Running into challenges
“Running a hundred miles is like living a year in one day”
My name is Damian Hall and I am a professional ultra-marathon runner, who currently holds the record time for the 185-mile Wainwright Coast to Coast route. Aside from this, I am a 45-year-old father of two and currently residing in Wiltshire.
My journey starts with a happy childhood and a middle-class upbringing. That’s not to say that we were rich. Certainly, we had spells staying at friends houses and spent a lot of time in council houses. However, I was happy and I had the support and love to choose a career that I wanted. As a child, I was never set on becoming an ultra-marathon runner. Like many others my age, I had dreams of being a professional football player. I had a real passion for the sport and collected football magazines religiously. Despite this, I also appreciated that I did not have the ability to make it as a professional. In all honesty, I had very little idea about what I wanted to do. I had been pretty slack at school and this was reflected in poor GCSEs and initially poor A-levels.
From here, I decided to crack-down and ended up completing further A-levels, which proved to be more successful. In turn, this allowed me to go to university to study psychology. With a desire to prolong the inevitable plunge into the world of work, I went on to study a masters before eventually working as a football journalist. This was a great opportunity to work around my passion and fitted around my two strengths of English and PE. I did this for a couple of decades and really enjoyed it.
After a while, things became a bit monotonous and I decided to go travelling. This was amazing and I was fortunate enough to spend time in South America and the Andes. As a result, I managed to combine adventuring with work and moved into the field of freelance and travel journalism. This really allowed me to re-discover the outdoors. For example, I just remember waking up one day and taking a bus into the Andes and being really thankful for the natural world around me. This time outdoors also encouraged me to get into exercise, especially endurance exercise. During my time in New Zealand, in particular, I completed a lot of long-distance walks. I really enjoyed taking in the scenery but I also enjoyed the sweet feeling of exhaustion at the end of the day. Science has consistently shown that being outside has various health benefits. This was also really rewarding and led naturally into my discovery of ultra-marathons.
My love for running started with the Bath Half in 2011. In the following year, I completed my first marathon and subsequently my first ultra-marathon. In fact, I was warned before my first ultra-marathon that they were addictive and nothing could have been more true. One of the things that I love about running is the simplicity that it brings. You can run anytime and you can do so with minimal equipment. They say that all you need is running shoes but technically you could even do it barefoot. Running is what makes us human, it is just pure and simple.
I currently run six times a week but ultra-marathons and events are like adventures that happen three to four times a year. I am not sure if I get a runner’s high after I complete every run but the ultras are certainly an emotional rollercoaster. It is these events that make me feel alive. This is not to say that they are easy and the inevitable pain barrier is often extremely challenging. However, coming through this and really pushing yourself is what makes it so satisfying. Certainly, reaching the finishing line after this can be an overwhelming feeling. I think that this is even more important, given the safety and comfort that many of us are fortunate enough to experience in our everyday lives.
The first ultra-marathon that I ever completed was 69 miles over a period of two days. While this seems relatively short now, at the time it seemed almost unthinkable. The next race was 100 km and then 100 miles before I completed a 269 mile race. My longest challenge to date, however, is the South West Coastal Path, which stretches across 630 miles and took 11 days. Here, I was trying to break the world record, so I only got around 3 hours sleep per night. These experiences really illustrated to me that there is no limit on how far you can run.
Of course, you still need to get nutrition and training right, as I found during a period of overhydration on a recent ultramarathon. In what I consider to be a bit of a newbie mistake, I over-hydrated and lost my co-ordination considerably. I felt like I was drunk and I kept having to ask the other runners what we were doing and where we were going. While this is a dangerous state to be in, I had a doctor with me, so I was always relatively safe. In essence, you could say that it was part of the adventure.
At the start, my motivation was a desire to create good magazine stories. This was a good motivator and I gradually became better and better over time. I was fortunate enough to get onto the GB trail running team and this led to sponsorship and a support team. At this stage, therefore, you begin to have several motivators, including a desire to perform well for your support team.
Moving forwards, my motivations have, again, changed somewhat, given my worries around climate change. I know that this might appear a bit contradictory, given that I often have a support team, travelling in vehicles. However, I often find myself speaking on the BBC and ITV about the issue afterwards, which I believe compensates for this. I am also able to fundraise for organisations like Greenpeace and this is important to me.
Overall, it is important that the passion and motivation is there. As a sports psychologist consistently told me, it is important to focus on that ‘why.’ The more personal that this is, often the better and more powerful it is.
My story is available through my book, ‘in it for the long run.’ This explains how I got into running and how it changed my life. For me, I think that I grew up to re-discover the joy of running. As adults, we tend to forget about this but it is ever so important. In fact, I think it is fantastic that more and more people are getting into ultra-marathon running and continuing this joy. While this covers my story, it would be incomplete without referencing the extensive help that I received from my support team, amongst others. Often selfless people who give up their time, without pay.
In the future, I want to continue my running to advocate for systematic change to address the climate crisis. I believe that governments carry more responsibility than individuals but we can all do our bit. If we all focus on lowering our emissions from our diet, travel and energy, then we can make a personal change and encourage others, creating a trickle down effect. I hope to further inspire these changes, while continuing to do the thing that I love.
Damian’s Book – In it for the Long run