Short version: I ran around a 400m athletic track for 24hrs, there were ups and downs, the last six hours were great and I fulfilled my “race goal” of running 200km plus.
Extended version: My ultra-running friend Jon Fielden, had a great time running around the track for 24 hours last year and after reading his blog and discussing it with him, I was convinced that I wanted to add it to my CV… I just didn’t know when I would do it. After not getting through the ballot of the 2017 Spartathlon, I was convinced by Emily Foy to write to the lovely race director, Shankara Smith, and ask for a place for this year’s Self Transcendence 24hr Track Race in Tooting Bec, London.
|On your marks, get set, go...!|
*Transcendence: the state of excelling or surpassing or going beyond usual limits*
Race day arrived; I arrived at the Tooting Athletics track very early and had my 10 year old daughter Bella crewing for me for the first 4hrs or so before my wife and youngest daughter Katie arrived. The car was parked next to the track and I used the boot as my personal tuck shop, stocked with my favourite food, drinks and spare kit.
With my race number pinned, midday soon arrived and 45 of us started running around the 400m track trying to cover as many laps as possible by Sunday midday (every four hours we change direction of running around the track). I resisted the urge to start running too fast and eventually settled into a pace of 6mph. Nothing very exciting happened during those first six hours, apart from having the song ‘The Guitar Man’ by Bread going over and over in my head. My guitar teacher, Jeff had taught it to me on Monday and I’d loved playing it all week. During this time the sun shone briefly, it rained a bit and I stopped for the toilet from time to time, I talked to the other competitors whilst going around and I ate and drank as I felt the need. My wife had arrived in the early afternoon and as evening approached and just before dusk, they said goodbye (they stayed with friends for the night) and left the boot organised with my food and drink for the night ahead. I thanked them for their help and they went off. With lots of support crews, the race staff and the other competitors I definitely didn’t feel alone. Sandra, who was crewing for Mich and Russ, had settled in to camp for the night next to my car, and she offered to help in the night should I need anything. Thank you Sandra!
|Taking it easy on the early stages.|
I made it to the first 50miles in 8h50, which was reasonable, not too fast and not too slow. Next goal was to get to 100km (62miles). Ideally I would get there in around 11hrs which would give me 13hours to run another 100km with tired legs. Unfortunately it didn’t happen and I got there in 11hrs35min, so now I had a mountain to climb (or in other words another 250 laps to do).
It was now nearly midnight and there was nothing wrong with me but I wasn’t moving particularly well or feeling that awesome either. By then my watch battery was running low and I left it in the car charging, besides, looking at my pace wasn’t giving me much confidence either. I kept running, eating, drinking and then every half hour I’d walk for half a lap for a breather.
At each hour mark, a sign would go up with your race position and miles completed. Slowly I made my way up the board and I was consistently clocking up 5miles per hour. Hours went by before I started to feel better though…
Back in April, my great ultra-running friend, Mark Thornberry, was diagnosed with liver cancer and despite going through several treatments, he was then told it was terminal. Life sucks, but Mark decided to run from Birmingham to London along the Grand Union Canal, covering an astounding 145-miles in three days to raise money for Kings College London. Mark completed his challenge two weeks ago and my family and I are now one of his biggest fans.
So, I was wearing Mark’s Kings’ College London polka dot vest for inspiration throughout the race, and as reminder to keep moving forward and to be more grateful for life.
Slowly my luck changed, and as I approached the 100 miles mark (160km), the board went up and I had done my first 6mph in a very long time. I started dreaming that maybe I still could…
The track was covered with motivational posters and my favourite read, ‘the fullness of life lies in dreaming and manifesting the impossible dreams’. There had been a change in the lap counters and now the lady counting my laps was really supportive, yelling ‘Go Rodrigo, fantastic, impressive, woohoo!’ at each lap without fail. Lots of other competitors were now walking, taking breaks and I slowly started lapping those who had lapped me previously.
With Mark Thornberry in my thoughts, my favourite poster every 400 metres and a very supportive lap counter, I kept moving forward with re-energised legs. I made it to 100-miles in roughly 19h40 and so I now divided my mission in to four chunks. I had to run 10km per hour and I would have 20min spare (5min per hour) to go to the toilet, grab food and drink, and re-lube!
First hour bang, 6 miles done! 1 hour down and 3 to go! Second hour was also strong and another 6 miles done. I really couldn’t believe it, no bad patches, zero walking in two hours. I kept thinking I must do this for myself and for Mark!
It was now daylight, the temperature rose a little and I removed my long sleeve base layer and decided to wear my watch and make no mistake with my pace. I was now running with my heart, and at every corner of the track I had support and encouragement, and I had a big smile on my face (smiling relaxes your upper body – or so I was told). Whatever distance I achieved I was going to be proud, because I was giving 110%.
11am now and another 6 miles done, just 10km to go, I can do this! By now my friend Ilsuk and Glen were there to give me support. My wife, Bella and Katie and my friends Gill and Edu had also arrived. They were now in charge of my aid station. I asked for my sunglasses to hide the pain on my face, but I kept smiling and running even faster.
|10min to go!|
With 30min left I asked for an update on my lap count from the officials. To add to the drama, it was two laps off what I’d expected and I knew it was going to be very very close to achieving my goal of 200km. So I upped my pace even more- I had got this far and I wanted it really badly.
|Can I stop running now?!|
In the last five minutes your family and friends are allowed to run with you, so when five minutes were left my girls tried to join me and I said ‘Wait, not yet girls!’. I needed those two missing laps and there was no way they could do that in five minutes. I ran that last lap all out in less than 2 min, and arrived back to the girls feeling physically sick. I grabbed their little hands and we ran the lap of honour together and then with 25seconds before the midday gong, we ran another 36 metres. The horn sounded at midday and I collapsed on the track, job done, if by the skin of my teeth! 200k and 36 metres*.
*official results now say I actually ran 200km and 458 metres!
It took me a while to get up from the track and I felt really grotty and nauseous for a while so that meant I was unable to enjoy the post-race celebration and the delicious post-race meal. I must have been feeling really ill as I didn’t even fancy a cold beer.
|'Are you going to get up Dad?'|
Many thanks must go to the other competitors and their crews for their support and camaraderie. Thanks also to race director, Shankara, and all your staff and volunteers, for an immaculate race. Thanks to my wife and girls for putting up with all my absences to train for these events, I really couldn’t do it without your tolerance and support. And a massive thank you to Mark Thornberry, you’re my hero.
|Just let me die here!|
My season is now finished, I have achieved my goals of completing the Thames Ring 250, I ran 200km in a 24hr race and got a new PB at 50 miles. I did miss out on my sub19 hours attempt for 100-miles, but I’m still youngish enough to keep trying for that one.
For 2018, I would love to finish the Grand Union Canal race, if I’m lucky enough to get a place (I have unfinished business with GUCR), I’m also toying with the idea of going to Berlin for the Berlin Wall 100-miler and hopefully the Greek gods will be on my side and I will be successful in the ballot for Spartathlon 2018.
Mark’s cancer may be terminal but he is willing to keep fighting (and running), he is currently waiting for his latest scan results so that he can plan his next challenge. If you would like to read his story and sponsor him, then just click on this link: Mark "the shark" Thornberry
*For this race I wore my new favourite shoes: Skechers Go Run 400.
*Nutrition went really well, being metabolic efficient means I’m a good fat burner meaning I don’t need to eat too much making nutrition a lot simpler for race day. If you want to understand more about metabolic efficiency please click on this link.