Having spent a lap walking around checking old records on my phone it took a bit of a push to restart running yet again. The effort of putting in a few fast laps to ensure I gave myself the best possible shot at getting the Irish 48 hour road record didn’t seem to have taken too much out of me physically. In fact it had served to give me a big psychological boost. I’d never run anything as long as this continuously before, so I had no idea what I would be capable of. But having an extra bit of speed and power “in the tank” to draw on without leaving me in a heap afterwards was a very good sign. I “only” had one day left to finish this out…. gotta keep the show on the road.
The day was heating up nicely, and I was enjoying the warmth of the desert sun. But it was still day 3 of the race, and it was definitely hard work to keep running. My lap speeds were now returning to the more sedate “fatigued” day 2 speeds of about 13 to 14 minute laps. Overall I felt pretty good. I didn’t feel sleepy, and overall my body was in good shape with no significant aches or pains. My feet were very tired though, and I could feel that they were quite swollen.
Ed had returned to the course early in the morning and had been putting rock-solid steady laps ever since. He was being metronomically efficient. Since he had taken such a long time off the course to recover I had built a significant lead of in excess of 30 miles over him. However I knew that if I went off the track myself he could very well rapidly eat into that margin. And if he started doing that he’d probably get a motivational boost to redouble his efforts and do even better.
To be honest, I would have been happy at that point to laze around the rest of the day and do the minimum amount to finish out the race. But I was feeling the pressure of Ed’s consistent running. As a result I kept myself going and kept churning out the laps myself. Joe, as usual, was also running well, and was maintaining his lead over me. He was over 20 miles ahead at the start of day 3, which I reckoned would take me at least 4 hours to haul in even if he stopped completely. Once he was running at all, it looked like an overwhelming lead.
By about 11 in the morning the tiredness in my feet was starting to gnaw at me, so I came into the aid station and sat down on a chair, took my shoes off and rested my feet for a minute or two. The relief that provided was fantastic. Oh how wonderful it would have been to simply stay sitting there sipping on my fruit juices. The minutes started passing all too quickly. I saw Ed run through, clocking up another lap, and realised I had to be up and out before he came around again. It took a big effort to get my shoes back on and get back out on the track.
This pattern repeated itself throughout the day. I would last a few hours and then come in and rest my feet for a little bit before the site of Ed or Joe running by would spur me into action and get out on the track again. There needs to be some kind of motivation to keep you going when your instincts are screaming at you to just stop and rest. Late in races for me this tends to come from the competitive race aspect itself. This was definitely proving to be the case again here.
Between the breaks I was generally running at around 13 minute lap pace. The miles were piling on all the time, but it seemed to take a long time to make them tick over and push the cumulative mileage upwards. I was running over scenarios in my head about when I would be safe to stop. Joe was steady and had a big lead. He looked unlikely to crash, so he seemed to be out of sight competitively. Ed was a long way back, but I started thinking about what mileage I’d need to reach before I could say that second place was secure (and allow myself to walk off the track). Given where he started the day I reckoned 270 miles would safely do it. Maybe even 260 if Ed started to tire again.
I had started the day (9a.m.) at about 215 miles. It took until 4:20 in the afternoon to make it to 240 miles. That really felt like crawling along. It would take a long while yet to make second place secure. I didn’t feel like I was on target for anything of significance at that point in time and at that speed. 300 miles definitely seemed distant and not worth thinking about. Tony’s record for this race (around 280 miles) felt like it might take me the rest of the race to get near. The whole thing was just feeling “draggy”… like I was hauling myself around unproductively.
As the 5pm turnaround time approached the sun started to noticeably head down, and temperatures began to slowly fall. I knew the light would start to fade soon. It was definitely easier on the feet to run in full daylight. At night, under the arc-lights around the course, there were some dark shadows with little hard to see bumps. Quite often I would catch these bumps a little with one of my feet. It wouldn’t be enough to trip, but the cumulative effect was definitely tiring on my feet. My feet were tired enough as is. So I decided to stay out without stopping for any breaks for the remaining useful light to maximise its benefits.
I also did a little bit of an internal “HTFU” speech on the subject of tired feet. I always knew I’d have to deal with tired feet. I’ve had to do so in every 24 hour race I’ve finished. I’ve had to do so in every big adventure race with long trekking sections (i.e. pretty much all of them) that I’ve done. So I lectured myself to stop being so wussy about my feet, put the aches and pains firmly in the background and just ignore it.
All this had a positive effect on my mental attitude to running and I certainly felt like I was now striding around purposefully at a good speed, rather than slowly dragging myself around. I have good low light vision, so the “use all the available light” strategy was starting to take in quite a few laps. It took me right up to 6p.m., by which time I had done an hour of steady purposeful running. I only made one stop. With the temperatures now falling rapidly I knew I’d need to be extremely careful to stay warm. But to stay running as much as possible I elected to simply put on my Columbia omni-heat down jacket, rather than completely change to my full range of warm gear. I would stay in shorts for as long as I could.
By 6:30 p.m. I had reached the 250 mile mark, I was running steadily, and my quick gear upgrade seemed to be doing a good job of keeping me warm and comfortable. I was running lots of calculations and scenarios through my head. Given that I had been able to pick up the pace to run comfortably again I decided to try to bring my pace right back to day 1 cruising speeds and aim to run at least 12 minute laps. This would roughly give me a rate of progress of 20 miles for every 4 hour “rotation”. Working this through, if I could sustain this pace then I would hit the 300 mile mark by about 4a.m., with a little margin for interruptions. 300 miles, with 5 hours to spare… the thought of this target was filling me with excitement and determination.
Now I was fully mentally focused… I focused all my energy, all my determination on that 300 mile target, and getting my pace up to the level needed to hit my target. I loved the aggression of the target, and channeled this aggression into forward motion. I was now striding along. It felt fast… very fast. I felt great. Unbelievably so. I had never ever done something like this in an ultra run before. It was unbelievable how easy it was to crank up the power and up my speed. The positive feedback loop was tremendous.
I shouted at my support crew that I was attacking (it felt great even saying it), and to get all my drinks out on the table. I wasn’t going to be stopping for any solid food. This was going to be an all out attack on the 300 mile mark. I’d just grab one of my drinks as I needed, and keep running fast and hard as long as I could.
As I ran over the lap counter and glanced at the monitor I saw my lap times hover around the 12 minute mark, and then with increasing confidence came increasing speed. Lap times continued to drop, and I was now easily churning out lap times that were starting to approach, and even go under, 11 minutes. Yeeeeeeehaaaaawww….. now we’re racing!
The most amazing thing was how easy this seemed, and how my legs didn’t feel at all tired. All the years of hard training, all the years of ultra racing, they were all kicking in now and this was the payback. And, boy, was it working! Time seemed to pass at a multiple of the rate earlier in the day. I was getting one great piece of feedback. I had wondered would the lads in the timing tent notice what I was up to. The occasional “woah” emanating from the tent as my split clocked up on the monitors as I passed told me that they did 🙂
Of course, I was well aware that a side effect of launching an aggressive attack on the 300 mile mark was that it would also be an attack on Joe. He had a big lead, but it would be very interesting to see firstly if he would notice what I was doing, and secondly if he would want to or be able to react. I hadn’t seen him for a while though, so didn’t pay much attention to this aspect and continued to focus my aggression on hitting, and by this stage exceeding my intermediate targets.
The first target was to exceed 260 miles and try to be approaching the 265 mile mark by 9:00pm, the end of the current rotation. 12 minute laps would have had me miss this mark by quite a bit. But I was running faster than that, and was in excess of 264 miles by that time. Targets met and exceeded… more positive feedback leading to more confidence and more aggression and determination. I was really really enjoying this so much.
Onwards and forwards with the next rotation. The target was 20 miles for this one to bring up to around 285 miles by 1a.m. Of course I had to allow for the fact that this rotation would have a major split in it. Midnight would be the new year, and there was bound to be some disruption around then. So I set an intermediate target of 280 miles for midnight. If I got that it would be nearly impossible not to hit 3oo miles in the remaining 9 hours. Man, this was great. More confidence, more positive feedback!
By now I had overtaken Joe on the track once or twice. I was definitely running faster than him. I also figured out that he must have taken some time out off the course around the time I started my attack. The gap between us had been substantially reduced, pretty much halved in fact. I hoped that would be enough to worry Joe. All I had to do was focus on my own running and keep my speed up, and try to stay faster than him. If there was going to be a chance of catching him, or even a chance of planting any doubts in his head this would be enough to do it.
Just before 10p.m. I overtook Joe on the course for the 3rd time that evening. This was the first “clean” overtake where we were both running out on the course (I had managed to catch him at food stops etc. on previous occasions). He reacted quickly this time and sped up to latch onto my heels. Game on! 🙂
At this point I had been running fast and aggressively for several hours. I was full of confidence The fact that I was still feeling reasonably fresh meant that I was fully confident I could make it to 300 miles. Now the second part of the attack was in play… could I somehow contrive to win the race from what had seemed like an impossible position earlier in the day. I was a long way in front of Ed, and had spent the evening building my lead up even more. I had been closing Joe down. All these factors, added up to one thing in my head… I had everything to gain and nothing to lose by really pushing things and letting loose.
I immediately ramped up my speed right up to the limit of what I could manage. Joe followed. This was great. This was my race now. I was dictating the pace and Joe felt he had to match it. I was going to throw everything at this. Either I’d break him, or I’d break myself. If I could break him then I could win the race. The psychological impact would be huge. If I broke myself, well, I had enough time to recover and reset myself to go back to my original task of getting to 300 miles.
As well running at flank speed I was going to try to execute one other tactic to try to crack Joe. I would run through the aid station at full speed from now on. No stopping for any food or drink. If Joe wanted to stick to me he would have to do the same. I was confident I could keep this going for longer when it mattered.
We were ripping through the field, belting past most of the other runners. On the first high-speed lap one of the fast 24 hour runners latched onto us, but dropped off after a few minutes before the aid station. I was now churning out laptimes which were around the 9 minute mark. And, boy oh boy, was I enjoying this. We were over 60 hours into an ultra race and we were out-and-out racing like it was a 10km race. Before the race I wouldn’t have believed it was possible to do this.
About 2 laps later, and we were still flying around, with Joe sticking solidly to my heals. We roared past Ed. He saw what was going on, and decided that setting that kind of place was probably just a bit too hot for him, but that it looked like way too much fun! So he accelerated rapidly and joined us. Indeed he quickly took the front and made sure to keep the pace up to max!
On the next lap I realised that I couldn’t keep this up for much longer. I decided that the best thing to do would be to slow back down to something more sustainable, around 11 minute laps, and to continue with the tactic of running through the aid station without stopping. Unfortunately Ed and Joe didn’t match me as I slowed down. So I let them speed away.
Oh well! It looks like Joe had won that battle. I was still happy to have given it my best shot and at least have made him have to fight for the win. I settled back down to a more sustainable cruise speed. The battle had taken a bit out of me for sure, so lap times were now exceeding 12 minutes. However one nice side effect of the battle was that I was now way ahead of my already aggressive schedule to get to the 300 mile mark.
After two more laps I stopped at the aid station to get a bit of food and liquids on board, and generally recover and try to reset myself to get my speed back up again. After going back on the course I quickly came up on a small group of competitors walking around the course which included some of the older runners in the race. Over the course of the race I had figured out from conversations that some of these guys were in fact ultrarunning legends. One of these was Ray Krolewicz. His booming Boston accent would set him out in any case, but he also had a wealth of knowledge and stories. Earlier in the race I had already had the pleasure of hearing some about some of his exploits, both ultrarunning and real-life!
We had a great chat about the battle Joe and myself had just had, and the whole psychology of the event. He also had some great stories about similar battles he had had in at the peak of his running career which were similarly entertaining. I would love to have spent the rest race listening to this guy’s stories, but I had to drag myself away and refocus on my race targets.
Later in the evening Joe caught up to me again as we were running around, and we ran together for a while having a good chat. We agreed that it had been a great fun battle. It really was a pleasure racing with and against Joe. We were pushing each other and it was resulting in us both getting the best out of ourselves. I conceded that the race was his at this stage. It was great that we were both now getting very close to reaching the 300 mile mark. I reckoned that Yiannis’ course record was definitely within striking range for Joe, and that you don’t get the opportunity to attack a Yiannis Kouros record every day! I’m sure he knew all that himself already.
After getting going again after my chat with Ray I was able to average close enough to 12 minute laps all the way up to the approach of the new year. I was pleasantly surprised to be able to do this after the all-out burst of speed I had thrown in earlier. It also meant I had the psychological plus of being ahead of my target distance approaching midnight. Indeed I passed the 280 mile mark with nearly a quarter of an hour to spare before midnight. That gave me the margin to slot in one more lap before coming around to the start-finish area with the race clock counting down the last few seconds to midnight.
The start finish area was crowded now. Pretty much everyone in the whole Camelback Ranch complex was there… the race organisers, their helpers, the majority of the runners, and all their helpers and supporters. The organisers had a huge supply of various forms of bubbly drinks, and more than enough (plastic) champagne glasses. I could spare a minute or two!
Within seconds of arriving it was midnight and everyone cheered and celebrated as you would expect at any new year’s party. They were all going to set off on a celebratory lap of the course. So I quickly decided I’d better get out in front of them so that I could quickly get back to banging out steady laps to get to 300 miles on schedule.
However that started to become a little more difficult than I had anticipate. I was still running reasonably well, but I was now running a little over 12 minute laps rather than well under them. I seemed to have lost some mental motivation and drive too. Strangely enough it was probably the fact that I was at 280 miles with 9 hours to go, and that 300 miles looked like a no-brainer from here, was making it more difficult to keep going. Physically I was no longer powering along either. Sleep deprivation was returning as a factor. I got my phone so that I could blast music into my ears to give me something to keep mentally engaged.
I kept plugging away, churning out the laps and getting ever closer to the magic number of 300 miles. A little past 2:00 a.m. I passed the 290 mile mark. Still broadly on track to get to 300 miles by around 4:00 a.m. But I had been wobbling about the track with sleep deprivation in the last lap. I had to take a break.
When I reached the aid area I went over to the comfortable portable chair next to our tent and sat down. I blinked a very long blink indeed. The blink was long because I fell asleep for an instant! I was familiar with this from adventure racing. I was heading for zombie-land. So I decided that a power-nap might be enough to get me through to the finish. I decided I was going to sleep where I was sitting and asked to be woke in 10 minutes. I shut my eyes and went into an instant deep sleep.
What felt like no time later I was woken from the depths. I was still in zombie-land. I asked to be woken in another 10 minutes and instantly went back into a deep sleep. Again I was woken what seemed like no time later. Waking up from a lovely warm deep sleep into the awful reality of a cold night where I had to go running again is challenging. But I’ve faced a lot worse in adventure races, so it wasn’t too difficult to haul myself up and stagger off onto the course again.
It took a little bit of an effort to get running again from a staggering walk start. I was running pretty slowly. I needed to keep myself motivated. I was so close to the target now. I decided to count down the miles to run to the 300 mile mark, so spent the lap repeating “9….9…..9….9” in my head.
I was playing a little game with myself here, as I had been all race. The lap is actually a little more than a mile, but I would deliberately only read the mile number when looking at my cumulative mileage and ignore the numbers after the decimal. As a result every ten miles or so I would get a “free” mile, which I called a “Brucie bonus” in my head. I knew I was due a “Brucie bonus” before 300 miles, but would just let be a nice surprise when it arrived!
Slowly but surely I was getting my speed back, as the benefits of my power-nap started to kick in. The “Brucie Bonus” kicked in with about 5 miles to go, and with it I started to run faster than 12 minute laps, accelerating all the time as I counted down the numbers in my head. I had readjusted my target times to hit 300 miles by 4:30 after my power-nap, and with this increase in speed it was looking good to hit my target.
I had one last target to chase. John Geesler had stopped running shortly after he had reached the 300 mile mark back in the 2004 race. I wanted to be sure that I would go just beyond his distance, as it looked like I would be faster than him to 300 miles by about an hour. That would put me safely ahead of him in the all time honour roll for the race.
I couldn’t think of any other good reason to stay running beyond the 300 mile mark. I liked the precedent that John had set to stop on reaching that target. I wasn’t going to catch Joe. He was still running well and the gap between us was too much for me to close. My second place finish had been safe for a long time now. I had already broken Tony Mangan’s Irish 72 hour record set at this race. And the only other prize left was to get the rarest award the race hands out… the 300 mile belt buckle.
So I continued accelerating, knowing that this was effectively a run to my personal finish line. Coming in to the end of the 4th last lap I felt my big toenail move in my shoe… uh-oh! Things were definitely a bit iffy down there, but it wasn’t causing any pain or discomfort. So I just ignored it and ran on.
Finally my personal countdown reached 1. I was on my last lap. I had 15 minutes to my revised target time. and I was running laps under 11 minutes by now. I hammered out the last lap, again enjoying the fact that I could churn out such speed at this stage of the race. I was running the lap in under 10 minutes. A sprint finish took me through the finish line and I stared at the monitor to see it confirm my cumulative mileage was over 300 miles. yeeeeehaaaaaaaw 🙂 I had done it!
I was absolutely elated. I had exceeded every target I had set before the race with a huge amount of time to spare. Celebrations began by grabbing some of the champagne that was still left behind after the new years celebrations and drinking to the run. I waited at the finish line for Ed and Joe to pass so that I could let them know I’d made the 300, and that I was calling it a day at the point. I also had to congratulate Joe on his achievement of running past the 300 mile mark much earlier. Both of them had their own personal targets and were running determinedly on. After that I was more than happy to retire to the tent and grab some much-needed sleep.
When I got up the following morning I could hear all sorts of records being announced on the tannoy. Joe went on to handsomely beat Yiannis Kouros’ old course record and set a stunning new record of over 329 miles. It was a true pleasure to race against such a fantastic runner.
Ed broke his PB by running 263.5 miles, which was enough to get him into the top ten distances achieved in the race ever. There were very few years in the history of the race when that kind of distance wouldn’t have won the event! Similarly I was only the 4th person to ever reach the 300 mile mark, but was the only one not to win the event while doing so.
In the Women’s race records were also shattered. The top two runners both broke the old record, with Vikena Yutz setting a new event record of 254 miles.
The whole race was a fantastic experience. It had been well and truly worth the trip from Ireland. The race organisation was fantastic. The atmosphere was friendly. The comradery out on the course was everything you could hope for.
I had pushed my envelope of ultrarunning experience far out from where it had been. My first journey into multi-day running could hardly have gone much better. My day 1 mileage was more than I anticipated I would comfortably manage, day two was hard, but went pretty much as I expected it to, and day 3 turned out to be one of the most enjoyable and rewarding days I’ve ever had in a running race. With time all the pain has already been forgotten, and I’m already thinking about where to go next!