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How I ran the Millstone 100 - tips from an idiot in a pink shirt.

- By Phill Richardson (the guy in the pink shirt), 3rd place finisher at the Millstone100, 2021.

If you are reading this, you are probably either signed up for the Millstone 100 or are thinking about it. If you are still thinking about it, go and sign up now, you can read the rest of this article later.

It's a fantastic race and when I ran it, I loved it. The course takes you through some wonderful scenery, the checkpoint crews are amazing, and you’ll meet some genuinely brilliant people while out running this race.

It’s hard to give tips for an ultramarathon; there are so many different approaches to them and what has worked for me might not work for you. If you ever meet me at a race, you might find that I seem woefully unprepared. I probably don’t know the elevation profile of the route, I probably don’t even know how many checkpoints there are. I try not to worry about any of the aspects of the race that aren’t under my control. It’s not that I am unprepared; it’s that I prepare differently.

Most people, when they prepare for running ultramarathons, do so by doing lots of running. I don’t do that. I run when I feel like it, and only for as far as I feel like. In the month before the Millstone 100, I only ran three times - I did the Stour Valley Path 100km in the middle of August, sandwiched between a spur of the moment marathon one morning with a friend at the start of the month and an “I better go for a run” half at the end. I recommend doing more training runs than I do, but I don’t think it should be the sole focus of your training. I rarely see runners failing to finish because they didn’t run enough during their training. Most people DNF due to injury, nutrition or their mind. Many of those DNFs are better runners than I am.

I don’t finish races because I’m a great runner; I’m not. I finish races because I’m a resilient runner.

I may not be the world’s most active runner, but I do regular strength training and participate in other sports that help reduce my risk of injury. I have tested my nutrition and hydration habits on long, solo runs. I’ve learnt what works for me and what doesn’t. Through the race, I try to stay aware of how much I’ve had to drink, how many calories I have consumed, and have a good sense of where my stomach is at.

So if there are two tips for preparing to make it around the Millstone 100 these are mine:

  1. Pick up some weight - you don’t need to own anything fancy, some dumbbells are great, but you can stick some books in a rucksack and use that. With my personal trainer hat on, and my experience as a kickboxing coach, a little bit of time spent performing some basic movements like deadlifts and squats with a bit of weight can dramatically reduce the risk of injuries

  2. Eat on the run - get an idea about the food that works for you - it might be something like the hazelnut crepes that work for me, or the mashed potatoes that power Courtney Dauwalter to her race wins. Go for some long, slow runs and work out how many calories you can comfortably consume in an hour without giving yourself gastrointestinal distress.

Once you’ve given yourself a bulletproof body, and assuming you are running enough in training to be confident of making it to the checkpoints, then the final bit of preparation is to build that bulletproof mind.

For me, the mindset training has come from my practice of Zen Buddhism, with a sprinkling of stoicism and a few exercises I picked up when completing a qualification in Life Coaching. I run according to my own values. So while others might have some plans for how quickly they want to complete the race, or what position they want to finish in, my plan is simply to put in an honest effort and see what happens.

When I struggled at times on the Millstone 100, I would check in with myself and ask myself “am I putting in an honest effort here?”

Usually, the answer was yes, so I continued, business as usual. A couple of times I caught myself coasting and had to pick the effort levels up a little, but this approach meant that I was never worried about what time I would be at the next checkpoint or how far was left.

The next checkpoint was always something future-me could deal with, current-me always had to keep putting one foot in front of the other, and as long as current-me did that, the distance would take care of itself.

When I missed a checkpoint while being within touching distance of the leading runner, I had to double back to find it. Rather than wasting energy by getting angry or upset, I just had to continue doing what I was doing. It was tempting to blow up my race by haring off in pursuit to catch up, but that would have left me suffering later in the race. Instead, I stuck to what I was doing, put in my honest effort and kept plodding on.

Ultra-marathons, when they get hard, force you to be honest with yourself.

If you can keep your emotions in check and your mind working through your race, that gives you a better chance of finishing well.

And so I’ll finish with this tip - be kind to the people you meet. It’s easy to get wrapped up in your own race, but the time passes so much quicker when you are chatting away as you run.

I found the more I encouraged other runners and was positive about how they would do, the more positive I became about my own chances, and sometimes all it takes is a few words of motivation to help someone shift from feeling like quitting to being confident of finishing. By the end of the run, I seem to be recognised as the idiot in the pink t-shirt who was chatting away to everyone, perhaps I could have come in a little quicker if I didn’t chat, but perhaps not, and I wouldn’t have had nearly as much fun.

If you are mentally and physically prepared for the event, then there is no reason why you can’t do well on the Millstone 100. And once the timer begins and you cross the start line, it’s just a case of putting one foot in front of the other, all the way until you reach the finish line. So, good luck with the preparations, and if you are booked into the Millstone 100, feel free to drop me a message on social media if you have any more questions about how I approached the race.

- Phill Richardson is an ultra-runner, kickboxing coach and online personal trainer. web: IG:

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