As usual it’s taken me far too long to get this written down, but with the Crawley 12 hour race in a few weeks I thought this was the perfect time to remember what I did wrong. It would be nice to have a list of things I did right, but sadly, no. I still managed to cover about 107 miles, which isn’t bad but falls short of what I think I should be capable of (although past performance isn’t nessesarily an indicator of the future!). The race itself is very simple (how many times can you run round a 400m track?), and is a perfect example of everything I love in an event. It’s small, extremely well organised by incredibly friendly and approachable people. The low key approach engenders a great atmosphere and the motley collection of runners were packed with interesting stories and enthusiasm. Being able to run shoulder to shoulder with a 80+ year old on course to complete 100 miles, and a trio of superhuman ladies who smashed records and crushed the entry level for team GB Ultra was both humbling and inspirational. This is a true, and (mostly) serious list of tips for running your first 24 hour track race. Some, if not all of the points are totally obvious, and normal people really shouldn’t need the advice.
Make sure you actually have a place in the race
Yes, yes, obvious. The thing is, I sent my application off and promptly got stuck into training and planning. As the weeks went on, and I languished on the waiting list, the mental focus that an imminent race gives you just wasn’t there. This meant that training was half hearted at best, and I figured that I’d pretty much wing the planning part: running in circles for ages: I’d just done the GUCR, how hard could it be?
If you don’t have a confirmed place, then at least pretend you have and train accordingly. Finding out two days before doesn’t give you nearly enough time.
One chap even turned up on the day and snagged a last minute place, though he crashed out in a bent-double vomiting state after a short few hours. Another arrow in the back of the last minute race entrant.
Don’t start the day with a massive hangover
Again, not something that should really need to be spelled out. However, the lack of concentration and general over confidence given #1, plus having heavy drinking friends round the night before culminated in a very not-ready head and body come race morning.
It’s hard to say whether this is the biggest mistake I made, quite possibly though, as it led to most of the others.
Work out your target pace sensibly, based on reality
For an elite athlete, calculating your goal distance using last year’s winner is a very good strategy, particular if you’re also aiming to secure a place in Team GB.
If, on the other hand, you are not an elite, and last year’s winner was other worldly Marco Consani, who covered 154 miles, then your sights have more than likely been set far outside the range of your physical capabilities.
In practice this means that you’re constantly berating yourself for going too slow, when in fact you’re going about twice as fast as you should be.
I would say to pick a comfortable marathon pace, then drop that by about 25%, probably more.
Don’t set off too fast
Lack of planning, large hangover and ridiculous ambitions and yes, you’re already going way too fast. I did the first marathon in under 4 hours, was near the top of the score board and felt great.
Obviously it didn’t last and my pace halved very soon after.
Having a bleary eyed notion of “go out as hard as possible and hang on as long as you can” is just daft, glycogen gets instantly depleted leaving you running on fumes way too soon.
If you’ve lapped James Elson, you’re going too quickly
Say no more!
To be fair to James, he looked to be suffering from an injury and pulled out before the end. Plus I was clearly going to blow up.
Don’t try new food on the day, as lovely as it might look and taste
Hangover to blame again. I remember thinking how delicious the melon and grapes on the food station were. They were cool, refreshing and gave me a nice little boost.
Fast forward 10 hours and I’d pretty much set up camp in the men’s room, and when I wasn’t there I was painfully dragging my sore and bloated belly back as fast as I could hobble.
Not a good idea.
Do try and remember your lap counters name
More generally, be nice to your lap counter, they’ve got a long gruelling night ahead of them, and sense of humour failures don’t make for a pleasant atmosphere.
Chances are they are looking after a few runners, and when a lap only takes a couple of minutes they’re hard at work.
On the odd occasion when they are distracted, being able to call our their name will save you valuable seconds, and is a whole lot polite than yelling “Did you get me? Luke here, hello?! HELLO!”
Having support really… helps
My wife and child stuck around for the first half hour, but when my 3 year old daughter had seen me run round in circles and not win or even finish, she soon got bored. Not before entertaining everyone with happy shouts of “daddy!” every time I passed her.
They also rocked up again for the last hour, and that alone kept my spirits up for at least 4 hours.
Other people had whole families camped out all night, feeding and watering their runners regularly. Not sure how I’ll persuade mine to do the same, but I think it would give a massive psychological boost, especially in those famously miserable hours just before dawn.
Don’t underestimate the mental aspect
I honestly hadn’t given much thought to what it would actually be like running for 24 hours within such a confined area.
All the big races I’d done in the past were huge loops or “epic adventure” point to point routes.
The key difference, which was obviously clear to every person who commented on my upcoming loop fest, is that every step forward, every second spent moving, takes you one tiny sliver closer to the end.
When it finally dawned on me that I could just sit down and the race would still end at midday, regardless of whether I did any sort of moving or not, was a revelation.
A revelation that took a lot of willpower (and two 30 minute snoozes in the back of Hughs car) to purge and get back into any kind of constant forward motion.
It was a lot harder than I thought it would be, deserved more respect than I gave it, and was absolutely bloody brilliant.
I’ve got a confirmed place for September, so that’s one item ticked off the list already!