But in years since the answer has been more elusive:
- In 2011 I dropped out of two - difficult - 100m+ events in mountainous regions (Lakeland 100 and the UTMB (Alps).
- In 2012 I didn't attempt a 100 but wiped out in the tough sister challenge of the UTMB, the 'Sur les Traces des Ducs de Savoie' 70m+ mountain trail event in the Alps.
- In 2013 I made it further in a 100m+ than since 2010, eventually calling it quits around 70m into the Hardmoors 110.
- In 2014 I DNF'd very early in the Hardmoors 55, my shortest and earliest event DNF to date.
So in 2012 I figured I'd done 100, maybe I just try a different challenge for now. The TDS with its reputation for more brutish paths than the UTMB, but 30m shorter offered a tantalising challenge and I put in some of the best focused training I'd ever done. I not only expected to finish, but wanted the self-proclaimed glory of a sub 24-hour finish. And things looked good for that as I stormed around the Lakeland 50 a month prior.
As it was the mountains had plans to make things difficult. After watching the competitors battling through hot conditions and up the mysterious and exciting Col de Youlaz and suchlike in the 2011 event DVD I'd run midday and early afternoon on many summer days trying to condition myself to hot weather running. But TDS 2012 was much the opposite of 2011, with storms before, much of the route shrouded in flog, rain and wind during (sometimes heavy). I gave up tired, at 50m after not really getting going again overnight after an earlier soaking where I'd got very cold.
Was this a worrying trend. Did I not care enough and was the tough stuff beyond me now that there was no 100m carrot dangling. I completed the Hardmoors 60 a few months later without issue and have done many ultra events in the intervening years of sub-100 distance.
Was I prepared to accept that my body couldn't do 100m, should I concentrate on trying to get better at marathon length trail runs and take on the occasional longer 'yearly challenge'?
I tried this for awhile, some good and some bad runs in undulating to hilly trail marathons in 2013-14 - but all quite fast - and generally pleasing efforts in a few 50-65m challenges those same years.
So was it just my mind that threw in the towel when things got tough and these shorter distances and courses weren't generally tough enough?
Yes maybe, but I didn't like this answer. If I was prepared to accept this why did the DNF bug me so much? Especially the TDS one in 2012 - I think because I wasn't injured as such and just gave up as I was exhausted. The others could seemingly be attributed to having a bad knee or suchlike that I could blame the DNF on - even if this was just a convenient excuse (including Hardmoors 110 in 2013 where I made it about 70m, but couldn't face another 40 with a painful knee, which had slowed me right down).
And why did I train so hard all year in every bit of time I had outside of work and family life just to chuck in the towel after less than a day of running and walking in most cases. The event wasn't being given the respect due from the preparation. I might as well do whatever is possible to finish or not bother trying in the first place.
2014 saw a new plan. Initially my motivation was to raise money for charity by taking on one big challenge per month. I figured I'd enjoy the challenge, not many LSR in training as each run was close enough to build me up to the next. In the mix was a failure at Hardmoors 55, where I think again I exited fairly sensibly after not feeling good enough on the day to run to my expectations - probably justified as I think I was suffering a bit from post viral fatigue if the next few weeks runs were anything to go by.
But after that I took on various long challenges throughout the year including 85m overnight mostly self-supported on the Centenary Way from Filey to York. And the big one was multiple days of over 40m tracking the waterway that was the Ure > Ouse > Humber from source to sea.
These were pretty tough on my body and I was starting to feel again like I could take on the big challenges that had defeated me. Wiser, tougher, knowing myself a bit better and more prepared to overcome the hard bits?
For 2015 I had renewed determination and an entry in the Sur les Traces des Ducs de Savoie' once again. I'd spent year being too obsessed with how I did in the challenge and forgot it was just that... a challenge... finishing the damned thing is good enough for now!
Depending on your point of view my original "How can I?" could be a negative question, asking for an answer, insinuating I'm not got the stuff for the challenge. My new approach demanded problem solving to achieve the goal...
I'd replace How can I? with Why can't I?
"Why can't I?" is standing up my own self-doubt and the doubters, believing in good prep and knowing that it will get me so far and make the hard miles that bit easier.
And the challenge was on, with less time to log miles than in 2012 - as I now had a 2 year old son - I prepared myself as best I possibly could to run/walk 70m in the mountains as fast as I could. So that come the day I had the weapons and resilience in my arsenal to face all challenges that came my way.
- long runs over very undulating routes close to home;
- runs in the mountains where possible (BGR support and 2 days in Wales);
- getting the right gear and knowing how to use it should the challenge demand;
- getting to know my stomach, what I could eat, how much, for how long and what to do if I was having problems eating my usual long run fare;
- mental prep, turning a negative to a positive and....
- remembering that if I'm suffering and have chance to slow down and finish, just do that its better than a DNF (and may not get me back to the start any slower - through DNF experience in events I know it can take ages to get back to the start).