Training diary: ultra marathon

In training for the week-long Marathon des Sables in the Sahara, Darren Grigas has just completed his first multi-day ultra run, the three-day, 84-mile Druid Challenge.

DARREN GRIGAS, 37 – Web designer Darren lives in Peterborough and is rapidly increasing the distance he runs in training for an ultra marathon.

From the moment I landed a place to take on the Marathon des Sables I knew that as a fairly novice runner who ran only 30 miles a month that I was being pretty ambitious. The MdS will push my limits, find my strengths and most certainly my weakness, and earn me a few dents and scuffs as souvenirs along the way. I’ve now found that my Achilles heel is actually my IT Band, and I learned the hard way, grimacing over endless hills.

Last month I took on my first multi-stage ultra-marathon in the form of The Druid Challenge; 84 miles over three days following the hilly and slippery Ridgeway from Ivinghoe to Swindon. I slept on a comfy gym mat in a school hall each night until a 5.30am wake up to be ready to go again. Having only run my first marathon the month before it was a huge step up. Most of the runners seemed to have CVs rammed full of marathons and ultras. I felt like I’d just moved up to big school!

Day One was about 29 miles including a few wrong turns, and was my farthest run ever. It was tough but exhilarating to finish. About 22 miles in, however, my left knee started to get pretty painful, and I limped and hopped my way to the end, whilst swearing through my teeth. That evening I used a foam roller and spent a good time stretching my IT band as it seemed this was the problem.

Day Two, I felt surprisingly good and was excited to see how I’d cope with another 27 miles, arming myself with ibuprofen in case the pain returned. On the first day I’d made the mistake of wearing road shoes and found myself slipping around like Bambi on ice, which sapped way too much energy, so now I wore my trail shoes. I was far more sure-footed and knocked chunks off my Day One pace. My knee was pining but I wanted to get myself through these next two days to see if I really was an MdS contender or had been kidding myself. Several miles in, the pain seemed to subside a little as my legs warmed up, but it was always lingering below the surface, threatening to bite.

On the third and final day I was buzzing, despite my knee still causing grief. I felt charged with adrenalin, perhaps as it was the last day and I could see myself finishing this beast. Only 28 miles to go and I’ll get a new T-shirt and a shiny medal. I had been moved up the ranks to set off with the faster runners, and fought hard to keep up with this elite. To my surprise I finished 10th out of 120 runners that day giving me an overall position of 22nd for the event. This was way better than I had expected so I was thrilled and found it very reassuring that I’ve actually got the minerals to take on an ultra-marathon (or three).

I’m now focusing on this ITB issue. I wouldn’t usually run through serious pain and had it not been my first ultra I may not have pushed myself so hard. But I’m glad I passed that milestone, and hopefully have time to put those lessons to use, with just 17 weeks to go!