Reflections on an ultramarathon

After his incredible 124 mile Kiltwalk ultramarathon, Ross reflected on how self-management helped him to achieve this endurance feat.

"At 3pm on 23 April 2021, I started my backyard ultramarathon in Glentress Forest near my home in Peebles to raise funds for Thistle. The plan was to run a 4 mile loop every hour, on the hour, through until Sunday.

I've been running for years and love getting out onto the trails. However, a few years ago I noticed that after every hill I had my hands on my knees, totally out of breath. It turned out to be a racing heart and I needed surgery. The surgery made such a difference and I was even able to get back to endurance running.

Back to the Kiltwalk weekend – the weather was particularly warm and around midnight on Friday, heat and dehydration made it difficult for me to take on food. At 1pm on the Saturday, after running 84 miles, I stopped for an hour to recover. One hour became two, which became three. At 4pm, lying on the ground resting, I felt able to start running again. And just as I decided it was time to start going again I noticed my heart thumping in my chest. I knew this was arrhythmia induced by extreme salt loss, but it was reminiscent of what I used to experience before heart surgery, and it was too close for comfort. We decided to call it a day.

I woke up on Sunday morning feeling much better – in fact feeling normal. And so I went back to Glentress and started running again, completing a further 40 miles. In our self-management sessions at Thistle, we often talk about “fear avoidance.” This is when the worry about something bad happening, or something coming back, stops people from doing the things that matter to them in life. Fear avoidance is one of the biggest factors leading to disability and reduction in quality of life. Successful self-management is where people are supported to take life-enhancing risks – not unnecessary risks – but being aware enough and knowledgeable enough to weigh up their options and find workarounds to keep living their lives.

Last Sunday morning I used the lessons I’ve learned from people I’ve met who successfully self-manage their health condition – making life enhancing decisions on a day-to-day basis, listening to fear bit not giving in to it – to get me back on the trails and ultimately, to reach a distance of 124 miles across the weekend."

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