What will it feel like?
Many people can’t understand why runners would choose to run in circles on a 400m track for 24 hours. It’s a valid question – the extension of choosing to run in 2k circles over 100k. For me it was as simple as the above: I wanted to experience the highs and lows of continuing moving forward through the night. Distance, titles and transcendence would be a bonus.
I suspected I hadn’t done enough preparation – no excuses, just the way it panned out with life at the time. At the same time, I felt healthy enough, and got through a couple of long slow test runs adequately. Not wanting this to be yet another year I didn’t get round to trying a 24, I put in the entry. And then did a bunch of stilt-walking to pay for it, but I don’t think Strava counted that as training.
Going to National Road Relays with Hawks a week out from the event was great fun, and a nice distraction. I figured if the standard ultra takes 3 days carb-loading, a 24 could take a week’s worth, so made sure I started that nice and early too. I also spent a lot of time figuring out the best way to make a music playlist (first month of Spotify Premium free? Yes please), what songs to have on it (lots), and the optimum way to carry my phone with me (thanks, Trek’n’Travel).
Lance kindly offered a couch for the Friday night, so I zoomed up to Auckland after work. I couldn’t have asked for a better host, as Lance is a pro at these events, and spotted exactly which things I was clueless about. We raided Geoff’s water bottle stocks (cheers Geoff), and sieved lots of white powder. Lance gave me some of his ginger beer stash. Good to go!
Following Lance in the morning made directions to Millenium Stadium nice and easy. We set up the table and tent, and met Twiss (below, centre), who was crewing for Lance and adopted me too. It was a relief to eventually get to the startline. All photos by the Sri Chinmoy team!
Here goes nothing!
The Sri Chinmoy team introduced all the competitors in the 24 hour, 12 hour, 6 hour and relay races, and then we were off. Sprint! (Just kidding.)
The first few hours were relaxed, and busy – people were very gracious, but there was a lot of slaloming around each other with so many on the track. The first change of direction came at 4 hours, and added a bit of excitement. It was nice to seeing Wayne Botha whizzing by periodically in his fast-cadenced bare feet, and catch up with current NZ 100k women’s champ Katrin Gottschalk (both in the 12 hour). It’s interesting how everyone has different strategies and speeds. Andrew stuck to his run-4-walk-1 approach without fail, and it appeared to go great guns.
We had timing bracelets and personal lap counters, who were always encouraging, I worked out that mine eventually said ‘Go Dawn’ or ‘Got you, Dawn’ approximately 500 times over the full event. Phew. That would take some focus.
My aim was to feel good at 6 hours and ok at 12. I enjoyed most of the day, especially jogging round in a train with Katrin and Susan Marshall, recent winner of the Sri Chinmoy 6-Day race in New York. Susan ran an amazing 656km there! We were both doing our first 24-hour race, but for her, it’s on the short side.
I went through 100km in about 9.30, which was probably a tad fast. I’d planned for 6-min ks, but a tiny bit too quick per lap adds up. Nutrition was Tailwind and water and Vfuel gels, with some sushi and ginger and chippies, which all worked fine until it didn’t.
Come 12 hours, a bunch of people stopped and had their part-laps recorded – Katrin won the race outright despite not feeling in top form that day. Bryan McCorkindale, always a class athlete, achieved an age group record here I think, before carrying on. The 12 hour would make a great taste of this type of running, as you get to enjoy the day and a bit of the night – and then go home! It started raining around the 10 hour mark, and didn’t really stop.
It was great to see the mighty Mgcini turn up in the evening, fresh from pacing at Tauranga Marathon. Every lap he’d be sitting out by the table in the rain with a smile. I’d make random food requests and then change my mind the next lap. Good times.
I apparently went through the 100 miles (160k) in about 16.40, and suspect it was actually a little before there that some wheels fell off, in a matter of 4 short laps or so. My right quad decided this was all a stupid idea and ceased lifting my leg up off the ground, quite a key motion in running; and my stomach got very unhappy. Consequently, I was reduced to a striding walk for the rest of the race. This was disappointing, as I’d started to get my hopes up for bigger distances, but I remember regrouping mentally and working out that walking 5k per hour for 8 hours should still get me over the 200 mark, and the primary aim was simply to keep moving forward and experience the night.
So I kept moving forward, as it rained on and on, sweeping in billowy clouds across the stadium lights and puddling deep in each track bend. I’d heard this 1am – 5am stretch was the hardest part of the race, and so it proved to be. Looking at the photos brought it back – it was never one agonising moment of struggle, just an ongoing challenge amid cold, fatigue and tedium.
My music was a great help, and kept me going for a good 3-4 hours. I also thought a lot about the special people who left us too soon this past year and what it might mean to make the most of your own life, even the crazy whims that involve walking in circles. Sometimes there was something oddly beautiful and peaceful about the monotony too.
Unfortunately I was having trouble staying warm while walking, even with two thermals and a waterproof jacket. Mgcini had sensibly suggested I take off the wet singlet first before putting on the other gear, but I was all ‘nah, can’t be bothered, look, a fairy!’
Gotta love it when you run too long even for the clock to handle..
Toilet breaks seemed to be happening way too often, and the whole sitting down motion had ceased to be fun hours ago. Funnily enough, although we were only 9k apart at the end, I never really ran with Slavomir Lindvai, the winning man – he was always going faster or slower. Just near the end we walked half a lap together and he said, well done, you are winner?, and I said nah, I don’t think so (ooh look, a fairy!), and he offered me Slovenian beer. In retrospect, this might have been a better bet for the stomach than coffee. Slavomir is a very strong athlete who’s reportedly run in the 240k region for this event previously.
Eventually the sky started to lighten – Tracy Benjamin made an obligatory ‘dawn’ joke! – and the end was kind of, sort, in sight (3 hours feels interminable by the end). Tracy launched into some tough love every time I went past which was great. I didn’t really know or care what distance I’d done (the lap updates only go up occasionally and I was cold) but she didn’t let me slack off: ‘You know you want the 200! Keep pushing it harder, and not just when you’re going past me!’
So I did, and made it in time for a few bonus laps (hoorah!). Below is me heading out on the final lap – I’m holding a personalised block to put down when the hooter goes.
Although it was the longest race I’ve ever done, it wasn’t an equally intense experience to finish it. I was pleased and relieved, but the emotion was dulled by queasiness and cold. Twiss, bless her, went from not knowing me the day before to stripping me off and getting me through a shower. The chafing was truly epic. It could have won a chafe contest. There was a perfect chafe-bra, complete with all the chafe-seams. (Ultras are so glam.)
At prizegiving, Andrew and I felt gradually sicker and sicker. I kind of love how this photo captures the moment. We’re each about to make a mid-speeches vomit dash (ultras are so glam).
Ah, this one’s a bit more perky. I was really happy to follow in a long line of awesome runners and get the Sandy Barwick trophy for a while. Huge kudos to my fellow 24-hour runners too, especially Bryan (below) and Lance, who really are world class at this.
Things to improve:
- Eating. I don’t think there’s a magic answer, but I’d at least bring more savoury options and protein.
- Pacing. It wasn’t terrible, but pulling back a bit more and possibly adding walk breaks could be a plan.
- Chafe-avoidance. The ye-ow level of chafing was probably due to the wet-wet-wet level of rain, and I don’t know exactly how to fix that, but it’ll be something to work on.
- Put some warm things on much earlier if required. Take off the wet ones.
- Train some more
Things that went well!
- No major injuries, not even Achilles issues (that’s pretty unusual)
- Mind-set and focus was calm and positive almost the whole way, even with the disappointment of going to a walk
- Shoes – the flexible Altra Escalantes were really comfy during 90% of the race, and I’d use them again. I did have sore blisters afterwards, but suspect this was always going to be hard to avoid in the rain.
In conclusion, I’m really happy I did the event. The organisers and other participants were great. Huge thanks to Twiss, Mgcini and Andrew for taking care of me along the way – hope to return the favour sometime.
I initially felt slightly ripped off that there was no euphoric transcendent moment, before coming to the conclusion that the keeping going was itself the transcendence. Would I do it again? Yes.
Aftermath summary: The next day I couldn’t move much (quietest birthday ever), and it took 24 hours after finishing before I could face food again. I didn’t really lose any weight though (bodies are odd). It took a good 8 days before I felt I could jog, and I’m giving it a few more for good measure.
PS – A bonus of this type of run is inspiring your offspring with your feats of perseverance. Or not.