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How This Hybrid Athlete Ran His First Ultra in His Mid-Thirties

leon bustin training for marathon running with nocco, nike, optimum nutrition, wolverson
How I Ran the Length of the UK in My 30sSimon Buck

Leon Bustin will tell you that he’s not an ultrarunner. Neither is he a CrossFit athlete, nor a bodybuilder – although he is well versed in each of these disciplines. What he is, is someone who likes a challenge.

One of a new breed of ‘hybrid athletes’ – who reject specialised training in favour of having a go at everything – Bustin made the pivot from CrossFit-style workouts to endurance training two years ago, when he signed up for the multi-day 250km Ultra X Sri Lanka. Prior to that, he rarely ran further than 10K. He finished on the podium – and followed it up with a 220km run through the Wadi Rum desert in Jordan later that year.

In summer 2023, he took on his greatest challenge yet: running the length of the UK, from John O’Groats in the far north of Scotland to Land’s End in Cornwall – referred to as JOGLE. Preparing for the 837-mile run was no easy road. In the first week, he ruptured his MCL (a ligament inside the knee) and rehab took precedence over mileage, condensing his plans to what was essentially ‘very aggressive marathon prep’ in the three months before the event. ‘Sometimes, you get tested,’ he says. ‘You find out how much you want it, how much you’re willing to give.’

a man sitting on a machine
Supplied by leontheleanmachine@gmail.com

To complete the run within his 14-day time frame, he’d need to average more than 60 miles a day – or almost 2.5 marathons. As well as building up his endurance, Bustin focused on unilateral movements such as lunges, Bulgarian split squats and isometric work to strengthen his ankles, plus core and rotational training. A lot of work focused on strengthening his body in uncomfortable positions so he’d remain resilient when his form wavered. Prep work is the part Bustin enjoys, ‘the chaos’ before the event. ‘The actual challenge itself was... horrible,’ he says.

His usual distraction techniques, such as playing memory games in his head, failed him. ‘The amount of pain I was in on day five was unlike anything,’ he says. Instead of blocking it out, he tried to reframe it as a neutral messenger. ‘Let’s just coexist,’ he’d say to it. It seemed to work. ‘Within 48 hours of just letting the pain be, all of the swelling went.’

Nutrition was about getting the calories in above all else. He aimed to get in 6,000-plus, but often fell short. Carb drinks, fruit (up to 10 portions a day) and flapjacks were staples – anything ‘palatable and small’.

His top tip? ‘Plan more than you think you need to’ and cultivate a strong support team. That, and ‘back yourself’ – you never know what you’ll achieve until you break out of that box.

Want to up your miles? Sign up to the MH Squad to access Bustin’s programme.

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