Ultra Marathon Confidence (Jurassic Quarter Ultra Marathon 2016)

Confidence is the most important part of ultra marathon training. I had run 6 shorter ultra marathons this season, this had built my confidence. Now I wanted to test my confidence limit and run a longer distance.

We took a train from London to Bournemouth for the Jurassic Quarter. It was an 73km/46 mi ultra marathon along the Jurassic Coast, from Portland lighthouse to Studland. In Bournemouth we took a bus to Studland.
We took a train from London to Bournemouth for the Jurassic Quarter. It was an 73km/46 mi ultra marathon along the Jurassic Coast, from Portland lighthouse to Studland. In Bournemouth we took a bus to Studland.

I had attempted a similar distance in Exmoor about 6 weeks ago. It didn’t go well. I took a wrong turn and finished the 55km course instead of the 72km course. This time I wanted to impress the children. We were staying at the Pig on The Beach in Studland. You could see the finish point from the garden.

(Click here to watch the video)

Proper planning prevents piss poor performance, so I packed provisions proficiently prior to punishment.

Recommended ultra running gear:

GPS Watch (with Heart Rate Monitor)
Running Backpack (with 2 front water bottles)
Rear Water Reservoir
Electrolyte dissolvable tablets
Electrolyte drops
Electrolyte capsules
Clif Bar sports bars (firm fuel)
Clif Bar Shot Bloks (like eating gummy bears)
Gu energy gels (very easy to swallow)
Anti-chafing magic

Recommended ultra running clothes for MEN:

Men’s long sleeve running shirt (for cold weather)
Men’s short sleeve running shirt (for cool/warm weather)
Men’s running tights (for cold weather)
Men’s running shorts (for cool/warm weather)
Men’s running underwear
Men’s running waterproof jacket
Running gloves (cold weather)
Head warmer (cold weather)
Neck warmer (cold weather)
Running socks
Running shoes
Running ice spikes (for icy conditions)

Recommended ultra running clothes for WOMEN:

Women’s long sleeve running shirt (for cold weather)
Women’s short sleeve running shirt (for cool/warm weather)
Women’s running tights (for cold weather)
Women’s running shorts (for cool/warm weather)
Women’s running underwear
Women’s running waterproof jacket
Running gloves (cold weather)
Head warmer (cold weather)
Neck warmer (cold weather)
Running socks
Running shoes
Running ice spikes (for icy conditions)

The Jurassic Quarter was a point-to-point race. This meant the start was a loooong way from the finish. There was an optional bus arranged by the race organisers to transport runners from the finish to the start. The bus had to leave around 4am to get us to the start on time. It was a long race, so it was a long drive to the start. Finally we arrived at Portland Lighthouse, for the Jurassic Quarter starting line. I guess we had arrived a bit early, because there was no where to wait indoors until the start. We had to huddle behind the least windy side of the buildings. The organisers finally found a key and let us into a tea shop for the race briefing. It was a bit drizzly, but the wind was cold. When the race started, I just wanted to move.

Without my past race experiences, I might have let the cold and wind bother me too much. But I had confidence that I would soon warm-up. This was real confidence I had built through actual experience. Confidence is the most important part of ultra marathons.

Confidence in ultra-running is like a currency. You accumulate and save your confidence like money in the bank. Building confidence comes through physical preparation. Seeing progress in your training generates confidence. Physical training builds real confidence in addition to building your body. Your long distance training runs getting longer. Your natural pace gets faster. You gradually feel better, stronger, and lighter over time. All of this makes your confidence grow. This is the main way you accumulate confidence for ultra marathons.

A little after Weymouth, I reached the first checkpoint. I was in 16th place out of 109 runners. Usually I get stronger towards the end of the race, so I was feeling very positive with my current position. I was fantasising about another top 10 finish, could I break into the top 5? My confidence was peaking.

The other way you build confidence is through good running gear. Ideally, you have used the running gear on long training runs… or at least you have experimented with it at a previous race. You want to know your gear is good and will not let you down. Within the running pack, you know where your gear is when you need it. It’s easy to access so you don’t burn confidence unnecessarily.

During the race, you spend your confidence on decisions. There are an incredible number of decisions to make during the race.
When should I eat?
What should I eat?
When should I drink?
What should I drink?
Add a layer of clothing because it’s cold/windy/raining?
Remove a layer of clothing because I’m too warm?
Let myself run fast?
Run slower to save energy?
Take a longer rest at the aid station?
Not rest and keep going?

Making good decisions during a race will minimise the confidence you spend. The bigger the mistake, the bigger the cost in confidence. 25km into the race, I took a wrong turn down a steep trail down to the beach. It took me some time wandering around down by the water to realise the wrong turn. Not only had I wasted time and energy running down the beach, but now I had to climb back up to find the course again. It was an extra 1 kilometre I didn’t need to run up & down stairs, at least 10 minutes wasted, and a huge amount of confidence lost.

There was a water station soon after, along with an unscheduled check for all mandatory gear. Surprise! I wanted to get back into the race and make up for lost time, but I rationalised that everyone else would have to stop go through the check. Failure to carry all the mandatory items would have resulted in immediate disqualification.

My hopes for a top 5 finish were gone, but I thought I still had a chance for a top 10 finish. My heart rate was going too high, I needed to control my energy to avoid further mistakes.

If you use up all your confidence, you will quit the race. Confidence is the determining factor in completing ultra marathons. It was raining, but not much. I was starting to pass other runners. Some of them looked familiar because I had already passed them once. The course was getting hillier, but the raw coastline was beautiful.

The second check point was at Lulworth Cove. It was great to see some friendly faces while I refilled my water bottles and had some snacks. This was not even the halfway point yet. Mentally, the hardest part of an ultra marathon is reaching the halfway point because you realise you have to run the distance again. I remembered running on this pebbly beach at the CTS Dorset Ultra in December. I also remembered how hilly the course would become after here.

And right when I needed to conserve my remaining confidence, it happened again. I realised I had gone off course. This would have been devastating to my confidence if it was just me, but luckily a bunch of other runners had also made the same mistake.

This was a much bigger mistake. It added an extra 3km (almost 2 miles) to my race. I was very tempted to drop out of the race, what was the point of continuing? My chances of a top 10 finish were over.

Back on the course, I re-framed my goal to just finish the distance. If I could finish, it would be my longest run ever. This goal kept me going. Despite continually passing other runners, sometimes multiple times, I had fallen back to 40th place by the 3rd and final checkpoint.

I was feeling good, so I got back out on the course as soon as possible. My legs had been hurting, but now I just couldn’t feel them anymore. My pace was strong, and I kept passing other runners.

At 60km, this was officially my longest run ever.

Then I reached 65km, and I was only feeling more energetic. I was shocked at how good my legs felt after running so far, and I think this gave me the final boost of confidence I needed to finish this race strong. Not even the part on a sandy beach with barriers dampened my mood. I just wanted more.

At 75km, I was already well over the official race distance of 73km. And then I saw the final mile marker sign. I gave it everything I had left, and continued to pass runners. When I could see the finish line, I started sprinting and achieved a 4:38 kilometre pace.

I finished the race in 28th place, which was a great improvement from the 40th place position I fell into by the 3rd check point.

Of course I wondered how I could have finished if I had not taken the wrong turns, which added more than 3 kms to my run. Instead of a 73km race, I did more than 76km. The big lesson for me was to always download the race course data into your running watch if available. That way, your watch can alert you if you run off course. Another lesson for me was how much confidence I had built over the race season. I was surprised. It was more than I imagined, and naturally I wanted to find the limit.