Alechia van Wyk : Pilgrim Challenge North Downs Multistage Ultra

Mud, mud, glorious mud.

 Apparently there’s ‘nothing quite like it for cooling the blood’ – if you’re a hippopotamus that is, but if you’re a runner taking part in the Pilgrim Challenge North Downs Multistage Ultra  (31Jan/1Feb) then it almost stopped you in your tracks.

 It seemed to me that the whole of the North Downs is built on Surrey clay which feels like running in glue. It made the 66-mile, two-day event even more of a challenge.

 But now it’s done and I’ve passed another vital staging post in my psychological progress towards coping in these grueling endurance events and going beyond the inner hurdles and demons, I have created in 2014, with many DNFs.

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Thoughts of an Ultra Runner

Alechia van Wyk

An ultra can do a lot of things for a lot of people.

But one thing it will always do is change your mind. It will focus your perspective and help you see things as they really are.

There are some lies that may be clouding your vision.

For example,I can’t run an ultra yet—I’m not in my best shape”. “I’m too old to start running ultras”. “It doesn’t appear that anyone else is struggling as much as I am”. 

One of these that stood out for me whilst running and not completing the North Downs Way 50miler was:

“My first ultra will be just like my training runs”.

You haven’t the slightest clue what your first ultra will be like. Expect nothing. The veteran standing beside you at the start line doesn’t know what this race will be like either. Neither does the dude who has run this course ten times. He can tell you about his past experiences, but he can’t tell you what the run will be like today. That’s the beauty of ultra running: Anything can happen.

Simulate race day conditions during training, but never let it fool you into thinking that you now know exactly what’s coming. You have no idea. The weather could turn, your food could not stay down (this happened to me), or you could step on a rattlesnake. Who knows.

Instead of stressing about it, take it as a relief. There is no pressure to be completely prepared, because nobody is. The runners who thrive are the ones who can be flexible. Have a good base, good nutrition on the day, and know how to adapt. Be ready and willing to tweak your strategy at a moment’s notice, and never see a change as a failure. I changed my strategy at 40kms, but only made it to 56kms, and had to make the decision to drop-out, and for those who have had to struggle with this decision would know how tough it was.

The ultra distance is hard to get your mind around. That’s why people give ultra runners puzzled looks. But once you break down that wall, run past the 42kms, all those lies you believed about yourself are exposed. And it’s easier to see yourself, as you really are—strong, courageous, and able. I will be back, running even longer.