When am I ‘Ultra’?

Into the middle of March and the countdown is seriously on. Soon I will be within 3 months of race date (27th June) and, with each weekend long run that passes, I experience increasing excitement and trepidation in equal measure.

I didn’t really have these feelings in January or February; certainly not the trepidation part at any rate. I suppose this was mostly due to the fact that, as I was building up from a late summer/early autumn injury break, training didn’t feel that much different to any other January. Sure, I got out for more runs than I ever have in Winter, but that was more due to not allowing myself to wimp out of midweek runs using my all-too-easy “I’ve got marking to do,” excuse. But my long, weekend trail runs were only in the 11-13 mile range and, therefore, no longer than usual.

So I suppose the banner question “When am I ultra?” only entered my head in the February half-term, when I made my first visit to the local running shop to begin to purchase ultra kit. (The Endurance Store in Appley Bridge, Wigan since you ask. I have only been once but found their non-pushy, knowledgeable advice invaluable. My wife has since been in to pick me up some other goodies for my birthday and was of the same opinion.)

The ensuing financial hit ensured the race had my full attention! But I didn’t truly feel ultra yet.

The following Saturday had me thinking though. For the first time my planned long run included ‘proper’ ultra footwear (Hoka OneOnes), a ‘proper’ Ultra running backpack (Ultimate Direction SJ Ultra Vest) and a 20+ mile route on which I planned to take food breaks to practice eating.

From the off, the run felt different. Firstly, because the shoes are amazing; a very different ride to any other trainer I have ever worn, but I can feel how they are going to help over longer distances on firmer trail surfaces. Secondly, because the weight of the pack immediately altered my slower, longer distance running style to what I imagined to be the classic ‘ultra-shuffle’! (Another fantastic bit of kit though – everything is so easily loaded and accessible.) Thirdly, because this was to be my longest run to date. At 20+ miles, the only time I had run further was for actual marathon race days.

But deep down I still didn’t feel ‘Ultra’. The distance point was pertinent, I felt. How can I be ultra at less than marathon distance?

So is this the point I become ultra? I have one more long run penciled in before our family ski holiday at Easter. I plan to get up to something close to marathon distance then. But I already suspect that, should I decide on the spur of the moment to run 26.3 miles, I still won’t feel ultra.

No, in my heart of hearts, I know when it will be. It will be race day. Or, to be more precise, it will be crossing the finish line on race day. (Or night!) I actually already know that I won’t feel truly ‘Ultra’ until I complete the race. And I do mean the complete race. (The Lakeland Trails Ultimate Trails 110k, that is.) For me, I would be so unsatisfied with myself at running 50 miles, for example, before dropping out, that even then I wouldn’t consider myself a proper ultra-runner. No, to be truly ‘Ultra’ I feel I need to target a race, train and prepare for a race, and then go out and perform in that race. And, crucially, finish it!

And that is where my March feelings of trepidation have come in. I have now completed two runs of (just) over 20 miles and successfully carried and consumed food and drink en-route without throwing-up (or worse). I have been reasonably comfortable on both runs. However, once my subconscious little back-patting, self congratulatory post-run phase fades away, I am left with a little devil in the back of my mind. And that little devil keeps whispering “20 miles? You do know that’s less than a third of the race distance don’t you?! You do know that will just about get you to the breakfast pit stop on race day, and you’ll be running ’til tea-time, (or supper time) don’t you?!”

So ask me if I am ‘Ultra’ on Sunday 28th June, and I’ll tell you. If you can wake me up.

Welcome to my World! (Title shamelessly lifted from Martin L Gore – am I going to run into copyright issues on my first post?)

Hi there!

First of all, thank you for even opening whatever link you have (maybe accidentally) pressed to end up where you are! Hopefully, by the time you read this, there will be so much information, photography, links to various blogs from friends, twitter feeds, links to Garmin and Strava training data etc. that you will be happily occupied for hours. (At least if you genuinely have nothing better to do with your life, which surely cannot be the case!)

However, as I have only just learned how to open a blog at all, these wild flights of fantasy feel a long way away. So let me simply introduce myself.

My name is Mark Morgan-Hillam, a 42-year-old primary school teacher, happily married (to the best of my knowledge) to a very understanding wife of nearly 10 years, also a full-time primary school teacher. We are proud parents of two beautiful daughters approaching their 8th and 4th birthdays.

The reason for this blog? I suppose, to chart my ‘rise’ from bit-part, part-time, do-a-bit-when-I-feel-like-it road runner to a fully fledged 100km in 24 hours ultra-trail runner.

The deadline for this miraculous transformation: Saturday 27th June, 2015.

The event: The Lakeland Trails Ultimate Trails 110km Race, start (and finish – hopefully) in Ambleside. 24 hour deadline.

I had intended to open this blog at the beginning of the year, when my training schedule began in earnest. However, as mentioned above I am a full-time teacher, so spare time for writing is not a commodity I have in abundance. Especially when you throw in the work commitments of my aforementioned wonder-wife, who also tries to run a bit, and the demands of our two delightful, but much ignored, daughters. So unfortunately the blog is already 2 months behind schedule.

Fortunately, the same is not the case for the training which, to date, has passed very satisfactorily.

All the above will be elaborated on in later posts, (once I have worked out how to publish this one, more-to-the-point.) I hope to tell you a bit about my running ‘career’ (!), training tips and strategies, (especially for anybody out there who has ever uttered the phrase “I haven’t got time to go out running” to which my immediate, knee jerk reaction will always be a polite, yet slightly forceful “Bollocks.”) I will also try to review any races and events I attend either as competitor or supporter of loved ones, tell you more about the Ultimate Trails 110k race I have selected and, perhaps most importantly, tell you a bit about my chosen charity and the life of a wonderful teenage girl who, tragically, is the reason for that chosen charity.

I will try to work out how to add links to my blog homepage as I go, but for now please manually find me on;

Twitter: @GBSticks11 (#110kforAlisha)

Just Giving: https://www.justgiving.com/GBSticks11

Garmin Connect: sticks11

Strava: Mark Morgan-Hillam

Alternatively go and look at the blogs of two of my friends who I would like to blog like when I grow up:

Laraine Wyn-Jones


A must read, especially for anyone requiring motivation to get out there and do ‘stuff’, whatever that ‘stuff’ may be! Laraine has already tried, or is intending to try, most of that ‘stuff’. It doesn’t always go to plan. Sometimes it’s idyllic, sometimes it’s heroic, sometimes it’s calamitous, but it’s always an enjoyable read. (Thanks to Laraine for giving me some of the hints/tips required to get my blogging underway – a future post will inevitably be the story of how Laraine and I came to be friends in the first place!)

Jonny Muir


I hope Jonny doesn’t mind me saying this, but he’s my secret man crush. (A bit of a bombshell for my first post, I know.) He runs better than me (better than most, actually!), he writes better than me (proper books too, about proper adventures, like I’d like to do in my dream life!), and he’s a great guy to boot. As with Laraine, a future blog will tell of how we met, but Jonny was kind enough to hand me my blogging debut when he published a piece of mine on his own page – an honour indeed as he is a proper writer wiv proper books and everyfink (Have I already mentioned that?) So go and check out his brilliant work on the above link (or just go there to read my piece!!!)

Right, I’m off now, I’ve got school tomorrow…


4th March 2015 (my 42nd birthday – presents by way of sports store vouchers please, I have an ultra kit bag to pack.)