I AM Fundraiser Takes On 215 Mile Challenge

We are delighted to introduce Helen Rennie who is taking on an incredible 215 mile ultra marathon run for our charity in August this year. She’ll be raising much needed funds to support autistic children and adults in Manchester and the surrounding area. 

1. What in the world motivates a person to run the Race Across Scotland Ultra Marathon (215 miles)?

For me it’s the challenge and the adventure.  That along with the fact that I find it fascinating to see what our bodies are capable of if we have the right mind set.  Whilst I obviously enjoy the races I enter, there is obviously a lot of training that has to go in, and it’s the whole ‘journey’ that I enjoy.  I’ve specifically entered Race Across Scotland as it will be the furthest I have attempted to date.

2. Have you run a marathon before? 

Yes, in 2016 I ran Manchester Marathon, then in 2017 I ran Rock n Roll Liverpool Marathon, and signed up for a trail marathon later in 2017.  This trail marathon turned out to be 29 miles on the day (almost 3 miles over marathon distance), so that made me think ‘if I can run 3 miles further than a marathon, then how much further can I run’, which is what started my ultra marathon journey.  I then signed up for a 35-mile race in 2018, and it’s seriously escalated from there.

3. Describe the training process for an ultra marathon. How are you preparing – both mentally and physically? 

Training for an ultra marathon is a mixture of things, really. Obviously there is the physical side of things, so training on terrain similar to what you’ll run in the race and spending plenty of time on the legs to get used to moving on them tired. The number of miles covered / time spent running in a week will differ from runner to runner. In a standard week, I will run three times minimum, consisting of a shorter, easier run, an interval run or hill repeats session, and then a longer run at the weekend. Throughout the week, I also do strength sessions. I play badminton and go indoor climbing, so I’m generally very active. 

During my longer training runs I’ll practice fuelling; what foods work for me, and that kind of thing. During an ultra marathon you have to regularly eat to maintain energy levels. There is also a mental side of training, so prepare yourself for the fact that at several points throughout the race you will feel awful and at times very low, and it’s knowing this and being aware of it so you can push yourself through these lows. This is what the physical training helps with. The physical training isn’t about training so that it doesn’t hurt, it’s training so that you learn to tolerate it.

4. What has been the most surprising thing to you about ultra marathon training? 

I’ve ran several ultra marathons, and I’ve met a number of different people on training runs or during races. The most surprising thing for me is how different everyone’s training looks even though they are running the same event. You would think that everyone trains similarly – they will to an extent, but it’s just mileage / time on feet differs massively among entrants to these events. I guess it makes sense when you think about it, as different things work for different people, and it’s difficult for most people to fit in training around family, work and other commitments.

5. What kinds of things do you think about as you run?

Allsorts! When I’m out on training runs at weekends, this is my ‘headspace’ to process everything that’s gone on that week. Other times, I am not thinking at all and just enjoy being out on the trails. If I’m running a race, then I might be thinking, ‘only x miles to the next checkpoint’, or ‘I can eat that chocolate bar in my drop bag at the next checkpoint.’

6. What is your main goal on race day?

My only goal for the race is to complete it within the cut off time.

7. Why did you choose to fundraise for I AM?

I chose I AM, because they have supported my nephew and his family. My nephew is 18 years old, and is on the autistic spectrum. Towards the end of lockdown, Louis was pretty much at a point of refusing to leave the house because this was simply too much for him. His mum encouraged him to go and try out a youth club run by I AM Celebrating Autism. Louis, previously, was generally never ready to go out on time. However, since attending the youth club a few times, every week he was ready on time to go out to youth club. He said to his mum, ‘I just feel like I fit in when I go there’. Louis has now made friends at the youth club. Attending the youth clubs has really helped his confidence. It has also helped him settle into college, and he also got his first job.

8. What will your pre-marathon ritual be?

I don’t really have pre-race ritual. It’s usually an early start, so up, dressed, eat, and out. If there is one thing I do before every race through it would be checking my kit around 10 times! There is more often than not a mandatory kit you have to carry for ultra marathon’s stipulated by the event organisers. You can can get disqualified for not having the correct mandatory kit. Therefore, before heading out to the start, paranoia sets in that you haven’t got everything you should (even though you’ve already checked a further 10 times the day before!

9. And finally, what’s the first thing you’re going to do after the marathon? 

Once I get home after the ultra marathon, I’ll be resting and eating a lot! I’ll also speak to those closest to me and let them know how the event went.

10. What are your top tips for other people who are thinking about taking a similar challenge? 

My advice to people thinking about taking on a similar challenge, for something like a 215 mile run, is first to ensure you start with shorter distances! Other than that, it would be to practice being on the feet for a number of hours at a time, and ensuring you’ve practised fuelling and practised with kit before race day. It’s incredibly rewarding to take on and complete events like this, and in addition to that, if you do get into ultra running you’ll discover a really friendly and helpful community of like minded people out there.

If you would like to support Helen on her amazing challenge please click here

To find out about how I AM can offer support contact us at admin@i-am autism.org.uk or give us a call on 0161 866 8483
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