It may be only the beginning of January 2020, but I’ve decided to launch straight into Britain’s most brutal ultra-marathon to really get this year off to a bang!
After hurtling up the M1 yesterday, I’ve just arrived at Edale, the starting point for The MONTANE Spine Race, accurately described as ‘one of the world’s toughest endurance races’. It’s a 268-mile race from Derbyshire to Scotland, crossing the Peak District, Yorkshire Dales, North Pennines and over Hadrian’s Wall, essentially tracing the spine of England (hence its name).
Now, I didn’t throw myself at this challenge lightly, I know what I’m up against and have spent the past year preparing. In this process, I have learnt a lot about myself which has changed how I am in my professional life, as well as draw on experiences at work to tackle this particular challenge. There are more parallels than I initially realised!
You may be in the midst of setting yourself your own 2020 challenge, so here’s how I’ve prepared so far which may inspire you in your own planning.
Break down your goal
I’ve been getting ready for the Spine Race since January last year, breaking my training regime into quarterly sections. January to March was largely working up my fitness, in May I did the Cape Wrath trail followed by the Spine Fusion (knowing that it was summer, lighter days and better weather conditions), then after July, I ramped up training again, working up to back-to-back long runs – alternating between running, hiking and walking, as well as pushing on with strength sessions. Practicing walking may seem strange, but you can’t run all 268-miles, your body must get used to walking on tired legs.
Even though these goals were broken into manageable chunks, it wasn’t always easy to stay motivated, especially when doing the same long running routes, getting bored, and waking up at 4am to practice racing in the dark. So, keeping that ultimate goal in mind was essential.
Don’t be the ‘all the gear, no idea’ guy
For a race like this, you need a lot of kit, and part of the challenge is to race with the essentials for safety (a sleeping bag, stove, food, small first aid kit, GPS, mobile phone to name just a few items). But having everything you need is only the start. I have practiced with all my kit, worked out how long the headtorch battery lasts, how often I need to change clothes, how waterproof my jacket is… all of the details are important because I can’t lose time in the race. I’ve even experimented with various ways to pack my kit to make sure the process is as efficient as it can be.
There is so much planning and admin, but the more I can figure out and plan before the race, the more likely the race would run smoothly. And even during the race itself, I’ll be ‘doing admin’, keeping a note of times when I reach certain check points, when I sleep, so that I don’t lose track of time, manage myself correctly and keep an eye on the path ahead.
Training isn’t just physical
The majority of participants that don’t finish in these types of challenges fail because of mental exhaustion rather than injury. The mental preparation is in fact more important than physical training.
My approach may seem counter-intuitive, but it’s actually really effective and an approach I use in the workplace too. I start by listing reasons I may fail – which for me are losing the mental battle in the dark, getting lost but most importantly not being hungry. I work out how these scenarios may happen, then use this as my starting point to tackle each situation. I create a plan for each, write it down, walk through it multiple time before the race. Even though I’ll have my notes with me, I want it to feel familiar and embedded into my subconscious.
Honing new skills
I know that a weakness of mine is navigation, and in a race like this a weakness is amplified tenfold so you can’t ignore it, but technology is a strength, which is why I have spent money and time doing online GPS training, and have been determined to keep at it, to be an expert in using my GPS. But, not ignoring the ‘old way” of map and compass!
What I’ve realised in getting prepared for the Spine Race is that I am way more resilient and have a lot more grit than I realised. And the benefit of this personal goal has had ripple effects in my professional life. When faced with challenge at work, I know I’ve overcome worse and push myself to tackle it head on. I also have more back-up plans than I used to and put far more effort into better preparation.
I started the race on Sunday, and if you’d like to track my progress there is real time race tracking via this link: https://live.thespinerace.com/ And BTW, I am racer number 154.
Right, here we go!
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