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Sergey Ionov, 27, is an exotic equity derivatives trader at Morgan Stanley and often clocks in 12-hour days. So how does he kick back and relax? By running several hundred kilometers mutli-day races in the Amazon and Alps, known as ‘ultra-marathons’.
Perhaps inspired by his position at Morgan Stanley, Sergey’s taste for the ‘exotic’ permeates his running style. These are not your common run-of-the-mill city marathons. Ultra-marathons can take place in the jungles of the Amazon or at 3,000 metres altitude in the Alps. He started training about four years ago and took part in his first marathon three months later.
Faced with a busy office schedule and the resulting difficulties in finding time to train, Sergey said he chose running over other physical activities because it is in every aspect the most practical choice. You don’t need a gym, equipment, or a particular schedule. And you can easily convince your friends to join.
“During the week I just run to the office: I have two routes – a short one is about 6 km and a long one is about 12 km. I work in Canary Wharf so I can just cross Tower Bridge and go from there, or else run to Greenwich and take the tunnel.”
He believes running reduces the stress accumulated at the office: “I normally work 12 hours in a row and get very tired. It helps you to relax and even find better solutions to work-related problems.” Running has also become a big part of his social life. When planning holidays, Sergey and his jogging mates always try to find a place where they can take part in a race.
Just a few weeks ago, Sergey took 1st place in the London to Cambridge 100 km marathon.
“I don’t really focus too much on winning. It is nice though. It improves the attitude of people towards you. They know you have achieved something great in spheres of life other than finance and at the same time you are able to fulfil your daily duties professionally,” he said.
It all started as a personal challenge, the most difficult challenge Sergey has ever attempted in his life. It took Sergey about 6 months to prepare: every morning he ran to his office with a 12 kg backpack and soaking wet sneakers. “It is quite important to get used to this before. Otherwise, you can have a whole leg turning into one huge blister,” he said.
However, as Ionov went through the hardships of the difficult training, he became more and more motivated by the fundraising opportunities the Jungle Ultra Marathon offered him. He chose to use his participation to support Gift of Life, a charity that offers help and care to children with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses in Russia.
The competition took place near Santarem in Para, Brazil. Sergey had to complete a distance of more than 250km in 6 days, running along pre-existing paths, trails and tracks through the thick jungle, overcoming natural obstacles such as streams and shallow rivers, and the occasional encounter with local fauna.
“When you concentrate on the route you won’t face any danger. Snakes, caimans, they don’t go on the road. They are more afraid of you than you are of them. The bigger nuisance is posed by smaller creatures – all sorts of mosquitoes and ants. At the end of the day you go to the medical check-point and have the swarms of ticks you’ve collected somewhere in the swamps removed from your skin,” Sergey explained.
He knew it was going to be extremely hot and humid, but still during the first days were excruciating, even though they were supposed to be the easiest. At times the trader was ready to give up having no energy to go on but the thoughts of his mission for the Gift of Life inspired him to continue.
Sergey finished 4th after nearly securing 3rd place, however at the end of the race his head torch ran out of batteries and he got lost.
In two months Ionov will travel to Reunion, a volcano island covered in rainforests, to complete the 162 km Grand-Raid or Diagonal des Fous (Madman’s Diagonal) which in total has a 10,000 m altitude gain.
5 tips for someone who wants to complete an ultra-marathon:
– Start! Just do it! In the beginning it is quite difficult but you will start getting pleasure after some time
– Increase your distance gradually; it makes no sense for a beginner to try a 100 km race
– Support from relatives and friends is essential. Build your own team of cheerleaders and push your friends to train with you
– Consistency is important; you should have a training plan and set intermediate targets to assess your progress
– Have a clear view of what you are trying to achieve. And, even more important, of why you are doing this
Sergey Ionov, Sergei Valmon