British ultrarunner Damian Hall loves being an underdog, but his recent successes mean he no longer toes a start line without expectation. We chat to Damian about the draw of the Pennine Way, the power of a positive mindset and training in his 40s. Enjoy!
Damian Hall…on a positive mindset
Ultras are an emotional rollercoaster. You’ll experience physical highs and lows throughout the course, but the emotional peaks and troughs also impact performance. But it’s hard to keep emotions in check when you’re physically drained.
“There’s a tendency to tell yourself it’s a disaster when actually you’re still having a great race or things are going fine”, Damian says.
“Try and have a bit of perspective. Try to be relaxed about it”.
You can watch our full interview with Damian on the 33Fuel YouTube Channel here:
I too have seen how easy it is to get caught up in the apparent importance of a finishing position. Toeing the line at the North Downs Way 100 some years ago, I was solely focussed on a Top 10 finish. Dropping out of the Top 10 around Mile 82, I became so negative. I’d failed. I was so close to a DNF but pushed on to finish 14th. Had I kept perspective, I may have resurrected the situation and gained places – and would certainly have enjoyed the closing miles more - but with that mindset it was never going to happen.
When you’ve spent months preparing, it’s easy to think that outcome is the be-all and end-all...
...that the outcome will define you as a person...
...that if you don’t finish or perform to your max then you’re a failure.
Of course, this just isn’t true. Keeping perspective in the tough moments is critical not only for optimal performance, but also a more enjoyable experience.
"Try to be unemotional. It's not easy but when doing an event or a race try to remove the emotion".
Damian Hall…on being flexible
Ultramarathons are so long that even the best laid plans need to be flexible as unforeseen factors will appear.
“I spoke to the psychologist on the Spine Race [a 270-mile non-stop romp along Pennine Way]”, Damian says. “She said the key word to doing well at a race like this was adaptability”.
Have a plan but be adaptable with it.
Damian Hall…on nutrition and decision making
The science is clear. A lack of fuel to the brain impairs decision-making. In ultras, decision making can be the difference between a great performance and a dangerous situation.
“At least give yourself the right fuel and enough fuel regularly in order to make good decisions. Because when you’re depleted, you start to make bad decisions. When the brain is starved of the fuel it needs, and you get colder, sometimes it’s not as simple as putting an extra layer on if you’re not fuelling too”.
Feed on the good stuff - you'll make better decisions
“I’ve had some races where I get into a negative mindset. Even my most recent UTMB [where Damian finished an astonishing 5th place], after two or three hours I was in a very negative mindset. Really, I was probably just under-fuelled a bit.
If I think negatively, I always try to eat and drink because it’s often sub-optimal fuelling”.
“It’s easy when you’re racing to forget to eat, especially over races that long. But if things aren’t going your way, make sure your fuelling is on point”.
Damian Hall…on coping strategies
On his FKT attempt on the 630-mile South West Coast Path, Damian set the record at just under 11 days, averaging just 3 hours sleep per night.
“Towards the end I discovered the power of the power sob. I would explode and let out a wail and a sob for 5 or 10 seconds and then I always felt amazing!”.
When you're in the pits, try to laugh a little. It'll boost performance
When you can’t sob, smile! Studies have shown that smiling or seeing smiles improves performance.
Damian Hall…on training in his 40s
Now in his early 40s, Damian recognises he needs to adapt his training.
“I used to get away with less sleep. But now I realise I need to consider it properly as part of my training. I’ve got to factor that rest and sleep in”. We know all about how to improve performance through sleep.
Over shorter races, the difference between a 20-year old and 40-year old are larger, but in an ultra experience matters. So much, in fact, that it can trump fitness. As Damian says:
“Over 100-miles, the playing field is levelled. It’s more of a game of chess. There’s more of a chance for a slower or older athlete to catch up. I haven’t noticed a downturn [in performance] yet”.
In ultra running, experience often outweighs fitness
It means that, in ultrarunning, age can be of benefit but maintaining muscle mass is important.
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