I woke up easily on the morning of the race after a good night’s sleep. It wasn’t long before the Irish team accommodation was buzzing with activity. As ever, task number 1 for today was to head over to the canteen block to get in some breakfast (Hopefully without falling off anything this time!). John and myself headed over first, but the place was buzzing with activity as all the other teams were also queuing for breakfast.
I had decided I was having my minimal breakfast, so just grabbed my bowl of musili, sat down near the British team and ate it. Ten minutes later and I was back over at the Irish team rooms, relaxing again before our next task!
The buses were due to leave the accommodation are around half past nine or so, and be guaranteed to get us to the race course before 10:30. We made our way to the bus area in plenty of time, where 3 large coaches were waiting. The first coach had people milling around it and appeared to be getting quite full, so we boarded the second coach. The Japanese and Canadian teams joined us on the coach after a short time.
A little after half past nine the first coach pulled away, but there was no sign of any movement on our coach. The drivers seemed to be waiting around for more teams to arrive. Another 15 minutes passed without any sign of any other teams (The British and French teams seemed to have their own transport), or any driver coming to bring us to the race. I think the driver must have sensed the impatience from his vantage point in the 3rd (completely empty) bus, so finally he came over and we got under way.
I was sitting with John Collins, and ask him to note my mental note that I was taking my SIM card out of my phone and putting it safely in my wallet (This was to ensure that no-one could say that my phone, which I could use as a music player, could be used as a communications device in the race). I turned kept my phone turned off so as to preserve the batteries, just in case it would be a long night of music listening!
We arrived at the race start well before 10:30, as promised by the organisers. Unfortunately the weather was pretty poor. The skies were dark grey and ominous looking, and there were intermittent showers. In addition to this there was a strong wind blowing. This being the Netherlands there weren’t any hills around to block the wind either, just buildings and trees. It would be interesting to see how this would affect conditions on the race course.
I had one last important task to complete before the race. I needed to do my final shop for race supplies. John Collins had agreed to give me a hand, so we headed straight off for the 5 minute walk to Aldi. The rest of the gang made their way to our designated aid station on the course to set up. Having checked out the shop the day before, it didn’t take me too long to wizz around and buy what I needed. Mostly this consisted of liquids, in the form of 2 litres of fruit juice and 3 litres of various varieties of flavoured milk. I couldn’t resist getting one or two other bits of junk food, just in case 🙂 We weren’t the only people from the race in the shop either. There was a trickle of racers heading in getting last-minute supplies.
We made our way back directly to the aid stations and located the designated Irish space. In general designated space is assigned in the tents in alphabetical order of countries, but some juggling around happens to make sure all the teams can fit in the available tents fairly and effectively. We were positioned at the end of one large tent, with the much larger British team being our next-door neighbours… just like the real world! With all the runners and all the support crews milling around everything felt very cramped. But hopefully this was a scenario that would not be repeated during the race itself!
Everyone’s bags were placed in the tent, and priority nutrition items were placed on the table at the front so as to be immediately accessible by the runners if needed. There was still nearly an hour to go before the start of the race, so I grabbed one of the last remaining chairs and sat down in it to simply chill out before the race.
I checked through my own bag to make sure everything was there and accessible I got out and untangled my earphones, but was having trouble locating my phone. 5 minutes of searching later I still hadn’t found it. It looked like at best I had lost it somewhere. I let John Collins know and asked him to check with the race organisers at some point if a phone had been handed in to them. Oh well… it looked like there would definitely be no music for me in the race (not that it was very likely anyway).
Once everyone was well sorted out we organised ourselves to get some pre-race photos of the runners, and the rest of the crew, helped in our task by our British neighbours.
With about 20 minutes to go before the official midday race start the announcements on the race tannoy system began asking the athletes to make their way towards the start line. Now was decision time on what to wear. It felt quite cold when I took off my tracksuit bottoms. I was definitely going to keep my Columbia Omni-heat base layer on for the start of the race. I also had my trusty go-to rain-jacket, from Columbia’s fantastically breathable Omni-dry range, but by now it wasn’t really raining, so I decided to ditch that. I could pick it up again if the weather changed.
We joined in the throng heading down from the aid-stations area making the two or three hundred meter trip to the start line outside the Cromweil sports hall. At least in a 24 hour race it doesn’t really matter at all whether you make a fast start or not, so we wandered around to find some space behind the front ranks of starters. As usual, us Irish stuck together and we all wished everyone luck.
The standard loud countdown wasn’t long coming, and then we were off. Only 24 hours to go 🙂 Even in a 24 hour race the starting pace can get quite fast if you don’t pay attention to what you’re doing. Lots of people are psyched up and ready to race hard. I had my targeted pace range, and was determined to stick to it no matter what everyone else was doing.
On first reaching the aid-stations, less than a minute late Dan headed away from us and into the trackside toilets…. for feck sake! You’d think he’d have sorted that our before the start. Much laughing and mockery came his way as a result. He had caught back up with us before the end of the first lap.
It wasn’t until well into the second lap that things seemed to settle down a bit and the field became more spaced out. It was nice not to be running in a huge block of people. I began to start taking the racing line without needing to worry too much about having too many runners nearby. It always amazes me how few people seek out the racing line in ultra races like this.
On passing through the start line a second time (and hearing the beep chorus as a stream of runners cross the timing mats), I confirmed for myself that the huge display screen that the organisers had beyond the mats so that runners could see their lap times, lap count, and elapsed distance, was not displaying anything at all. As a result I didn’t know for sure what my pace was. It did feel rather fast though.
For the next few laps John, Dan and myself were still running together most of the time, with Eddie not too far off either. On passing the aid station I managed to communicate enough with the crew that I’d lile to know my lap times and pacing. There was still no sign of life from the information board, but I could see that someone was working on the equipment.
Passing the aid station again I was informed that we were doing lap times of around 13 minutes, which equated to about 11km an hour. John was also running with a stopwatch. The 1 and 2 kilometer marks after the start line were painted on the ground, so he was timing these to get his speed as well. He also said that we were doing about 11 KmPH. That was exactly the upper limit of the pace I would like to set! John agreed that we were going pretty fast. (If I could keep that pace up for the duration of the race I would smash the Irish record… which is a bit of an “over-speed” warning).
Even though we were running extremely quickly (for a 24 hour race), we were a long way off the pace being set by a multitude of other runners. Some of them were undoubtedly world-class runners putting in big early milage. But it was likely that some of them were also getting caught up in the heat of the moment, feeling great, and going out way too hard. Time would tell.
On one of the early laps I could see my old rival from “Across the Years”, Joe Fejes, running just ahead of me. I hadn’t managed to meet him so far on the trip, mainly as a result of the Americans being in different race accommodation, so I made sure to catch up with him and have a chat. He was in great form and looked to be running well. I had no doubt he would be capable of putting in a great performance here, as he has been steadily improving (from an already strong start point). We wished each other well and he sped on.
There were a few other runners of note that were overtaking us in these early hours of the race. I hadn’t seen Lizzy Hawker with the British team until just before the race. (She had arrived straight from a race in Nepal on Friday evening). She was setting an awesome early pace, but looked like it was effortless with her great running style.
The other runner of note I was keeping an eye for was the greatest ultrarunner of all time, Yiannis Kouros. I think he must be in his late fifties (at least) by now, but he was still heading around the course at a tremendous pace. He seemed to have a classic “ultra-shuffle” running style, where it’s hard to perceive that he is running along, more just shuffling. It’s obviously highly effective. He seemed to be tailing after other fast runners, jumping onto the heels of other runners as their pace suited him.
The race had a tannoy system set up which we could hear almost everywhere on the course. They played music over this (mostly ignoreable), but also had 2 guys commentating on the race as well (not quite so ignoreable). God help anyone who has to provide 24 hours on continuous commentary on any race!! But at least they were not going to upset the locals by broadcasting all night (I certainly hoped they wouldn’t). Still, they were actually providing some interesting information on the race.
The men’s race seemed to be all over the place, with all sorts of unexpected runners setting a blistering early pace. A Latvian runner was in the lead, and 2 Polish runners were also setting an impressive pace behind him. I wondered did any of these guys know what they were doing! In the women’s race things were going closer to pre-race predictions, with the British and Japanese runners being noticeably prominent. Lizzy was running second, just behind the leading Japanese woman, both going at world record place.
Two of the British runners ran along side us for a while, and we had a quick chat. They continued on at a slightly faster pace. Dan decided to keep the conversation going and kept up with them, leaving John and myself behind. Eventually varying strategies for picking up food and drink, along with “nature breaks” ensured that we were all running on our own. I was quite happy to settle into my own little hypnotic world of steady pacing along the racing line, racking up the laps and the distance almost imperceptibly. I try not to think of time going by before 12 hours have elapsed, and just stay steadily and metronomically putting out a consistent pace.
The organisers did eventually manage to get their giant score screen working. It was great to get instant feedback of lap times and elapsed distance. Getting these figures gives my mind plenty to think about as I go long. I can govern my pace more accurately, and know to a fine degree what adjustments I need to make. I can also churn the numbers through my head with projections and estimates based on current pace, and how much speed I could lose and still hit my targets (or adjust targets to account for pace). This one of the biggest mental distractions that keeps me going through a race like this.
After about 5 hours (if I recall correctly) my first real problems started to crop up. I was starting to have Gastro issues. This had destroyed my race in the Irish 24 hour championships in 2012, forcing me to retire before half the race was completed. This was starting a bit later in the race, so I hoped it wouldn’t be as catastrophic. I stopped by the aid station shortly after my first “nature break” and had an Imodium to hopefully get it under control.
I would try to get my nutrition in pure liquid form as much as possible given these problems. I tried out the Aldi chocolate milk…. yum 🙂 I had brought more than enough varieties of liquids to cover this if I needed to anyway.
About 7 or so hours in I caught up with Dan about half away around the track. It was the first time I’d seen him for an hour or two at least. I put my hand on his shoulder as I caught him, and he jumped a mile! Unfortunately I could tell from the way he was looking when I was running beside him that all was not well. He said he was starting to feel his hamstring niggles again. This was clearly making running uncomfortable for him, and he had visibly lost speed. Within a few more laps I caught sight of Dan in the Aid station being worked on by our physio experts, and finally saw that he had put his tracks suit back on. Damn, it looked like he had to pull out.
My own little issues weren’t getting any better. Even having switched to just occasionally taking liquids and ignoring solid foods altogether wasn’t having the desired effect. I was still having to a “nature break” every now and again. These were having a definite impact on my race pace as well, as the time for these adds up! The first Imodium didn’t seem to have worked, so I asked the support crew for another one after a few more laps, and then for yet another one a while later. I only half-jokingly asked what the safe limit was for consuming Imodium (Most Adventure racers know exactly the rate at which you can safely consume ibuprofen, which tells its own story, but I hadn’t a clue about Imodium).
All of this eventually got the situations sufficiently stabilised that I wasn’t regularly running off the track like I had been at the Irish championships last year. The price of this though was that I was eating almost nothing, and wasn’t drinking a huge amount either, as even liquids were “putting me under pressure”. This is another place where my more extreme training pays off. I never consume any food on any of my training runs, no matter how long they are (and some of them can exceed 5 hours in duration). Additional I would only consume liquids on very long training runs on hot summers days. As a result I have a very well adapted fat-burning engine which doesn’t require too much lubrication!
As well as the obvious physical advantages of being adapted to require little or no intake on long runs there is also a massive psychological advantage in knowing that I can run very effectively without needing to worry about consuming food and liquids. So Having to cut out solid food and reduce liquid intake had very little negative impact on my mental approach to the race.
After 8 hours of aural torture the race announcers stopped for the night so that the locals wouldn’t be any more disturbed than absolutely necessary. Even for someone right in the middle of the race, 8 hours of continuous updates of who was leading and who was passing the start line get just a little repetitive. This is especially the case when you’re of the opinion (as I am) that the real racing doesn’t really start until around the last third of the race.
After 9 it started we started to lose the daylight. The course had plenty of streetlights around to keep it adequately lit for the most part. The onset of night would still have a psychological effect though. Our bodies go through their natural daily sleep cycles, and the onset of darkness inevitably triggers the onset of a certain amount of tiredness. There is usually a notable drop-off in the number of runners on the course once nighttime really takes hold after midnight, even at a top-level event such as the world championships.
I noticed as the night approached that there were people placing glass jars every 5 or 10 meters along the edge of the course, each with a candle in them. Now that was a very nice idea! I expected that this would look fantastic once the last light of the dusk had disappeared and all the candles had been lit.
Another extra issue which the night brings is that there will usually be a significant drop in temperature. I had been running comfortably for most of the day in just my standard Irish running shorts and singlet. If you get too cold in a long ultra race like this things can very rapidly descend into a full energy crash. So quite soon after the night fell I erred on the side of caution and came into the aid station to put on extra layers. I put a base layer back on, as well as my good Columbia waterproof jacket, since the skies were starting to look ominous again. In addition I also put on thermal leggings, as these tend to work well even in wet conditions (not that it was raining by then).
After one or two laps running in all this gear I was starting to wonder if I had possibly made a mistake and put too many layers on, as I was starting to warm up quite a bit. But as luck would have it, it then started to rain. This wasn’t just a light shower either, it was quite an intense amount of rainfall. Within another lap I had reversed my thinking entirely to wondering whether I had actually put on enough clothes. This shower was the longest one we had had all day, and there was no sign of it stopping. I had put my hood up to keep out the rain, but it was getting irritating having to adjust it frequently to keep it in place. So I decided a baseball cap style hat would be perfect, as this would keep the rain off my face, but not be too warm.
The next time I approached the aid station there was no sign of any of the lads standing trackside, which was unusual. I shouted towards them as I approached, hoping to get their attention. John heard me and went scrambling towards my gear bag to try to find my hat. I reckoned I could deal with another lap without the hat, so I carried on running rather than wait to find it, and said that the next lap would be fine to pick it up.
Unfortunately it looked like the reason that the support crew were distracted was that it looked like John O’Regan was having problems. From what I could see as I glanced in they were working on his legs, and John was wearing very warm clothes (It looked like my Columbia Omni-heat down jacket)… that wasn’t a good sign.
One more wet lap and I found myself back at the aid station again, where this time John Collins was waiting for me. He produced my red mountain hat from his pocket… “no not that, that’s too warm… the white hat!”, so he reached into his other pocket and produced my grey Columbia Omni-heat beanie hat…. “gahhh, no the white hat… the baseball cap style hat!”. He turned to look in the gear again, so I said “next lap will do”, and headed off again.
Yet another wet lap and I again found myself back at the aid station where John was waiting with my white hat…. yay! I picked it up with an exchange of smiles. It was exactly what I was looking for, and I finally had it. On it went and off I ran. It was still raining pretty hard. Nighttime can have a severe enough effect on people, but adding harsh weather like this into the equation could certainly have an interesting impact on the race. I reckoned it was bound to have an impact on some runners.
As it turned out I was correct, but unfortunately one of the runners it affected quite badly was John O’Regan. As it turned out he had gotten so cold that he needed to head of down to the Cromweil sports centre and warm up indoors using my sleeping bag (which I had brought along for circumstances exactly like this). John eventually managed to recover sufficiently to be able to get out onto the course to run again, and had enough mental drive to give himself some targets to achieve, both for himself and for the team as a whole.
By now I was much more running in my own “bubble”, and not paying as much attention to what was going on with the rest of the race. I had enough to concentrate on. All the time I had been keeping an eye on my pacing. In the early hours of the race I had been restraining myself, but still doing 11KmPH, the absolute fastest I could go. But by now, approaching midnight and the halfway point, that had fallen away somewhat. I had a notional target of exceeding 120km after 12 hours. I was still ahead of that, being on target for around 125km, but I was no longer “adding insurance” to that distance. So I reckoned I was now running at around 10KmPH.
Dealing with the gastro issues had definitely lost me some distance. And by now I had, by my own definition, crossed into the realm of ultrarunning. By this I meant that I was no longer pacing along trying to restrain myself from going too fast, but rather I was now running with effort and concentration required to keep my pace up to my target speed. That switchover was always going to happen at some point, but I reckoned all the stops had expedited its arrival.
I passed through the halfway point at midnight having run a little under 125km. I was happy with that as a distance (Double that and I would be on track for an Irish record), but worried about the fact that my laptimes were gradually increasing. Realistically there was no way I would get near the Irish record (248km), but I was still targeting getting to 240km, and breaking my PB in the process (237km).
I was actually quite happy running around in the relative quiet of the night, even in the pulsing rain. I had the balance of my clothing set up perfectly… the waterproof jacket was keeping me dry enough, and the base layer was keeping me warm enough. My leggings were comfortable enough that I didn’t need waterproof leggings. My cap was keeping my face dry. On the other side of the delicate balance, I was able to keep working hard without overheating.
I was noticing less athletes out on the course. Far fewer runners were passing me know, and those that were passing me were doing so with far less frequency. Some of the athletes that were quite prominent in the early stages of the race seemed to have disappeared completely, such as Lizzy Hawker, the Polish runners setting the early fast pace, and even Yiannis Kouros. I didn’t know whether this was because they had “blown”, or if their pace had dropped to be close enough to mine.
I did notice that 2 of the American runners appeared to be having severe issues with the weather. They looked to be visibly suffering from the cold, and I could hear their support crews communicating to them that gloves etc were being found. One of them was running with a space blanket wrapped around him. It would be a long night for them!
Mainly I spent the early hours of Sunday morning trying to keep myself running metronomically in a running trance, and keeping an eye on lap times and elapsed distances. As the hours progressed the information being conveyed by those stats was getting worse though. I wanted to keep my total elapsed distance above a 10KmPH average, but by about 3am I could see I was likely to fall below that if I kept running at my current pace. I was “leaking” my spare “insurance” distance beyond that average slowly but surely with every passing hour. Quite simply, I had slowed too much.
Worse than that, I was now beginning to feel the effects of time on my feet. My feet were starting to ache quite a lot, and it was getting harder to push that out of my mind as being mere background noise. Usually an ibuprofen would be a quick fix under these circumstances, but they are notoriously hard on the stomach. I was having enough stomach related issues without adding to them!
The support crew had been telling me throughout the race that I was looking good, doing well, etc., throughout the race. But to be honest I was just ignoring them, as that’s what I would say if I was in their position, almost no matter how bad things looked. But they had also been occasionally been giving me position updates to spur me along. By now I was up roughly within the top 50. Whilst I didn’t really care too much about where I finished if it was outside the top 10, it now gave me something to latch onto and turn into a motivating target.
So now I started looking at the laps completed by runners I could read on the giant scoreboard after the start line and compared them to my own. I would target people within a lap of me, either to catch if they were in front, or keep behind if I was in front. This got me into a more racy mode and kept me motivated and running at as good a speed as I could manage. I seemed to overtake someone every lap or 2, which was definitely good motivation. There were one or two other runners around running at a similar speed with similar lap counts which was keeping me on my toes. In particular the lone Argentinian representative seemed to be slowly hauling me and looked like he would overtake me sometime soon.
At about 4:30 in the morning my stomach started another gurgle and I had to head for one more trip of course, hitting the toilet block just before the aid stations. On leaving all the tired and fatigue made it really hard to restart running and as a result I just walked the short distance down to the Irish aid station. When I got there I told the lads I was exhausted and went into the tent and sat down. I didn’t really know what my intentions were at this point! The crew was offering me everything they could think of, but I was not really either thirsty or hungry. I explained that I was definitely going to miss my 240km target and that I was a lacking some motivation as a result.
Time seemed to pass extremely rapidly for a change! Eddie passed the tent twice in the time I was sitting down. There’s no stopping steady Eddie! John O’Regan, who had returned to the course saw me stopped and came it to encourage me back out onto the track. He joked with the crew that they wouldn’t take my lame excuses from him and would have told him in no uncertain terms to get back out, which made me laugh. He then headed off back out himself. After a few minutes of figuring out if I could eat anything I managed to get sipping on a large container of custard that I had picked up in Aldi. At least that went down easily and smoothly.
I also realised that since my aching feet were now my biggest problem I should do something about it! So I got the lads to help me get my shoes off. John suggested a change of socks, which was a good idea. So they also dug out one of my spare pairs of socks and helped me change into those. I let the crew know that the fundamental problem now was that I simply needed to HTFU and get back out running again, but was having trouble motivating myself to do it. It’s hard to explain the levels of fatigue at this point that can bring someone to such a complete stop.
Eventually I had watched too many runners run past the aid station and I got up, very unsteadily, to head out again. I was only a meter or two out when I had to turn around again… I could feel one of my newly acquired socks creating a pressure point under my foot. John Collins was straight onto it, got my shoe off, pulled the sock tight, and put my shoe back on (Bending over at this point would have been a big cramp risk!). So once more I set off again…
It was now very hard to get running. It took me a minute or two to transition from walking to shuffling. That was followed by a slow transition up to proper running. When I got back around to the timing mats I looked up to see the last lap had taken 40 minutes. Ouch. That was quite a “sit down protest” I had taken.
The light was on its way back now, and with it the rain had also gone. As a result temperatures were slowly beginning to rise again. When I got back to the aid station I took off my rain jacket, as we were now back at the point where overheating was likely to be a bigger issue than freezing. I also decided to take the risk of taking an ibuprofen, as my stomach was behaving itself for the moment. I also reckoned I could make it to the end without taking any more solid food, and would plan to do that.
The combination of everything that has happened in the last hour was transformational. I was really starting to get my competitive streak back. When I restarted running I set off with a target of getting to 220km (I was at 179 km or so at that point). I reckoned 40km was do-able in the 5 hours left, even at my greatly reduced pace. However now I was starting to feel really strong again. It felt like the surge I had felt during the “Across the Years” race on the last day. I used the memory of that experience to re-generate the same positive drive. And with that I reset my target up to 230km.
Passing the timing mat I could see that my lap times were dropping and I was now running steadily at about 14 minute laps, a speed I hadn’t been doing since the early part of the race. I was now in a big positive feedback loop and thriving on it. I again used the big scoreboard to hunt out runners within a lap or two of me and target them. At this point only a very small number of runners were running faster than me. I was comfortably catching my target runners and passing them. Time was flowing more quickly now. The support crew had also noticed my update in form and were cheering me on accordingly. Dan had rejoined them as an additional support crew member as well.
I was really enjoying the race now, and was determined to finish on a high. I was well on track for hitting my 230km target by now. Passing the American aid station Joe Fejes popped out and we ran together for a while. He was doing really well, and was sitting in the top 10 for the race. I let him run ahead of me after a while. But within half a lap I found I had caught back up with him, so I told him he could run faster and to latch onto me. He didn’t though, and I slowly pulled away. I was definitely moving well now.
At 8a.m. the aural torture restarted as the race tannoy kicked back into life. There had been plenty of dramatic developments overnight, which we were informed of. The race was now being led by Jon Olson, a really strong American runner. The early race leaders had dropped away completely to be replaced by the emerging American talent (another was in 3rd), and experienced european runners, notably the top Russian and German runners. In the female race things were even more dramatic. Lizzy Hawker had disappeared, and another Japanese runner, Mami Kudo, had taken the lead. She was on target to possibly break the world record!
I was continuing to steadily overtake runners and work my way up the field as the laps went by. Most other runners seemed to be slowing, whereas I was now running at my fastest for some considerable time. After a while one of the “target” runners to appear on my radar was the Polish runner who had been the early race leader. It was good to pass him, as it was a vindication of a more balanced steadily paced approach to 24 hour racing. I also started repassing a lot of the runners who I had let past me during my 40 minute lap.
Within the last two hours I made two big overtakes. I saw on the race leaderboard that I was now closing in on the Argentinian runner who had been about to overtake me before my long break. He was the last runner I had to “unwind” to get myself ahead of the position I had been in before my stop. As I was within a few hundred meters of the start line I heard an announcement that he (the Argentinian runner) had just passed through the start line and would set a new Argentinian record when he next crossed. This told me that I was closing in on him quite quickly, which spurred me on forward. In the long straight section around the 1km mark I could see him ahead and pulled him in steadily, easing past him after the next turn. Wahooo…. I had now made up for my long break from a race position point of view, and I was still running strongly.
The support crew also let me know that I was now within a lap or two of catching Yiannis Kouros. They had definitely figured out how to spur me on 🙂 I had already overtaken him once or twice. He had slowed right down, and I guessed that he must have been occasionally walking. I didn’t know exactly how far ahead he was, but I counted off several more overtakes in the next 6 or 7 laps which I reckoned must have taken me past him.
When I passed through the start line with roughly an hour to go I could see that if I kept going at this pace I should easily make 230km. In fact, if I could up the pace a bit there was an outside chance of targeting my PB. So I upped my speed yet again and really let fly. I belted around the next lap full of drive and confidence and ran the lap in just under 12 minutes. I was really motoring now. I followed it up with another lap which was also under 12 minutes. I reckoned no-one was moving faster than me now. At this pace I just might make it to my PB. Unfortunately it wasn’t a pace I could sustain, so I had to ease back again to doing laps of between 13 and 14 minutes. These were still faster than nearly everyone else. I was still overtaking runners and gaining positions.
With about 17 minutes to go I passed the aid station for what would probably be the second last time. We had to take a small wooden block with us to mark our position on the course when the 24 hour mark was sounded (Our full distance would be the lap count multiplied by the number of laps done, plus the distance from the start line to our wooden block). John was already on station to hand over my wooden block, which he passed to me wrapped in an Irish flag. He also told me that “the German is 100 meters ahead”, which I (correctly) interpreted to mean I had another runner to overtake just in front of me. I passed him within a few seconds.
I continued flying around what would be my last full lap. As I turned the corner into the timing mats for the last time where the largest crowd of spectators were gather I wrapped the flag around my shoulders and ran through as fast as I could. Most of the other runners were also carrying their national flags. The board indicated I was a little over 233km. For some reason I decided I didn’t like 233 and would have to get to 234. There were about 6 minutes left, enough for one more kilometer!
Approaching the aid station area things had changed a lot. All the support crews were out of their tents and lining the running track, making a narrow tunnel for us to run through as they cheered and roared us on. There were two German runners just ahead of me running side by side and slowing for photos. I was in no mood for slowing just yet and had no option but to plough through the middle of them to keep my pace up. I could he my own support crew roaring me on as I went by.
I kept running as hard as I could manage, pushing out another three or four hundred meters and making it to just short of the 1km marker when the gun sounded marking the midday and the end of the race. For once I didn’t just roll over and collapse! This was probably the best I’d felt at the end of a 24hour race. I placed my block on the ground and moved over to the side of the road to wait for the measurers to come around. A car was working its way slowly up the course from which the organisers were offering us all a choice of coke, fanta or beer! I chose the fanta (I’m one of the small minority of my countrymen who doesn’t like the taste of beer!).
Dan and John Collins came around a few minutes later, having worked their way out from the aid station. Dan stayed with me whilst we waited what seemed like an age for the measuring gang to work their way around and record my distance. John carried on to find Eddie who was the only other Irish runner on the course at the finish (John O’Regan made it to his target distance of 100 miles within the last hour and stopped at that point).
In the end it turned out I had manged a distance of 234.666km. Overall I’m very happy with my race. My distance was my 3rd best ever and only 3km short of my PB. Given the difficulties I had had during the race it was a good result. It is also the 4th best Irish distance of all time over 24hours.
In the world championships I ended up 22nd in the world. I was very happy with that, to say the least. I was only 25th in the race though, as the 3 podium finishers in the female race had finished with a better distance than mine. Mami Kudo had indeed gone on to set a new world record in the female race of 252+km, and was 7th overall in the race. The race was won by Jon Olson of the USA (He was an awesome runner, and a nice guy too) with 269+km. Full race results are here.
As ever, a lot of the story of my own race can be read in my lap split times, which can be seen here. It had been a real up and down race, with a good start, a big low in the early hours of the morning, and a fantastic last 5 hours. All the enforced breaks along the way can be seen in the bumps in lap times.
As an experience it had been a fantastic event. The highlight was definitely how well everyone in the Irish team, both the runners and the support crew, had gelled so well together. The trip had been a pleasure from start to finish as a result. I hope that any Irish team I’m picked for in future will have a similarly high standard of teamwork and togetherness.