5 minutes with… Jez Bragg
We like to get them whilst they are hot here at MST and they dont come any hotter than ultra man of the moment Jez Bragg. Fresh from his fantastic win at the Celtic 100k last weekend Jez describes it as “the best run of my life – no question”.
He has only been at it for around eight years, but in that relatively short space of time Jez has achieved more than most runners achieve in a lifetime. We caught up with him last week, to see what makes him tick…
MST So how did all this start then?
I first started running whilst I was at university, completing the Great North Run in 2001 and the London Marathon in 2002. I trained hard for my first marathon and afterwards swore I wouldn’t do another because I honestly thought I had run it as quickly as I ever could do.
A year or so later I took part in a long distance challenge event in Shropshire with work colleagues called the Long Mynd Hike, a 50mile walk/ run from Church Stretton. The first year I took part it nearly killed me and took me close to 24 hours. I have since managed it in just over 8 hours, a bit more respectable!
My first official ultra event was the Marathon of Britain in 2004 (175miles over 6 days). I won that and haven’t looked back since. Career highlights include running for England twice and GB once in the 100km (road) and setting the three WHW based race records between 2006 and 2008.
MST Ultra running is one of the toughest endurance sports, with races often over 50km. How do you prepare yourself both physically and mentally for such races?
The physical preparation inevitably involves lots of miles, but perhaps not as many as you might think. I try to get close to 100miles during peak weeks but it’s never that simple with all of life’s other commitments. I try to run two long runs per week, preferably on trails, which either means from home in Warwick or the local hills of Shropshire and the Peak District. I also run plenty of shorter races as part of my build-up to my ‘A’ races, but I’ll train through with little or no taper or recovery time. Mentally, well that’s not so easy. There’s no doubt that ultra running requires a lot of mental strength which I’m fortunate to have. I think the main thing is to enjoy your training and racing. For me that means variety – not just pounding the pavements – but getting out in the wild areas of the UK doing hill days etc. If you enjoy it, it’s easier to give it everything.
MST The sport has a great tradition, with legends such as Don Ritchie, but suffers a little from a lack of mainstream publicity. Is this a hindrance to the sport, or part of the attraction for you?
In many respects I like the way the sport is below radar from the mainstream media etc. My main frustration, which stems from this, is that people are often not aware of ultra running as a sport, and may dismiss it as something for the off-the-wall-types! It is incredible to think about historical achievements in the sport, Don Ritchie being a classic example, and to have reached these levels for the love of the sport and nothing else, without any funding or prize money.
However it’s the same for all ultra runners, you run ultras for the love of the sport and nothing more. Having said that, the sport is gaining more recognition and publicity and the Commonwealth 100km Championships (combined with mountain running) taking place in Keswick in September will play a big part in that.
MST The North Face are your sponsors. They have a rich-history in mountain sports. How does their product and support impact on your ability to race at the highest level in endurance running?
The North Face trail running kit is superb and their exploration ethos fits perfectly my favorite type of running, across wild countryside. The kit allows me to run fast and light which means more miles and more terrain. It is a great privilege to be able to run for such a well regarded brand alongside world class runners like Lizzy Hawker and Kami Semick.
MST You have had a good start to 2009, with recent win’s at the Howarth Hobble and the Portland Coastal Marathon in January. What else is on the horizon for 2009?
My next race will be The Highland Fling in April which this year is also the UK Trail Running Championships and a qualifying race for the World Trail Championships in Serre Chevalier which Great Britain will be sending a team to. Thereafter I am hoping to run the Fellsman in May before the next big one which is the Western States 100 at the end of June. Western States is the classic US 100 miler and will be an incredible race to run. Later in the year I will return to the roads for the Commonwealth 100km Championships in Keswick and finally hopefully find some time to squeeze some UK trail races in during the autumn!
MST You are speaking at the Keswick Mountain Festival in May, how did that come about? Is motivational / experiential speaking and aside to your running?
I am not a motivational speaker but I was invited to speak at the Keswick Festival and think it will be a great opportunity to share with others the incredible experiences I have had through my running. I need to start putting more back into the sport and the opportunity to try to inspire others will start to do that.
MST Most runners tend to slow down a little with age – even if their endurance continues to get stronger – so longer distance stuff may be an attraction. Do you have any advice for these would-be ultra-runners?
Most people who give ultra running a try for the first time suddenly realise that the distances, which can seem overwhelming to start with, really are achievable and are amazed at what the body and mind can be trained to do. I would just say go out there and give it a try. Off road events are great to start with because the terrain will often make it ‘acceptable’ to walk sections which will help break the distance down. Running though beautiful countryside will also help take your mind off the distance and make it more like a day out in the hills rather than a specific ‘run’.
Whatever you do don’t start with a 100km!