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Interview with Jack Tavernor

16-Apr-14

Background

Jack is fairly new to ultras and completed the Marathon des Sables (MdS) in 2013 and the Coastal Challenge race in Costa Rica in 2014. Previously however, Jack has a history of long distance non-competitive endurance events and more recently completed a range of ultras in the UK and is looking forward to some new ones this year.

Read more of Jack's top tips and ultra running experiences below:

Your experience of ultra running

Q. How long have you been doing ultras? 
A. I've done quite a few road and hill marathons and have been doing organised ultras for the past couple of years but MDS was always on the bucket list. MdS was my proper first race in 2013 but I have done quite a few since then.

Q. How did you first get started doing ultras?
A. My first marathon was over ten years ago and since then I’ve organised lots of events with my mates such as running the Welsh 3000’s, Wainwright’s Coast to Coast, four consecutive marathons in the four countries of the UK over four days and such like but MdS was the catalyst and knew it was well organised. It is an iconic race I had wanted to do for years.

Q. What motivated you to start running?
A. I Didn't know what to expect having never raced an ultra before and wanted to be well prepared. I wanted to be able to do the MdS safe in the knowledge I could finish it and enjoy it.

Q. When did you do your first ultra race?
A. I was running up to 40 miles in the hills on my own in the 12 months prior to MdS. I tried to get out into the Peak District and the Snowdonia whenever I could to train. MdS inspired me to do more and opened the door as such to the huge number of races there are. It was because of the people I met on MdS that I decided to try triathlon too and so taught myself to swim and I did the ‘Brutal’ iron distance triathlon in Snowdonia a few months later.

Q. Why do you keep running ultras?
A. Because I'm not very quick and I know I wouldn’t be in a position to compete in shorter races. Ultras are much more of a personal thing and I know I can do OK. I'm never going to be the quickest but I can keep going. It's a good social and I'm there to do well for myself not against the clock.

Top Tips for running

Q. What are the essential ingredients to being successful in ultras?

A. Mental attitude is equally important as physical fitness - if not more so. Training should be fun and if it becomes an issue then you are not going to perform well. If you enjoy it you'll do it better.

Q. What tips would you give to someone doing their first ultra? 
A. Don't be nervous of it and don’t set your goals too high to start with. Chances are there will be someone slower than you. Prepare well, hit it hard and accept it’s probably going to hurt at some point. Finishing a race where you’ve really pushed yourself though is a great feeling.

Q. What type of kit do you feel is essential for an ultra?
A. Getting decent shoes right for the terrain and be happy with them. If you are running with a bag it needs to fit properly. Don't carry too much. People at MDS were carrying masses but it's not necessary.

Q. What is the one thing you never travel without? 
A. Don't know really - vaseline helps and stops chafing. That would be my luxury.

The good times running

Q. What is your proudest running achievement to date?
A. Finishing MDS simply because it was something I had aimed for over a long period of time. I was midway in the pack so not great but I know I had pushed myself so was happy with my own performance. The ‘long day’ was my best on the MDS as I felt good, placed well and finished strongly. I raised money for charity too in doing the MdS, about £18,000, which is a good feeling.

Q. What has been your favourite ultra to date?
A. It's called the 12 Labours of Hercules. Its inaugural race was in the Peak district last year and will be in Shropshire this July and run by Beyond Marathon. It is very good fun and a real social event.

Q. Which type of ultras do you like best?
A. I prefer the very long, hilly and multi-day ones. I can keep going in those with my fairly slow but steady pace.

The rough times running

Q. What has been the most challenging ultra to date for you? 
A. I did a 50 mile one called Dusk to Dawn, again by Beyond Marathon and the weather was atrocious. It was an overnight sunset to sunrise race in the Peak District and the weather killed it for me. I finished but didn’t really enjoy it as a result. Navigation over the Peaks by headtorch for 50 miles in the freezing wind, rain and fog wasn’t great.

Q. What aspect of ultra running is the hardest for you? 
A. Getting myself motivated to go out on a training runs can sometimes be really hard and I have to really force myself to do it There are so many other pressures on your time too.

Salvation time

Q. Who or what has been your biggest help in doing ultras?
A. I introduced a couple of mates to it who have now got the bug - and we egg each other on and race together. We have a similar pace and we often do things together which is great.

Q. Have you made any significant sacrifices to complete ultras?
A. It's expensive doing races like MdS and the Coastal Challenge. It's a big sacrifice on time but it's a good thing to do. Sadly I’ve decided to put my rugby career on hold to concentrate on the running.

Learning

Q. What have you learned by doing ultras?
A. You learn a lot about yourself by putting yourself through pain barriers. I did not know I could finish MdS but in the end I finished it quite well and to date I’ve never had a DNF.

Q. How do you feel ultras have changed you and your life?
A. I've learnt a lot about not giving up and having mental strength. I’ve seen some awesome places in Britain and abroad. and met and made friends with some great people like Jo Meek who was the 2nd female at MdS in 2013 and the first female in the Coastal Challenge. She's rapid!

Q. Any helpful sayings or beliefs that have helped your running?
A. No, not really - although there are lots of cheesy slogans. My top three are probably: “Pain is nothing compared to what it feels like to quit”, “the only one who can tell you ‘you can't’ is you and you don't have to listen” then lastly “feel the fear; do it anyway”.

Q. How do you get motivated to do the training?
A. That's the difficult one. I make the effort to take myself to some nice countryside - that's the main thing for me. I'm in Cheshire so can go to the Peak District or Wales.

Training and Prep

Q. How do you train for an ultra?
A. I'd be doing 40-50 miles a week perhaps. Variety to training is a good thing and cross training. I focused on triathlons a bit aswell after the MDS.

Q. How does your training differ for each type of ultra?
A. My training does not differ that much if I’m honest. I have a base level of fitness and I just try and keep that level.

Future

Q. What race are you doing next?
A. I'm doing the London Marathon in 10 days time. I've got both the Beyond Marathon “Apocalypse” and “12 Labours of Hercules” in Shropshire and then the Lakeland Ten Peaks this year too. I suspect one or two more may creep in also.

Q. What do you hope to achieve with your ultra running in the future?
A. It's a case of finishing some tough races and I’ve got one eye on the UTMB (UltraTrail du Mont Blanc) - that's on my bucket list and I have the points for it.

Q. What would be your dream ultra event?
A. UTMB is near the top of the list and a cold weather one too perhaps. The Everest trail looks awesome too.

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