Guest post by ultramarathon runner Sophie Adams, voted Best Fitness Instagrammer in our Health & Fitness Influencer Awards.This time last year, the longest distance I had raced was a half marathon. I had never signed up for a road marathon and I was gearing up to dive straight into my first ultramarathon in a few months' time. I had never considered ultramarathons to be an achievable sport for me. So how did this come about in my running career? And what did I learn from it? I started my running journey, as many of us do, back at school. I was lucky enough to be picked to compete as a track athlete for my local county and for the Sea Cadets that I was part of. I was a decent 100m sprinter, 100m relay runner and would never have considered long-distance to be my forte.
I craved movement.After transitioning through my teenage years, and through university, I lost my motivation for running and as a result started to put on weight and become unhealthy. Landing myself a job in the big city as a graphic designer, I spent the majority of my time sitting on my bum and staring out the window at the outside world. After a few months of this I decided that things needed to change. I craved movement again and being in the fresh air. Taking things one step at a time, I joined a gym and began running on the treadmill. Before I knew it I was running outside again and started to regain my fitness. Fast-forwarding a year, I had joined Nike Run Club, which introduced me to a whole new calibre of people outside my normal friendship circle - people who were excited and driven by running. And people who introduced me to the concepts of ultra and trail running. The tipping point for me was being shown a video called ‘Western Time’ about Sally McRae running Western States 100, the most well-known of all global ultra events. This was the point where I thought ‘I wish I could do this’ and then ‘Why can’t I do this?’. The answer is, you can. I signed up to Sciacche Trail in Italy, a 47km trail race that Sally had competed in the year before, and thus the training started.
My first marathon? Just part of my training!My first marathon was to be my longest training run, and luckily enough for me it fell in my training plan whilst I was in New Zealand with spectacular views. Marathon distance is deemed as the ultimate goal for most runners and an achievement in its own right. After completing this, I knew I could do it; I felt confident in myself and in my own training. Everything was going to plan - my body felt good, my nutrition wasn’t an issue and I was motivated to continue with my journey and take it to new levels. I was inspired to sign up to even more races. The next one I added to the calendar, a few months after Sciacche Trail, was Transvulcania - a notorious trail race up and down a volcano on La Palma Island. Strength work played a huge part in my training; I was having two sessions a week to focus on building both my leg and overall body strength. Not only do you require this for power hiking up to save energy, but also upper body strength to keep your chest upright to allow for better oxygen intake and maintaining good form. Another key aspect for me was fuelling - the amount of miles in my training and the strength work caused me to burn a lot of calories. I had to ensure I was taking them back in so I would not fatigue and also recover efficiently. Protein shakes were a quick, easy post-run solution, which was then followed by the correct balance of carbs, fats and proteins in solid food.
My First Ultramarathon: everything I had hoped for (and more).Training done, the Sciacche Trail came round rather quickly. I was so glad this race was to be my first ultra experience. It was made even more special by the fact Sally was racing again that year and I got to share the start line with her. My race plan was simple: I was to take it easy, fuel as planned and more than anything just enjoy the experience. It was everything I had hoped for and more; the views were breath taking and worth the leg-destroying climbs which led to them. The towns along the route provided well-needed support during the last leg of the journey, with all the local people coming out to cheer you on. The one thing I could not train for was what to expect post-race and how my body would react. The next morning I felt exhausted; my legs were heavy and stiff, and my stomach wasn’t the happiest. The best thing about running ultras is the amount you can eat after! Being in Italy was perfect as we could refuel with some amazing, local, fresh produce to help the body recover well. I took two weeks off from running after the race. Even though the body may feel fine the nervous system takes time to recover, so it is best to ease back in slowly.
Passing the summit during the Transvulcania ultra.
Your Body can do Amazing Things!What did I learn from my first ultramarathon? Mainly that it hurt but I wanted to do it again. Competing in ultra and trail races, in comparison to road, is all about the camaraderie and support you receive from other runners and spectators. The trails can be a dangerous place, so runners need to look out for each other; support is vital during the lonely miles where you don’t see a single person for hours. Your body can do amazing things. Progressing from not being able to run continuously for a minute to being able to complete events like this made me realise what people can be capable of. I was really inspired by Sally and it showcased to me that anything is possible if you train, put the effort in and believe in yourself. After competing in a few more races last year I now turn my attention to my next goal, Squamish 50 – a 50km race in Canada. I have adapted my training based on everything I learnt about my body last year and I am looking forward to what the future holds.
Join Sophie on Instagram as she trains for her next incredible ultramarathon and acts as Pacer for the Nike Run Club.