Ever thought about running 100+ miles at one time? Most responses usually go something like, “Yea but only in my worst nightmares.” The world of ultra sporting is a community that has seen rapid growth in the past 5 years, and is generating a strong class of adventure hungry humans looking to quite literally go the extra mile.
One of those humans who caught my eye for much more than his ultra sport ways is adventure athlete and multi-media journalist Tobias Mews. Mews is known for but not limited to a highly reputable journalistic career on a variety of channels, and even more so for his growing list of physical accomplishments.
Read on to get his perspective as someone willing to push the limits, and most importantly, as someone willing to live life in the fullest way imaginable.
A quick background on why you are who/where you are… go!!
I’m not sure how it came about, but I’ve somehow never been one to stick to the beaten track. After school, instead of going to Uni in the UK, like most of my peers, I moved lock, stock and barrel to France where I didn’t speak French. I ended up studying French at university in Poitiers and music at the Conservatoire. When I finished, instead of getting a normal job, I went back to uni again but in London at the European Business School. Four years later, another language better off (Spanish – thanks to a year in Chile and Madrid) and another degree under my belt, instead of going down the banking route, I joined the British Army. Six years later, I left and retrained as a TV journalist, doing a Masters in television journalism at City University. It was then, in 2008, that I started to discover that I was quite good at running.
Most vital component to ultra-marathon prep?
I don’t think there’s any secret formula to getting ready for an ultra marathon.
Running long distance is simply a question of you versus your brain telling you to stop.
As long as you’re mentally ready and have done a few long runs to give you the confidence that you can do it, then you’ll be fine. It’s a different story altogether if you’re looking to be competitive.
Why ultras over anything else?
To be honest, I don’t think of myself as an ultra runner. It’s just something that I do and am reasonably good at. Not world class, but good enough to give people a run for their money. I choose ultras that take me through beautiful parts of the world. I’d hike them, but I don’t have the time, nor the patience to cover those sorts of distances. I also do long distance cycle races and week long expedition adventure races. Anything that sounds difficult.
How do you condition yourself mentally for these races?
I’m lucky that I have a good base level of fitness, so I just roll from one to the next. Occasionally however, I come across a race that scares me enough to want to train for it. One example is the Dragon’s Back Race coming up in June. 200 miles and 17,000m of ascent on some really gnarly terrain – it’s not going to be easy. So, I’m going to train on terrain that’s more difficult so that mentally, I know that it can’t get worse than what I’m doing now.
You were recently asked to join iconic car brand ‘Mini’ where you spent some time exploring Argentina. How did this adventure line up on your long list?
I don’t normally do road trips, preferring to cover the distance by my own steam. However, the opportunity to drive 2000kms across the Altaplana of Argentina following in the footsteps of the Dakar Rally doesn’t happen very often, so I jumped at it. I had no idea of how vast Argentina was. Moreover, the car we were driving, an unmodified MINI Countryman ALL4 Cooper S, didn’t bat an eyelid and got us from start to finish in one piece.
What races/achievements are you most proud of?
It’s a tricky one. I’ve done close to 200 races, from wife carrying to racing through the Amazon jungle. But the thing I’m most proud of was completing the OtillO Swim Run World Champs with my now wife Zayne, a week before our wedding. It’s a 75km swim run across 26 islands – swimming in between and running across. Neither of us are strong swimmers and with 10k of sea swimming, it’s by no means a walk in the park, especially with 65kms of trail running mixed in. We didn’t finish high in the rankings, but we did finish without an argument and we did get married!!
Can you explain how you deal with mental hurdles during races?
I’m quite good at switching off. If something’s very difficult and I’m struggling, then I say to myself, ‘If I’m struggling, I wonder how the guy at the back is getting on’. I’m lucky to have 6 years of Army training behind me which has given toughened me up. If I’m physically struggling, I give myself a stern talking to. I literally have a word with myself, out loud. It works.
In March you competed in the Spring Ballbuster Duathlon and referred to it as a “manhood-challenging race” How does one rise to the occasion?
I’ve done the Ballbuster 3 times and love it, not because of the scenery, but because it’s challenging. It’s an 8 mile run, 24 mile bike and another 8 mile run – 5 laps in total of the Box Hill route. If you go out on the first run lap too hard, you’ll be in a world of pain for the second run. And it’s always miserable weather or bitterly cold.
This is a race you have competed in before with a time you hope to improve. What’s step one in achieving this?
It’s all about negative splits. Go a bit easier than you might normally go on the first run, pick up the pace on the bike but make sure you leave something in the tank for the final run. Lots of people become unstuck. I aim to be no less than 1 minute slower on the second run. So in splits, I’ll do about 48 minutes for 8 miles, followed by a sub 1.18 bike and a 49 split on the second run.
Most common misconception on ultra-sport athletes?
That we don’t have fun because we’re too concerned with training. The thing is, training is fun because I love the endorphins that exercise gives me. It’s incredibly satisfying to be able to cover vast distances under your own steam and every run, bike ride or paddle is an adventure in its own right. Oh and people think that we do ultra distances because we can’t compete in the short stuff. They’re probably right in some cases, but it’s also because as you grow older, you grow mentally stronger and less likely to quit.
Your best advice on life?
Grab life by the balls and go for it.
I’ve never followed convention, which means that I was repeatedly told that I was making a mistake.
I’ve never been happier and I’m in the fortunate position of making a career out of my passion. Life’s too short for faffing.