logo

A man lies and dreams of green fields and rivers

- Pink Floyd

image

Athletes & Explorers

Jun 27, 2019

REWILD with Tony Riddle: Part 4 – Barefoot Run Across Great Britain

Tony Riddle has his sights set on an 874-mile barefoot ultra-run across Great Britain to inspire us all to reconnect to our natural human capabilities.

WRITTEN BY

Davey Braun

Tony Riddle is a rebel with a cause. Working as natural lifestyle coach based in London, Tony’s perspective is superimposed on the acute intention to live this very moment in gratitude, and his overarching commitment to run 874 miles across the UK in order to raise awareness for sustainable environmental practices.

Tony believes that inside all of us lives a tree climbing, wild swimming, bush-crafting beast, and he will be testing the beast within on his 874-mile barefoot run traversing the whole length of the island of Great Britain. During the entire month of September, Tony will run 30 miles per day from Land’s End, at the southern cliffs of England, to John o‘Groats, the northernmost village on the Scottish mainland. Tony will interview experts along the run to raise awareness for environmental sustainability. As an incredible example of human physicality, Tony hopes to influence his growing tribe on the benefits of barefoot running, ancestral movement, and the importance of re-aligning ourselves with nature for emotional, social, spiritual, and physical health.

Tony provides individualized coaching as well as group workshops and retreats to encourage people to abandon today’s sedentary sitting culture and regain the full arsenal of movement that our hunter-gatherer ancestors utilized to survive. Previously in our REWILD series, The Outdoor Journal discussed Tony’s search for practices to make us more in tune with our natural human physiology, how we internalize behavior from our “tribe of influence” and how we can all lead a more natural lifestyle that is aligned with our DNA.

In this installment, Tony to discusses his motivation for running barefoot across the island of Great Britain, daily practices for building the body into a “superstructure,” how he moved past childhood trauma and stepped into his power, and how we can all lead a more natural lifestyle.

Tony runs through nature to train for his 874-mile barefoot run across the isle of Great Britain.

BUILD YOUR SUPERSTRUCTURE

TOJ: When it comes to preparing for the barefoot running challenge, you would think that most people who are training for a month of ultra-marathons start out by steadily increasing their mileage. But you’re starting out with building your body into a “superstructure.” What does that mean?”

“I should be able to just get up every day and run for miles. We are sapiens. That’s what we did.”

Tony Riddle: I should be able to just get up every day and run for miles. We are sapiens. That’s what we did. If you look at the Tarahumara in Copper Canyon, Mexico, those guys are smashing out 430 miles in 48 hours. They’re doing 16 marathons back to back. So that’s in our DNA. They’re not like a bunch of aliens that landed here and just suddenly started running that kind of distance. We could all do it. But the fact is, some people even have trouble running for a bus today. I’m not berating them, I’m just saying we’ve been culturally conditioned, so that’s the social norm.

If I’m barefoot running now, I have to first get the foundations of my feet to understand their role. When I’m not running, I have to have a pair of shoes to preserve my feet, a bit like preserving kids feet, so my daily wear is Vivobarefoot, which I work with. I don’t run in their shoes, I live in their shoes. Hunter-gatherers don’t wear compromising footwear, take them off and go barefoot running. Running is just the byproduct of my lifestyle.

Is running a cardiovascular exercise or is it a strength and conditioning exercise? When you walk, the ground reaction force is only one times your weight. So when you’re standing or whatever rest position you’re in now, your movement brain recognizes one times your body weight. But when you start running, there are two times your body weight in ground reaction forces. When you sprint, there could be three times your body weight in ground reaction forces. But you’re doing that on one leg, alternating legs. So you have to balance this structure on one leg whilst dealing with two times your weight. I’m 75 kilos right now, so that’s 150 kilos of force on each leg and I’m doing that at 180 beats per minute. So is running a strength and conditioning exercise or a cardiovascular exercise? It’s a strength and conditioning exercise!

“I don’t run in their shoes, I live in their shoes.”

Strictly in terms of physiology, I’m going to go out and do more mileage. but how long am I going to be able to go before my physiology breaks down if I don’t focus on technique and if I don’t focus on the mind? If you focus on technique, your physiology gets stronger over time based on the technical model. Then you can do more mileage over time while the mind gets more and more satisfied with the discipline. I have to build the strength to be able to hold that physical framework for the length of time that I have to be out there.

“Running is just the byproduct of my lifestyle.”

I’m working to rewild my posture through ground living. I tend to sit less and rest on the ground more because that’s what most barefoot running cultures are doing. Living in “the human zoo,” my posture is compromised. So I have to follow the path of the wild beings, and for that, there has to be a strength and conditioning program in place to make my physiology strong enough to be able to hold that technical shape for the time and distance I want to cover on this challenge. Otherwise, I’ll be less efficient and I will increase the risk of an injury. That strength conditioning and the technique is about efficiency and minimizing injury because if you’re a hunter-gatherer, you can’t afford to get injured and you can’t afford to burn too much fuel.

FIND YOUR DIET

TOJ: What do you think is the optimal diet for building the human body into a superstructure?

Tony Riddle: We’re all unique, so I would want everyone to answer this differently. I tried Keto years ago and it was great until it didn’t work. The same thing for Paleo, it was great for a bit until it didn’t work. Then I went Vegan, and it worked for a bit. And then I went plant-based. I kept changing until I thought, “What is it that I need? How can I recover better?” I realized through experimenting with different systems the things that aren’t enabling me, like grain. So I removed grain and then I went heavy on the plant-based diet and then I started to supplement with wild meat and it was like, “Wow, this is amazing, I feel incredible on this.” I then tested my microbiome. The results showed me which foods to minimize and which foods to have every day.

Tony explored many types of diets before finding the one that worked best for his body.

If you keep eating the same stuff, which people do on diets like Keto and Vegan, they tend to favor certain food groups and you’ve altered the diversity of your gut because you’re only feeding certain nutrients to that microbiome. So to get to my own optimal performance, I have to figure out what needs to shift in my microbiome first, then I had to look at what was creating inflammation in my system. So I base things on my cells, my microbiome, and then my dosha. In Ayurvedic work, your dosha might be Vata, Pitta or Kapha. Once you know that, then you know there might be certain foods you’re putting in that won’t allow you to recover and perform at your best.

My dosha would be Pitta, which means heat, so the foods with more heat tend to make me more inflamed which affects my performance and recovery. Once I get a map of that, I’ve learned the best things to eat for me to perform – eating like a Tony. I don’t follow a specific dietary book off a bookshelf because we all need our own individualized book to figure out what we need to perform at the level we want to. The closest I can get to giving universal advice is to just introduce more plants into your diet.

If you are eating meat, what’s going to help you recover, eating domesticated antibiotic grain-fed animals or eating a grazed animal that’s been grass fed to grass slaughter? There’s a biologically normal way of doing that and there’s a biologically extreme way of doing that, which one would you think is going to enable you to perform better? If you’re going to eat fish, is it better to eat a wild fish or is it better to eat a farm fish that’s fed on antibiotics? The same goes for the plant kingdom. Is it good to eat monocrop that has been sprayed with pesticides or is it better to choose the full family groups of veggies? There are 80,000 plants out there that you can eat, so rather than just looking at processed foods, go towards natural foods, go towards organic foods because you’re an organic, natural being, and the more you identify with that, the more natural and organic the outcome will be and that then feeds into performance.

“Nature goes in, nature comes out!”

The more natural my environment and the more natural the things I put into my body, the more natural the result will be, the more natural the recovery will be, the more natural it will be to wake up the next morning and feel ready to do the same thing. Nature goes in, nature comes out! Whatever you’re doing, ask yourself, “Does that come from nature, or was it made in a laboratory? Has it been abused mentally and physically by the industrial farm?” If you’re going to eat meat, think about how you can support a different system, because that whole industrial farm system is broken. And if you’re plant-based, vegan or vegetarian, get away from monocropping because it’s destroying the planet and the plants are covered in all kinds of stuff that you’re going to be ingesting. By understanding our own unique system, you can learn to eat more intuitively for your own unique body. Go as clean as you can with high vibrational foods and eat no evil.

RUN A SPIRITUAL PATH

TOJ: Do you feel a spiritual connection to the route that you chose from Land’s End to Joan o’ Groats?

“With my barefoot running challenge, there is also a spiritual connection to the Earth.”

Tony Riddle: It’s funny you asked that. Yeah, I do. I would have liked to have done Ireland as well, to be honest with you. When I had my 23andMe testing done, it came back that my ancestry through my Y chromosome goes right back to Africa, but then they finally made their way into Scandinavia and then into Scotland, Ireland, and the UK. So my Y chromosome is Niall of the Nine Hostages, which is a group of kings that lived in Scotland and Ireland over however many centuries. Whenever I’ve traveled to Ireland I’ve always thought, “Oh my God, I feel so amazing, I don’t know what it is.” I’ve got a real connection to the UK and I’ve gone off and done various spiritual ceremonies in the local style. But there’s more than that spiritual connection. With my barefoot running challenge, there is also a spiritual connection to the Earth. There’s a spiritual aspect of running. It’s a form of meditation for me when I run like that and the more and more I can connect with the earth, the more and more I feel that it’s something beyond the physical experience.

Tony feeling triumphant after a cold water plunge in Ireland.

STEP INTO YOUR POWER

TOJ: When you were a child, your feet needed to be cast and fixed together in a bracing system that sounds more like a medieval torture device than medical therapy. Combined with that story about your past, this 874-mile running challenge reads like a superhero origin story, with a little bit of Forrest Gump in there as well. Do you feel that your traumatic childhood experience impacts you still today?

“That experience literally shaped my whole existence.”

Tony Riddle: It started off like this, I was in a spiritual ceremony and we were in the complete darkness. Suddenly this vision of a pair of boots came up in my mind. My boots from my childhood just suddenly appeared. In that moment, I felt it was a massive insult that my parents had kept these boots, and I couldn’t understand why on Earth they’d want to keep them. It started this journey of me thinking about discussing that memory. Since then I’ve done some thinking about how the initial traumas of life shape us all and the journeys we choose to go on.

Apparently, during the first three years of life, trauma goes right into the reptilian part of the brain. That’s where the trauma lies, and that can literally be governing what you do as an adult. So it’s no surprise that the practices I do to rewild my feet – and through my work as a barefoot coach, a movement coach, a lifestyle coach – you see it before your very eyes, that experience literally shaped my whole existence.

I could choose to remain negative about being born with crippled feet and being forced to wear boots with a bar connecting them, but where’s that going to get me?

In relation to that trauma, I was also really late to speak as a child. I didn’t speak until quite late and my mom never figured it out. She just took me to a specialist because she noticed my sister was talking for me. Later on, as an adult, I went to see this kundalini healer who works with crystals, which all sounds a bit crazy, but the first thing she said when I lied down was, “tell me about your throat.” She asked me to tell her the first thing that came up when I thought about my throat and it was this memory about not being able to speak as a child. Eventually, I fell asleep during the healing, and as I’m coming round, I heard this voice say, “It’s your time to speak. We’ve given everything we can possibly give you, you have to step into your power.”

What came up was this trauma. If they’re putting these plaster cast boots on you every week, with the metal bar twisting your feet out and you’re screaming but no one’s listening to you, how long are you going to keep screaming for? So I guess I stopped screaming and therefore I stopped speaking altogether and it took me a while to start speaking. Until I saw the kundalini healer, that was never clear. Since then, it’s allowed me to deal with even more trauma.

BREAK THE RULES

TOJ: What was your athletic background before you discovered barefoot running and setting this challenge for yourself?

“I used to run even as a kid until I got it in my head that running wasn’t cool, so then I spent a lot of time running away from police instead.”

Tony Riddle: I ran as a kid. I used to run a lot until I got it in my head that running wasn’t cool, so then I spent a lot of time running away from police instead (laughs). Then I joined the army and the army fulfilled the physical box for me and I excelled on things like assault courses, long runs, and boxing. When I left the army, I kind of played around for a bit, wasn’t really doing myself any justice. Then I took up personal training and pilates. From there I opened up a 1950’s style boxing gym but expanded it into a whole movement philosophy inside that practice.

It wasn’t the smartest business move in the world to start a boxing club that wasn’t specifically about boxing, then again, we were well ahead of the game in terms of movement practice coaching. We were years ahead with what we were doing. So what’s coming through now with barefoot running and the movement community, we were knocking around with years ago, but it was just wasn’t the trend.

TAPE YOUR MOUTH SHUT

TOJ: We’re only a couple of months out now, how is training going?

Tony Riddle: In my training, the breathing’s been interesting. I’m working on nasal breathing, so I first started taping my mouth up so I can only breathe through the nose and the moment you start to push too much you feel a desire to breathe in and gasp for air through the mouth, that’s how you know you’re going too hard. Then eventually your aerobic threshold grows and grows and grows.

An ice bath is Tony’s favorite way to recover after training.

I just went out and did 11 miles of nasal breathing on really hilly terrain and when I got home I thought, “I could go out and do that again right now!” It was just one of those runs that I could easily have just gone and done it again. I wasn’t hungry after that. I didn’t feel the need to eat or even drink something. I’ve become efficient in my breathing and running technique so my body doesn’t need to refuel as much as it would for after hours of inefficient movement. It’s incredible when you actually tune into it, what we would all be doing with these practices.

LOSE THE SHOE

TOJ: When you committed to this barefoot running challenge, which you talk about almost nonchalantly, did you choose a goal that was one step below impossible or do you feel confident that you’ll get through it?

“You can’t identify my foot with a ‘socially normal’ foot right now.”

Tony Riddle: I’ve always loved running so that’s not the bit that worries me. I just see it as normal, like I should be able to wake up and just go running. It’s just 30 miles a day. The bit that worries me is the organization and logistics. What I’m looking to do is interview sustainability and environmental experts along the route. The idea is that they will run a portion of each day with me. It might be 5k, or whatever they feel comfortable doing, and then we get the mics out and talk about their specialist field within sustainability and environmental issues.

Although as an infant, Tony’s twisted feet were forced into plaster casts, his rewilding practices have built them into highly adaptive feet in line with nature.

People observe running on tarmac as a problem. It’s really lovely running on tarmac. It’s the most smooth surface, perfectly engineered. And I’m so stealthy, you can’t hear my feet. You can hear a runner next to me in their rubberized, optimizing, “socially normal” running shoes and you can hear them “Bam, Bam, Bam, Bam” as they’re running down the road. You don’t hear that with me. I’m just picking my feet up. It’s really soft. The harder the surface, the softer I have to become on the surface. So even my feet have adapted. My feet have really soft jelly pads, and they’re a bit dirty, but they’re wide, capable feet. I imagine they’re probably just about where a natural foot would be. You can’t identify them with a “socially normal” foot right now. On my barefoot running challenge, my body will adapt to the discipline, it has to, that’s physical adaptation.

As long as someone’s waiting for me with an ice bath, I’ll be happy.

Visit our previous installments of the REWILD series featuring Tony Riddle’s socially extreme, yet biologically normal practices.

Part 1, Tony Riddle: Introducing REWILD
Part 2, REWILD with Tony Riddle: Children and Education
Part 3, REWILD with Tony Riddle: Transforming Your Body
Part 4, REWILD with Tony Riddle: Barefoot Running Across Great Britain

To connect with Tony, visit tonyriddle.com

Facebook: @naturallifestylist
Instagram: @thenaturallifestylist
Twitter: @feedthehuman
Youtube: Tony Riddle

Introducing The Outdoor Voyage

The Outdoor Voyage booking platform and online marketplace only lists good operators, who care for sustainability, the environment and immersive, authentic experiences. All listed prices are agreed directly with the operator, and we promise that 86% of any money spent ends up supporting the local community that you’re visiting. Click the image below to find out more.

Continue Reading

image

Athletes & Explorers

Oct 30, 2019

For the Lives of Others; Ultra Running Through Hell and Back

Two brothers from Cardiff, Wales create a life of purpose by being of service to others through their extreme ultra running challenges.

image

WRITTEN BY

Davey Braun

Like a J.R.R. Tolkien novel, the nine-year running careers of Scott and Rhys Jenkins read like epic quests composed of challenges that grant the characters new levels of personal growth.

“Ultra running is a microcosm for life in that you face a series of problems and challenges and it’s how you overcome those that get you to your goal.” – Scott

But instead of facing Tolkien’s man-eating trolls and cave-dwelling goblins that represent man’s demons within, the Jenkins brothers conquer their inner demons by setting out on ultra challenges in the harshest places on Earth – from Iceland to Death Valley. Their motivation to push through the pain comes from their commitment to causes that have personal meaning for them. Among other charities, Scott has been a longtime ambassador for Operation Smile, an international organization that benefits people born in developing countries with cleft palates. Rhys runs for CF Warriors, a charity that improves the quality of life for children with Cystic Fibrosis. (Listen to their podcast episode here).

“When we grow old in life, I strongly believe that the things we will remember will be the times where we tried to improve the lives of others.” – Scott

In addition to raising money and awareness for charitable causes, Scott and Rhys are proud to represent their home country of Wales, a nation within the UK that is roughly the size of New Jersey. Scott is eight years older than Rhys, but there is no competition between them, as they, along with the help of their support team, carry each other through the inevitable low moments of each race.

“I do feel a great pride in coming from a small country and wanting to represent the community, my friends and my family in a positive way.” Scott

2015: Jenkins brothers Running across Death Valley.

Together, Scott and Rhys have survived freezing temperatures on a 250 mile run across Iceland in only five days, endured the suffocating heat on multiple crossings of Death Valley and even ran 2000 miles across the United States from Boston to Austin in 75 days. In addition to the sheer distances, these runners battle through altitude, extreme temperature swings, and bewildering sleep deprivation. Their adventurous endurance accomplishments are too numerous to list here, but some of their recent highlights include:

Scott:

Hiked up Mount Whitney (14,000 ft) and down the other side in 10 hours toting a 60 lb backpack and carried on hiking self supported for another four days on the John Muir trail summiting Forresters Pass (13,000 ft), Glens pass (12,500 ft) and Baxter’s pass (12, 500 ft) covering 80 miles over the five days at altitude.

Completed the Grand Union Canal 145 mile race in 44 hours and the Liverpool to Leeds 130 mile canal race in 33 hours 38 mins.

Rhys:

Became the first Welshman to complete the Badwater 135.

Completed the Grand Union Canal in 42 hours, the Bristol to London 145 mile race in 36 hours and the Liverpool to Leeds canal race in 33 hours 38 mins.

Ran 24 marathons in 24 days.

2015: The duo running across Iceland towards Reykjavik – 250miles in 5 days

BADWATER

“Badwater is the holy grail. It’s the ultimate challenge of the human spirit.“ – Rhys

To the Jenkins Brothers, Badwater is the holy grail of ultra running. The grueling trail starts at 282 feet below sea level in Badwater Basin, Death Valley and ends at an elevation of 8,360 feet at Whitney Portal, the trailhead to Mount Whitney. Only 100 runners are accepted to run through the 120-degree heat each year and they must accumulate a minimum of three 100 mile races for consideration. To earn his invite to the event, Rhys ran the route four times unofficially – twice with Scott – including a double-crossing which covered 270 miles in 107 hours. This year, Rhys became the first Welshman to ever complete the 135-mile fire-breathing behemoth, and he did so in 40 hours 47 minutes.

UK CANAL RACES

Can you remember what you did last weekend? Scott and Rhys Jenkins can. They ran 44 hours straight, through day and night. Only 10 days after traversing Death Valley in the scorching heat, Rhys teamed up with his brother to run from Bristol to London, the second leg of a three-part series of canal races totaling over 400 miles. By finishing all three races this season, the brothers hope to complete the canal grand slam, or “canalslam.”

“I feel like there’s a responsibility in all of this to have fun with our lives and have an adventure, but ultimately do something to help others along the way.” – Scott

The Outdoor Journal connected with Scott and Rhys just days after completing the 145 mile Bristol to London canal race in the height of their summer running schedule to discuss the holy grail of ultra running events, their motivations for pushing their bodies through suffering, and the cathartic benefits that ultra running provides in becoming a better person. (Listen to the full discussion on this episode of The Outdoor Journal Podcast).

2019: Scott pacing Rhys at this year’s Badwater race.

TOJ: One of the things that shocked me was that your first introduction to long-distance ultra-running was by committing to run more than 2000 miles from Boston to Austin. How did you go from having very little competition experience to committing to such a big challenge?

Rhys: It started for both of us on a half marathon in South Wales, and both of us thought we could go a little bit further. And a couple of years later I ended up doing the Las Vegas Marathon. I’m not the fastest, I’m never going to win a race, but when I got to the end of that, again, I thought I could go a little bit further. Being quite young wanting to see the world, what better way to do it than on foot, exploring the USA? The idea of running from Boston to Austin was formed in about a week and then it took about a year and a half of planning and getting sponsors and so on. That was literally throwing ourselves into the deep end. I learned a lot from that trip which has shaped me and I still carry it through today.

“We’ve raised quite a lot of money over the years and it’s simply because of putting one foot in front of the other.” – Rhys

Scott: There’s another aspect to it as well. We had already realized we were decent at running distances, but we also wanted to do something to help others. With Boston to Austin, we recognized that there was an opportunity for us to do something that we’re good at, see the world and have an adventure, but also help other people along the way. We each picked a charity that we wanted to support touring Boston to Austin. For me it was British Heart Foundation, for Rhys it was Help for Heroes, so it was double motivated in that it was about having an adventure but also about doing some good along the way as well.

2018: Mile 130 of Liverpool to Leeds finishing joint 11th whilst raising awareness for CF Warriors.

ULTRA MINDSET

TOJ: I’ve seen people who are very well trained collapse after finishing just one marathon and I’m struggling to comprehend how you are able to do 75 in a row.

Rhys: Mindset. If I tell myself I’m going out for a five-mile run and I get to five miles and I’m done, I’m happy. I’m feeling like I’m good to go and rest. But, if I tell myself I’m going out for a 145-mile run, it may not be as simple as that, but my expectations are that I need to get to that mile before I’m allowed to relax. You just give yourself little things to hang on to, every mile, every checkpoint. You don’t let your body get excited. For us now a marathon is an incredible achievement, it is a milestone for the distance that it is, but for what we’re doing, it just has to be another number.

Scott: I completely agree with what Rhys said. It is all about mindset. These ultra-marathons are almost 75% mindset, 25% physical because you can train yourself to the highest level in the world and you’re going to have bad days when things go wrong. But what I’ve found is that your mind will quit way before your body ever will. These ultra-marathons are like a series of peaks and troughs. We just did Bristol to London on the weekend, which is a 145-mile ultra-marathon down one of the canal paths here in the UK. We experienced highs and lows, but we had the foresight to be able to recognize when we were in a low spot and get through it by eating some food or thinking about our reasons for doing the run.

Rhys: I sort of had a weird experience recently whereby I finished Badwater over in the USA. In Death Valley, California. Finishing that race has been a lifetime dream of mine. But then to know that 10 days later we’ve got a 145-mile race was a weird sensation to know my body has to go again and I’ve never run such large distances that close together. It was quite hellacious in places. It was painful throughout. But whilst you’re falling apart, the other guys pick you up, and when they start falling apart you pick them up. We’re blessed in a way because we’ve got each other. We’ve got friends and family who come with us on the trip and they take care of you when you’re in a bad place and then you return the favor when you’re in a good place. It is a team sport. For our crew, sitting in a car for 48 hours, it’s got to be unbearable. Your body would tell you to go to sleep, but they can’t. They have to be on their toes. They have to be looking after these two “prima donnas” who are waltzing their way along the canal requesting McDonald’s at 3 am in the morning when there isn’t one in sight. it’s very inspirational to see the amount of support that we have from our friends and family.

2019: Rhys approaching Mile 40 of Bristol to London KACR race where they both finished, only 33% of starters completed this year.

LONDON TO BRISTOL CANAL RACE

TOJ: One of the most interesting things I learned about the canal race that you just ran was that, counterintuitively, it’s lack of elevation changes compared to Badwater is actually what makes it difficult because you’re constantly working the same muscle groups and you can’t alternate them.

Scott: That’s really interesting that you picked up on that. They’re different races of course, Badwater is the holy grail of ultra-running. It’s unique in its difficulty because of the heat and the huge climbs that makes it so tough. I think the canal races are really quite unique. They’re really cool in that many of them are industrial canals that span the length between two major cities in the UK. The most elevation you get are these are small little bridges occasionally and you’re kind of willing them to come because your gait cycle is constantly accustomed to run on the flat. I do find it painful because you don’t get any respite for your muscles to work in a different way.

“Badwater has been my dream for 10 years.” – Rhys

Rhys: Badwater has been my dream for 10 years. It is the pinnacle of ultra-running for me. It is the holy grail. It’s the ultimate challenge of the human spirit. It’s how far are you willing to push yourself in one of the most hostile places on earth. I’ve done the route many times for charity, but I’ve never done the real race. The first time I ever went out to do it, I didn’t really know much about it. I didn’t realize how many hills that were. The climbing is outrageous over there. Going downhill, you can’t really control your body. You just have to go with it. Yes, you’re using different muscle groups but it’s very painful going downhill. It’s probably just as painful as going uphill, albeit a little bit faster.

TOJ: Rhys, it seems like you spent years building up a campaign and an application for Badwater. Can you explain to non-ultra runners what it felt like when you found out that you were accepted?

Rhys: It was very emotional. Genuinely, I’m not afraid to admit that I cried as soon as it happened. Only 100 runners are chosen each year. I’d spent the best part of two weeks plotting with my wife and thinking about how I can fill this application out and do myself justice so I can possibly get into the race. My approach was to just be honest and genuine about myself as an individual. That’s not from a running perspective. That’s just from a whole life perspective. Okay. More you do in your day to day life. When the race director reeled off my name it was just unbelievable. I’m getting quite emotional now actually talking about it.

2016: If you look close enough, you can see the brothers running in Death Valley for Operation Smile.

RACE EXPECTATIONS

TOJ: For the races that you’ve done this summer, how did you go about setting your expectations for your time and your placement?

“I’m never going to be the fastest, but I will do my damnedest to get there.” – Rhys

Rhys: Badwater was always about completing it. Like I said, it’s always been that life dream, that one thing I’ve always had my eye on. I just wanted to experience getting to that finish line. I wanted to experience the people, the family, the atmosphere, what actually goes on throughout the race – the environment, the mountains, etc. And certainly in terms of placement, I’m never going to be the fastest, but I will do my damnedest to get there. And then recently with the KACR from Bristol to London 145 miler being so soon after Badwater, it was a case of completing it. The Race Director came up to me at the start of the race and asked whether I had actually lost my mind.

Scott: The first Grand Union race back in May was the second time that I’ve run the Grand Union canal and I wanted to do it quicker than last year. I was really pleased to shave six hours off my time in 2018, which was a massive success and a testimony to Lawrence our coach as well. For this race, I think it was really important for me to finish the race and I didn’t really care how we got it done because I knew that it would make me eligible to apply to run Badwater next summer. We worked as a team and we got the job done and that was the most important thing to me about that race. Moving forward, Liverpool Leeds is the third of the canal races. I don’t really have a time goal, but it would be nice to do it quicker than it did last year in 33 hours and 48 minutes. I think that would be great because that would mean that we will likely finish in the top 10, which would be awesome. Also, it’s a stepping stone for me as it’s my last big run before I go to run the Mohab 240. I’m focusing all my efforts on training for that race. It’s a behemoth of a race. It’s going to be difficult. It’s in a super cool location. I really want to try and aim towards the top 10 in that race. If I could go under 75 hours for the 240, that would be my kind of A-goal at the moment.

2018: Scott hiking across the John Muir Trail with a 60 lb backpack for Operation Smile, coming down the other side of Mount Whitney towards Guitar lake. The hike up Mount Whitney took 10 hours.

COMPETITIVE SPIRIT

TOJ: Do you have individual rivalries to the point where, as you’re racing, you look over your shoulder and say, “We can’t let them pass us, we have to go faster?”

Rhys: We sort of leapfrog back and forth between other racers and you just want to see other people get to the finish line. You want to get there as quick as possible because you just want it done. Throughout the race, you go back and forth with people. You build friendships with them. You don’t really build rivalries. I’ll never be in a position where I’m going for first, second or third. I’m doing it for charity.

“If we see a head-torch, we’re sprinting.” – Scott

Scott: For the canal races, the only point where I get competitive is probably the last 13 miles or so. Those races for me don’t really start until the last segment. I’m not competitive with Rhys because I want us both to do well and we always run together and I really enjoy it and I think it’s quite a nice gift for us to be able to enjoy running together. But, I don’t want anyone overtaking us in the last half-marathon (laughs). You’ve worked so hard to that point for over 30 hours and you don’t want to give up the position at that point in the race. We just did it the Bristol to London race on the weekend where we were in 20th place and we decided we’re not letting anyone go past us now in these last couple of miles. If we see a head-torch, we’re sprinting.

TOJ: One of the people I look up to the most is Rich Roll and one of the themes of his podcast is to be of service and I feel like you have created a life of purpose by being of service to others through running. Looking back, is there someone in your life or maybe in your youth growing up that inspired you to follow this lifestyle?

Scott: That’s a really kind thing to say and it’s certainly something that I feel a responsibility for. And I’m sure Rhys does as well. We’re both ambassadors for charities. I’m an ambassador for Operation Smile. Rhys is an ambassador CF Warriors, a charity run by his close friend for people with cystic fibrosis. I have this vision in my head of when we grow old in life and are coming near to the end of our lives, when I think of that point in time and I think about what I want to reflect on during my life, I strongly believe that the things we will remember wouldn’t be when we saw a Liverpool win the Champions League or when we sat on the sofa and watched Netflix, it’ll be the time where we made a difference to others and tried to improve the lives of others. I feel like there’s a responsibility in all of this to have fun with our lives and have an adventure, but ultimately do something to help others along the way. When you talk about inspirational characters, I think it was just the friends and family that I grew up with. And being from Wales, you do feel a great pride in coming from a small country and wanting to represent the community and people you live with in a positive light. And for me, running is giving me the opportunity to be able to do exactly that, which is, represent my friends and family in a positive way and make a difference to others.

Rhys: I ‘m never going to be the richest man in the world and I’m never going to be the smartest, but I’m actually quite good at just moving forward and we figured out that people will support a charity if you’re willing to push your body and your limits. I’m an ambassador for CF Warriors and the people behind that give me the reason to hold on for a second longer. We’ve raised quite a lot of money over the years and it’s simply because of putting one foot in front of the other.

2010: Arriving in NYC from Boston as part of the Boston to Austin 2000mile run for help for heroes and British heart foundation.

REVEALING YOUR BEST AND YOUR WORST

TOJ: Do you feel that doing an ultra run tears down the ego and exposes a person’s true self or soul?

“You always end up a better person at the end of the race.” – Rhys

Rhys: It can show many faces. I think I’ve seen some of Scott’s best faces. I’ve seen some of his worst. You may go to a dark place, you may shout at somebody, you may throw something on the floor and stamp on it. I’ve seen some of my worst, I’ve seen some of my best, but you always end up a better person at the end of the race. I don’t think I’ve ever finished the race and gone, “Why the hell did I do that?” I’ve always finished it and I think in some way I’ve improved myself from putting myself through that.

Scott: I think it breaks people down. I think it’s definitely made me a better human being. It’s all sort of given me a stronger understanding of myself and what I’m capable of. I think that ultra running is almost like a microcosm of life in that you face a series of problems and challenges and it’s how you overcome those that get you to your goal, and that’s a lot like life, right? You need to learn from failures and you need to learn from the successes and keep a level head and keep moving forward. And what grasped me when we did Boston to Austin was that when you do these kinds of long runs, you almost retract to the bottom level on the hierarchy of needs. You don’t care about the superficial bullshit that we have every day. All you really cared about was where’s my next meal coming from? Am I going to be safe? In real basic survival mode, you don’t take things for granted anymore, you become a lot more of a calm and level headed person.

TOLL ON THE BODY

TOJ: With 90 to 100 miles per week of training on top of the races themselves, are you worried about the toll that you’re putting on your joints and whether you’re going to be driving rascal scooters when you’re eighty years old?

2018: Mile 110 at Liverpool to Leeds. A moment of contemplation

Scott: I work for Johnson & Johnson as an orthopedic product manager. It just so happens the irony of it is knee replacement. And so I come into contact with a lot of surgeons who eye me the same way that I look at a steak in terms of looking at my knees once I tell them that I do ultra running and cover these crazy distances. Through good fortune, I’ve never experienced any pain with my knees and I actually think that humans were born to the active. It’s in our DNA to be active. We weren’t born to be sat behind desks and driving cars around. And I actually would argue that a sedentary lifestyle coupled with obesity is much more harmful to the human body than running marathons is, as our ancestors did and as our bodies were designed to do.

TOJ: If I told you that I was going to run my first race this weekend and it was going to be the first time that I was going to run through the entire night, what kind of tips would you give for me and what should I expect?

“I would say prepare for it to suck. Massively.” – Rhys

Rhys: I would say prepare for it to suck. Massively, but always remember there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. When you get through that nighttime and that dawn pops up over the horizon, it makes you a different person. I’ve never heard anyone say anything different. It just breathes new life into you. If you could just hang on through that nighttime, the next day is the reward when that sun pops up.

Scott: My tips would be you need to manage the transition from the daytime temperature to the evening temperature accordingly in terms of your attire. I would also recommend having some caffeine on hand when it gets to the wee hours of the morning. I would prearrange somebody to make sure you’ve got some nice foods in the middle of the night, something that’s going to boost you mentally as well as give you a bit of energy physically. I love pizza when I’m running. It’s one of those feel-good foods, Also make sure you’ve got good torch too.

INTERNAL FEEDBACK

TOJ: How much has your running technique changed since you began, now that you’ve had 10 years experience and you’ve been working with a coach?

Rhys: Over the last 12 months, I started looking into VO2 Max testing to figure out my training zones, which means when you go into places like Death Valley where the heat automatically raises your heart rate, you can make sure that you’re within the threshold that you need to keep going. Monitoring the heart rate builds the basis of our training and our approach during our races. Once you hit a certain level, for me it’s around 150 BPM, If I peak over that, I stop, I slow down, I walk until my heart rate decreases and I get it back under control because knowing that allows me to know how much hydration I need to take on and how many calories I need to keep going. I started to notice that my cadence improved massively, and therefore my technique has improved. Coming off this past weekend, it’s very difficult to posture for 43 hours, but one thing you can definitely do is keep your heart rate in that correct range.

Scott: When I cast my mind back to Boston to Austin, we just kind of winged it. We didn’t know where we were going. We didn’t know where we were going to stay. We just wanted to get through a marathon, we didn’t even stretch. It was the vigor of youth. We saw a great opportunity and thought, “What’s to stop us?” And we found a way to get through it. But the great thing with our coach Lawrence is he’s given us so much more structure around our training that has definitely made me a better runner.

2019: Rhys competing at sunset at this year’s Badwater race.

FUTURE OF THE SPORT

TOJ: Ultra running has definitely been growing over the past nine years that you guys have been involved in it and there are a lot more races popping up all over the world. But is there something that is missing in the sport or is there an element that you’d like to see it evolve into in the future?

Rhys: I think it’s perfect. I think it’s a beautiful sport and I love the minimalist approach where it’s just simple. You go out there, you’re told to run from A to B or you’re told to run for a certain amount of time. You just go out and do it. Because this person dreamt this challenge up and you want to do it all for a tee shirt or the metal and just the kudos for telling your friends. At the moment I think it’s in a really great position and it’s going from strength to strength and there will be some new amazing ideas out there for sure.

“I would love to see a hundred-mile race added to the Olympics.” – Scott

Scott: I agree. I think it’s a great sport and it’s something that everyone can embrace if they want to take on the adventure and have the challenge of running a hundred miles. It’s just an amazing experience. I wouldn’t like to see ultra running become over-commercialized. The one thing that may slightly contradict that which I would like to see, and it’s based on the heritage of the Olympics, is I would love to see a hundred-mile trail race or a hundred-mile 24-hour track race added to the Olympics. I don’t know how they’d film it, but if you think back to the spirit of the Olympics, it was all about running in ancient Greece and what truer way to express it than a hundred-mile foot race at the Olympics.

To keep up with the Jenkins brothers, follow them on social media:

Facebook: @thejenkobros
Scott’s Instagram:@scottjjenkins
Rhys’s Instagram: @rjenko11
Rhys’s Blog

Subscribe to The Outdoor Journal Podcast for more stories like this.

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Listen on Spotify

Listen on Google Podcasts

Feature Image: 2015: Coming out of Badwater basin at the start of running across Death Valley for Operation Smile and Save the Children.

Recent Articles



World’s Greatest Action Shots: Red Bull Illume 2019 Winners Crowned

The Winners of the world’s greatest action and adventure sports imagery contest have been unveiled in the LUMEN Museum atop Plan de Corones in South Tyrol, Italy.

Stories From The Sahel: Lake Chad, at the Cross-Section of Chad, Niger, Cameroon and Nigeria

A part of the world that explorer Reza Pakravan considers the most remote region he's visited. A place where millions of people do not feel that they belong to any particular nation.

New World Record: Nirmal Purja Summits the 14 Highest Peaks in Just 6 Months

Nepali ex-soldier Nirmal Purja just smashed the record for summiting all the 8000ers in just half a year—the previous record? The same achievement took Kim Chang-ho, over seven years.

Privacy Preference Center

Necessary

Advertising

Analytics

Other