Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Piece of String "fun run" & distance - a few thoughts

I was following the inaugural Piece of String fun run at the weekend with interest. All respect to the bold few who toed the line. I did apply for entry and was summarily placed on the waiting list - no disgrace given the quality of the field.

When I explained the race to Jenny, she said it was a good thing I didn't get in as it would as it would have really f*cked with my brain. I did point out that that was the idea but given my recent issues, she may well have been right! However, I was reminded of a game in Big Brother a few years ago - the housemates were basically put in boxes and the last person to emerge was the winner - at the time, Jenny said I could beat anyone at that due to my stubbornness (me?) and my competitive spirit. 

After the event, race director, James Adams wrote, "Who knows how far they went? Is it even important?" 

Many people thought it was and wanted to know exact distances. Which all got me thinking whether distance is really all that important. To me one of the beauties of ultra-running compared to road running is that every race is so different. In a road race I always have half an eye on the time or a PB, but in an ultra that is not really relevant. In ultra-running there are so many variables - surface, terrain, ascent, weather, darkness etc - one can only really compare a race with the same race done previously. Lakeland 100 vs a flat 100 - totally incomparible. I recently ran 2 fifty milers (Round Rotherham and Dusk til Dawn) and was pleased with my performance both times. However, the time difference was 2 hours! The former is relatively flat, on reasonably good surface and entirely in the light. The latter was bumpy and totally in the dark.

There is so much more to ultra's than the distance - after all, we all talk about "time on feet" being more important than actual mileage. Going back to the Piece of String, I was reminded of the 2nd section of The Spine last January which took 27 hours from 0230 to 0530 the next day. This epic day was about ice, a beautiful dawn, a tearoom in Gardale, falling over repeatedly on the way to Pen-y-Ghent, a grumpy landlord with a warm fire in Horton-on-Ribblesdale, the cold, the longest "2 miles" ever, friendship & camaraderie. I remember so much about that day but I don't really remember the distance (it was somewhere between 61-65 miles I think).

Ultra-running, to me, is about the experience not the exact distance travelled. Those who started the Piece of String "fun run" had a very unique experience. Congratulations to finishers Wouter Hamelinck & Sam Robson. But congratulations to everyone who was brave enough to start. How far you ran is unimportant compared to the experience and the memories.

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