Jun 2014

Gloucester 24 hour track race


When I entered this I was aiming at a PB (>103.3 miles) and an ambitious goal of 110 miles. The ‘suitcase on wheels incident’ put paid to that. It was possible that my legs would be up for 20+ hours of running, but it didn’t look likely; even 25 mile training runs were leaving me with sore legs. Plus after a couple of stressful weeks at work (exam season) and at home (house buying and selling) I didn’t have much in the way of mental reserves. My plan was to set off at 5.5 mph (with half a lap walking every 10 laps) and see how long I could hold if for, with the vague goal of breaking my 9.59 50 mile PB.

A couple of days beforehand I went for a short run in an old, clunky pair of shoes and discovered my achilles tendon grumbled far less than in my usual shoes. So I started the race in the old shoes. I also decided to wear a 5 litre rucksack to carry food and water. Without a support crew repeatedly going to the side of the track to pick up snacks can waste a surprising amount of time. And at the track race last Summer I’d had to lengthen my walk breaks to pass the water table twice, in order to get in enough water.

The first ~20 miles went OK. My legs didn’t feel great, but the achilles itself wasn’t hurting at least. I soon remembered why I didn’t usually wear the clunky old shoes: they were causing hot spots on my insteps. I switched to my usual shoes, and realised that their cushioning was completely shot. I hadn’t noticed when wearing them on a daily basis. I didn’t have any other running shoes with me, so had no choice but to wear them.

The other thing which was causing issues was my timing chip. I’d noticed several other runner’s support crews querying their lap counts and was concerned that my chip didn’t always seem to be beeping when I crossed the line. I stopped to query my laps with the timing people. I’d set my Garmin to auto-lap every 1/4 mile. This was slightly less than a full lap (in particular since I was running on the line between lanes 1 and 2 to let faster runners past). But the difference was small enough (about 1 lap in 50) that I could easily keep track of the difference. The checked their data while I ran another lap. It turned out a lap had been missed earlier, and they corrected this. However the time I spent stopped sorting this out was longer than it would have taken to run another lap... If I’d been going for a 24 hour PB this would have been a problem. But as it was I decided just to count my own laps.

After ~30 miles sticking to my planned pace was becoming more of an effort. However after a quick toilet stop something strange happened. I suddenly starting knocking out 10 minute miles, and it took a concerted effort to even slow down to 10:20mm. I perhaps should have tried harder though. A few laps later, everything was hurting and 11 minute miles was a struggle. At this point John, the sports massage bloke’s words echoed in my head: ‘don’t do anything which stops you doing the things you enjoy doing’ (i.e. don’t bugger your legs up so you can’t run in the hills). However if I could just hold on for a couple more hours I could grind out a 50 mile PB.

It wasn’t much fun. My pace slipped to 12 minute milling, and I was taking walk breaks every 5 laps. But I did it. My Garmin clocked 50 in 9.14 but at this point I’d ‘only’ done 196 laps. I continued for another 5 to make, by my reckoning, 201 laps in 9.29 and stopped. The official results have me down as only having done 196 laps or 48.7 miles, but I’m 99% confident my count is correct, and I’m taking this as a 30 minute 50 mile PB. I checked the leader board (a chalk board with splits every 10 miles). The first two women were way in front, but I was narrowly in 3rd place. This wasn’t enough to make me keep going though. Maybe I could have ground out a 24 hour PB, but my legs were already pretty sore and there was a more interesting race (T184) a couple of months away. And, to be honest, the last couple of hours had already exhausted my paltry mental reserves.

Afterwards I was a bit morose. It had been a struggle and it felt like all the long back-to-back runs and speed work had been for nothing. After a restless night sleeping in the passenger seat of the car I phoned the other-half and whinged about how hard it’d had been. He tried to be sympathetic, but accidentally stuck his foot in it. ‘Maybe it would have been easier if you’d had a goal’ he helpfully suggested. Umm. I did have a goal, which went up in flames when you crashed your suitcase into my achilles tendon.

Looking on the bright-side, I now have a 50 mile PB which is one minute inside the Spartathlon 50 mile cut-off. Doing that in hot weather and then keeping going for another 100 miles including a mountain, is still way out of my league at the moment. But it’s a start.