Pro Running Coach Andy Mouncey Shares His Best Tips on Ultra Running

Andy Mouncey is the resident training expert for www.runultra.co.uk. He is author of three books including So You Want To Run An Ultra. He runs long for the challenge and fun of it and has been a professional coach working across business-education-sport-lifestyle since 2000. He lives with his family in North Yorkshire, UK.

Ultra Runner Andy Mouncey
Photo credit: Summit Fever Media

Andy Mouncey, married with two boys living in north of England, UK born Leeds, West Yorkshire, UK. Worked for myself since 2000 speaking, coaching, training across business, education, sport www.doingbigandscary.com New project is a non-for-profit business www.runforyourlife.org.uk helping people on the margins of society take control of their physical health and capacity in order to make a transition back into mainstream society.

I started fellracing – the term used in northern England for a specific type of hill and mountain running – in my early teens and then triathlon a few years later. Triathlon was my sport for 17 years from my teens before I got into ultramarathon running in 2003.

I’m a hills-and-open-spaces person so anything that takes me out and up will get my attention.

Ultra Runner Andy Mouncey
Photo credit: Phil Coates

How and why did you get into your sport?

I was looking for something to stretch me after triathlon: I’d done Ironman and few times and then gone way beyond that with the 300 mile Arch To Arc Challenge in 2003 (a solo triathlon linking London & Paris via an English Channel swim www.enduroman.com) I’d always preferred off road and big trail ultras were just getting going in the UK at that time. It seemed a logical step.

I have always been ‘in shape’ as I have never stopped racing or training since my teens – the only difference is how race-fit I am. I started to read more about the ultra scene in the US – The Barclay and Western States especially. I’ve done most outdoor sports in my time but I guess running was a first love and a strength.

Ultra Runner Andy Mouncey
Photo credit: Summit Fever Media

What have been the best and the most difficult parts of your sport?

I think that comes down to Managing Mood. Get this nailed and you’re pretty much there – especially as there is a big Food-Mood link. I’ve probably used most strategies over the decades to varying degrees of success and I’m still experimenting because what worked previously may not necessarily hold now. We develop as people – so I’m different right now – and I’ve found coping strategies in their broadest sense can often be time and place specific. So while some things are a constant for me in terms of how I deal with the challenge of an event, some things also need to be different because I am different. The discipline is to keep curious – testing and evolving.

How do you finance your sport?

I’m not sponsored or supported in any financial sense – never have been – so it all comes from my pockets that are less deep now that we have a family. So adventures tend to be domestic and involving the family where possible. I have always worked full time and since 2000 that has been as my own business.

Ultra Runner Andy Mouncey

How do you eat and sleep?

I’ve experimented a lot over the years. Partly my own curiosity and partly a professional need: As a coach my clients look for me to guidance so being my own testing laboratory has always been something that has been a feature of my work. Most recent example is testing this ‘fat for fuel’ thing.

What’s stuck is that I eat less then I used to, I eat less refined and processed carbs and sugars – and that’s partly ‘cos my palate has regained sensitivity – I tend to be pretty controlled during the week and eat what they hell I like at weekends. Again, it has to fit with family life and Dad as a 7–day Paleo zealot just wouldn’t work.

I don’t take supplements but in the last five years have added turmeric to a daily end of day drink which seems to have really helped my immune system function.

Like anyone who is mindful I have evolved my own rituals and habits over the years that keep me sane and fun to be around so that I miss them and notice a dip in performance when they are absent. That applies to sleep, relationships, family, work, and travel, and much more.

How do you handle injuries and recovery?

In 35 years of endurance training and racing, I’ve only had one serious injury that kept me on the sidelines – a foot bone injury that took two years to clear. There have been periodic soft tissue injuries but nothing serious.

I put this down to the following:

  • A triathlon background that spread the training load stresses and have me good muscle balance;
  • Strenght-conditioning has been a constant feature of my training from an early age including Olympic lifting
    Planned recovery and time away from training has and remains a feature;
  • In the last 5 years, I’ve become even more proactive active managing the soft tissue aches and pains – I’m a big foam roller fan for instance and default to this almost daily.

Ultra Runner Andy Mouncey

How do you balance normal life with training?

I’ve learned to do ‘Invisible Training’ – I get my stuff done before the rest of the family / the world get up. As a parent the only window I can 100% control is early morning, so 5-7am is my quality time. Everything else is by negotiation and over the years my wife and I have evolved a way of making this work for us and the family, I’m in charge of my diary which helps enormously and we moved to be in the hills and mountains just before our first child arrived which means my playground is on my doorstep.

I ‘Cost-Benefit’ every training choice and make sure it’s time-effective.

I’ve found I can make around 8-10 hours training time/week happen reasonably easily – above that needs more planning and that will only happen for a very good reason like a big race project.

My view is that I don’t miss out or sacrifice anything: I make choices that are consistent with what we need and want as a family and what I need and want for my professional and personal life. Bottom line is that although my work requires that I’m out there practicing at least some of what I preach, my racing does not pay directly so it’s not the most important thing. That said, it’s a big part of who I am and how I’ve chosen to express myself and earn a living. A balance is achieved through regularly talking-sharing-negotiating-testing within the family. Sometimes we nail it better than others and that’s because it’s all a work-in-progress.

Ultra Runner Andy Mouncey

How do you prepare for events and races?

Depends on the race. If it’s a key one I will ‘project-ize’ it – everything is geared towards that event, which boils down to getting specific and getting to know the ground. I’ve been training and racing since I was a teen and that has always involved some aspect of strength work. This means I have a good platform to work off and that means a 12-week specific prep period is usually enough. That said, right now I’m part way through what will be a 12-month project and it has needed to be that long because I’ve been out of the competitive wilderness and injured for five years.

Races I choose these days tend to fall into the fun-challenge-new category – there has to be something to grab me. That either means they serve as a confidence building benchmark – the only way to know where you are in your prep is to test it in a race – or they are the main target. I vote with my feet and my pocket which, means I won’t return to an event where I think the organization is poor or go for an event where I think the entry fee is too high / poor value for money. With a family and my own business if I go abroad, it needs to be for a very good reason and preferably something that will work for the family. That means most of the time I look for fun and games closer to home.

My training mix has always had a strength element and even post my triathlon years I will sprinkle in a swim and a ride as well. In the last few years, I’ve got smarter and more diligent with my strength work – so aged 51 I am now way stronger and more bombproof than I have ever been – and in my planned recovery. I’m a big fan of foam roller – pretty much daily ritual – and almost never leave home without it. Right now ‘cos I’m in ‘specific’ mode’ this means that around 25-30% of my training time is strength-conditioning-posture-mobility work and everything else is run-based.

So You Want To Run An Ultra

How do you bring your gear with you?

My Competition Head is the most important thing I pack for key training sessions and races. He’s quite ruthless, a bit sneaky and you probably wouldn’t want to sit down for a beer with him. But he’s useful to be able to deploy as long as you can control him and put him back in the box at the end. Other than that I tend to be a ‘hands-free’ guy who likes to keep it simple. I see way too many people and businesses seemingly hell-bent on making what is a very simple activity – running a long way – needlessly complicated. I’ll use a watch in training but races are tech and gizmo-free.

I’m either a bumbag-handheld combo or a pack kinda-guy – and the pack has to have side bottle storage I can reach easily and a variety of front stash options. My fave is my customized old North Face pack to, which I’ve added bungee cords and elastic storage sleeves I can reach on the fly. I keep the capacity down, which forces me to stay light and essential with my gear choices. It’s taken me a long time to settle on combinations that work for me and getting there has been trail and error – not least has been finding kit that fits my shape and size of torso.

Ultra Runner Andy Mouncey

How do you organize things in your bags?

I have a system that means I tend to pack and load the same way. There are some wonderful innovations to be had these days re material technology and kit design and I’m still looking for simplicity around the innovations. Simple means faff-free, which means easy to use when tired and less likely to break.

What has been your best sport purchase below $100?

Injinji toe socks – transformation for me!

Columbia-Montrail Mountain Masochist shoes. Perfect for my feet and a go-anywhere do-almost-anything no-frills shoe. Rare as hens teeth now so I bulk buy when I can.

Other than footwear I’m not too precious. If it does the job in the way that I want and gives me value over time I’ll take it. I like simplicity and I don’t tend to do tech. I do have a couple of favourites:

  • Paramo Velez smock: Your own eco-system in the grimmest of weather
  • My favourite Scott summer shorts: Really old now but still make me smile (not in that way though…)

Ultra Runner Andy Mouncey

What is your best advice people new to the sport?

Rookie mistakes I see time and again:

  • All the gear and no idea;
  • Making the simple complicated;
  • Focused on others;
  • Take their training advice from social media;
  • Think it’s just about running (more);
  • Use elite runners as training role models.

Remember you do this for the fun-challenge of it:

  • Do events that inspire you: If that means you jump right into a 50 miler that’s fine;
  • You don’t have to be much of a runner ‘cos there’s less running than you think: Think of it as ‘ultra marathon covering-the-ground’ in any combination of walk-hike-run you can;
  • Ultras are a full body contact sport: Get strong and be bombproof;
  • Learn to look after your feet;
  • Learn to hike efficiently;
  • Learn to navigate;
  • Take your litter home;
  • Help out / crew for a race organizer at least once a year.

Any advice for people who have done your sport for years?

  • Remember we do this for the fun-challenge of it;
  • Do events that inspire you;
  • Help out / crew for a race organizer at least once a year;
  • Change one aspect of your training every year / try something new.

Ultra Runner Andy Mouncey

What will the future bring?

My project this year is to return to the UK’s premier trail 100 miler www.lakeland100.com in the summer and go faster than my previous best time in 2011 (Andy has raced here three times 2009, 2010, 2011 placing 4th, 2nd and 2nd).

Then at some point before I depart this earth, my favorite lady and I would love to swim with manta rays somewhere nice and warm…

Visit Andy Mouncey on his website and follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube


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