Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Sri Chinmoy 24 Hour Race - Tooting Bec

Let's do another lap...

Eighteen months ago I didn’t even know 24-hour races existed. A year ago I crewed for Matt Bixley and watched my very first one. Things went downhill after that as I got sucked into their crazy circular world.

Training over the last three months had consisted of the following:

-          A handful of 15 minute jogs
-          Less than a handful of 30 minute jogs
-          Completing the Speyside Way
-          Learning to swim a mile
-          Increasing my stamina on the rowing machine to a whopping 15 minutes

It might not be the training schedule that you’d find if you googled ‘training for a 24-hour race’ but I worked with the body I had after a slow WHW recovery. In hindsight the Speyside Way might not have been the best idea for my whingeries but I’ll have a word with hindsight later.

I had an image of Athletics tracks as bouncy. They are not. They are just red and very, very flat. I fancy a good hill in my next one. And maybe a waterfall too. Waterfalls are nice to look at. Fences are not so interesting to look at. Going around in circles didn’t bother me too much though. Physical and other emotional aspects were causing me more grief.

Prior to the race I’d been given instructions to wear something that stood out so I’m decked out in purple. I might look blue in the pictures but I’m purple. The crew were given an instruction essay with the main points being; don’t tell about distances (until I ask) or placings, keep me on the track at all times, and get me to 100 miles. My friend Nicole, sister Olivia and brother-in-law Michael have all crewed for me before so they knew what they were working with. I’ve given Scott a well-deserved break from crewing.  

Last minute diva requests

We’ll just start running shall we? We’ve got a lot to cover.

As a reader you’ll be blind to positioning and distance just as I was. This isn’t a bad thing as it leaves more time to focus on the pain…

So we start with a trot. Actually some people fly off the front. Two laps in and a runner is down! Wait, it’s just the cameraman. Bother that means that not only have I just missed my money shot but I’ve clearly lost the plot already. I’m quite funny for the first few hours, joking about being a well-oiled machine with my mango moisturiser and smiling for the photos. I wish more people would lap me as I am more comfortable starting at the back. After four hours we turn around. I see people’s faces.

Body parts hurt from the beginning and I suspect it’s going to be a long run. I’m hoping for 24 hours. Matt Moroz and I start to chat and he gets me through many hours. He’d won the four-day Thames Challenge the weekend before so I’m really not sure why he wasn’t sitting down somewhere. He’s done so many exciting races this year that his banter was fantastic. Since the WHW he’s run the Lakeland 100, UTMB and the Thames Challenge. Three months later and I still haven’t recovered from the WHW! 

My crew cook me some custard and even manage to cool it and put it in an Ambrosia custard pottle. It is fantastic custard. At about seven hours in Olivia’s friends Vic and Tim arrive and the crew start on the wine. By this time I’ve lost Matt (it’s easy to take the wrong route on an Athletics track) and am feeling rather sorry for myself. I bark some diva requests regarding extra purple clothing. I’m worried I’m going to get into trouble with Adrian if I don’t put anything on! As I’ve got some time to kill I plod around the track taking my race number off the back of my vest top which is now under two other layers.  Such skill and it helps a few more minutes pass by.

Why is my back hurting? I don’t have back problems. I have knee problems, ankle tendon problems, and mind problems (we’ll just call them issues). I feel liquid under my right small toe. I hope that’s not blood because my shoes are clean and a stain won’t look good for the photos. Nothing visible appears through the shoe and a little while later the same happens on the left foot. A blister perhaps? I’ll be honest, that’s not one of the pains currently bothering me…

Someone wants a chocolate milkshake and potentially some chicken nuggets. I want a milkshake. A vanilla SlimFast. I’ve put the order in but my crew have been drinking and can’t get the foil cap off. Just punch your thumb through it! When a runner wants a milkshake, the runner needs the milkshake. Why isn’t that on a Nike t-shirt?

Let’s turn around again. Does anyone else get the feeling we're running around in circles? I’ve got a running/walking schedule going. Thankfully my crew can’t count and I’m getting to walk a lap early every time. Although I am left concerned that I’m the one failing to count correctly. I walk an extra lap because I want to have a chat with Geoff Oliver. He’s 79 and an obvious legend. He clocks over 100 miles in his 24-hour runs. Scott when you grow up can you be like him? 

I've got a bit of time to muck about

Some curry has been made but my crew inform me that it’s too hot for me. The smell makes me nauseous. I tuck into some M&S pasta. Unsure of how often to eat I just looked at when I ate on the WHW (at checkpoints) and have decided to eat approximately every two hours. This excludes Percy Pigs and his friends who can be consumed whenever I fancy. While I am taking the food regularly enough, I suspect I’m not eating enough of it.

I have a new lap counter. My first lap counter got a smile every time I went round. I really liked her. I stare at my new lap counter for ages as I jog past. I need to see what she looks like but my eyes can’t see very well so I just keep staring. I decide that she’s wearing a woolly hat. I’m surprised they didn’t pull me from the race thinking that I was losing it. Which I was.  My new lap counter is good too and I hope that she also got some smiles.

Coke time. I’ve stopped chatting to men. Does anyone love me? I am not getting any social media updates relayed. My work colleague Rosie wants me to update my blog. I don’t trust my crew’s spelling ability so won’t let them do it! Debbie M-C sends a high five which smacks my legs around a few more laps. Scott’s going to bed for a few hours – he’s at home but staying up most of the night in case I need an emergency feel-sorry-for-me phone call. Which I do but I’m getting a bit teary so I don’t think it’s a good idea yet. He has instructions to keep his phone on noisy. One night I was left out in the snow because his phone wasn’t on noisy enough… and I’m clearly not over it. And then I have a wee cry because of the snow. Snow is cold. And I am LOSING MY MIND.

So I decide I need to call my parents. It’s lined up but I reject it at the last minute because I’ve found Matt again and Jon Steele. Why is Matt still on the track? I’m selfish and he’s helping me so I don’t tell him for ages that it’s ok for him to have a sleep :) Jon’s running 50 ultras this year. I almost pass out. He’s also a personal trainer so technically I don’t think he ever gets a break from exercise. We turn around again. Everyone’s giggling about it.

Time for a hazelnut latte ground with Italian roasted beans I think. I get an instant coffee. It’s amazing. Well brewed team! It doesn’t really do the trick though because on the next lap I ask the people sitting outside the tent next to ours to let my crew know I went past. Turns out that it was Nicole. She’s only in a bright purple puffer jacket. Have I mentioned that I’m losing my mind/vision? 

I don’t look at the scoreboard throughout the entire race. I don’t want to know where I am or how far I have run. The lap counters are great too because they don’t tell me. I’m not sure if my crew asked them not to or whether they just picked up that I never asked but I was really pleased that they just let me run around in circles. Although the scoreboard is large and on the trackside it’s actually easy not to look at it when your eyes are blurring anyway. I’d rather not look at the time either but even my eyes can read that clock! So at 13 hours Matt and I do a celebration dance with our arms as that is the second longest I have ever run. That might be why I am hurting.

Jon is having a rest. Fair enough. Nicole is flirting with the current leader by offering him strawberries and fetching him coke. My cherished WHW buff makes its way onto my head. I probably didn’t need it but it makes me feel hard core. I knock back a red bull and start stomping around the laps. I feel like Matt and I are stomp sprinting. I suspect it doesn’t look pretty but it’s effective. There’s a dilemma with this 24-hour racing; do I run when I can or do I conserve until the last hour or two? I like to conserve but how do you conserve when there was nothing in the tank to begin with? Sometimes when I catch someone I tuck in behind them to slow myself down. There are rules with track running and the runners are really polite and keep moving out so I can go past. But I just want to go slower!

We’re going to turn around again soon. I’m looking forward to it. Why? There’s not a lot going on otherwise and the track starts buzzing as we all collide into each other going opposite directions. The birds start chirping before its light, Matt goes to sleep and I have a prolonged walk. I call my parents and wee sister and they read out all my facebook messages. I cry. I’m walking and bawling.

Adrian points to the 100 mile mark on the track. He tells me I’ve got to work for the goal. What? I don’t know how far I’ve run but to be honest I suspected that even if I walked until the end I’d reach 100 miles. I pick up my walking pace and tell Olivia that Adrian’s told me I’m going to have to work to get 100 miles. She looks concerned and says that I will have to speed up. She’s lying but I don’t know it. So I’m running. I’m going round and round and I’ve got determined wee legs. I have to get 100 miles. That’s about 161km and further than I’ve ever run. I’m here for that pb, injured or not.

About an hour later Adrian tells me I’ve got four more laps to run. I know that I should have realised that I misunderstood what Adrian had meant by the ‘aim’ but I’m not thinking very well and just assume I’ve run really fast.  I reach 100 miles in 19 hours and 16 minutes. I throw my arms up in celebration but they only make it halfway up because I’m a bit tired. 

100 miles

Walking again...

Another half an hour of running and that’s me claiming ‘spent’ and aiming for 180km before the 24 hours is up. Everyone’s just doing what they can around the track. Matt wakes up from his nap. Other crews and runners are really supportive. One supporter asks me if I would like to win. I reply with ‘no, not really’ and quickly tell my crew that I’m not interested in hearing about placings so they need to keep their mouths zipped. I am interested in hearing when I get to 170km though and this takes a really long time. 

From now on when I refer to running I’m lying. I should be saying walking as there was no more running until the last 30 seconds. And even that didn’t really count. I walk with a French lady Cecile and Pat. She’s 72 and I want to be like her when I grow up. These ladies give me a confidence boost and encourage me to just do my thing and reach my own targets. Later I give Cecile a big hug on my last lap because I am grateful for her support.

Ed Sheeran is Drunk on my MP3 player. I feel drunk too. It makes me giggle. Apparently Amy Campbell is having some drinks for me in New Zealand. My crew are also drinking. It’s a Sunday morning and we’re having a party. I’m dancing along; singing out of tune to some terribly outdated pop songs. Adrian wants me to run. So does my father. I try. I wobble. I think I’m going over! I stand bent over on the track with my crew flying at me from all directions. It’s all a bit of a blur but I don’t fall over. I wish I had. They might have let me stay there.

Bladder control has gone. This sport is very unglamorous. I’ve forgotten my name. I have a yellow jacket on now and run (remember I’m walking) through holding up my hand saying yellow jacket because I can’t remember what my lap counter looks like. She’s probably fallen asleep because it’s taking me so long to get round each lap. Later I’m wearing a black jacket and do the same thing. I never lose the ability to get my number and pins off my tops and pass them onto my crew for recycling though. It’s good to know that a skill like that remains intact despite me running away from most of my brain cells.

Not sure what I've achieved here but this is a celebration

The track is wet. My crew’s notes say it was raining. I just remember thinking that if I passed out I’d get wet on the track. People are packing up their tents. Does that mean it’s nearly over? No. I walk awkwardly on flanked by two huge men as body guards. I’m told I must walk as fast as Matt and Jon. I haul the legs forward one at a time. I can’t remember the conversation. At one point I stop and claim I’m going to go over. The boys coax me on.

Sometimes I hug people as I walk past. There are many of us walking. I’m crying again. I hold Bobby’s hand as I walk past him and we give each other weary smiles. I tell the crew I need the ladies’ room. It’s a lie. I’m going to hide in the bathrooms so everyone will leave me alone. Even better, I’m going to hide in the men’s toilets. They won’t find me. Ahaha, they think I’ve lost the plot but I must be razor sharp still. Brilliant idea. By the next lap I’ve confessed my lie. I didn’t have the energy to walk off the track to the bathroom building anyway.

I don't remember it being this fun
With a 20 minutes to go I’m informed that I can reach 190km but I have to keep walking fast. Matt knows how fast we are going each lap and we can make it but I have to stay steady. I’ve never been so proud of myself for walking. To be honest, I wouldn’t have cared if I’d missed the 190km mark but I keep walking for it anyway. We get our sandbags as we reach the new target.  When 30 seconds is called I start to jog because I want to be jogging when the hooter goes. It’s slower than my walk but at least I tried. It’s over. I give Matt a hug.  I couldn’t give him one earlier because I would have had a breakdown. My crew bring me a chair and I sit on the track. Please don’t ever do this Dad. It’s awful. 

Yay! And then waaaaaa

I talk gibberish rubbish in the changing room to Bhauliya Moss and Helen James. They are both calm and doing things sensibly. I’m trying to lie down while Nicole and Olivia are trying to dress me. The showers aren’t working in the ladies but I have baby wipes. I think this is genius. Everything is really blurry. I get given a drink from the Run and Become ladies. Mmm, watermelon. I always get really cold when I finish so I’ve got layers and blankets and hats and gloves. I take a seat for prize giving but get taken back into the warmth of the changing rooms.

At prize giving I get a huge trophy for being second lady. Wow, I thought I was about fifth lady. I’m also eighth overall which is even cooler. I can’t stand up to get the trophy. Ann Bath broke the world record for her age group. Wow. Geoff looks dapper in his suit. I remember clapping and smiling and laughing between yawns but I was struggling with sitting. I get shuffled back into the changing rooms and pass out on the floor under blankets and sleeping bags. My legs get elevated and an hour or so later I get woken up. Don’t move me, I’m so warm! 

Most people have left and there’s just a few organisers left packing up. It’s thrashing with rain. I’m getting in a taxi and sleeping again. We are on a train heading for Brighton and I’m so happy to see Adrian on the train as well. I feel guilty for walking so much at the end. I never slept or sat down though. He laughs as I’ve still got my race number on my rain jacket.

There’s a long line of decently dressed people at the taxi rank in Brighton station. I can’t stand by myself so get placed at a seat at the front of the line looking like a homeless person with my pale face, woolly hat and covered in a blanket. I haven’t eaten but I’m hungry. I try an asparagus cup-a-soup. Everyone feels like asparagus after an ultra don’t they?  I spend the next 12 hours bent over and crawling to the bathroom. I’m too emotional to talk to anyone on the phone.

Olivia has to help me on the train the next day because I can barely walk and definitely can’t manage my baggage. Nicole gets through the barriers in London to help me with the train change and feed me lunch. I want to get a bottle of wine for my in-laws as I am staying at theirs tonight but I can’t walk to the wine store. I’m helped off the train in Doncaster and burst into tears. I sit on a vibrating massage chair, inhale a glass of wine and get waited on. The three trains I had to take the next day due to flooding were undesirable. I probably could have done without the seven hour journey. But I held myself together and ignored the weird looks I was getting from business travellers. I guess it’s not every day they see a young girl clad in lycra tights full of holes, running shoes, a giant fleece and an inability to walk without seriously bent knees. They were the same shoes I’d run in as well because I couldn’t get my other pair on. My second train had to stop due to a cow on the track. I’d like to know where that cow was when I wanted to stop during my race. I go to work in my inappropriate attire and ask the parents of the wee Autistic girl I work with if I can share Percy Pigs and his friends with her. I’m afraid I’ll pass out in the session if I don’t have the sugar. 

Wine, trophy and massage chair
Wine makes up the majority of my diet for the next week. Sushi and chocolate get eaten for breakfast and crisps get consumed with the wine for dinner.

A week later and strangers don’t think I’m walking properly. I can tell because they stare at me. I think I’m doing great because I can walk unaided. I told me crew to keep me on the course and break me. I broke myself. My biggest rookie error? I forgot to enjoy the pain. Yesterday a stranger had to help me on the exercycle at the gym when I cycled very slowly for 20 minutes.  But hey, my trophy is massive :)

A massive thank you to the race organisers and other runners. It was a really great event. By far, the hardest run I’ve done but many of you told me so :) Apologies to my lap counters for passing out on the floor of the changing room as I wanted to thank you all personally at the end. You must have thought that I was well moody – smiling one lap, bawling the next! Thank you to Matt and Jon who I believe sacrificed achieving further distances to run/walk me through the many dark times. It’s hard to crew for someone when they are not running well so a huge thank you to Nicole, Olivia and Michael. Not only for putting up with me during the run but for putting up with the terrible state I was in afterwards!

I don’t think I would have run any further had I trained but I wonder if it would have hurt less and if my recovery would be a bit quicker. Shall we have another go and find out? :) It’s scary how much an attitude can change from during the race to post-race.

Oh and hindsight? You can piss off. I did a good job. 


  1. Brilliant... What an Amazing Effort.

    Enjoy a big Long Rest.


  2.'ve done it again! What a fantastic recount of your first 24 hour race....felt as if I was running with you! Ha ha!! Well done girl x

  3. You had me at whingeries

  4. Hi.. it was me that got brought the chicken nuggets, chips and chocolate milkshake, and boy did they go down well, it was just what the body needed.. I desperatly wanted 100miles, i got to 80, this was my first proper attempt at a 24hr.. so room for improvement.. Well Done to you.. I remember you sitting there during the presentation all wrapped up :)

    1. Ohhh fabulous, nice to meet you Gary! Thanks for requesting the milkshake - mine went down a treat too! I was a mess throughout the race so I probably should have been prepared for the body shut-down afterwards. You'll get the 100 next time :) Hope that the recovery is going well.

  5. Enjoyed reading this. You are totally bonkers!

  6. Thanks for the brilliant chronicle of your adventure, really enjoyed reading about the highs and lows. You are a legend lady - well done!

  7. Brilliant, loved the report and well done on a great run! Caroline x

  8. cant believe its taken me so long to read this. Brilliant, i felt every step, ok maybenot ;)
    well done Antonia, we were trackin you all day, i'm well proud

  9. Thanks all! Still recovering and jealous of your running :)

  10. Hey pretty lady! Finally got round to reading your report...and it was worth the wait. Brilliant write up of a fantastic race. I'm sure you'll appreciate why I look like a zombie sometimes now. Hope to see you soon. xxx

  11. Brilliant write up. And I'm in awe. Give me 40 hrs of fell over 24 hrs of track any day. (so why is there this little voice at the back of my head whispering "but maybe...").

  12. Just reread this blog post, awesome stuff!

    Just sent a friend a link to it too, I'm rallying some other fools to come down and have a go this coming year.

    I'm so looking forward to The Worlds but there's no way I can't do Tooting too. Simply too nice an event to miss!


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