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An interview with one of our patients here at Richmond Osteopaths: Colin Brett who completed the 250km Fire and Ice Ultra Marathon – Iceland’s toughest foot race!

What is it?

The Fire and Ice Ultra spans a 250km course that incorporates many of the most spectacular environments literally bringing the unique, spectacular, remote and pristine Icelandic environment to your feet.

Biography on Colin Brett

Colin Brett is a 53 year old father, husband and business owner. Colin initially came to see us at Richmond Osteopaths for lower back pain that travelled down the back of his leg. We mobilised his back and feet as well as stretched and massaged his muscles. Colin is a running coach at Ranelagh Harriers Running Club in Richmond, he has a really good idea of what exercises are good to do, we worked together on this to keep him injury free, and most importantly get him to the start line.

Firstly, congratulations Colin on not only completing the 250km race, but getting to the start line as the training is a big part of the race.

The Interview

I would like to start with an obvious question:

Why Fire and Ice? What got you into running ultra marathons?

Having completed The Marathon des Sable in 2013 a similar race across the Sahara Desert only hot and dry whereas Fire & Ice would be wet & cold giving a different challenge. I find the experience of travelling across a landscape self-supported on foot an incredible way to really understand and appreciate a landscape. Iceland looked amazing and didn’t disappoint “it is Wales on steroids” was one description I liked.

I only took up running at 44 years old with a 5 year old and 3 year old who would actually allow my wife & I to sleep. I thought now I should tackle the extra 2 ½ stone that had attached itself to my waist! Things went well, I enjoyed it and my family noticed I was happier with more energy. By 2012 I’d reached the speed goals I’d set myself culminating in a sub 3hr Marathon and thought that at my age I’m not going to get much faster. So I’ll go longer! Hence ultra-marathon running.

What did you focus on during the race to get you through? What tactics did you use?

The literal answer to that is the ground four feet in front of me. This race was brutal there was no track or trail it was all across remote baron rough terrain. The start line was positioned between a volcano and a glacier; this was not nature at its toughest as there was none! It was man against geology, weather and himself. So focus had to be very much in the present, next foot fall, direction, temperature, energy levels, body checks, hydration, ouch! Shouldn’t have strayed from next foot fall…

Tactics changed somewhat after the first kilometre as I found myself racing up the side of a volcano and jumped over a small fissure. I looked back to see an 80 foot drop and thought I’m in a wild environment & the health and safety inspectors may not have checked this course so not dying became the priority. I had set myself some goals beforehand though, which were A – Reach goal – top ten finish & 1st in age group V50. B -Achievable goal – top 20 finish C – Acceptable goal – Finish. Apart from always moving forward kit choices were as light as possible, kcal deficit would be acceptable at minus 3000Kcal per day and I would have to man up when I got cold hungry and tired. To be fair I think I only cried twice and only one of those like a baby!

I’m fascinated in the training and race preparation, how do you get physically and mentally ready for such an event?

I worked on getting myself Marathon fit by April for the London Marathon, which was easier said than done as I’d started the year with shingles. It was then down to some big mileage weeks 80 to 100 many carrying a pack and on occasion pre breakfast runs to get the body used to running on empty and fuelling from the body’s reserves. There was some very Fire & Ice based prep that would include putting wet kit on in the morning before going for a run, horrible but turned out that’s what we did every morning. As for mind you know there will be highs but you are also going to face pain & discomfort so it’s about making the race important enough to you to push through, that is a given for me if I’m going to be away from my family for 8 days.

I had a weekly appointment with you guys at Richmond Osteopaths for running repairs and very importantly, injury prevention, which allowed for a very consistent training programme.

At Richmond Osteopaths we believe that work life balance is important. How were you able to balance this?

Family life comes first and I’m lucky we are an active bunch. I coach and train with my boys at least a couple of times per week and get the chance to do strength and conditioning with my wife; don’t get me wrong I train a lot, but I also try and give a lot. As a family we compromise and encourage each other’s passions. I’m fortunate to own my own business and have a great team of people working with me who are used to me rocking up to work late and sweaty as I will often run commute the 11 miles each way between Richmond and Heathrow. Social life? It would be fair to say my pillow was a far more attractive proposition by 10pm than a pint down the pub, sorry friends! Anyone fancy a lap of the park?

Aside from finding a good Osteopath, of course, what advice would you give to someone doing a similar event?

As well as finding a very good osteopath, commit to it and remember just how fortunate you are.

What surprised you most about your body’s capabilities?

Our bodies and minds never cease to surprise me, I don’t think what I do is beyond anybody with the will to explore their limits. It’s just our limits are so far past where we imagine them to be. Most of us are conditioned to stop at the onset of pain and discomfort but you learn pain is the brains control mechanism and way of being very overprotective of your body and if you are prepared to push on, things get better (usually!) However there are consequences…

Pre training – did you sustain injury during training?

I will caveat the above statement. Training is not the place to explore those limits it’s about conditioning yourself and getting to the start line fit & healthy. I did have some niggles, lower back, glutes, hamstrings but made sure I sought treatment from Richmond Osteopaths and specific exercise programmes to avoid them developing into a full blown injuries. I also forced myself to rest on occasion (Nightmare!)

During the race – did you sustain injury during the race?

This part is a bit graphic: I lost 5 toe nails, had a few blisters, developed patella tendinitis, snapped something on the top of my foot and a fractured scapula acromion (top of my shoulder) after a face plant at 30km, which made running with a 10kg pack complicated.  It also left me with a bruised cheekbone, forehead and hair out of place!

Post race 3-6 weeks – has anything surprised you about your body’s ability to recover during the first 6 weeks post race? 

The body has amazing ability to heal especially with plenty of rest, sleep, healthy food and treatment with you guys. My body is recovering really well albeit a bit slower than it used to. I lost 4kg over the duration of the race and that has also gone back on rather too quickly! There is no sign of the patella tendinitis, the nails are growing and my hair is sorted. I’m following the Richmond Osteopath’s exercise programme for my shoulder, 4 weeks in a sling was awful but it’s almost back to normal.

What effect has it had on you emotionally and mentally? 

It took a while for the euphoria of finishing the race to hit me even though I hit my A Goal of finishing 9th and 1st V50 I think it was because I was in quite a lot of discomfort for most of the race. That said the top 12 competitors chose not to race the last day but run together, share life stories and just enjoy the amazing landscape. This was endemic of the camaraderie of the event and whenever I think of that, I have a big grin on my face.

Last question:

Would you do it again?

Never say never but it’s very unlikely as I tend to not run an Ultra more than once there are too many adventures out there!

Thank you!

Thank you Colin. It’s not every day we get an insight into the mind of an ultra marathon runner. I’m sure we’ll be helping you keep injury free for your next running event soon.

The Team, Richmond Osteopaths.