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Photo credit: Owain Thomas.

Runner's story: Owain Thomas and the #YOLO7dayUltra challenge

17-Feb-16

By Luke Jarmey

Luke Jarmey from RunUltra is always on the look out for new stories to share with the community. He came across Owain Thomas’s story of the #YOLO7dayUltra and wanted to find out more.

Thanks for taking the time to do this Q&A with us, Owain. We stumbled across your #YOLO7dayUltra online and it sounded like it was a fantastic challenge for a great cause.

Q. Ok, to kick things off, give us a little insight introduction to yourself. Who is Owain Thomas?

A. Well, it’s not often I get asked that hehe. I’m your average Joe really. I’m a married late 30’s family man who is currently serving in the Royal Navy living in Devon (UK). Not much else to say really that pretty much sums me up.

Q. We noticed you weren’t always a runner, what sparked your interest in the sport?

A. I took up running after I was entered into a charity event to which I pretty much died after the first mile of the seven mile event. I was in denial about my health and fitness and being almost 20 stone I knew something had to be done about it, so I trained a little bit to redo the event and not struggle. It was also that year I got into the 2010 London Marathon through ballot for the first time and decided “well if I’m going to do it, I’ll do it right” and I trained six days a week and I ran my first marathon. I’ve not really looked back from there to be honest.

Q. How was the idea for #YOLO7dayUltra conceived?

A. Since my first marathon I’ve always looked at challenging myself with bigger and harder events. I have the mental attitude of “well I’ve done that what can I do to better it”. I’ve always wanted to run the JOGLE,  however with work and family I could only really afford a week off. So I needed to find a route that I could achieve in seven days. I also wanted to finish at the iconic Land’s End.

I grew up in Cornwall with family and friends still down there so it was ideal for support. I then looked at how many miles I could do maximum whilst leaving a good recovery period each day. It was all about setting a smart target really. After I worked this out I looked at a map and calculated roughly where it could take me. It was the New Forest where my friend Phil moved from Cornwall with his young family. Phil is the person all this was for, as he was diagnosed with terminal cancer and there was nothing I could do for him. The only thing I can do is to raise awareness and some money for people like Phil. So the route was perfect, I was going to run from Phil’s new home to our old home in seven days and so #YOLO7DayUltra was born. YOLO seemed very apt as it stood for “You Only Live Once”.

Q. Seven ultras in seven days is no mean feat! Can you give us an idea of the route and day to day breakdown of the mileage?

A. The route took me from the New Forest to Dorchester on Day 1 which was just over 40 miles. Day 2 was from Dorchester to Honiton which was around 36 miles. Day 3 was Honiton to Torquay and was 37 miles. Day 4 was Torquay to Devonport (Plymouth) and I covered 35 miles. Day 5 was Devonport to Landyrock House (Bodmin) and 33 miles. Day 6 was Lanhydrock House to Blackwater (Truro) 31 miles. I also ran the Lanydrock parkrun before hand to tick off another event. Day 7 the final day was from Blackwater to Land’s End via Phil’s mums house in Scorrier (near Redruth) and that was another 33 ish miles. So I covered 248.2 miles and a parkrun.

Q. Why did you choose the particular route you did? And what was the hardest leg?

A. When planning the route, I had to look at the mileage really and how to keep off the main big roads especially. I would’ve loved to have run an off road version but it added a lot more miles on each day and I didn’t want to set myself up for defeat. On Day 5 if I had run the direct route it would have been short of an ultra and just barely a marathon, so again I planned the route to do at least 50km. If you looked at that day’s route on a map you’d think it was a pretty random way of getting from A to B.

The hardest day in terms of the route itself was day 2. It was a warm day and had the most climb of just over 1000 metres. I was obviously feeling it from the first day as well which was the longest day in mileage so it was the toughest. Day 3 was mentally the worst though. The weather changed to horrible, I was by myself where the first two days I had a couple of support runners. My legs didn’t want to move and I just wanted to curl up in the foetal position and be left alone. I made the tough decision to grab a couple hours sleep which seemed to do the trick and I was mentally able to carry on and also I was able to start eating again. Day 2 I really struggled to eat which didn’t help.

Q. How did you train for it? Which ultras did you enter to prepare?

A. I had also set myself a goal to run 37 events throughout the year with #YOLO7dayUltra as one of them. So I used all those events as training, including Hope24 (24 hour ultra in Plymouth) and Endure 12/50 ultra. I entered Endure 12/50’s 12 hour night event as a rough guide to making sure I could at least complete the longest day of my epic event in the 12 hours I had set out for each day of the big event.

Q. The mental trials of multi day ultras can often be tougher than the physical hurdles (and that’s saying something!), especially when running solo on a personal challenge such as this. Have you learnt any techniques for keeping yourself focused and motivated whilst training and partaking in the challenge?

A. I was pretty lucky I had a lot of support from the running community, and that certainly helps with the mental aspects, having someone to chat to along the way helps tick of the miles. When I was by myself though I made up songs in my head, not very good ones mind you, although at the time I thought they were sure fire hits. I also thought about other random things like the type of alcoholic drink I thought my body could manage at that time, and if Elvis was alive what would he be like. Random stuff just to keep my mind occupied.

Q. Talk to us about kit. Which bits of gear stood out for you over the seven days? And with hindsight, was there anything you wish you had or hadn’t brought along?

A. I can tell you the X-Bionic shirt “The Trick” was probably the best kit I have ever worn. That is hand on heart stuff there. I wore it for the whole seven days, it stood up to the weather changes keeping my body cool in the heat and warm in the wet and cold. Considering I wore it for seven days it didn’t really smell either. I had other options to wear but thought if it’s not broken and it’s working as it says on the tin then don’t change it. My Sunwise sunglasses came in handy a fair bit especially on the sixth day when it was roasting and the sun was constantly in my face.

I knew my feet were going to swell a little so my shoes were a size bigger in preparation, however I didn’t realise my feet were going to swell a size and a half bigger. I had spare shoes with me but they weren’t going to be big enough either so I had to modify my Hoka Cliftons to let my toes and feet expand. I now call these my Hoka flops. With hindsight if I knew that was going to be the case I’d have ordered two sizes bigger but I think that would be extreme as the swelling isn’t normally that bad.

Q. What was your nutrition plan and was it effective?

A. I devised a plan of a check point every five miles, much like the Hope24 event. It helped with the mental game as well as the refuelling one. I was planning to refill bottles, take in snacks and go. My support crew were pretty good, and it didn’t take too long to know exactly what I needed and wanted prior to coming in. It worked the first day, didn’t work very well the second day as my body was giving up on food and got better over the remaining days. I’d say  it was 85% effective. I’ve since gone on and found Tailwind Nutrition and have survived events entirely on that alone and my body deals well with it and allows me to eat properly afterwards as well.

Q. So post #YOLO7dayUltra, what have you been up to running wise?

A. Well it didn’t stop there, after #YOLO7dayUltra I still had another 11 events to do for the remainder of the year. I had two more big events which were Equinox24 (24 hour ultra) and Snowdonia Marathon. After #YOLO7dayUltra I struggled with the back of my knee, and with resting and physio I thought I was recovered. I still finished Equinox24 but after that my body said no bigger ones. So I pulled out of Snowdonia as it’s not exactly a flat forgiving marathon and finished the remainder of the events off at 10 miles or less.

Q. And finally, what does the near future hold for Owain Thomas’ running? Are you cooking up any more delicious challenges?

A. Well, 2016 is all about planning, training for 2017 as well as giving my poor wife and son a break, so it’s not as busy event wise. I am running Hope24 again -  it’s such a brilliant event it’s rude not to. I’m also entered into the Classic Quarter, and Mudcrew’s R.A.T “The Plague”. I am hoping to run one more ultra in the latter half of the year, but until I know for sure if I’ll be back at sea or not, I can’t really book anything else yet.

Delicious challenges? Oh yes well to me it is, to the wife probably not so delicious! In 2017 I will be running #YOLO7dayUltra 17, however this time it will be longer, even tougher and mostly off road. I plan to run 291 ish miles from North Wales to South Wales and be the first person again to run the route I am running. I will be running the Offa’s Dyke and Glyndwr’s Way paths taking me from the top to the bottom of Wales including taking in some of the Black Mountains area. Obviously people have run the Offa’s Dyke as there is an ultra that covers that but none have included the Glyndwr’s Way as well. Taking what I learnt from last year I will be using all the lessons learnt to achieve this goal.

Thanks Owain and best of luck with your running this year!

Remember if you have a story to tell you can email us – luke@runultra.co.uk

Follow Owain's blog here or on Twitter.

 

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