Meet the England ultra runners – Anglo Celtic Plate 100k preview

This weekend a team of eight athletes will be representing England at the Anglo-Celtic Plate 100k (ACP) race in Perth, Scotland.

It is no secret that 100km is an incredible test of endurance, but how exactly do runners take that leap into the ultra-running world? We caught up with some members of the England team to get to know them and find out what they love most about training and competing in ultra events.

Getting into ultra running

It is no doubt that ultra running not only tests your physical ability but also your mental resilience, so what attracted our team to start ultra running in the first place?

“I only started running around five years ago”, explains 2:24 marathon runner Michael Young,

Michael Young

"I originally wanted to lose some weight and get fit. From the off I wanted to take part in an ultra which I realise is strange. The training meant lots of slow running and volume and around 6 months into my serious running journey I completed the 2019 edition of the Manchester to Liverpool 50-miler!"

For current 100k British record holder and last year’s ACP winner, Sarah Webster, it was the natural progression from the marathon distance.

Sarah Webster

"I wanted to run 50k after I broke 2:45 for the marathon but Covid and then running at the Commonwealth Games got in the way so when I got the chance to run 100k last year I took the gamble, and it paid off."

"I became the British record holder with my time of 7:03.40 and was the fastest European female to run 100k."

What does a training week look like?

Most ultra runners take that next step after completing a marathon, and as Team Manager Robbie Britton says, there’s not a one size fits all model when it comes to training for an ultra:

Julia Davis

"With distances like 100k we see a range of training styles but the simplest way to describe how the majority of athletes prepare is just an extended version of marathon training."

"It’s important not to neglect your speed over shorter distances like the marathon when stepping up to 100k and often our athletes have been selected on the back of those faster marathon PBs. Some of the longer runs might be a bit further than during the marathon build with the paces being less nailed down."

Ealing Eagle Melissah Gibson has previously raced marathons as part of her ultra prep: "I average 70 miles per week when training for a marathon and then I have peaked at 103 miles per week for this ultra."

Melissah Gibson

"Last year my preparation for Comrades (approx. 87km race in South Africa) comprised of five very flat marathons and this year for the ACP I have completed two marathons, getting lost on one ending up running 33 miles!"

It is no myth that cross training is not just for the injured and can be a really positive enhancement to your programme, as Michael added:

"In the build up to the ACP I have tried something different and have included cycling. For the first time as an adult I have been out on the bike and trying Zwift virtual riding. This has enabled me to double the time of my aerobic training per week and I’m excited to put this to the test."

What is the toughest thing about the race?

Ollie Garrod is one of the most experienced on the team, but there are still aspects which he finds challenging:

"The toughest part is the physical toll for sure, at the end of the day you're running a distance which your body might be conditioned for, but certainly isn't used to, at (hopefully) a reasonable speed."

"You've then got to practice fuelling systems and hope your body doesn't throw a wobbly on race day. All the preparation in the world can't defend against a dodgy gut. As long as the body holds up then it's a mental battle to ensure you stay focused on the grind, and not too distracted by other people surging.”

Speaking of keeping a steady stomach, what exactly are the fuelling strategies of our runners?

James Turner

"I practice fuelling a lot during all of my race pace tempos,” explains James Turner. “This helps to train my gut and then on race day I try to keep to a mix of gels and drinks. The ACP is handy as it is repetitions of a small loop and so we can grab things fairly easily."

For Sarah, she prefers a mix:

"I love a combination of jelly babies, chews, gels, and drinks. Similar to James in my training I have practiced everything and I often train in laps to try and mimic the race, otherwise if I am on a long run I will try and aim to take on fuel every 20-30 minutes."

As well as keeping to their own strategies, the athletes will be lucky to have the support of Dr. Jamie Pugh and Vanessa Atkin from Liverpool John Moores University who along with Aly Dixon and Robbie Britton can support them throughout the race with their nutrition, physio, medical, and psychology needs.

See team announcement Go to ACP 100k website

Photo credits: Top image from video by Cathal Hegarty, Michael Young by Steve Duffy,
Sarah Webster by Adrian Scott, Melissah Gibson permission of Yorkshire marathon,
Julia Davis by Dan Evans, James Turner permission of Valencia Marathon.