Sunday, 26 April 2015

IAU World 24 Hour Championships 2015 - Torino

Date: Saturday 11 April 2015

Location: Parco Ruffini, Turin, Italy

Event: World 24 hour championships, European 24 hour championships and Italian 24 hour championships. 

Reason: No other pressing weekend plans and/or insanity.

Course: A lap of a bouncy blue athletics track, an incline up through a tunnel out of the athletics stadium, some long straights along footpath around the outside of the stadium, some long tree-lined straights along road around the outside of the stadium, a cheeky road hairpin, some more road and then a decline back through the tunnel into the athletics stadium. Total distance = 2km (although the first lap was 1.7km). I quite liked it. 

The New Zealand Team: Kim Allan, Vivian Cheng, Valerie Muskett, Wayne Botha, John Bayne, Graeme Butcher, Brian McCorkindale and myself. A good looking bunch indeed with loads of various experience. 

My crew: Scott. Poor soul. 

New Zealand flag bearer. Well proud.

Pre race

There's some minor drama when I realise that I have not planned how to get my chip onto my lock laces. Fortunately, I have a ribbon in my pocket and we use that to tie the chip on in an unprofessional and slightly precarious manner. I am then only left with white ribbons and Scott does a stellar job of tying in a few bows that lasted the distance. Every time I went over a timing mat I looked at my shoe to check that my chip was still on. Debbie M-C pops her head in while I am in the middle of a thorough vaseline application. She doesn't want to shake hands. She does want a bit of of my Osmo preload though. I probably led to her running a personal best.
Team New Zealand; Graeme Butcher, Kim Allan, Brian McCorkindale, Vivian Cheng, Valerie Muskett, Wayne Botha, me and John Bayne
Who wears short shorts?

And the 500 runners are off

The running

There are loads of us. Something like 350 world championship runners and over 100 open runners. For hours I run feeling awkward as I go slow but know that it is not slow enough. I also feel awkward because my shorts are tiny. I get a drink every half hour which prompts me to eat my HoneyStinger chews. Each hour, I get a 300ml Nathan handheld with snacks in the pocket. I carry this for one lap and hand it back to Scott. It all works pretty well and for the first six hours I don't struggle with eating. I am also eating ginger to help with my dodgy stomach. I hate ginger. Even when it is covered in chocolate, it is still fowl. It's pretty warm but that's not bothering me too much. The heat is enhancing the smell from the port-a-loos though which start to reek from about an hour in. There's also a patch that the men keep using to pee and now that stinks. Later on the race organisers tape that area off. I love that they took the effort to do that but didn't bother replacing the toilet tissue in the port-a-loos. 

For a few hours I tail Great Britain's Isobel Wykes who was so kind to me at the Perth 100km a few years back. Back when I was fit and slim. She has battled a fear of flying to get here and I refuse to pass her as she's faster than me. There is some chat with foreign runners who are intrigued as to how old I am and then disappointed to find out that I am not 16. Sorry about that folks. I wish I was still that young too. Another one of Great Britain's runners is Emily Gelder and she's a right laugh. It is a split race between those who are well focused and those of us who are just doing our best to maintain a positive attitude and some dignity despite whatever our current problems are.  

For a number of laps I run with Emma, from the Australian team. It is good to have someone to run with and get a bit of down under banter. Unfortunately, Emma is feeling the heat. Not a good sign when an Australian is feeling the heat. We do discuss important matters in life though, such as how good a satisfactory toilet break can be. 
Gosh my legs hurt. Those so well rested legs are of no benefit now. At least I am out here. Stay positive. I am so lucky to be out running with all these great people. I feel it too.

I am not the best runner out there. I am not even in the top half. So instead I focus my energies on being the crowd favourite. Scott and I chose to stay at an apartment close to the park. I enjoy being able to spread out my kit, wander about in my pants and prepare food. The lady who owns the apartment came out to cheer creating an influx of others cheering out my name. It helps that Antonia is Italian and said beautifully in the Italian accent. At the second corner outside of the stadium are a large group of supporters. They sing, wave and high five. Once they get wind of my name, they start screaming as I come down the straight and don't stop until I am out of sight. The support from the open runner's support crews along the last straight before the athletics stadium is also incredible. I am a local celebrity. Take that, you fast runners. 

All this smiling is really starting to take a toll on my neck though. Like it really hurts. All my left-sided injuries are taking their turn at providing me with some dull pain which is the best I can hope for from them. I need to focus at keeping my head down; a hard thing to do when there are so many fans to wave at. The boy who held the New Zealand sign at the opening ceremony is out cheering now with his family. Don't want to let the wee fellow down. 
Everyone say cheese (and then get a really sore neck)


The plodding

The race started at 10am which I thought was great. Not too much pissing about in the morning. After nine or so hours it becomes difficult to calculate the actual time. I want to make sure I put extra layers on before I get cold this year. Some parts of the course are hotter than others so I spend an hour feeling both hot and cold. After about 10 hours I decide to take a seat to eat and put on a Pearl Izumi base layer and some capris. My team mate's support, Ilaria, is a sports masseuse and she gives my legs a good rub as I sit. I am not stopped long and promptly smacked on the bottom to get out of the tent. 
Celebrating 100km

At around midnight, we're treated to some excitement on the course as the port-a-loos get emptied. This causes much conversation and we're all eager to try out the new, cleaner versions. When there are only 10 toilets for 500 runners in a 24 hour race, these pleasures are never going to stay long. 

In another two hours I have a porridge break. I tell myself to run until the porridge break (12 hours in) and then I will take another sit down. That dangerous time in the race has come; the bargaining time. I plod on determinedly for another two hours and am again not granted much sitting time. Before I am even out of the tent I am asking about the next timed creamed rice. I want to know when I can stop next. There's no creamed rice for ages but there's a cup-a-soup in another few hours. I will run until then. Fortunately, I get the privilege of running a few laps with Wayne which takes my mind off things. He's had a rough build-up too.    


The New Zealand team are struggling and although I don't know it, many other teams are struggling too. Runners are dropping like flies. Val and John have gone back to the hotel, Graeme and Viv are laying on the tent floor and Wayne and I are wrapped in blankets. 
Ilaria gives me a massage
Fake it 'till you flake it

The dawdling 

Maybe the race has been going for 15 hours or something. It's all feeling a bit hard and I decide to take a walking lap. In contrast to the recommended running strategy for a 24 hour race, I've been giving it my all on most laps and my legs are running out of steam. I am running out of steam. I've been intentionally heel striking as it relieves the pain from other injuries. Before the race, I promised Scott and my sister Olivia that if any injuries got bad I would not push it. This race was not worth it. Although I can feel the arrival of ultra runner's ankle on my left foot, I confess to Scott that the pain is not enough to stop me running but maybe I could do with a wee bit of walking. I put on extra layers; long tights, arm warmers and a jacket.
I don't start running again. 

After one lap of walking, I realise that I am far too cold. Another layer goes on, along with a headband, buff and gloves. Another runner tells me that there is a place where I can go to get warm and I am trying to convince Scott to let me go there. He doesn't know where it is. I meet him at the tunnel after doing another walking lap, The medics produce a foil blanket for me. A foil blanket? That's not what I want; I want an excuse to stop. So I wrap myself in the foil blanket for another lap walking. Considering I spent most of my training walking on a treadmill rather than running, you'd think I would be walking a bit faster. But no, I am the slowest on the course. And being the slowest means that I am very lonely. 


I'd like a hot drink but at the same time as I put on all my layers, the power blew and now not only is the athletics stadium dark but the kettles are not working either. There had been a fire and the fire brigade wanted to stop the race for a few hours. I would have backed them on that one. 
Wayne and I take a break for some modelling shots

Wrapped in my foil blanket I look a delight shuffling around the course. I get mostly compliments and one blasting from Debbie about being 'Scottish for f*** sake!' Technically I am warm enough but the core of me still feels cold. I also have to wrap myself tightly which makes walking difficult. I am not being entirely successful. Kim is pelting the laps out, having had a tough race and offers me a puffer jacket to wear so that I can move my arms better. Good call, and on it goes. I am now a vision in red. Graeme's wife, Brenda, tells me that if I move my arms my legs will follow. I move my arms rapidly for about one hundred metres before lazing back into a dawdle. 

In the darkness I spot GB runner, Karen Hathaway, talking to the pavement. I force her to listen to my dribble for the rest of the lap. Poor girl. She didn't run again after that. It was probably to avoid me.


The port-a-loos, despite their terrible state, are at least warm. Although mentally coherent, I am lacking in anyone to chat with. With my loss of bladder control (why does it happen?!) I fear that I will fall asleep in a warm port-a-loo, thus not only hogging a valuable port-a-loo but also causing the team alarm at my absence. So instead I demand to be allowed a little rest in the tent. During the Thunder Run I had a four hour sleep and woke up again able to run so I decide to try that tactic. Unfortunately, I am just not that tired and I am too cold to sleep. Everyone in the tent is on board looking after me and I at least have the mental capacity to tell them that I am still cold and won't be leaving the tent until I am warm. When is the sun coming up? Those darn birds have been chirping for hours. 
Better make myself look ill; I don't want to be sent back out

I had hoped that after the extended rest I would be back running new again. Nope. Not this time. So I walk and walk and walk. There is nothing at all to walk for. There will be no personal best, no milestone achievement, I really should just be going back to the apartment. But I walk. It is good to cheer for those still out. People clap for me but they shouldn't; my race is over. I gave up. I have no excuse. 

Occasionally I attempt a run but it doesn't work. It just doesn't happen. Kim is still looping like a trooper. With an hour and a half to go, I walk into Great British athlete and fellow Team Nathan UK team mate, Fionna Ross. My mind is saved by walking the rest of the race with her.  We waste time as I constantly de-layer. Then we stuff around further with a wee toilet adventure and the search for some secretly stashed toilet tissue.

The fans are back out; some even running backwards around the course. I feel embarrassed. I can still smile but I am just walking. We power walk a lap to get in another lap before the hooter but it is not much to be proud of. 

Thanks to Kim for the red jacket


The reflection

No excuses; I gave up. If I had run 181km and kept going the whole time, that would be ok. It would ok if through a lack of training that is all I was capable of. But that wasn't the case. My heart just wasn't in it. I wasn't willing to keep trying. I am disappointed. I feel bad. I will move on. And hey, it's not a bad base fitness level to have.
A huge congratulations to all those who stormed the race. There was even one runner with two broken arms! Epic achievements. Thanks to Team New Zealand for being awesome Kiwis. A big thank you to Scott who put up with me fretting about all the little decisions that were never going to make up for any lack of training (but never actually saying that to me)! Thanks to my big sister, Olivia, who although couldn't travel to Italy because of the pesky chemo, provided me with sound advice and reminds me to keep life in perspective.
And then yesterday I ran 53 miles in the Highland Fling with Scott which isn't too shabby after powering out a good 12-hour race two weeks ago. Must have been the eight hours of recovery walking during the race in Torino that helped out. Also, maybe I should stick to 12-hour racing?!

Enjoying our business class tickets on the return journey

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