The Ultra Unknown - Mark J Smith
I could say that the underlaying passion for my running has come from where I was brought up, my childhood consisted of; the exploration of the moorland, farmland and pockets of woods surrounding a village deep into a valley. This meant that in any direction you could be free to roam any of these luxuries within a few paces of your doorstep. I believe this is the foundation of my passion and a good dose of natural ability gave me the spark to carry out running to this day. In my early years I spent most of them running 10k races, a classic ‘city-circuit’ as I call them, with little motive but to try and beat my previous PB the year before, Id turn up, little to no training and go as fast as I can in 40 minutes and leave.
Year after year I returned to these concrete carnivals, forever being frustrated by course bottle-necking corners and the classic office charity plodders running at ten abreast. My times weren’t becoming any better nor my sense of running ambition. With nothing but 10k training in my legs I decided this was enough and put my trainers away for a while. Months passed and with built up desire to be free to roam again like my childhood, I wanted to change the way, and where I ran. I searched for the next trail event which was the South West Coast Path Challenge (formerly known as the Head to Head Trail Running Challenge) Set at East Soar Outdoor Experience near Salcombe in Devon, the trails and coastal paths are nothing but stunning – that’s if you have a moment to take your eye of the deadly rocky slopes for a second. I turned up unknowing the route, where I was or what it entailed, never the less I set off on what I could only explain as feeling like I had been reborn into the running world again. I breezed down the lanes, through open Rapeseed fields which were so bright you had to squint, but I was so happy where I was. I felt comfortable cruising along picking people off as I went. Now came the fun bit, i was faced with an almighty incline, over 400ft of shear face climb, and we had to endure these inclines three times. It was a huge shock to the system, luckily, I knew how to attack hills from my days running up Tors and across moorland. Once the climbs were over I found myself flying through the rest and finally finished the course. With 200 entries that day I had come 8th place, my second shock of the day after those hills! This really was the re-birth to a new me in the running world, I had found my place in which is exactly how I started where I grew up. Not long after I woke up one weekend and I had what could only be explain as a, ‘Forest Gump moment’, “I just felt like running” - And so I did. With no knowledge of endurance racing, nutrition fuelling or having the right equipment I left the house in my 10k road trainers, a small rucksack with water and nutbar. Again, I felt free, I left Plymouth and ran to my home village in Yelverton and back again, I had just completed 26.6 miles from nothing. Most people will train up to a year to complete a marathon and I just rolled out of bed-which got me thinking, with a little training how far could I go.
A few days after the run I was broken, and rightly so, my feet were bruised, my knees sore and could hardly put my socks on, but this was it now I knew what I wanted to do and be an Ultra runner. I began searching for Ultra Marathon races, like I had done with the Coastal, except this time I felt totally out my depth. The distances alone were nothing but terrifying. There were 50k, 100k and 100k+ events all over so I chose The Cotswold Way 100K Ultra Marathon. A total of 62miles from Bath to Cheltenham across the beautiful landscape of the Cotswolds – what more do you want. This was it, no turning back now I had bought my ticket and the training began that very weekend and needed to because I only had five months to train for it. From that moment people were calling me every word associated with crazy and I could see why, I had jumped into an ocean without a lifejacket but I knew what I was capable of and at the same time, I didn’t know what I was capable. This was the important thing out of this as I knew I could run, people would ask, “oh so you must be pretty good at running then to do this” and I would reply, “I’ve got a good engine” whatever that means. As I embarked on my training I would go further and further each time; 15miles turned to 18, went to 20+ without hesitation, I could set off on these runs and barely break a sweat, this was the limits I wanted to push because you don’t know your limits, ever, unless you try. Eventually I was chasing the next big run for training and had just completed 32miles in one sitting. It took me 5:43:01 to finish this and didn’t I just know about it but this time my recovery was excellent as the following few days I was already eyeing up 40miles at the end of the month.
As expected you’re probably thinking, this is the part where you tell us about the Cotswold Ultra, right? Sadly not, it all ends here. The wold pandemic of the Coronavirus hit every continent on the earth and put us all into a stand still. My Ultra Marathon dreams put on hold and my training in limbo. Perhaps one day I can finish what I set out to do, and you can hear how this all ends. But until then, stay safe, explore the unknown, push your own limits and be better than yesterday.