At the end of this week, 6pm on Friday, with a very-apposite Nessun Dorma ringing in his ears and somewhere towards the back of 350 or so 'runners', my husband Martin will be heading off from Coniston to run to, er, Coniston.
It's a mostly middle-aged-male form of madness that involves racing from A to A, via several places carefully chosen to extend the route (distance/ time/ effort/ sleep deprivation/ pain) to an appropriate level of -ness. This ultra (as in ultra-marathon) is the Ultra Tour of the Lake District, aka UTLD, Lakeland 100 or simply 'The Hundred'.
The last two times, Martin subverted sponsor Montane's 'further, faster' mantra into 'not quite far enough, and a little bit too slow' by dropping out with heatstroke and then back pain from walking with a twisted spine, 97-miles in (it’s mis-named, the distance is really 105 miles. He wasn’t all that close). This year's different. The reason? It's all in the mind.
Seriously, Martin tells me, as with any truly effortful enterprise, the first 90% is all about the physical, and the second 90% is mental all the way. The final 10% he tells me, is when you realise that you really are going to make it, emotional. Those who are really competing probably don't see it like that, but Martin’s not in their class - for him it's all about survival.
But this year he’s trained about the same as last, he’s recce'd no better, so what's going to change?
A couple of things are giving him confidence. Firstly he’s competing as a pair (and as long as they finish, they’re likely to win the male-over-50 category, since it's a category of one), and the lows and highs (should there be any) are better shared. Secondly, Martin knows what it feels like to stay awake and moving for 36+ hours - pretty dreadful, and not the best environment for sound decision-making. Plus what he’s really learned is to just enjoy it. You can't possibly cover this much ground on any other occasion without all the infrastructure - checkpoints, food, enthusiastic helpers cheering you on, someone to look out for you if you're late - it just wouldn't be safe. So he’s going to recognise it as a rare opportunity to get out into the scenery and enjoy himself.
Martin has a few top tips if you fancy a go yourself. Recce the route until you don't need a map. Train on the ground. Find something you can eat, even when you really don't want to. Get the smallest, lightest kit you can. And cultivate your pig-headedness - you're going to need it.
I'll let you know what state he's in when he gets back to Coniston!