Bodybuilder To Ultra Runner (Part 2)

Physique athlete Sam Wake swaps dumbbells for energy gels as he attempts to go from muscle man to 100K ultra runner in just six weeks

Bodybuilder to ultra marathon runner

Spoiler alert! Sam makes it round

To recap: I’ve given myself six weeks to prepare for a 100K ultra marathon from a bodybuilding background for charity. At this point I am riddled with injuries and unable to train. My suffering was meant to be a central part of this challenge and this is now the only aspect that is following true to the initial plan…

Related: Bodybuilder to ultra runner (part 1)

Weeks 5 & 6…

didn’t involve any training. My physio, Scott Newton (who is an accomplished distance runner in his own right) advised me to try and avoid aggravating the injuries this close to the event.

It would make no sense to have put all this effort in only for it to be swept from under my feet right at the last. We both agreed that tapering down would be the smartest approach.

Tip 6: Tapering down for big distances is usually programmed three weeks out. It allows adequate rest, healing from the intensity of training and time for psychological preparation.

What the inexperienced runner may not factor in when ignoring the taper is that they have micro-tears and damage to the muscles that needs to heal. They also need time to replenish glycogen stores and they may need time off the legs to reduce stress/overuse injuries.

A properly planned taper will not lead to a decrease in fitness (a big fear of the novice) and should play its part in both a more enjoyable and quicker race.              

I continued to do what I could do, stretching, icing, and light active recovery mainly.

My historic injuries from bodybuilding continued to receive TLC from my chiropractor Dan Hughes, and he can take full credit for the fact I can even move after a badly herniated disc a year or so ago.

The support team in my corner kept me motivated and focused, and there was no doubt in my mind no matter how much it hurt that I had to finish.

There was simply too much invested in the process for failure to even be an option and too many people I’d let down if I didn’t get through it.

Focus now switched from training to race preparation and strategy.

You can rock up and run a 10K on a hangover, no problems at all. Not with an ultra – this beast demands more respect.

Every detail needed to be planned out to the upmost minutia as any late surprises could really upset my performance.

I was to be running with my cousin and fellow WAKE FIT member Elliot Wake. During training we had tried to correlate performance to underpin our strategy.

He was struggling with his IT band and was covering 25K in 3:15 (versus my 2:15).

We wanted to run as a team, and as a strong unit, so I was to start an hour after Elliot with the aim to rendezvous at 25K or thereabouts and run the remainder together.

I love it when a plan comes together!

Kit wise, I started to look at the weather forecast from a few days out. It was becoming more important the closer we got to race-day as the aim was to cut down clothing weight as much as possible.

This however, wasn’t helped by the fact that we expected all kinds of weather – sun, rain and thunderstorm forecast. Typical British weather.

I also needed to buy some walking poles. I was well aware that without these (and the ability to use my upper body) I may be unable to finish due to my injuries.

OK, I know I’ve lifted a few heavy weights before – but that was back in the bodybuilding days and this is a different kind of strong altogether!

Tip 7: Poles can make a big difference to your performance, especially if carrying an injury. Be sure to practice with them first as there are various techniques to get the best out of them depending upon your needs.

Double-pole forward worked for me to take a tiny bit of pressure of my knees and ankles via the loading of my upper body.

Downhill the poles helped me by leaning into them to reduce the eccentric loading of the legs and knee.

I now busied myself preparing my support team, consisting of fellow WAKE FIT member Nick Benitez and long-standing friend and client Adam Cooper.

Little did I know how important these guys would turn out to be.

Before I knew it, race-day was upon us…

and all started as well as could be expected.

As I’d started an hour behind Elliot with all the ‘joggers’, I spent the first 10-15K overtaking people one after another.

Almost like poor man’s Mo Farah albeit with very little actual talent. This was great for my mojo as I battled my injuries which caused a running-cum-limp from 5K onwards.

Now, it’s often said best laid plans very rarely survive first contact, and this was no exception to the rule. Even with my injury I was running a similar pace as expected. What wasn’t planned however was Elliot’s IT band injury that had miraculously cured.

Consequently, he found a never before seen new gear. It took me until 50K to catch him and it completely finished me off

I gave everything I had battling through the pain over that first 50 as I didn’t want to let him down and I had committed to running alongside him. We’d spoken on the phone as I tried to catch him and it was this at 37K that made me realise that I had taken a wrong turning as I should have caught him already.

If I was to have written a list of worst nightmares before the race, taking a wrong turn would have been up there I promise you. Hell, this is a challenge enough for me, let alone adding needless distance on top.

After adding the extra distance, (7K total with a later navigation error) I was again so far behind him that it take every ounce of mental resolve to suck it up and keep at it.

Elliot and I regrouped at 50K and set out together at a slow pace. I realised how much I was slowing him and didn’t want to be a burden, that’s not who I am.

An ultra isn’t about your time, but the character you display, your personal journey, so I encouraged him to go ahead and run his own race.

Despite all the set-backs, the first 50 had still been relatively quick (for me) in just over six hours. I knew I was to settle in for the long haul as the second 50 wasn’t going to be anywhere close.


was the loneliest part of the race. Too far from the finish to dare to dream, deep fatigue and thunderstorms completed the misery. It was at this point I realised that this was all about mental strength.

After all, the best way out is always through. Bodies heal, pain subsides, but failure can’t be undone.

At the 78K aid stop, things started to look up. My client and dear friend Adam, joined me to pace out the remainder in the dark – just as well really as my body was starting to feel like it was shutting down.

I was internally focused and, as such, I was finding it difficult to follow basic signage.

I’m usually one to give him hell, but even I wasn’t in a fit state to mock his choice of sporting attire. Red chinos and shirt combo made him certainly the most ‘formally’ dressed out on the route and drew quizzical looks from more than a few people.

For morale purposes we took a note of timings at the 93K mark (my unofficial 100K) and it was 15 hours on the nose.

Just before the finish, my partner, Louise, was there to cheer me to the end and my dad helped pick up the pieces at the finish line.

I collapsed straight after I hit the line, with intense pains and shakes; convulsions from fatigue, cold, hunger – you name it…

…but I’d done it!

Bodybuilder to ultra marathon runner

Eating a well-deserved burger at the finish

I hope you’ve enjoyed this light-hearted look at my zero to hero 100 journey. (I’ll not say ‘hero’ as I certainly fell short of that). It was all purely to support an amazing cause.

My chosen charity was the Danny Green Fund. It provides treatment to children suffering Posterior Fossa Syndrome which can be caused after brain tumour removal. It has zero overheads that have been making a huge difference to children. Please, if I’ve so much as raised a smile reading this or dropped a relevant knowledge bomb I implore you to chuck a few quid their way.

Bodybuilder to ultra marathon runner

Thumbs up if you’re knackered

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