I suppose this is more of a breakdown of my thoughts on the race and a way of helping me remember some of the more eventful bits rather than a full race report. I hope you find it useful.
I try to run races that have some significance to me in terms of where I’ve lived, the beauty of the course or their uniqueness. The ST24 definitely fitted the last category.
The idea of the ST24, from what I understand, is that you physically deplete yourself so much you stop thinking about the everyday occurrences in your life and start to think about what really matters to you. The use of a running track is no accident. In meditation you’re taught to focus on signal objects such as a pin head or your own breath, this race used a 400 metre track.
I also like the fact that there is no plastic goodie bag of crap and advertising at the end.
Run 3 laps and walk 1. That way it would hopefully stop me from going off too fast but also having something to concentrate on to break up the monotony. Concentrating on the 3/1 tactic became my pin.
5 hours for the 1st 25 miles, 5 ½ hours for the 2nd, 6 hours for the 3rd and 7 ½ for last. 100 miles in 24 hours.
I’d attempted to run 100 miles once before at the White Rose Ultra but dropped out at 83 miles as it passed my house. Afterwards, I had a terrible feeling of failure and beat myself up for a bit about not being strong enough mentally to have finished. “It’s all learning though”, I told myself and “sometimes you need to fail to succeed”. I’ve learnt a massive amount about racing 100 miles from the WRU 100 and crewing for Nick Thompson on some of the Centurion races……grit in your shoe, you have ups & downs, food makes you tired and you come through it, sort hot spots straight away, eat and drink constantly, you feel better when the sun comes up, start slow and get slower…..
What crew? Lucky me and my friend James applied and were accepted together. Every other runner seemed to have a gazebo, tent, sleeping bag, table, flag of their country etc. We stuffed a carrier bag of food and clothes under the cover of an industrial grass roller to keep it from getting wet. We crewed for ourselves and later, thankfully James crewed for me. Russ Beasley was also a big help and a lady who gave me some sudacrem which almost certainly saved my race at that point.
The ST24 ultra in some ways reminded me of going to an all-night dance club abroad. You randomly end up talking to someone from Belarus for hours, sweat so much that when you go to the toilet you slide off the seat, you drink your body weight in water and dance (run) all night. People finally spill out into the day light, a distant memory of the person that entered the club smelling great and with their best gear on. You go back to someone’s house party to carry on but by this time everyone is more tired and less coherent. Some people pop pills, some have cups of tea, others pass out in the corner, only to get a second wind later. For anyone who has run this race or something similar, you’ll know what I mean.
I made sure I ate and drank something every 4th lap. My friend Nick told me that ultra running is really just an eating and drinking competition and in some ways he’s right. At points in the race you know you really need to eat or you’ll start to go downhill and you’re body and mind will start to rebel.
I ate and drank whilst I was walking. I’d learnt that you can lose a lot of time at aid stations. Over the whole 24 hours I only sat down once to change my socks and twice to go to the toilet.
Now this seems crazy, but this is truthfully what I ate and drank. Every mile (4×400 meters =1600 metres/1 mile) I was very methodical and had a cup of either water, coconut water, coke, electrolytes, energy drink, ginger ale, tea and/or crisps, a banana, apple, pretzels, twiglets, peanuts, soup and baked beans. I’d say that’s easily 100+ portions of food and/or drink.
I didn’t eat the sandwiches. This was the races only fail. Who puts butter on a jam sandwich and even worse, who puts butter on a peanut butter sandwich! I think even Sri Chomney would have vetoed that.
The lap counting system is kind of flawed but kind of brilliant. Instead of having a tag on your leg that records a lap every time you go past, they have a volunteer allocated to about 4 people who you shout to or they shout at you every time you pass the start/finish line. These volunteers are brilliant. Imagine trying to keep your concentration to count 4 different runners as they go past you every minute or so for hours on end.
I have to say the counters were one of my highlights. They were so positive all the way through. My third counter did a 7+ hours stint from about 9pm until way past 4am, giving big whoops and yells every time I passed. When she rotated, I nearly cried. I don’t know what it was like for them, but for me it felt like you shared a real concentrated experience. I’m so sorry I can’t remember everyone’s name but I’m almost certain I wouldn’t have got past 100 miles if it wasn’t for their joy and selfless encouragement.
That’s one of the great things about a track ultra, you share the whole experience with every runner and every crew member. On a regular ultra, if you’re like me, you might see the leaders at the start and picking up the trophy at the end. On a track ultra you see the whole race unfold in front of you, from the runners that go off way too fast and blow up, to the ones that take it steady and slowly move up through the field.
I think every runner must have a different experience. My most depleted run was crewing on the Thames Path 100. My runner had pushed on and finished and I was left to stumble back as elderly ladies passed me with a walking stick. The last 3 miles took me 2 hours that day, but they were the 2 miles I remember the most fondly. That feeling of total exhaustion but total satisfaction, of a long time goal completed. Helping a friend finish a 100 miler.
This time it was different. This was more a sense of lessons learnt. At the WRU100 I gave up at 83 miles because I didn’t know any different. I was tired, very tired and I hadn’t yet felt the massive disappointment of not finishing a 100 mile race. I had that knowledge of disappointment pushing me on and also knowing that you need to break 24 hours in 1hr sections. Just treat it an hour at a time and forget the total time, otherwise the thought of it will eat you up and you’ll quit.
Hallucinating? Lots of people say they do on ultras. At times in the night I thought I saw my wife but quickly realised it was just a person with a similar shape and form. Was this hallucinating? I don’t know?
I do know for the last two hours I purposely didn’t listen to music, switched off strava and tried to just focus on my running. All I could think about was finishing over 100 miles, my wife, kids and how great everyone had been. Is this transcendence or is this still my selfishness?
I passed 100 miles with about ½ an hour to spare and spent the last ½ hour of the race watching everyone potter or even sprint round the track trying to reach their individual goals.
I did finish the race with real sense of calm and satisfaction. I’d banished the demons of not getting past 100 miles at the WRU before. I was absolutely knackered, I was so happy to have finished the bloody thing and I was chuffed to have shared and witnessed such an experience with so many committed and genuinely lovely people.
A huge thank you goes to Shankara and all the volunteers, especially the 4 that counted me through, I’m so sorry I can’t remember your names but you were an absolute highlight. I’ve made a promise to myself that I’ll come back and volunteer myself.
James Young, Roz Glover, Artur Venis, Russ Beasley and all the other runners and crew for helping me through the run with your positive words and actions.
Nick Thompson and Andy Lang, you seduced me into ultra running and I owe you a lot.
Nige , Andy W, Jeff and the whole Meltham AC family….you rock.
Caz, George, William and family. I love you.
Shoes: I wore Nike Pegasus 28 trail which in hindsight were a little too hard for the track and my feet were quite swollen by the end of it. I should have worn my Hoka One One Clifton 2, but I was worried they would be too bouncy and coupled with a bouncy track, may end up blowing up my knees.
Socks: I wore Teko Super Cushion Marathon Socks which were great. I did get some blisters but I think that was down to swapping to an old pair of cushioned walking socks from Trespass after about 11 hours as I couldn’t find my 2nd pair of Teko’s.
Chaffing: I’d go Sudacrem over Vaseline every time and put plasters on your nipples, especially if it’s raining.
Clothes: Change into a warmer top before it gets dark and put on a warmer hat. I saw a lot of people go downhill over night. You need full waterproof jacket and trousers too. Plus a change of everying. Trust me, you can’t bring too many items of clothing.
Food: Keep eating and drinking constantly. Have a food plan and stick to it.
Music: Keeping the Rave Alive – DJ Kutski
Running: Have a broken down race plan, ideally broken into manageable segments but don’t make it too complicated and don’t stress if it goes off course. You have lots of time, especially at the end of the race. If it really comes to it and you’re really struggling, have a sleep for a couple of hours, set 2 alarms and ask someone to wake you up. Believe me, loads of people did it this year. Some finished top 5.
People: Try to talk to people. They will become your allies and potential race saviours. If not, you might be theirs.
You: Enjoy it and try to take it all in.
“Parakeets, they’ve got Parakeets! I’m glad I saw them now rather than the end when I thought I was hallucinating.”
The track is surrounded by trees and so blocks the wind. I spent most of the early laps identifying them. I can confirm there is a mix of oak, ash, sycamore, hawthorn, holly and other native broad-leaved species.
Over a 24 hour period, I also witnessed a group of mushrooms growing from basic mycelium to full fruiting bodies!