Friday 7 July 2017

World 24 Hour Champs, Belfast

Always an honour and privilege to wear the GB vest.  Always a pleasure to be part of a tight-knit and super-talented bunch of wonderful people. But more so, it was a huge relief to be selected to represent GB at the World 24 Hour Champs in Belfast.  After my tragic effort at last year’s European 24-hour Championships, I needed some redemption.  Some closure. 

With Nigel Holl and Donna Fraser from British Athletics
Running for 24 hour around a one mile loop - weaving between 400 people on the course – is an acquired taste.  As a race concept, it’s probably the most physically, mentally and emotionally demanding of them all.  It’s a massive battle of will.  Just you and a clock.  A race with no finish line requires a lot of drive to keep moving. 

On paper, it looks simple.  Everyone thinks they can run qualifying distances.    Super slow running on mostly flat and looped course, with copious amounts of support and no navigation or mandatory kit required.  How hard can it be?  Most who venture into the crazy world of 24-hour fall way short of their target.  Not because they’re not talented enough, but because they don’t respect, understand or require the mental strength. 

I was mentally prepared for the race.  Well, I wasn’t dreading it, so that was a pretty good start.  I was fired up and ready to give it everything.  One last time.  Bow out with style - like Obama’s drop the mic.  Last year, if I’m honest with myself, I’d lost my heart and head for 24-hour running.  I just expected it to fall in line with all the other fun races I wanted to do.  I wasn’t complacent, just now committed. When things started to go wrong, I just didn’t want it anymore.  Stupidly I thought anything less than a PB was a waste of time.

Bombing out was the kick up the ass I needed.  I was distraught for weeks after that and vowed never to feel that way again.  Of course races are always going to go belly up, but I will never walk away thinking I hadn’t given it my very best. 

The race started well.  I was relaxed and in control.  I was placing last in the team ranking, but that was fine.  I was sticking to my plan and was confident and experienced enough to know if would come good in the end.

After a few hours, my stomach problems started.  Again.  I can’t get to the bottom of this (pardon the pun) but running in circles and on roads kills me stomach.  From about 4-8 hours, there were quite a lot of emergency stops.   Last year, I caved to it and let it destroy me.  This time, there was no way it was going to break my spirit.  With Renee we did everything we could to work through it.  Medicine, ginger and lots of fluids.

I was losing time/distance, but I tried to stay positive.  Unfortunately with a 24 hour it’s about control, staying strong and then hanging tough at the end.  I was hanging tough from four hours. 

I felt wiped, but my head was good.  I didn’t get the angry/frustrated mental way I can usually do on looped course.  Whenever anything nasty crept into my head, I took a few deep breaths, cleared my mind and brought everything back to a neutral zone. 

I’m a firm believer you can control your mood.  I didn’t necessary need to be in a great mood, just not an angry or sad one.  Smiling.  I made sure I smiled a lot.  I made an effort to communicate with people or even acknowledge words from spectators.  I was all out of internal energy, so I was taking it from external sources. 

The support around the course was amazing.  There were a huge bunch helping the open race who were on their feet all night, expending way more energy than those in race.  Dancing, high-five, Mexican waves and playing the best party tunes ever!  Of course Johnny Fling and Noanie’s makeshift Woodstock festival was just brilliant. 

I was having a really tough day out there, but some of my team mates were having it much worse.  The carnage from around 12 hours was the worst I’d ever seen.  Marco, James, Robbie, Sharon and Beth were all having problems and would either stop or drop back considerably.

I didn’t get annoyed with the loops.  Actually I thought the course was the best I’ve run on.  I’ve heard a few moans about the camber and the hard concrete surface, but I’d be lying if I used them as an excuse for poor performance.  My feet paid the price of the flat surface, but no more than usual.  My quads ached, but no more than usual.

The final hour
The timing system going down around didn’t help the situation.  I was wearing a Garmin, but it’s unreliable for distances on looped courses, so I was just working on lap splits.  But the lights also went down at the chip mat, so couldn’t see my watch.  It did cause a lot of stress, but mostly for crew and management. Surely the runners had the simple job.  Just run.  I was aware that runners were getting quite upset about it.  If I’d have known there would be no stats for the duration of the race, I might have too. 

The only split I got was at 22:15 hours.  I had spent the previous few hours’ power walking with Sharon.  I guess in the latter stages when your brain doesn’t work on a rational level and you look for comfort and it’s easy to get into company.  Justifying by moving well and not taking the easy option of sitting it out because you’re race wasn’t going well.

Sharon stopped to get something to eat before 22 hours and I started running again.  It hurt so bad, but I had to try.  I was the third counter on the team, but it wasn’t going to make much difference.  The best I could have hoped for was 200km.  Big deal.  But it was a big deal to me, as I didn’t want to fall below that.  Mustering up the enthusiasm to break 200 when your PB is 221 and target was 230+ involves some deep digging.  Those seats were looking mighty comfy too. 

I ran 204.118 kilometres and finished 39th in the women’s race.  Even considering this was the crème de la crème of ultra-running and the world record was smashed, I would have been bitterly disappointed with that.  I probably wouldn’t have turned up. All things considered, I did the best I could on the day.  

Thanks Emily Proto for the insta quote you posted… “You never fail until you stop trying”

No ultra-race is an individual achievement and I was part of an amazing troop.  Meeting with old friends and making news ones.  Thanks to team manager John, my GB team mates and the rest of the crew.  Big thanks to Renee for smashing her crewing debut and putting up with me.  You were amazing.   Thanks to my Mum and Sister for looking after our boy, so Marco and I can do these crazy things.  Last but certainly not least to my great coach, Paul Giblin who got me to the start line in the best shape ever.  All good training for better races to come.

...  I’m off to the hills now.


Darren Strachan said...

Fantastic read Debbie. Great running, well done!! I didn't realise that was Johnny Fling on the back straight.... I've really got to start getting back to Caledonia for some races! Cheers, Darren

Daniel Weston said...

Brilliant write up, thank you. You're right, struggling to find energy to finish when it's not a PB takes a lot of mental strength.