Chris Bell: Thoughts from an Ultra Runner

Bangkok Runners is this amazing and welcoming running group—that is how I was introduced to Chris. On the weekends, runners would meet to run in the Khao Mai Keow jungle, located outside of Pattaya, Thailand. He rarely missed. Sometimes even when I had made no plans of a group trail blaze, I would bump into Chris in the jungle. There is nothing like running among venomous snakes in the hot and humid jungle that solidifies a bond. It takes a certain kind of person to actively pursue those types of runs.
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At the start of the Ultra Trail Unseen Koh Chang race. One of the toughest races I have done. Chris, in the center, did the 66k.
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This is how I remember Chris. Cleaning house with all his winning.
Chris Bell has competitively run countless races. He has moved from Thailand and is now in the United Kingdom, continuing his impressive running stats. I shot him some questions to hear his perspective on running.
How long have you been running? I started running towards the end of 2011 when I was living in Bangkok. I hadn’t been very active for a few years, and felt that my health was suffering. I had never been a runner before this, as I always found myself out of breath and exhausted within a couple of minutes, and that wasn’t much fun. I figured that because it was so difficult, it would be a great way of getting my fitness and health back on track. With the high temperature and humidity in Thailand, I decided to start out by running inside an air conditioned room on a treadmill. It took a while, but eventually I felt my fitness and endurance improving, and progressed to running outside. Running outside was much more fun than running on a treadmill, and I found myself more motivated able to run for longer and longer distances. In June 2012, I ran my first race. It was the Phuket Half Marathon in the south of Thailand. In training I had only managed to run up to 16km, so I was very nervous about being able to complete the 21.1km. Fortunately, the fantastic atmosphere and adrenaline rush of race day made all the difference, and I was able to make it to the finish in a time of 1hr, 52min. It was one of the proudest moments of my life to have completed a half marathon, knowing that running even 100m was almost an impossibility about 8 months before. I was hooked.
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Phuket Half Marathon
What is the longest distance you have run? Over the years I’ve upped the distance on the races I’ve entered. One of the biggest milestones was my first marathon in Bangkok in November of 2013. It was extremely tough, but after completing a race of this distance, I genuinely believed that any distance was possible with sufficient training, motivation, dedication, and a fair amount of stubbornness. After the marathon, it wasn’t much of a jump to do a 50km ultra-marathon, although since it was a trail race, it took a lot longer to complete than a marathon. 7 hours and 6 min to be precise. That’s a long time to be on your feet in the sun, but it gave me the confidence to go on to even longer challenges. My next major milestone was 100km at the North Face 100 Thailand in January 2016. It was a long and very hot race, but it felt incredible to cross the finish line. After a few more 100km races, I took on my biggest challenge to date – a 100 mile trail race in Sherwood Forest, England in September 2017. Despite a few issues during the race, my stubbornness helped me to make it to the finish in 17 hours 46 minutes, and take the overall win. It feels amazing to think that 6 years before I couldn’t run 100 metres without being completely out of breath, and 128 races and a lot of training later, I was able to win a 100 mile race. It just shows what we can accomplish if we put our minds to it.
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Hip flask trophy for his first place 100 mile finish!
How does one train for races that last through the night? I haven’t really given much thought to training for races that last through the night. I suppose it’s just the same as any long race – you just need to focus on keeping moving forward. As long as you keep yourself fed and hydrated and keep going, you’ll make it through to the morning. If you keep upping your distance, over time you become used to running while exhausted, and that prepares you for long races in the dark.
Trail or road? Why? For me, trail is far more enjoyable than road. The variety of surface, the challenging climbs and descents, and the amazing scenery of trail running makes it much more fun than running on flat roads. Every runner should try trail running. 
What has been your favorite race so far? My favourite race so far is a difficult one. There have been so many great ones that it’s almost impossible to choose. Transylvania 100k is up there due to the amazing scenery and the difficulty of the course and conditions. The London Marathon was a special race due to the great support from the crowds and the fact that I’d watched it on tv many times when I was growing up, and never thought that I’d be out there running it myself. If I had to choose one race though, it has to be the Ocean to Ocean relay race in Thailand in 2014. This was a 120km road race that started on the west coast of Thailand (the Indian Ocean side), and ended on the East coast (the Pacific Ocean side). What made this race so unforgettable for me was the people that took part in the race with me. The 8 of us knew each other slightly before travelling down together, but by then end of the event we were all great friends who would go on to share many other great adventures together. Running can be a very solitary sport sometimes. A lot of people train on their own, and end up racing alone, even when surrounded by many other runners. I would highly recommend that people try a team relay event if they get the chance. It’s really nice to be able to share the race experience so closely with others, and this can bring a bond and friendship between you that lasts long after the event has ended.
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Thailand’s Ocean to Ocean crew.
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Post London Marathon beer and medal.
As a fellow traveling runner, what are some travel races you would suggest others to venture to and take on? Although I have completed a lot of races, I’ve not done that many in different countries. Having been based in Thailand for almost 12 years, I’ve done a lot of races there. After relocating back to the UK, I’ve started to tick off a few of the races over here too. Other than that I’ve only done a marathon in Tenerife and the Transylvania 100k in Romania. In my limited experience, I’d have to recommend the Transylania trail race to any experienced trail runners out there. It’s not one to be taken lightly though, and is a serious challenge no matter which of the different race distances you decide to tackle. Although I haven’t done much in the way of long distance travelling to races, it’s something that I hope to increase in the future. It’s a great way to see new countries, and have a fantastic race experience at the same time.
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Transylvania 100k
What is a race you would like to forget? If I had to choose a race to forget it has to be the Bangkok Marathon. Amazingly, I did this event twice. The first time was my first ever marathon, so I guess it holds a special place in my memory. However, the course itself was awful. The route went along an elevated 3-lane expressway in a straight line for 13 miles, did a u-turn and then came back the same way. It started at 2am, so everything was dark and the only thing you could see was the white lines on the road and the concrete barriers at the road sides. There was no support, and nothing to take your mind off the long straight road ahead. Mentally, it was extremely tough as it felt like you were not making any forward progress. It stands out above all other races I’ve done as the most boring and tedious race out there. I still don’t really know why I signed up a 2nd time, but I regretted it for pretty much the whole way around and vowed not to sign up a third time.
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Bangkok Marathon–the race to forget.
You are about to leave for a fell race. Could you explain the history of fell races? Fell running is a traditionally British sport, and is sometimes referred to an hill running or mountain running. A fell is classed as a hilly or mountainous area that is usually barren. It is often very rocky and may or may not have clearly defined trails. What makes fell running stand out from trail running is the focus on steep, technical climbs and descents, and the need for navigation skills. Fell races often don’t have a clearly defined route, but instead give out the co-ordinates of a number of different locations that must be passed. It is up to each runner to decide which route to take. You may choose to follow small trails that are easy to follow but can be long and windy, or go the direct route straight up near vertical ascents over even more technical terrain. The best fell runners know the local terrain like the back of their hand, and are strong on the climbs and fearless on the descents.
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What are your thoughts on doing this race? It is an intense and exciting form of racing that requires a lot of concentration, fitness, and a touch of madness. I’m always excited and a bit nervous when I head out to fell races as I know that in order to do well you have to push yourself to the limit on the climbs and take big risks on the downhills. I always get a big rush of adrenaline, and a feeling of relief when I get to the finish in one piece.
The classic running question–why do you run? Why do I run? I started running purely for health and fitness, as I mentioned earlier. However, I found that after a short while I began to love it. The feeling of freedom running through forests and jungles, over hills and mountains and along rivers and coastlines under your own power is something that always fills me with joy and makes me feel alive. Knowing that I am getting such a lift whilst also doing a lot to improve my health and energy levels is a huge bonus. I’ve also found myself making some great and long-lasting friendships with people from all around the world through running. No matter the background of the runner, we all share a common bond when we run, and this brings everyone together. Running is fundamentally such a simple thing, but it has the power to change lives. I encourage everyone to get out there and give it a try.
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Dirk Petersilie: International Trailrunner

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I met Dirk when we were in the middle of the Bucegi Mountains, running 50k through Transylvania, Romania. We became running buddies after leapfrogging on the trail for a while. As you can imagine, it was a difficult race–it was nice to have someone to chat with and help decide the best place to cross a flowing river. One of the best aspects of doing these travel races is meeting interesting people from around the world. Dirk is from Germany and I quickly realized he was a fellow world travel runner. After talking with him, he has certainly inspired me to get to Germany for some ultras, along with some other races around the world.

Hear a bit about him and his running and traveling life below.

1. How long have you been running? Since 1999 – First marathon was in 2001.

2. What is the longest distance you have run? 100km Biel, in Switzerland

3. Trail or road? Why? I prefer trail! The best combination would be trail AND mountains. I enjoy it because it is not the same pace during the whole distance, better landscape, and better for the mind and body!

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4. What has been your favorite race so far? I have done 53 marathons an 15 ultras, so I have some favorites. A few of them would be the Swiss Alpine Davos and the Virgin Marathon in Interlaken, both of which are mountain runs in Swiss Alps.  The Transylvania 50k in Romania was nice, but very hard, as you know 😉 Desert Marathon in Morocco!

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5. As a fellow traveling runner, what are some travel races you would suggest others to venture out and take on? All runs in the Swiss Alps. Transylvania100 for different tracks. Desert runs in Morocco are nice too! The Netherlands and Belgium have some nice trails, from marathon to ultra. Here in Germany we have the Zugspitz UltraTrail with some different courses. Also, the Helgoland Marathon on the island farthest from the mainland from Germany is very nice!

 

6. What is a race you would like to forget?  Getting Tough – The Race. It is the hardest obstacle race in Europe. After a bad illness in 2015, I did it 2016 for the 3rd time and it was my first DNF– 250 meters in front of the finish line.

7. What race are you training for currently? I train the whole year and “normal” marathons I can run whenever I want. Now I have no special focus. Maybe in the autumn some mountain runs somewhere or ultras in Germany or in the Netherlands.

8. What challenges have you come across with training? Nothing really–maybe sometimes the balancing act between family, running and my other sports.

 

9. The classic running question–why do you run? Running is a sport I can do every where, any time, and by myself. I don’t need a room, a hall, a court, a partner, or any special time to do it. I feel free during running and sometimes I have a lot time to think. I can travel to all over the world, put my shoes on, and I can run for sightseeing. When I participate in a race, I can meet and talk with new people.

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Rachael Anderson: Ultrarunner Taking on Vol State 500km

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I have gotten to meet some really great runners from around the world, all of whom inspire me in different ways. This is Rachael Anderson. She will be taking on Vol State 500km…for a second time.

I met Rachael when we both showed up to run with Bangkok Runners in Khao Mai Keow, Thailand. This awesome group would organize meet ups to run in the jungle occasionally, because we liked to torture ourselves with heat and humidity, in good company of course.

Neither one of us is in Thailand anymore, but I have been following her running and it is most impressive. Check out what she has to say:

1. What is your everyday occupation?

I’m a high school calculus teacher at an international school in Pakistan.

2. How many ultras have you done? What was your favorite or most memorable?

I’ve actually only done three races that qualify as ultras – two 50km races and the 2017 Last Annual Vol State (LAVS) 500km race. I’ve also done the Camino de Santiago – a 500 mile hike across Spain – twice.

My favorite race has to be LAVS just because of the sheer difficultly of the undertaking and the camaraderie I experienced during and after the race. When you’re put in a situation like that with other people, you quickly become a family.

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3. What is your next big race you have been training for?

I’ve spent the past 10 months training for the 2018 LAVS, which will be held from July 12-22. The course starts in Dorena Landing, Missouri and ends in Castle Rock, Georgia, crossing the state of Tennessee.

4. Where do you live and does it impact training?

I live in Pakistan, so I’m limited to my compound when it comes to training. Luckily, I have access to a nice weight room, a 25m pool, a 400m track, and a 1km loop around the school. My training is largely solitary and I have to work hard to keep up my motivation.  I rely on podcasts and audiobooks to keep my mind occupied on long runs.

Another issue with training in Pakistan is the heat. The temperature in Karachi, where I live, is above 80 degrees for the majority of the year and can get up to 120 degrees in the summer. This isn’t a dry heat either. Due to our proximity to the Indian Ocean, it is quite humid throughout the year. This makes training brutal, but I know that it will be worth it when I’m running through Tennessee in the middle of the summer.

5. How do you prepare for a 500 kilometer (314 mile) unaided race?

This is really a difficult question, and I think the answer heavily depends on the person. A lot of my fellow runners do back to back runs on the weekend. So, perhaps 30 miles on Saturday and another 20 miles on Sunday. This is a fairly typical staple of ultra training but, under the direction of my coach, I did something a bit different this year.

My training generally consists of 9-10 workouts spread over six days, with one rest day per week. These include swimming, cycling (I use an indoor trainer and Zwift), weightlifting, and running (15-20 miles a week). My entire training plan has been built around heart rate zones, in order to improve my endurance and aerobic capacity. I also do journey runs/walks when I’m outside of Pakistan. For these, I take a small pack with a bit of food and water, and then just head out on 20 or 30 mile walk to the next town. It gets me comfortable with navigation, walking next to traffic, and dealing with unforeseen issues like a lack of water (because I dropped a bottle without realizing it).

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6. What are your expectations of Vol State?

Last year I finished in 7 days, 18 hours by mainly walking and getting 6-8 hours of sleep each night in a hotel. This year, I hope to finish in under 6 days by sleeping less and running more.

 7. How long do you expect recovery to take?

After last year’s race, I was able to run again within a few days, although it took about 3 weeks for me to feel 100% again. I expect this year to be about the same in terms of recovery.

8. Do you have any pre-race routines or advice to offer runners considering doing an ultra?

The biggest piece of advice I have is to understand that there is no one way to do an ultra and that a linear progression through race distances is largely unnecessary. I get asked often about how many half marathons and marathons I did before I started running ultras. The answer is none. In fact, the first marathon I did was this year, which is a solid 5 years after I ran my first ultramarathon. This goes for training as well. What works for other people may not work for you – it’s a learning process. So, have fun, talk to other ultrarunners, and figure out what does work for you.

9. The big runner question–why do you do ultras of this magnitude?

Running 500km was the first time in my life where I felt like I had been stripped down to my core both emotionally and physically and actually got a glimpse of who I really was. It was both terrifying and exhilarating and, now that I’ve seen it, I have an unquenchable desire to figure out just how far I can push myself.

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Rachael also has a UMDF page that she has been updating. This page is for collecting donations that go directly to the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation and help to fund much needed research into these illnesses.

Consider donating to United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation

Interview with Mr. G: Running Told by My Other Half

Often, we run to become become better people. Hopefully, we become better people not only for ourselves, but for those that have to interact with us.

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An example of Mr. G holding down the fort, while I am racing in Romania.

Mr. G gets asked a lot how he feels about my running, so I decided to throw some questions at him for the curious.

Here are his thoughts:

1. The classic question–what do you do while Tara runs?

Try to keep the children from getting injured.  Make sure the house doesn’t burn down.  Sneak in some recording/editing time for YouTube.  Check my watch and make sure that you aren’t coming in way later than you should.

2. How does my running impact your life? 

It makes my marriage much better, because it makes you happy.  Running keeps you sane, and that has been really good for our relationship.

3. Do you run with her?

I have chased after Tara a few times. In particular in airports. If we have a tight connection to make you’re on your own for speed.  So, I’ve gotten some really good cardio in packing Baby G across airports at full speed. That’s about it for running. I will also do an occasional 5k, for the kids.

4. How do you feel about Tara’s running? 

She is really good at it.  It’s something she enjoys that brings her pleasure.  Everyone needs a passion.  Everyone needs one thing separate from work, or even family.  Something that is just for them.  For Tara that is running.  For me it’s YouTube.  We support one another in both of these endeavors and our relationship is stronger for it.

5. Tell about a time or two that stand out as memorable.

The most memorable time for me ever was when Tara had a trail run in Bosnia in the mountains.  The day of the run there was a particularly bad, unexpected blizzard up in the mountains.  It was the first time I ever saw my wife ask a race director if she could switch to a shorter distance.  We were both worried, but I know that if I tell Tara she shouldn’t do something, then she is more likely to dig in her heels and do it.  So, whenever she asks me if she should do a race, I always answer with this:

“Will you regret not having done this?  Which feels better to you, staying home and sitting this one out, or signing up and going for it?”

Long story short, she completed the race.  She got lost a few times, her phone nearly died, there were scares about mine fields, I called search and rescue, and had a speedy drive to the finish line.  However, that story deserves it’s own telling from start to finish, so I’ll save my side of that one for another time.