For someone who usually seeks out fresh air and solitude in the hills and mountains, who relishes the challenges of tough terrain, who loves the pre-race course recce and then the challenge of getting around on that knife edge of minimal food, drink and kit, the Sri Chinmoy 24 Hour Race at Tooting Bec athletics track seems a strange choice for an adventure
Photo courtesy of www.srichinmoyraces.org/uk
The challenge is simple, to run as many circuits of the 400 metre track as possible in 24 hours starting 12 noon on Saturday. No climbs, no rough terrain, no navigating, no kit to carry, no coos, support every 400 metres, floodlights at night... easy!? That's what I thought when I ran this race in 2006 after a dream West Highland Way race and boy was I proved wrong. I suffered a lot. My preparations were poor, in terms of race specific training and also nutrition and I really just didn't know what it was all about.
I entered this time because I wanted to see if I could meet the very different challenges of 24 hour running. I felt I was too much in my comfort zone on the hills and trails, I'm by no-means a master but it was becoming a bit routine and my coo whispering skills are now well honed. A 24 hour isn't like a "normal" race, when the going gets tough you can't tell yourself to push harder and get to the finish quicker. There are no hills to climb to change the pace and give you a chance to eat, it is much more of a blank canvas where you have to wrestle with the voice in your head giving you reasons to stop all the time..
The start line of a 24 hour race is a strange place, everyone with their own thoughts of what lies ahead, I just kind of mingled in and then we were off. After about 150 metres I passed my support team for the first of 500 and odd times and gave them the thumbs up, which became my signal for each time I passed unless I needed something then instructions were shouted and I was duly serviced as required. I had originally planned to run unsupported since I felt I had asked so many people to help me out this year that I couldn't ask anyone to give up four days and sit at the side of a track for fun! So when I was asked by Lynne if I would like her, Russell and Lesley to come with me I was delighted. Lynne had ran at Perth 24 hour a few weeks before so she knew exactly what I was going to be feeling and Lesley and Russell were very experienced at race support so I knew I was in good hands.
In preparing for this I had to decide on how I would pace it. My problem was that because all my races previously had involved hills so had my training, so, after UTMB I had two weeks rest then started clocking up miles on the roads and tracks locally trying to run on as flat and consistent terrain as possible. This was much harder than I had thought, give me 2 1/2 hours on the hills every day no problem, but an hour and a half on the roads I was finding really tough. I realized that I didn't have enough time to turn myself into a flat runner churning out the same pace hour upon hour so had to work out another strategy. I decided I would have to replicate my pacing in a race like the WHW where I would go out fast then slow down for a bit when it got to Conic Hill then speed up again till past Rowardennen and then hopefully I would find my natural pace after that.
The first few hours of the race were hard, I felt sore and just couldn't get comfortable but eventually I seemed to settle into it and after twelve hours I had covered I think about 75 miles. This was when it started to get tough. Between about midnight and 6am I got slower and slower, Adrian gave me a pep talk at one point telling me to adjust my posture and basically stand up straight! I was really struggling. Then at about 5.45 am I passed 100 miles. This gave me a huge lift and I had a moment similar to this years WHW race when I just relaxed and started to pick up the pace until I was running 400 metre splits of about 2 mins to 2:10 and hammering around. I was reborn! The more I kept this going the more I started to believe I could do it and I was flying round for a good couple of hours before I inevitably slowed again. This burst had given me belief though, that even when I felt like I was finished with nothing left it was only a temporary feeling and I could overcome it if I willed my mind to will my body to will my legs just a bit further...
Pic courtesy of www.srichinmoyraces.org/uk
The one part of my body I couldn't exercise my will over was my stomach. I had found it difficult to eat solids from about 8 hours and was existing on Complan, soup, coke and the odd biscuit. I had also started to get really bad stomach cramps at times and felt really sick too, this was worrying because I've never been sick before in a race and knew it would be hard to get energy back into me if I puked. What kept me going, though, was the 200k that I needed to achieve as the qualifying standard to run for Scotland at the Commonwealth Championships next year. It was amazing the amount of people who were willing me on from the sidelines to achieve it, I knew I could do it and there was no way I wasn't going to get that 200k!
I think it was about 10:45am when with tears in my eyes I punched the air as I ran through 200k, the marquee full of lap counters giving me a huge cheer as I passed, could I ride on this crest for another 10k or so and get over 130 miles? I kept up the intensity but I was slowing down again and starting to really feel sick. Then at about 11:15am my stomach said no more and I started to wretch and throw up in a big way. All the liquid in my stomach came up until there was nothing left and I felt a little better so carried on around the circuit for about another 3 laps then I slowed to a walk then a stagger then I knew my race was over. I stumbled the 200 metres like a Saturday night drunk back to my support and sat down and hoped I could manage a small piece of food to get me going again but there was no way, I just felt so nausea's that there was no chance I could stomach anything so I sat in my chair on the track and waited for the finish.
Starting to look like an old wifie at the tatties!
Pic courtesy of www.srichinmoyraces.org/uk
127 miles 1119 yards was the total in the end. I'm absolutely delighted with it and have learnt so much from this race.
Thanks to my support Lynne, Russell and Lesley if it wasn't for you guys I couldn't have done it. Also big thanks to Adrian and Alan you guys kept me going with encouragement and banter all the way, also everyone from Sri Chinmoy who put so much effort into organising a fabulous race with a great atmosphere and those lap counters... they think we're mad??!!