As the horn went at the end of the race, I breathed a massive sign of relief. Thank goodness that was over. I had tried it, it didn’t work out and I never had to do this ever again. My race had gone south very early in proceedings and it had been an absolute sufferfest from that point onwards, culminating in trudging round a track for the last eight hours at a pace that would have embarrassed an aged snail. It hadn’t gone well.
Yet here I was a year later standing at the start line of the same race and I was really excited about running this event again. It’s typical after very long races for your brain to very quickly forget the pain and suffering, but that didn’t fully explain it. It was partly due to a sense of unfinished business with both this race and this format and partly due to the fact that I had loved the event the year before, even if my own race had not gone well. The vibe, the camaraderie, the old school nature of the event, the encouragement from the organisers and the volunteers, even the scoreboard that was updated every hour – I had loved all of these aspects of the event. So I was back at Tooting Bec athletics track, ready to run round it for 24 hours.
I felt ready. Training had gone really well. A week off after Samphire 100, then an easy week then straight into five peak weeks (60 – 70 miles a week) then a two week taper. I’d done several long runs on track and had tagged along with my running club’s track sessions on a Monday night, chugging around in the outside lane doing my own thing while they ran intervals in the inside lane.
I had a plan. I was aiming for 125 miles (200K) and it looked achievable. It was a long way further than I had ever run before and much further than last year’s effort, but it didn’t look entirely stupid. It would mean running a hundred miles in 18 hours as part of the larger effort, which did slightly scare me. My hundred mile PB stood at 21 hours 46 minutes, but I rationalised that I had run that on trail, so I could certainly improve it here if all went well.
In the run up to the race Simon Smith (who finished third overall last year with 131 miles) had been a great help. He had run a fantastic race the year before and had gradually come through the field as others dropped out, blew up and slowed down around him. He reminded me of the need for patience, to run your own race and to be disciplined with your walk breaks. Sound advice.
Natasha was crewing me and we had my usual sugar-filled treats to sustain me over the next 24 hours. The back of our car looked like we were going to a children’s party, not a race (albeit a party for kids with a high tolerance for caffeine). Mountain Dew and Coke are staples of any long distance run for me. I also had Snickers, Boosts, cake, chocolate croissants and a couple of sausage rolls and scotch eggs as a nod to savoury food. On the off chance I didn’t fancy sugary processed crap I brought some grapes, mango and melon along as well. In case anyone is interested in the sheer horror of my nutrition during the event, Natasha kept a note of everything I ate and drank and I’ve posted it here –http://www.jonfielden.com/?p=159. All I can say is that it works for me and kids – don’t try this at home.
We had everything set up in our little corner of the track ready for the next 24 hours. One of the great things about this event is that all the runners can set up their own area on the outside of the track and if you come by car you can park your car at the event for the duration. Team Fielden was between Barry Bradley’s crew and Rich Kimmens’ crew – two fabulous, supportive crews, even though Rich didn’t have the race he planned due to significant stomach problems.
The event started with a briefing from Shankara, the co-race director. We were introduced to our lap counter for the first part of the event. I had Dave looking after me. One of the things I love about this event is the lap counting. It’s pretty rare these days to have manual lap counting but I enjoyed waving at Dave every lap (and my other counters later on) as he waved back to show that he’d recorded my lap. It added to the old school nature of the event and the counters were so encouraging, cheering when runners got to significant landmarks.
The starting horn went at midday and we were off. Me and 44 other runners, all with 24 hours to cover the longest possible distance and run as many 400 metre laps as possible.
I settled into a relaxed early pace. My aim for the first few hours was to keep banging out 6 miles an hour without too much fuss. I was taking walk breaks from the start, planning to run 55 minutes and walk 5 minutes every hour for the first few hours then moving to walk breaks every half an hour. One of the things I’d learned last year was that taking too many walk breaks disrupted my rhythm and I had found it harder and harder to start running again after the walk breaks after a while.
The first hour passed incredibly quickly. Shankara moved the names around the scoreboard and put the distances up (total miles completed). I had run 6 miles. Bang on target. I was in 16th place. Fine with me. It was all about my own race and my own distances.
After hour two I had run 12 miles and had dropped to 19th place. I was happy and relaxed. Hours 3 and 4 went past and I was back in 16th, chugging along at six miles an hour. All was going well.
At the end of hour 4 we had the first change of direction. This would happen every 4 hours during the race and was a source of some excitement as it signified the passing of a 4 four block of time. I was ready for this, as last year my legs had felt really disorientated by the first change of direction and it had disrupted my rhythm.
As 4 hours ticked over on the clock, a cone was placed on the start / finish line. As soon as you reached the cone, you turned round it and headed in the opposite direction until the entire field had done the same. It went like clockwork and off we all went anti-clockwise round the track.
The next four hours passed in a similar fashion. I was continuing to run along at a steady six miles an hour and was still feeling good. I was gradually moving up through the field, hitting the dizzy heights of tenth (where I would ultimately finish). The guys at the front were involved in a different race and were really racking up the miles at an astonishing rate. The lead had changed hands a few times, although a couple of the early leaders had already dropped out after starting off at an unsustainable pace.
I was still feeling pretty good through hours 9 to 12 and had reached 70 miles by hour 12, the mid-point of the race. I was only just behind schedule as I had budgeted for a very slow last few hours. I was eating and drinking well and enjoying myself – well as much as it is possible to enjoy yourself having run 280 laps round the track.
It was soon after this point, in the early hours of the morning, that it started getting really tough. Running was getting harder and more painful and although I was more than halfway through now, there was still an awful long way to go. It was at this stage of the race that I shifted my focus, concentrating on getting to 100 miles as quickly as I could and then regrouping and taking the rest of the race from there.
So that’s what I did for the next few hours. I kept running as much as I could, pushing through the pain as my body urged me to slow down and take longer walking breaks. I knew if I kept going I could get through 100 miles in under 18:30. I had basically turned a 24 hour race into a 100 mile race.
One lap to go, said my lap counter. Adrenaline kicked in and I shifted up a gear and hammered round the track. I completed what must have been my fastest lap of the race to get it done but it looked like there had been some confusion on my part as my lap counter informed me that I still had a mile to go (or so I thought).
This episode was completely my fault. I had been going for 18 hours now and had been focussing on this goal for the last 5 or so, so I really should have paid more attention. I gave the next mile everything I had, running my fastest kilometre of the race over this period (4:31!!). Finally, the mile was over. I had done it. I checked with Shankara to make sure, who informed me that I had in fact got to 100 miles when my lap counter first mentioned it. The extra mile of me running round the track like a maniac had been completely unnecessary. Note to self – try not to be such a pillock in the future.
I had run 100 miles in 18:09, then 1 more mile rather quicker than I should have done at this stage of the race. Now it was time to regroup, take a couple of minutes and then move forward as I had several hours left to push on.
I sat down for the first time in the event. Every drop of adrenaline that was coursing through my body over the last few minutes drained out in one go. I felt like I had just run 100 miles in just over 18 hours. Everything hurt.
I had something to eat and drink and tried to regroup mentally and physically. Mentally I was just about holding on but physically I was not feeling too good. I got up and started moving, but I was moving so much slower now. It was like a switch had been flipped and I couldn’t flip it back. I tried to run but my legs were not at all interested. Natasha urged me to keep going. I was slow and it was obvious that I was not going to get near 125 miles now, but she told me to just keep moving and I could get to 115 miles, which would be 20 miles more than last year. I didn’t believe her but I wasn’t going to argue with her either.
So I walked. I faffed around a bit but kept walking. My feet were really hurting so I changed my shoes. That didn’t help. I knew by this point that I would be walking for the rest of the race so I changed into the most comfortable pair of footwear I had with me – my flip flops. I remember Ali Young (who finished second last year) running the last hour of her race in flip flops so I figured that it couldn’t be a bad idea for me.
Finally, after walking round the track at around 2 1/2 miles an hour for the last few hours, we got to the last ten minutes. At this point a crew member joins you on the track and picks up a little marker that they leave on the track at the end of the race so that your distance could be measured. The horn went, the race finished and Natasha put the little marker down. I ambled over to the infield and crashed out. Ten minutes later, it took two people to get me off the floor. Without their assistance I might still be there now.
The 24 hours was over. I had run and walked 115.93 miles (186.56K) round a 400m track – 466 laps. It wasn’t the distance I had aimed for, but I had compromised my overall distance significantly in chasing the 100 mile time and I was absolutely fine with that. I learned a huge amount from the experience and knocked over 3 1/2 hours off my 100 mile PB which I am incredibly happy with and proud of.
It was a day with some fabulous results. Of the 45 starters, 26 runners ran more than 100 miles over 24 hours, which is the highest number in the history of this event. There are two performances that really stood out for me though – James Stewart and Ann Bath.
James won the race with 160.38 miles, second in the all-time Scottish rankings and 7th in the all-time GB rankings. It shouldn’t be possible to run that far in 24 hours! He just kept going and kept moving at a really good speed throughout. It never looked forced or rushed but was a masterclass in pacing.
The incomparable Ann Bath defines the term ‘relentless’. She never seemed to stop running, powering round the track with her arms driving her forward. She was first lady and set new world records (smashing the existing ones) for the F65 age group for 24 hours (115.92 miles) and for 100 miles (20:01:50). Ann is 68 years old. She is also one of the loveliest people you could ever meet. In a sport where the word ‘inspiration’ is bandied about far too much, she put on an absolute masterclass in how to pace a 24 hour race.
Finally, a few thank yous.
- Thank you to all the other runners. It was a pleasure to share a track with you. One of the best things about this event is the camaraderie with all the other runners and they were a great group of people who were incredibly supportive. The various crews were also fantastic and really encouraging.
- Thank you to my crew. Natasha was, as usual, amazing. I am running out of superlatives to describe her. She kept me fed, watered and moving and I could not have done it without her. Thank you also to Tom Garrod and Louise Ayling who came along to support, encourage and abuse at appropriate moments. It was so kind of you both to come along and I hope you enjoyed what must have been a very unusual spectator sport.
- Thank you to James Elson for helping me over the course of just under two years go from a runner who suffered and whinged for over 26 hours at the W100 in 2014 to a runner who ran 100 miles eight hours quicker at Tooting. I’m still struggling to get my head round that.
- Thank you to Simon Smith, who I met at last year’s event as he put on a textbook display of how to pace a 24 hour race. Your support, advice and wisdom in the run up to this race made a huge difference and if I come back and run this event next year I will hold you solely responsible!
- Thank you to Shankara, Devashishu and all the team who organise the race and volunteer there. Without you there is no race and I am really grateful to you for giving up your time to help. The race is impeccably organised and everyone is so well looked after from start to finish. Just a fabulous event.