MEMBER STORY: Christian Gylling's Back-to-back Ultra Marathons
If you’ve ever thought about doing extreme endurance, or wondered what it's like to push your body to the limits, this is an essential read. Read about Christian’s preparation, an account of his back-to-back events, and how Hogarth PT Pavel helped him get ready ("When I first met Chris, I thought ‘he’s got to be crazy’!”).
BEFORE WE BEGIN - SOME QUICK DEFINITIONS…
TRAIL RUNNING - A type of running that takes place outdoors in nature, often in mountainous terrain with significant ascents and descents. Trail running is overseen by the International Trail Running Association and includes longer races. It is known to be more challenging than road running due to its uneven and unpredictable surfaces, they are also often longer.
ULTRA-MARATHON - An ultramarathon is any running race distance that’s longer than the traditional marathon length of 42 kilometres. Ultramarathons can vary in distance, surface, and format. The shortest common ultramarathon is 31 miles / 50km and other ultra-marathons can vary up to 3100 miles!
WE ASKED CHRIS: WHAT MAKES SOMEONE TAKE ON TWO BACK-TO-BACK ULTRA MARATHONS?
"I got into trail running about 7-8 years ago through some of my friends, I’ve always been into running and have found trail running so much more enjoyable due to the extra challenge and the often amazing scenery! I had a break from work and wanted to focus on being able to complete a Trail Ultra-marathon this year. I have done trail races in the Swiss alps, and have attempted ultra distances there in the past, but have found them too difficult to finish. They have often been 60km and above with the elevation being around 5,000 meters in the mountains. Last summer, a friend of mine was looking into a few different races we could do, and suggested The Atlantic Coast Ultra in Cornwall for early October 2023. The 40 mile/ 60km race follows the coastal path from Newquay to St Ives."
HOW DO YOU PREPARE FOR ULTRA MARATHON RUNNING?
"I started training with Pavel from April 2023 where we would work on general strength for running, which I wasn't doing enough of and hence the hip issues. My original target was a 75km ultra marathon in Switzerland, which I was not able to finish as I gave up after 50km. So when I signed up to the October Atlantic Coast Ultra Marathon in July, I started training early. When Pavel found out I had signed up to both Ultra Trail Marathons, he got really excited and made such an effort to help me in my strength and preparation ahead of both events, we started 1-1 personal training weekly. We focused a lot on ‘GPP’ – General Physical Preparation. This is where we focus on priming the entire body for a sport (in my case – running) which you do very often. As well as leg and hip strength, we focused a lot on core and upper body, to support the continuous movement of running to avoid injury and improve my overall performance. An exercise we did quite regularly were Sled Pushes – as these work the core, hips and legs together to power the movement. Alongside this, I would still do long-distance runs."
1 WEEK BEFORE
"I would focus on resting and relaxing to make sure my body was in the best, recovered state to take on the challenge."
THE NIGHT BEFORE
"I would make sure I have a good dinner and go to bed early to get plenty of rest and as much sleep as I can with plenty of water intake."
THE MORNING OF
"It’s important to have a good breakfast and stock up on sweets, salt, water and sports drinks. Sometimes, factors like travelling (sitting for long periods of time), jet lag and not being able to eat enough can become a challenge. As long as you fuel whatever you can (if it’s a banana, sports bars or drinks) and keep moving somehow, this will help.”
WE ASKED PAVEL: HOW DO YOU HELP SOMEONE TRAIN FOR THIS?
"When I first met Chris, I thought ‘he’s got to be crazy’! But I commended him on taking on the challenge just to prove to himself that he could do it. Even though he is not a professional athlete, his attitude and mindset is on the exact same level. He never misses a training session, he is always on time, and he has a good understanding of what he should and shouldn’t do in terms of healthy habits. Working with someone who has built a great foundation for themselves, it becomes easy to focus on improving and aiming for higher goals.
When it came down to his training programme, our mission was to build a bulletproof body, with powerful lungs and the mentality of an American sniper. Except the only difference between him and Bradley Cooper is that the latter was just playing a role. Ok but really, I'm not surprised at all that he managed to finish 2 ultra-marathons in one week. To be honest I believe that he could have done 3 or 4. Something that not many people know is that when he finished his run in Las Vegas he flew back to London, and after his 12 hour flight he was back in a training session with me! He has taught me a lot about the strength of the human spirit, and I’m looking forward to working with him to achieve all his other future goals."
HERE’S HOW IT WENT…
ULTRA MARATHON 1: The Atlantic Coast Ultra October 2023
"The conditions on the day were perfect! We expected cold because of the time of year, and we brought the mandatory list of equipment – rain jacket, warm clothing, and running vest. We got very lucky as the weather was around 16-17 degrees with no clouds! It was very pleasant. The race was fairly small, with around 90 runners. There were four aid stations in total that provided refreshments and snacks throughout the route."
CHALLENGES AT EVERY TURN
"I faced quite a few challenges and I did consider giving up! During the run, I had issues with hip and knee pain, which I just had to ignore. My running overall was fine, but struggled with a few stomach issues. It was 2/3rds into the race when I started to feel like I was in trouble as I couldn't digest energy and started to experience dehydration. I had been running without water for some time and I felt absolutely terrible. About 38km in, there was quite a steep run downhill to the beach followed by a hefty uphill climb. At the bottom of the hill my legs cramped up really bad. I couldn’t lift them at all, I was stuck. I ate a chocolate bar and had to slowly manoeuvre each leg up each step one by one, until I got to the top of the hill, when the cramps finally began to dissipate and I could slowly start running again.
42km in, I really needed salt. Unfortunately the 3rd aid station didn’t stock any, so I had to get some from a local restaurant! After taking the salt sachets with some water and coca-cola, I waited for 10-15 minutes desperately hoping they would kick in and I could carry on. I met another runner at this station, who looked completely wrecked. We got talking and slowly started to walk together, with my energy levels starting to normalise. We ended up talking and running the whole rest of the race together and later found out that it was each other that got us to the end. He said I looked like s*** at that station! Each of us felt motivated by the other that even in our state, we continued on with the run. I completed the race somewhere in between 9-10 hours. Even though my time was nothing to write home about, given all the issues I faced, it felt amazing to have hit my goal of finishing an ultra-marathon, and also to have encouraged someone else along the way."
ULTRA MARATHON 2: The UTMB Kodiak Californian Ultra
"After signing up to the Atlantic Coast Ultra which wasn’t for a few months at this point, my friend and I looked at other races we could do on the UTMB (Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc) website. We found the Kodiak Ultra-marathon in California that took place in the San Bernardino mountains between LA and Las Vegas! This race was 1 week after The Atlantic Coast and was slightly shorter – 31 miles / 50km. We thought that if we could get through The Atlantic Coast Ultra, we could definitely do this one. Although it was shorter, it was by no means easier as it was higher in altitude at 2-3km and the route had more elevation! I got lucky with the weather again with clear blue skies and the scenery was absolutely amazing. As we set off early in the morning before the sun came up, up in the mountains it was really cold at 0 degrees! Before warming up to around 20 degrees a lot later on. The atmosphere was buzzing, with hundreds of runners who were all very friendly! You had the ‘elite’ runners at the front, I’d say I was running somewhere around mid-back.
Everything went well! I was mindful to keep my energy levels up and I managed to enjoy it a lot more. I just kept focusing on getting to the next aid station, taking it one aid station at a time, where I would assess how I’m feeling. The only issue I had was with my hips again, I don’t think they had recovered enough since the Atlantic Run. I felt pain every step in my glutes (and I took 62 thousand steps during the race) . I finished the race in around 8 hours, which placed me in the middle of the pack. There’s no permanent damage to my hips, the hip pain only kicks in on longer runs on flat terrain. I’m working on strength with Pavel in the gym now and will continue to before my next race."
WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU CHRISTIAN?
"Trail-Ultra Marathon season has been and gone, and I’m not keen on road races. They just don’t compare in atmosphere and scenery to trail marathons! I have signed up with my friends to two races in the alps next summer, but now I’m going to enjoy the ski season! I will be doing a lot of ‘Ski Touring’ – which is walking up hill with skis on, it’s really good prep for trail running! as you’re using a similar movement of going up hill. I’ll continue my running and will train with Pavel at The Hogarth where I can to keep up my strength. Thank you Pavel for being such a source of encouragement and support to finally get me to the finish line – twice!”
HOW DO I GET STARTED?
If you're inspired to start your own fitness challenge, get in touch with one of our Gym Team to support you on your journey. Don't forget Personal Training is included in membership at The Hogarth Club.
WANT TO SHARE YOUR STORY?
Has The Hogarth helped you achieve or overcome a challenge related to your fitness or wellbeing? We would love to hear from you to support you and inspire others! firstname.lastname@example.org