So I need to write about possibly the greatest weekend of my life and make it interesting for everyone else too. The World 24hr Running Championships in Steenbergen Holland and the first chance for me to wear the hallowed GB vest. Surreal doesn’t quite cover it… Bloody unbelievable? Phantasmagorical… I don’t even know what that means, but it may do.
After running 231km in Barcelona last December I had the chance to try and recreate, or better, that amongst some of the greatest 24hr runners in the World (including the best of all time, Yiannis Kouros, but more of him later) and boy was I going to take this chance. My training had PB written all over it, I felt good, felt strong, but now I had to come with the goods in the day. I couldn’t wait!
We flew out on the Thursday, Micky Seymour, the best thing to come out of plumbing since Mario and Luigi, and I jetted out and spent the day in Amsterdam where we drank coffee, ate sweets and had a peek at the naughty ladies (I’m not wasting my energy on them before you say anything). We met up with the squad and headed down to Bergen Op Zoom, the location of our Athlete’s Village. Athlete’s Village, hell yeah, I felt like Usain Bolt! I even took the chance to get in on the Japanese team photo and then run off before they noticed!
After an easy night I was up for breakfast but the world of International Sport was calling and I had been called for a doping test. I’m no fan of needles but I loved this, the fact that my sport was important enough to warrant these essential features of modern day athleticism. Only Big Time Charlie’s get dope testing and they wanted little me? This is how you pass a drugs test Lance, you twat.
With a sore arm but a sense of pride I now had to carry the flag at the front of the GB team for the opening ceremony and parade. Oh what a great honour my teammates had put on my shoulders, I thought. Turns out that carrying a flag for over an hour before race day is just something they wanted to avoid! Ha! I’ll carry it every time if needs be, I loved it, struggling to keep a childish grin off my face.
On race day we headed down as a team, with the likes of John Pares, Paddy Robbins, Steve Holyoak, Matt Moroz, Lizzy Hawker, Emily Gelder, Sharon Law, Debs M-C and Karen Hathaway we had a strong team, both male and female. The pressure had been put on the girls before the race but they had some strong personalities who were going to go for gold on race day, there was even talk of World Records.
Wearing the GB vest and 2 pairs of shorts, just to make the most of it, we set off at 12 and people were flying! The Latvians were on a bloody mission, Matt Moroz was off with Lizzy Hawker at the front and Yiannis Kouros seems to be out to try improve his own records as I tried to mimicking his style from behind, albeit with somewhat limped wrists.
I settled into a wee jog, enjoying the company of the other athletes and plodding along, I wanted to maintain 11k per hour for the first 12 and then slow it down a bit so I dealt with 1k at a time and got on with it. The rain started. It was going to be a long night, but I felt NICE.
The pictures of the night are somewhat limited, mainly due to the pleasant, intermittent, torrential rain and the morale sapping hail. The forecast midweek had me worrying about overheating, the actual weather had me more concerned about drowning, I’m not the tallest of chaps.
Chucking on my La Sportiva Goretex Active Shell Jacket ASAP really saved my bacon that night. Runners were getting cold and having a torrid time, although it was no worse than a British Spring night (I.e. awful), the number of competitors out on the course reached a noticeable low during the evening as great runners had to take shelter and rewarm. The increased stress on the body of a 24 hour race leaves you much more susceptible to other factors you would usually jog off. I reached 130k in 12 hours, bang on target. Now to relax a little and ease to a 100 mile p.b.
At the 100 mile point Paddy Robbins was leading up the way for Team GB and reached a 100 in less than 15, a monster effort. Paddy’s night was not to be a good one though and he suffered in the small hours, having to take a break and having no energy. Unusual for such a strong runner who usually gets quicker as the race goes on but a pit of proof that he’s actually human and not an android set back in time to conquer the Grand Union Canal Race for the good of mankind.
At this point only Steve Holyoak and myself were out on the course for the men’s team, whilst Lizzie and Emily were having a bad day at the office for the ladies. Debs and Karen were plugging away and Sharon Law was cheerfully bouncing her way through the women’s rankings. The only bad point of Sharon doing so well was the infrequency with which I saw her in this race, normally jogging along with a row of men reluctant to overtake or trying to chat her up. Always a pleasure Sharon ;)
Food wasn’t going down too well at this stage but I was still munching some oranges and Cliff Shot Blocks, whilst vomiting every now and again. Morning was coming and it would soon be business time, time to get my act together and start pushing on!
About 19 hours in, fuelled by plenty of flat coke, I was feeling good and started to put in some quicker laps. It was at this point I considered the gamble. I felt good so should I pace it out steadily until the finish, still some 5 hours away, and hope that it all held strong or should I smash the hell out of it now, in the present? My legs haven’t been an issue in races, just my fuel, so I could move quickly and decided to go for it. Make hay whilst the suns shines (or not) as they say.
The next few hours were wonderful, I was lapping people, including Yiannis Kouros, and I felt real strong. Cor Blimey, I even posted my fastest laps of the race about 22 hours in! I was actually lapping the race leader, Jon Olsen, although he had a healthy lead by now, it helped with my confidence. Could I keep this up until the finish?
Alas, it wasn’t to last. I keeled over half way round a lap and threw up about 2 litres of Coca Cola, much to the delight of the nearby photographer who was snapping away. I haven’t seen the photos but if they come up on some fetish site could people let me know…
The last two hours were just a situation of hanging on and moving forward. John Pares, Paddy and Lizzy Hawker were all back on course and all moving round. Even Matt Moroz was putting the odd lap in to boost morale. It was a solid team effort and Steve Holyoak was doing the boys proud with a steady, mature, excellent race. The girls were chomping round too, with Karen, Debs and Sharon all adding to great over night totals.
I had the pleasure of running my penultimate lap with Chisholm Deupree, a wonderful American runner who helped me when I was feeling low, in return for the encouragement I had given during the race. A real moment that reminded me why I loved ultra running so much. We’re all in this pile of shit struggle together, we’ll get through it.
Happy to finish my last lap near the start, I plodded round for a final one with a Union Jack across my shoulders, but Paddy had other ideas. The “A” standard for qualification was 239km, my last lap was 238.3 or something like that and Paddy was going to drag me kicking and screaming to that A standard. I smashed it round, slapping a few hands but I’d played up to the crowd the lap before, now we had something to aim for. The feed station was crowded with supporters but Paddy went first and was my battering ram. We knew it would have to be past the support tents but where that magical 239 point was, we did not know.
I gave everything I had left and sprinted until that final buzzer went. Once again I knew my legs had much more in them, much more. It is just a case of finding out how to get the fuel in. I crashed to the floor as the horn went, half tempted to throw my finishing marker as far into the distance as I could manage ( which would have been about 8 inches), I just laid it down on the floor next to me. If it wasn’t enough, then oh well, we’d tried.
Mick was there at the finish shortly, and solely to test the quality of Adidas’ waterproof top, I let out a flood of tears, emotion had got too much for me again, but they were tears of joy. The top worked, Mick stayed dry, and I recovered to let people know “I’m not crying, it’s just been raining on my face”.
239km? Did I make? Did I care? I went and sat down next to Sharon.
She had just set a new PB and a Scottish Record. Enough to secure the 3rd Place in the European Championships individually and the girls took 2nd i the European team event. Brilliant performance! The Team GB performance of the day in my eyes. Steve Holyoak was the top GB runner with 246 km. Great effort.
My results finally came through and it was 239.008km. Ha! I had made it by 8 metres! The first thing I had thought…I wish I’d of known, I could have collapsed 8 metres earlier! That last lap was more painful than anything I had ever done but I would do it again in a heartbeat.
At the end of the day it couldn’t have been done without the great support of my friends and family, the GB support crew, especially Micky Seymour and Richard Brown, the great team out there, all the other runners and everyone supporting back home on Twitter and Facebook. Thanks everyone!
What next? Spartathlon is the next big one, end of September with hopefully some other smaller ones in between. For Team GB? Next World Champs next year, I don’t mind if I do!