Photo by Cameron Burt from my Ramsay Round last June, on the summit of Aonach Beag in the Scottish Highlands.
Ultra distance road, trail and mountain runner Jez Bragg is no stranger to the effects of fatigue. Here he talks about how best to keep those aches and pains at bay.
What first got you interested in ultra running?
I ran the London Marathon for charity in 2002 and absolutely loved the whole experience, so I continued training and ended up entering more extreme races. I guess I’m not one to do things by half, so I wanted something to challenge myself more and see how far I could go. My first ultra distance race was a 175 mile 6 days stage race in 2004 which I ended up winning, and I’ve been competing ever since. I’ve run all over the world, with event’s/ challenges ranging from 5km to 3,000km!
How far in advance do you prep for an ultra run and what kind of training is involved?
I train all year round, up to 100miles per week, the majority of which is off road and on hilly terrain, but I will focus on a handful of ‘A’ races at specific points in the season. Once your fitness is there, it’s more about fine tuning to the specifics of the race such as weather conditions and terrain, and most importantly staying healthy, strong and injury free.
When in training is it more beneficial to run in the morning or evening?
Usually both if work doesn’t get in the way….
What are your essentials when out on a run?
I love the simplicity and running as lightweight as possible. Anything up to a marathon in distance I won’t carry anything, only my Garmin GPS which stays on my wrist permanently to track all the run details. On longer runs I will take a small pack with waterproofs, a map, some food and drink and my phone. But a decent pair of trainers is all you really need.
Running for such great distances and for extended periods of time, how do you keep your mind occupied?
I think about all sorts, from work to friends and family. It’s my life planning and reflection time. All of it is usually fairly dreamy and sub-conscious, but it’s perfect headspace time to release stress and anxiety.
What are some of the best landscapes that you’ve run across?
In 2012/13 I ran the length of New Zealand off road on a long distance trail called Te Araroa (The Long Pathway in Maori). It was the ultimate adventure, running through landscapes which are mind-bogglingly beautiful and very few people get to see. I also love spending time in the Scottish Highlands, and regularly make trips up there to run long routes in the mountains.
And the worst?
I used to commute to work along the canals of central Birmingham. I’ve certainly seen some stuff along those towpaths, I won’t go into the detail…
Do you run alone?
Inevitably I run alone quite a bit, but I’ll often do sessions or longer runs with friends, and make a day of it. I run for our local club, Bournemouth AC, which makes it very sociable, and we compete a lot as a team.
How do you combat fatigue or any injury’s that are obtained during a run?
A big part of ultra running is managing fatigue, and keeping your body in one piece when it threatens to fall apart due to the running time involved. When you first start out it takes time for your body to get used to the distance, but it comes with patience and time, then it’s all a lot more do-able. In races the adrenaline usually overrides the fatigue, I usually suffer more when I’m sat at a desk at work!
How important is rest for an ultra runner in terms of both performance and recovery?
Quality rest and recovery is as important as the training itself. My wife and I deliberately live in a rural Dorset village where it’s perfectly quiet at night, and great for a good night’s sleep. And of course our Eve mattress looks after us very well indeed and provides a brilliant level of comfort…
What tips would you offer any fellow athletes on gaining quality and healthy sleep?
The most important thing I find is to switch off sufficiently before going to bed. Winding down by reading or listening to music means you’re not going through the same process when you’re actually lying in bed and should be sleeping. It takes some discipline with modern day communications and social media….
What has been your greatest achievement in ultra running?
Setting a new ‘fastest know time’ on the Te Araroa trail in New Zealand was a once in a lifetime moment, and an experience I’ll never forget. I went through every emotion imaginable on that 53 day run and loved every minute of it.
And finally, what advice would you give to anyone thinking of being an Ultra runner?
Do it! It is the most rewarding sport imaginable, and there’s a brilliant community out there ready to welcome you in. I’m obviously completely biased, but ultra runners tend to be pretty mellow, chilled out people, but with serious drive and determination who are just keen to experience as much as they can through running adventures. I hear so many stories of people finding the sport by accident but finding it a life changing experience.
Don’t say you can’t unless you’ve tried it….
Check out Jez’s blog here.