We caught up with the UK’s top Ultra-runner Neil Bryant shortly after he completed the grueling Trans-Europe footrace to find out what drives him, inspires him and fuels him and what he plans to do next. The Trans-Europe Footrace consists of 64 days of running to complete the 4176km distance from Denmark to Gibraltar and is one of the toughest Ultra marathons in the world today. First of all, congratulations Neil on an incredible achievement, how did you first get into Ultra-running?
After spending many years in cycling, 7 years ago at the age of 30, I did a duathlon and discovered I was more of a natural runner than a cyclist. I then did a marathon. The ‘logical’ next step was a 50 miler and from there my confidence and ambition grew. This of course has grown for seven years till I took part in the Trans-Europe Footrace this year.
What was the first Ultra run you did?
My first ultra was my second running race. It was the Thames Ultra which is a 50 mile trek along the Thames footpath finishing in London. I suffered with Runners knee and finished in 8 hours 17 minutes. I was very happy!
Has there been anyone who has inspired you?
When I first got into ultras I was, and still am amazed with the back runners who will be out on the road a lot longer and depending on the race, spending more time out in the dark. This I find truly inspirational and a big part of the ultra-running spirit!
What drove you to undertake the Trans European Ultra Marathon?
I found out about the Trans-Europe footrace not long after I discovered ultra-running. Initially I thought this was sheer lunacy for a select few, gifted runners. I then ran and won(!) the John O’Groats to Lands End race which gave me enough confidence to enter. I then believed that I had the ability, and the mental strength. All that would stop me was an injury.
How did you train for it?
The race began in August, and up till that point I had won the Viking Way ultra (147miles) and the Hardmoors 110 (112 miles) so was certainly on form though had not really ran at all on the road. Then with 12 weeks to go I was in a 100 mile race and badly sprained my ankle. I didn’t run for the next 12 weeks and lost a great deal of my fitness and confidence. So overall, a really bad run up to the start of the biggest race of my life! I wasn’t too concerned about the fitness though as in events like this you have plenty of time (64 days!) to get up to speed!
Was nutrition an important part of your training and race preparation?
Nutrition is a big part of what I do. I have considerably cut down my carbohydrate intake and upped my fat intake with Udo’s Choice Ultimate Oil Blend. This is all to increase my utilisation of fat as a fuel and make me a more efficient runner. This means I can travel further on less fuel. It also means that my recovery rate has improved meaning I can train harder!
Now that you have had time to reflect on the incredible journey how would you describe it?
This was without doubt the most incredible experience of my life (so far!). It is the finest way to see a country or continent as the speed is so slow that you take in so much more. It also has proven to me just how incredibly powerful the mind is, and what you can overcome with the right mind-set. I wouldn’t have believed this was possible 10 years ago, and still find it difficult to believe that it can be raced day in day out, but now I have done it, it has opened up my mind to just how far we can go if we just believe .
What were the lowest point and the highest point of the race – besides, presumably finishing!
The lowest has to be on day 32, the half-way point, when my knee reduced me to extremely painful walking at the worst and a very slow, lurching run at best. Mentally, I just couldn’t see how I could make another 32 days with a seemingly deteriorating knee. I will have to give two highs, though there were many. The first was after a 34km climb in the Pyrenees when I crossed over the border into Spain. This was an emotional point for me as I had previously believed this wouldn’t be possible with firstly my ankle, then my knee. The second was the incredible moment when we first saw Gibraltar (the end) over 45km away. A few of us sat on a wall high in the hills surrounded by beauty with big grins on our faces, not quite believing that we were there.
My confidence for what I believe is possible, has of course increased and the next step seems to be a self-organised large run. I have a few ideas involving locations all around the world, but until something is more concrete then you’ll have to wait! In the mean time I have just entered the Thames Ring (250 miles in 100 hours) next year and am hoping to get a place on the Tor des Geant (200 miles in the Alps).