|Wolfie ponders the location of the Battersea Travelodge.|
Anyway, back to the 4 hour drive, my wife Liz and I were a little stressed when we eventually found the joint - it's never nice to be beeped at and it takes a while to learn the correct response when driving in London, but I think I got the two finger salute down to a fine art after a while. Fight fire with fire, that's my motto. We checked in ok eventually and went next door to a nice little chilled Italian place called Bella Amia, meal was pretty good and just what we needed to destress. Liz had a large wine, but my body is a temple obviously, so orange juice and lemonade only, no devil's buttermilk for me.
I slept ok, not particularly nervous as I had no great expectations of the race; it was my debut at the 24 hour track format, the 45-strong field was stacked with experience and talent, it was only 4 weeks after the Ridgeway, not really enough recovery time, and I wasn't sure my knee was up to the task. Apart from that, things were looking mighty fine.
We had porridge and coffee in the room early Saturday morning, then drove to the track, only 3 miles down the road, but it took 3 goes to find the entrance. I may have to reconsider that job application as a professional routefinder.
We got there by 9.30am, parked on the track outfield and set up the tent for Liz and the aid table for me. When I say aid table, what I really mean of course is I put up an ironing board. Oh yes, I'd found this great tip on the net, use an ironing board as it is higher and stops you having to bend down as you run past. What a corker, I thought, everyone will be doing that, so in it went with the rest of the stuff. I was surprised to see, then, that all of the other competitors seemed to be putting up folding tables and mine was the only ironing board. They seemed to be giving me funny looks, perhaps they were waiting for me to get the iron out and start ironing my shorts. But more fool them, because it worked a treat, so listen up fellow ultra divs, if you need a stationary aid table, use an ironing board. Never be afraid to go against the herd, hallelujah.
On the ironing board I placed a box, containing everything I might need except clothes. What was in this box? You may well ask. Plasters for the nips, a needle (would come in useful), some wound wash (ditto), Friar's Balsam, cotton wool balls, Vaseline (the foot lifesaver for ultras!), salt tablets, ibuprofen, immodium tablets (if you pack them you won't need them, etc.), chamois cream (to avoid chafing of non-feet bits you wouldn't want chafing), instant cold pack, freeze gel, Voltarol gel, drink bottles, squash, water, malt loaf, mini-cheddars and jaffa cakes.
The clothes were in another box, which I stuck in the boot, wasn't planning to change that often unless it hammered down and I didn't want any of the fresh gear getting wet if it did rain. I took a few changes in case I needed them, the most important things being plenty of socks and two spare pairs of shoes. I was starting in Saucony Phoenix road shoes, taking a really old comfy pair of Asics in case I got probs, and some Kalenji Kipruns, which I had mistakenly bought half a size too big - they were still ok to run in slow, I wasn't going to be going fast and I packed them just in case I had foot issues (this would prove to be a hugely lucky master stroke!).
A couple of cars down from us, James Elson had turned up and was setting up his table. James is the head honcho for Centurion Running and has won all kinds of top trail races, including the GUCR. I was keeping hallowed company here! I knew he had successfully done the Bob Graham Round just a fortnight ago, so it was a quick return to action for him at Tooting. His table fuel was interesting; Pepsi, more Pepsi, sliced white bread, cheese and milk! Nice one.
I got changed into long shorts and a lightweight trail top, both of which I'm used to and comfortable with, plastered my feet all over with Vaseline, on with my Tu socks, a fiver for a pack of 5 pairs from Sainsbury's, they are excellent, you don't need fancy gear, Sauconys on, grabbed my cap - then it was over to the trackside briefing at 11.15.
Shankara, the race director, ran through everything we needed to know, including track etiquette, where you move to the outside of Lane 1 to let faster runners pass on the inside, sounded fair enough. I'd be bearing that in mind, as I was set on my usual mega-slow start, my plan was to be able to run all the way through, with small regular walk breaks from the off - I'd been a bit disappointed that I'd had to walk long bits of the second half of the Ridgeway, mostly because of knee probs, and I didn't want that to happen again - so it was essential to ignore everyone else early and do my own thing.
I'd read Nick Thomas's blog about his experiences racing here in 2011/12/13, where he finished 9th, 4th and 4th, running 6 laps, walking 1 all the way, and he'd been out with the washing for a long time before he came through them - that kind of strategy appealed to me, so I settled on 28 minutes run, 2 minutes walk to start with, then I was going to switch down to walk a lap each half hour when I got tired and maintain that for as long as I could. I was going to ignore lap times, run on feel, and stay well within my comfort zone for the first few hours. I'd emailed Nick and he'd been kind enough to reply, saying 'after 4 hours, it's 90% mental - accept it will become very hard and, the longer you go, the harder it will get'. Ha ha!
Half an hour to go and I was looking forward to it, still not nervous, just hoping the knee would be ok. I had a feeling the race at the front would be between James Elson, an Irish guy called Brian Ankers, whose running CV looked a bit tasty, and last year's 2nd, Fionna Ross. I thought Fionna held the aces, having recorded 134 miles here a year ago, but the other two had the potential to do something special. Was going to be fun to watch it unfold! When you read the programme notes about all the entrants, it really was a little bit of a shirtflap-ripper.
10 minutes before the off, we were all introduced to our first lap counters - we'd have a few of these over the course of the 24 hours, they each seemed to be recording laps for three or four runners. My lap counter for the first few hours was called Balavan, and he explained to wave at him every time I passed the lap-counting tent, to make sure every lap went down. I also spotted Tejvan amongst the counters - I'd met him before a few years ago at the Sri Chinmoy Summer Race Series at Cutteslowe Park in Oxford which he organised, so we said hello.
Then the 45 of us assembled on the track, me edging towards the back, and at 12 noon, we were off. We started clockwise and were to change direction every 4 hours. A chap called Jonathan Errington set off like his shorts were on fire and was soon lapping everyone. I ignored that and everyone else's pace, and just jogged round very slowly, everything well within my comfort zone, that was the plan. Grab a drink from the volunteer aid table every half hour and one of mine every hour with a salt tablet in from the ironing board.
At the end of each hour, Shankara would put people's positions and mileages up on a big leader board by the finish line, and that seemed to be a focal point for all of us. I expected to be way down early and, if my pacing worked out, to maybe come through a few second half. After the first hour I was 26th, no problemo, after 2 hours, 22nd, then in the third hour had two stops, for the loo and to put more Vaseline on my feet, had felt a couple of hotspots - so 3 hours in I was back down to 27th. I didn't react to this, just noted it, ok, any time off the track drops you down, noted - one thing I wasn't going to do was start chasing time, so I just continued unconcerned at my same plod pace, walking for 2 minutes every half hour.
Up front Jonathan Errington looked to be slowing and the leader now was Max Newton, wearing a Vegan Runners vest - he looked very smooth, in control and was running strongly, but a bit further down others seemed to be running well within themselves, and we did have 21 hours to go - I had a feeling we would have lots of changes in store at the sharp end! To give an idea of how fast Max was running at this point, he passed the marathon mark in around 3 hours 35 minutes - 5 miles ahead of me!
|Leader passes marathon (Photo: Run and Become)|
|4 Hours Leader Board (Photo: Run and Become)|
For the moment - ask me again in 19 hours!
Shortly after this we lost Paul Hart, who had been running strongly in the first half dozen, and sometime after 5 hours James Elson went over to his support crew and called it a day. I called out to him to ask if he was ok as I passed and he said he was fine - maybe it was too soon after the Bob Graham.
I was plodding on ok, 21st after 5 hours, 19th after 6 hours, at which point I had a new lap counter, (goodbye Balavan, hello Sahadeva!) and also decided to switch to longer walk breaks. I'd been thinking for a little while that the 2 minutes wasn't quite enough of a respite each half hour if I wanted to keep running all the way through, it was no more than half a lap and most often less, so I switched to running to the 30 minute or hour mark, then continuing round to the finish line, then walk one lap. To me this was the simplest way to do it, required the least thought, and that was the kind of plan I was going to need late on. (The post-race splits would show I was not far off 35 miles at 6 hours, so I wasn't going to keep that pace up for the full duration in my first one - it was a prudent switch with hindsight.) I'd decided beforehand that I would need to do this, so was still pretty positive, looked upon it as getting a good start for the first quarter of the race.
But overall, with the longer walk breaks, I was now going slower, so my progress through the field slowed too. 7 hours, still 19th, 8 hours, up one place to 18th. Little fish are sweet. The longer breaks made it seem much easier, so I was in good spirits as we started our second clockwise session, one third of the race down and I was feeling like I could go on for a long while yet at this pace. I was drinking well and eating well too, had some vegetarian rice and fruit sponge and custard during the previous hour - the Sri Chinmoy team certainly take care of you!
The floodlights must have been switched on sometime around here, and it was also around this time that another runner's Mum, there as his support, drew Liz's attention to a large rat about equidistant between them, in the gap left by James Elson's crew, who seemed to be making the most of some spilt food. The rat, not James. At one point he even ventured on to the track, but thankfully only in Lane 7, you don't really want to be shouting 'TRACK!' at a rat. Although how was he to have known the etiquette, he wasn't at the briefing. Sat at the side of a track in Tooting Bec in the dark with a large rodent; this wasn't turning out to be the romantic weekend Liz had so eagerly anticipated.
I was still going ok, 17th at 9 hours, feeling positive, in my own happy little bubble, only mildly curious about the goings-on at the front, where Brian Ankers had come through to head Max, with Fionna Ross moving into third.
|9 Hours Leader Board - Beware The Chair (Photo: Run and Become)|
At 10 hours, due to the unexpectedly long stop, I was back down to 20th, but still in a positive frame of mind - I'd averted a potential disaster, I was still full of running, albeit slow running, there was a long way to go yet and I reckoned I might get those 3 places back and a few more. Hopefully I wouldn't have to stop again for any meaningful length of time - game on!
An hour later I was back up to 18th, still sticking to my 1 lap walk each half hour routine, feeling ok, noticing a couple more people beginning to walk for longer periods now. Sometime over the following hour I fell into conversation with Rupert Williamson during a walk lap. Rupert had been running strongly earlier on when we'd swapped ultra stories briefly and now said he was starting to find it hard work, though he was still a few places ahead of me. We both agreed that Brian Ankers was motoring and looked unstoppable. The nod from such a couple of sage judges proved to be the kiss of death for him, as Brian began to have injury problems a few laps later!
And then we were at the halfway mark, another new lap counter (goodbye Sahadeva, hello Sanjaya!), direction change number 3, and I was up to 17th. 63 miles and bits in 12 hours, that was ok, more or less where I expected to be in terms of distance, my pace had slowed markedly since switching down to 1 lap walk breaks (albeit with a 15 minute pitstop), but it felt maintainable now, so I was sanguine about the chances of being able to keep grinding it out. I was actually feeling better at 12 hours down than I'd expected to beforehand, still enjoying it, still in good spirits. I had the psychological boost of being in the second half now. I liked the floodlit experience, felt hydrated, I was grabbing coke and electrolyte drinks from the aid station whenever I felt like them, and still on 1 salt tablet every hour, the blister wasn't a problem now, I felt warm enough and, as a fine rain started to fall, I found it quite refreshing! The most positive thing of all was my knee wasn't hurting - the Ridgeway had turned into a fairly grim affair from 6 hours in, as my knee started to complain about the downhills, but here, on the lovely Tooting flat track, everything was hunky dory. So far!
Liz had gone to bed for a few hours. Well, when I say bed, I mean car - the proximity of the rat had put Liz off the tent, so a kip in the car was more appealing. Truly a weekend from the pages of Mills and Boon!
Fionna Ross, last year's second, had taken the overall lead just before the halfway mark and there were some more changes all the way down, as the screenshot below of the men's field at 12.30am shows.
|Men's Field 12.30am (Photo: Run and Become)|
The fine mist of rain continued to fall as we entered the 14th hour, and I think it was around this point we had the excitement of an audible car accident close by. In fact, it was like a radio sound effect of a car crash; the volume of a racing engine increasing as it got closer, followed by the screech of hastily applied brakes, lasting for a longish couple of seconds, before a crunching impact. From most of the field, this brought the 'Waheyyyy' response, familiar from the lounge of a pub, when someone in the kitchen drops and smashes a plate or glass. I joined in with this, but then spent a couple of laps pondering how the distance provided by being unseen lends hilarity to an accident, even a potentially serious one.
After that brief philosophical hiatus, it was back to thinking about the really important stuff - yes, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, you've got it! I was still managing to plod round 25 minutes or so of each half hour in a jog, getting more fatigued but remaining alert, and I was aware of two things - firstly, my fingers were starting to swell up like those things the dog off That's Life used to talk about, yeah, shoshages (not too alarming, that happened during the Ridgeway), and secondly, I was lapping some of the people, now walking, who had lapped me many hours before. When the 2am positions were posted by Shankara, I had gained another place and was now 14th.
14 Hours Leader Board (Photo: Run and Become)
The rain stopped, I had a bit of cheese on toast, some jelly babies and 3 plastic cups of coke - yes, all was well with the world, we were still rolling. I remained in a pretty good frame of mind, the track was a quieter place in the wee small hours, but that was ok, it had a pleasant, calm feel to it and I was feeling mellow, plugging away. Plenty of the field were walking now, but I was keeping to the 25 minutes of plod, plod, plod for every lap I walked. 3am ticked round, 13th.
During the 16th hour, Liz surfaced from the car, said hello, then sat in one of the camping chairs with her hat on, wrapped up in the duvet. Had she gone back to sleep? I wasn't sure as I passed by each lap. Yes. No. Yes. Yes. No. Yes. Yes. Yes. Ok, snap out of it, concentrate on honing that end-of-lap wave to Sanjaya into something special instead. Yes, that's the one, tap the top of your head in a mini-salute stylee, then a sweeping wave to end, mega-cool! These are the sorts of things you do after 15 hours, yes indeedy.
I must just say at this point, all the lap counters were top-class, but Sanjaya was the cream of the crop, he even gave me lap times, unbidden. 'Very consistent, Simon, 3 minutes 4 seconds there!' Whaaaaat? 3 minutes 4 seconds? For a run lap? That means I'm running outside 12 minute miles, and once you factor the walk laps in. . . . . - but no, that way madness lies - lap times, lap schmimes, forget them, we will keep plodding on, we're still passing people, however slow we're going. Why am I saying we, there's only me? Pull yourself together. Both of you. Ok, 4am, 11th.
And 4am means we're two thirds of the way down, and we have our penultimate change of direction, back to clockwise. 8 hours left and the front 4 have sorted themselves out a bit, it's Fionna Ross from Issy Wykes and Noanie Heffron, women filling the first 3 places, with Michal Masnik from Slovakia in fourth.
I'm still going ok, may sneak into the top ten, but first things first, loo break needed, that coke was going down well. A jog off the track into the loos, to find the floor slightly awash, necessitating an unusual legs akimbo stance at the urinal. Mucho mistako, as on the way out I found the John Wayne impression had woken my knee up bigtime. How ironic, 16 hours plus of running hadn't made it hurt, but 1 minute of wide-stance aiming at the Armitage Shanks had hit a big 10 on the Painometer. OK, don't panic - I told Sanjaya on my return to the track I was going to walk for a bit, and grabbed a couple of ibuprofen from Liz as I went round. Hmmmm, one lap walking, felt maybe a smidgeon better, 2 laps walking, wasn't too bad after all, let's recommence very slow running. Miracle of miracles, running very gingerly it was okish, disaster averted. I ended up doing 4 walk laps instead of 2 during this hour as a result and, with very timid, knee-protecting running steps until it felt really stable again, this wasn't a great hour for me, but I still moved up a place to 10th by 5am.
My knee seemed ok now and I was back on my tried and trusted pattern of 1 lap walk every half hour, still chugging along. I was starting to think I might actually be able to maintain this all the way to the end, then I thought no, don't get over-confident, stay in the present, just focus on these 25 minutes. I enjoyed this hour, felt like I maybe slightly picked up the run pace at times, and Sanjaya confirmed as much once or twice with a report of a 2 minutes 40 lap here and there. Hang on to your hats! Liz had woken up and I was a bit smiley, heading towards the three quarters down mark in a good place. Approaching 6am I had a quick change into a t-shirt, it was warming up a bit, and I ended the 18th hour still in 10th place, but having closed a bit of distance on the few runners directly above me on the board.
|18 Hours Leader Board (Photo: Run and Become)|
This hour saw our final change of lap counters at the start (goodbye Sanjaya, hello Dave - yes, that's right, Dave!), and the switching off of the floodlights towards the end, as the sun rose. I had a very welcome bowl of porridge on a walk lap, went down a treat. I limited the walk laps to the usual 2 for the hour and was still feeling positive, more so when the positions were updated after 7am and I was up to 8th.
5 hours to go, I think at this point we were all anticipating the end of the next hour, and the final change of direction - I know I was, I kind of thought if I got to there unscathed, I'd be home free. As the full light of day broke through, I had a quick mental check of how I was faring as I plodded along - knee was happy, feet felt ok, blister had caused no further probs, no cramp, salt tablets working well, I was still drinking quite a lot and having the odd loo break, always a sign of good hydration, temperature felt ok generally - oh yeah, and fingers still like shoshages.
|Shoshages (Photo: Run and Become)|
|20 Hours Leader Board (Photo: Run and Become)|
Just 8 half hour bits to go now, count them down and grind it out. I was still drinking a fair bit, coke, electrolyte or orange, but not eating from here on in - I'd eaten at regular intervals up to now, just didn't fancy it any more. I gave a wave to Liz and Dave every lap and kept plodding on at my constant pace, whilst around me there was a vague sense of reawakening of activity, as a couple of people who'd been off the track for a while came back on for the last few hours; this increase in activity would grow, the closer we got to the end of the 24 hours.
|Wave To Dave (Photo: Run and Become)|
By this time, barring injury, I was feeling confident of keeping to the 1 lap walk each half hour pattern up to the final hooter - yes, there would be a hooter! I was properly knackered and there was no possibility whatsoever of any increase in pace, but I believed I could keep up my one-paced plodding and that was proving effective enough so far. I circled the track for the 22nd hour and, by 10am, I'd gained another position and was 6th.
As the clock ticked away, with under two hours to go, a couple more of those who'd been off the track returned, and those who'd been on the track moving very slowly started moving slightly faster. Slightly! The finish line was almost in sight. I didn't start moving any faster though, it was just the usual plod round for me but, amazingly, by 11am, I found myself in 5th place.
|23 Hours Leader Board (Photo: Run and Become)|
After my first walk lap several minutes into the last hour, I'd asked Dave for my total and he said 117 miles, so I must have been at least 116 and a half at 23 hours - it depended on how far over 115 they both were at the start of the hour, whether they'd have to lap me 4 times or more to catch me. That may seem unlikely but, as I passed Liz on the outfield with about 45 minutes left, I told her I couldn't increase my pace or I would grind to a halt in a couple of laps, I would just have to stick to the pace I'd kept to for hours and hope it was enough to keep me ahead of them. Both Richard and Stephen continued to outpace me and lap me, as more spectators began to arrive for the race finale.
I decided not to have a walk lap halfway through the hour, but to keep jogging through to 12 noon - if I couldn't speed up, at least I could get a bit of extra distance by doing that. A few minutes from the end, we were all allowed a helper on the track, to carry the marker to put down for our final distances to be measured, so Liz joined me for the last lap and a bit. Richard and Stephen continued to steam past and I told Liz I thought they'd probably both overtaken me, but couldn't be absolutely sure. As we neared the final seconds, I waved at Dave for the last time.
|Last Lap (Photo: Run and Become)|
Ten minutes or so later, the final finishing positions were posted on the board.
|Final Positions Board (Photo: Run and Become)|
I'd edged over 122 miles and had just hung on to 5th; later it would be confirmed this was by a mere 282 metres from Richard, with Stephen a further 510 metres back in 7th - after 24 hours, less than 2 laps of the track separated the three of us! I finished as 2nd man and 1st V50, and had thoroughly enjoyed myself!
I'll definitely do more of these. The format is like no other I've known - it's a unique kind of racing where you just have to ignore the pace other people are setting and concentrate on your own plan. It seems to suit me down to the ground and I can't wait for the next one!
What a corker!
RANDOM REFLECTIONS FROM 3 WEEKS DOWN THE ROAD. . . . .
1. The race was professional, memorable and happy, which was down to Shankara and her team - they were great. Five stars!
2. Having a support 'crew' is a huge help, and Liz was there for the duration. Good effort! X
3. Competitor camaraderie is stronger than in any other event I've done - it all unfolds around a 400 metre track, there's no hiding place, you see it all - as a result there's a shared experience aspect to it which is unique.
4. It felt like the event I was made for. It's like coming home.
5. I found it easier than doing the Ridgeway, because it was flat!
6. I think I can improve a bit at this. From the marathon down, even if I run well, I'm almost always disappointed with my racing performances nowadays, as I'm so far outside my pb's, most of which date from the time Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel were topping the charts. So to find an event I think I can improve at and be relatively competitive in, at my age, is just brilliant. And very exciting!
7. Whilst the race itself was enjoyable, the after effects were a bit of a shocker! I expected to have difficulty walking for a few days, but I've never had my ankles blow up like an elephant's before - the Wednesday after the race, that's what happened - major CANKLES!
|What's worse than Shoshages? Cankles.|
8. On the same theme, what I didn't have afterwards was the stabbing left knee pain I had after the Ridgeway - good. What I did have was prolonged muscle soreness round both knees when running - not so good. I left it a week to start back very slow running and, by then, I was walking normally, pain-free. The first day back, I 'ran' a 5k in 36 minutes and bits, couldn't have gone any faster, and each step was accompanied by one of these involuntary exclamations - 'Ooooooh', 'Aaaaaah', and 'Eeeeeeh'. The soreness round both knees was excruciating. The next day it took over 37. Yesterday was the first day my knees haven't hurt, back down to a comfortable 24, nice one, but I was starting to worry slightly that the soreness was here to stay. A lesson to remember for next time - even if they go well, these events leave a mark and, for me, the recovery to a level where easy running is painless takes at least 3 weeks.
9. They do some of these races abroad . . . . . . . ha ha!
10. Same time next year at Tooting? Can't wait!
FULL OFFICIAL RESULTS:
10k Split Times
6-Hour Distance Splits