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Susie Chan – Ultra running – why? Here's why!

12-Feb-2014

This blog was going to be about the fantastically organised Pilgrims Challenge ultra. 66 miles of mud and hills being led by the top ultra runners in the UK.

However this week, a blog was posted about Ultra running – suggesting ultra running is not right for the body and that it’s a fad. The small ultra running community twitter ignited, and the poster of the blog (a nice guy I know and have trained with) got a lot of flack.


Let me get Pilgrims out the way first. I have written about this before – and once again it was a well organised race along beautiful scenery. I had a shocker though. An old injury played up and I struggled from mile 8 all the way to the end of the 66 mile mud-fest of a course. I finished though, in a not very good time. I got a colossal amount of support for this race though – and would like to say thank you to those that supported me. I finished!

So, back to the ultra running.

I can see why people struggle to understand it. On paper it looks ludicrous, especially to a non runner.

Is it a fad? In a word, no. Three years ago I never even knew such races existed. Run more than a marathon? WHAT?! Yet, as soon as I decided to go further I realised quickly how accessible the sport is. Sure, you have to train for it, but it is surprising how doable the races are and how quickly the body adapts. I can run 50 miles now without too much drama and apart from a big appetite, I feel ok the following day.

Something else thing happened too… as I ran slower and longer the injuries stopped. There was a transition phase where my wobbly joints had to get used to the trails, but when that passes – the terrain is much kinder on my old lady joints than pounding the pavements. (I’m back to pavement pounding in prep for Boston Marathon. As soon as did, I got injured – and that’s what hurt in Pilgrims!)

Based on no solid facts, it is my opinion the sport appears to be getting stronger and more popular.

The ultra races are getting filled up more quickly. People want to push themselves.

Is the body designed to run 100 miles? Probably not. So why do ultra runners do it?

It’s simple really. It is because they CAN.

I can’t imagine a world where humans didn’t push themselves beyond their limits for fear of getting hurt. We wouldn’t have gone into space, or broken the 4 minute mile, or conquered Everest or achieved the thousands of other things that fills history with notable human efforts. Human endeavour is an amazing thing.

The best thing about Ultra running, for me, is the community. These people, they are my kind of people.

Shorter racing is often about pace and time. Whilst this is enjoyable, there is more than that in Ultra running. Ultra running is all about the experience. I have run Ultras and been at the front of the pack, the back of the pack and the middle of the pack. At each of these races the camaraderie has been the same. Encouraging, welcoming. It’s inclusive. We are all in this together regardless of how long it takes you.

There is always someone at an ultra running event who is doing something more outrageous and unbelievable than you. Crazy races, mad distances. Amongst these people I can talk about running a 30 mile training run, without anyone batting an eyelid.

I have met some of the most incredible people on the circuit. People who go about their everyday lives, and appear quite normal.. and then at the weekends they come alive and achieve impressive athletic feats. Ultra runners are looking for their limit and they come to find it at these events.

Here is an example of some of the people I have met. Warwick, my friend now a seasoned 100 mile runner. He won his first impossibly hilly 100 mile race in and said his feet were so sore from the rocks underfoot they hurt for days. Not a problem for him, it didn’t put him off. He has gone on to run more 100 milers in under 18 hours. He is now doing the UK 100 mile “Grand slam” 4 in a year. He is nails.

Cat. I met this girl 75 miles into a 100 miler. She looked fresh as a daisy and happy as she ran off for the last 25 miles. She got into Spartahlon last year – a gruelling non stop 153 mile race in Greece and gave it her all. This year she is running three 100 milers at least. Not a problem for her!

Allan. What a guy. This man eats up ultra races like I do 6 mile runs. He just did a race called The Spine. This has got to be the most brutal race in the UK. It’s a 268 mile non stop, self sufficient race during winter through the Pennine Way – taking in some absurd harsh conditions and elevation . His feet were infected horribly from the effort when he finally stopped. Did this put him off? Far from it! He’s gong back to do it again.

There are many more ultra people like this with equally impressive stories. I have nothing but admiration for these talented courageous people. 100 milerunners…I want to be in your gang.


Anyone who pushes themselves further than they think they can go has my respect. I’m not talking about the crazy distances here now. Just anything which is beyond comfort. To some – this is 10K in a certain time, to others it is a 10K or half marathon distance. To a select few, well, they chose endurance and run miles and miles and miles to test themselves. Bravo!