Seeking asylum in the hills & transcendence on the trails

Ultra-running – the highs and lows of life

It’s fair to say that 2013 has already been a pretty mixed bag of ups and downs. For reasons I’ll come on to later I’ve been giving much thought to why it is I continue to run and what I really get from it.

Last week I was asked to talk at a WHW race ‘inspiration’ night to offer some insight into how I train and maybe provide some words of encouragement to those attempting it for the first time. It would have been nice to talk to more people on a one-to-one basis afterwards but by the close most people were probably keen to get home. It got me really questioning why someone would want to run the best part of 100 miles. To openly accept the inevitable suffering (at several stages throughout the race) as well the necessary sacrifices required to train for it.

For those doing it as their first big ultra, it’s probably pretty obvious. Most just want to really challenge themselves and to give it their all whatever the outcome. To be entirely single-minded about reaching Fort William and picking up that crystal goblet at the end. That’s a pretty special place to be in my book and if I’m honest, a position I’m slightly jealous of. After that it’s times, positions, or trying to do it better than the previous attempt. So, if you are doing it for the first time, savour it all – the good and the bad. It’s something that will stay with you for a long time. So what is it that stays with you?

Well, this is the point of the ramble. I think it changes something inside. It’s like an inner confidence. Not something that you’ll necessarily notice or even feel, but something that will lie in the depths of your being. Dormant. But something that may be awakened at a time when it’s really needed. When things in life are properly tough.

Yeah, yeah….the guy’s losing it….(I hear you say).

Maybe you’re right.  I’ve never been stressed about delivering an important piece of work, or gone through difficult family situations thinking “it’s ok, I can handle this – I’ve run the WHW” and I doubt you ever will either. I have had to go through some challenging times however and it has given me a solid foundation, an awareness of my ability to endure, a determination as well as some ‘thinking’ strategies to help me see the bigger picture. To break down the mountain of doubt into more manageable chunks. I’m not sure I was doing that too well before ultra-running and the WHW.

So back to running – that’s what this blog is meant to be about. I went up to race the D33 a couple of weeks ago. Prep wasn’t great for a number of reasons – the biggest being a totally unexpected long-term relationship split. Someone I loved and cared about deeply. Whilst it’ll hurt for a very long time I know I have to keep moving. In the grand scheme of things, I’ve only reached the 50 mile mark of much longer race – yes I have cramp, the weather is awful, I’m cold, thirsty and hungry but I know if I can just get to the next check-point the clouds might lift and the blood may flow freely through my legs again. That’s what an ultra does for you and in general life. It helps you to make the most of the situation and use whatever you can to get you through that moment of toil. A smile from a marshal might be an email from old friend, some dry clothes like a hug from yer dad, or the sight of another finish line the successful completion of another project at work.

‘Absolutely…he has lost it”

I haven’t really. All I’m trying to point out are some of the parallels between an ultra and life, and for anyone completing one of these remarkable challenges the benefits are wider than just a ‘finish’, a position or a target time.

I thought about whether or not to post this, I know some will laugh – there’s always a slightly unpleasant under-current in any competitive racing and the Scottish ultra scene hasn’t escaped it entirely. I can live with that. There are ten times as many good and honest people. Expressing one’s feelings isn’t exactly ‘West of Scotland’ but on the most part people connect with honesty. Didn’t we all want Geoff Roes to win in the Western States 100 ‘Unbreakable’ blockbuster? Wasn’t he the most honest runner?

I received a twitter DM this morning from another runner who I don’t know very well but had the pleasure of meeting briefly in Aberdeen. It was incredibly well-timed and provided that little something I needed to keep moving. I took that as my little pat on the back and I’ve picked myself up again this morning. I even laughed out loud when I wasn’t shit on by a bird as I ran into work – missed it by a fraction of second. Maybe things are picking up already and I’ll cruise on past the next checkpoint 🙂

So thank you for that DM – it was kind, it was honest and it meant something.

I’m heading up to Perth on Sunday for the Anglo-Celtic Plate. 100K on tarmac is a whole new challenge for me. It’s well outside my comfort zone so I’ll get a lot from it no matter the result.  If you’re around feel free to stop by – always welcome a friendly face and a smile.

blue sky

29 responses

  1. santababy100

    Wonderfully honest blog Paul, good luck at Perth, I’m sure you’ll lap me many times!

    March 27, 2013 at 12:13 pm

    • Thank you! Very kind.

      Might be a cold one on Sunday!

      See you there,


      March 27, 2013 at 1:05 pm

  2. Loved the article bud – respect to you from a fellow ‘believer’ – purely ’cause I’ll never see a podium! 😉 All the very best this weekend – “Find your ‘flow’…” 🙂

    March 27, 2013 at 12:53 pm

    • Thanks a lot mate – really appreciate that 🙂

      April 1, 2013 at 8:26 pm

  3. Pingback: Ultra-running – the highs and lows of life | Barefoot And Running Blind!

  4. Well said mate, and a good, honest blog. Hope things pick up for you soon, and in the mean time, good luck for the weekend.

    March 27, 2013 at 12:57 pm

    • Cheers Tom – hope you’re well mate 😉

      April 1, 2013 at 8:26 pm

  5. Karen D

    lol no you’re not losing it, a lot of that hippy shit pops in my head too. Running rocks :). See you at Perth. George and i are helping out so we’ll shout at you for a few laps.

    March 27, 2013 at 1:20 pm

    • Hippies unite!!!!

      Thanks for your chat on Sunday – keep me going 🙂 x

      April 1, 2013 at 8:28 pm

  6. Davie Bell

    You will never know the power of yourself , until someone hurts you badly Paul ! Some people don’t spend time pleasing the ones who love and care about them , they spend more time pleasing the ones who don’t . Who’s fuckin losing it know 🙂 good post mate .

    March 27, 2013 at 1:36 pm

  7. I don’t think you’ll ever know (realise) how much you inspire. In many ways… Good post.

    March 27, 2013 at 2:40 pm

    • Thanks Angela. Your kind words always mean a lot me 🙂

      April 1, 2013 at 8:29 pm

  8. great post, and breath taking photo!

    March 27, 2013 at 3:49 pm

    • Thanks a lot (and for reading)!

      April 1, 2013 at 8:30 pm

  9. A really great post, as inspiring and powerful as ever. If you’d done a macho techie thing it’d be interesting (maybe!). When you write about what running means and how it feels in the ups and downs, it’s so real. You strikes chord even with those of us whose running aspirations are not quite as awesome, but they take us all to the same places inside of us. Thank you Paul for being you and being a fine human bean. :-)x

    March 27, 2013 at 5:21 pm

    • Sue, I really don’t deserve that lovely note. It is however very much appreciated. It makes such a difference just to have someone say they understand.

      I hope you’re doing well.



      April 1, 2013 at 8:34 pm

  10. vicky hart

    Great post Paul. A little honesty goes a long way. I have questioned why I run many times in the past 18 months. Its reassuring to know that even those at the sharp end go through something similar.
    Best of luck this weekend. I hope you enjoy it.

    March 27, 2013 at 6:56 pm

    • Thanks Vicky. Really appreciate the comment particularly with all the ultra experience in your life!

      I hope you and family are well and we’ll see you at a race soon!?


      April 1, 2013 at 8:37 pm

  11. Will definitely come along to give you a few cheers on Sunday Paul. In fact, I might even speed up each time you lap me in order to do just that.

    And on the bright side, there’s little chance of getting lost on the route for this one – if only life was like that 😉

    March 27, 2013 at 8:20 pm

    • Yeah – sadly there wasn’t much chance for us to get lost!

      Hope you’re recovering well today Andy. That Tarmac hurts!


      April 1, 2013 at 8:39 pm

  12. Great post as always PG I don’t run ..well not in your class but I speak and see where your at there. Always a good read mate, take care on that tarmac, Goodyear made it 😉

    March 27, 2013 at 8:36 pm

    • Cheers DP! Thanks for reading and not just saying I’m ‘mental’ 🙂

      April 1, 2013 at 8:43 pm

  13. Jo

    Lost for words son. Run your legs off on Sunday. X. good times to come.

    March 27, 2013 at 8:45 pm

  14. Shona

    Like someone else said above, I don’t think you realise what an inspiration you are. To me and I’m sure to so many others!

    March 27, 2013 at 8:55 pm

    • Thanks Shona – very kind of you to say that. Crazy – but kind (and appreciated) 🙂

      April 1, 2013 at 8:41 pm

  15. mm

    Thanks for those really true and honest words – thinking similar.

    March 27, 2013 at 9:06 pm

    • Thanks mate 🙂

      April 1, 2013 at 8:42 pm

  16. Admin

    Great post. Altho not an ultra runner like you, I ran two marathons last year – yeah I know, small fry to most of you, but for someone who has never run and absolutely loathed it, it was my own Ben Nevis to climb. Anyway, having achieved that has made me believe that I can not only achieve other stuff, but also that I can endure sh*t too. I can grit my teeth and get thru the rough times – especially mile 18 knowing that mile 26 will come. So, no, I don’t think you’re nuts – I tip my hat to you in understanding. Keep on running and enduring. You’re pretty bloody amazing.

    March 28, 2013 at 6:23 am

    • What an amazing comment! Thank you. A marathon isn’t small fry in any way at all. I’m just chuffed you understood what I was trying to say. I run better than I write 😀

      Here’s to climbing our own individual Nevis’

      Thanks a lot,

      Paul 🙂

      April 1, 2013 at 8:47 pm

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