A choice

Throughout life you have a choice:

– a tiresome life full of frustrations

– an amazing life full of opportunity

Balance ability and enthusiasm. Build awareness. Live authentically.

Choose wisely.

How did 2017 go?

This is a blog I wrote about 2017, and had my coach comment on it before publishing it:

2017 has been a different year. On 1st January I was on the Polar Plateau of Antarctica, at 10,000ft having recently left the South Pole, 1,300km into our attempt to cross the continent under man-power alone.

My last race in 2016 was 110km around the Lake District, then I hugely reduced the amount of running I was doing in place of getting stronger, putting on a lot of muscle and gaining a lot of weight, setting off in Antarctica at 90kg. I spent the winter on skiis cross-country skiing across Antarctica, then the first sniff of running was at the end of the expedition in late January, where there was a marathon being held in Antarctica at the base we would fly out of. We joined in after the race directly kindly offered us a place. I was awfully injured and slow, but thoroughly enjoyed running again.

Philip: It was also interesting to observe how Ollie reacted going back to more solid foods. With clear sprints to the toilet stations every 10km and a good portion of time spent…not moving…this was not his finest marathons in terms of times, but for no specific running for several months and carrying injuries, we won’t blame him for coming in the ‘wrong’ side of  four hours. As a coach, this is certainly not the best possible training prescription…but sometimes, you have to remember that Ollie, like all of us do this because they love to run [insert sport preference!]. Antarctic Marathon – done. 

I had always planned to take February off and use it as a month to recover from the expedition, to do any rehab that I needed to and to gradually get back into it. When I first tried to run or even walk on anything harder than snow, my feet ached, my knees and hips hurt, everything was sore. I could hardly run at all. I managed about 15 minutes shortly after getting back. It was awful.

Ollie’s build back into Running using TSS as a measure of progression

As you can imagine for someone with Ollie’s drive and self discipline, holding him back and reminding him that there is a process, and not to expect immediate results was really important. Not to mention that he should also spend some time with his partner and also a long time TTH friend Gail. He still fit in a ski trip before restarting work! 

On the 1st March I went back to my day job and I’d started running a bit more. I could hardly fathom how I was going to get back to running properly. By April I was getting used to running more normally; I was in the gym a couple of times a week and trying to do a couple of speed sessions each week. I felt like I was making some progress. I was hitting interval sessions hard and finally felt like I could run again.

But with this excitement and progress I overcooked it and picked up a small tib post strain. A healthy reminder I was mortal. Scared to get injured, I immediately stopped running and spent the next two days off my feet and on the bike. I slowly got running again, gently, and after only a week off was back to normal.

Philip: This is where Ollie really sets a great example. Notice he said a small tib post strain, we know he has an abnormal relationship with suffering, he races ultra marathons, but only when he needs to. A really good learning point for anyone in the sport is to react to the information that a pain or a niggle is giving you. In this instance, Ollie’s medical training, and experience in sport helped him make the right decision (and talking to other people in his support network) This allows him to make the right decision, not one that will prove to be problematic later in the season.

We (coach sets them, I do them) started doing some longer runs on the weekends trying to build up my endurance. Going back to running 3-4 hours again was hard but I was enjoying them huge amounts. I’d craved these long runs out by myself taking in the New Forest trails.

In May I went out to Portugal for a Tri Training Harder camp. I’ve been out quite a few times before and this was the latest in the year I’d been out there. I had a blast. I spent the week running and resting, working hard then eating. I felt the fittest I ever have done whilst being out there, probably a result of going out with a few months training behind me as opposed to early in the season. I clocked nearly 200k in the week I was out there, and a few hours on the bike. We did a great mix of speed workouts and longer runs; I did my traditional run-to-Monchique whilst the rest of the group cycled it (I didn’t go nearly as far as them, I got dropped much closer!). I really felt like I was making progress and was loving every minute of it. Sharon, a physiotherapist from the Bosworth Clinic was out there and on hand to figure out why I was getting niggles and give me strength work to improve my form. I found it really useful having her see me train in person as opposed to listen to me describe my training or wrestling-octopus style running technique.

Philip: Don’t be fooled by the nature heavy training loads. This shows us just how important it is to get the support team right when doing these big weeks. Without the guidance of Sharon through the week, an over-load week could have resulted with a broken athlete. Sharon’s management allowed us to push hard without having any issues, it let us push the envelope of what was possible.

Shortly after I got back from Portugal it was my 27th birthday, so as a birthday treat I got up at 0300hrs and ran 27 miles before work. I felt great. I obviously fell asleep after my first beer at dinner but my running was clearly coming on.

My first race was Red Bull Steeplechase. A knockout event where you race between 4 Steeples (churches/checkpoints) and at each one the back end of the race get cut out. 400 starters, 40 finishes (20 male 20 female). I had done the race 2 years previously in the Peak District and was cut at the last checkpoint. Its an immensely fun race (obviously, its organised by Red Bull) and its tempo is wild. People don’t pace themselves; its a mad panic to get to each checkpoint to not get cut from the race. We set out at an insane pace but I kept my cool relying on having more endurance in the tank to pull me through.

Red Bull Steeplechase. Photo credit: No Limits Photography

After about 20 minute into the race I started taking places and this trend never stopped. I wasn’t overtaken at all from that point on. My places through the time checks looked like this: 63rd, 43rd, 41st, 26th, 21st.

I was in 21st for a while heading towards the final checkpoint, running as hard as a could searching for the guy in front of me. I finally saw my the first glimpse of him on a big climb right at the point I was about to give up the chase as I felt cooked. I kept pushing and eventually caught him as we raced towards the last checkpoint in the village. 50m from the checkpoint I managed to pass him and take the final place in the race to do the last section.

I was so pleased at that point as my aim had been to make the final 20, the final cut. My legs were cooked and I just wanted to enjoy the final loop. Slowly my legs came back to me and I took a few more places finishing in 12th.

Philip: Ollie is a natural racer. He loves it. I remember a training run where we ran together the whole way up a mountain and he decided to sprint the last 20m just to be at the car first. However, my learning point for you here is that he knew his strengths, and worked them to his advantage. He couldn’t really sustain the flat out fast runs, he had to stay within touching distance (that he did…just) but ensured that he raced his race regardless of what the others were doing. To nail the top 20 and get 12th was a fantastic result. As Jim Vance says, Plan, plan, plan….Execute, execute, execute.

My next race was the Serpent Trail 100k. Organised by Freedom Racing it was the first time this race had been put on. The organisers were a very friendly bunch and the course was delightful, if difficult to follow. I broke one of my number 1 rules of always doing a recce of the course before as I’d struggled to find the time to get across. My pacer suffered trying to find the route but everyone was in the same boat. Psychologically I found it hard as I’d been aiming for a quick time and clearly wasn’t going to make it on this course. Nevertheless I took an early lead and managed to keep it to the end. It was a great day out and I’ll almost certainly be back next year. I just need to recce the course first.

Finishing Serpent Trail 100k. Photo credit Freedom Racing

We went straight out to the Alps after this for a big week in the mountains which was amazing fun.
Alps trekking

More Alps

When I got home I had a busy and stressful time at work and picked up an injury. It was probably a combination of being quite physically fatigued, stressed at work and sleep deprived. I spent most of late July really struggling with the injury and it certainly didn’t help my stress levels. I was due to run Centurion Running’s North Downs Way 100 mile race, which was the first big race I had ever done. I grew up on the course and love both the course and the organisers. I got more and more worked up that I couldn’t train going into the race, and wasn’t sure whether to pull from the race. In the days before the race I decided I would do the event with the knowledge I may have to pull out very soon after starting because of the injury.

On the day I had a blast. I started really really easy. I made sure I started quite far back in the pack knowing I’d get stuck on the single trail forcing me to run easy to start with. I went through the first hour without any pain so carried on a little longer. This kept happening till I found myself 50 miles into the race feeling great, pain free, and in fourth place. I was surprised by one of my friends turning up to support at 50 miles and we shot out the aid station back onto the course. At about 70 miles I moved into 3rd. This was beyond my wildest dreams as I thought I was going to be stopping the race after only a few miles.

At about 75 miles I started to get some pain in my leg again, and my mind game fell apart. I wasn’t prepared to a difficult day mentally. I pulled the plug at 83 miles with a very painful leg. There was more of summer to run and I had another race only a month away, which I wanted to get rid of this injury and be able to race properly. However I do also appreciate that I bottled it, and wasn’t ready for a difficult day.

In hindsight it hurts that I didn’t finish that race, but with a really difficult few weeks building up to it I am amazed with where I got to. It was a very promising bad race, if that makes any sense.

Philip: This is up there as one of my proudest moments as a coach. A DNF. This is one of the hardest results to see as an athlete and it is equally tough to see as a coach and friend. Ollie was so ready for this race and he really wanted to see how he did compared to his first ever 100miler. However, it wasn’t to be. We spoke a lot going into this race and we both knew where he was at. A lack of recovery (reduction sleep and managing work/life stressors) meant that Ollie had picked up a niggle that just wouldn’t go away. Ironically, his training was at a point where it was the best it had ever been. Timing is never good for an injury [read about managing it here], but the key thing for Ollie was to not let a niggle become a season ending injury. We spoke about what the worst thing that could happen going forwards and being unable to run for several months as a result of pushing through was certainly the bad path. We had a strategy for the North Downs Way and we knew how to react to the different scenarios that could present themselves. In this instance, Ollie surpassed both our expectations and put himself into a great position, which made the choice to stop even harder to take. Yet, he acted with a cool head and made the right decision – look what happened next! The result was not what we had hoped for, but it was a huge step forwards as an athlete that was fantastic to be part of. We know he could have pushed on and finished the event, but that isn’t the point of why Ollie races.

Over the next couple of weeks I was able to get back to running again quite quickly and started to manage the injury. I went back out to the Alps for a big week of training and felt very good at the end of it, even if very tired.
Alpine running

Training in the Alps

My last race of the season was the 10 Peaks Brecon Beacons race. 89k, 4800m elevation gain. I went a recce’d a lot of the route the weekend before and was positive going into the race. I knew the route and I’d had a good few weeks of running a lot of hills.

The start of the race was pretty hideous. We got a battering from the weather, a harsh headwind battering us with rain before sunrise. We worked our way west across Brecon and I was feeling pretty low. I was somewhere just in the top 10; the leaders had shot off ahead but with the pace I was running it seemed I would never catch them. I had to give myself a serious talking to that I should be enjoying this running, put a chilled playlist on and just concentrated on eating and running with good form.

I slowly began to pass people and at the half way point I caught a glimpse of 2nd and 3rd about 10 minute ahead. We turned back to head east, starting our return journey and I began feeling good. I felt fresh and had about 45k behind me, along with having the wind to push me home.

Training in Brecon Beacons

We went over a few more fells, then as the sky cleared I saw the podium all running together in the distance. I started chasing and passed all three in one move at about 66k. I had a good chat with the chap in first before pushing on ahead. I felt on top of the world for the next hour heading towards the last checkpoint. This dream was unfortunately shattered when I got there and was told I was in third having not seen anyone pass me, and having not strayed from the course. I spent the next 2 hours pushing far harder than I thought I could chasing an invisible 1st and 2nd who were supposedly about 10 minutes ahead, until I finally caught them on the last descent. After 11.5hrs of racing we all finished within seconds of each other. I took 3rd with a race I am very proud of. They had taken a shorter and faster route after I had passed them, allowing them to gain that extra time. It turns out only the checkpoints are mandatory, not the route. Quite why we were following a route I am not too sure of, perhaps to help people make the decision about how to navigate across the fells. I had simply followed the route blindly, and maybe next time should instead make my own shorter faster route between the checkpoints. Nonetheless, I had the race I had been hoping of: I negatively split the race and finished with a strong final leg; I had also finished an hour faster than my best estimate on a dry course in god weather, let alone a boggy course in hideous weather.

Philip: Through every cloud, there is a silver lining. And what do you know, after the NDW, this result was a fantastic high to finish on. Could he have finished the 100 mile event. Certainly. Would he have finished the season on such a high if he had pushed on? Certainly not. Racing with your head and not your heart let’s you make informed decisions and in long distance racing, that becomes even more important – should I take nutrition at this aid station? Should I check my break isn’t rubbing? Am I going too fast?

I finished the season on that high, having reached my best shape to date. After a few weeks of eating pizza, croissants and Nutella I am already itching to get back.

Philip: And so am I!

Season round-up

Sitting in a metabolic chamber in Coventry having everything from my intake of food and air to my activity, blood and urine monitored gives me plenty of time to take a look back at this year’s running, and have a glimpse at what next year might hold.

Last year finished with a 100 miler (Autumn 100, 18hrs43) , the same race which I returned to just this weekend but supporting this year. Being in and around the race made me really miss trail running, and want to get back out there.

After that was a sharp change to preparing for the final selection stage for SPEAR17, the Antarctica expedition. 2 weeks in Norway  later and a fair amount of pulk-hauling under my belt, I came back to a series of small events on the weekends to keep me running whilst tackling the last few months of med school:

  • Portland Coastal Marathon – 07/02/16 – 1st 03:43
    • this way GREAT fun! Two weeks after I’d got back from Norway, and my first week back training, there was clearly some benefit from all the pulk hauling. Set off at a steady pace and just got faster over the hilly course all day gaining places. Good memory.
  • LDWA New Forest Marathon – 28/02/16 – 1st
    • nice low-key local event, navigating your own way round. I’d done a 26k fartlek session the day before, so legs were quite stiff starting out, but ran out ahead for the whole route.
  • Phoenix Spring Marathon – 05/03/16 – 3rd 02:59
    • another chilled event with an out-and back course (about 8 times…) along the Thames Path
  • Sussex Coastal Trail Series (Ultra 55k) – 19/03/16 – 3rd 04:56
    • hard day out. Very hilly but enjoyable course, but I just felt quite tired for the whole race.
  • XNRG Pony Express 48k Sat, 48k Sun – 30/04 – 01/05/16 – 4th 08:04
    • I live down by the New Forest and love the place. I’d gone out in the weeks leading up to this and had a good run round the course. I was pretty excited for this race, then started a solid bout of man flu in the days before. I was taking on a bit too much with finals looming, but had this as my last weekend of running before doing nothing but studying, so it was fun nonetheless.

After finals I went off for a month of relaxing and running in the mountains, getting in some well overdue time in the hills, a peaceful way of life.

Chamonix running

I came straight back from the Alps to race in the Lake District at the last race of the season. Racing in the mountains isn’t usually my forte, but I was excited heading into it after a few weeks of hills.

  • Ultimate Trails Lake District 110k – 02/07/16 – 5th 13:36

Ollie Stoten 110km lake district

I was very pleased with that race, I finally felt like I could run again.

I figured 4 months was going to be just enough time to prepare specifically for the Traverse attempt, so I stopped running/racing after that race and switched to more strength training and putting on weight.

I’m now in no shape for running far and fast, but good shape for the expedition.

Next stop, Antarctica.

Finals, Lakes 110km, Junior Dr?

Busy few months. Understatement.

Grab a brew, have a read.

The first half of the year was mainly spent working towards passing final exams for medicine and my ‘A’ race: 110km Ultimate Trails in the Lake District; whilst finding commercial sponsors for SPEAR17 and planning all the nutrition for the expedition… I had to be pretty sensible and prioritise medicine, and with the Antarctica Traverse looming, training for the race was going to be a bit different.

A few things had to change:

  • stress: I was going to be stressed enough studying for finals. I didn’t need to make things worse by worrying about running too much
  • weight: I needed to NOT lose weight. I wasn’t trying to gain weight per se, but I certainly wasn’t trying to lose it. I’ll need a lot of mass for the winter, so although being light will have helped during the race (sort of), it would’ve lessened my chances for Antarctica…which is slightly more hostile than the Lake District. Also, losing weight is another stress on the body, so we (the team at the Bosworth Clinic, coach Phil and I) decided it would be best not to
  • strength: this is often overlooked by ultra runners anyway, but I needed to keep up good strength training so I didn’t miss the boat training for Antarctica
  • time: I had very little of it

So we had a bit of a challenge; to try and make best use of the little time that I had to train for quite a hefty ultra whilst not impacting on studying. I had to be quite disciplined to make it happen, as I eluded to in the Week in a life of blog, and concentrate on keeping healthy by eating and sleeping well.

In the weeks leading up to finals I ran the XNRG Pony Express , a 60mile 2day race in the New Forest. It was there more for enjoyment and to have something to concentrate on other than studying, after which I could put running to bed for a few weeks during exams. Unsurprisingly I didn’t feel fit at all during it, and it was struggle both days. I came 4th by 5mins, which, given the circumstances, was OK.

XNRG Pony Xpress Stoten

C/O XNRG. Terrible photo caught half drinking half smiling…

After that we were straight into finals, then all of a sudden I’m walking away from my final exam, after 5 years of medicine, 8 years of university and, unless I’d failed, soon to be starting in the real world.

I’d picked up a dodgy hip during exams – I blame all the sitting – which was annoying as I’d planned to spend all summer running in the mountains. I had a couple of visits to the Bosworth Clinic to try and get it sorted, and head to the mountains anyway. What ensued was pretty much a month of running more and more in fantastic places, in what can only be really recorded in photos:

Time spent in the Peak District, Brecon Beacons and 10 days of hard training in the Alps got me in pretty good condition to head into the Lake District 110km race, which although I was much heavier than I’d like to race at, I felt very fit for.

Setting off at midnight I’d planned to cruise for the first 50-60km, before putting my iPod in, slowly winding up the pace and attacking at the back end of the race. I was confident I could get a good performance out of myself after those long days in the Alps, and wanted a top 10 finish, but didn’t know how long it’d take to get round the course. Usually, training in Bournemouth, the climbs would’ve been a huge worry, but having just spent a fortnight on much bigger climbs I was actually quite excited to get stuck into them.

I stuck exactly to plan and settled into a comfortable pace for the early hours of the morning. A lot of people set off fast, what seemed unreasonably fast. I knew there would be some good runners here, but this amount of people at that pace was ridiculous. I didn’t worry myself with what everyone else was doing, and enjoyed cruising around during the night. We came off one climb about 2/3am and one of the volunteers at the aid station asked how the ‘brutal climb’ was? This gave me a lot more confidence – it was pretty chilled! Clearly working hard day-in-day-out in Chamonix on course like their vertical km only that week had put me in great shape.


110kms, 3374m ascent/descent


I came through the first couple of aid stations in 30th ish place, didn’t panic and kept at a relaxed pace. The sun slowly came up showing off the lakes and bit by bit I took places. The weather was pretty harsh at times, with very high winds and cold piercing rain up top, but I was in pretty good nick. I kept eating and drinking and cruising.

When I came into an aid station just after half way, the volunteer told me I was 6th, and 5th was only a couple of minutes ahead. There were awards for the top 5 (as if I needed more motivation to catch him…), so I put my iPod in at this point. I caught him on a climb then put the hammer down to go past. I had a huge running high at this point and felt like I was FLYING! Amazing to feel like this again. I hadn’t felt this good in such a long time, especially when racing. I finally felt like I could run on and on.

The difficult part now was I still had about 50km of pretty difficult terrain to get over, and had 4/5 people nipping at my heels the whole way. I had some pretty low moments in the last 30km where I felt I could hardly move and just wanted to lie down and go to sleep, but knew I’d let myself down doing that. The weather kept switching between downpours and the high winds stayed to keep us on our toes over the high, wet slippy ground.

Ollie Stoten 110km lake district

C/O Ultimate Trails. Lake District 110km

I was still in 5th coming into the last aid station with about 10km to go, and aid 6th and 7th come in immediately after me. They looked pretty fresh, but I knew I could dig deep to the end. I was hoping to a fast and flat run into the finish, which wasn’t the case. Each step hurt; I had a blister on one of my toes burst with about 5k to the finish. It was a sudden sharp and burning pain, making me run funny for a while, pushing my legs closer and closer to refusing to move and stiffening up, with the soles of my feet so sore from all the sharp rocks of the day.

As I descended into Ambleside I had another huge running high, and even though there was no-one around to share it with, I came into the village with a lot of pride as it’d been a hard day out but I’d got through it in a good state. I thought about my Dad a lot during that race, and imagined him coming out to see me run well and support me. He passed away last summer, but was my biggest supporter and had helped me from the beginning of this strange hobby, even though he had no interest in running.

After the race I had planned to take a week off before turning all my concentration towards Antarctica. I popped over the Iceland to help out Olly Hicks with some logistics on his Greenland to Scotland Challenge, so spent a week driving round Iceland in a 4×4 exploring the place and sleeping in my small racing tent. Stunning country.

That takes us up the end of July, as I start work in the real world. A week of shadowing and inductions as a junior Dr: so far so good.

I’m very glad I spent that time off well; I went to some amazing places, and thoroughly enjoyed running properly again. Now we’re 100% focussed on training for Antarctica, back in the gym working hard and eating hard to get strong enough and fat enough for the Traverse…

Finally, a huge thank you to the Bosworth Clinic for keeping me healthy, Tri Training Harder for coaching and supporting me, High5 for providing racing fuel and VeloChampion for clothing me, I couldn’t do it without you all.

A week in the life of…

As part of a series of blogs from the Tri Training Harder Race Team athletes, we’re giving a sneak preview into how we go about organising training around our lives (or visa versa).

I’ve tried to give an ‘average’ week here, but each week is a bit different depending on what placement/hospital I’m at, accessibility to gyms, races in the area and fatigue levels etc…

Anyway, it usually looks something like this:


Rest day. We’ve started the week well!

If i’ve not had a big weekend, then I’ll go to the gym in the morning, so:

0600: up, coffee, smoothie, jog to the gym (20mins)

0645-0745: gym – strength phase for now. Low reps, high weight: back squats, front squats, chest press, bent over row, bavarian split squat. I need to earn some strong legs. 

Ollie in the gym with 7R Performance

Eccentric front squats in the gym – I’m putting as much weight through my knees as possible to prepare them for long, fast decents

0815: placement

18/1900: jog home

I’ve just started doing a yoga session on Monday evenings. I’m known for awful flexibility, so can be quite amusing in a yoga class. However its great and is set up for cyclists, not expecting gymnast level abilities, and works on proprioception/stability too. Its also really good for having a wind-down and relax. Feel a million dollars after.

A key here is not increasing flexibility too quickly, and making sure you have the strength for whatever flexibility you do have. Its all well and good being able to touch the floor with you hands and tie yourself in knots, but if you don’t have the strength and stability in those joints, you’ll run into a lot of trouble. Mobilise, stabilise, strengthen. Don’t neglect any of those.


0700: up, coffee, smoothie, 15-20mins core/mobility/basic strength work; jog to the hospital (20-30mins)

0815: placement

1700ish: jog home

Fartlek session – approx 2hrs

Ollie Stoten Cliff Run

Fartlek session along a trail in Vilamoura, Portugal


0700: up, coffee, smoothie, 15-20mins core/mobility/basic strength work; jog to the hospital

0815: placement

1500: jog home

Drive to work (approx 1hr30)

1800: gym – concentrate on deadlifts here as there’s no squat rack

1900: work

2200ish: drive home


0700: up, coffee, smoothie, 15-20mins core/mobility/basic strength work; jog to the hospital

0815: placement

1700ish: jog home

Hill reps session – approx 2hrs

Ollie Stoten ultra downhill

Hill reps aren’t usually on hills like this one…but its a cool picture?


0600: up, coffee, smoothie, jog to the gym

Gym – strength

0815: placement

1800ish (hopefully earlier…): jog home


I often work weekends but have reduced the amount I’m doing as medicine heats up. This is a non-working weekend:

0730: up, moan, coffee, smoothie

0800ish: head out running

0900: ParkRun —> this is one of my favourite runs of the week. I adore ParkRun – it has got SO many people running that previously weren’t active, and I love that people of any ability can come for a walk/jog/run/race on a saturday morning, all for free.

The rest of the day is usually spent doing some work interspersed with popping out for a coffee/lunch/socialising in the evening.


This completely depends on whats going on in the area, but I try to enter a local run, around the 40-50k mark.

A few sundays ago I did the Portland Coastal Trail Marathon (1st), then the LDWA New Forest Marathon last weekend (1st).

Its hard to get a weekly routine at the moment as I’ve had a lot of exams on and changing hospitals and placements, so a lot has to be played by ear.

I’ve just started at a new hospital and I’m now largely living at the hospital, negating the need for the run commute, so I’ve been heading out for easy runs at other times. I’ve also been staying much later some evenings meaning I can’t do some of the speed workouts, and haven’t got a gym sorted in the area yet.

You MUST be flexible with training and adapt to circumstances, otherwise you’ll force workouts when your body isn’t ready to deal with the load, earning yourself and injury or illness.

I’ve come to learn to read my body better over the past few years, so know when I’m really feeling drained, versus when I’m just being wet and need a pint of tea to get me out the front door. I’m still no master at this, but we’re getting there.

Notes on daily routine:

Most free time is filled with studying at the moment heading towards my final medical exams, but I do take some time off to relax and unwind. As much as I like to think that training is my downtime it is obviously another stressful stimulus, as much as I enjoy it, so building in some proper time to relax is key. Even if its only a small amount squeezed in…

Pre-bed: I try to read something non-medical before bed. Reading, as opposed to watching netflix / staring at your phone, is much more conducive to falling asleep more easily and is a healthy habit of good sleep hygiene.

Pre-run: I’ve got into the habit of always doing some activation work before heading out running, to make sure my muscles are firing properly and nothing is too tight. It also wakes me up well first thing in the morning. All single leg work – calf raises, squats, glute bridges etc…

This weekly routine will differ to fit with different training cycles and other pressures (exams etc), however hopefully it gives you a bit of an idea how you can fit in running ultra-marathons and having a part-time job around studying medicine.

A very different off season…

By this time last year I’d been running hard for 4 months, had the race of my life at Country to Capital, raced OK at XNRG’s Pilgrim Challenge and been out for the Tri Training Harder Team launch in Portugal.

This year has been very different.

In January we went to Norway for the final phase of selection for the SPEAR17 expedition, so I had to train very differently. I finished Autumn 100 in October reasonably fit (and very tired) but I needed a lot more strength if I was going to survive selection for the expedition team.

After a bit of a tough year I needed a fair amount of time to recover, mentally more than anything, and get to grips with medicine to do this degree some justice. I started working on movement patterns to lay the foundations to become ‘anti-fragile’, then got back in the gym to build some strength. I slowly brought a little running back in to tick over, not that I needed to be a fast runner for Norway, but I needed a solid CV fitness and wanted to regain some ground ready for the year’s racing.

For New Year we stayed in the Lake District in a youth hostel with a group of the better half’s family friends which was great fun: as an outdoorsy bunch we hit the fells for a good few hours of toddling around every day, and served as a reminder of how much I loved off-road running, fells and endurance.

Lake District New Year 15

My body (I?) seemed to quite enjoy strength training and being more relaxed about eating; I put on muscle quite easily, and didn’t seem to put on much more fat. It was great not trying to loose weight over christmas and made the whole affair much more relaxed. January last year I was at my lightest and fastest ever, but the cumulative stress of trying to shed weight + all sorts else was just too much and pushed me over the edge. Since then I’ve pretty much maintained the same body composition, until trying to put on muscle recently.

I also started getting very interested in carbohydrate vs fat metabolism, and the potential benefits of becoming “fat adapted” for low intensity endurance exercise. I won’t be geeky here. For the geeky version, have a listen to the second InDurance podcast (alternative fuel for sport health & performance) :


In short, I switched my diet to ‘High Fat Low Carbohydrate’ (HFLC) which is a pretty trendy thing at the moment. Anecdotally I found I could maintain energy levels for longer, but couldn’t do high intensity stuff. Thats pretty much the consensus in the sporty scientific world about HFLC; it could just be a trend at the moment but there is a lot of interesting questions to be asked here.

Polar selection

I had a toxic mix of excitement and nerves leading up to this. I had a fairly important medical exam the day before we left, but this was completely overshadowed by my apprehension about two weeks of Arctic training in Norway. I’d never operated in that kind of environment before, let alone performed.

The purpose of the exercise was twofold:

1: learn polar routine

2: final team selection

A lot was riding on this. I’d been working towards getting on this team for a long time, and it will be a life changing experience. We had 9 people going to Norway, but the expedition plans at the moment are to take 6; the boss had to choose who the 6 would be, and who would be the reserves ready to step in if something goes wrong.

It was a pretty punishing two weeks. Daily routine pretty much went like this:

  • wake up in a freezing cold tent full of hoar frost; move around as carefully as possible to stop the ice falling down from the roof soaking and freezing everything
  • get the cooker going – start melting snow for water. You had to become a cooker ninja and masterchef
  • use the hot water for our dehydrated meals and fill up 2 x litre flasks for the day
    • don’t let the water boil as the steam condenses on the tent roof and freezes everything…
  • roll around putting kit on one person at a time trying not to be too much of a tent rhino
    • 3 men per tent becomes pretty tight in these conditions…
  • pack all kit away, including sleeping bags which have now frozen solid
  • tent down, pack all kit into pulks; scrape ice off skiis and pulks
  • ski for 7-10hrs (thats the tiring part…)
  • stop every hour for a quick handful of food from your grazing bag, and a swig of water from thermos
  • finish the day, tent up, reverse of the morning routine with added foot and general maintenance
  • get into sleeping bag, now frozen solid, and try to thaw it out
  • be freezing cold all night. Wake up all the time shivering violently
    • this is a contentious point…some of the guys managed to generate thousands of joules of heat, and were pretty warm at night with dry sleeping bags. I seemed to get mine soaked from hoar frost (hopefully not urine) at the beginning of the exercise, and never dried it out. This provided great morale for everyone else
  • repeat

Blue morning

This routine was quite taxing and soon our appetites had sky rocketed. We wanted to eat everything in sight. I was pretty happy I’d filled my grazing bag with fatty foods (nuts, dark chocolate, biltong) but craved variety. I had measured everything out before I went and split it into separate identical bags, each with 3267 kCals, which I got closer and closer to finishing as each day passed. Some other guys had taken salami and cheese, which usually wouldn’t turn my eye, but I found myself craving it. I didn’t crave sugar at all, maybe partly to do with having such a low carbohydrate intake leading up to the exercise, or the fact that our bodies were tuning into the low intensity for long periods fuel of choice?

Anyway, I managed to get onto the team, am now back on solid ground and pretty much recovered from my zombified state. I had another rather important exam when I got back, so have been non-stop on the go all January. So some well deserved sleep is in order, and I’ve started running again which feels great.

With a big order put in with High5 today, and an appointment booked at The Bosworth Clinic for some prehab / maintenance, its time to switch focus to running again. The main focus over the next few months really needs to be medicine, it’d be silly to ruin it all with only a few months to go, but I’ll be keeping my sanity with some training ticking over.

Its good to be back.

Autumn 100

A hard end to a hard year.

Autumn 100 is a trail race held in the UK based out of Goring & Streatley that takes you along the Thames Path and the Ridgeway national trails. Lets have a quick look at the numbers:

  • 100 miles of fully marked trail
  • 4 x 25 mile spurs
  • 1170m elevation gain
  • 16 fantastic aid stations
  • 73 incredible volunteers –> thank you all SO much for coming out and helping
  • 302 runners entered; 205 started; 156 finished
  • 28hr cut off
  • 8 friends = 1 amazing support crew

As far as these races go, its quite flat and fast course, and as my last race of the year I was hoping to nail a fast time and place highly. I’d had a great build-up to the race, was in the shape of my life with a lot of speed and endurance in my legs, but come the day, I just didn’t have it.


I was emotionally spent. Its been a very long and painful year. My Dad had been suffering from bladder cancer, and became very unwell last winter. I moved home in February to spend some precious time in his final weeks with him. Like the trooper he was he fought on for an incredible amount of time, passing away in late May. He was an inspirational man and I truly miss him. He was my original and biggest supporter, crewing all of my early races, and I spent a lot of Saturday’s race thinking about him.

The week before Dad passed away, our dog of 10 years and my running buddy suddenly became very unwell one morning and passed away that evening, most likely from a brain tumour.

Just after Dad passed away, Mum was diagnosed with lymphoma, a form of blood cancer. She had just dedicated her life to looking after Dad whilst he was unwell, so this felt even more raw. She is currently having chemotherapy and handling it all really well.

Cancer and I aren’t friends.

The week after Dad’s funeral I had to move into a new flat to start my final year of medical school, when one of our race team members, Katie, was tragically killed in a car accident.

So its been an awfully draining year, and between all this suffering and trying to become a doctor, I’ve been using running to keep me sane and keep enjoyment in my life. So in hindsight, its no surprise I was pooped for this race, but still love running and all the great it brings.

Anyway, heres how it went:

Spur 1:

Exciting start to the race, James Elson, the race director, would be running the race too. The field was already deep with some extremely talented runners, and with James joining us, we all knew it would be a great race.

As always, some runners shot off the front of the race at a very fast pace, most of which we knew it wouldn’t be sustainable for. Predictably, most slowed a lot. I settled into a comfy cruise and spent a lot of the leg running with James; I was running with a celebrity!

Although I felt like I was cruising, I didn’t feel particularly springy or energetic. My right knee had started hurting that week as I swopped bike for trainers in my commute (damn cycling!), and was already quite painful. It was like having a screwdriver being driven into my knee. Not the best.

Heading back on spur 1 was great as, due to the out-and-back nature of the course, you got to see all of the runners in the race. Makes for a great atmosphere!

Back into Goring at the 25mile point I was feeling quite comfortable. Saw my crew of Gail and Goose and set straight out for the next 25.


Spur 2:

This is where the suffering began. I just felt rubbish and couldn’t get my head in gear. Nothing was particularly wrong: I wasn’t vomiting or having diarrhoea, my knee was hurting but wasn’t that bad; my legs just felt kinda stiff and I was pretty grumpy.

I slowed the pace down and just concentrated on eating, drinking and cruising. I was running by myself for this and just wanted to settle into an easy rhythm, and practice some damage-control for the second half of the race. I saw James heading back, who’d picked up the pace and had already overtaken the front runners and looked like he was flying. This guy’s running was incredible all day. He flew in to set a new course record in a epic masterclass in ultrarunning.


Spur 3:

Met more of my friends who’d come to support, got handed a double espresso, and wanted to enjoy this running party. Pacers are allowed after 50 miles, so from now I was always going to be running with a good friend. Hopes of getting a fast 100 were pretty much out the window, and I just wanted to enjoy it as much as I could and try to get a reasonable time in the process. Night fell, the temperature dropped, wind picked up. I felt flat; no race in me at all.

Turning round at 62.5 miles I started really suffering. Everything hurt. A lot. I’d intended to get to this point in great shape, and let if fly back to Goring, attacking the last marathon. I wasn’t sick, the knee was hurting less (amazing how powerful the brain is), had great company, but no race in me. Demons had started haunting me, telling me to drop. I’d had enough suffering, and just wanted it to be over. I’d been a very long year of suffering, and I wanted it over.

When I got to 75 miles I told my crew I was dropping. A second DNF in a couple of months. I was done for. Not physically broken, just emotionally completely exhausted.

The only problem was they wouldn’t let me drop. Point blank refused, fed me red bull and shoved me back out the aid station. I begrudgingly agreed and put a game face on, but felt a bit miffed at the time. In hindsight, its all quite funny and I’m very pleased they did! Gail was the main orchestrator of this, saving herself me moaning and sulking no end for months if I’d dropped.


Spur 4:

Supreme sufferfest.

‘Running’ to Reading was more of an awful hobble. My conversation was dropping off completely. I was telling myself 100 milers just weren’t my distance and to only do shorter races. I wanted out.

Hitting Reading was a bit of a lift. The final ‘out’ section done, and now all I had to do was run 13 miles home.


The pace on the way home started picking up. I was searching deep inside the hurt locker for the will to run faster. Just get back to Goring. Completely non-verbal. It was a very painful slog home.


18hrs43. 14th.

A lot slower than I wanted, and a hell of a lot more painful that I wanted. Of course it was going to be painful, but I thought I would at least have enjoyed some of the running and felt like I could race.

Autumn 100 finish Ollie Stoten

I shouldn’t be disappointed with this race, as its still a pretty reasonable effort, and is a personal best for me. With time from the event I feel better about it, and I think I’ll feel quite happy with it in a few months. The part I am most proud of is that I survived slogging it out for such a long time. The urge to quit was overwhelming, and I obviously got pretty damn close. This will be a memorable race, maybe just for the wrong reasons.

It only took a couple of days for me to be tempted to crack another 100 next year for redemption, but I won’t allow any decisions like that to me made so soon. I was telling myself shorter and faster for next year, maybe I should listen?

Rest for now, then time to switch focus onto training for the Polar expeditions. That should give me a decent break from running 🙂

When all the training is done…

T-3days until Centurion Running’s Autumn 100.

My final race for the year. The race where I hope to get the best out of myself.

I did my final bit of ‘training’ this evening, a short interval session, and all thats left between now and saturday is some easy commuting on the bike, a short run on thursday, a lot of relaxing, eating, sleeping, stretching and studying.

Its been a long and tiring season, but the end is in sight. I’ve had a good block of training over the last few months: some stunning days in the Alps, exploring the Dorset hills, going back to routes in on the North Downs, and recently some back to back marathons along the Ridgeway and Thames Path getting a look at the course for the race.

I’m looking forward to a change in focus after this race: a break from running, a justified relax, but also a complete change for the winter, preparing to go to the Arctic in January for the final team selection for the Antarctica expedition. It’ll be a good change and I’m sure my body will be very pleased with me for giving it a break; a break from intense running at least, a different focus with a lot more strength needed for the Arctic.

But before that happens, I’m going to put myself on the line this weekend, and give this race a massive final effort. Put into motion all the hard work from this year. And I’m excited.

Will I do well? No idea. That depends if I pull it out the bag on the day, and who else turns up. I cannot control how fast other people run, or if I feel great on the day, but I can control how much effort I put into it, and I’m sure as hell going to nail myself in the process. Thats all the satisfaction you need.

Relaxing ahead of the race gives you time to think deeply about why you are about to obliterate yourself over 100 miles of trails. Are we trying to prove something to other people? To ourselves? Is there anything to prove? What are we searching for? Or is it just that we enjoy having to dig deep and execute a well crafted plan, years in the making. Its healthy to have these conversations with ourselves, and affirm what is at our core (something Mark got me to do). As the layers get stripped back this weekend through shear attrition, you’d better have a solid core if you want any chance of making the finish line.

I want to enjoy this weekend. Enjoy running for the sake of running. Enjoy putting yourself up against something so demanding. Enjoy doing something that scares you. Enjoy the freedom of being brought back to the basics of what we have evolved to do.

See you on the other side.