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Endurance training tips from ultra-marathon runner Mina Guli

Ultra-marathon runner Mina Guli’s tips are essential reading, whether you’re training for an endurance event or just fascinated by how athletes like Mina do the incredible things they do

Understand your motivation

I ran 40 marathons in seven weeks through seven deserts on seven continents. One thing I will never forget from that challenge was sitting in the middle of the Atacama Desert just wanting to go home when my friend asked me a simple question that got me back on my feet: ‘Why do you want to do this?’ 

Whether you’re training for an Ironman or you first half-marathon, that’s the first question you should ask yourself. If you don’t know the answer, it will come back to haunt you when things get tough. But if you do know the answer, it will inspire you to keep going.

I’ve since thought about that conversation in the Atacama desert many, many times because knowing why I'm doing what I'm doing is always what gets me through the long, difficult days. It’s what gets me to the top of the mountains I think I’m not going to be able to climb. It’s what gets me across rivers and streams and makes me confront my fears. It’s what drives me.

I run to raise awareness of the global water crisis through crazy challenges. Your reason can be anything that matters to you, but it has to matter, or it will be too easy to quit when that voice in your head is screaming at you to stop. 

Have fun

Long distance events beat you up mentally as well as physically. When I’m running there are a couple of things I try to do. The first is to suspend myself from reality. I do this by thinking about a whole bunch of other things, from existential issues, debates, crises, conversations, and upcoming challenges.

I’ve also learned to meditate when I run. That means focusing on all five senses and just really appreciating and analysing them one by one so I’m being totally present and in the moment. There are a bunch of great apps that teach you how to do things like run and meditate at the same time.

I also make jokes and sing songs in my head. I dance around even though it burns energy I should probably be spending running, but the mental benefit outweighs that risk. After all, if you can’t smile while you’re doing it, it's probably not worth doing! 

Don’t accept blisters

Blisters are the body’s way of telling you something is wrong; something is wrong with your footwear or something is wrong with the way you’re running and you need to get it fixed.

Adapt

Understanding, pivoting, adjusting and being flexible are all really important. You need to bear this in mind and remember it when things aren’t going to plan, because in my experience, they rarely do.

Respect sleep and nutrition

It’s too easy to fall into the trap of concentrating on training at the expense of all else, to go to bed later than we should, or to not take the time to calculate the calories we need. I’ve learned from experience that those things can quickly derail you. After all, sleep and nutrition are what fuels your training sessions and if there’s not enough fuel in the tank, you’ll never reach your destination.

Realise that sometimes less can be more

Overtraining can be just as bad, if not worse, than not training enough. Everytime you train it puts your body under physical stress. And it’s not just about reducing the intensity of some of your sessions, you also need to understand the impact of all your lifestyle factors. If you’re travelling like a fiend, for example, or you’ve got a lot of work on your plate, you should consider training less to accommodate those stresses. 

Do you!

This last piece of advice might seem contradictory, but… everyone has an opinion on how much you should run and what your mileage should be, whether you should be doing hills, whether you should be doing trail or road, how much time you should spend in the gym versus cross-training… the list goes on. The reality is there’s no perfect, one-size-fits-all approach that works for everyone. You just need to do what’s right for you. 

Voted one of Fortune’s 50 greatest leaders in the world, Mina Guli is the founder of Thirst; a grassroots education and innovation organisation with over 1.4m student graduates. Check out Mina’s website to learn more and discover how you can play your part.