Champion ultra runner Marco Consani, 40, of Glasgow, tells us about his love of ultra running and his tips for success.
Among his many running successes, Marco has represented Scotland at 100km and won the Lakeland 100 in 2014. He was part of the Great Britain gold medal winning team at the World 24 hour last year and also won the European title with the British team.
In Scotland, he holds the course record for the 55-mile Glasgow to Edinburgh race in 6hrs 19 mins and his best time for running the annual 95-mile West Highland Way Race is an incredible 16 hrs 3 mins.
Most recently, he won the Barcelona 24-Hour race, running non-stop around a track for 24 hours. Marco broke the course record by running 159 miles (256km) and beat his personal best distance.
Here, Marco kindly answers some of my questions.
Define ultra running
Ultra running is termed as any race over the marathon distance. Personally, I see an ultra race as anything more than 30 miles. But also, for me, it is much more than that. I just ran a race where I was joint first with a Spaniard I had never met and who couldn’t speak English. I couldn’t speak Spanish and we battled each other for 40-odd miles before we looked at each other and agreed that it would be unfair for one of us to lose. What other sport do the two winners cross the finish hand in hand?
And what other sport does the person who finishes last deserve more respect than the person who finishes first? What other sport can the girls not just compete but also beat the guys?
Ultra running to me is a community of like-minded people that respect each other no matter if they are fast or slow, fat or thin, and where you can learn just as much from the elite guy who finishes in record time or the person who comes in last but had to battle over two nights while the elite runner was sleeping.
That’s how I define ultra running – and why I love it so much.
Where do people start with ultra running?
I think that it is important to have done a marathon-type run. Not necessarily a road marathon, but something in the 20 to 26-mile range or four hours off- road. Apart from getting your body used to running these times and distances, I think it also gets you used to running consistently in training.
How do you build up the running with injury?
Never rush it. I also wouldn’t build up running when injured. If you are lucky you could maintain it but more often than not an injury is your body’s way of telling you that you are overdoing it and it’s time to have a rest. The main thing is you need to learn what is a niggle and what is an injury.
Is it all about road or off-road or a mix?
No way. I think no matter what type of ultra you are doing – road or trail, you benefit from mixing it in training. Road training for miles on end can fatigue the muscles and stiffen the legs. I find some sessions off road loosens things up. Off road can make you slow and so I find a road session helps speed things up. In the end, mentally, it is good to mix and match.
How did you get into ultra running?
With most new things I ever try out it normally starts with an email from my wife saying: “Fancy this?” Sometimes I fear opening up those emails.
The was one that appeared out of the blue after doing my first marathon and while training for my second. It was about a race called the Devil o’ the Highlands. It’s a 42-mile race on the second half of the West Highland Way.
I had walked it before and heard about these nutters running it but I thought: “Why not?”
Debbie and I did one training run for it. It was all we could fit in while training for a marathon and it nearly killed us both. During the race I managed to get into first position in the first 10 miles before the wheels totally fell off and I slowly slipped back to about 10th position. I then relaxed and took my time and slowly moved up to finish in 4th.
The next year, I was signed up to run the full West Highland Way, which my friend John Kynaston said would take two years to get right. It took me five years but during that time I got hooked and made life-long friends.
How much training?
Ultra running is very similar to marathon training. You still do the speed sessions, the recovery runs and the tempo runs. What is different is the long runs. They will obviously be longer.
Depending on an upcoming race, I will train on terrain specific. If it’s a road ultra than I run on the canal, if it’s trail then I’ll run on trail. I also only do at the most about 35 miles in one day. Any more than that I feel that the recovery starts to outweigh the benefits.
If I want to do more miles then I start to do back to backs, so 25 miles Saturday and 25miles on Sunday. This has to be slowly increased week on week. These long runs should be at an easy effort with always one mind on being recovered enough for the next run.
Is it all just running?
Not at all. I think of ultra running as a lifestyle choice. Nearly everything I do seems to be dependent on how it will affect my running. In fact, in a recent performance review my boss said to me that I am a full time runner and part-time IT worker. Luckily, the review still went well.
Mileage or time on your feet in training?
For road ultras I tend to dwell on mileage but for trail or hillier ultras I base my training on time on feet.
What about other exercise?
I visit the gym and do some leg weights twice a week, which I find helps injury prevention. I do some circuit training on a Friday, which helps loosen stiff hips. Also, I try to do some core and upper body exercises although I don’t spend a lot of time on my arms!
Your nutrition tips?
I found that when I increased the amount of fruit and vegetables that I ate that my recovery times decreased dramatically and I felt so much better. I don’t think that it is a coincidence that so many good ultra runners are vegetarian, although I haven’t gone that far.
As much as possible, I try to not eat processed food and I don’t drink alcohol that often but I do drink coffee by the bucketful.
What do you wear for running?
I am very fortunate to be supported by Inov-8. When I joined them I already ran in quite a few pairs of their shoes and knew how good they are but I was pleasantly surprised at how good all of their equipment is.
What do you run in?
- Inov8 TerraClaw 250 shoes
- Inov8 Trail short 140
- Inov8 Race Ultra 5 backpack
- Inov8 Race Ultra Shell
- Inov8 Race Ultra Pant
- Inov8 Base Elite Tshirt
- Inov8 Base Elite Merino long sleeve
What is the secret to your success?
I learned a lot from supporting Debbie in her ultras. She is, by her own admission, not a fast runner but can beat most people in an ultra by using her endurance. Watching her taught me to be patient.
I would race reckless and push at the start but an ultra is a long way and if you push too hard too early it can be even longer.
My coach Mark Johnston also taught me to listen to my body, to analyse my performances and to have a race plan.
These two people have made me the runner I am today but also every person I have met on the way has helped me, too. No matter whether they are at the front or the back of a race everyone has little hints and tips that help.
Five top tips for successful progression to ultra running
If you aren’t enjoying it you are running too fast
Consistency is much more important that miles ran. Don’t run 40 miles and then have a week off running. Better to run 20 and then run 5 miles everyday that week.
Feel a niggle? Have a rest day rather than risk aggravating it more.
Test, test, test: Make sure you test everything in training including nutrition and gear. Nothing should be new on race day.
Rest is as important as training. Rest days are allowed and make sure that after a race you take time off to physically and mentally recover.