Like many ultra distance runners, I like to keep a keen eye on what the international elites are up to month by month. Often this is exploring the races they are doing or are building up to as well as their training, diet and equipment.
There are numerous sites out there which have interviews and profiles of these top runners, but ultrarunning is still relatively in its infancy and updates can be few and far between as the sport continues to grow and evolve.
So often, typically on my lunch breaks or evenings, I find myself reading blogs and race reports from the ‘average Joe’s’ of the sport. I often find these as inspiring as, or frequently more inspiring than those of the top sponsored runners- runners who have full time jobs, families and commitments but still wish to achieve amazing things. In many senses it is these runners who might finish a 100 mile race in 30+ hours who inspire me more than those who set the course records- those who aren’t natural athletes but grind out finishes through determination and adversity as opposed to natural raw talent. They are the ones who let me know I can do this.
In just the last month, three such runners have published books which I plan to read over the next few weeks- Dave Urwin and James Adams, who I both know, and Ira Rainey who I don’t. These are three ‘normal’ guys, but who have completed abnormal achievements often against the odds, because they simply decided they could.
On this basis, I wanted to use this blog as readership grows to interview and get to know better some of the people who inspire me and those who give back to the sport far more than they take from it- starting off with Rich Cranswick.
Rich is someone I have got to know over the last year or so on social media but only met in February this year when he came to run the Cotswold Way 50k, which Dave Urwin and I devised just before Christmas as a group-run concept. Rich has taken the initiative to grow this school of thought in a way I couldn’t have imagined and is now the Director of the website: http://www.socialultra.co.uk
Unlike myself who put the smallest of thought and effort into the CW50K, Rich has dedicated hours and hours of his own free time to develop something for the good of the ultra community, with no financial reward or recognition expected.
But, even more inspiring for me, is how he has jumped into the ultra scene with abandon and seemingly loves every step. For him, it is not just about races or accolades, it is the journey and that is what drew me to want to find out more about him as a person and his goals. So, without further ado, here’s Rich Cranswick:
What got you into running in the first place?
An app on my phone got me started. I was loading some free stuff and found Endomondo so I started walking just to try out the GPS. I found that their website allows you to set up challenges, so I set up “Sunday Madness” – most miles walked in 24 hours. I got to around 50 but found it hard to get past this walking, so last March I started running just so I could keep ahead of the competition.
How did you discover ultras and what was your first one?
I was researching distance running as I was having some problems transitioning from walking, which led to a couple of months lay-off due to injury in Jun/Jul. I got a lot of advice from the Ultrarunning Community group on Facebook and from Israel Archuletta and others in the forum.
Coming back to training I decided to enter the LDWA Dorset Doddle 50k. I walked the first half then met a few runners who were flagging and buddied up with one guy to run it home. We completed in around 8 hours, though the time wasn’t important. I also got bad sunburn due to a lack of sun cream. I learned to plan & prepare kit properly from then on.
You attempted the Piece of String Fun Run in 2013 (a mentally tortuous race where only the RD knows the eventual distance). Why did you enter and what did you learn from it?
I thought the concept was brilliant, the fact that you have no idea what’s in store for you. Just wondering if James Adams (RD) would jump out around the next corner with directions to run around the North Circular for a month kept everyone on their toes. I entered it with absolutely no previous experience and just blagged my way in. The lessons that I took away from it were that Ultra runners are in the main a) Very nice people, b) Madder than a bag of ferrets, c) Occasionally sadistic, especially when they turn into RDs.
It also gave me the confidence of knowing I can run 120 miles, or maybe more, and I made some good friends in the process too.
What is your biggest running achievement to date?
My DNF on the Piece of String. I had no idea what distance I was capable of and just set out to have fun. 120 miles later I was still having fun despite getting lost & having to call it a day.
Would you enter again?
I already have. I’m thinking of doing it in fancy dress this year, as it is a Fun Run after all.
Rich (far right) at the Cotswold Way 50k in typical understated style
In June, you are running JOGLE (John O’Groats to Lands End). What inspired you to do this?
As soon as I’d set up the Sunday Madness challenge, I got chatting to one of my friends on Facebook and I found out he was the uncle of Alice Payne, the girl in who set up Alice’s Escapes http://www.alices-escapes.co.uk/
Her story really touched me and I wanted to do something to raise funds for the charity, and as my running brain only works on lunacy level 9 I thought running JOGLE would be a good way to do it.
Logistically, how are you doing this- do you have a crew driving or self supported using shops and hotels etc?
I’m doing it self-supported, but without the hotel option. I’ve got my sights on the unofficial record (Guinness only recognise full-support runs).
According to my research it’s held by Dan Driver at 17 days http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Land%27s_End_to_John_o%27_Groats#Running
Self-support in my book means carrying clothes and camping gear, so apart from food & water you are self-sufficient. Plus that way if you fancy varying the planned daily mileage you’re not tied to making it to a certain point. And I love camping.
A typical route used for JOGLE
How are you training for such a diverse run?
I’ve been doing a lot of hill work over the winter, and some track sessions at the local club (though developed minor shin splints, so have had to put them on hold).
As its 12 weeks to go I’ve stepped up the long weekend runs putting in back-to-back 30’s with the aim of increasing these to 50 in the next 6 weeks. Then a 3 week taper.
I’m not bothering much about mileage as the weekends take care of that. Just trying to condition my body to get used to running when it’s tired.
Since Dave Urwin and I organised the CW50K you have taken the social ultra concept to the next level. Are you pleased with how it has boomed?
Really pleased with the level of interest and involvement. It only exists if people are willing to organise a run, and there have been so many willing to do so.
I’ve got to thank Chris Mills as co-conspirator as he’s put a lot of time and effort into both planning and developing the website. He’s also invaluable as he works as a counterbalance to some of my madder ideas.
Where do you see SU in a few years or where would you like it to be?
I’d like to see it as Parkrun for Nutters, though not with the same number of participants, as getting 300 people over the hills could be a real nightmare. We’re beginning to get an idea of what works & what doesn’t, how much lead time you need to give people, essential kit, dos & don’ts for organisers, etc. I suppose we’ll just see how it goes and work it from there.
What is your dream race?
It wouldn’t be a race as such. More of an endless round-the-world Social Ultra.
Any plans for next year yet?
I’d love to compete in the Spartathlon, and my post-JOGLE races are all designed to get me a qualifier. For some strange reason kissing the saliva-stained foot of a Greek statue really appeals to me.
If you want to sponsor Rich on this epic run and for a fanastic charity, his donation page can be found here: http://www.justgiving.com/LeJOG2014