Sheffield ultra-marathon runner's message to aspiring athletes: lace up the shoes and give it a go

Nicole Brown encourages anyone to get into ultra marathons
Nicole Brown encourages anyone to get into ultra marathons
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After finishing a grueling ultra-marathon in the Scottish wind and rain, a Sheffield teacher and mum is keen to get others involved in the sport.

Nether Edge woman Nicole Brown, 43, was the final finisher at this year's West Highland Way Ultra-Marathon, a 95-mile run through the highlands.

Nicole Brown meets husband Steve at the finish of the West Highland Way Ultra Marathon

Nicole Brown meets husband Steve at the finish of the West Highland Way Ultra Marathon

The race is the equivalent of running from Sheffield to Dudley, and it isn't all roads, either.

There are hills, lochs, woodlands and disused railway lines. Parts of the course, Nicole said, are practically bouldering.

Even if you make it round, it doesn’t count unless you finish the June race in less than 35 hours.

Brown, a teacher at Clifford Church of England Infants School, hasn’t even been running that long. She did her first half marathon in 2014. She hated it.

Nicole Brown approaches the finish of the West Highland Way Ultra Marathon

Nicole Brown approaches the finish of the West Highland Way Ultra Marathon

“After that I decided I would just do trail running,” she said.

“I did not like running fast, so I just wanted to go further as a challenge and I enjoyed the endurance of doing that.”

Egged on by barrister and ultra-runner husband Steve, Nicole ran a 30 mile race in 2015 and then three 50 mile races in 2016. She began a running group to teach others to go from 0 to 5k.

She first crewed at the event in 2014, and at that point, Nicole thought she would never undertake the distance.

Runners made their way through some spectacular terrain at the West Highland Way Ultra Marathon

Runners made their way through some spectacular terrain at the West Highland Way Ultra Marathon

"I had no idea what I was doing," she said.

"We had a table and a stove set up at Balmaha at 2am when it wasn’t needed until 4.

"We fell asleep and our runner woke us by banging on the window.

"At that point I never thought I would even be able to do anything like that. It was a ridiculous distance.”

Nicole Brown speaks about running to the class at Clifford Church of England Infants school

Nicole Brown speaks about running to the class at Clifford Church of England Infants school

After 'crying her way' through a 60-mile race in September, Nicole applied for the West Highland Way event in November.

"I cried with delight when I got my email saying I was in," she said.

She began her training program in January. Nicole said the plan was 'focused order'.

“I wanted to stand on the start line knowing I had done everything I possibly could," Nicole said.

"I did the Hardmoors 60 again but was really ill again.

"On reflection that was quite good because recovering gave me a good rest break. I then stuck to the plan until I tapered. Then I didn’t sleep for three weeks.”

Every day until race day was filled with running intervals, endurance and resting.

“In terms of ultra-running, you cannot be too prepared," Nicole said.

"It's better to over prepare and under train. I was closely following the weather forecast and I took all my winter kit.

"There were people dropping out because they didn’t have the right kit.

The race briefing was at Milngavie Railway Station, north of Glasgow, at 12.30am on race day.

“I loved the start. I loved the briefing. I loved the first 19 miles,” Nicole said.

“Leaving Balmaha I was surprised at the number of inclines but then I hit the lakeside. I know that the lakeside has a reputation of being really hard but the reputation doesn’t do it justice. It was ridiculous.

“Having done my first mile way slower than I thought I would I then decided to try and fell-run the lakeside and spent four hours just panicking I wouldn’t make the cut off.”

Runners who don’t make the cut-off times are out of the race. If Nicole wasn’t at Beinglas Farm by 1pm, her race was done.

“A lovely runner pointed out Dario’s post,” she said.

“As you go past Dario’s Post, you cannot see the next check point. At that point if the checkpoint had been three miles away I do not think I would have got to it."

She checked in with 20 minutes to spare.

"Other people checked in after me," Nicole said.

"I was really shaken. From the point where I started worrying about the cut off the whole race just felt incredibly stressful.

"All I could think about was ‘am I going to make the next cut off?’ I was constantly doing maths in my head."

She remembered the emotional moment she finished the race.

“I went round that corner and I expected to only see a few people there but it felt like there were hundreds," Nicole said.

She said everyone should run.

“You can so easily talk yourself out of being able to do something and your body will try and talk you out of doing it because your body does not want to feel the discomfort,” she said.

“The very first time you run a mile your body is telling you to stop because you are out of breath and uncomfortable. So much is about mentality.

"The hardest bit of running is going from zero to five kilometres because you are going from nothing to something.

"Everything else is just doubling – 0-5k, 5-10k – but that is not even a percentage increase. That is starting from zero.

“I genuinely think that a 50 mile run and a 100 mile run are becoming what a marathon used to be. It is still a small percentage of the population that have run a marathon but it used to be a really unusual thing."