How Ultra-Runner Audrey McIntosh Balances Full-Time Job, Family, and Running

Ultra-Runner Audrey McIntosh

It’s never simple being a mum attempting to juggle a full-time job with a family life, but what if there is more in between like ultra-running? Read on as we unravel Audrey McIntosh‘s adventurous life and her practical tips for aspiring ultra-runners out there.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I am fairly an ordinary working Mum. I work full-time as a freelance Business Consultant and IT Project Manager. I do a bit of motivational speaking and writing too and hope to do more. My daughters are now grown up, which means I have more time to indulge my running habit.

How did the love for running start?

It was a bit of a slow burn really. Like many runners, I started by running a 10k for charity and swore I would never do it again, but then did the following year having to start the training from scratch again. At that point, I worked out that I quite enjoyed it and so kept the training up and began to extend the distances.

Ultra-Runner Audrey McIntosh

How do you balance ultra-running and family life?

Training does now take up a lot of time although I don’t do as many miles as some ultra-runners. It is a case being flexible and organized. Long runs are done at the weekend and mid-week sessions are done early morning before work or after work, and sometimes both. Sunday’s are generally a rest day when I spend time with family.

If something comes up and I miss a session, I just go with the flow and do not stress about it. When out doing long runs, we usually try to combine my run with a walk for my husband and daughters, and I will quite often finish my training session walking a section with them.

Top 3 best and most unique experiences during your runs?

That’s a difficult one. The Scottish landscape and trails never cease to provide great moments.

The three most unique would be:

  • Antarctica, which is just mind blowing. The extremity, the silence, the great white desert. It really was life-changing.
  • Spotting wolverine tracks during the Genghis Khan Ice Marathon in Mongolia. It made you realize just how wild and remote it was.
  • The sunrise when running the Great Glen Ultra in 2015. Seeing that first light and the pink sky showing between the hills at the end of the loch, which was bathed in mist was special.

Ultra-Runner Audrey McIntosh

Top 3 favourite races so far?

Another hard one.  Antarctic Ice Marathon & 100k where I exceeded my and everyone else’s expectations; Glenmore 24 2015 when I cracked 100 miles in 24 hours when everyone said I wouldn’t because I had done the West Highland Way race that year (along with the North Pole Marathon, The Fling and The Devil of the Highlands); The Namibian Sand Marathon just an amazing and incredibly gruelling event.

How do you manage to run ultra distances?

Yes, you have to be physically fit, but running an ultra is as much a mental as a physical effort. You have to be able to cope mentally and emotionally with the experience. There will be highs and lows, you will hit the wall more than once, you have to be able to pace it. The hardest thing is pushing through the low points when every ounce of energy seems to be spent. You have to be confident and trust that it will pass and be prepared to walk a while and keep pushing the food and fluids.

The best part is the sense of achievement after you finish. That tends to be a gradual thing, and you may be hobbling about in agony, but you know you have done it and that not many others are able to do it. I believe that my age is an advantage. As you age, your speed decreases but your stamina increases. I have always been on the slow side, a steady ‘chugger’ but that helps me to pace and maintain steady progress.

Ultra-Runner Audrey McIntosh

How do you handle injuries and recovery?

Since starting to run ultras and extreme races, I have been incredibly lucky to not have many injury issues. I believe that is in part down to the fact that coincided with my decision to use lower drop shoes. Apart from that, I am scrupulous about ensuring that I cross-train and do plenty of strength and core work too.

I also take my rest seriously: Taking rest days and taking recovery time after races and not diving straight back in but incorporating an active recovery time. I don’t believe in ice baths, a soak in a warm bath with Epsom salts works wonders. If I am injured, I follow my physio’s advice and if that means no running for a while, then no running.

Have ultra-running changed you as a person?

Definitely. I am more confident and stronger mentally, and I rarely give up. I stay calm and never panic. I have become flexible and able to plan quickly when things don’t go to plan or as expected. These traits have transferred into the work place and I believe I am better at my job.

What are your top 5 ‘must have’ items in your running bag?

Mars bar and coke; salty snack such a crisps, hula hoop or mini cheddars; wet wipes; anti-chafe cream; mobile for photos and emergencies.

What kind of shoes and clothing do you recommend for ultra-running?

Shoes and clothing are very personal. Above all, they need to be appropriate to the terrain and conditions and comfortable. Don’t wear any shoes or clothing that you have not tried out in training. Unlike road running where you generally have one shoe type, on the trails and fells you need different shoes for different conditions.

My own kit is an eclectic collection of clothing but Adidas, Salomon and Gap (believe it or not) have provided some of my main staples. I am tending not to wear shorts these days, opting for skorts instead. My favourites being lulu lemon and mirelle. I recently discover the Adidas Supernova X Bra which is amazing. It provides good high impact support, is really comfortable and so far has not chafed, which is a real plus point.

My shoe collection is reaching Imelda Marcos status!

On the road or short easy trails I wear Brooks Pure Cadence. I love them, fantastic low drop and fit really well.

Trails it is horses for courses. Brooks Pure Grits are great on easy trails. Again low drop a great fit and very light. I ran the WHW race and 100 miles at Glenmore 24 in grits.

However I came a cropper in them in the 100 miles of Istria and it was at that point I realised that for some terrain I needed something more aggressive and have gathered a small collection of Innov-8 shoes.

I love the Terraclaw 220 for shorter distance. It feels like a glove, but it is just a little too light for longer harder trails runs. My roclite 290 is a good all rounder, especially if on mixed terrain.

My beast for the really aggressive terrain is the x-talon 212. It does not have quite as low a drop as I normally like, but it is comfortable and can handle pretty much anything. I feel safe and steady in them on wet, muddy and slippy ground.

Ultra-Runner Audrey McIntosh

You’ve experienced running in both the extreme cold and snow, and extreme heat and sand. Which is more challenging to you and why?

Four years ago, I would have said extreme cold and snow, especially as I don’t like the cold and I could always manage a long run on a hot summer’s day. Having now experienced hot desert conditions I would say heat mainly because hydration and nutrition are trickier. When you are hot you don’t want to eat and drink.

Also, it is not good when your contact lenses get stuck to your eyes. High altitude is probably the most challenging. I have run at 14.5k feet with about 11% oxygen (half of what there is a sea level) and that is exhausting and you also can have problems getting enough food and fluid in.

How do you finance your running?

To date it is all self-financed with a bit of fund-raising activity. Basically, I don’t take holidays. The running trips use the holiday time and budget. I also take less time off work so that I can maximize my income. Where people often take time off work before and after big events I don’t; and I work on bank holidays if I have the option. When I came back from the North Pole, I got home at midnight and was in the office before 8 am.

Sponsorship is hard to get. There are so many chasing it and to be honest who is going to sponsor a 54 year old woman. I do manage to get some product sponsorship. Helly Hansen provided my kit for Antarctica, I have had some shoes from Inov-8, Glasgow University provide sports science advice and environment training. Often it is small businesses that help with free services.

Ultra-Runner Audrey McIntosh

What is your best advice for new ultra-runners?

Respect the distance. Pace it: Don’t go off too fast as you have a long way to go. Be consistent with your training and make it appropriate to the challenge: If your challenge has a lot of ascent train on hills. Don’t over-train as that increases risk of injury and getting over-tired. Plan your race: Try to get familiar with the route or location, plan your fluid and nutrition; do you need a support person or crew and if so get the right people and make sure you plan with them.

If you are estimating your time be generous. It’s better psychologically to be ahead of or on schedule than behind.

Ultra-Runner Audrey McIntosh

What will the future bring?

My Global Odyssey 100 (GO100) will get underway in October. I will be running a remote and extreme 100k on every continent. I have already done 100k in Antarctica so I have the remaining 6 to do and aim to complete the challenge by the end of March 2018.

In the first two weeks of October, I will run 100k in the Gobi desert (Asia) and 100k near Perth Western Australia (Oceania). Then Aconcagua in Argentina and North Western Territories in Canada in February for the Americas; the Gambia River (Africa) and Scotland (Europe and homecoming) in March.

Closer to home, I am running the Great Glen Ultra in July and The Devil of the Highland in August. These are two races where I have previously finished but not well and I want to try and run a better race and time.

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