How to run 100km with your mind

Race to the stones, ultramarathon, challenges sophie
Race to the stones, ultramarathon, challenges sophie

On Thursday 9th of July I decided to enter Race to The Stones, a 100km ultramarathon along The Ridgeway from Oxford to Avebury. On Saturday 11th July I ran 100kms in 13 hours 19 seconds. My first ultramarathon.

Considering I run 10km twice a week, had not trained specifically for this event and had not mentally prepared, how was it possible for me to complete this challenge?

By using the power and strength of mind I have developed from years of endurance challenges. I have a decent level of fitness to be able to physically go the distance, but I can honestly say, I ran 100km with my mind.

I know that I can keep moving for 13 hours because I’ve done it many times. It doesn’t matter what the sport is, so long as it is something I am relatively accustomed to; running, cycling, mountaineering, even Ironman… I know I can keep going for 13 hours or longer and I have trained my mind how to motivate, manipulate and manage my body to go the distance.

Race to the stones, ultramarathon, challenges sophie
Race to the stones, ultramarathon, challenges sophie

Last September, I completed Ironman Wales in 14 hours just two weeks after cycling 1700km and climbing 8 mountains across the alps in the Alpine Coast to Coast. I had not run or swum in 5 months.

This April I cycled 312kms around the island of Mallorca in 12hrs 51 minutes despite not having been on my bike in 6 months.

My most powerful tool in the box is not how good I am at any of these sports, (in fact, I wouldn’t say I am particularly good at any of them!) My secret – or not so secret – weapon is my mind. Our minds are amazing! It is absolutely incredible what we can achieve when we unlock the potential.

Race to the stones, ultramarathon, challenges sophie
Race to the stones, ultramarathon, challenges sophie

How do I train my mind?

I put my mind through the biggest tests I can imagine. I encourage myself to dream big, to open up my mind and find those challenges that make me sit somewhere in the middle of “there’s no way I could do that” and “OMG imagine if I could do that, it would be amazing!”. Feeling petrified of the enormity of the challenge and incredibly excited at the possibility of achieving it. The best place to be!

When I first began creating these challenges for myself, that feeling came from something very different to what it comes from today. I have grown and developed as a person, an athlete and I have trained the capacity of my mind to be able to stretch it further than I ever imagined possible.

Race to the stones, ultramarathon, challenges sophie
Race to the stones, ultramarathon, challenges sophie

I never in a million years imagined I could complete an Ironman or run 100km. My challenge was to run 3 miles without feeling like I was going to die. I always ended up in a big sweaty mess, it hurt every part of my body, my mind struggled to be still and the 30 minutes it took me to run 3 miles felt like the longest 30 minutes ever.

But I worked at it and here I am. Not a natural athlete, not particularly sporty at school, but a person who has a huge appetite and drive to explore the limitless potential I have and to share my journey and experiences with you to help you do the same.

Race to the stones, ultramarathon, challenges sophie
Race to the stones, ultramarathon, challenges sophie

What happened out on the course?

It hurt from the moment I set off. After 10km I already had thoughts about stopping. I thought 10km was a perfectly reasonable distance to run on a Saturday morning, couldn’t I go for a pub lunch and sit in the sun now? My deepest internal drivers kicked in to keep me in check and my head in the game; No, come on Sophie, you’ve got a long way to go and you are going to do this.

Race to the stones, ultramarathon, challenges sophie
Race to the stones, ultramarathon, challenges sophie

I focused on the check points that were every 10km and on keeping my splits fairly even. I was running 10km on 1hr 15min including the stoppage time to eat, stretch, refill water and go to the loo at each stop. So important to keep the stoppage time to an absolute minimum despite how tempting it was to sit down for 5 minutes!

Race to the stones, ultramarathon, challenges sophie
Race to the stones, ultramarathon, challenges sophie

At 50km I bumped into my friend Max. Max had started the race but had to pull out at the half way point. We ate pasta together and I sat down for the first time since being in the car that morning. We high-fived and I headed off for the second half of the race.

Race to the stones, ultramarathon, challenges sophie
Race to the stones, ultramarathon, challenges sophie
Race to the stones, ultramarathon, challenges sophie
Race to the stones, ultramarathon, challenges sophie

Suddenly I felt terrible. As I began running down the Ridgeway I felt sick and totally devoid of motivation. I had no power in my legs and my mind was back in at the checkpoint. My mind was everywhere apart from where it needed to be. I was digging around inside me and for the first time in a long time, I found nothing.

Not a great place to be. With 50km left to run – another 6.5 hours – and having nothing to give, I started to cry. I walked for a few minutes and tried to pull myself together. I realised I have pushed it so hard for so long, that I was holding on by a thread.

Race to the stones, ultramarathon, challenges sophie
Race to the stones, ultramarathon, challenges sophie

I found acceptance of where I was and looked carefully at that thread; was it strong enough to get me to the finish? Of course! This is the game I love.

I vowed to myself I would make the thread last and that after this I would give myself a proper break – mentally and physically.

Race to the stones, ultramarathon, challenges sophie
Race to the stones, ultramarathon, challenges sophie

I set off with renewed drive and ticked off the next 50km. Highs and lows all the way, but I knew how to manage them instead of letting them manage me. I have learnt how to keep these highs and lows in check, how to let them flow, how to use them to my advantage and most importantly of all, how to keep going no matter what my mind or body throw at me.

Race to the stones, ultramarathon, challenges sophie
Race to the stones, ultramarathon, challenges sophie

I immerse myself in pain management; physically looking after my body so it holds together, I avoid injury and fuel myself effectively. I immerse myself in motivation management; loving myself no matter how much pain I am putting myself through and embracing and enjoying the journey.

Race to the stones, ultramarathon, challenges sophie
Race to the stones, ultramarathon, challenges sophie

The strange thing is that it seems totally normal to me that I can complete these challenges relatively off-the-bat. Indeed, that I can complete these challenges at all.

Race to the stones, ultramarathon, challenges sophie
Race to the stones, ultramarathon, challenges sophie

What’s the science behind all this?

The core component of brains are neurons; cells that process and transmit information which connect to form neural pathways and networks. The more we think or do something specific, the brain activates these neural pathways and they become stronger and stronger. We can train them to become so strong that they become habits.

Train your mind, it’s the greatest instrument you own.

The possibilities of what you can do with it are endless and you will be amazed what you can achieve when you keep exploring your own limitless potential!

Race to the Stones was extremely well organised and supported. Many friendly faces on the route and it passes through stunning countryside. If you’re interested in running 100km I have nothing but positive things to say about this event. Thank you Hugo and Threshold sports.

If you are interested in exploring mindset in the world of high performance, check out K2. I’m an Ambassador for them and work with their coaches to help me learn how to deliver the best performance I can across all areas of work, life and sport.

Now, I believe there’s a beach with my name on it…!