Friday 9 March 2012

Adventuring, ultras & pushing my limits

I have developed a desire to go on a great adventure, prompted by the Night of Adventure talk I went to recently [blog post here].  I've been thinking about it an awful lot in the last few weeks...what adventure could I get involved in that could truly change how I view myself, how I view life? What could I do that would push me beyond the boundaries I seem to have set for myself, and beyond those other people seem to think I should be limited by.

I believe that by becoming a marathon and (soon to be) ultra marathon runner, I've already started to really change and extend those boundaries, but I've been thinking about just how far I could go too - whether I have the strength of character, the physical capability, and the utter obstinance required to actually, voluntarily, put myself through sheer hell to come out the other side...and for it to be a positive experience.

The fruits of Jerry's 100 mile labour
As well as going to the Night of Adventure talk, I followed the exploits of some of the awesome runners taking part in last weekend's hypothermia inducing Thames Path 100 mile race (see Jerry Smallwood's great race report here) which has totally inspired me, and I was watching a documentary last night about David Walliams who last year swam 140 miles of the Thames in 8 days to raise money for the charity Sports Relief, the same charity that Eddie Izzard was supporting when he ran his 43 marathons across Britain.  It just reminds me how possible it is for someone like me, an ordinary anyone, to do something extraordinary and astonishing if they entirely commit themselves to it, work hard enough, and want it enough.

A couple of weeks ago, I came across an amazing challenge that was looking for all-female crew, called aptly enough, The Coxless Rowers, attempting to make and break 2 World Records for rowing the Pacific ocean in 2013!! It's a row of three stages, and they're looking for two women for each stage - to row from San Francisco to Hawaii, from Hawaii to Samoa and then for the last leg, from Samoa to Cairns - about 7,500 miles in total!

I met up with one of the team that is putting the crew together, and although it's a remote prospect that they would pick me to be part of such an incredible adventure (you know, with never having sailed or rowed even on a river before!) I've been incredibly excited about the idea.  The physical challenge would be extreme to say the least, the psychological strength needed to carry on, day after day in such hard conditions would be immense, and the satisfaction and pride at completing would surely be second to none.

It shouldn't have been a surprise, but it's incredibly expensive to take part in a challenge like this - the total budget is about £300,000 - and not only is there the money needed to actually fund the trip (about £28,000 per crew member, per leg of the journey) but obviously having to give up work for the duration means saving up the money to keep paying the rent and the bills at home, even for the time when you'd be away rowing. Of course, the majority of the costs would be met through sponsorship, and then each individual personally funds a smaller proportion, which I imagine is really airfares to the US and then home, and accommodation for the time you're not rowing between the stages, and then of course the cost of the time off work.  It's an absolutely amazing opportunity though that would be, in all senses of the word, a true adventure that would undoubtedly change my life.  It's so entirely outside of my comfort zone though (i.e in a boat not on my feet) that it's also a pretty scary prospect - but maybe that's why it's so exciting!  As I say though, being a real landlubber I would be surprised if I have the skill base that would make me a viable crew-member, but I feel lucky to be involved even on the periphery of such an awesome undertaking.

We shall see if I get through what are going to be very competitive and rigorous selection stages.....

Anyway, on the back of this new desire to push myself to obscene limits, I'm also thinking about signing up for a multi-day (on foot!) ultra event.  I haven't even completed my first marathon distance of the year, or my first ultra of ever, and am already considering an even harder test, despite it probably being sensible to see if I can actually manage a single ultra distance first! Nevertheless, I've come up with three races that have gone on my bucket list.

* The Trans Britain Ultra (See the video below - run in September, 156 miles in 6 days, an average of a marathon a day, from Bruces Caves in Scotland, through England, to Ruthin Castle in Wales)

Do it the Brathay way* The Brathay 10 in 10 (run in May, 10 marathons in 10 days, around Lake Windermere. It's a race that's inspired me since I first joined twitter and started to understand what the ultra community was all about)

JOGLE Ultra (run in April, from John O'Groats to Land's End which is 863 miles in 16 days, an average of 54 miles per day).

Now these are three BIG races.  Although I'm not sure I'd class taking part as a great adventure, I know that the challenge to complete them would be immense, and the commitment to training for them would be unlike anything I have ever experienced, and at the moment, probably can't truly imagine.  However, they are also events that I can actually, realistically, see myself being involved in one day; although I have absolutely no idea if I would be able to row a boat, I know in my heart that I can run.

I have no concept of when I could be ready to consider actually signing up for the 10 in 10 or JOGLE ("some day" is as close as I'm getting to a date at the moment) but there is a pretty big part of me that's thinking maybe, just maybe, I could be ready for the Trans Britain Ultra this year.  It's 6 months away...surely that's enough time to train coming from my current base...isn't it?!

I think I might need to buy some trail shoes...

Sorry smiley face animated emoticon[Reminder: I promised Francis that after the July ultras I'd take a break from racing for 6 months, and just run a few times a week to keep my fitness levels up. We might need to review that]


  1. WOW Naomi good luck with such wonderful challenges I am just a little jealous of your aspirations. I am sure you have heard this but RadioLabs do a brilliant set of podcasts and I urge you to listen to Limits found at which was an eye opener to me

    1. Thanks Jerry - not sure where my aspirations will take me (hospital if I listened to some people!) but I'm really excited about having some new goals.

      I haven't heard about those podcasts, so will definitely download them. Appreciate the info :)

    2. I had blogged in April 2010, if you want to see the video of what they are talking about have a look here:

      It is not pretty viewing but it is amazing how Julie Moss did with such little training

  2. I am inspired!!!!!!! I have the same envies, the only thing having stopped me to date being my family... But this year the itch is too strong to ignore it! Thanks Naomi for posting these amazing challenge aspirations and thanks Jerry for mentioning New podcasts I can listen to on my plodding runs!