After several months of writing about iconic world ultras, for November there’s a new race that’s a little different, the Piece of String Fun Run in the UK. It doesn’t have the history or fame of a major event, but it has a unique concept that’s of interest to those with an ultra mentality – the length is a mystery, posing the age-old question of ‘how long is a piece of string?’
Discussing the comfort of knowing where the finish line is, the event website states:
Just thinking about that definite end point in the long and hard personal battle is what motivates us to get there in the first place and brings comfort to us during the race.
Now imagine that this comfort was taken away. Imagine that you are tired, cold, aching, hungry, lonely and depressed and on top of all that you have NO IDEA how much further it is to go. The end of the battle may be just around the next corner. It may be two hours away. It might not be till tomorrow. It might not be until… How could you motivate yourself to finish a race where you don’t know where the finish is? How can you justify your own suffering based on how much of it is left if you don’t know how much is left? How will you endure the tough times when the whole thing just seems so pointless? Will you have the mental fortitude to keep going?
The 16 entrants have plenty of experience of extremely long endurance races, like running the length of Britain, triple Ironman races and a whole host of other events. To apply they had to send in ‘misery pictures’ of themselves going through hell in various races and many people were turned down for lack of experience.
About the Race
I heard about this race because I jointly offer coaching in the UK with the race director, James Elson, but it’s such a different take on ultrarunning that I had to include it in this column. Usually the distance, time or terrain of a race is known in advance. That offers enough scope for a physical and mental challenge for even the toughest of the tough. So taking that certainty away brings up new difficulties to deal with. What’s the appropriate pace? How much to eat and drink?
The race is on November 24th and could end that same day or not. The organizers won’t be drawn on committing to any time boundaries that may help the runners mentally prepare, but it’s safe to say the runners would be very disappointed if it was only 10k.
All that’s known about the course is that it’ll involve loops of varying distances near to Streatley in Berkshire, so there won’t be mountains. Aid stations are every six miles or so and drop bags are allowed. Cut-offs are also part of it, but these are mainly to stop entrants “ambling around at 2mph” as the website explains. Plus pacers aren’t allowed since the whole idea is to make it mentally harder so that would defeat the point.
The best clue about the race is the nod given to the Barkley Marathons, a race of over 100 miles that is made harder every time someone finishes (which isn’t all that often). The entry fee is ridiculously low at £1.37 ($2.20), compared to $1.60 for the Barkley. Also, completing three laps (over 60 miles) of the Barkley is called the ‘Fun Run’, the same tag as for this event. This is a labor of love, created to provide a new challenge to those who are looking for new ways to test their endurance.