Recently I got to do a Q&A interview with an ultramarathoner named Simon Southgate. I have to say, I'm very impressed and in awe of what he has accomplished.
Here are highlights of our conversation:
How did you get into ultra-marathon running?
I have always been very active. As a boy I was much more interested in sports and outdoor activities than academics, and I have always been interested in running. I completed my first marathon when I was 18, when I was lucky enough to secure entry into the London Marathon.
Taking part in Ultra-events was just a natural progression. I don’t really enjoy running on the roads or round a track. I prefer off-road and trail running. In 2006 I joined some friends, formed a team completed my first 100km event, Oxfam Trailwalker. Over the years I have now completed 4 Trailwalkers. It was one of my ‘Trailwalker’ team-mates that introduced me to the RacingThePlanet 4Desert Series. The more I heard him talk about it, the more interested I become. In April 2008 I eventually checked out the race website, and almost immediately signed up for the 2008 Sahara race, which took place in November. As soon as I crossed the finish line I knew I wanted to do more and made a commitment to try and finish all four races in the series.
How do you feel about all of the growing attention on ultra-racing now with "stars" like Dean Karnazes and books like Born to Run?
In November 2008 I was lucky enough to meet Dean Karnazes, he was taking part in the Sahara Race. I didn’t get the chance to talk to him much as he was always about 20kms ahead of me!
Whilst the majority of people I talk to think its crazy to run a marathon, let alone take part in an ultra-marathon, there are an increasing number who will always be interested in pushing themselves and taking on new challenges. One of the great misunderstandings is the fact so many people think ultra-marathon events are for elite or professional athletes. The majority of people I have met during the events I have taken part in are average people. ‘Weekend Warriors’ or ‘Mid-pack rats’ who like to escape their busy or day-to-day life-styles and experience new challenges.
What does your family think of your "hobby"?
My parents have always known I was mad. I’ve never been able to sit still for long. I didn’t tell them I was taking part in the 2008 Sahara Race. The first they knew about it was when I called them on my mobile from the finish line. Since then they have been very interested and supportive. They still think I am crazy.
My wife has been fantastic. We first met whilst I was training for the 2010 Gobi March, and she has been there at the finish line of both the Gobi March and the 2011 Atacama Crossing. She also agreed to re-schedule our wedding day so that I could take part in the 2012 Antarctica event. I know she’ll be glad when this event is over as I have promised to take a break. I still owe her a honeymoon so that will be my priority next year!
Why do you use running as a mode of fundraising?
I have always tried to be a supporter of charities, particularly those whose aim is to support the needs of disadvantaged or sick children. There can be times when you are training for, or taking part in an ultra-event that you start to feel sorry for yourself. Your body aches, you are tired etc. When you support a charity you are reminded that there are always people in a far worse situation than you. A good example of this would be a meeting I had recently with a child cancer patient. She has gone through repeated sessions of chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. The pain and discomfort she has endured far exceeds anything I have experienced during my desert races. I have found fund-raising has provided me with extra motivation when times have been tough.
You donate a lot to children's causes with St. Baldrick's foundation for cancer, and Operation Breakthrough. Being a mom and former teacher, I agree, taking care of our children and providing a better future (health-wise and education-wise) is of utmost importance. What drives you to donate to these causes?
I have always regarded myself as lucky. I had a happy and healthy childhood with a kind and supportive family background.
As a police officer I have seen many other children and young people are less fortunate. For a variety of different social and economic reasons, some kids find themselves on the wrong side of the law. In many cases a small mistake made during their youth can have dramatic consequences in later life. I like to think the support I have given to Operation Breakthrough has helped to provide second chances, and inspire some children to live healthier and more productive lives.
I am often amazed at how very sick children can remain so positive. I am inspired by their energy and brightness. I honestly think children cope with serious illness and disease in a more optimistic way than many adults. Rarely do children feel morbid or sorry for themselves. They seem to be able to accept their illness, and still continue to strive to make the most of what they have. I have even seen children beyond cure behave in a bright and cheerful manner. I find that incredible, and I enjoy being part of their support network. It keeps me grounded, and reminds me not to get frustrated by the little things, and to relish what I have.
What has been the hardest race you've done?
The race I found the toughest was the 2010 Gobi March. I had trouble eating and my feet took a real pounding. It was a very emotional moment for me when I eventually crossed the finish line. However, the toughest race was the 2011 Atacama Crossing. The conditions are brutally hard, but it is an amazing race. It was the hardest, but ironically, it was also the race I have enjoyed the most. I had such a high when I ran across the finish line.
This is the 4th Desert race in your series, and the final one. How do you feel going into this last race?
I am excited. This project started for me in 2008 and I have worked very hard to train for the events, and raise awareness of the great work being done by the two charities I represent. Since childhood I have been thrilled by the stories of adventure and exploration of Captain Scott, Amundsen and Shackleton. To think that I will be racing on the continent of Antarctica is a great thrill for me.
Do you participate in other activities outside of ultra-running?
I like to play soccer and rugby, although I do feel I am getting a bit too old for contact sports now. I like to ride my mountain bike every now. I have two Siberian Huskies so taking them for walks ensures I stay active.
How do you train and maintain your level of fitness for ultra-races?
It’s always a fine balance between family, work and training. Normally I try to schedule my training sessions for early in the morning 0400-0600 hrs. This ensures that the training is done, and if I do have to work late, training programs will not be disrupted. I try to cross-train, so I run, hike and mountain bike. I also try to go to the gym every now and again. The secret is variety, and not to be too tough on yourself if you miss or skip a session.
Your profession is listed as: Police Officer, Hong Kong Police (i) Bobby on the beat (ii) Bodyguard (iii) Range / Tactical Training Officer (iv) Airport Security (v) Anti-Illegal Immigration & Smuggling Unit (vi) Crowd Control & Public Order (vii) Desk Jockey - what do you relate most with (if any of these)?
It sounds cliché but I regard myself as a jack of all trades.
If someone wants to donate to your or your causes, where should they go?
They can contact me directly and/or keep up to date with my progress through my Facebook page here.
Tips for runners getting into longer distance races?
Stay relaxed – enjoy being out and away from the everyday routines that stress you out. Don’t listen to music. Take in the whole experience of the sounds and sights of the city, mother nature or whatever environment you chose to train in. Get outside and don’t spend hours on a treadmill watching the TV and drowning in the sound of the music played in most gyms. Enjoy what you do. Start slowly and build gradually. Listen to your body. If you feel tired slow down, but try to avoid walking. If you feel good, run faster or run further. Don’t blindly follow other people’s programs. Find out by trial and error what works best for you. But the most important tip – is to enjoy it. If you don’t sooner or later you will get bored, frustrated and stop. Keep it fresh, and keep it fun! If you have the means, get yourself a husky! They make great training partners!