24 hours on a 400m track
“I want to run 200km straight at some stage soon”….. a message I sent to Tom on 7/5/19 whilst we were talking about my training for my race in Kenya in September on Whatsapp. That’s how simply this idea started for those that wonder where this came from.
Some might call me stubborn but when there is something I want or want to do I immediately start to think about how I can make it happen. Ideas are all well and good but you have to figure out how to make it happen, prepare and then go and make it happen. On that day in May I knew two things, one was the distance and secondly was that I needed to be done before the end of the year. At that stage the location was not something on my mind….of course I had another race to focus on.
Challenges and ideas come up all the time, some are immediately dismissed and others need time to grow, you know your gut wants it but they need time all the same….and then one day out of nowhere sat on a bus driving back from Ultra X Wadi Rum Ultra I had a moment of clarity. I would run 24 hours around a 400m track. I was sat next to Rob and shared my idea. Of course we immediately started to talk about distance and in the next thought I committed 201km to my mind.
Running has been a very powerful tool in my life since I was a kid and after my accident in 2018 it became more powerful. I realized that I could change peoples lives with it, make them better humans, make them live more. The support I got and the number of people that started running after I ran my 30 marathons in 30 days was literally mind blowing. With this in mind I had to do this for people, to help people, to motivate people, if only to run 400m with me, but to run all the same. I mean it would be “easy” to go out into the middle of the desert and pump out 200km but its somehow a different level of messed up doing it on a 400m track in the public eye and inviting them to come and get involved. What was that I was talking about on my Instagram recently about vulnerability? I was laying it all out with this one and that excited me a lot.
At the Olympics or the World Cups we see athletes at their prime and have a tendency to forget what has gone in to getting them there. Now this is no Olympics nor world cup but what I want to share are some small parts of my training to get ready for this event, these are to build mental as well as physical resilience. I have a lot of comments from people saying “it’s easy for you.” That’s total bullshit, it hurts me just as much as it hurts you but I am not willing to use that “hurt” as an excuse not to start, not to attempt, however, many are. This was one of the hardest challenges I have done in many ways. It needed preparation. What was that? 6 days after coming back from running 160km through Jordan I went on a training run for 18 hours in the mountains with some clients, I planned very long training sessions that started in the middle of the night, I ran home at the end of work days when I was incredibly mentally fatigued and I spent an insane amount of time thinking and reflecting on the task at hand. I committed time and energy to this challenge as I always do because that is the respect you have to give these tings.
“So how are you going to break it up?” This was a question I got a lot going into it and my gut reaction was to pad out a simple plan that I knew I could achieve until I quickly realized that in itself that mindset defeated the purpose of the challenge. I pretty quickly said to myself that “I want to run so hard that I have to dig deeper than I have ever dug before just to complete the 24 hours.” This meant that from the start the pace was aggressive, there were no planned drinks breaks and any feeding time would be done on the move so I could still be getting meters whilst getting food on board. I was all in, that was the plan.
5 hours 22 minutes in and I have done 50km! Hang on a minute I thought to myself! I need a new target here! 11 hours in and I have run 100km around this 400m track confirming that my new target of 211km was the right thing to head for. “Why 211km?” you ask, because that is 5 marathons back to back and it had a nice ring to it. Of course at 5 hours 22 I could have said, “oh wow, I’ve got this 201k no issue” but remember I want to see how deep I can go here, why do something comfortable, whats the learning in that going to be…would I later eat my words?
The support I received leading up to the event, during the 24 hours and in the days after has literally blown me away. There are some truly amazing people in this world and from the bottom of mine and Holly’s heart thank you so much. People coming at the end of long work days, people sacrificing time with family and friends to support me, people basing their weekend plans around my run. It was just mind blowing how kind and supportive people were. On top of that how inspiring so many people are. People rocked up and ran marathons, 50km stints, half marathons, 10kms and 3kms, some of them hit those distances for the first time, that inspires me more than I can explain. One thing that is still a challenge is remembering who came and at which time and how long they stayed for, I am sorry if I ask you that question a few times, there are a lot of stages of the 24 hours that seem to have merged into one.
Life and ultra is constantly serving us surprises isn’t it and my first one came around 4 hours in where I started getting a feeling in my feet I had never felt before. On reflection is makes sense as I had never run for so long with the same even repetitive motion that the track serves up, smoothness all the way. It was achy and with each step got more achy. I changed my shoes and socks which mentally helped but in reality I was just trying to ignore the issue. My strategy for these things is simple. Recognize the issue, reject that it will stop you from achieving the goal and in doing so make a fast plan of what you are going to do next. I quickly came to point 3 and continued running. 13 hours in I am on the physio bed and fortunately I had talked my physio Nik Jordan into coming for a run and he was on hand to relieve the pain somewhat or was it that something else was taking over.
I have very limited recollection from 2am until sunrise. I know there were people there and I know I kept running. I know Lee Ryan was trying to keep things under control but I also knew I was in the thick of it, you could say I had just stepped into the ring with satan. I spoke very little to anyone. This was it, this was what I was looking for, this was the war, this was living, this was why I was here, this was my choice and I was going to choose to win this war. It was honestly like something of a trance, it may have been a trance, who really knows, we never will. And then out of no where I told Lee the sun was rising, two laps later and I was reborn, there are actual pictures of me laughing, I was a new person. Satan had gone, I had won the war, or was it just a short battle. Anyone who does not believe in the power of being up early and taking the energy of the early morning I am very sorry for you, its a real thing and on a number of occasions, today being one, it saved me big time.
If you know me you know I am a geek for the numbers, they motivate me and keep me focused and when you are running round in circles, don’t have much desire to speak too much, you need something to focus on. So it was 30 minutes anti clockwise then 30 minutes clockwise for 24 hours. I remember at the first direction change I said out loud “1/48th done!” Winning. Celebrate those small wins yeah!! Around 8am with 7 hours 39 minutes to go I knew we were on track for over 211km, however I also knew the pace I needed to keep and this part of the challenge would take some special gears which I was confident I had. My pace had been pretty solid between 6:15-6:30 per KM thus far, a few treatment breaks and a few toilet breaks had eaten up some time but I was in good shape speed and time wise. It was a strange feeling 6 hours out thinking to myself “just another 6 hours at 6:20 pace and you are all good.” It was only 6 hours, I had 18 in the bag, easy peasy right? Well technically yes but we live in the moment and I had to play what was in front of my face. For the next 3-4 hours (as far as I can remember) I held the pace, however It came at a cost, that cost was pain as the pain gauge started to rise and make this a real challenge, and things got a bit feral for me.
Something that I do not condone and am not overly proud of is the use of pain killers in sport. I want to make it clear that I have used them before and will use them in future. Whilst I never have and never will use any illegal substance over the counter pain killers are widely used in many sports and ultra running is included. At hour 12 I had my first voltaren to try and ease the pain in my feet. From then to the end I had 6 voltaren which is very un healthy but I feel you should know. It was quite surreal at one food stop being given (on request) a snickers bar, a voltaren and a coffee. Yes at times Ultra is somewhat of a parallel universe.
Running with the number of people that were around was amazing and for the most part very helpful but there are certain people that I have had the honor to have help me in some situations that just know what to do and when to do it, what to say and when to say it, it’s almost an art form. Lee had done an incredible job during the night, taking thinking away from me and then sometime (I wish I knew when) in the morning Tom Walker turned up. You may be surprised to know he has “crewed” for different endurance events around the world so knows whats up and I am thankful I had him for the last 10k of my 30 marathons as well as for the last few hours today, his role is key and he had the game of his life for me today. Thanks mate.
Holly asked me a few days before the event what the plan was and stated she wanted to be there the whole time! She had never been at one of my challenges for “the whole time” and I was immediately uneasy. How do I handle this I thought to myself! She has seen me at some of my lowest, we have been together 16 years so it is nothing about me not wanting her to see me destroyed it’s more I know how much it upsets her when she sees me in extreme pain and given the fact that the plan was extreme pain I wanted to try and avoid this. I explained that to her but she was insistent that she would be there….and she was for the whole 24 hours which is a remarkable feat in itself I think. What is more remarkable is that she (despite having hardly run for 15 months due to her knee surgery) ran a total of 21km with me over the 24 hours. She was amazing along with Arash and Clarky (who were there pretty much the whole time) in ensuring I had everything I needed when I need it. Without those three this would not have been possible. Thank you!
90 minutes before the end my world changed, I was having new sensations on so many levels I don’t even know how to describe it. My legs were shaking almost uncontrollably even when I was running. The pain was just unique and it seemed to move from head to toe. One second I felt amazing, the next it was excruciating, hard to describe really. Did something go wrong? Had we done something wrong? Unless you class pushing my body as hard as I possibly could as doing something wrong then I think we did everything the best we could. I ate well, I drank well and I kept a consistent pace….maybe this is just what happens when you have been running for 22 hours 30 minutes in circles.
Tom took me into the toilet where I rapidly took my shorts down and sat on the toilet and laid with my back against the toilet wall. Sat there shivering, shaking and wandering what the hell was going to happen next I tried to focus which was not easy, out of the corner of my right eye I caught sight of the butt hose, grabbed it, put it over my head and pulled the trigger to release the water, cap and sunnies still on. I could have been sat there for 30 seconds or it could have been 5 minutes I have no idea, all I knew was this was everything I wanted and somehow could not wait to get out and finish off the last hour and a half, how I was going to do that was not a consideration at that stage. Breathe deep I thought as I made my way out to the track to a huge applause. Who are these people I thought to myself as for a split second I had no idea where I was or what was happening until I heard Tom saying “lets go left mate and start off walking”. That walk became a very slow run after about 200m to another huge applause from the supporters that had gathered. Wow I thought. These people have come to see me running, we have around an hour left and I can hardly walk. Another new feeling but nothing I could do anything about. I needed all of my energy and focus to put one foot in front of the other. Of course in my head I had planned the last hour to be fast, or faster than 6:15 per KM anyway. I wanted to finish on fire and fly over the finish line but things don’t always pan out that way I guess.
As 24 hours elapsed I barely shuffled over the finish line for the final time with 206.9km on my watch and I immediately turned round to hug Holly. One of my friends asked me if I cried. My honest answer is I do not know, I felt something like I have never felt before to which he replied, “you were thinking you’ve never felt so alive but also want to die. Quite the conundrum” I can’t find a way to sum it up better that’s 100% how I was feeling, it was wild. As I came into the final straight with all that support behind me and people lining either side of the track even in my slightly fatigued state it was once again very clear what a special group of people we have in our InnerFight community, during my war they were there and brought me home. Thank you everybody.
I literally fell onto the physio table and was rapidly treated by Dr T and Nermeen who along with Lizzie (all from DISC) have been amazing support and energy for me for so long and I am very thankful they were there at the end.
Wow. 24 hours running around a 400m track is pretty wild folks, I don’t think it’s for everyone but I think it’s for more people than actually know its for them. Maybe try it one day. I may give it another shot when the time is right and hit that 211km, lets see.
What’s next………after I have personally thanked every single person that supported me on this challenge and replied to every message people have been so kind to send me……I am excited about closing the year out spending more time with Holly and helping more people live the very best lives they can because I know what feeling “alive” felt like during that 24 hours and I just want to share that with as many people as I can.
I love you Mum, Dad, Claire and Holly.
For now please continue to #RUNSTRONG
No weakness ever.