Ultra no 35 was supposed to be my 4th 100 + mile distance run this year, unfortunatley it wasnt to be.
Tooting Bec 24hr Track Race (Self-Transcendence) Saturday 22nd September
I had 2 goals for this race.
Goal 1 - 10hrs for 100k for a Spartathlon qualifier (hence entering a 24hr Track Race in the first place)
Goal 2 - If 100k reached in 10 hours then I would have 14hrs to complete a minimum of 38 miles to reach 100 miles (but with my usual arrogance, I beleived 14hrs could give me a second 100k no problem, to reach a total of 200k (124 miles) in 24hrs and in the Glenmore 24hr which was trail and hilly I had reached 112 plus miles, just another 12 miles on a flat course, how hard can that be? I had never understimated the challenge though, I knew it would be mentally tough and running on the flat would cause havoc with my joints and muscles.)
The course was a 400 metre track situated in Tooting Bec London. I travelled down on the train early on the Saturday morning, the race start would be at 1200. The night before I couldnt sleep, (nightmares) and had managed a total of 2hours, all week I had been suffering from night sweats and nightmares. Possibly I guess a mild bug, the insides of my knees causing me a huge amount of pain (overpronating when I forget to concentrate on landing midfoot and end up heel striking, I have worn superfeet for years to cure fallen arches/severe overpronation and they worked, taking me from a 13.5 foot to a 12 - 12.5 foot, over the last year I have concentrated on running more as a midfoot runner to avoid pronation, thus removing my superfeet, this works well but sometimes after running 15-20 hours I falter back to my heel strike. While I am wearing Hokas landing on my midfoot is great but Heel striking in them with the added height they have with all the cushioniong causes more pressure on my ankles and knees when I overpronate, strangley enough my ankles dont notice it but my knees do and so does my lower back.)
I met Ernie Jewson and Debbie who were to crew me at the event. I had first met Ernie when he had supported both myself and Mike Mason in the 2007 West Highland Way (the 2007 WHW had seen me collapse at Kinlochleven with Rhabdmylosis, while at the checkpoint, Ernie had removed my shoes and had taken them away to stop me from continuing on at the race and risking my life. Hours later I was in Fort Williams intensive care unit) Ernie has run countless GUCR'S plus 2 Thames Ring Ultras (250miles non stop) Ernie had texted me a while back trying to get me to sign up to the Thames Ring Ultra by text, his message went 'Jon you need to enter this, you'd love it!, I was talking to the flowers for 4 hours'
(extreme sleep deprivation makes you do funny things!!) that year at the Thames Ring runners had fallen into the canal, mmm that would of been me! I had supported Debbie on her last few miles of a GUCR in 2011, one tough lady!! Julien Pansiot also came along to support me, Julien has a fantastic blog called 'life is an ultramarathon' http://www.life-is-an-ultramarathon.org/dotclear2/index.php Julien has been a good freinf for a few years and lives in London. We had met via the UTMB, Julien had also ran the innagrual Hardmoors 110 in 2012, and regularly runs the Hardmoors 55 and last years Hardmoors 60. In my 2011 Hardmoors 110 run, Julien had directed the race for me while I was competing. Aside the Hardmoors Julien had completed the PTL (the UTMB on steroids) My support team was VERY experienced and an awesome bunch of freinds. They set up camp alongside the track and we waited for the off. I was running in Hokas and the great thing with 24hr track events you dont have to carry a thing! 45 off us set off, some walking, others jogging slowly, I set off at a comfortable pace (10 minuts miling) as I looked around me there was only a handfull running at this pace. I found myself alongside Jim Rogers ( Jim has been ultrarunning for over 20 years and is a hell of a runner, representing the uk on numerous occasions, he resides in Hull and a man I have a huge amount of respect for, his best distance for a 24hr track event being 151 miles!) we chatted for a while, he was using the event as a qualifier for Spartathlon too, but would stop when he had reached 100k.What slighly worried me was that I was running at his pace, so I was definatley running too fast!
I dropped the pace down and gave myself the target of running for the first 5 hours then would walk a few laps. We had been allocated lap counters and every hour our position and mileage would be placed on a board for us to see, in the first few hours I was in about 8th place ( this would drop and drop) Every step I took in those 24hrs I was conscious of, I didnt switch off for one minute! couldnt loose myself in my thoughts, I knew exactly where I was and couldnt remove myself from the situation.
Alan Rumbles popped by to see me (he was due to fly out later to Greece to compete in this years Spartathlon) he knew this was my qualifiying attempt) I found myself more and more walking laps, the pain in my knees only subdued when I walked. I was eating and drinking well, my crew where doing a fantastic job, Alan told me I needed to run a marathon in about 4 hours to be in line with my 100k in 10 hrs, I started to make a concerted effort but after a few strong laps I found myself walking again. I started to feel really awful, I looked at my watch it wasnt happening! I couldnt do it. I had nothing in my legs, I couldnt escape the pain and any motivation I had, had vanished, I struggled through a couple more laps and staggered up to Julien and told him that was me done. I was unsure if I was going to burst into tears or throw up. They guided me into the tent as I started to shiver, I was so so cold, and apparantley as white as a ghost. I shut my eyes and tried to sleep. That was it, I was not going to run another lap, I was beaten.
Thirty minutes or so later Ernie cooked me fried eggs and beans, I wolved it down and felt a lot better. They talked me round into getting back on the track, the colour had returned back to my face. It was freezing, I put tights on, buffs and a down jacket and set off walking, after awhile I satrted to run and warm up.I started to feel motivated again and set my aim on 100 miles. A while later I was back to walking.
The rest of the 24 hours was scattered with motivated sections of running strongly and less motivated sections of walking plus a first for me, I stopped for an hour to have a sleep, I never sleep on Ultras, even on my 2009 UTMB when I had ran for over 42 hours I didnt sleep! Lack of mental stimulation was destroying my motivation and every footstep I took I was aware of I just couldnt switch off. This was one tough race. My body apart from my knees (what stopped hurting after 16 hours) was fine, possibly strong thanks to all the conditioning 35 ultras had given it plus regular massages of my quads and calves Ernie kept giving me. I ran and chatted on and off with Matt Moraz, a great guy who had ran the L100 and the WHW plus various desert ultras's Matt certainly helped the minutes go by. We also ran for breif stages with Antonia Johnson, Antonia was running strong ( completed over 190k in the end) She had ran a 22hr WHW this year and was still pretty young. I imagine we will see great things from this lady if she keeps on ultrarunning!
20 hours into the race I started to feel stronger and ran more, and when I ran my pace was faster. Eventually we where down to our last 20 minutes or so, now it was easy to run. It felt strange running with the person next to me who was 30 miles ahead of me! and the person in front of me was in fact 15 miles behind me! Crazy! everyone was starting to get quite emotional, patting each other on the back, the cammerderie was phenomenal. It was fantastic to see and feel part of. We where passed our small sandbags (we would place these where we finished when the hooter was blown to mark the race finish. This way they could measure the exact distance we had run.
With the last minute slipping away I realised I could get another lap in, so I sprinted as hard as I could and completed the lap with seconds to go. The hooter went and so did my legs, Debbie caught me, it was over at last!
Later in the day I got the underground to Kings Cross carrying a big heavy bag and of course the majority of bloody underground escalators werent working, not good on tired quads! My train to York wasnt until 2200hrs, it was 1330hrs (I booked the cheapest trains I could for the trip) I popped into the ticket office to see if I could transfer my ticket to an earlier train, well for £90 I could, so I sat and waited for over 8 hours (Heavy rain outside, tired legs and a heavy bag stopped me from doing any sight seeing. I think I probably spent £90 on coffees ;o)
Looking back, the event was something very special! not the running round the track but the competitors/support crews/organisers/marshalls/timekeepers and most importantly Ernie, Debbie and Julien who looked after me for all those hours, who encouraged me, put up with my moods, fed and watered me, massaged me and tried to keep my spirits high. Thank you!
My distance wasnt great compared to my goals, 89 miles instead of 120 miles and a personal worse in the shape of 100k in 16hrs on a flat surface!! but hey this was my second 24hr in the space of less then a month. My body didnt let me down my head did!
Would I do it again? maybe! still got unfinished buisness! still want 200k. Well what about Sparta? Well looks like Im entering the 147 mile Viking Way Race in March 2013 then!