More on the beard…

Latest updates from Athens… on the length of William’s beard!

Alan sent this picture this morning

The ultra-beard at Day 10

saying, “This is William after carrying out his personal hygiene and trim of his beard.”

Alan added “Probably after or around 1150km

(for those who have trouble with metric measurements, I’ll point out that this is William’s race distance so far, not the length of his stubble).

As you can see, although William hasn’t actually been shaving, he has found time to quickly trim up his beard growth (apparently while meals have been cooling – which obviously takes longer in the heat of Athens than it does in Scotland!).

Probably my mentioning that William hasn’t been showering might have suggested that he hasn’t been washing at all – and that certainly isn’t the case – he just avoids showers, which can take rather longer. I remember William discussing showering a few times in the past, and it might be relevant to point out three reasons why they may prove to be a not-so-good idea during an ultra race.

Firstly, there is simply the added time of going to wherever the showers are, and then the trip back again.

Secondly, when deprived of sleep for extended periods, time has a tendency to become distorted and it an be very hard to judge how much time is actually passing  – what seems like five minutes may be only a few seconds – or it could be half an hour or more. If a runner isn’t careful they could go to take a “quick” shower and not been seen for quite a while.

Thirdly, there is also the issue of the change of temperature. When a runner is actually running, they can become very hot – even in quite cold temperatures. A runner will usually cool very rapidly as soon as they stop running (which is why you see so many insulated “space blankets” at big marathons). Aside from removing clothing, the temperature of the shower can have a big effect on the runner. It might be a bit of a pain at home if a shower is rather too hot or too cold, but for a runner this could actually cause them to collapse or pass out. Typically this more often happens when a runner takes a shower after a race, but of course in an ultra the same thing may apply whenever a runner stops.

As there has been some interest on the subject of time spent on activities during the race, William managed to find a few moments to give his thoughts on the subject of race hygiene (how’s that for time management during a race?).

William said earlier of his own in-race shaving and  hygiene programme that he feels it is very important to fit in both general and dental hygiene (while at the same time minimising the time spent on this).

As mentioned, William has been trimming his beard while waiting for food to cool (not setting aside time for this at another point).

William also uses a mouthwash after eating and/or after a break or sleep (when he can’t necessarily spare the time to go and brush his teeth).

For general bodily hygiene, rather than showering William performs a “strip wash”. He’ll do this when changing his racing clothes (thus avoiding getting undressed and redressed multiple times).

William points out that having a hygiene routine not only freshens the body but also improves his general sense of welling being – as well as reducing the onset of rashes etc. (which can often be a problem when sweating and exercising over long periods).

This is a point that it is worth exploring. While the benefit of not (for example) developing a sore patch somewhere on the skin is probably pretty obvious, the less apparent point here is that in William’s case he simply feels better for having had a wash. This might seem like a minor point, but it isn’t when one considers the psychological pressure of racing for days on end. Anything that makes runner feel better while competing is a good thing – it might even improve performance.

This sort of factor has to be weighed carefully at times, much like working out just how much rest to take. No one wants to “waste” any time at all during a race, but spending time on something that may improve overall performance (whether in a more “concrete” way such as actual rest, or in a less tangible sense , for example just by making the runner feel more positive) –  this  is not the same as wasting time – it is actually an investment of time.

Although William is an accomplished multi-day racer, the 1000 mile race is a new experience even for him. The length of the race produces many alterations to a daily rhythm, not only those of normal life, but even those found in shorter ultra-distance races.

William added, “Multi day is so different and long compared to 24 hour, you need to find a rhythm for all things, not only the running aspect.”

And there in itself is another kind of challenge – not only to physically be able to run for 1000 miles, but also to find the time to still feel human.

Successful multi-day racing is a complex juggling act of many physical and psychological elements, made all the harder because no two individuals, and no two ultra-runners, are ever exactly alike. What might be a waste of time for one athlete may be an essential part of a routine for another – and vice versa. An accomplished ultra-distance athlete has to become very self aware in order to assess such things in a personally meaningful way.

It seems appropriate to sum up an aside about the race in Athens with a quote from ancient Greece, which is said to have been written above the entrance to the temple of Apollo at Delphi –

γνῶθι σεαυτόν

gnōthi seauton

Know thyself”

This applies just as much (if not more) to ultra-runners as to anyone else. It is both a goal and a requirement. By running the runner gains a deeper understanding of who they really are and what they are really capable of achieving – and by gaining such insight into their own being they can then learn to run further, faster and better – transcending their previous limitations.

Ho hum. It seems you can learn a lot from beards.


Shaun Brassfield-Thorpe – William Sichel’s training advisor –