Jez Bragg: How To Think Like A Ultramarathon Runner

Britain's best long-distance runner, Jez Bragg, on staying motivated and the limits of human endurance

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After cementing his position as the UK's best long-distance runner following a 53-day navigation of New Zealand in 2013, Jez Bragg is gearing up for a trio of big British runs this year: the High Peak Marathon, the Fellsman and the Dragon's Back race down the mountainous spine of Wales. 

We met Jez to find out how he gets into that perfect running headspace and what gives him the motivation to keep going, 25 miles in.

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How important is mental preparation when it comes to running 20+ miles each day?
It's a massive part of it. You can't focus on the physical aspect, it has to be about the journey and your experience when you're doing the run. You've got to want to do it. It's about thinking: 'I'm gonna go out and run this section of the coast path, and there's an awesome little beach down there, where I'm gonna stop off and have a swim, then carry on.'

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Do you ever find it difficult to get out of bed in the morning for a run?
It's easier to run in the morning because you have less chance to think about it. You switch into that mode the night before and you think, 'Right, I'm going to get up at X o'clock, and get started on my run.' You also develop an appreciation for being out early. You can get all high and mighty, you know, because you've been arsed to get up and you're out there doing it. And it's an amazing time of day.

Do you use any mental tricks to keep yourself going?
You've got to reward yourself. Dangle the carrot. You'll get your run done, then you'll go and enjoy something. Although, eating loads of food would just put the run to waste.

Do you ever get bored?
When you're out doing the long runs, you kind of just drift between these different mental states. To start with you might be a bit stressed – thinking about work and stuff – but all that kind of drifts away, and everything just seems a lot clearer and simpler. You become quite raw, quite stripped down. You really think about the essentials, like having a roof over your head, and having a warm bed to sleep in and having nice food and drink. When you get into that state the appreciation you've developed means that boredom doesn't become a factor

Which place has had the biggest effect on you? 
There were times in New Zealand where I just felt so small because of the power of nature around me. Hiking in New Zealand is proper wilderness. It's really, really rough terrain and it brings you down to earth. You just can't help but respect it.

How can the average runner stay motivated?
Choosing a route with a purpose is important. You need to use your initiative to stimulate yourself. Get the train out to the suburbs or the countryside and go for a run from the train station. People have this slight fear, I think, of just stepping off the pavement, and heading down that muddy track where all the cows are hanging out, but it opens up a whole new world.

How can we turn our three runs a week into training for an ultra marathon?
Training has to be sustainable and incremental. I do relatively big mileage, but I'm not doing 50-mile runs every week. My long runs are perhaps up to 25 miles. When I was first getting into it I used to go out for the day with a rucksack with a waterproof and food and phone and things like that, and just say, 'Right, I'm going to try to get from this point to this point.' You don't necessarily have to run every step of the way. If there's a hill and you're out of gas, just walk and enjoy the time on your feet, as opposed to thinking about it as some military exercise.

What advice would you give to someone tackling the Marathon Des Sables – known as the toughest footrace on earth – for the first time?
If you're setting out to do one of the big ultras, it's all about trying to train specifically, both in terms of terrain and wearing extra layers to generate sweat and trying to recreate the conditions of the race. Do your research on the course. I've known guys who have prepared for the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc - with 30,000 feet of climbing – without leaving London.

What's the limit in terms of how far the human body can run?
It worries me slightly that the sport's developing so rapidly that the bar is being raised too quickly. I think it's going to get detrimental to people's health. It's a brutal sport, physically, and I think there's still a lot of learning to be done amongst the community as to what is sustainable/ At the moment I'm running between 100 and 115 miles a week, which is fairly high. I'll do 10 miles in the morning and 8 miles in the evening, and if you're doing 18-20 miles a day it soon adds up.

What's your favourite running gadget?
I wear a Garmin GPS watch which records everything – distance, your pace, the amount of elevation in your run, the temperature, your heart rate, your cadence – then you sync it up with your iPhone, and tall your data's displayed on the Strava app. It's a method of recording all your training data, with a social media aspect to it as well. So you follow people, and people follow you, and you can monitor each other's training. It means you couldn't be lazy even if you wanted to. 

Jez Bragg is a North Face ambassador. Follow him at jezbragg.blogspot.co.uk

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