John has been trail running for about 15 years, more frequently since he decided that he’d pushed his luck far enough after rock climbing for 20 years (John is 57yrs old).
He’s been taking running much more seriously over the last 4 years to train for UTMB qualifier ultramarathons and especially over the last 2 years using Coach Parry Faster Beyond Fifty training plans.
John started trail running in beautiful locations during rock climbing trips to help improve his climbing fitness.
Continuing to run after stopping climbing, still keeps him regularly visiting beautiful natural environments which he finds especially helpful when life is busy!
Meet Mountain Ultra Runner John Fowler
John tells us that running has also replaced the sense of achievement he always felt chasing rock climbing grades and serves as another adventure ‘thread’ that runs through his life and keeps him inspired.
As someone who likes to achieve in all facets of life, it helps keep me motivated, buoyant and happy through these challenging times.”
John has completed a few hilly ultramarathons in the last few years, he even qualified for the UTMB OCC for 2020 but was then unfortunately unsuccessful on the ballot.
I have no issue with motivation whatsoever (i.e. I am prone to overtraining) and have suffered from Achilles tendon and heel pain issues over the last 2 years, despite valiant efforts by my physio to sort me out! “
More recently John has been supplementing limited running with gravel biking adventures, now evolving into bike packing trips.
This last weekend 4 of us completed 120KM with 2000m of ascent over Dartmoor in 2 days, including 1 night of wild camping on top of one of the 500m high Tors. “
John tells us that he is a self-employed, abseiling historic building surveyor and has recently taken a sort of semi-retirement to…
“allow me to focus more on my work-life balance, i.e. less work, more fun!”
The recent completion of the Ultra-Trail Snowdonia 50K mountain ultra (with 12,500 feet of ascent) and the subsequent UTMB OCC qualification is my most recent and proudest moment so far at 57 years old.”
It was also an Ultra Trail Word Tour round, so it was very significant to John.
He fell over twice coming off the second mountain, cut open both of his forearms, and twisted his left knee. He could not run downhill from there, just before halfway, but could still run on the flat and gentle uphills.
I was still however really strong on the uphill power-hiking and I’m sure that came from a combination of FBF50 strength training and some other specific exercises my physio Jo Meek has given me. “
“These plans do give you some hardcore ENDURANCE!!!”
So John got around within the cutoff time in 13 hours and 47 minutes, about 3 hours slower than expected but he was just grateful to complete it!
John said he doesn’t race very often as it took about 2 years for him to get over long-term Achilles and foot issues.
I don’t chase PBs for this reason and also because I feel that mountain and hill running for me is primarily about the experience.”
But for some context, he ran the Exmoor North Coast 55 Km ultra with around 9000 feet of ascent in 8 hours 40 minutes so he can push on a bit if he needs to.
The joyous memories I have from running ultras around mountains in the dark wearing a headtorch with other like-minded loons far outweigh any ‘high’ I’ve experienced from a 5K PB!”
UTMB Dream To Reality
John wanted to share some advice to others setting out on their journeys …
- Stick to your Coach Parry plan, do the work and you’ll reap the benefits…. but do it with caveats…
- Stick to the pace and/or intensity and make sure you understand WHY those intensities are specified – it makes it easier to stick to a slow run for instance if you understand the benefits.
- Use these training plans as one tool within your tool-kit of resources such as advice on nutrition strategies, gait analysis, physio advice, equipment, etc.
- If you feel a niggle or injury coming on, ease off for a bit – its easier to recover from a niggle than an injury and you won’t lose much fitness if any for the sake of a few recovery days!
- If the injury gets worse, go and see a good physio promptly. Don’t ignore it.
- Do the exercises the physio gives you!!!!
- Work out your heart rate zones and try to stick to them, especially on the hills. Be honest about it.
- Get over the fact that when you’re training on hills and trails you’ll be doing quite a lot of walking during your easy runs and your average pace will be slower on Strava. Give your ego a rest!
- Factor in some training with a full-weight ultra pack (3.6kg for UTMB races and qualifiers). I do this on my Sunday long run so it involves even more walking until you get used to the weight.
- Don’t skip your strength sessions – you’ll get stronger on the hills AND become more resilient against injury.
The Journey With Coach Parry
I’ve been with Coach Parry for about 2 years and some adverts on Facebook piqued my interest as a more mature runner.”
John was injured at the time too and was looking for a solid way to recover and increase his strength and resilience against injury.
It has taken a while but I’m sure the Faster Beyond Fifty plans have been a major contributor to achieving a sustainable recovery.”
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If it feels like you’re training harder than ever but not running the paces you’d like to be running or if you’re constantly tired, fatigued or running in some sort of pain, then this is specifically for you.
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Biggest Contributor To John’s Success Story
John finds it difficult to pin it down to one thing.
Being inspired enough to commit to solid training, hard work, consistency, the FBF plans, good nutrition (I’ve been vegan for about 5 years), sound rest, and recovery “
He says that it’s one of the fascinating things about sports and especially running, there are so many small things that you can improve on that collectively add up to big gains.
I personally think that inspiration is huge – ever since I saw the UTMB races live on the internet in 2015 I KNEW I HAD to race around those mountains!!! “
John’s also a big fan of visualization and reverse-engineering or planning.
After deciding on UTMB OCC I first researched how to qualify, then found the qualification races that I liked the look of and then worked out how to train for them, looked for training plans and other advice.
Once you commit then things just start falling into place.”
The UTMB OCC 50K mountain ultra in the Alps in August is the ‘A’ race for this year and a long-term 7-year goal.”
He has a 22-mile hilly trail coast race called the Exe to Axe at the end of April as part of the build-up.
John is not sure after UTMB as he is focused on this year at the moment, although he may do a crazy mountain ultra in Scotland that involves easy rock climbing and there are some other mountain ultras in Europe that he has one eye on.
Struggles Along The Way
I had a quite serious Achilles issue that stopped me running completely for about 3 months.”
John also had associated pain for well over a year while recovering and getting his hips and glutes strong!
“I still feel the same niggle occasionally but it’s just a reminder that I need to focus on my running form or ease back on the intensity and/or volume.”
He says that you never stop learning! But you have a great chance of overcoming injury issues if you take good advice and put in the hard work.
Hardest Pary Of The Journey
“Understanding and embracing the injury recovery process and not overdoing things. “
John found that visualizing an upwards line on a graph representing recovery and understanding that all the training he was doing had to remain effectively underneath that line, helped restrain his enthusiasm.
That’s where a really well-constructed recovery and training plan is invaluable I think.”
Something Interesting About John’s Story
He works as a self-employed contract historic building surveyor and most of the work does is done by abseil.
John gets to abseil and photograph castles, cathedrals, and other important buildings all across the country including in London.
He then spends time at home writing the reports.
I sometimes, therefore, have to be adaptable with my training – strength training in hotel rooms without weights, running around central London sometimes in the evening instead of hills and mountains.”
But when he’s working from home he can take breaks and head out to the hills during the day in Winter for instance.
So you need to be adaptable depending on the circumstances and make it work for you.
For sure, sometimes you might have overdone things and need to miss a session or run to prevent an injury, but generally, making excuses doesn’t help you achieve your goals!
You need to put in the work :)”
Absolutely incredible story John! Wishing you luck for the big race ahead! Keep us posted!