Want to get into ultra-marathon running but don’t know where to start? Extreme ultra-marathon runner Audrey McIntosh shares with us some of the amazing experiences she has had and her top tips for getting started.
1) How long have you been running and what attracted you to ultra-running in particular?
I came to running relatively late in my mid-thirties starting with a 10k for charity and progressing from there. As my children grew older and more independent I had more time to train making it easier to up the distances.
I always said ultra-marathon running was for lunatics, but then found myself contemplating the next move beyond marathon. I did a couple of multi day events, but was not convinced they satisfied my need to push myself to the limits.
For me it is about pushing the limits in a single effort and that is where the ultra-running comes into its own.
2) When was your first ultra-marathon and how did you do?
It was in 2010 and was a new 40 mile ultra (Clyde Stride 40) and local. It was close to home and transitioned from classic city road running into trail, not too technical and with very little climb. Ideal for the novice.
I got the pacing all wrong and blew up just over halfway and came in 2nd last. It was great to finish, but I was frustrated with myself for getting it so wrong.
3) How do you prepare for an ultra-marathon?
Once I know what the goal is: my A race for the year; I build a training regime towards that. This will involve ensuring that I build my miles steadily, include speed and hill work as well as cross-training strength and core work.
I usually build in some other events as milestones to test my fitness levels. If possible I try and get out onto the route. If that is not possible I try to find routes that are similar or mimic the terrain.
In addition to that I need to look at my race plan: support requirements, nutrition, kit etc. My training will peak about 4 weeks before and then I will ease in a taper, reducing my mileage gradually and then pretty much resting the week before.
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4) What is your race day routine?
That tends to vary. If it is a race that starts at 1 am I usually plan to rest during the day. However, I am very bad at that and so it tends not to happen. I also try not to be in any stressful situations, but that often does not happen as my work can be pretty stressful at times.
For races that start at more ‘normal’ times I generally get up a couple of hours before the start, have breakfast which is usually scrambled eggs on toast or an egg mayonnaise sandwich and green tea. Sometimes I will also have a coffee a bit after breakfast.
Once at the start I usually chat with friends and other runners, but also have a little bit of quiet time.
5) What keeps you motivated and strong during an ultra-marathon?
Often it is just pig-headed determination and stubbornness: not wanting to be beaten by the challenge. If it is a race that I am using to fundraise for charity then I am motivated by the thought of the donations, not wanting to let the donors or the charity down.
I also use music to motivate me, and often ask people to suggest tracks which I add into a compilation. It is often music that I would not have thought to choose for myself which is interesting; but also, each time one of the tracks plays it is like a little message of support from that person.
Sometime my support will put little motivational notes in my bag or hand them to me as I leave a checkpoint.
6) How do you manage to juggle family, work and training?
In some ways it has got easier as the children have grown up: they are adults now. Also, as they got older they would sometimes join me on their bikes.
Nowadays I try and arrange my long runs in such a way that my husband (and the girls if they are around) can join in and go for a walk on a section of the route I am running or nearby. Often I will join them and walk the last bit. We then all get together in a cafe or pub for a treat afterwards.
Work is always a bit of an unknown. I try to maintain a good work life balance but do need to be flexible and be able to shift planned sessions if something comes up at work. I generally try to get to work early in the morning so that I can leave early and do my training afterwards. Sometimes I swap it around and train early morning. There are even times when I train both before and after work.
It’s not easy, but planning and flexibility are the key. Also, not panicking if you miss a session: just accept that it has happened and don’t try to cram in a replacement session as that just causes more stress.
7) You have taken part in a lot of ultra-marathons – what has been your favourite race so far and why?
That is a hard question. They are all special in some way. The Antarctic Ice 100k (2013) was so special: to have the privilege to run in such a special place was overwhelming and equally matched in terms of the scale and toughness of the challenge.
The West Highland Way Race (2015) was very special too. It is one of the toughest races: 95 miles with 14.5k feet of climb, technical terrain and running through 2 nights. The level of support and encouragement that you get is amazing.
Also, The Glenmore 24 race in 2015. Having managed 95 miles in 2014 I was determined to try and bag 100. Everyone told me that it would not be possible having done the West Highland way that year (as well as North Pole Marathon, Highland Fling and Devil of the Highlands). I was determined and I did it. Race control and the participants set up camp in a field and the race is on a 4 mile trail loop. It is beautiful, has a great sense of camaraderie and a really supportive party atmosphere as you pass through the camp on every loop.
Related: Tips for Running in Cold Weather
8) What is the toughest ultra-marathon you have taken part in and why?
That is probably a draw between the Antarctic 100k and the West Highland Way Race.
Antarctica was gruelling because of the cold and the terrain and the fact that just twenty eight hours earlier I had run a marathon. The cold and snow were energy sapping and it was really lonely at times.
The West Highland Way Race was tough because of the terrain and ascent but also the sleep deprivation from running through two nights.
9) What are your top tips for getting started in ultra-marathon running?
Pick an event that excites you either in terms of location or route. Plan your training and do not be tempted to over train. Compared to many ultra-runners my mileage is low, but I am consistent and remain injury free. Consistency is key. Listen to your body and cross train. Rest days are very important for your body to recover.
Use social media to find out more about it and to find like- minded runners and fellow newbies, but do not let others psych you out. Social media can be great but there are also the people out there that boast and put on a front. Just be true to yourself.
Try to train on the route or similar terrain. I used to train on sand to simulate snow. Think about your kit and nutritional needs and practice. You will need to know what you can and can’t tolerate, and be able to eat ‘real food’. Coke is the ultra-runners best friend. Something with Ginger is good to settle upset tummies.
Make sure your kit is appropriate, tried and tested, and more importantly comfortable. You are going to be wearing it for a long time.
Make a plan for race day, but know that it probably won’t go to plan. You will need to learn to think on your feet and come up with plan B. You may get practice at this during your training, especially if a long run does not go to plan.
Finally: enjoy. You will most likely be training and racing in some beautiful places with some great people. Take the time to enjoy that, and always look behind you – some of the best views are behind you.
10) What are your running plans for 2018?
My 2018 plans are still in the making. At the beginning of July I am taking part in the Great Glen Ultra. I am determined to crack the high paths and have a decent run at this.
I will probably do the Tyne Trail Ultra (75k). In 2018 it follows the South Tyne from source to sea. As I did the event in 2017 on the North Tyne source it makes sense to do the southern route.
I am also aiming to get some big adventure races in for my Global Odyssey challenge to run an extreme 100k on every continent. Sadly work commitments meant that I could not join an expedition in January to run Lake Khovsgol in Mongolia, but I am determined to find some adventures.
At the moment there is the possibility of expeditions to The Gambia, the Gobi and South America. I have just learned about the Lecois Maranhenses national park on the North East coast of Brazil which would be an amazing place to run.
About Audrey McIntosh
Audrey McIntosh is an extreme ultra-marathon runner from Scotland. Since Audrey started running in 2010, she has had some amazing experiences.
In November 2013, Audrey made running history when she became the first Scot (and second British woman) to complete the Antarctic Ice Marathon and Antarctic 100km double — in the space of three days.
In 2015 Audrey completed the North Pole Marathon and became the first Scot to complete all 3 polar races. She also added the West Highland Way Race and West Highland Way Triple Crown and 100 miles in 24 hours at the Glenmore 24 hour trail race to my tally of achievements.
Audrey became the first person to complete the double extreme marathon event of the Namibian Sand Marathon and Genghis Khan Ice Marathon: 36 degrees to minus 32 degrees.
To find out more about Audrey McIntosh head over to www.audreymcintosh.co.uk
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