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Lowri Morgan’s incredible PTL Challenge

Lowri Morgan’s incredible PTL Challenge

Clock27th April 2018

NEW Lowri Morgan runner interview: An astounding challenge, Rebel Girls, facing your fears and so much more 🙂  Sit back & enjoy!

 

I recently had the immense pleasure of interviewing Welsh ultra running legend Lowri Morgan again. Why? Well she’s set to complete an incredible PTL Challenge. Read below to find out more – you can’t fail to be inspired 🙂

 

 lowri morganLowri, out of VLM and your PTL Challenge, which are you looking forward to most?

For the first time in about 15 years, I’ve focused the last 5 months on training for the London Marathon. I ran a 3 hour 8 mins marathon then but moved onto Ultra Marathon after that. So when I raced marathons during those years I usually used it as a back to back training session for another race without much taper etc. However this year, I’m looking forward to racing it. I’ve really enjoyed the change in focus – concentrating more on speed rather than time on my feet. It’s been difficult for me but it’s been fun!  I’m also looking forward to the adventure involved with the PTL but at the moment my focus has been on the marathon.

 

What were your aims for London Marathon? (qtn and answer edited as interview published just after VLM)

This year was different. I qualified for the London Marathon Championship 15 years ago but didn’t go for it as I moved onto Ultra running and changed my focus. This year I was seeing if my legs have some speed let in them after all these years! I turned 44 years old a few days before the race and was going to see if I could beat my personal best 3 hours 8 mins. I was hoping to go sub 3 but my training hasn’t been great as the whole family has been ill with a virus and chest infection. It really has knocked me back a month with regards to training so we’ll see. If I don’t there’ll be other chances I hope.

 

Well in what turned out to be the hottest London Marathon on record, Lowri managed to achieve this! 

 

Please tell us more about this incredible PTL Challenge

lowri morgan rock climbingWhat is La Petite Trotte à Léon? In a phrase, it’s “an enlarged tour around Mont Blanc.” Circumnavigating the highest mountain in Europe, PTL is a 300-kilometer loop with 25,000 meters of climbing. This Tour du Mont Blanc takes place on “paths sometimes difficult, even non-existent” as it passes through the Alps of France, Italy, and Switzerland. It includes the crossing of 33 passes and summits between 2,500 and 3,000 meters altitude. Participants travel the route in teams of two or three who operate in autonomy — meaning the PTL is self-supported with the exception of three life bases in villages, each about 80 to 100 kilometers apart. There is no other aid. There are no crews. There are no course markings. There’s not even much of a course. It’s just a thin line of a GPS track on a bewildering swath of mountains — scrambling up and down rocky ledges, traversing narrow ridges, descending scree slopes, and climbing and dropping many thousands of feet on interminably steep trails.
The event has no classifications — meaning you either finish or you don’t, but you won’t be ranked — and teams are given 136 hours to finish. This cut-off requires teams to keep a minimum average pace of 1.33 mph over the entire length of the course, including stops — a surprisingly demanding pace given all of the difficulties at hand. “Running” is not the predominant mode of travel for any team in PTL, as much as hiking, slogging, scrambling, and light mountaineering. Regardless of how you define it, any forward motion on the PTL course is more strenuous than most anything else I’ve done as a trail runner, and I’ve signed up to do this for nearly six days nonstop.

 

Goodness me! Whose idea was it?

My friend and running partner had returned from completing the UTMB and we spoke about the event. Whilst out there she had seen the other PTL competitors come in. I watched the videos and the following morning on our 04:00 run we both said, ‘why not’?

 

Haha  as you do when chatting on a 4am run! Why then?

There are many reasons why I do what I do. Running and exploration is my passion. To be able to complete these types of events, you must love running and the challenges it brings. But it also boils down to, quite simply, to see if I can. it’s very special. It’s not a race. It’s about the solidarity that comes with being part of a team. The route isn’t marked. You’re on your own with a GPS and maps. That makes for the team effort, as well. Then, there’s the fact that the route changes every year. That’s unique. It goes through places in the Alps that are less traveled: very technical areas and over high rocky terrain. You see some places that are beautiful and unique. The PTL is more about survival. In one of Jean-Claude Marmier’s (PTL founder) speeches he said, “It’s not a race. Just try to finish. It’s about reaching for a goal.”

lowri morgan running

 

How did it come about?

Emma and I had both raced on the same weekend – Emma the UTMB and me, The Ring o’ Fire. We were both looking for a different challenge for 2018. We meet early in the mornings as we are both working mothers so meeting at 4am is quite the norm for us. So we had been running around the trails of the Cardiff area for a good couple of hours when Emma mentioned the race. I had never heard of it but decided to read about it and watch the videos after our 30 mile run that morning. When we met the following morning, we had decided that we were going to attempt the PTL. It didn’t take long to convince us both to go for it. I am also an avid skier and know the mountains of Chamonix well – it’s a place I love.

 

Are you creating TV coverage of your challenge?

No there is no TV film crew following us on this challenge – not at the moment. There have been a few interested parties so we’ll see.

 

How do you begin to prepare for a challenge like that?! 

I’ve been concentrating for the last few months on training for the marathon distance so my mileage hasn’t been that high (75-80 miles a week) but the intensity has been higher – more interval and speed work.  However, once the marathon finishes I’ll start focusing on the longer distances. I have a few Ultras planned for the Summer and will start by getting myself into the mountains and concentrate on time on the feet. I will increase my mileage to 100+ a week and I’ll be cross-referencing my training schedule with the one I followed for the Arctic 350 mile non-stop race I did. That worked well for me. Of course, this time around there will be huge mountains involved so I’ll be doing strength work on my legs and will start carrying some extra weight around during some sessions. My focus will also turn to navigation and I will spend a lot of my time with my good friends (who are ex special forces) who specialise in navigation. They’ll help us along the way as I believe that if I make the training as difficult and as realistic to the race as possible then I won’t be ‘shocked’ during the race when things will start to go wrong. And they will. These races are tough and they don’t always go to plan so you must always prepare for every type of eventuality.

 

How different is your marathon training to the PTL training?

Most marathon training programs will encourage runners to complete one long run per week, and add only 1-2 miles at a time – up to 20-22 miles – to the distance. Ultras of 40 or more miles, however, require a minimum of one long run per week – often back to back sessions -, and unless you have several years to train, you’ll need to add more than a mile each week. Although it’s never wise to try and run the full race distance in training, you should go beyond 20 miles at least once. Some ultra runners will run a marathon or shorter-distance ultra, like a 50k (32 miles) as a training run for a longer ultra. I have run a few 30 milers during my marathon training schedule.

 

Before I turned my focus over to the marathon distance, I was running long distances and making sure I was doing my weekly back to back sessions e.g. 25-30 mile trail runs back to back and then a 15-20 miler the following day, but as the London Marathon got closer, I started to increase the intensity and lowered the mileage. One thing that has been consistent through out though has been the timing of my running sessions. I am a broadcaster, a mother and writing a book at the moment, so fitting it all in is quite a challenge so  now I am now a morning runner – getting up as early as 4 am to get the miles in. I still find it difficult to get up, especially with my hectic life style, but as I lie there, dreading getting out of bed, I tell myself that discipline is knowing the difference between what you want now and what you want most. I have thoroughly enjoyed training for the marathon distance and have seen my times get faster which has really motivated me to work harder. We’ll see how things go in London but I am thinking of continuing with this training and keep the marathon training going as much as possible without compromising my ultra races.

lowri morgan team scott

 

How do you combine the two without compromising either?

I hope I have done it the right way! We will soon find out but one thing that I do know is that both distances are so very very different to each other an require different training schedules. I’m sure many runners have heard someone say, “If you can do a half marathon, you can do a whole.” The thought process is that the dedication level is very similar, and the training method is the same – you just train longer. So…does this same logic apply to ultra marathons? If you’ve completed a marathon, does it mean you have what it takes to complete an ultra? Not exactly. The training for a marathon vs. an ultra marathon does have a few pivotal differences. Ultras are not so much about speed as they are about brute endurance and mental attitude. Of course, like most races, ultras are timed and even have time cut-offs, but you will be hard pressed to find two or more people sprinting to the end to be the winner. When covering distances of 30, 40, 50….100 miles, the most efficient way for the human body to make it through is to slow down. Training is no different. There is less need for short and fast track workouts, since really long, slow runs that accustom your mind and body to hours of repetitive pounding, are by far more helpful in preparation for an actual ultra. I know many exceptional marathon runners who struggle with ultras and vice versa. But then I know of some who have incredible PB’s in the Marathon and Ultra distances. You just don’t know! However, when it really comes down to it, the most important training tool needed for an ultra is the same as a marathon – pure dedication and discipline and resilience….and some stubbornness! If you have all that, you’ll be just fine.

 

With PTL, how will your past experiences help?

ll, there have been moments in all the past races that have taught me how to approach problems. That is, how to prioritize. What’s important? What can wait? You learn a lot about yourself. It’s an inner ride. You learn about your body, your mental health. Your ability to deal with difficulty. You go from euphoria to depression to euphoria.
I have pushed my mind and body to the extreme – on different terrains, in 50 degree Celsius and 90% humidity  to -72 degree Celsius and 70 mph winds . I have gone without sleep for days whilst racing. I have hallucinated, dragged my feet to win races with fractured feet. I know my boundaries and I know how to push my limits…..if I really want to. I know I can do it if I train properly and am prepared. I need to do my homework as I did with all my other races and expeditions.

 

What does being in a team bring?

I raced The Three Peaks Yacht Race, one of the oldest and most remarkable multi-sport endurance races in the world. It combines some hard core distance running with sailing and navigating around some of the most challenging coasts of the UK.  It was very testing! Starting in Barmouth, a crew of five of us – sailed up to Caernarfon, where two of us ran 24 miles to the summit of Snowdon and back to the boat so as to sail for the Cumbrian coast. Then it was a 40mile cycle and run to the summit of Scafell Pike. Then we sailed up to Fort William and slogged up and down Ben Nevis to finish the race.And when we crossed that finish line, Team Aparito Digital Health had become the first all female team in the history of the Three Peaks Yacht Race to take line honours. What had made the difference? Teamwork! We had battled through the elements, had been there for each other all the time, all working together as a team from the start. We had only met the day before the race started It was all about communication, composure and encouragement – and as a result, our self-worth and self-belief increased.

 

I will take the lessons learnt from my past experience into the PTL. We will try to have fun, first of all! You go step-by-step, one section at a time, together. You rely on your teammates. You need to remember it’s not that bad. Of course, each one of you will still feel every little step. Sometimes it’s hard. But it’s important to never panic, to work together to stay in a good mood, to keep your positive thinking.We work to adapt to each other’s rhythm and pace, too, because you’re rarely tired at the same time. Sometimes you go hours without talking with your partner, but sometimes just a look is all you need, or a quick check-in. “How’s it going?”. “Yeah, it’s going!”

lowri morgan yacht race

 

 

Cast your mind back to being 18 and told you would never run properly again. What would you say to that 18 year old Lowri?

I would tell myself to not feat the unknown and not be scared of pushing my limits. After my knee accident I returned to running 3 years after but was too scared to push my boundaries. I remember when I started training for my first marathon, my fear of the unknown led to reluctance. On one hand I was excited and wanted to run a marathon, but I doubted myself whether or not I could actually run a marathon. I was reluctant to start training despite being a pretty confident person who will try just about anything.

To be honest these feelings followed me the entire way despite knowing that millions of others had gone before me and paved the way towards training for and running a marathon. Every week, the worry or fear was something different. The runs got longer, the weather got warmer. Race day got closer. Something was always there in my mind.
* Would I be able to finish?
* Would I be able to stay injury free?
* Would I be fast enough?
* What would people think if I failed, or even dropped out of training?
All these reactions, or self doubts are completely normal.
But things are rarely as bad as they seem. In a lot of ways, I really became my own worst enemy. I qualified for the London Marathon Championships in my 20s but pulled out due to the fear of not being able to reach my goal. I’m now 44 years old and have the opportunity to compete in the Championships. The challenge is just as great but I am not full of fear. I am not someone who regrets nor looks back and wishes differently. I believe that had I not had that accident, I would not have the drive that I have today. Sometimes, good can come from bad.

 

 

Which brings us to @rebelgirlsbook. Could you tell us the purpose & ethos behind this?

The book was born of the frustration felt by Favilli and Cavallo at the lack of role models for girls in fiction and film. They decided to offer alternative fairytales to those of Cinderella and Rapunzel, who pine for their princes. So … once upon a time there were female scientists, judges, athletes, writers, musicians and politicians, all with remarkable stories.Goodnight stories for Rebel Girls is a  response to the gender stereotyping so prevalent in children’s stories, Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo created ‘Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls’ – where female role models who ‘aim higher; fight harder’ are at the centre of the narrative. The book is a compilation of 100 stories of heroic women who have positively shaped history. The stories tell the inspirational stories of female scientists, designers, queens, writers, activists, artists, athletes, authors, explorers and more. The book is illustrated by 60 female artists from all over the world. Elena and Francesca (the authors) believe that their emphasis on real-life rebellious women who challenged social norms gives an important message to children who frequently only read about fictional girls.

lowri morgan rebel girls book 2

pic courtesy https://www.thebookseller.com/news/pictures-week-742896

 

Fantastic! How did you get involved?

On October 11 last year – to coincide with International Day of The Girl – book publisher Gomer released a Welsh language adaptation of Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls – 100 Tales of Extraordinary Women by American authors Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo. Straeon Nos Da i Bob Rebel o Ferch. The authors had heard my story previously and had decided to include it in Volume 2 much to my surprise. Both volumes have topped the best-seller charts in America and Britain and has been popular with children and adults alike.

 

How does it make you feel?

I was absolutely thrilled to have the story of my life included. I was already aware of the book because several of my friends were reading it to their children and I had heard that the first volume was an excellent book and I feel truly proud and extremely humbled to have been included alongside some amazing, inspirational female role-models.

 

What can children and adults (of any gender) learn from reading it?

I love the introduction to the book – “To the rebel girls of the world: dream bigger, aim higher, fight harder, and, when in doubt, remember you are right”. The message I hope children of all ages and genders, will learn from this book is that you can aspire to be anything, be whoever you need to be, the opinions of others be damned, and above all, persist. They told me I wouldn’t run properly again. So as I left the hospital in a wheelchair, I was determined to prove them wrong.

 

Lastly, any plans for UTMB?

Not at the moment, but I never say never!

 

I think that means ‘watch this space’ then 😉 

 

Lowri thanks so much for this amazing interview and very best of luck with PTL Challenge! I’m sure readers will enjoy your interview as much as I have 🙂

 

Yours in sport 

Jeff

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