Q&A With Dan Lawson Team GB Ultra Runner
Dan Lawson is an ultra runner who has some incredible achievements to his name. From winning 1st place in a 400km (250 miles) race through the Gobi desert to achieving the fastest British time in the notorious Badwater Ultra marathon through California's Death Valley, he has done some amazing things. Sundried got the chance to chat with Dan about his love for running and what life is like running such extreme races.
What drew you to Sundried?
I'm so grateful to spend a few hours a day running through trails and communing with nature. As runners I feel we have a duty to protect and enhance this environment we gain so much happiness from. Running ethically and championing such brands as Sundried are important to the essence of our sport.
What's been your favourite race to date and why?
I recently ran across the Gobi Desert and to date this has to be my favourite. The race was 412km across the most beautiful but also gruelling terrain I have ever experienced. It stands out because I really got to see the places my body is able to take itself but most interestingly also the limits I am able to push my mind to. I slept only 45 minutes in over 70 hours and during the end of the race my mind was mush!
How does preparing for an ultra marathon across the desert differ from preparing for a regular city marathon?
Both require a lot of discipline and hard work in training. That's the same for both. In the marathon, because it's a lot shorter, you can get away with not really looking after yourself. You can hold on without taking in too much water or energy, but the ultra requires a lot more planning in this department and if you don't get your hydration and nutrition right you are going to pay after around 20 hours or so and possibly not be able to finish the race.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face during ultra running? What happens to your body?
After a few hours and a few hundred km your body - especially your legs - are always going to start to ache. The biggest challenge is to master the mind; not to let it focus on the pain and to take your attention away from those thoughts of stopping that all runners have regardless of a 5k distance or 500k. Physically, we are pretty much capable of anything as long as the mind is willing too.
What big races do you have planned for 2018?
I'm hoping to be picked to represent Team GB again at the 24hr European Championships where I will defend my title. This will be in Romania in May. In my build up to that I will race a few half and full marathons as well as a 100k. After May, I will switch my attention to the trails and build up to the Run Rabbit Run 100 miler in the USA.
Considering the incredible achievements you've already accomplished, what would be the ultimate challenge for you?
I'm really set on trying to beat the current British record for the 24hr race. It's stood for around 30 years now. It's a tough ask but if you manage to get a near perfect race it's achievable. Other than that I do enjoy the longer, non-stop races I would like to test myself again like I did in the Gobi Desert. Maybe a John O' Groats to Lands End record attempt could be on the cards.
What do you think about when you're out there running for 70+ hours?
It's a lot of thinking time 70 hours right! Sometimes you can solve all sorts of problems or make some amazing future plans. I think the key is to let the mind float away thinking about the nice things, because as soon as you start to think negatively such as "my body hurts", "I want to stop" or you start contemplating how many more hours or km you have left to run, that's when you need to direct the mind in a different direction. To either try and clear the mind of any thought whatsoever or steer it down another route. In difficult times, I like to pretend I'm running alongside members of my family or much loved friends.
How do you stay hydrated and nourished during such epic races?
This is one of the hardest things to get right. As the race moves on, hydration and fuelling become so much more important as it becomes harder for your body to absorb food and water. What seems to work for me is making sure I get as much in as possible in the front half of the race. Eating and drinking little and often seems to work best. I tend to drink an energy drink called Tailwind and I munch on the most wonderful flapjacks and energy bombs from a company called Oatopia.
Do you feel like you're pushing yourself hard during an ultra run or are you jogging at a comfortable pace?
The first two-thirds of an ultra run feels quite comfy in anything over 100k, most of it is at a pretty comfy pace, unless you are slogging it up a mountain! After a number of hours that comfy pace often starts to feel pretty uncomfortable and takes a lot more effort.
Who is your biggest inspiration?
I'm inspired by anyone who works hard to achieve their dreams. Anyone who is strong enough to listen to themselves and not to follow the norm. I'm lucky to have an excellent coach, Allison, and a superb mentor Richard Brown, who is a legendary ultra runner. These two inspire me to work hard.
What advice would you give someone looking to complete an ultra marathon for the first time?
No ultra marathon is easy. You must understand that there will be some dark moments in your mind and plan for these. Visualise yourself overcoming these tough periods; lows are always followed by highs. And look around and smile as much as possible and enjoy it.