March 2020 - Colin Harper (UK)
No one would deny that Colin, a top contender in GlobalLimits Bhutan, Cambodia and Saõ Tomé, is a strong and persistent ultra-runner. In this interview, he shares with us his running experiences, insights on ultra-running and training, and his GlobalLimits experiences.
Hi, I’m Colin Harper. I’ve been a runner for many years but until 2013 I had never run an ultra and only ran on roads. As part of an ‘end-of-mid-life’ crisis inspired by my impending 50th birthday, I entered the 2014 Marathon Des Sables. At this point I knew a bit about the MDS but nothing about ultra-running. In order to prepare for the event I was advised to enter various ultra- marathons but my first ever ultra-marathon was a new race very local to me called the Saltmarsh 75 in 2013. Various other races followed, I completed the MDS and was hooked on ultra-running.
In 2016 I did the MDS again and shortly afterwards took part in a two day ultra in the UK. My wife Sharon was with me and was asked about the MDS. Her reply was that if she ever did a multi-day race she would want all her food cooked and her luggage carried – which was pretty much the first thing we were told about the GlobalLimits Bhutan – The Last Secret race when Ed Chapman gave a presentation on it in the evening after day one of the race!
Preparation for Bhutan wasn’t easy in Essex due to the lack of mountains. I run a lot in Fuerteventura and devised some training routes for us that included plenty of climbing. Generally my training runs are 25 – 35km long. I don’t tend to do much longer in training simply because most months will include a 50km ultra race. I think the important thing when training for multi-day events is to practise running on consecutive days and get used to being on your feet for extended periods of time. Much of ultra-running is a mental challenge so just being out for several hours and becoming comfortable with that is very important. Be realistic about how long a race or a stage is likely to take you and prepare to be out for at least that long, if it is likely to be dark before you finish then think about that, think about what you will do when it gets dark, will you walk, will you run? The more you are prepared mentally the easier it will be to cope when you are physically tired. For Bhutan we did go to extremes to prepare. Both of us had been at altitude and whilst we had no altitude sickness we did get headaches and so we slept in an altitude tent for two months before the race! It did help but I wouldn’t suggest it is necessary to go that far to prepare!
After Bhutan, we did the Ancient Khmer Path race in Cambodia. This qualified us to take part in the GlobalLimits Saõ Tomé - The Hemisphere Crossing race but we had ruled it out as it was so soon after Cambodia. However we got so swept up by the atmosphere in Cambodia and realised we knew so many people that had already signed up that we persuaded Stefan he could squeeze us both in despite the fact there was officially only one space left!
Cambodia formed most of the training for Sao Tome. We were in Fuerteventura for New Year and did do a number of training runs, including some nice and hilly ones but I was aware that Fuerteventura is cooler, much less humid and significantly lacking in vegetation when compare to Saõ Tomé. The subsequent training in the UK prepared us even less for the climate but did at least ensure we were well versed in mud and wading through water!
I am so pleased we did sign up for Saõ Tomé. It was a unique and special experience to be part of the first ever ultra-race in the country. The course had everything from the narrowest single-track to wide roads. The camp locations were some of the best I’ve ever seen and the locals were so friendly – it completely exceeded expectations in every way.
I think Bhutan might be my favourite GlobalLimits race just because of the monks. To go to prayers with them and play football against them is not an experience any other race can offer!