GP Life: The GP who runs ultra-marathons

Dr Daniel Hendriksen explains why he runs ultra-marathons and how manages to run over 200 miles a month alongside his role as a GP partner in South Derbyshire.

What exactly is an ultra-marathon?

An ultra-marathon is any footrace longer than a marathon (26.2 miles). Ultra-marathon distances tend to start at 50km (about 31 miles) for people starting out in the sport, although common distances include 50 miles,  100km or 100 miles. Some are considerably further – I will be entering a 268-mile race the length of the Pennine Way in January.

How did you first become involved with running?

I started out as a long distance cyclist, and used to run for cross training. I eventually discovered I was a better runner than cyclist, so gradually the roles have reversed for me.

Whilst there are many similarities (with managing nutrition, fatigue, and the inevitable mental crises), the two complement each other very well both physically and as a way of enjoying our great British countryside.

What made you first decide to begin running ultra-marathons? 

Up until 2012, I had only ever run the occasional road marathon. My experience from endurance cycling was that once you could go a certain distance, increasing it tended to be a psychological rather than physical challenge, so I decided to see if running was the same. 

I entered a 100km race around the Cheviots, and prepared for it by running the route over two days a month beforehand. I could barely stagger at the end of this recce and wondered what I was getting into, but the adrenaline on the day carried me through. To my astonishment I ended up winning that race, and then I was hooked.

How many ultra-marathons have you run?

I generally enter 6-8 ultra-marathons per year. If run competitively, there be can quite a lengthy recovery time after a long or hilly race. Longer races can take upwards of 20 hours of essentially continuous running to complete.

Although there are races all over the world, I’ve only raced within the UK. Part of the attraction for me is the opportunity to explore all four corners of our beautiful and diverse country. So whilst I enter events in the obvious locations such as the Lakes or the Brecons, I have done wonderful and memorable ultras in all manner of unlikely places.

What are the best and worst aspects of running an ultra-marathon? 

There are so many best bits, where to start? There is the camaraderie, the satisfaction of completing a long or challenging course, the pleasures of being outside in beautiful places with nothing to do other than enjoy the moment and nothing to think about other than putting one foot in front of the other. The perfect antidote to the typical GP day.

There is little to beat the experience of running in the early hours with the countryside bathed in moonlight, feeling like the only person in the world with only the owls and night creatures for company.

As for the worst… well, I have only ever abandoned one race. I had done 70 miles of a 100-mile race on a ferociously hot day, and simply ran out of oomph. I felt so awful for so long afterwards for quitting that whenever I go through a low spell on a race I look back at that experience and that keeps me going.

What does the training involve?

The biggest hurdle to ultra running is that the training is definitely time consuming. I run or cycle 11 miles to and from work each day, then will sometimes run a 35-mile route home after work to build up my monthly mileage.

I’ll also do a long run or cycle on my day off. This way, I can manage 200-250 miles of running a month, without entirely neglecting my family. If I didn’t enjoy the training, I wouldn’t do this sport. For me, the training runs are an opportunity to clear work from my head and get my daily fix of fresh air and countryside.

How do you find the time to do this training around working as a GP?

It has to be part of the daily routine. Building the bulk of my training around the daily commute, it is much harder to decide to miss out a run. I keep my car at work, so when it’s a cold wet morning, I have no choice but to head out anyway.

Why did you decide to become a GP?

For the diversity of the work, and the relative autonomy compared with hospital practice. I also liked the idea of providing holistic and longitudinal care over time.

I’m a partner in a large South Derbyshire practice. I’m very lucky to have some lovely countryside on the doorstep, and also to be within striking distance of lots of other wonderful places too.

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