Ultramarathons: A weird way into the new year to make you feel miles better

View From The Sofa: The Ultra Way, 5 Live

If I had a penny for each time gyms, kale concoctions or real estate agents trumpeted “new year, new you” at this time of year, I’d have £4,317.64. It’s a lazy, clichéd, meaningless platitude designed to guilt-trip us into spending cash.

It’s nearly as irritating as people who try to out-resolution each other. You know the type. Giving up smoking, are you? Pah. I’m giving up caffeine and therefore fun. Opting out of driving in favour of a bike? That’s nothing. I’m moving next to the Thames and buying a map of the sewer system, so I can swim to work door-to-door. 

So it was with some trepidation that we approached The Ultra Way, the 5 Live  documentary broadcast late on New Year’s Day, just after the oily hangover had evaporated. The presenter, Sam Clack, introduced the show with the statement that at this time of year, “many people set themselves some fitness goals. How about running a mile? Or 10 miles? How about 100 miles in one go? It may sound extreme but that is what increasing numbers of people in Britain are doing.”

Cripes, he wasn’t about to coerce the entire country into running ultramarathons, was he? Because, let’s face it, there are resolutions and then there are resolutions.

Thankfully, he wasn’t. In fact, he did very little to convince sedentary people that running ultramarathons is for them. There’s the pain, for a start. And the small matter of running through the night. But, we learned, there is a heck of a lot of camaraderie and satisfaction contained within a massive distance on foot.

Some liked that the sport is considered odd. Andy Nuttall, editor of Ultra magazine, said: “It will always be in the periphery and I quite like that. I like that it is slightly weird.” 

But despite the eccentricity, the sport is booming, said Clack: “From just 11 races taking place in 2004 there are now more than 200 scheduled for 2016.” 

The line-up of runners interviewed gave a certain amount of insight into why they choose to run these races. “It is drug-like, it is addictive. When you finish a 100-miler, the feeling doesn’t leave you in a hurry,” James Elson said, while Dan Park admitted that his family have “accepted that I am insane”. Mimi Anderson said her addictive personality – she had anorexia for 15 years – “gives me the strength to run”. 

Park was the epitome of understatement when he said he “had better press on – at this stage, the more you stop, the harder it is to start again”. And we felt for Paul Simpson when he said at the 75-mile  mark, 14 hours into the race, that thanks to a techno-blunder the iPod playlist he had made was only seven songs long.  Mark Haynes then had us complaining of dust in our eyes when he completed the race – his fourth 100-miler of the year – barely 12 months after having three cancerous tumours removed. “If I can survive [the race], I can survive anything,” he said. 

Which, as I am sure you would agree, is a far better mantra to head into 2016 with than new year, new you.

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