I am tired, I have slept only 1 and a half hours in the last 28hrs. My feet are swollen, I don’t want my little toes any more, they hurt so much, my ankles are stiff and my shoulders are weak, but I can pick up Lucy my 1 year old daughter, I can take Amy my 3 year old wearing proudly her hedgie hoodie by the hand and we hobble the final 100 metres together through a hedgie tunnel to finish 75 miles with tears in my eyes. But we will get to that…
Journey to the Start line
My story of endure 24 goes back some way. 18th December 2011. My 1st crack at a marathon. The Portsmouth Coastal Marathon.
I trained well for 3 months following a target sub 4hr plan only at mile 18 cramp set in and I was run / walking thereafter. I finished, took a medal, Yay my 1st marathon was what I should have been saying but I wasn’t happy, I wanted to run a marathon and to have to walk from 18 miles, well, to me, it just didn’t count.
Fast forward 2 years, 22nd December 2013 and I am back at the same race for my 2nd crack at a marathon, this time I have no time target, no pace target, all I want to do is run the whole 26.2 miles. I have joined a running club and started training with a great bunch of people, I have run 5 half marathons plus the Great South Run setting pb after pb in the 12 weeks prior to this race.
I ran the race steady and when I passed mile 18, I had a huge smile of my face, knowing it’s a good day to run and I finish the race feeling fantastic, I did it, I ran a marathon, I mean I really ran a marathon !
3 days later, its Christmas Day, I’m still on a high feeling proud and for the past 3 days I have browsed a certain event website many times, Endure24. A 24 hour race round a 5 mile loop. How far can I go in 24 hours I constantly ask myself? 50 miles? 100 miles ? humm good question. Well I know I can do 26.2 miles that’s for sure, and seeing as it’s a 24 hour race and not a specific distance race, as long as I do 1 lap I am a finisher. What the heck, I know I will do more than a marathon that’s for sure, and its Christmas day after all, so I sign up and break the news to my wife Kristy as we are toasting champagne over Christmas dinner. I whisper its just a run, my exact words, its not an ironman I say, it will be fine, cheers !
January came round and fortunately a fair few Hedgie guys & gals were training for marathons so this is perfect for me to join in with their Sunday long runs. Unfortunately my 1st ever Sunday run didn’t go to plan as I found out the hard way those hedgies stick to a strict timetable, 8am long run from the station, I arrived at 8.03 and they’ve already gone, lesson learnt, and I’ve not been late since !!
So my 1st actual long run session was a Hampshire XC Race day and the plan was to run 10 miles starting and finishing at Manor Farm country park and then running the 5 mile XC race. In the drizzling rain I ran for the 1st time with Matt Gardner, Martin Gale, Jo Labra, Michele Jacobs, Karen Rice, Kevin Rowe, Richard Townsend (sorry if I have missed anyone else), we finished the 10 then raced the XC race finishing all very cold wet but happy ! (oh what a familiar theme).
These guys became my Sunday buddies and over the months the group grew to include many other hedgies, to name a just few, Ben & Anna, Kate Maslin, Robson & Keith Sheppard.
Sundays, rain or shine we would run on Sundays, the distances grew gradually and we were eventually hitting 20 miles plus. Perfect E24 training.
In January I ran a total of 58 miles,
I wanted to add in a few races as training runs and added the Heartbreaker Marathon on 23/2/14, I wanted to break 26.2 so I ran 4 miles before the start to make it a 30 mile day, my longest run ever. Main goal, no cramp and walk all the hills. Mission completed. 5hrs 11mins.
In February I ran a total of 108 miles. Then my biggest run month ever.
In march I started doing long back to back runs, running long Saturdays with Martin and again long on Sundays with other hedgies from the station. I ran 159 miles in total in march and I was feeling great.
On the final weekend of march I ran 47 miles over the fri/sat/sun and feeling invincible I went along to the normal hedgie Tuesday intervals session, I was taking it easy, maybe 70% effort and I felt my calf tighten up so I stopped. No problem, it didn’t go, it just got tight.
Over the next few days I took it easy, I didn’t run for a week,
I had already signed up for the Compton Downland 40mile ultra. a seriously hilly race with over 4000ft of ups to take place on 19/4/14.
Compton was fast approaching so I started testing the calf out, it wasn’t better, it still felt stiff, tight and with twinges of pain. But I could run, if I took it easy, with shorter strides than normal I can still run.
Compton came round and tick, I ran it all, no cramp (some twinges of cramp) no major calf issues, I walked all the hills, finish time 7hrs 50mins. I was super happy, I just ran 40 miles, I just ran for 8 hours, yahoooo I am super happy !!
The weekend after Compton and Martin and I set off for a 20 miler, only I was empty, my calf hurt, I had nothing, everything hurt, even my elbows !!??!! I had to quit and abandoned him at 18.5miles very disappointed. I really hadn’t factored in how much running was taking out of me.
I took 2 weeks off running, completely, it helped that I had two other small events to take care off before E24, 1 was a 26 mile charity row, from the needles to hayling island, and the other was Blenheim Triathlon weekend warrior (you know that story!)
In all of April I ran 97miles. Not bad considering the injuries,
As May arrived, while taking time off running, I hit the rower, I hit the lake, I hit the bike. I tried intermittently to run but it all still hurt, calf, Achilles and knee, then my ITB started to hurt too. So I carried on swimming and cycling and entered the painful world of the foam roller. That thing bloomin hurts!
In all of May I ran 71 miles. My mileage was going down, I was running less frequently and starting to get concerned that I was losing my Compton 40 mile legs which I really needed for E24.
June arrived, I had Blenheim Triathlon Weekend Warrior to get through, which was going to be a real test of my injuries as I had to run 7 x 3.5mile runs over 2 days and by this point my ITB hurt to just walk, let alone run 25 miles.
Blenheim hurt, but for reasons related to my lack of bike fitness, but on a positive note, my ITB held up, & my knee didn’t hurt, I had calf twinges and cramp but not bad enough to make me stop. At the end of the weekend I looked back and thought to myself, that was brilliant E24 training, doing those7 x 3.5 mile runs I survived, I’m not any more injured, I’m not going to get any fitter for E24 now but at least I know I am fit to start.
The Saturday after Blenheim, Martin and I went out to do 13miles in the new forest. This was meant to be a confidence run, I hadn’t run more than 7 miles since 22nd may, almost a month ago, so the plan was slow and steady, just tick it off as I’m good to go. It was a terrible run, I had knee pain constantly for the whole run, we had to stop and walk every couple of miles, I was pretty downbeat. 2 weeks before a 24hr race and I can’t run 13 miles.
I took a whole 5 straight days off again, really doing as little on my feet as possible, I ventured to the Thursday club night, I was a few mins late and the announcements of the plan for the evening were over, I asked what the groups were, it was a Bernie easy run at 8 min pace, or a Cliff slow run at 10min pace, now Bernie I’m not sure if your garmin is broken but your 8min pace on my watch is much more like a 7min pace, (we love you for it thou!!) knowing this I went with Cliff, but Cliff almost threw me out of his group, ‘don’t come with us, go with them’ he said. … I pleaded I need to run slow, e24 in 2 weeks, slow is good, Cliff shrugged his shoulders and gave me a look, that said ok, you won’t like it ! but I did, it was a great run, and fab to run with different people, to chat to club members who I know on facebook but not to actually talk to, its easy to get into your group at the club and run with the same people, but I really loved this run, got to chat to several others, everyone as friendly and nice as the ones I already knew. At the end of the run back at wyvern Cliff said, did you stay with us ? I said yes of course, he gave me a well done along with a gleaming cliff smile, top bloke !! (I do strongly urge you to switch groups occasionally guys to chat to those you don’t normally talk to) Thanks to the slow run, I had no knee pain, my confidence was back !
In june I ran 80 miles before E24 and this included some rather fun night runs with Keith Diaper.
The funniest thing that happened was when we ran through manor farm at 11pm one friday night. As we were approaching the gate at the entry/exit near j8 of the m27 we were running side by side with headlamps on, a car is driving towards us, why is a car heading down there at that time of night you must wonder, I raise my hand to block the light from the car so I can see only I then realize I am blocking my head lamp and to then I realized the people in the car were probably thinking we are a car flashing our lights at them, oh dear! I said to Keith this could be suspicious, hanging around in country parks late at night, flashing our lights at cars, we going to get into an “awkward situation” here. We ran on past the car as it stopped laughing our heads off!!
So I made it to E24. I had a good 6 months of training, I had some injuries and I am still carrying them but I am feeling confident I will do more than my 40 miles at Compton.
Why the obsession with a target ?
Ever since I signed up, people asked me what was my target, I really didn’t have a target because this is the unknown, to me it’s a race to see how far I can go in 24 hours, that’s my target, to see. I felt if I set a target and didn’t make it, I would be a failure, but my mentality was that this race has no fail provided you turn up. I thought long and hard about a target though as I thought its easier to just answer rather than duck the question, 100 miles in 24hrs is quite a major achievement, really that’s not on the cards, the winner last year did 115 miles in 24hrs, I’m a 14 stone rugby player not an ultra runner. 50 miles? Surely that’s not enough over 24hrs if I can run a marathon in 4hrs 10. So I used the old mathematical method of the median, 100/50 = 75, ok, 75 if I must have one, 75 it is. However with all my injuries and how I had suffered on my recent long runs, my target now was really to just go as far as I could before my injuries say no more, and I will be happy with that (provided its more than 8 laps)
Support Crew Tom
I have read many race reports of ultra runners and ultra triathlons and one of the keys to success is support crew, to have someone there to look after you, physically and mentally, to help you be rational, to motivate, to talk things through. This is where Tom came in, he has been in the army for over 4 years, been to Afghanistan and seen some things I never want to see, here is a guy who will do anything for you at the drop of a hat, and expect nothing in return, a top bloke. I asked Tom and in an instant he said yes. Tom and I met for lunch the week before the race and I explained to him my race plan.
My race plan was this, break the race down into 3 lap segments, ignore distance, it’s all about laps. Run 3 laps, then stop, eat something “proper” such as a pasta pot, or pot noodle or porridge, at the same time change clothes. Then go again. I didn’t want to stop for more than 20 mins, and if I said I wanted to quit or stop or sleep, I explained to tom that I don’t want to, so don’t let me, yes I may say that on the day of the race but that’s not what I want, so whatever happens he must keep me on course, the only reason acceptable is a health reason. I am aiming for 1 hr laps initially, slowing to 1hr 40 when I get to the point of needing to walk all the lap. I calculated the dream best possible result would be 17 laps, the realistic best possible result is 15 laps.
I had 8 pairs of injinji toe socks which I would change every 3 laps, I had 3 pairs of trail trainers and 1 pair of road trainers. I had recently bought a pair of sketchers go ultra trail shoes, these are extra cushioned shoes, like hokas, these are my emergency go to shoe when my feet are ruined to help me keep going (I will try anything to help keep me going). The plan is to change clothes including socks every 3 laps and to work my way through my 3 pairs or trainers over the course of the race.
In between the 3 lap breaks I would grab something to eat at the end of each lap to eat on the go, be it a brioche, slice of pizza, sausage roll or tuna sarnie, also we will fill up my water bottles as I wanted to drink 750ml each lap. I was wearing my Soloman race vest, which carries 2 x 500ml soft flasks. 1 was full with high5zero electrolyte drink and the other lucozade.
I calculated I needed to be consuming approx. 300 calories per lap, 100 from the food Tom would give me, 100 from lucozade and 100 from a gel or cereal or bar, snacks etc.
I was also going to take an s-cap (salt tablet) each lap.
I normally run with ibuprofen for pain relief when doing longer stuff. But I have recently read a lot about the dangers of taking NSAIDs (Non Steroid Anti Inflammatory Drugs) or Ibuprofen to us non medical people. Basically the anti-inflammatory element can cause your kidney to stop working, and, well, you can die, and the conclusion from the reading I had done was to replace nurofen with paracetomol, in effect I want pain relief not anti inflammatory when out on long runs.
I had also read a lot about rhabdomyolysis. Another form of kidney failure becoming more common with ultra endurance athletes, so I was very conscious that I wanted to make sure I would pee every lap or 2, and if I didn’t I would stop the s-cap because I wouldn’t want to overload with salt and instead drink a ton of water to flush myself through. (https://www.ultrarunning.com/features/running-rhabdomyolosis-and-renal-failure-whos-at-risk/)
The Day before the day
Tom and I drove to E24 on the Friday, set up our tent on the side of the course, about 100m before the start finish line so I could literally run past the tent and grab what I need on my way to crossing the line without wasting any effort, we then caught up with Kelly & Kev who were setting up Hedgie Base Camp, helped put up a few tents (I was surprised they were still up the next day!) and we then headed home for a good nights sleep (not together, not yet)
That night I went to bed about 10pm after my usual pre-race meal of chicken pasta broccoli, yum. But I couldn’t sleep, fear, anxiety, many what if’s, all running through my head, my biggest concern was my injuries, I know they will stop me at some point, it’s just a question of how far I can go before that point. I would then ponder my target of 75 and decided to scrap the target and not be disappointed if my injuries stopped me before I reach it. I slept about 4 hours, got up at half 4, had porridge, watched some TV, funnily enough I watched a program on an ultra race across la palma, these guys are incredible, can I really do that ? I then went back to bed at 6.30am fell asleep and woke again at 8.30. 6 hours, that will have to do !
Continued here - Part 2