Life is an ultramarathon

To content | To menu | To search

Tuesday, January 24 2006

Original ultra-feeling

On Saturday, Ludo, Fred and I walked from London (Hyde Park) to Weybridge, where Mommas lives. The 30km planned route follows the Thames and shortcuts a bit through Richmond Park and Bushy Park.

It's quite interesting that many aspects of an ultramarathon were visible here. It was particularly obvious with Ludo, as he was facing the unknown. Looking at how did the whole thing go helps me a lot to understand how people (and myself first) come to run ultras.
  1. A symbolic goal. Ludo actually came one day with the idea of walking from London to Weybridge. He had very little knowledge how far it was and how nice the route could be (and neither did I). No matter the route, start and finish cities took the first place. The first step towards ultra seems to find this kind of symbolic goal. For example the UTMB is a loop around the highest peak in Europe, which is highly symbolic. Furthermore, it's interesting to notice than during the UTMB 113 people withdrew at "La Fouly" (km102), wheras only 30 did it at "Praz-de-Fort" (km111), however easy the route is in between. That was the 100km symbolic effect. Most of the successful ultras carry such symbols.
  2. Back to Earth. To some extend, we just wanted to see whether it was possible to do on foot what everyone does by train/car. That's a kind of come back to the origins when humans had to walk. Nowadays we are nearly teleported by train from one city to another. Train windows give us very few idea of what is outside, whereas inter-city trips on foot build a physical link in between well-known places. London and Weybridge are now in the same world to us. Furthemore it's nice to realize you can walk or run what people do by car/train or even by plane for some happy few.
  3. Preparation. Preparation is crucial in ultra. Given the route, (too?) little credit was given to it this time. Only the typical thrill while looking at the distance on a map ;) ...
  4. Suffering. Last kilometers were rather long, due to nice blisters. But resistance to pain is the first quality of an ultrarunner... However, I've not heard any "I will never ever do it again". Should I conclude that this walk was not long enough ?
Although not particularly warm, the weather was very sunny (and we even walked by a garden with palm trees 8-) ):

good weather  palm trees
Among other curiosities, we saw many red deers in Richmond Park.

Ultra start.

Wednesday, January 18 2006

Running from Dover to Cape Wrath ?

It's a bit of a crazy idea and I'm not sure I can do it (but whoever doesn't try can't fail (*)). I had this idea for a while now, I just wanted to share it and get some more comments. I still don't know when I will have the time and the legs to do it, maybe right after my PhD.
(*) and not: whoever doesn't trail can't fy...

In a couple of bullet points, the idea is the following:
  • run from Dover to Cape Wrath: UK SE to NW diagonal
  • solo except maybe some days where I could try to organise "run with me" events
  • without assistance, nobody will follow me with a car - I will have to carry a tent and to buy some food on the way
  • the distance will be around 1600km (1000 miles), mostly following national paths
  • technically I will run & walk 50km/day - this should take a month

The first challenge is obviously to finish. The second one, completely impalpable at the moment is how fast I can complete the diagonal, especially regarding to my knees, ankles and hips. One month is rather fast compare to a "typical" 3-month walk, but also very slow compared to the top runners, with assistance and on the road, that can run the Lands End to John O'Groats (the other diagonal that is longer) in around 9 days !

It's clear that I can walk 40km a day when the terrain is rather flat and not too technical (ie. 40 days). So for example if I swap continuously running and walking (one resting the other) I hope to reach 50 to 60km a day (ie. a total of 27 to 32 days). A fair daily objective would be:
8 x { 30min walking @ 5km/h + 30min running @ 10km/h } = 60km / 8h
If it is possible along the Grand Union Canal, I don't think I can keep up such a pace while crossing the North-West Highlands.

The route is not very well defined now. I don't particularly want to run the shortest way. Actually, I'd like to follow the national trail paths as much as possible.

Dover to Medway Bridge half of the North Downs Way 86.5km
Medway Bridge to London Paddington to be defined ~52km
London Paddington to Birmingham the Grand Union Canal (maybe quit around Coventry) 233km
Birmingham (Coventry) to Edale to be defined ~160km
Edale to Kirk Yetholm the Pennine Way (probably quit around Greenhead) 315km
Kirk Yetholm (Greenhead) to Milngavie to be defined ~260km
Milngavie to Fort William the West Highland Way 152km
Fort William to Cape Wrath North to the Cape 326km

Rough map (not accurate at all !):

uk diagonal map

(The original image, that you can find on Wikipedia for example, is in the public domain.)

Regarding to the gear, I will need something in between hiking and trail running. Particularly ultra-light tent, sleeping bag and stove. I don't want to advertise too much, but RaidLight may be an interesting brand for that. I may also send some parcels to some 'relay' campsites on the way.

What do you think of that ? Interested ?

Ultra dream.

page 2 of 2 -

Powered by