Many runners may have idly wondered what it would take to tackle an ultra. Some will have pushed themselves to discover whether they have what it takes - and very few will have taken it to the next level by running for 24 hours straight. Step forward Tribe member, Montana Hull.
In January this year, Montana decided to take on her first ultra. Fast forward to 15th May and she began her 24 hour challenge, consisting of a 4 mile loop beginning and ending at her parent’s house in Snowdonia National Park. By the end of the 16th May, she had covered 78.6 miles with 4,000m of elevation, all in aid of three charities - Meningitis Research Foundation, Sun Bear Outreach and the Orangutan Foundation.
The team at Tribe Sports have been following Montana’s journey from casual runner to 24hr solo ultra marathoner ever since we spotted coverage of her challenge in a local newspaper. Against the backdrop of Snowdonia’s snow-capped mountain peaks and ambling woodland streams, Montana’s ever lengthening training runs were documented on her Instagram page @thats_ultra_tana with her trademark #runhappy vibes and unwavering positivity.
What does it take to run an ultra? And how do you find yourself on a self-organised 24 hour solo marathon? We just had to ask Montana herself.
'It all started when I saw an advert for ‘run 100 miles in February’ for a well known charity,' she explains: 'I was intrigued, but quickly thought 'I ran more than that in a normal month, no-one will sponsor me!' But I liked the idea of pushing yourself in the name of charity, I wanted to do that. Yet I wanted to do something that was scary, or seemingly impossible, that most people would find just simply insane… running for 24 hours. There it was.'
That certainly sounds scary but there’s a big difference between thinking of it and committing to it. 'I was toying with the idea for about a week, before the moment of decision came,' she says: 'During a weekend run, I was listening to the wonderful Emma on the ESG Fitness Podcast. She started to talk about the fact that, until you set your goal, until you find your purpose, you will never feel ready. It resonated with me. Then she said words to the effect of: ‘when you set that purpose you will stop worrying about how and you will just do.’ That was the little push I needed. It was decided. A done deal.'
'That week I designed my training plan, I researched ultra preparation, I learnt about nutrition and binged watched endurance films on YouTube and most importantly set the date. May 15th 2021, 3 days before my birthday.' Fitting in training alongside business and leisure is never an easy feat and when time on foot is the goal, that must’ve been a challenge in itself. She agrees: '8 miles before work, long runs every weekend and strength training. It's hard, but it's meant to be! I would sometimes be flexible with the rest day, if my long run had been mountainous for example. I listened to my body, but I also concentrated on the training targets.'
After weeks of dedicated training, the day itself finally arrived. 'For three nights, I had dreamt about running endlessly in circles. It was almost torture. Then I would wake, and remember it’s my reality at the weekend, and I am excited about it,' Montana ponders: 'Funny that. Is it madness or some weird love of pain?' she laughs.
'I almost floated through the first 30 miles, with an elevation of 1400m. Every lap I would greet my crew with a grin plastered across my face. I was in heaven. This isn’t to say it didn’t get rough. Torrential rain hit and at 9 hours in and my crew decided it was time for me to take a break. I had replaced my smile with a grimace. But turns out all I needed was a pot noodle! Please note I NEVER eat pot noodles! Somehow, it brought me back to life and my grin returned.'
'Honestly, I was smiling for 95% of it,' she insists: 'I loved it and had the best time. I never wanted to stop and giving up never even entered my mind. I only had two small lows that lasted about 5 minutes. One was at 10 pm when I had 13hours left and I was just tired. I had just got into my night running gear, head torch etc, and it felt like bedtime. The next one was about 70 miles in and I was sticking the 10th blister plaster on. I'd say I was weirdly euphorically happy at about 2.30 am... that was definitely not a normal happy!'
'I sprinted across the finish line, having covered 78.6 miles and nearly 4000m elevation. It was an achievement that even just 6 or even 5 months ago, I wouldn’t have even dreamt. I was so proud of myself, my mind had carried me through without a single ounce of doubt I would finish. Quitting had never been an option. Physical pain is nothing if your mind is strong. A race I will never forget. I LOVED it. I would have restarted the 24 hours there and then.'
What an introduction to ultra running! It’s hard not to come away feeling like anything is possible with enough preparation and training, but as a final thought Montana adds the real secret to success: 'I’ve just got bags of positivity and damn, I’m in love with this sport.'