Why do people enter races? For the challenge, the adventure, the thrill of the ride, or the incredible sense of fulfilment running brings? Unless you’re an athlete, of all the reasons to enter races, running speedily is not the first thing that springs to mind. There are a million trillion more emotional, heart warming and life changing reasons to pit your legs against the open road. And yet, be it 5K or 50 miles, once you’ve completed your challenge, the one question people always ask is, ‘what was your time?’
It irks me that such a profound and integral aspect of my life is reduced to chunks of manageable time. Of course it feels good to run really fast, and yes it’s an accomplishment to get fitter and faster, but is speed really the ultimate barometer of race success?
If a running event was measured by enjoyment, laughter, weather, enthusiastic support, or most interesting people met en route, it would be a different story, and I’d be champion of the fucking world. My best most memorable races had nothing to do with time and everything to do with life experience. Last weekend was one such race.
To celebrate my 35th birthday, I decided to run my age. Partly because I wanted to improve on last year, which was an unbelievably sucky birthday because I got my heartbroken, but mostly because I had something to prove.
Within me lies a well of incredible strength and endurance. I know this because I survived the last year in London town on a shoestring with a ruptured heart. But put me in a field of speedy runners and I feel like a failure. I just can’t help stopping to smell the flowers and admire the birds nesting in the trees. I love running passionately and I thrive off the spirit of racing. But I was born to dance to the beat of my own drum and formulaic road races suck out all the fun.
To prove to myself that anything was possible, and to have a laugh because I love running with friends, I decided to organise my own damn ultra marathon, and the Rhalultra was born. Because It was my race, I could do it my way, and still legitimately win. This meant approximate mileage, a vague route (because what is life without adventure?) and virtually no training. I run regularly, so I knew I could cover a long distance, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to follow a tedious training plan for six months when really all I want to do is have fun.
Most of my sane running friends would balk at the idea of running for a vague and indefinite time without a map or a fancy watch. But thankfully I have a few friends patient and willing enough to pander to my whimsical desires, and one particularly cool pal who is just as free-spirited as me when it comes to running in the great outdoors.
Simon Lamb is a dude. He is my best man friend. I know this for a fact, because last weekend he ran beside me for ten whole hours and 41.3 miles in the searing heat, and only complained when I tried to make him do a sprint finish. (Yes that’s a little over 35 miles, but when you’re having so much fun, who cares about numbers?)
Speedy Claire Pepper, the Amazing Sarah Onions, Delicious Dom, Incredible Harriet, Heroic Nathaniel and the King of Hugs Lawrence Lartey are all Rhalultra runners worthy of praise. They made my birthday run so much fun and I love them all for it.
If you’re interested in the logistics of the Rhalultra, check out my Runner’s World article here I won’t bore you with the stats. All I will say is, I ran 41.3 God damn miles on Saturday, and I did it incredibly slowly so I could stop for ice cream and flower sniffs, and I loved every bloody second of it, and if I can do it, then so can you.
And if anyone asks me if I ran a good time, I will reply, ‘Why yes, I had the best time in the whole fucking world.’