2020 has been a testing year to say the least. For those of us who like to signpost our year in running events, it's been a disappointment. I'd say it's been a real test of character, a real chance to see what you're made of as a runner with no promise of a start line, checkpoints overflowing like a kids party and an atmospheric finish line where you're awarded with your hard earned medal. Despite this, some have been determined to set challenges and get out there alone and locally to complete what they set out to do. Ben, one of Summit Crazy's newest ambassadors, has done just that this year. I wanted to find out a little bit more about what he's achieved this year and what his hopes are for 2021.
Well, you've had an amazing year of running Ben, can you share some of the events that you've taken part in and tell us your thoughts on virtual events?
Thank you! I’d like to start first of all by saying the race calendar I had at the start of the year looks nothing like the list of races I am looking back over now. I’d originally set myself a challenge to complete 20 races throughout 2020 (which I’d named my 20 in 20’ challenge), all in aid of Prostate Cancer UK. I had them all perfectly planned out, and they ranged from 10k races, to full road marathons, all the way up to a 50-mile ultra. That plan very quickly died off when the first race on the list got cancelled in March due to COVID, which was going to be Manchester Marathon on 5th April. This really got me down as I was right at the end of a 3-month marathon training block which I’d battled throughout winter.
As soon as full lockdown hit more and more of the races began to be cancelled or postponed which led to me frantically trying to find new races to add later in the year as I was still determined to complete 20. It soon dawned on me though how serious the situation with COVID was and that running 20 actual races was looking very unlikely.
Images are of Ben taking part in his first Triathlon
Then the emails began to roll in from race organisers offering people the opportunity to run the races virtually instead, something I’d never even heard of before. I wasn’t too keen on the idea at first but as my main motivation for the year was to raise money for charity, I knew this was going to be my only option to get 20 events completed.
My first virtual event was a 10k. I really wanted to take these virtual races as seriously as I would an actual race so was determined to not just receive a medal for doing a training run (although there is nothing at all wrong with doing that). I managed a 10k PB that day of 41:24. This then led to my next race which was a virtual half marathon and again I ran a PB of 1:33:42, something I’d been chasing for a couple of years, which straight away changed my perspective on virtual races. Of course, they don’t compare to the real thing, but you can still really give them a good go, and they come with the benefit of the start/end line being your front door, so less hassle getting to/from the race.
I think in total I ran around 12 virtual races throughout the year and filled the rest with a few personal challenges. These included my first 50 mile ultra in July, climbing the UK’s Three Peaks in August and cycling the Coast2Coast route with some friends (you included). I did manage to compete in my first ever triathlon in September which I really enjoyed and was the only race that wasn’t cancelled. I was surprised it went ahead but they had all the necessary COVID safe policies in place such as staggered start times.
The one awesome thing I feel has come from 2020 though, is although races were basically non-existent, running was always there. More people than ever it seemed took up running, which can only be a good thing for the sport, especially going into this year, and the virtual races really helped that.
I know you've worked up from about 30 miles to some serious ultra-distances this year. How has that been, and do you have any tips for people hoping to do the same?
So I ran a 31 mile ultra in 2018, totally on a whim. It was the Durham Dales challenge which also has a 14-mile option which is what I was supposed to be running. At the time even that would have been the furthest I’d ever ran after a half marathon. However, I didn’t realise until the day that it was a totally unmarked course, and as I was a fairly new runner, I didn’t even have a GPS watch for navigation. I realised then I would have to join the 31-mile route instead as the friends I’d travelled down with were all running that together, so it was the only way of me not getting lost out in the hills on my own.
Spending a day running on the trails and hills with my friends really was great, but I’m not going to pretend that it wasn’t the hardest thing I’d ever done, finishing in around 7 hours. Massively under prepared and ignorant to the distance left my legs fairly wrecked for weeks after. This pretty much put me off the idea of ultras for a good while.
However, lessons were learned and by 2020 I was a lot more experienced so knew I wanted to give ultra-running another shot. I had originally planned to run the Lyke Wake Challenge on my birthday in July which is around 40 miles across the North Yorkshire moors. This was inevitably also cancelled but it was probably the event I was looking forward to the most so instead I plotted my own ultra-route, starting and ending at my doorstep. To compensate for it not being on trails or hills I decided to add an extra 10 miles to make it a nice even 50 miler.
I recced the route on my bike a couple times to make sure it was actually runnable and made sure to plot aid station points that my girlfriend, Hannah, could park our car at every 10 miles or so. The day itself went amazingly, the weather was perfect, and my legs felt great from all the training and virtual races throughout the first half of the year. I managed to finish in 9hrs 45mins which was way quicker than I had anticipated as I set myself a rough goal of 12 hours.
Of course it got tough towards the end, especially after passing the 31-mile mark as I think mentally I knew every step was the furthest I’d ever ran, but I can’t stress enough how important proper preparation is for distances like this. Of course, afterwards my legs felt fairly battered but nothing at all like they felt after the ultra in 2018, and they recovered in less than half the time.
So that would be my main pointer to anyone looking to run an ultra in 2021, proper preparation. Respect the distance and train/recover appropriately. Yes, you could do what I did and just go for it anyway, and yes you might finish it, but you won’t enjoy it. You’re going to be out there for a long time, so you want to make sure your body is ready. Which leads me to my other pointer, don’t underestimate your fuel. You might not always feel hungry on these runs, but you must make sure you are getting the calories in, otherwise you are just going to crash. Do your research on what foods are good and most importantly, which foods you actually like and can keep down. You don’t want to be trying some new energy gel on race day only to find out you hate it.
So that’s it, proper preparation and pre-tested fuel!
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So, you attempted a 60 miler on New Year’s Eve, this would have been your longest ultra yet. A great attempt and well done as you still managed to run an ultra (37 miles). What didn't go to plan and what have you learnt from this?
After the 50-mile run I thought that would be my one and only ultra in 2020. That was until all the postponed races from Spring to Autumn also began to be cancelled too. I then decided to add just over 10 miles to the same route and attempt a 100k run on NYE.
I left at 5am and the temperature was around -5°C with ice and frost covering everything, a lot different to the beautiful summer day for the 50 miler. The day started off great, and I met Hannah at around mile 16 for my first aid stop. By then the sun was just coming up which was welcomed as running in the dark for hours to start a run really does suck. I then planned to meet her again every 10 miles or so. However, once I met her again at mile 26 my legs weren’t feeling too great, which considering I still had 36 miles to go wasn’t ideal.
I filled up on salty crisps and nuts to help keep any cramp away, but it obviously wasn’t enough. About a mile after setting off again cramp kicked in, and I just couldn’t seem to shake it. I don’t usually suffer with cramp, but I also don’t usually run in minus degrees either so I can only put it down to how cold it was. I felt fairly wrapped up but obviously my muscles must have disagreed.
I got to the next checkpoint to meet Hannah at mile 37 and arrived before she did, legs feeling absolutely battered. I sat on a wall and made peace with myself that calling it a day would be the better thing to do, rather than risk injuring myself on the way to the next checkpoint and having to pull out anyway. I was disappointed as it’s the first time I’ve had to DNF anything, but I knew it was the right call and was still proud of the distance.
What I learned from it is knowing when to quit, which I know can be hard sometimes. Putting your pride before your body isn’t always the best idea. Also, I think I compared this run to the 50 miler a bit too much. What I should have done prior is focus on how different it was going to be, mostly being the difference in temperature and icy terrain, plus maybe not eating/training the best over the Xmas period also didn’t help. Respect the distance!
What have you got lined up for 2021 in terms of running? What are your main running goals in the future (near or far)?
Well, this year has started a lot different to 2020. I currently only have one planned race and that’s a trail half marathon in October which is a deferred entry from last year. Due to COVID still placing us all under restrictions, races are still in doubt so I’m sure I’m not the only one airing caution when it comes to filling up our race calendars. I do however have a fairly big list of races I want to do, I’m just giving it a few more weeks to see how things pan out with these Tier restrictions before I book up for anything.
What I have done though is build myself a weekly training plan to make sure I can keep my fitness up to a good sustainable level, so my body is ready to jump into a race whenever I need it to. I’ll of course amend the plan once I start adding in races.
Some of the main goals for this year though is to of course attempt the 100k run again. I used to live on the Isle of Wight when I was younger and in May there is a 100k event where you run the entire circumference of the island. I’ve been wanting to go back down and visit for years anyway so it's perfect, and it gives me plenty of time to prepare. If that goes well, then I’m sure my eyes will be on a 100 miler, but we will see.
I also want to make sure I run a lot more trails this year. I’ve done so much road running due to lockdown, and just running from my front door, I’ve really missed running on the trails. So, I’m going to try and make sure any races I do enter, they are trail/fells.
Ben used local trails to continue training during lockdown. Our Summit Crazy long sleeve top is currently on sale - Get yours here
Finally, I know you've been doing all of this for an amazing cause. Can you tell us about that and also pop a link in in case anybody would like to donate?
My father-in-law was sadly diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2019 but thankfully due to the research carried out by Prostate Cancer UK this was spotted early and he was given treatment. Finally, he was given the all clear by 2020 so I wanted to raise money for the charity, hence the 20 in 20’ challenge. As of now I have surpassed my £1000 target and it’s currently sitting on £1135. I can’t say thank you enough to everyone who has donated over the past year, it really means the world. If you’d still like to, I am keeping the donations open until the end of this month, and you can find the page at the following link – www.justgiving.com/benjamincook2020. Thanks!
Well that's certainly got me inspired to start considering all of my running goals for 2021! Feel free to share anything exciting that you'll be doing in the comments section.
Wishing you all the best for 2021 from all of the Summit Crazy team.