Have you ever wondered why you choose to enter the races you do?
I guess it will usually be because it’s further than you have been before, it’s in a lovely location, it involves more ascent than you’ve done before or you are doing it with a friend… the reasons are many and varied. My reasons for entering the Crawley 24hr were a little warped. I entered because it encompassed was everything I thought I hated about running!
I have read race reports of 24hr track races over the years, of which there are two in the UK. I have admired those who take on the mind boggling Sri Chimnoy Self Transcendence race in NY. I have to admit I was never really drawn in. But then in the darkest recesses of my brain the stars started to align, the ‘No way Jose’ thought morphed into ‘ hmmm, interesting, I wonder if I could do that’. Next thing I was googling race reports and had paid my entry.
A 24hr track race is simple, it is what it says on the tin. You run as many times as you can around a 400m athletics track in 24hrs. Why would I hate that?
So there it is, 5 fairly solid points why I shouldn’t do this race. But yet I was drawn to it like a moth to a flame. What soon became apparent was all the things I thought would be my achilles heel and make this race one never to be repeated, didn’t worry me at all.
I found it interesting when packing my bags and sorting out my nutrition I had a carefree sense of going on a holiday! None of the normal pre race nerves were present. I was chilled and really looking forward to it!
We arrived at Crawley Track 90mins a head of the start time, along with a handful of others. The mood was very casual, no loud music or tannoy system revving up the crowd, chilled was the mood. We set up camp on the grass around the back side of the track. This consisted of a gazebo for shelter, against the forecast rain, and under which we had laid out a table with all my food and spare clothes. James had a chair and an area for him to lie down if he wanted to snooze.
I pinned my number on to my leg and in a similarly underplayed fashion we all gathered around the track for a briefing, following a quick line up, the hooter sounded – we were committed to running hamster like around this track for 24hrs!
In any long ultra I find it takes an hour or so to settle and find my grove. This one was no different, though I couldn’t help but chuckle at the end of the first lap. Displayed on the large timing board in big red number was 2minutes 10seconds, oh my days, clock watching was going to be a killer!
Once I had broken 60mins the minutes didn’t seem to pass slowly at all. Time, as ever with these long events, took on a different dimension.
Having done my research on 24hr track racing and also knowing the toll running on the flat would have on my body, I planned to run for 55mins and then walk 1 lap. The idea being I would prolong the time my body could keep running. It worked well. My plan was to not to stop and sit down until I reached 100km. At that point I was allowed 5mins. Sitting was blissful, to take the weight off was joyous, but getting up wasn’t without assistance and getting going again was a little battle! None the less, I eased myself back into it an continued on my way. My aim had always been to complete the 24hrs and get over 200km. I was really stoked when at 19hrs 15mins I had clocked up 100miles, a new PB. It was after this that my knees started to feel the strain. They were very painful and stiff. I had begun to take more frequent walking laps.
I really enjoyed going round in circles, 400m felt long enough not to drive you mad. The fact that the scenery never changed didn’t faze me at all. In fact I don’t really remember what the surroundings looked like! So it shows you, you might have your eyes open but it doesn’t mean you’re really looking.
Presence: Whilst I had some great conversations at the beginning of the run, the majority of the time I ran without chatting, immersed in my own thoughts. I didn’t want music or a podcast as I thought I might. Maya asked the not so daft question ‘so what did you think about for 24hrs’. I couldn’t really tell you! I thought about the next lap. I guess that’s why it’s called transcendence. You think of nothing bar your immediate needs. Am I warm, cold, hungry or thirsty. This was the Buddhist notion of ‘presence’ at it’s most raw.
I never had a bad moment! No chimp on my shoulder whispering ‘you can’t do this’. I was positive and chilled throughout. The only downer was when I wondered if I could keep going when my knees were excruciating.
Variety is over rated!! Though my knees would disagree with that.
Supporters: One of the supporters, who himself ran in the 6hour race, had arrived 6 hours ahead of his start. He clapped and had supporting comments for each of us for the entire 6 hours prior to his event. An amazing test of endurance in its self, I felt he deserved a medal just for that!
Along side Rob and his good humoured support, I was so lucky to have James. He stuck out the entire 24hrs trackside. Despite freezing to death, we had all seasons in one day – hail, rain, snow and sun, he was there to hand me food, more clothing or a word of encouragement. It was so cold during the night that my water bottles froze, poor James was similarly frozen to the core and had to resort to getting into his sleeping bag fully clothed in order to warm up. He showed such love and dedication, I was so grateful. Team work at it’s best.
A further humbling moment was seeing Leslie arrive trackside at 4 am with warm potato cakes and a fresh supply of baby food sachets. She toughed out the cold for another 2 hours, what friendship. It was also lovely to see Lynden (armed with a packet of Percy pigs, yum) and George who both came by to will me on, take photos and offer encouragement. A huge thank you to all.
I loved seeing people continuously though my run!
So all in all I was wrong. I thought I’d hate this kind of race but the opposite was true. I am in fact booked to go to the next 24hr track race in Tooting Bec (another salubrious spot in Greater London to see if I can add more than 467 laps, 116m, 189km to my total and of course get a faster 100miles to my name.