24 Hours. On a Track

Could you stay awake for 24 hours? Maybe? If you had to? Could you stay awake and RUN for 24 hours? In a 400m loop? Just round & round & round…? I know a man who can, and what an absolute legend he turned out to be.

I already knew Chris was hardcore. He runs ultras, trail ultras, extreme ones, in fact he runs all the ultras, all of them. However, what I didn’t appreciate is just how hardcore he actually is.

This weekend was the Self-Transcendence 24 hour race at Tooting Bec track. Yep, 24 hours of track. Hell? I think so! But Chris was about to take on this mamouth challenge starting at noon on Saturday and finishing at noon on Sunday.

On Saturday I ran 20 miles. It was one of the hardest training runs I’ve ever done. It was so tough I started setting myself mini goals at just 12 miles…2 more miles and you’re at 14, then it’s just 6 to go…that’s less than 10k and you know you can do that…let’s just pop another gel and hope for the best. Oh look, there’s a deer, I better stop & take a photo so it doesn’t head butt me (those Richmond deer are attention seeking so & so’s I tell you)

Photo of deer – taken for personal safety reasons only, not because I wanted to stop for 60 seconds, not at all:

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I don’t know whether it was because I haven’t done a long run for 4 weeks and I was pushing a bit hard, or something else, but it wasn’t a great place to be mentally. I’ve never been happier to see my front door. Anyway, I spent the rest of the day resting & eating & lying still with compression socks on, I even watched about 10 minutes of women’s football because lifting the remote was too much effort (sad but true). I crawled up and down the stairs and I got a good nights sleep. All the while Chris was still running…(well, there aren’t any deer in Tooting Bec)

On Sunday morning I awoke to find he had already reached 90 miles some point in the early hours and was just 10 away from the 100 mile goal! Before I left home he had only gone and done it. 100 miles!

When I turned up at the track I was struck by a fairly somber mood, about 30 people were running, shuffling and hobbling round the track, some even looked like they were about to fall over. I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting but it was clear to see people were in a dark place, I guess I thought they would be happy it was nearly over but they were past that point.

I spotted Chris and he was walking, his head was slightly down, his knee was strapped up, and, to be honest, I was worried. Despite this he smiled when I waved at him and asked me how the ankle was. It turned out he had some damage to his own ankle and hadn’t been physically able to run for a few hours.

I quickly learnt the rules. Fellow Chaser, Jane, was on the support crew for the final 8-12 shift and she explained that someone was allowed to accompany a runner for 150m on each lap. Those 150m were pretty vital, it was a chance to understand where he was mentally, what was he thinking and what he needed. There were a whole team of official lap counters so we didn’t need to worry about that but what he did need to know was how many laps it was to the next goal. Sounds easy, but converting laps into miles and into marathon distance, then back into km’s and making 100% sure it was right was an important job, there was no room for error!

So, the 100 mile goal had been reached but, as always, one goal leads rapidly to another and we were now aiming for 4 marathons. Chris reached this and then set the next goal of 170k …

…170k barrier reached. Whoooooo!

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Chris is an amazing athlete. He finished in 12th place covering over 106 miles (over 171k) – that’s a HUGE 428 laps of an athletics track!! He achieved his 100 mile goal, he achieved his 4 marathon goal, he even achieved his 170k goal, but, most importantly, he also smashed his fundraising target. I actually thought I was going to cry when the clock turned to 00:00:00. 24 hours, done!

Happy happy 24 hour ultra runner!
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Chris wasn’t the only person who impressed me that day. I also met Geoff. Geoff is 80 years old and clocked up a whooping 94 miles despite suffering some health problems over the last year. He was still running right at the very end. He was still smiling and he was still thanking people for their support. What touched me the most was that he made an effort to change into a shirt & tie for the presentation ceremony at the end. He really was a lovely man and definitely the smartest ultra runner I know!

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I genuinely witnessed something very special this weekend. It’s not just the hours and hours of training and preparation, or the sacrifice and dedication but it’s a whole lot of heart and a whole lot of soul. These runners left absolutely everything they had on that track, they are truly phenomenal and I felt very privileged and humbled to watch them finish.

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