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  • Heather Lawson

Mental Grit ...

Updated: Jun 22, 2020

or madness or addiction?

It’s Monday 25th May, and the Ultra Marathon Runner’s (UMR) alarm has gone off at 4.45am.

In the kitchen is a cereal bowl with a sachet of instant porridge waiting to be made up and a mug with a tea bag in it, this was all set up last night in readiness to run 100 miles for fun.

There are ice blocks in the freezer ready to go in the cool bag containing all the UMR’s water, there is another set of ice blocks ready to keep the food supplies cool. The rest of the kit has been packed, unpacked, checked, rechecked and then packed again more times than I can remember - the UMR is good to go!

But is he?


After the fall down the stairs last week we are sure the UMR has a cracked rib. He resembles a mangled puppet when he is trying to get off the floor, as his back is sore, tight, and bruised too. When he puts weight into one arm, his ribs remind him that one of them is not happy.

With the help of You Tube Videos, I have quickly become an expert in the application of K Tape. Knees and ankles are pretty easy, but it isn’t every day I tape a broken rib. Within 15 minutes the UMRs knee, ribs and lower back have been taped up.


Having sprinted all over South East London during lockdown to get his running fix, and steal peoples’ Strava segments as there were no local trails to run on, the UMR gave himself a knee injury - caused by over-use (funny that !).

We actually did have a laugh about the fact that the pain caused by the fall down the stairs had taken his mind of his knee injury.

I did pose the question “ Are you sure that it is a good idea to run 100 Miles on the trails?” knowing full well that the answer would be “it’s all about the mind, not the body” …. And that was the answer that I got.


I would class myself as mentally strong – I’m not saying that to be big headed, or have a badge of honour, it is just part of my make up, part of how I am – but the UMR takes being mentally strong to a whole new level.

Would I run a 100 mile race with a broken rib, a back injury and a knee injury? - probably not, but the UMR just goes to a place where failure is not an option.

For him running requires to different hearts – one to pump blood around the body, and another to pump positive thoughts, and mental grit. He has never had a DNF (did not finish). I have seen him in pieces at the end of races, including one time when we were positive he had run 40 miles on a fractured leg (… because failure is not an option!). It turned out to be Cellulitis, a potentially serious infection in the deep layer of the skin, caused by bacteria getting into a burst blister on his foot.

Is it mental grit? Mind over matter? A form of running madness? I can’t really answer the question, but the UMR is just one of those people who an obsessive runner, and when he commits to something he is in 100%.


So the UMR leaves the house and heads off to a 10 mile trail in Kent not far from Winston Churchill’s home of Chartwell. He parks up in the shade, and meets another ultra marathon running friend and socially distancing off they go to run 100 miles, in ten 10 mile laps. In his brain it is as easy as that.

The 100 miles was going to take 24 to 26 hours, depending on injuries, the heat, and how the actual running went. You can turn up fully prepared, but you never know what your body is going to do to you on the day.

Generally I don’t keep in touch too much on race days. I will often be at the finish of a race to drive a sleepy, smelly, sweaty heap home, but there is little point in me texting to see how things are going as the UMR will always put a positive spin on things regardless of how bad they might be. However on this day I sent a text, it’s not every day the UMR runs with a broken rib.

At 4.45 pm, I sent another text asking if he was sure he had enough food (I was joking of course, as he had enough food to last being alone for 3 weeks on the Yorkshire Moors), and I got a reply saying

So, I knew he was in a good place – that was all I needed to know, and settled down to have a night to myself (a rarity in lockdown). So it was with great surprise I was woken by the front door opening at midnight, and hearing the UMR clomping, up the wooden stairs to the flat (the ones he had fallen down the week before).

I wasn’t expecting him home until 9 to 10am the next morning.


The UMR will be the first to admit that he is not the best when it comes to navigation. Often he is so keen to be out front and be first that he will miss a signpost, or a turning.

He had been running with a friend who had decided to call it a day at 50 miles, he wasn’t feeling too great, stomach cramps had set in. The UMR had continued for another 10 mile lap, but navigating in the dark, on your own, when you are tired, and bits of you aren’t working 100% is probably not a good idea. Well I would say it wasn’t a good idea, but would the UMR?

I have to say I was shocked that the UMR was home early. And I am not in any way saying that he failed at the 100 miles, he ran 60, and that was 55 more than me that day. It was just very unexpected.

If this had been a true 100 mile race, and not a virtual one – then for sure the UMR would have completed the distance. There would have been markers on the paths for him to follow, and maybe the other odd runner in the distance to follow too – but running in the pitch black, in the depths of the Kent countryside, on your own was actually a step too far even for the UMR. If he had kicked another tree root, and hit the deck, he might have stayed there until he was found in the morning, or until someone was got out of bed to go and find him.


For once the UMR had been sensible! (Yes I was in shock, this is a rare occurence!)

Sometimes you have to have the mental grit to say enough is enough, and those decisions are often the hardest to make especially when you are so committed.

The whole point of running the 100 miles was to complete a virtual challenge set up by the race organiser Centurion. Having had to cancel their races, they created a virtual race called Centurion One Community

This is what the or website says …

Do you read what I read?

The idea was that you chose a distance, anything from 5km to 100 miles – and you could run that distance in one day or over 7 days - not one day!

As always, trust the UMR to take things to the extreme!

This week has seen the UMR complete the other 40 miles, in fact as I am writing this he is back from an 18 mile run, and has worked out that he has done 120.9 miles this week.

If he goes out again later and runs a further 4 miles then he would have run 200km this week – just another challenge to hit before the week is out!

Is the ultra marathon runner mad? Or full of mental grit? I’m not condoning what he does, nor promoting it, merely giving an insight into what it is like to live with someone who is running obsessed.

I’ll let you answer the question as to whether it is mental grit or madness!


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