Friday, 7 July 2017

24 Hour World Champs review

So, um, that didn't go to plan.  At least, not for me it didn't.  The wonder that is David Bone covered an amazing 130 miles, and James managed around 104.  I only reached 89 miles, i'll bore you with the ugly detail in a sec.  To start things off on a positive note though, here is David's press photo from the weekend (page 2 of the Irish Times).  This is after 23 hours of running:

The man is a god. Disco Specs Power

Hats off to you David you lovely lovely man.

So what went wrong for me?    I'd prepared well, i'd tapered well, i'd eaten really well, made sure I was really well hydrated.   I thought I was well prepared mentally, but looking back perhaps this is where I went badly wrong.  I'd anticipated being really fired up by being on the same course as the World Championships which of course has many of the worlds top ultra-runners competing in it. And, initially, it was really cool.  There are too many to mention them all, but just seeing top top runners like Dan Lawson, Pete Kostelnick, Andrzej Radzikowski, Radek Brunner, Katalin Nagy, Pam Smith, Yoshihiko Ishikawa, Patrycja Bereznowska etc etc etc was fantastic.   

Courtesy of

The first few hours went ok I guess.  Physically I felt a bit off, just kind of a bit meh.... flat, without much power or zip, but it didn't bother me that much.  There was great banter between the runners, I made some new friends and chatted with old ones.  The GB men's and ladies World Champs teams are a fantastic bunch of people and would give a friendly word of encouragement every time they came passed.  Thanks a lot to all of you.  Stuff like that is really appreciated.  Robbie Britton made me laugh:

Lapping 1: "what's your first name Strachan?".  "Darren".   "Ok, well done Darren"

Lapping 2: "Strachan i've forgotten your name... i'm just going to call you Gordon, is that alright?".  "It's fine Robbie i've been called worse things"

Lapping 3: "Hey Gordon, want to hear my favourite Gordon Strachan quote?" "Sure Robbie".... "It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog".  

Love it.  Unfortunately the size of my fight turned out to be not so big!

I think I went through the marathon mark in around 4:20, maybe 4:30.  Not great but not a disaster either.  But I was finding the one mile concrete/stone loop tougher and tougher, and eventually I had to break it down into sections where I would run and sections where I would walk.  After a while, maybe 5 hours or so, the volume of people consistently overtaking really started to get to me. 

Of course I knew that I was going to be spending a lot of this race getting lapped by most of the field. I'd thought I was cool with that, but in fact I found it hard to deal with.  No matter how much I tried to tell myself it was ok, not to compare myself, not to judge myself against these runners, my internal critic got a right gob on it, and eventually it wore me down.  "You're a shit runner, what are you doing here, you've no right to be here, look at all these people who are so much better than you."  Just over and over and over, on a bloody loop.  I got so sick of it.   After about 13 hours, I needed a break.  I lay down in the treatment tent for a 15 minute rest, and 2 hours later I woke up with my teeth chattering and legs frozen.  It was 3am, any chance I had of a PB was long gone, and even reaching 100 miles looked a forlorn hope.  I stumbled out of the tent.  Very simple choice time: turn left, go to race control, hand in your chip, get a blanket round you and go back to sleep.  Turn right, face another 9 hours of torture round this unforgiving 1 mile loop being lapped not only by most of the field but also your best mates.  Probably also telling yourself what a f****** failure you are. Somehow, not sure quite how, I turned right.

I stumbled like a ghost round a lap, wearing pretty much everything I had brought with me.  God knows how long it took, but at least moving was starting to warm me up.  I picked up some coffee at the aid station, and carried on walking.  Eventually, things got better, I warmed up and woke up and was able to shed some layers and move a bit faster.  I was mostly resolved to walking and just staying out on the course for as long as I could, but I was also able to do the "ultra-shuffle" on occasions.  I need the practice for Spartathlon, i'm sure gonna need the shuffle there.    Around 8am the wheels came off again and I nearly keeled over on the track, I think maybe a complete blood sugar crash.  A very kind supporter got hold of me and helped me to the tent.  I got some food and drink down me and stopped for another "10 minute break".... yeah, yeah, that one turned into an hour.  Again I was close to handing in my chip, again I turn right and resolve to continue.  This time it was easier as it was daylight and warmer.  Also only 3 more hours of pain until the end.

And that's where the story gets better.  Not from the point of view of getting a respectable distance total, more like I remembered why I love this sport in the first place.  By now i'd completely given up on targets (the timing system was not showing us any info anyway, and my watch had gone, so I had no real clue where I stood), the internal critic had decided to shut the **** up and my mind was beautifully clear and peaceful.  Physically I was suffering but I was still able to march quite well, and break into the odd shuffle.  In fact the course was now full of walking wounded, and whilst there were still lots of runners storming round, there were also loads of people who I was now overtaking. Also there was now quite a lot of crowd support in the park, including a huge group of folk from various Irish running clubs who were going bananas for every single runner.  Feed off them and get them involved I thought - it worked a treat, making me want to do "one more lap" just to see them again.   On the last lap I go to high 5 them and hear a Scottish voice "oi, I was first!", it's Debbie Martin-Consani loving the occasion and still running strong... she jokingly shoves me out of the way, soaks up the high 5s and continues to run to clock up as many metres as possible.   See you out in Greece Debbie and Marco for Spartathlon!   Before I know it, hooters are going off and the race is over......  everyone collapses to the ground wherever they end up.  I admit I shed a tear or two, mostly out of pure relief that it was over.  

Looking back I think I just have to see this as miles in the bank for Spartathlon.  It wasn't the race I planned or wanted, but hey it's 89 miles more than I did this time last year, so I can't be too distraught about it.

As mentioned, David had a storming run, massive kudos to you my friend.

James was his usual battle hardened self, reaching over 100 miles in 21 hours despite suffering a shin injury.  James then took a couple of hours out but got back on the course to notch up a few more laps. Solid work my friend.

Our fellow Sparta devotee Paul Katsiva-Corderoy was his usual friendly and chilled self, reaching close to 100 miles and laying down some awesome Sparta preparation.  Look forward to seeing you out in Greece mate.

It was a joy to meet Nathan and Tori Flear.  Nathan only took up running fairly recently but has clearly poured heart and soul into his training and racing.  Nath didn't have the race he wanted here likely due to illness but watch out for this fella!  Tori, thanks so much for looking out for us and all your encouraging words over the weekend, it really meant a lot.  See you out in Athens you two.

Big thanks to Ed and his team for organising a great event, you did Belfast proud and I hope you can keep the Energia24 as an annual fixture.  Now I know what i'm up against, i'll come back sometime!

James, me, David, Dan Lawson, Nathan Flear

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

24 Hour World Championship Preview

I am, as my American friends would say, "stoked" to be heading to Belfast this weekend for the World 24 Hour Championships.   Whilst i'd obviously love to be running for Team GB, that standard is in another orbit. Fortunately though, this event has an Open Entry race mixed alongside the Worlds, meaning that David, James, myself and around 70 others get to mix it right alongside the best in the world as they compete for Gold.

A 24 hour race is a fixed time rather than fixed distance format.  You basically run, walk or hobble as far as you can in the allotted time and the winner is the person who covers the most distance.  These events are usually held on 400 metre tracks or fairly short and flat loops where you are never too far away from the support area and feeding stations.  You are allowed to stop and rest if you like, although that's to be avoided if you want to do well, and you can't "DNF" as if you stop you are just given your final mileage as your result.   The definition of "success" at a race like this varies a lot from person to person and across age ranges and genders.... the world records for men and women are an astonishing 188 and 159 miles respectively.  In fact that 188 mile record, set by the legendary Yiannis Kouros, is considered by many to be among the very top sporting performances by anyone, across all sports.  At the more mortal end of the spectrum, getting beyond 100 miles can generally be considered a decent result, but it's one that's by no means guaranteed given the number of things that can go wrong in a race like this.

We'll be using this as a training race for Spartathlon (yep, we got in again this year, whoop) but also want to try to set a new PB for this particular format of race, having only previously taken part in one.  That event was hilly and muddy, a very tough 2.5 mile loop, and we had to pull out all the stops to just scrape a Spartathlon qualifier of 113 miles.  In Belfast, we'll be on a one mile, flat concrete loop and theoretically will be able to set a new PB.  But like I say, things can and do go wrong so we'll just have to see.  Training has gone well I think.... there's always more you feel that could and should have been done but sometimes you just have to go with what you've got and do what you can. I'll be going into it looking to adopt a very steady pace of around 10 minute miles for the first 8 to 10 hours.  Beyond that, stay positive, keep moving for the duration and when things get tough adopt the mindset of "just one more lap".....

Training with the lads in the Yorkshire Dales
(L-R: James Ellis, David Bone, me, Jamie Holmes)

Part of the appeal of entering this race was the chance to share the track with the elites and see up close how they approach this format.  In a typical point to point ultra you basically see them for about a minute at the start line before they tear off up the road!   The same thing will happen in Belfast but this time we'll get to see them frequently as they come flying past lapping us.   From a British point of view i'm really looking forward to watching our deeply talented men's and ladies teams challenge for individual and team medals.  Robbie Britton won individual World and European bronze two years ago in the combined championship in Turin and the mens team took the team gold.  Meanwhile the mighty Dan Lawson is the current European Champion and recently obliterated the field at Ultrabalaton.  The GB ladies won team bronze in Turin and surely have great chances again.  No doubt they will face very strong challenges from athletes from all over the globe including defending World Champion Florian Reus of Germany and strong teams from USA and Japan amongst others. It's going to be great to watch.  In the Open Race, I can see Nathan Flear for the men's win (and I wouldn't be surprised if he is up there mixing it in the overall Worlds!) and Aoife Lyons of Dublin has been grinding out months of 100 miles a week in training so it would be great to see her do well. If you want to follow along you should be able to find updates on Facebook and Twitter:

And the organisers are currently scrambling to put some form of Live Tracking in place, links to which should be posted on Facebook and Twitter once it's sorted.

Monday, 6 February 2017

Dubai Marathon

I really didn't think I was going to make it to the start line of the Dubai Marathon after being a complete idiot and attempting to play football on New Years Day.  There's nothing like a muddy pitch, the wrong trainers, serious dehydration and 42 year old legs that really should know better to ruin a so called runner's body.  A badly strained adductor muscule meant I could barely walk for about 10 days afterwards, the first run I attempted around mid January left me with a quivering lip and doom laden thoughts of "i'll never run again....", so it was with very low expectations that Jeff and I turned up to the start line.   Common sense should probably have prevailed, but hey i'd travelled all the way over for this and a work conference, and Jeff is friends with Peter the RD, who had really kindly arranged a free entry, so I would have felt even worse pulling out.

Anyway, make it to the start we did, and with Jeff on his bike alongside providing excellent crewing support, things went just fine.  I didn't come into this with any time expectations... originally this was targeted as a PB race aiming for around 3:22... following relative success at the Owler Marathon back in November I felt I had good fitness, but the football injury and some laziness over the Christmas period put paid to that and I was just happy to be moving in Dubai.

Setting off at around 5:20 per KM, I felt ok.  My stride was pretty restricted from the injury, so it was more of a trot / hobble than a free flowing run.  The course is just two out and back loops, the first one 5km out / 5km back, the second one a giant 16km down the beach road to the UAE flag, and then straight back up the other side.  Mentally, this was pretty tough going, without much in the way of landmarks to break up the miles.
It's a very flat and fast course though, definitely PB material if you're looking for something.  The best part was that we got to see the elites fairly close up as they were coming against us on the loops.  Boy were they flying.... they are running a different race to us mortals.  

Going over the new canal was the only section of the course that wasn't flat, and it was actually a bit of a relief to have a change of gradient.  By the time I was coming back over this on the final leg, at around 35km, things were getting tough.
The race had started at 6:30am in nice cool temperatures, but the desert sun had now heated things up nicely.  Lots of people were looking seriously beaten up by it, and were reduced to a walk.  Whilst feeling the heat, fortunately i'd kept a bit of sauna training going since Spartathlon and was coping fine.  General fatigue and some cramping in the injured adductor slowed me down considerably for the last 10k, but fortunately not down to a walk.  For most of the race i'd been thinking just about finishing without doing further damage, but there was also a bit of me that wanted the finishing time to start with a 3 rather than a 4. So that's what I focused on... just do enough for sub 4, just get that sub 4.    And that's what we got.... 3:59:47.   Job done and it was then on to the golf tournament in Abu Dhabi for a bit of rest and relaxation with Jeff and his golfing buddies.

Thanks to Jeff and Jane for looking after me in Dubai, to Peter the Dubai Marathon race director for the entry and the really well organised event. And of course to Rosie for graciously allowing me the time away from home!