Photo Credit: James Mitchell

When professional Ironman triathlete Alice Hector fell in love with ultra-running she set her sights on reaching the coveted 100-mile ultra-running landmark. From training insights to fuelling and pacing, here she shares the lessons she learned along the way.


Let’s face it. Ultra-running is not everyone’s idea of a good time. A lot of people will think you’re more than a bit odd. But in my eyes at least, there’s something very transcendent about the adventure of an ultra. It’s a very special thing, made even more so by the fact that not everyone understands why (or how) you do it!

To build up to my first 100-mile event, I began with a scenic 50km race. I found it really testing but it was great way to see lots of countryside on foot. Having come from triathlon, betrothed in complex logistics, rules and regulations, the escapism and the simplicity of ‘just running’ really struck me. It was just you, on foot, fuelling and navigating your way to the finish.

The other competitors were very laid back. There was no frenetic energy at the start that I am used to in shorter races. The gun went, and rather than take off on the B of the Bang, people were still tying their shoelaces. If another runner ran out of water or needed something, other runners were the first to reach out. We chatted a bit or ran side-by-side in contented silence, not racing as such, but just ticking the miles off in a shared rhythm. It was a far cry from the tense atmosphere of any other competition I’d done previously.

From there I completed events of 50 miles, 100 kilometres and then my first 100-mile event: the North Downs Way, in 2012. Having successfully run my first 100-miler, coming first lady (setting the women’s course record at the time) and fourth overall, here’s what I learned along the way:

#1. You don’t have to kill yourself with super-long training runs
On the road to my first 100-mile ultra, I side-stepped the coaching programmes I came across that recommended really long training runs of 5-8 hours. For me, this was too much and carried too great a risk of damage. Instead, I did one 4-hour run and lots of weekend 2-3 hour runs; not much more than you would for a marathon. These shorter runs helped me build my aerobic endurance, conditioning my legs to take the strain without tipping the scale into damage and disrepair.

Photo Credit: www.THATCAMERAMAN.COM ft Sundried

Rather than try and get super-humanly strong and fit, I accepted the fact that 100 miles would hurt and that I’d probably not run for a good period of time afterwards! With ultra-running I quickly established I like to leave a lot for the day, rather than go into the event having almost completed the distance in training with an overuse injury already present. (You can bet that’ll rear its ugly head a few miles in, and the prospect of a DNF will become all too real.)

It’s far better to be 10% underdone and healthy than 1% overcooked. Factor in a decent amount of recovery afterwards (at least two weeks of no-impact light exercise) and you’ll be amazed how quickly the body heals.

#2. You cannot run 100 miles for outside reward
That sense of satisfaction has to come from within. Sometimes, you finish an ultra-running event and there is no medal or T-Shirt. During my 100-mile North Downs Way event, all I could think about was the finish line for the last couple of hours, and when I arrived at 2am, there was a solitary man standing by a limp flag on a pole in the dark. There was no rapturous applause or podium celebrations. The people who had finished before me had already gone to sleep in the tent. I got a pat on the back and a cup of soup, and I also received the gift of hypothermia in August and spent some time in the ambulance which was fun (note: upon finishing, take off your damp kit ASAP!)

#3. It will be one of the most satisfying things you will ever do
After finishing my 100 miles, I left knowing I had achieved something that would stick with me for a lifetime. There was no real euphoric feeling at finishing, but equally I had no post-race blues. Instead, I had a deep sense of satisfaction that has actually never left me.

I am not going to glorify completely what is the hardest thing I’ve done to date, but the world of ultra-running has moments of sheer beauty and catharsis. Something about the ‘runner’s high’ holds true in that I, for one, simply don’t get the same feeling from cycling or swimming.

#4. Ultra running is a mind game
Having done six events now (and been successful in them all) I have found that ultra-running is a mind and management game more than anything. If you’re not quite fit enough, but you want that finish line so badly you can taste it, and you can fuel yourself well throughout by using your head, you’ll get there in a much better state than the very fit person who is asking “Why am I doing this?” and failing to take on enough calories.


#5. Real food is easier to stomach when covering ultra distances
During my 100-mile run, I noticed that energy gels and typical sports foods were fine to start with, but as the day wore on and my body needed it more, real food went down far better. I can’t stomach solid food in triathlon but at the lower intensity of an ultra (and in a more depleted state), frequently nibbling on flapjacks and bananas was the best formula for me.

There’s a lot of choice at the aid stations, although I did find deep into my ultra that things that were usually appealing, or at the very least, inoffensive, began to look utterly repulsive! (Plain ham and cheese wraps for one, and gels another.) I found it vital to listen to my body and I remember it being very easy to read that day. It told me exactly what it needed!

#6. A ‘pacer’ can be a lifesaver
Because of the above, it’s very wise as a first-timer to use a pacer to help guide you in the last portion. My pacer, Alex Miller, planned to run the last 30 miles with me but I ended up wanting him with me from mile 60. I like to run alone usually, but having gone 10 hours already, and with the hardest sections left to tackle, I needed him. He was worth his weight in gold and to this day his selfless act remains a fond and firm memory.

#7. Heed the advice of aid station volunteers
If you don’t have a personal crew with you, you can still do it. But take the advice of the volunteers at the aid stations as gospel. They know ultra, and they’ve seen it all before. They will read you better than you’re reading yourself in the closing stages – as you may unwittingly be incapable of good decision-making after 80 miles of running with almost a marathon still to go! They will advise and will do whatever they can to help get you to the finish. Your safety comes first.

Photo Credit: Centurion Events

#8. To achieve in ultra you must know suffering
Expect to have problems! (Of course, if you expect them, then they don’t actually have to be seen as problems, just ‘things to overcome’). Stomach issues are common, as is huge levels of muscle pain and waves of deep fatigue. Brief hallucinations have been reported to occur, especially in the night sections, where your blood sugar is getting low and the jostling head torch can meddle with your vision. By my reckoning, such stories can be sensationalised a little in the post-race tales, but they’re worth noting so there’s no panic should something untoward happen.

#9. Be patient with injuries and you’ll get there
When I tried to start running properly aged 19, I had shin splints for 2.5 years and even 20 minutes was a big ask. But I did what I could, and bit by bit my legs got stronger. It was a VERY slow process. After that, I had problem calves for years that would tighten to unbearable levels and need 1-2 days off after each and every run. Only now, aged 35, have my legs built up enough resilience that I am able to run for multiple days in a row.

It’s very rare I get injured now. Part of this hasn’t come from running at all, but conditioning and mobility and a decent education around maintenance (thanks to my physios, the Drummond Clinic). 16 years on from when I started to ‘train’, I’ve only recently finally got to a point where I can train properly for an ultra. I look forward to seeing what I can do in the future. With patience and persistence, you can build up too.


#10. The ultra-running community is wonderful
There’s such a fantastic sense of accomplishment and an unrivalled sense of community amongst ultra-runners. Most don’t do it for the bling or bravado. As a member of this community, you will learn about your capabilities, your tolerances and your breaking points. You will challenge the concept of your limits, and if you set yourself up with an open mind and a good strong fitness base, you may well surpass what you thought was ever possible.

#11. It’s better to be strong than skinny
At the time of my ultra in 2012, I lived a different existence to that of the elite triathlete I am today. I trained hard, yes, but I worked full-time, enjoyed late night socialising and would think nothing of devouring a tonne of questionable foodstuffs whenever I felt the urge (which was often!) Whilst I would recommend a healthy lifestyle and have no desire to revert back to that, my weight made little difference to my performance. I was a stone heavier than I am now but I was strong, and that was the most important thing.

#12. 100-miles is not the end for me
Running 100 miles has taught me that I haven’t reached my endurance limit. I plan to do many more ultras in the future. On my future bucket list is Badwater 135, an ultra-running event covering 135 miles across California’s frighteningly hot Death Valley. Although ridiculously tough, it’s stuck in my head for many years, and for that reason I’m determined to complete it.

Right now? Following my 100-miler, I fell back into triathlon and for now that is my job, but I look forward to the time when I can explore the world again on two feet.

Photo Credit: www.THATCAMERAMAN.COM ft Sundried

You can keep up with Alice’s triathlon and ultra training, along with upcoming races, by following her on social media:, and via her website,