are invaluable – one of the many reasons I love ultras!