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Interview with Paul Burrows

14-Apr-14

Last updated: 06-Nov-18

Background

Paul, 39, lives in Jersey in the Channel Islands, UK, where he gets to run the beautiful coastal trails and paths. He works in the finance industry. Although he only started running ultras in 2011, straight after completing his first London Marathon, he has clocked up 12 races so far, including the MdS 2013, and running has become a way of life. Could this be why he’s attempting to run 336 miles in one week for Jersey Hospice Care later this year?

Read more of Paul’s top tips and ultra running experiences below:

Your experience of Ultra-running   

Q:  How long have you been doing ultras?
A:  I have been running ultras since 2011, I have so far run about 12 Ultras taking in multi-day events, 50 milers and 100 milers.

Q:  How did you first get started doing ultras?
A:  I ran my first marathon in 2011 – The London Marathon – and loved it so much that I decided to enter the MdS 2013. This was a race I had seen a few years previously and thought “I could never do that!” so once I was in a position physically to be able to I thought “Why Not?” Once I had entered I ran my first ultra in 2011 – Jersey’s Round The Rock ultra, then spent the rest of 2011 and 2012 running ultras to get ready for the MdS!

Q:  What motivated you to start running?
A: I had always wanted to do a marathon and as I got older I realised that if I didn’t get in shape to do it, it would be one of those things that I might never do. I then found running to be a great way of staying in shape, elevating mood and it became a way of life!

Q: When did you do your first ultra race?
A: I did my first Ultra in 2011 – Round The Rock -  a 48-mile ultra around the beautiful island of Jersey taking in beaches, coastal paths and trails. I’ve done it twice since and will be attempting to run 7 x Round The Rock in 7 days for Jersey Hospice Care a local charity in August of this year...

Q: Why do you keep running ultras?
A: I love the challenge of seeing how far I can push myself both mentally and physically. Every race I have done I have looked at ways to improve which in turn has made me a better runner along the way. Since starting to run ultras I have learnt so much about myself and I think it has helped me in day to day life to become more confident and to be more centred, happy and balanced.

Top Tips

Q:  What are the essential ingredients to being successful in ultras?
A: The key ingredient is motivation; know why you are running and what you hope to get out of it, as when the going gets tough it is so easy to talk yourself into DNFing* if you have no clear heartfelt motivation. Specific training is also vital and to be consistent week in, week out to improve. Something I have learnt recently also is that strength training is indispensable for ultra-running as it really helps, particularly in hill climbing, injury prevention and general economy of movement and energy.

Q: What tips would you give to someone doing their first ultra?
A: To approach it with an open mind and to train as well as possible! The key is to try and enjoy it and to treat the race as a day out to build your experience of ultras. Don’t get bogged down with predicted times as ultras are invariably off-road and subject to different pace rules than a predictable road marathon.

Q: What type of kit do you feel is essential for an ultra?
A: Good shoes are a must – they must be broken in, grippy, comfortable over distance and cushioned for longer distances. A good hydration system – generally a rucksack carrying a bladder or bottles is essential and also the clothes you wear – ensure again that you have worn them extensively so no nasty surprises on race day such as seams that cause cuts over 50 miles, or socks that are great on a 10k run but are like wearing barbed wire over a 30 miler!

Q: What is the one thing you never travel without?
A: My checklist – I have a checklist of all the things I need to take with me so that I don’t forget any vital items. This has served me well, although one time I got to a race and had taken the insoles out of my trail shoes and forgotten to put them back in! I had to borrow a pair of size 8 insoles from a mate for my size 13 trainers... Not a great start to the day!

The good times

Q: What is your proudest achievement to date?
A: Finishing the MdS in 2013 – this was the race that got me into ultra running originally and a lot of training and sacrifice went into completing it. I’m also proud of the improvement in my quality of life that running has given me; great friends, good health and a passion to do well.

Q: What has been your favourite ultra to date?
A: My home town race – Round The Rock here in Jersey. It was the first race I did and I love it as I race with both friends and people visiting from the UK. It’s a great race with beautiful scenery and I know it well A close second is the Endurancelife Dorset Ultra – I have done 4 or 5 races on the Jurassic coast and whilst it is brutally hilly it always delivers a first class day out!

Q: Which type of ultras do you like best?
A:
I like all types - they all present individual challenges. I’ve done hilly ultras, runnable ultras, really long ultras and multi-day ultras and they all contribute to me being a better runner. I do like a nice hill in an ultra though, particularly if I’m a bit tired as I can have a walk for a bit!

The rough times

Q: What has been the most challenging ultra to date for you?
A: I would say the Cotswold Way 100 was the most challenging for me. I DNF’ed as it was my first 100-miler and it was a very tough race. We had to navigate to a degree, there was a lot of elevation, and I had stomach issues. I decided to stop at 62 miles which was totally the right decision and Iearned a lot from that.

Q: What aspect of ultra running is the hardest for you?
A: I’ve always found the mental side of ultra running the most challenging. The head is the main reason for placing limitations on what you can do, so when I get tired it is natural sometimes for the head to drop and tough times to begin. The challenge for me is to get through that and to believe that it will pass and that things will be fine again in a minute or 15 minutes or an hour. I have done a lot of work on this, as well as running my own race and not getting caught up in what others are doing, and working to enjoy races for what they are rather than chasing times/positions etc.

Salvation time

Q: Who or what has been your biggest help in doing ultras?
A: I’ve always found a lot of resources online to read about ultra running and to look at different ways of training, nutrition, even gear reviews. The biggest source of support has been the community of runners here in Jersey; there are probably 10 – 15 of who all run ultras from UK races to MdS to UTMB. So there is a wealth of experience to tap into as well as a great vibe. We have an unofficial club - “Ultra Team Jersey” - and we often do long runs together or go away to the UK for races as well as getting together regularly to chat about running, which can really help with motivation. The concentration of talent here in running in general, as well as triathlon and athletics, means that you can be training on the track or taking part in local races at the same time as world class athlete , which is really motivating for me.

Q: Have you made any significant sacrifices to complete ultras?
A: I love running so much that it’s pretty much become my life. I work 9 to 5 but as soon as I finish work I am off training in the evening. I tend to run most weekends which means that my social life is pretty tame. I have friends outside of running that I may not see for quite a while if I am getting ready for a race, but they know me now and understand. It just makes the parties even better when we do get together from time to time!

Learning

Q: What have you learned by doing ultras?
A: I believe that running ultras has taught me so much; mental fortitude, self reliance, the ability to push through when things aren’t going my way as well as being present in the moment and taking time out to enjoy things.

Q: How do you feel ultras have changed you and your life?
A: Running in general has made me a better person without sounding too clichéd about it. I am happier, more confident, I have found my niche in life and so now I can’t really imagine not doing it.

Q: Any helpful sayings or beliefs that have helped your running?
A: “If you’re feeling good in an ultra, don’t worry it will soon pass.”

Q: How do you get motivated to do the training?
A: I love training to be honest. I like to see the improvement when I am doing things right and getting stronger and faster. I also am very stat-driven and like filling in my training log every day. I think once I have the goal of a race it’s very easy for me to train towards it, without the goal sometimes I can be a little aimless and unmotivated so I ensure there is always a race in the calendar!

Training and Prep

Q: How do you train for an ultra?
A: I train all year round as I am perpetually entered for ultras! I do tend to have periods of higher intensity and lower intensity training, just to give the body and mind a rest and to have a bit of a life, go out now and again for a few drinks etc! I do the classic long run on a Saturday, speed sessions, hill sessions and some back-to-back sessions at the weekend. I also do Bikram yoga and strength training. It’s a lot to fit in but I make it fit as all the parts are important. I’ve found that running for fun as well as to get the sessions in for training is just as important, as too much box ticking and worrying about pace means I have lost touch with why I run in the past, so I always try to have periods of “smelling the flowers.”

Q: How does your training differ for each type of ultra?
A: I look at the demands of the upcoming race and try to tailor the training for that race; if it’s hilly I will do more hill work, if it’s flatter I might do more in the way of consistent running to get used to running at a consistent pace for a long period of time. For the MdS I ran with a rucksack and did a bit of sand running. So it’s more about the demands of the course. I always have base sessions that I tend to do depending on the time of year to get into good shape and to get strong and the specificity is hopefully the icing on the cake.

Future

Q: What race are you doing next?
A: Next up for me is Transvulcania in La Palma in May. After that I will be attempting to run 7 times Round the Rock in 7 days for charity here in Jersey – 336 miles in one week. This will be the biggest challenge I have ever faced both physically and mentally. I’m hoping to raise a lot of money for Jersey Hospice Care – an amazing charity that runs entirely on donations and which has touched the lives of many islanders. After that, the next race in the diary is the MdS in 2015 – can’t wait to go back!

Q: What do you hope to achieve with your ultra running in the future?
A: I want to keep pushing my boundaries and to keep on enjoying it. I want to tap into the potential I feel I have and to feel I’m getting the very best out of myself. I also want to keep on getting the same buzz I get from races whether they are 5ks or ultras.

Q: What would be your dream ultra event?
A: My dream event was always the MdS. It’s a special race and it more than lived up to expectations.  It has changed my life, hence why I am going back! I think a dream event for the future would be something along the lines of the MdS – adventure, many nationalities, camaraderie, great scenery, and a chance to interact with environments that you don’t normally encounter.

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