Meet the runner - Nicholas Wolverson
Runners are pretty low-key and understated at the best of times but Nicholas Wolverson takes it to a new level. He's a talented ultra-runner but always seems horizontally relaxed about life and running. In fact, if my memory serves me right he missed a race start because he was horizontal (and asleep!). I've followed his running and ultra-exploits since I lived in Edinburgh and I wanted to catch up and ask him some questions about his life and training. I took a lot away from this interview and I'm sure you will too.
I live in Edinburgh and I'm a software developer currently working for a small distributed company (video streaming). I was working remotely anyway which meant I was lucky when it came to COVID times, though I do miss the structure that run commuting gave to my day and also the structure it gave to training (and I guess face to face social interaction, remember when that used to be a thing?). I don't have a coach. I run for Edinburgh AC, I work the group runs and speed sessions around my training, varying them depending on what I'm doing - coaches Alex and Garry set some great sessions and tolerate my ultra-nonsense. I tend to run solo when I'm less fit or coming back from injury, I've always felt I need a larger base than a lot of people before I do quality training. I got into ultra-running the same way I got into marathons - I always knew it was on the horizon. I took it as a given that I was going to do it at some point. I'm not sure what even sparked the interest. My first ultra was back in 2013, 3 weeks after the marathon that finally took me sub-3. It was the White Rose Ultra, and the course was two 30-mile loops. It was a low-key event, maybe in its first year at the time. I seem to remember there were 7 finishers (and I was one of them).
I don’t have a favourite distance to run. I like to race, and any distance is a good distance. I find it amazing how good the body and the unconscious mind is at regulating effort such that all perception of pace and effort is relative to the distance you've set out for. The great thing about training for ultras is that you open yourself to a wider range of distances to run and race. why not enjoy them all? Some people talk about certain race distances being hard, but I've always had the mindset that if any distance is easy you're not racing hard enough. Killing yourself over the mile, the 5k, half marathon, marathon, ultras - it hurts in a different way, but it hurts, and you can love or hate it just the same. When I’m in shape and training well I'm sufficiently a creature of habit that I don't make a training plan past maybe extrapolating what my long run progression must look like or a vague idea of what element to focus on. I like to break the week in two, the weekend and the midweek, with a bit of a hard-hard-easy philosophy - it's important to have rest/recovery days, but I'd allow the option of clustering the hard work and have a more defined rest. Monday - short easy run recovering from last weekend.
Tues-Wed-Thurs - usually running doubles, easy run in the morning and Tuesday/Thursday club speedwork (and running or cycling there/back - a 10km track session can be 25km at the end of the day).
Wednesday - semi-long run incorporating a social group run. Friday - easy recovery run before the weekend.
Saturday - usually a "parkrun sandwich" - 20km including a decently hard parkrun,
Sunday - long run. For more ultra-focused training - and I've only really done this in 2018 focusing on the Race Across Scotland - I'd switch up the weekend to run back-to-back long runs, maybe 30-50km each day, slower and not every week. At that point I'd go down to one session during the week at lower intensity. At times like now, when I'm coming back and building up, I tend to start building overall mileage, then long run distance, then start more mileage before finally feeling up to speedwork and racing (and showing my face in public). I don't feel I can run interval sessions below 50 miles per week. I don't always do strength work, even assuming we have the luxury of gyms. When I'm in a gym-going phase I like to do traditional full-body lifts (bench/DL/squat) and a mish mash of whatever else. No yogalates or whatever. Nada supplements or vitamins (well some vitamin D this winter is about as far as it goes). I've been quite into running up Arthur's Seat the past year. Edinburgh is lucky to have such a playground on our doorstep. This spring I think it was about a week from seeing people ski-ing on the slopes to getting out the vest and sunnies...
One of my running highlights was in 2018 when I ran the Race Across Scotland (coast to coast on the Southern Upland Way) - I pulled out at like 150 miles or something. That race, the training for it, the trips to recce it, the aftermath - defined my year, and the aftermath defined the next. I'm just about stupid enough to try it again sometime. I had a stress reaction in my ankle 5-6 months ago. Perhaps it was caused by a foolish choice to run a long run on the road in a fresh pair of shoes when I'd been running my long runs in the hills although probably it was just the tipping point. I never saw anybody about it, as particularly in this pandemic world I can prescribe myself rest then some cross training, build back gradually - as usual I thought I could run too early, then went the other way and took too long off, but I'm back training consistently now - about 50 miles a week, feeling good, and about 3 niggles further on. I've not really spent much time racing overseas, just a few marathons. The one that stands out is the Midnight Sun Marathon. I wouldn't necessarily go back but it was something different and a great trip. Closer to home, I'd have to recommend a couple local races to anyone that wants something different. The first is the Seven Hills of Edinburgh. You choose your own route, and you often see someone pop off through a gate or side street and later re-appear in front of or behind you depending on who's got the better path. The second is the Black Rock '5' on the other side of the Forth, a run across tidal sands. Of course, that's if you can get in, as it sells out in minutes. I'm sorry, I'm going to have to be one of those people and mention two best performances. If you look up race equivalent tables, I'm sure my best race is my Half Marathon PB. The Inverness Half Marathon, a week after I set a Marathon PB, I was aiming for sub-80 (or at least that's as far as I'd admit to having a goal) and came in at sub-75 minutes. I've since raced a half in what I considered to be better shape and failed to come close. What's special to me about that performance is how hard it was. I was honestly thinking of throwing in the towel by 4 miles, and from then on it was hurting and I kept pushing, hurting, and chasing - I guess I just had some deep motivation that day. It made me scared to honestly race the half for a while.
But to ultras. Without a doubt my best performance was 4th at the Highland Fling. I've won a couple of smaller races, which is great fun of course, but as well as a great course and renowned race organisation the Fling attracts a solid field. The year I did it maybe wasn't the best field there has been, but it was certainly competitive. Top 10 was not a soft goal for me - I was lucky to be strong enough to move through the field, and while the top 3 were well out of reach 5 guys came in behind me within 10 minutes. I also learned I can run at a decent effort while also consuming a surprising number of bananas. I don't think I particularly think badly of any race time, maybe I've come to terms with any shockers or maybe I didn't have any big targets to miss. There are 3 races I've pulled out of - I think only 3 - the Race Across Scotland, which was through injury that was unarguable; the D100/D133 which was a justifiable (though in hindsight perhaps not correct) worry about an injury, and the Marathon of the North. In the Marathon of the North I finished in an Ambulance - just pushing too hard, didn't get much of a breakfast and wasn't taking gels - I passed out with low blood sugar. Getting out of the medic tent was a challenge, they kept feeding me gels and testing my blood sugar, no movement there - until somebody found some shortbread which did the trick! Anyway my splits make interesting reading, 10k too fast, 20k, 30k look reasonable, and 40k... well that's the kicker, I had a 40k split and didn't finish... Incidentally, if you ever see someone struggling in a race and cheer them on, take a second to think of the people that I recall shouting to me to keep running when I was walking a (very slight) incline shortly before passing out... My running and life philosophy is ‘Don't over-complicate things’. I struggle with motivation. I'm either doing nothing or all-in, if I'm fit and in form and running all the time, I'm super motivated, if I can do a little it sometimes fades to nothing. I've really learned not to force it - it doesn't make me happy - motivation will come around again sooner or later, in running as in other aspects of life. Tough moments in ultra-races - either it's something you can fix, which is maybe harder to recognise in the moment, but that's a skill I'd aspire to having one day - or it's just something to be endured. In which case keep moving forward, the faster you get there the faster it's over, break things down into short term goals and lie to yourself about the rest. I can't say I have any running icons. I like to listen to podcasts on the run, I've heard many interviews with great characters - I couldn't single one out. I'm signed up for a re-deferred Cape Wrath Ultra next year. I don't usually like to plan races far in advance, which doesn't really work so well for getting entries, but right now I'm happy to take things as it comes and race when races are on again. With so many races getting rescheduled into the same period of the year maybe I can pick up a place in something or other.