Crewing for Kiwis in Katowice
Last September I jumped on Matt Bixley’s crew at the last minute for the Commonwealth 24-hour Championships in Llandudno, Wales. And I loved it. See Matt’s report on my excellent crew skills here.
Matt wasn’t running in the IAU World 24-hour Championships in Katowice, Poland this year but we had the pleasure of supporting two other New Zealand runners; Amy Campbell and Brendon Keenan. Both were running their first 24-hour races and neither we had met before. I suspected the party wouldn’t quite be like Glenmore but I booked my annual leave and was pumped. Last year Matt finished (and I suspect started) with a bruise up his entire shin. We didn’t see it until he took his long socks off. So my theory was that if he could run for 24 hours with that injury I wasn’t accepting a runner stopping for anything less! The other members of the team were Vivian Cheng, Valerie Muskett, Alex McKenna, Wayne Botha and Bryan McCorkindale.
We met the team the night before the race and discussed the diva requests that were likely to come up. My role was to look after Amy, and she was cruisy. I saw Debbie, Sharon and Adrian from the British team at the opening ceremony. They do think I take some odd holidays! We then proceeded to the pasta party where Italians stole the plates.
At the course the next day the port-a-loos ran out of toilet paper before the race began. Have I sold you on ultra-running as a sport yet? I want to say that this would never happen at the Olympics. However I did go to Olympic Park and given that they ran out of beer and numerous other things, I suspect that they also ran out of toilet paper. It’s life as an athlete.
The course was approximately 1.5km around a park, with the support crews set up in a canvas tunnel. Countries are arguing over chairs, tables and general team space. Australia barely has any room. Although I should have a strong rivalry with Australia, my Commonwealth-crush Rick Cooke is part of the Australian team again so I’ll be screeching out for him too. We had some good banter at the pre-opening show and he’s already told me the location for the after-party.
The runners are calm. I am not. Last year Matt had given us a dozen spread sheets with numerous statistics and food intakes to record throughout. This year Amy gave me a pair of tracksuit pants in case I got cold :) I whip up a grid to record lap times because I’m jealous of everyone else’s.
The race starts but I’m not on the start line. Which is good, since I’m not part of the running team. Runners start coming round thick, fast and often. Amy asks for water.
We’ve discussed Nuun tablets but water?
She must mean Nuun.
Or does she just mean water?
I get a bottle of both to offer her.
She takes the water. Fair enough, that is what she asked for.
|Rick Cooke, Australia|
|Vibrant Russian, Vivian and Amy|
A few laps later she asks for a honey sandwich. She’s explained to me how she likes these. A piece of bread with honey on it. Lots of honey. But other people don’t think she’ll be able to eat it this way. Surely she needs a sandwich. Have I put too much honey on? It’s going to dribble off and make her hands sticky. Either she ended up with sticky fingers and she licked them clean or she shoved the entire piece of bread in her mouth in one go – either way, she never complained! That’s two close calls in the first hour though...
The New Zealand team is situated between the USA team and the Russian team, and opposite the Italian, German and French teams. There's a Russian woman running who is rather vibrant and well made up. See if you can spot her in the photos. The American runners come in shouting their names so that their managers and crews know that they are coming. But their managers and crews are never listening as they are always talking loudly about something. So then the German crew call out the name for the runner to get the Americans attention. ‘Mickey, Mickey, Mickey!’ It’s too late. He’s biffed a bottle and he’s gone. The German’s good deed is later repaid when their men’s team win.
Runners are passing out everywhere and being placed on drips, struggling to even sit upright. Then a few hours later those same runners are back whipping around the course. Dedication. Runners are starting to take head torches for use in the port-a-loos. I hear that they are a dangerous place. The canvas tunnel is a dark place. The French are using a hairdryer to dry their kit and they keep blowing the power. The Italians steal the light above our team.
Debbie and Sharon are both looking strong – I try to drop their names as much as possible throughout the weekend. Amy comes through the 100km mark at somewhere between 11pm and midnight. After this she goes through a bit of a dip but is still eating and drinking well. She comes zooming through a few laps later screaming ‘baby I’m back!’
Beer? I’m sorry did that German manager just offer their runner some beer? I feel like I’m letting down the New Zealand team a bit here. The German crew themselves are a bit drunk and making some awesome noise for their runners as they come through. I hear rumours that the Swedish are also drinking. The Russians keep brewing up some strong smelling hot drinks and I catch one Russian runner sitting down for a massage with a beer in his hand. The vibrant Russian lady sneaks in to reapply her lipstick.
New Zealand runner Bryan has been powering through so far but suddenly stumbles after some watermelon at the table and struggles off. He collapses further around the course and rules mean he can’t be touched. When he makes it back round to the tent he takes a seat for a while. When his daughter’s back is turned he nips out of the tent and back on the course! Crafty fella. Unfortunately he doesn’t make it round another lap but by then he’s already achieved a huge distance.
While Val runs she looks like an obedient runner, taking her drinks when told and keeping her head down and getting on with it. I love talking to her afterwards though and hearing her stories about throwing away food and walking behind bushes!
There’s a communal table with food that our table is being ditched in favour of. Brendon stumbles from this table to our table and looks straight through me. We are not to tell his wife that he’s in a wee bit of a state. She sends their churches prayers to him and he asks if it’s because he’s dying. Once he’s focused his vision he points his finger at me and says ‘next time I’m crewing for you.’ I shuffle him from the table onto the course. It’s a running race after all.
|Brendon stealing Amy's M&Ms|
Wayne doesn’t think it’s a running race though and comes in for a sleep. Later he comes onto the track to escort Vivian around. Vivian’s spirits are high but her legs are not working today and she’s had to come in a few times for massages. I quite fancy a massage too but nobody’s as keen to give me one…
By 5am I’m flagging and decide to hit the Red Bull. This leaves me more than buzzing and I’m bobbing up and down looking out for the runners. I like to think that by jumping on the spot I am training for my 24-hour race. Alternative training but it’s still time on the feet… Amy has some splendid power walking action happening. Debbie looks good. Sharon claims to be struggling but also looks good (I have photographic evidence that proves this). Alex has his turtle neck stance on and comes through 200km. We all start screaming in encouragement and the Germans (now recovered from their hangover) join in to encourage him also.
Mathematics is done and crews from all countries are working out how many laps each runner needs to run to reach their individual goal. We’re going to get Amy to 185km and Brendon to 195km. The runners are given sticks to drop once the finishing hooter goes off. When I give Amy hers I scream that she’s got a lap and a bit to go. She only needs one lap to reach 185km but I know that she has time to run further. There’s still ten minutes to go but everyone is screaming at all the runners coming through. The atmosphere is immense. The runners are either sprinting or walking. I’m getting a bit emotional – I’ve only just met these runners! At the Commonwealths the runners just hit the deck when the finishing hooter went off so I get round the course to meet Amy for the horn. She’s caught Brendan and neither hit the deck at the hooter. Job done.
|Amy after her first 24-hour|
|Wayne and Vivian|
|Debbie and Sharon - they did pose for a nice photo!|
I continue my international training the next day by getting lost and dragging my suitcase around the industrial outskirts of Katowice. After watching all the amazing athletes I feel less than adequate to give the 24 hours a go in just a weeks’ time!
Official results on the IAU website