Confessions of an Ultra Runner’s wife

‘Behind every successful man is a proud wife and a surprised mother-in-law’ – Hubert H. Humphrey

If you read this blog often (and if not why no not?!) you’ll be well acquainted by with husband Dave by now. And you’ll you know that he’s bestowed upon family Newman the knowledge of the crazy world of ultra running.


One of us runs ultra marathons and one of us……..doesn’t.

Running has never been my forte, I had no athletic ability in school (apart from trampolining but that’s the only sport in the world where being overweight is beneficial!). I’m 5’3 (and a half – the half is very important) and only 1 foot of that is taken up by my legs, and I have the lung capacity of an 80 year old asthmatic so yeah, I’m not really genetically built for running. Dave was always the sporty one of us two, 5 a-side mainly, but when I joined weight Watchers ten years ago and realised the more I exercised the more cake I could eat, I made Dave come along to the gym with me (because a couples membership was cheaper than a single one). The only thing Dave really liked to do was run on the treadmill so he would set himself little goals or targets; like trying to run 5K in under 20 minutes (which he achieved in 2009 before his bike trip). I think he always knew that setting himself goals was the motivator to get him running, it’s not like running costs very much, so money was never a factor, but he always needed something to get him out and exercising on those damp and miserable Sunday mornings.

As time went on he started looking for his next challenge. He’s only 5’9 (although he’ll tell you he’s 5’11) so I think the speed thing bored him a little bit, there’s only so fast little legs can go, I know that all too well! So he started focusing more on distance and looking into Ultra Marathons. An ultra marathon is basically anything longer than a standard marathon (26 miles) but is usually 30 miles or more, it’s tiring just thinking about it isn’t it?

The Wall
So bearing in mind that he’s more motivated when he has something to train for, he decided to dip is toe into the ultra running water and start off gently (detect the sarcasm?) by entering into The Wall; a 70 mile race from Carlisle Castle to Newcastle Quayside. This is pretty much the point where our lives changed. I know what you’re thinking, where do I fit into all of this? I mean, it’s not like I have to train with him, not that I wouldn’t, I totally would, but you know my cake/coffee/tequila/prosecco habit won’t feed it’s self. It’s the words of Tina Turner, ‘what’s Helen got to do with it’? Well. behind every ultra runner is an ultra runner’s wife (or husband) washing their stinky kit, keeping them stocked with jelly babies, popping their blisters, running their baths and shouting motivations words at them every now and again.

Training – the good

Helen Newman - Blister popper extraordinaire

Helen Newman – Blister popper extraordinaire

When the training for The Wall started, I knew I was going to be chief support crew-er (i’m one of those weird people who loves pimple popping videos on YouTube so as soon as I was given the go ahead to lance blisters, I was in there like swimwear) and it was a job I relished in. It’s really inspiring seeing someone do something they love and are committed to. Weekends were always particularly good because I would amuse myself however I liked (usually cake, coffee and prosecco in town with Ang and Steph) and he would go out and run, then we would congregate at home again in the evening for some well deserved beer and nachos to celebrate his achievement. That’s probably what I loved the most about the long training runs if i’m completely honest, helping him eat and drink back all the calories he’d burnt off!

It will come as no surprise that I’m press officer for Newman Inc. and one of Dave’s biggest flaws is that he’s incredibly modest. I on the other hand,have no modesty whatsoever so take massive pride in shouting from the rooftops about his achievements. I love telling people about what he’s training for and how far he ran that weekend and seeing the shock on their faces and hearing them say ‘70 miles?’ ’70?……Miles?’ As far as bragging rights go, this is a pretty good one. It never gets old.

The ultra running community is amazing, and cheesy as it may sound, it’s like one big family. On the day of the Wall, all the other partners and support crews all rallied together, cheered everyone on, whether you knew them or not, all offered up their supplies to anyone who looked like they needed them (we helped a guy strap up his bleeding toes and replenished someone’s water after they’d accidentally spilt all of theirs trying to take a big gulp. And that sense of community is heart warming. We all understand the time and commitment it took to get there and every runner had everyone’s utmost respect.

Training – the bad
What wasn’t so fun was that for the best part of the year that he was training, it kind of overtook both of our lives. Because we both work full time training was limited to evenings and weekends, this meant that the long training runs (50k+ the closer race day got) had to be done on a Saturday or Sunday. This of course meant that he couldn’t really drink all that much on a Friday night. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I quickly learnt that I would still have a drink even if he wasn’t drinking, but it’s not quite as fun drinking on your own, and hearing yourself get louder and louder discussing why Gogglebox isn’t the ground breaking TV concept that everyone seems to think it is, while he just sits there inwardly rolling his eyes and wishing it was bedtime. Weekend days I was on my own, we couldn’t go shopping together or pop out for lunch, and that got lonely sometimes.

One thing I slightly struggle with as well is that what he’s doing is so amazing and takes so much dedication, that I sometimes feel like I’m not good enough. Like anything I do or achieve will pale into insignificance compared to what he’s doing. For example while we was training for Wall I decided to run the Blaydon Race (an iconic 6 mile road race through Newcastle) and while he was cheering e on every step of the way and there waiting for me full of pride on the finish line, in my head, compared to what he was doing, it was nothing.

My own running career has been less successful...

My own running career has been less successful…

When you’re training for an ultra marathon, you’re running so much that it’s damn near impossible to replace all the calories that he burns off, so he naturally loses a lot of weight (there’s not much fat on Mo Farrah is there?) and it gets a bit tiresome when people constantly comment (to me, never to his face) how much weight he’s lost, and questions about his health or is he over doing it etc. I know that it’s coming from a place of concern but If anyone knows Dave they will know how sensible and careful about his health he is, he would never do anything thing to jeopardise that. For what he’s doing, he’s doing it as safely as possible – i can promise you that.

Race Day

Three cheers for Team Vague!

Three cheers for Team Vague!

Dave set out a training plan so he knew how far he was supposed to run every day and it became quite apparent that despite my professional executive assisting skills, I was going to need some some, so I created Team Vague. Made up of most of our family and a couple of friends to come along on the day to help with feeding and watering our super star runner. Dave had given us all rough guesses of what time he reckoned he’d be at each of the check points and we made sure we were there with everything he might need be it water, gels, food, cuddles or blister popping. We really couldn’t have asked for more from a team, everyone knew what they were in charge of, my mum did a sterling job making sure the team themselves were fed and watered, my brother seemed to use his rain man type memory to remember which bag everything was in, Dave’s dad Chris was there with all the right motivational words, and Dave’s mate Brian came down and ran the last 8 miles with him and saw him safely over the finish line. It really was a brilliant, emotional day, seeing all that hard work and sacrifice pay off, and being on the other side of the finish line was a moment i’ll never forget. All the things i bitched and moaned about; him not drinking on a Friday night or unable to come with me to social gatherings didn’t seem that important anymore.

You can watch a video of the day here:

How it’s changed me
I mentioned a few weeks ago that I’m the baby of the family, therefore everything has pretty much always been about me. Whilst it took a while to come to terms with the fact that everything isn’t about me all the time (i know, shocking right?) and it’s great for Dave to take the spotlight doing something he’s so passionate about – it’s made me less selfish to put it bluntly. In all seriousness though, Dave is my inspiration and all this training he’s doing has inspired me to get fit. The last thing you want s him to be running 50K a week and you;re sitting on your fat arse eating twirls and watching Making the Band on youtube (as an example).
I also think (and i’d like to think Dave agrees with me here) that it’s brought us closer. Because he involves me in his training and we kind of do it all as a team, we now have a shared bond and interest that we never had before. It’s also brought the family together as well, not that we weren’t already super close to begin with anyway but it’s so lovely to see how enthused everyone is about Dave and his running and the atmosphere on race days is just so much fun. It’s made me realise what a great family and set of friends we have; people who would give up their Saturday to stand out in the cold and cheer him on.

What’s next?
It took Dave the best part of a year to fully recover from the Wall. But he’s back at it again (with a little encouragement from me, I love him with all my heart and soul but his inability to make a decision is infuriating so I signed him up for the EnduRun24 and 24 Hour Race around Gosforth Park Racecourse. So the training has started again. If anything I’m more excited about this one than I was for The Wall. The Racecourse is 2 miles away from where we live so very handy,but I also feel that we learnt a lot from The Wall and will be able to get another really great team together. Because it’s more local as well more people have said they want to come along ad support him so hopefully the atmosphere will be even better.
Stay tuned for more updates on how his training is getting on…!

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