If I can run 100 miles, anyone can!

My running journey started in 2005, when I entered a 10 mile race to raise money for cancer research after a friend died of the disease aged 34. I was unfit, had never run further than 3 miles and didn’t know if I could run 10 miles in one go!

But after 6 months of training I managed to complete the 10 mile race. Little did I know when I crossed the finish line and pledged never, ever to run that far again (!) that, 10 years later, I’d be lining up to run a 100 mile race and that would be the 6th ultra marathon I’d run. 

So how did I end up running these crazy distances?!

I ran my first marathon, the London Marathon, in 2012 and really struggled. Afterwards, I wondered if I was cut out for running long distance races. Then I found out about ultra marathons from a friend, who had run the North Downs Way 50 mile ultra marathon. He told me that if I could run a marathon, then I could run 50 miles. Ultra marathons are races longer than marathon distance, typically 50km (31 miles) and above.

I really wasn’t sure whether to believe him. But there was only one way to find out – and it is this curiosity that spurred my YES moment – so I signed up for the North Downs Way 50 the following year. 

The month before that race I volunteered in one of the aid stations of a 50 mile race – these are stops on the race route where runners can top up their water, grab some food and receive encouragement from the volunteers. I got to experience the runners’ struggles and determination first hand. I was, and continue to be every time I volunteer (at 8 separate ultra marathon races to date), inspired by each and every runner. The sense of community in the ultra marathon racing scene is truly amazing, and every runner is made to feel special and included by the volunteers - and the runners, in turn, show so much appreciation for the help, guidance and encouragement provided by the race volunteers.  

After my first 50 mile race fellow runners predicted that I would sign up for a 100 mile race. I said never! Yet I had another YES moment, curiosity once again getting the better of me – so afew months later I signed up to run the South Downs Way 100 mile race in 2015. I never doubted that I would finish that race, having trained well. 

This year, however, I suffered a number of injury setbacks and my second 100 mile race, the Autumn 100, didn’t go to plan but I still managed to complete it.  

“Do the thing you think you cannot do.” Eleanor Roosevelt

I am not a natural sportsman. I was borderline asthmatic at school and always last to be picked in team events. Yet I achieved something I previously thought impossible. I didn’t give up, kept moving forward, and managed to achieve something truly special. 

Running ultra marathons has made me a calmer, more resilient and positive person. Knowing that I have overcome some very difficult mental and physical challenges during races has helped me to be more level headed in stressful situations, such as during busy periods at work.  

Every time I run a race, whatever the distance, the same thoughts go through my head:  “I can’t do this.” “I think I can do this.” “I can do this.” “Why am I doing this?” “I am going to do this.” “I did it.” “Never again!” 

Then, race completed, with endorphins buzzing, I find myself planning the next race....

Even now, it seems strange to think that I have run 100 miles in one go. Twice. We can all achieve so much more than we think we are capable of, and I would encourage anyone thinking of doing an ultra marathon to go for it. 

To complete an ultra marathon you need to run regularly (but not crazy distances, as I generally run anything from 25-40 miles a week) but maintaining a positive attitude and believing you can do it is absolutely key. I’m currently planning to run two 100 mile races 7 weeks apart in 2017. It all started with saying YES!

Read more about Graham's endurance races on his blog here.