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Ira Rainey: From fat to fit ready for ultramarathon

By West Country Life  |  Posted: January 18, 2014

  • Ira Rainey lost three stone to get fit

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For Ira Rainey, the transformation from fat to fit meant dropping three stone.

Usually when overweight, unhealthy people talk seriously about getting fit, it means building up to a few hours exercise in a week, but Ira built up to a 46-mile running race around Bristol.

This man clearly doesn't do anything by halves.

"I wouldn't say I get bored easily, but if I do something, I like to do it 110 per cent and I think that sums up the mindset for an ultra marathon," he says as we chat in a café near his office.

And now, having completed his local "ultra" challenge, Ira is already planning longer challenges further afield, building up to a 100-miler.

How crazy is that? If he weren't telling me all about it with a straight face, I might think he had reverted to his previous profession as a stand-up comedian.

These days he works in IT, lives in Kingswood, near Bristol, and works in Bath, but in his youth, Ira was also a semi-professional BMX rider – a risky pursuit which he gave up with the advent of marriage and children. In the past he's also been a bus driver and was partly responsible for the now-defunct satirical thatbebristle website and for penning A Dictionary of Bristle, recently reprinted.

This year, Ira's writing skill and quirky sense of humour has been mish-mashed once again, resulting in a new book.

From Fat Man to Green Man is an intriguing, funny and sometimes poignant account of his long-distance running experience to date and is named for the race that forms the core subject – the Green Man Ultra, a 46-mile course around the Community Forest Path.

Ira had completed the Bristol half marathon once and then gave up running until a few years later, in 2002, when he realised the expanding effects of beer and junk food.

He joined Bitton Road Runners in 2005, which turned out to be the single biggest impact on Ira's running.

He says: "I met a whole new group of perfectly normal like-minded people of all abilities; I ran more, trained better and raced harder. Over the years that followed I ran in countless 5k and 10k races, 15 half marathons and completed three marathons. I even actually enjoyed some of them. I had now become a proper runner."

But he was still fat; obese in fact, at 16st 6lbs.

The kick-start Ira needed was to come as a blow: a dear friend was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He says in the book: "Life can be so brief and it should be lived to the full and with my slacker attitude I realised I wasn't exactly giving myself the best chance of doing that. I decided that I really had to take some decisive action.

"I wanted to tackle my age-old bad habits for good, lose some serious weight and coerce myself into taking my health and fitness much more seriously. Running would be key to this."

But, having ticked the half and full marathon boxes, Ira was restless for a new challenge. Describing himself as "inherently lazy" and "an eternally delusional optimist," he admits in the book that he jumps into things "with a reckless hopeful idealism".

Which partly explains why he thought the Green Man was a good idea. His reading of a book by an ultra marathon runner was the other catalyst. And so it began.

From about August 2012 to March 2013 he kept a record of every training run; the weather, who he was with, where they went – key details of which form a good chunk of the book. He cut back on the booze and the rubbishy food he so loved, and gradually increased the mileage.

This meant pounding the Bristol to Bath railway path to work and back, some lunchtime runs, and a longer route at weekends, with plenty of hill work and off-road terrain, building up to about 40 or 50 miles a week. Learning the 46-mile route was also key: a wrong turn could add unnecessary time – and pain.

It was a strategy that paid off, since Ira finished the Green Man Ultra in nine hours and 48 minutes.

"When I crossed the line I was ecstatic and the sense of achievement was bonkers," he says. But such happiness was slightly tempered for Ira by the fact that he had to get up the next day and run the Bath half marathon.

Anyone who pushes their body has to deal with pain, and Ira outlines various niggles which interrupted training, and a more serious back problem (after the Green Man), which put him in hospital and out of action for three months.

By the time he finished the race, Ira was the slimmest and fittest he's ever been, so it was galling to lose all of that while recovering, and it was July before Ira was able to start running again, just in time to do the Chippenham half marathon in September.

So what's next? Ira has already entered the Highland Fling – a 53-mile race in Scotland at the end of April – and plans on extending that at some point to the 95-mile Glasgow to Fort William West Highland Run.

"I enjoy running and when you get into a rhythm, you just go," he says. "For me, it's about peace and quiet and thinking time."

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