You might think that having four young kids and a full-time career as an ecologist would stop Rob Forbes from chasing his ultramarathon dreams, but not only does he train for and enter races, he wins them and sets course records too, like for the 102-mile Cotswolds Way – so, how does he maximise his training and tactics for the best results?
RSNG First off, how do you find time to train for ultra-distances when you have four kids and a full time job?
ROB FORBES, ULTRARUNNER ‘Time limits mean I am generally restricted to shorter runs of 5-7 miles. I find the key is to try and get out consistently, say five to six times a week. I manage to fit my training in around a hectic life by getting up early, heading out at lunchtime and sneaking it in when I’m away with work.’
‘I always have my trainers in the car in case an opportunity presents itself. I also have a single and double running buggy, so I can run with my kids around the local villages. They aren’t that light and I like them to heckle me to go faster, so it works as good training, and gives the wife a break from at least two of them!’
‘If you’re time-poor, use your time effectively by doing hill sessions, tempo runs and speedwork’
RSNG What’s your top training tip for developing long-distance endurance?
RF ‘The most important thing is to run consistently in order to build up a solid base of fitness. If you’re time-poor, use your time effectively by doing hill sessions, tempo runs and speedwork. Where possible throw in a few longer runs, but these really don’t have to be anything beyond 15-20 miles to still do well in ultras. A consistent approach is also less likely to lead to injury than knocking out occasional high mileage weeks.’
RSNG What about life hacks to assist with training?
RF ‘Spending time on your feet is also very important so try to get more active in your day to day life. Why not squat when brushing your teeth or watching TV, take the stairs rather than the lift, walk or run rather than drive, and most of all take any opportunity to go dancing. Dad dancing is particularly effective at honing the end of the ultra-running gait!’
RSNG Do you do any gym work to support the running?
RF ‘Some strength training and core work. This not only helps with conditioning for long distance racing, particularly over hilly terrain, but also prevents injuries by strengthening the key muscles, tendons and ligaments.’
RSNG What’s your top tip for running energy?
RF ‘Get used to running with an empty tank so that your body becomes more efficient at burning fat. The best way to do this is run early in the morning before you’ve had any breakfast.’
RSNG What’s your favourite place to run and why?
RF ‘I love exploring new places whenever we go on holiday, however, you can’t beat the Coln river valley in the Cotswolds, which runs right past our house. On the rare occasion that I don’t have to do a nursery drop, I’m lucky enough to have the most stunning run-commute to work in the country, along the valley with mist rising over the river, the occasional splash of a fish and only the odd sheep around to watch me trip over my shoelaces, haha.’
RSNG What does it take to win an endurance event – what sets you apart?
RF ‘You have to be physically fit and mentally tough but one of the main reasons I do so well is that I can sustain a reasonable pace for a long time. I think I’m predisposed to this but have developed it further through pretty much always doing any training runs on an empty stomach, so my body is used to burning on-board fat supplies. On the flip side, I also have a pretty tough gut, which means I can normally take on a reasonable amount of food while on the move without getting sick.’
RSNG Do you target race records or are you more about racing your own PBs?
RF ‘In the last couple of years I’ve started to target race records because I’ve come to realise that they’re achievable. Ultra-running is becoming more popular and the speed boundaries are starting to be pushed all the time, so I want to try and get in there and bag a few course records while I still have a chance. For instance, last year I targeted and managed to break the course record for our local national trail path, the Cotswold Way (102 miles).’
RSNG How did you manage to break the 2:40 mark in the London Marathon? Did you train for speed or use any strategies?
RF ‘Speedwork, like interval training, definitely makes all the difference if you can fit it in and motivate yourself to put in the extra effort. I had a good run but would need to do a lot more specific speedwork and road training to get much faster. Marathon running is all about consistent pacing, much like ultras, but without the same adventure element!’
RSNG Do you think people underestimate the importance of speed to endurance running?
RF ‘For sure. I’m trying to build more variety into my running, including speed work, tempo running, and hills and I definitely think it makes a real difference. The challenge is motivating yourself to do a demanding workout, which is why teaming up with running buddies or a club can really help.’
RSNG What are your top tips for running through the night?
RF ‘I haven’t run past 24 hours yet, though I have come close! The key for me was consuming ridiculous amounts of coke and sticking on some music. When you run long distance you inevitably go through some real lows where you feel like quitting, but through experience you learn that you always come out the other side. It’s amazing what your body can achieve – you just have to keep moving one foot in front of the other and you will get there!’
RSNG How do you deal with the thought of these mega distances?
RF ‘When running longer endurance events it can be pretty daunting, so try to break things down into manageable chunks, set yourself little targets and goals within the race. I also find that listening to music or teaming up with someone of similar pace can help to pass the time. Staying hydrated and setting off slowly are key to staying strong to the finish. Also, don’t be scared to walk the hills to give your body a bit of a break and use some different muscles. Even the pro’s walk!’
‘I have learnt to always carry salt tabs, if I’m sweating lots I can get through one every 30 minutes’
RSNG How important is nutrition during longer events and what is your strategy?
RF ‘I don’t tend to have a specific nutrition plan, but I am increasingly turning to gels and coke during races. I can just about get away with this approach, but my stomach is often in ribbons by the end. Ideally, it’s good to be exercising at a rate that allows you to still digest some solid foods. This year I’m planning to turn to peanut butter sandwiches. One thing I have learnt is to always carry salt tabs. If I am sweating lots I can get through one every 30 minutes to try and prevent cramping, and it seems to work.’
RSNG Have you got any good kit hacks or tips?
RF ‘Try to minimise the amount of unnecessary food and kit that you carry. Many events, like Dixons Carphone Race to the Stones, have frequent well catered checkpoints so there’s no point weighing yourself down with loads of food. How many times have you finished a race with that malt loaf or pork pie still in the bottom of your rucksack? Travel smart, travel light.’
RSNG Do you need a certain mindset for ultras, particularly when it gets really tough?
RF ‘Let’s just say there’s definitely a correlation between stubborn people and good ultra-runners! A never give up attitude and desire to test yourself to the limit are key. A love of the outdoors and adventure will also get you a long way towards the finish.’
RSNG What’s the best feeling you’ve ever had on a run?
RF ‘You can’t beat a good runner’s high. I love the freedom and the escape from the monotony of everyday life. Cruising along feeling fit, healthy and on top of the world is a rare and elusive feeling, but running beautiful scenic trails certainly increases the chances of it happening.’
RSNG What’s been the most amazing sight you’ve seen when running?
RF ‘When I was travelling through West Africa on my bike I managed to fit in a bit of running training in preparation for the Comrades marathon and in the process saw some truly spectacular scenery, and wildlife. This ranged from running around the slums of Kinshasa in the DRC to running through the bush teeming with wildlife in the Okavango delta, Botswana.’
RSNG Where you do get your motivation from to run?
RF ‘I guess it’s an internal drive to see what I am capable of. I’ve always known I can run a bit but it wasn’t until after university that I started to take a greater interest in getting fit and trying to do well in running events. I guess the better you do at something the more competitive you become and the more you want to achieve.’
RSNG Do you have any long-term goals still to achieve and is setting those important to your process?
RF ‘My dream would be to get a team GB vest in ultra-trail or 24-hour racing. Unfortunately, my busy life doesn’t really allow me the training or racing opportunities to give it a really good try and the 50-100 mile trail events I tend to do aren’t seen as qualifiers either. I’m keen to target a few course records and maybe even take part in one of the more prestigious European races. I may give 24-hour racing a try in due course too!’
WHAT NEXT? Get inspired for long-distance endurance events by finding out more about the Dixon’s Carphone Race To The Stones, the 100km trail run to Avebury’s prehistoric stone circle, which Rob Forbes won in 2016 by running the distance in 7:56:12.
Comments are for information only and should not replace medical care or recommendations. Please check with your Doctor before embarking on exercise or nutrition regimes for the first time
Rob Forbes is an ambassador for [Currys PC World](https://www.currys.co.uk smart technology
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