In January 2015, I found myself on the start line of the London Marathon. I had done the training, bought the right gear and was excited to run my first 26.2. However, thanks an unusual sequence of events I was not running with the general masses but in with the elites, and had perhaps underestimated the incredible athleticism of my fellow runners.
As we took our places at the start line I happened to be at the very front. As it was Paula Radcliffe’s last marathon she gave a brief speech before moving next to me in preparation for race start. Somehow I gone from inexperienced runner to being at the start line next to Paula Radcliffe in an incredibly short space of time – the feeling was surreal. Incredibly, I manged to complete the marathon in 3hrs 40.
The week after the race felt empty after such a dramatic build up and unbelievable race day. To fill the void, I looked for a new goal, and came across Tough Mudder, a series of 12 mile obstacle courses. I signed up for a race in September and spent the whole summer training. Race day dawned and I ran the course with ease due to my intensive training regime, yet it was still an amazing 12 miles. Inspired, I was once again looking for a bigger challenge; I wanted to really push myself. It was then I stumbled across World’s Toughest Mudder.
Every year, just outside of Las Vegas in the Nevada desert, this race that takes place which is one of (if not the) hardest obstacle race you can compete in. The aim is to complete as many 5 mile laps of the 21-obstacle course as you can in 24 hours with awards given to those who complete 25, 50, 75 or 100 miles. There is also an award just for staying out for the whole 24 hours. The course has an elevation gain of 839ft and includes a 40ft cliff jump into water which you first reach in the darkness at midnight, just to add to the fear factor.
When I competed in this last year I managed to go 24:35 hours non-stop, clocking up 60 miles. This year I’m aiming to complete 75 miles, which means upping my training considerably. Trying to fit this around my day-to-day life is a challenge in itself.
The hardest thing about the training is the lack of information around. If you want to run a marathon, Ironman, ultra-marathon or similar there are plenty of training resources, and the same goes for strength training. But when it comes to combining the two to complete obstacles consistently over 24 hours, there are not many people you ask questions of out there.
My approach last year was to do a few marathons and spend as much time in the gym as much as I could. I tried to vary my training by doing a marathon in Paris, one over the South Downs and the Great Wall marathon in China, with almost 1km of elevation in 40°C heat – definitely the hardest!
I also went to talks by ultra-marathoners who advised taking up hot yoga – one of the best decisions I made with regards to my training. Increasing my flexibility and suppleness not only made running more enjoyable but also helped me recover quicker.
I put a lot of time into my training last year – usually 6 days a week plus one rest day when I did yoga. When the race came around the first 50 miles were relatively straight forward, and after that it got really hard. After the race I managed to speak to Trevor Cichosz who won the race with 105 miles. He advised me to run, run, run some more, and rock climb. A few others who achieved over 75 miles back up his advice; they said if you can run 50 miles comfortably it would be a great benefit, and said they just rock climbed as much as possible rather than going to the gym.
I’ve taken their advice on board for this year, focusing more on long distance running and rock climbing. January and February were tough. Finishing work at 5, I would then head out on the country lanes for a 2 hour run, often in complete darkness and on icy roads. The lack of cars or other people made it a very isolating experience. Ahead of the race in November I’ve scheduled a 50 mile test run in October, along with 17 other races over the year to keep my training interesting. I already have the London Marathon, three regular Tough Mudders, 1 Spartan Race, and the inaugural Europe’s Toughest Mudder – my qualifying race for World’s Toughest Mudder.
Starting at midnight, you have 8 hours to complete 5 of the 5 miles, 20-obstacle loops in order to qualify. There was mud running, crawling under barbed wire, getting over walls, plunging into ice cubes, electrocution and monkey bars. The rain began at 4am and it was the hardest course I’d ever faced, but I got my 25 miles in the bag and secured by spot at the World’s Toughest.
Whilst the training may have taken over my life, the experiences and rewards have been priceless. I am fundraising for the James Wentworth-Stanley Memorial Fund. Set up by James’s family after he took his own life in December 2006, the charity aims to raise awareness of anxiety, depression and suicide among young people and to tackle the shocking statistic that suicide is the leading cause of death amongst young men in the UK.
The charity have helped me out personally with my own struggle with depression so it feels only fitting to raise as much money as I can for an incredibly worthwhile cause.
If you want to support Charlie and the JWSMF, please check out his fundraising page here