A running education

Matt Griffiths
Wednesday, 26 September, 2012

I’ve learned a lot over the past few weeks. Operation Ultra has opened my eyes and made me realise why sometimes my running hasn’t worked in the past. I’ve seen all the tips before, read the articles and heard my girlfriend’s expert advice (she’s a fitness instructor!) but I’ve progressed by making mistakes and learning from them. Being hit hard by pain and exhaustion leaves a lasting reminder to get it right next time. Over the past weeks I’ve learnt about accurate pacing by running for a specific amount of time, at a certain effort level. No obsessive staring at my watch to look at speed and distance during this training. I’ve learnt to run easy, when the schedule requires it. Not looking at my watch so much means I enjoy it more and take in more of my surroundings. I’ve learnt to eat properly. I realise now that some of my long runs (and marathons!) in the past, have reduced to a withering crawl because of my failure to fuel and refuel properly.  

Keeping cool

  I’ve also come to the conclusion that I lose a lot of fluid during my runs. On a ‘sweaty runners’ scale of 1 to 10, I am sure I sit up around the 7 or 8 mark. There are lots of clues – the soaked running clothes, salt streaks on my skin and a raging thirst. Even on the hot summer’s training day, I was surprised how much weight (=fluid loss) I had lost between the ‘before’ and ‘after’ weigh in. After a 2hr 30min run recently, in a relatively cool 17 degrees, I managed to get myself dehydrated. I knew that because, even after consuming regular sips of water on the run, along with 500ml of electrolyte, I was still thirsty. Post run I consumed 1 litre of chocolate milk, 1 litre of electrolyte and a further 500ml of water and....I was still thirsty. I was probably already dehydrated before I started the run. I HAD just completed my third longhaul flight in four days. Lesson learnt – hydrate properly before, during and after. I now have a water bladder in my Salomon rucksack that supplies me with liquid on long runs. I am also going to use any en-route liquid to supplement me along the way. I have been practising this by using water fountains on my long runs.  

Stretch it out

  As I’m getting older I can feel my flexibility reducing. I’ve learnt that short changing my body by not warming up before and stretching afterwards, leads to pay back time the following day. Hobbling down the stairs in the morning isn’t the best way to start the day and starting my runs with, what feels like two wooden legs, is no fun. Simply putting time aside to stretch properly after a run, makes the following runs feel so much better.  

Core strength

  I’ve also realised the importance of strength training. For the first time in my running life I’ve started doing those core strengthening exercises that I previously thought were boring and unnecessary – and I’ve enjoyed them! It also helps when my other half teaches Pilates and encourages me to stretch and strengthen the whole body. A clear result of this is the niggling knee ache I’ve had for the last few years that has now actually disappeared, even though my training mileage has more than doubled. The dull ache I’ve always had in my left Achilles tendon is easily controlled now by regular stretching and doesn’t bother me –unless I don’t stretch! Hills are now welcome in my life. Yes – they are hard work but ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ and although they’ve tried to kill me several times their legacy should be to keep me alive during the last few miles of my Ultra.  

Ready, steady, ultra?

  So, after learning a few lessons (some painful!) and realising what all that expert advice meant - am I prepared for my Ultra? I think I am. There is obviously the fear of the unknown but I just have to reflect and remember all these components. I must also remember the 551 miles and 74 hours of running since Nick’s excellent training plan started on the 15th July.  If I do that, and stay healthy and uninjured, then I will cross that finish line.


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