Capital to Country Ultra: ‘More time, more energy, more ability’ – how Owen Jones swapped alcohol for opportunity

Five years ago, Owen Jones’ life was only heading one way.

Caught in the grip of alcoholism, Owen was struggling to see positives in anything, with the effects of drink becoming “more and more of a problem”.

Despite already being a runner – “I started running ten years ago, but only quit drinking five years ago” – Owen’s health and mental state were deteriorating rapidly.

He was a million miles away from completing a five-day ultra or from traversing 123-miles across the hills and valleys of Nepal.

Yet that’s exactly what he did last December when he finished the inaugural Capital to Country Ultra, an event described by one runner as a cross between the Marathon des Sables and Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc.

Owen turned his life around in 2019, when he realised drink was taking complete control of him.

“It was time to knock it on the head,” he said. “I was only going one way and that was down.

“Fortunately, I recognised that in time. Maybe later than I should have done, but you sort it when you sort it.

“You can’t force these things. I’m just very grateful that it happened when it did, and I managed to sort myself out then and really open up a lot of opportunities.”

Owen said by quitting drinking he found space in life for “more of everything”.

He added: “I had more time, more money, more energy, more enthusiasm, more ability to do what I wanted to do.”

“Stopping drinking has given me so much. Drink takes everything away. The simple act – it sounds like a simple act – of not drinking makes such a huge difference.

“It turns your life around 180 degrees, and sets it on a great track – and things start happening. Positive things start happening. They start coming to you.

“I guess you see the same stuff, but you see the opportunity in things rather than the fear in them.”

One of those opportunities was taking on his first multi-day running event at Capital to Country.

Taking place in late November and early December, the self-sufficient race started in the sprawling capital city of Kathmandu.

Along the way it combined severe climbs, jaw-dropping temples and holy sites, and remote villages.

Owen had previously completed the 100km Race to the Stones, and after finishing it he felt he had successfully ticked the ultra marathon box.

“Going further than a marathon didn’t hold any further appeal to me,” he said.

“After doing the Stones, when we’d set off at sunrise on the longest day and finished it in darkness, having set ourselves the target of finishing without needing to put our head torches on, I found the enjoyment hadn’t been there as much as I thought it would be.

“It was just too bloody hard for me.”

But as with so many runners, he found himself drawn back into another extreme race.

His attention was first focused on Capital to Country by a post on the Go Beyond Facebook page, enticing runners to look at the cost of an event, work out how much it costs, be told it is ridiculous… and book it anyway.

“That just got me,” he said. “Rather like a fly that is caught by a Venus flytrap, I was doomed.

“I’d always had, somewhere in the background, this thing about Nepal. And, that was it – I was hooked.”

Owen said although he knew anything could happen in a multi-day ultra, he eventually “got to the point where there was no reason not to do it”.

“I was the lure of going to places I’ll never get to see again,” he added.

But the reality almost didn’t live up to Owen’s dream when, just minutes into the first day of the run, the strap on his rucksack broke.

“I was three miles in with 120 to go.

“I thought it was all over. I’d been training with the thing, but it just fell apart.

“I swore, I cried. I just fell apart.”

A determined Owen managed to keep going, walking when he needed to, and eventually managing to complete that first day.

Although his rucksack broke and his body ached as he battled across steep, technical terrain each day, Owen’s spirit remained strong.

“I thought I knew what my legs would feel like, but they didn’t want to know on day two,” he said.

“They didn’t want to know on day three either. It took three or four miles just to get them working again each morning.

“I guess that’s normal, but it was a bit of a shock.

“I don’t think anything prepares you for something so extreme.”

Owen said about halfway through the event he decided to put the pain to one side and “build cracking memories and experiences”.

When he eventually crossed the finishing line on day five, accompanied by co-competitor Emily Moore, the pair had “the happiest faces you can possibly imagine on each of us.

“That’s what made it. It was a trip to a very happy place, having been through some pretty shitty places on the way through.”

For Owen Jones, it is true to say that running imitated life – and in both cases he ended up heading in a far better direction.

Whether you are looking for a new relaxed challenge or seeking answers to big questions, the Capital to Country Multi-Day Ultra could be the race for you. It will return to Nepal in 2024, running from November 25 to December 1 – learn more and enter via this link