Mind over Ultra-marathon

Mind over Ultra-marathon

kerry sutton mud

So, in our last interview with ultra-marathon runner, mother of four, Kerry Sutton talked about how she got into ultra-running and we were due to follow this with her insights from the Everest trail race and how she created a business out of her fitness.  However, just lately she has had to deal with physical setbacks  and these have required a new perspective, a readjustment of goals and a different mind-set.  These are issues many of us have to deal with.  We felt opening up about these and sharing them here might help others who are facing similar challenges in life.

In a surprisingly honest piece, the lady who kicks ass – and other people’s asses – opens her heart & mind, laying bare how she conquers her running demons, deals with injury and gets back to peak mental strength.  And while you’re reading this, think back to how Kerry started – 2km races were a mountain to climb – and  then you’ll understand why the key to restarting is going back to your roots.

Kerry can’t face running outside. Injury has changed the direction of her training and her mental strength is depleting.  Running has been so much more to her than putting one foot in front of the other – it’s how she has defined her life beyond being a mother, worked through issues, resolved problems and made plans. Using it as time to work through lifes to-do lists during those hours and hours of running.

Kerry Sutton ultra runner

But now she is back to square one – wrestling with her own ability and self-confidence not able to put the hours in.

A hip Injury has put her out of four races this year and now she has a battle between brain and body to deal with.

“Dealing with injury isn’t just about coping with the physical – the pain, loss of fitness, the weight gain etc. It’s as much about dealing with the mental side. The way you overcome an injury, deal with the set back and build yourself back up is as defining as is the running itself. Running requires courage, confidence, persistence, refusal to give up, strength and facing an injury is not different. “

Whilst unable to do her usual training due to the hip injury Kerry has had to be creative and find other ways to keep fit.

“Its important to not give in to the injury but rather get creative. Find other relevant ways to keep fit that won’t impinge on injury. Maybe its time to focus on your Strength and Conditioning or get on your bike…”

The personal soundtrack Kerry has created to overcome obstacles is to keep moving on…

“The minute I know I’m out of one race I sweep it aside and focus on the next one.  I work towards my goal until a couple of weeks out then make the call.  If I can’t do it I won’t labour on the decision but mentally lock it away and start my training campaign for the next race – hurdling injuries and issues that prevent me from racing. This keeps my focus and stops me slipping into despair. Rather than allowing a  ‘woe me ‘kind of attitude to take hold I try to keep focused on what I CAN do. ’

When I was training for my first MDS I was totally in the zone for going out for a long period of time – dropping my kids of at school and being out all day until pick up.  I didn’t think anything of running literally all day. But now the ability to get my head around for running four, five, six hours at a time has gone – it’s totally left my psyche. It’s not uncommon. But it’s an uncomfortable place to be for an ultra runner leading to questions of ‘can I do this, what’s wrong with me’. The fire has gone out.’

Kerry knows it’s easy to beat yourself up and start to think you aren’t good enough, question whether you’ll never be able to do it again. It’s at this point she takes a step back and looks at all aspects of her life.

“ We are not machines, robots who work in a vacuum of emotion and who on command run fast, endlessly or without doubt. We are humans who are sensitive to the environment around us.” In my case, I was under a lot of emotional stress and had been for a number of years. This had finally caught up with me. I didn’t have the reservoir of energy I needed to push myself. It had been drained over time. So it was time to look at what I could do, what I enjoyed and to change my goals slightly. I still loved to run for all the reasons outlined above but I couldn’t run long. So I did two runs a day, same distance but in small chunks. Another way that worked for me was I’d start on the treadmill and run 30 mins, then move to the stepper, then move to the elliptical and repeat. This way I could break the session up in to manageable chunks none of which lasted long. What I found was I had built success because I’d not set myself up for failure. I have worked with what I knew I could do and then without the pressure had achieved what I started the session feeling was impossible.

These are small victories – rebooting and relearning strategies. Being flexible with your body and soul and mindful that your mental state is transient.”

And the moral of the story…. Sometimes the stress of life is to be managed and not to fought against

This is fundamental – running must come alongside life, family, stress. It can’t add more pressure, more sense of failure, lack of self-worth.  It must benefit and blend – all the more important when you’re staring down the barrel of long school summer holidays!  Imagination is the mother of invention! We are no pro-runners who have all day to run, eat, sleep repeat. We have jobs and families and running is another aspect of our already complicated lives.

Find a way of making it happen in your life, be honest and be creative. One of my ultra students used to pack her rucksack with all the jobs she needed doing and run from her house three miles out of Bath – returning items back to shops, buying the kids’ tea, taking dry cleaning.  All the mundane hurdles sent to scupper your training.  But marathon running as all about changing muscle groups so the stop-start of doing your errand while out on a run is perfect. As is carrying laundry up and down flights of stairs – managing the brain-numbing boredom of multiple reps stacking up mental strength as well as ironing piles!”

Kerry is now back on form and training for the CCC.

After 9 months of being plagued with a hip injury which meant I had to pull out of all my races this year bar one,  I saw a Consultant who told me I have to stop running for ever. Things weren’t looking good. However, patience and refusing to go without a fight, an injection and careful, select training later (very little running) I toed the start line of what turned out to be one of the hardest races I’ve ever done, the 24th Conti Thunder Run. Hardest because I was unprepared physically but the rain, oh my God, the rain! It was unrelenting for the entire race. This turned the trail into a slippery, quagmire of clay. However, 16 laps done and a wee trophy for my efforts…. stoked doesn’t come close… from every dark tunnel you will eventually come out into the light.”

Kerry Suttonon the podium 1st Prize Catton Park #Tyresforyourfeet #GetYourGrip


Kerry Sutton 1st Prize Catton Park #Tyresforyourfeet #GetYourGrip

Thank you Kerry Sutton, for this honest and truly remarkable insight into your year. If you’d like to follow Kerry, you’ll find her on twitter @kerryultra.