I found it. The thing that makes even experienced runners give you the hairy eyeball. If I tell someone I’m helping out on a ridiculously long run, or that Jane Trumper is running the 2200km Pilgrim Trail I get adventure eyes, and looks of wistfulness if not envy. People are incredibly supportive.
But the moment you say ‘I’m going to run around an athletics track in Rooty Hill for 24 hours’ the ONLY reaction you get is
Why the hell would you do that?
Won’t you get bored?
Is this some sort of Chinese water torture?
Did you lose a bet?
You have an appointment at the loony bin the next day?
So why do it? Well, the big plan is to qualify for Coast to Kosciouzko in December, and the qualification standards are as follows (from last year)
First-time C2K Runners and Previously Unsuccessful C2K Runners:
- Completion of two ultramarathons in 2012/2013, of which one is to be completed 2013.
- Primary qualifying race must be of at least 100 miles (161 km) for trail courses or 180km within 24 Hours for track or road circuits.
- Secondary qualifying race must be of at least 100 km.
My best chance for making these quals would be to use TNF100 which I’ve done 4 years running and an ‘easy’ 100 miler. There being no such thing as an easy 100 miler, I could do Glasshouse. Problem- Glasshouse is on the same weekend as the Great North Walk 100s, and GNW100 is the only race I’ve DNF’d.
I NEED to get back and finish that race, so taking the ‘easy’ option can’t happen. At least this year.
Soooo, what’s that bit about a track or road circuit? 180km in 24 hours? Oh dear……. and it’s only 4 weeks after The North Face 100.
‘Luckily’ (is this lucky?) I’d had pretty bad cramps at TNF so I hadn’t run too hard, but I could still feel the race in my legs on my last long run. Really lucky was the fact that that Andy DuBois had agreed to take me on as a client (patient?) and he has forgotten more about running than I will ever know. I think he may have blanched a bit (OK a lot) when I said I needed to run 180km in 24 hours only a month after TNF100.
Nevertheless, he knows his stuff, and said ‘well, do you think you can run 100km in 12 hours and then 80km in the last 12 hours?’
To which I replied ‘yeah, cool, no worries’ which means ‘probably not’. The only performances I could compare were 2013 Poor Mans Comrades and Narrabeen All Nighter from January 2014, where my times for 100km would have been apx 13-14 hours and I wanted to die at the end. Do another 80km after that? Sure, no problem!
Andy developed a strategy of
0-12 hours run 55 minutes, walk 5 minutes. Average pace needed 21 laps per hour
12-24 hours run 45 minutes, walk 15 minutes. Average pace needed 17 laps per hour
on the 400m track.
So, now I had a strategy, how did I force my body into submission? I’ll explain that with a drawing-
Let’s look at a few benefits of this type of running-
– Food and drink every 400m
– Toilets every 400m
– No hills
– The best distance for effort you’ll ever get
And the downsides
– Can’t urinate wherever you want (male trail runners specifically)
– Scenery can be a bit ‘samey’. OK, a lot.
But I went there to do a job, and I was never truly bored- do you get bored of breathing?
We walked over to the start line, had a few quiet moments of reflection and Martin Fryer (the Race Director) gave a countdown from 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, and we were off.
I started slow and got slower, over the course of the first few hours I figured out that a running lap was under 3 minutes and a walking lap was under 4 minutes, meaning that I would only lose a minute or so if I had to walk for a while.
I knew that the hardest bit of the race was going to be from 7-8 hours until the 12 hour mark when I was able to slow down a bit.
Hour 1 was a bit hard, it takes a while to warm up. Hour 2 spent a bit of time thinking that I was feeling better, hour 3 wondering how long I could put off having some delicious Coca Cola that Gordon (bless him) had put on the table. Hour 5 I started to think I was going to be able to make the 25% time mark without dying and hour 6 just trying to punch out those laps. Here comes the tough bit (or so I thought), I’m keeping an eye on the lap board- I’d started in the middle of the pack which put me in the second column of the results, but as time went on I gained a couple of places and went into the first column. This made me happy because I got my results a bit quicker, here’s how it goes-
On the hour, the timing people print out the current placings and send someone over to update the board. They re arrange the names so the placings are correct then update the number of laps done by each runner. Being in the first column of the results board meant that I got those figures within about 2-3 laps of the hour ticking over. Oh yeah, it also meant that I was in a top 10 placing, which spun me out a bit.
I’d pretty much made 21 laps or better each hour and was comfortably up on my target. I knew that I’d need some of those spare laps at some time so I was pretty happy. I also knew that going from 5 minutes of rest every hour to 15 all in one block was not going to suit me at all- I was having a real slump around the half hour mark of every hour. So I mentally decided to modify Andy’s plan and split my 15 minute break up like this-
Run 25 minutes, walk 5 minutes, run 20 minutes, walk 10 minutes. Which translates to- run until 25 past the hour, walk until half past, run until 10 minutes to the next hour, walk until the hour ticks over……
This gave me time to eat, drink and visit the toilet. But where was I? Hour 8- I promised myself that I’d have a coffee at hour 11, just to make sure I blasted my target before I got to rest. At hour 10 I needed a toilet stop and an official came out to ask if I had left the track. I said I had been to the toilet, but the next hour my lap total seemed to be down by about 3 laps. I didn’t really have time to yell out ‘My lap shouldn’t have been more than about 5:40 cos I only had a quick slash’. An hour later I was back on track but not sure if I was running faster or I’d had some laps credited back. By the time I got to hour 11 I’d pre loaded with a few cups of Coke and when Gordon delivered a lovely strong coffee I was ready to fly! That coffee grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and I punched out a couple of 23 lap hours. Coming in to hour 13 I was still feeling good, and decided to keep going on the 0-12 hour strategy for as long as possible in the hope of making up a few extra bonus laps. Needless to say this didn’t last long but I was still about 7 laps up and was starting to think I might actually make my target. By now I’d developed a habit where on my walking laps at 50 minutes into each hour I would stop and have a salt tablet, a perpetuem solid, a swig of sports gel and wash it down with lemonade or coke. Then a swig of gel and a drink on my next walking lap at 25 past the hour. I also made a few extra laps (or was that in my mind?) by convincing myself to keep running when passing the clock if it hadn’t quite got to my walking time yet……
In a few more hours I’d gone from skipping up the track singing ‘Blame it on the Boogie’ to merely grunting when other runners greeted me. But- I’d kept grinding out the necessary laps. As you may know, I’m not very competitive, so it totally gave me the sh!ts to have to push for such a long time. But it was working……
I was able to give much more than I thought I had to give, and by 4am I’d started making more bonus laps- a 354 lap target was a nice fat 369 actual. I put on the required 17 laps to make 384 by 5am, and at 6am turned over a century to have 401. I stopped having so much caffeine because I was worried about my sanity, and I couldn’t shake the thought that if I kept it up I’d be covered in medics at the end of the race. This of course made me slower, and I calculated that I could walk the rest of the way. After a few pathetic attempts at running, I did. I spent my newly relaxed time recalculating how long it would take me to finish. I knew I couldn’t walk off the course at 450 laps, but I needed at least one more in case there was a muck up in the calculations. Obviously it would be ideal to pump out the laps until the finish sounded but I knew this wouldn’t be possible.
When I realised I was going to finish an hour before the cut I got a bit emotional. I’d had a lot of trouble counting my laps during the race, relying on the updates every hour but when I got down to the last 35 laps I had extra motivation to make the count, and make them count!
As we got closer to zero I asked Gordon to help me with the count, we held up fingers to each other (in a nice way) as I passed each time, and on the last one I went out for ‘just one more’. I’d done my 450 laps in 22:58. I followed the white line around for my 451st lap, hit the finish line and signalled to the timing people that I was retiring at 23:03.
Go forth and conquer? Well, in that last hour where I left there track I’d slipped from 7th to 9th place, but I still felt like a champion, having make my target and with time to spare. It did seem quite surreal.
Gordon gave me a big sweaty hug and congratulations and I hid my leaking eyes by requiring help to sit down. A short time later we all decided to pack away and not wait for the official end, everyone was tired and I couldn’t see myself pretending to be normal for much longer- I was sure someone would ask a medic to take me out the back and shoot me.
Sure enough, I could not stand up, and needed 2 blokes to carry me to the car, possibly not my finest hour. I’ve never needed to be carried from the playing field before. I would have been completely screwed if I had tried to pack away myself, I’d probably still be there. While I sat in the car waiting, I could hear the countdown to the end as everyone left in the stadium yelled ’10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…….’ and it was over.
I’d been in 7th place when I quit, only a few laps up on the next guy, but I also knew that Annabel Hepworth could beat me if she just stayed out there…… which she did.
Let’s face it, the fact that I was in front at the 23 hour mark was an illusion. Annabel is a much tougher character, a much faster and consistent runner and I should have been chasing her- however many of the key people who should have eaten up this race had problems. I’d been planning on holding on to Cassie Smith because her 2012 total was 182km, but she had a tough day too. At times I variously saw Jade Crim and Kurt Topper in the gazebo fixing their ills.
This is definitely an event that rewards good running form. Gordon snapped a good photo of me swinging my left foot out as I put it down. You’re going to have a problem if you do that 90,000 times in 24 hours- and so it transpired. It seems to have caused a problem with my ITB bursa. A few times I was reminded to loosen up my shoulders, and it’s true- I do slouch badly when I run. Subsequent injury and a visit to Jason Wheeler showed that I am extremely lucky to do an event like that and not suffer more because of my poor running form.
We also saw history being made out there- Robert Knowles ran BAREFOOT and made over 212km- a new (yet to be ratified) world record!
A note about the volunteers (and the food). Everyone was really helpful, volllies- just in case you don’t already know- you’re enthusiasm really did make a difference. When you yelled encouragement, jumped up and down and waved, it made me stand a bit straighter and go a bit faster, thank you. And while I didn’t get to sample much of the food, what I did have was great. I had seconds of the mashed potato and it was brilliant. The pasta was great too and it looked like someone was cooking up a storm. Excellent.
Browsing the AURA records page, I found that Cliff Young (yes THAT Cliffy) had done this race 10 times, with a best of 235km. Obviously no slouch……
So what else went wrong? This might sound a bit silly since I did so well, but there’s always room for improvement. And if someone (NOT ME) wanted to do this event again, perhaps these things could help. I should have had a better plan for nutrition. I went to the race without a real plan. I had about 6-7 flasks of gel and RAN OUT. I should always buy the expensive lollies because the cheap ones are too hard and difficult to chew. Should have planned my caffeine intake a little more carefully. I also would have run SLOWER- knowing now that I can make the distance, I could have eased off a bit and hopefully gone until the final siren. I am a little bit disappointed that I could not rack up a few more laps, simply because I’d spent everything I had in the first 23 hours. I should have had a bigger container to mix up sports drink, and smaller containers to run with. There’s no reason to have a drink bottle more than 300-350ml because you only have 1x400m lap to drink it. I probably should have planned my food a bit better, eating real food seemed to have a positive effect on my performance.
Massive thanks to the unbeatable crew of Gordon Plunkett and Sarah Jane Marshall. They went above and beyond in keeping us all going- and by all I mean they helped everyone- even the strays I dragged into our gazebo. Outstanding effort and I would not have been able to succeed without your amazing help.
But the thing I’m probably most proud of is something that happened after the race- in one of the Facebook posts Martin Fryer actually called me a ‘warrior’. Thanks Martin, that one word will live with me forever, coming from such a legend it really makes my skin tingle.
By the way, did you know that walking 100 miles in less than 24 hours is a thing? If you can do that, you can call yourself a Centurion.
If you’d like to have a look at a short video of the race, and a really great race report by the race director, and also the results– still provisional at this stage. Interestingly it is this race that Yiannis Kouros still holds a world record for- have a look at the 1997 race here, and check out his first marathon time…….
I seem to have moved into this shadowy world where a 100km run is considered ‘middle distance’. It’s inhabited by strange people who say things like this about doing the Beer Mile ‘It is a really fun event I should send you through the details and you can run your own…..I vomit every time…!!!’
But luckily they aren’t all completely crazy- I also read this ‘I lied down in the shower on Sunday night with a bottle of wine.’ Now that would be bliss!
So would I do it again? Don’t know- 24 hours is a long time, but the people were fantastic, the weather was kind, the crew were amazing. Perhaps my memories are clouded by the fact that I had a blinder, but when another competitor private messaged me the next day and said ‘how about 500 laps next year? 200km sounds like a good target, doesn’t it?’
My first reaction was to lose my lunch- but somewhere in there I thought ‘maybe she’s right, maybe I could’. Maybe…..
*Most if not all of the photos here are courtesy of Gordon Plunkett, they’re great aren’t they? If I have accidentally used one of yours and you would like it removed or credited please let me know via the contact page, thank you.