Jez Bragg is a member of The North Face global trail team and has competed in races all over the world including winning the UTMB in 2010. In 2013 he made the fastest known crossing of Te Araroa Trail, a 3,000km trail running the length of New Zealand, in 53 days. Jez is very active in our Strava running club, so why not join him there?
A long day out on foot in the Scottish Highlands takes some beating, but obviously involves a bit of luck to get the right conditions. When it’s clear and sunny there’s nowhere like it in the world. When you get up high and have the visibility of summits for miles around, it’s magical to say the least.
I only tend to listen to music during long, non-stop, races such as UTMB or Western States, where there’s no risk of making navigation errors through being distracted. I don’t tend to listen to music in training – for me the whole point of trail running is to enjoy what’s around you and to day dream. It’s hard to describe the feeling, but there’s certainly no boredom to it, like a lot of people expect there to be.
Firstly, to definitely give it a go. I don’t think the ‘ultra distance’ phrase does the sport any favors, implying it requires super-human powers, when it doesn’t. The best approach is to look it as an adventure and a foot journey, rather than some epic run. Choose a route with a purpose, plan how you can re-fuel en route (coffee and cake in a café, why not eh?!), pack a few essentials in a small rucksack and head off to enjoy the experience. Run a bit, walk a bit, enjoy your surroundings. Have a go…
You need to accept there will be highs and lows, and learn to ride out the low spells. A low spell will usually occur for a reason, so consider why it’s happened. Mental preparation is just as important as physical. You will be amazed how far a well trained mind will carry a less trained body, and I promise it will be worth it when you get there. If I’m struggling at any point, or feeling a bit sorry for myself, I always remember how fortunate I am to be able to do it.
A big part of it is escapism – getting away from work stresses (yes I do have a day job) – and combining a personal urge to compete, seek adventure, keep fit and to challenge myself really, really hard.
More than anything I would say the experience factor is most important. Being able to run and compete in beautiful scenery all over the world, against the best in the world, takes some beating. There are always memorable moments that will stick with you for life. Those little exchanges with fellow competitors, the spectacular sunrise, the unbeatable feeling of conquering 100miles in the mountains. It’s hard to put into words, but I can’t recommend it highly enough. You soon find out who you are, and gain a perspective on life that’s hard to re-create in other ways. Sorry, I’m getting a bit deep…..
I’m pretty psyched for this year’s Dragons Back Race, a 5 day stage race down the mountainous spine of Wales, which starts at the end of May (eeeek). It’s a British classic offering a huge test, not only physically, but of other skills such as mountain craft and navigation. A lot of the route is rough and trackless so it’s hard to cover the distance quickly, and with 315km and 15,500m of ascent, that presents quite a challenge! As well as racing I’d love to have a go at some of the classic UK hill running challenges such as the South Wales Traverse or Paddy Buckley Round. It’s hard to keep up with all the new races springing up, but I still have some of the old names on the list such as Hardrock and Leadville. I’ll get there one day.
LUT was an amazing experience – the Dolomites offer a stunning backdrop with some beautiful hidden valleys and dramatic trails. My favorite part had to be sunrise around the back of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo, three iconic summits grouped together on the far side of the course. During the first night there were flashes of electrical storms all around - somehow the race course stayed dry - but the atmosphere it created was amazing. It got really hot towards the end, and it was tough holding it together, but the atmosphere in Cortina on Saturday afternoon at the finish was brilliant and worth all the effort, especially the litre of ice cold lemonade at the end.