Thursday, 31 May 2012

USA Day 21 - Revisited (21/05/2011)

I'll start day 21's "USA Revisited" blog post with a question from Simon Collett who is one of my followers on Twitter (@simonc77). Simon asked "What did you find harder to conquer everyday. The mental challenge or the physical challenge?". Thanks for your question Simon. It's one that I get asked on a regular basis and have yet to provide a decent answer. Until now, I hope! 

I always expected that, based on my previous run from John O'Groats to Lands End in 2007, the run across the USA would require, say, 80% physical strength and 20% mental strength at the start. By the time I got close to New York, I expected that statistic to have flipped on it's head with 80% mental strength required and 20% physical strength. I had previously believed that you could roughly represent the personal effort required to run across the USA in those terms. This wasn't always the case however. What actually happened on a daily basis during the run was not quite so cut and dried and was dependant on many factors. There are so many things that happen on an endurance event of this magnitude that can affect your physical and mental wellbeing.

The two main factors affecting physical state are the daily mileage and environmental conditions. You could also add into that the amount of sleep and recovery time you get between days or even sessions during the day. I suppose the food that I ate is also worthy of mention. Needless to say that the first 20 days had been very tough physically. Having to run 30+ miles in the temperatures that I experienced in the Mojave Desert was very demanding on the body. Running at altitude was tough too. As you'll see over the coming blog posts, I spent a lot of time running at an altitude of over 6000 ft.

There are so many factors that contributed to my state of mind. Being away from my family was the biggest one. Thinking about the daily and overall distance that I had to run would constantly play on my mind. The almost ever present mileage deficit as you will see around day 90 was one of the biggest threats to the run. The mood and behaviour of the support team effected me on numerous occasions. I could go on.

With all of the above factors changing on an almost daily basis there was an ever-changing set of  mental and physical challenges to overcome. No 2 days were ever the same. No 2 hours were ever the same. No 2 miles were ever the same. 

You'll see that some of the physical challenges I write about over the coming 80 posts were incredibly difficult to overcome. As it turned out, it would seem that I was actually quite well equipped to deal with them. Who knew?!

The mental challenges, that you will read about, however, quite literally brought me to my knees at various times. To answer Simon's original question, I think that conquering the mental challenge was the most difficult out of the 2 aspects of the run across the USA. The mental strength and effort required to complete the run across the USA was considerable. Over the final 80 blog posts, I'll be writing about the various tricks and techniques that I used to win the mental battle. I'll be writing about how and why I nearly lost that battle.

I hope that's a decent enough answer Simon. It's a really difficult question to answer. Thanks for taking time out for sending it. 

I'm happy to answer any other questions in future blog posts. Please email them to

Meanwhile, back to day 21 which started with a brisk massage from Kirsty who said "Day 21 saw a change in tactics, a pre run massage to wake Mark’s legs up nice and early to get a large percentage of the days mile done so there wasn’t a panic at the end of the day. This seemed to work really well and Mark seemed a lot happier with this, probably as he was able to sleep some more while I massaged!".

Kirsty is spot on with her comment there. As well as having a benefit to my running, an early morning massage meant more time to sleep. It took about 20 minutes to complete which bought me valuable extra resting time before the inevitable daily haul of miles started. 

As I set off from Bauers Canyon Ranch RV Park in Glendale at 5850 ft I found that my legs felt a lot more loose than normal. The rest of me, however, was very sleepy. I'd spent a lot of time the night before updating the blog and answering tweets and emails.

It was a beautiful sunny morning as I made my way up Long Valley, Utah. The temperature still called for a few layers and a wooly hat though. 

There were pastures with horses grazing, fast flowing streams and the odd waterfall. It was one of the most beautiful settings that I have ever ran in nestled between the Dixie National Forest and Bryce Canton National Park. 

The climb away from Glendale was every bit as challenging as it was spectacular. It was 7.5 miles before I reached the first false summit at 6828 ft. It was at this point that I had a triple decker bacon and egg sandwich as cooked by Stephen (pictured below). It had the salt and fat that I craved. I'm certain that I could have eaten something more healthy but it's what by body appeared to be screaming out for.

I set off again, still very sleepy and still climbing up Long Valley. The scenery continued to amaze me, mile after mile. The weather continued to be fantastic too. The higher I climbed the more green and less red there appeared to be.

I found myself having to take bigger gulps of air the higher up I got. By the time I reached the day's summit of 7450 ft after 14 miles of running I felt so sleepy. It was time for a tactical snooze!

The 10 miles after the tactical snooze, with a drop of just 400 ft, were much quicker than usual. Unfortunately, I had to stop to refuel as I felt I was running on empty. This was such a shame and I lost all of the speed in the final session of the day.

I could see some huge mountains in the distance during the final session of the day. I stopped running after 30.2 miles when a bit of broken skin on my left foot became very sore. My feet had been relatively pain free and unswollen for a whole week so I suppose something was due to happen to them. 

I summed up the day in the following tweet to David Fairlamb "@DF_Fitness Tough start (14), quick middle (10), slow finish (7)". I think that it was a fair assessment of day 21.

The day ended with a fundraising total of £33,079.53. That meant that £1000 per week had been raised during the 3 weeks that I'd been running in the USA. I knew that the weekly figure would have to increase slightly if I were to reach the target of £50,000 by the time I reached the finish line in 11 weeks.