British Runners (Photo by Gil Thomas)
I recently took part in my first go at a 24 hour track event (the Barcelona 24 hour event), it didn’t quite go to plan but was a fun weekend overall.
I made a decision to enter this fairly late (about 6 weeks before) after a successful run at the Autumn 100 event. To be honest, the sole reason for entering was to see if I could achieve a Spartathlon auto-qualifier (216km required) as I had planned to enter this event next year and we had already designed family plans/holidays/cost around this. The target was definitely a stretch goal but achieveable based on a 17.04 100 mile finish at the Autumn 100.
In preparation, I ran a few long track sessions to get used to that environment. Mentally I was fine with a short lapped event, but upon reflection my legs weren’t conditioned enough (more of that later) for the race.
The event itself started at 12 midday on the Saturday. There were a number of events being run at the same time including relay events, a 6 hour and 12 hour event and runners were assigned different lanes. With up to 120 entrants in the 24 hour event mixed in with 12 hour runners and a relay effort lanes 6-8 were going to be pretty busy at the start.
There were a number of other British runners taking part (hello to everyone) and everyone grouped together near the assigned feed station areas around the track. I had persuaded fellow Reading Jogger Alex Whearity (12 hour race) to come along and he had in turn persuaded Wendy Shaw (24 hour race) to take part and so we had a small Reading Joggers contingent taking part.
“Have you got the GPS route loaded?” (Photo by Gil Thomas)
I had planned to be self sufficient for the race and had brought or bought locally some supplies and had them laid out by the side of the track and had planned to feed myself. However, I should offer a big thank you to Robbie Britton, Drew Sheffield and Natalie White for essentially crewing for me (and looking after numerous other runners) aswell as their assigned runners, that was very much appreciated thanks guys…. I will treasure the memory of that pain from those Moreton squats.
The event logistics are quite simple, you run around the track in your assigned lanes for the duration of your race. The event was chip timed and scores would be displayed on a TV screen so you could check progress. You could step off the track for aid/support/comfort breaks when needed and rejoin at the same place. In terms of race etiquette, it was going to be busy and we were advised not to undertaken on the inside lane (i.e. cutting corners/distance) but overtake on the outside. However, if you were running slowly or walking then they suggested you move to the outside lane and walking in groups was a no no. Despite the large numbers on the track and a busy few laps, I never considered any of this a problem despite some people doing all of the above. It’s just going to happen from time to time with that amount of people on the track.
At the end of the race, you would marshalls would hand out a small marker with your number on it which you should drop at the point the race finishes so they can calculate your exact distance around the lap. For the 24 hour runners, you would also get a 12 hour distance split aswell so had to pick up a marker aswell.
The briefing was in Spanish and English and before the race there was an opening ceremony where they organised a tunnel of people and announced all the runners as they ran through the tunnel high fiving each other which was a nice touch to generate a bit of excitement for the runners.
We lined up at the start of the race as the music system switched on and played (I may be betraying my music tastes here) but a selection of classic pop songs from the 70’s (Blondie, Queen), 80s (Duran Duran, Bangles) and 90s (Oasis, Blur) and a few Xmas songs on the way. It created a party like atmosphere which I quite enjoyed.
The race started promptly and there was an initial surge as runners headed out. It was busy at the start and there were a few ‘Leeroy Jenkins’ type efforts (geek joke), one or two of these may have paid off, many didn’t.
My personal plan had been to take it steady and run nothing quicker than 8.30-9m/m at the start which was my average jogging pace. I had planned to grab some food or drink every 10 laps and then see how far I could go. Food wise, I had pre-mixed Tailwind drinks and an assortment of foods from snack bars, flap jacks, sweets, bananas, jaffa cakes, tuc biscuits and more. With the guys crewing, you could just call out what you wanted as you passed and they would have it ready on the next lap.. first class service! It became a bit of a game trying to remember what I had packed and mixing up the food selection and I did go with a ‘surprise me’ option once or twice.
To hit my target, I wanted to be through 50 miles in 7.30hrs, 100 miles in 17hrs which would leave me 7hrs to complete 35 miles so a 12m/m run/walk pace at the end. It sounded pretty straightforward on paper.
As the race is essentially lap after lap after lap there’s not a huge amount to describe about the race itself. I ran the first few laps with Wendy, realised I lost count of my laps almost straight away as we were chatting and had a few strange looks when I asked the crew how many laps I had completed about 3 laps in. I settled on feeding every 3 miles after that and just relied on the Garmin to tell me when that was.
Sharing a few early laps with Natasha (Photo by Barcelona 24)
Thankfully the weather was good on the day after heavy rain the day and night before and it was warm and sunny at the start before getting cooler later and colder in the evenings.
The first several hours of the race went very well. I was running at a steady pace, not over-doing it, was eating regularly and aside from a couple of comfort breaks hadn’t felt a lack of energy or the need to walk at any point. I had been lapped regularly by some of the quicker runners in the first 3-4 hours but found myself unlapping myself a handful of those (not all by any means) in the second 3-4 hours. I was occasionally running a lap or two with a fellow British runner and was passing the time with snatches of conversation here and there, the music was good and upbeat and all was going ok.
After 3 hours we all changed directions which meant running to the 200 metre point of the track and turning back and running back to the start/finish mat to record a full lap. The direction change every 3 hours gave people something to look forward to and a chance to break the event down into more manageable segments.
In terms of the British runners the lead runners in the 24 hour event were Ian Thomas and Rich Cranswick who had both set out fast and hard early on (and were both top 5 for a few hours), Grant McDonald was looking pretty solid and Wendy Shaw was running really strongly (probably the most consistent and determined I had seen her run). In the 12 hour, Alex was in 2nd place and looking pretty solid.
Round and round we go (Photo by Barcelona 24)
After about 6 hours I could see the signs of a few early casualties such as the slowing pace, several trips to the loo, continuous stops at the crew points, absence from the course and knew not everyone was having a good day unfortunately.
For me, I was feeling pretty good up until the 10-11 hour mark. I had gone through the 50 mile point in under 7.30 and was running steadily. The sunny but cool conditions had given way to darkness and the floodlights had been turned on. The 6 hour runners had stopped and the 12 hour runners were getting into the latter stages of their race.
Drew and Robbie were checking on my progress and occasionally asking if I needed anything to eat which I took as a cue to eat something.
Despite knowing my Garmin was not going to be 100% accurate (especially on long battery life mode) I have to admit to being a touch disappointed when it said I have covered 3 miles less than my official time at the 60 mile point.
Around this point I found it necessary to have a few walk breaks and stretch the legs out and my quads were starting to suffer with the same muscles being impacted every lap. Upon reflection, perhaps a few walk breaks at points may have given the legs a little rest although ultimately I think I would have suffered anyway.
Heading into the night (Photo by Barcelona 24)
With the 12 hour mark approaching Alex was gunning the last few laps. He had started quickly in the first few hours and was in 2nd place for pretty much most of the race as far as I could tell. He had a period where he had eased off but with the finish in sight he had the energy and determination to finish well. He (or the crew) had spotted the 3rd place runner and Alex sat on him to ensure that he wouldn’t be unlapped. I witnessed him charging around the last few laps so I think he actually extended his lead and finished 2nd overall, well done!
After the 12 hour runners had finished the track was a little less congested and we were now well into the night. The music had been turned off for the night so I grabbed my ipod and listened to some podcasts as I plodded around albeit at a slower pace with several more walk breaks.
Unfortunately, the scoreboard went down for a few hours during the night which meant people didn’t know their distances, positions or times. My Garmin had run out after 12 ish hours just after I had completed around 75 miles.
It was probably around here that I started to suffer. Essentially my quads were very very sore. Not quite the worst I have ever experience (Spartathlon 2013 holds that record) but definitely up there and I realised my legs were not sufficiently conditioned for this event. The crew helped to stretch and massage my legs and applied some ibuprofen gel but from this point it was a downward spiral as the pace slowed at a greater degree then I wanted.
With a winter race there was a long period of darkness (from 6pm at night until 8am in the morning), this didn’t help me with the sleepy night phase as I started to struggle in the early hours of the morning and despite caffeine, pro-plus and even a shot of Baileys (thanks Gil) I was almost sleep walking around the track.
I passed through the 100 mile point in around 18 hours (I think as scoreboard was still down) and from the run/walking pace knew I was over my target time and my target had slipped away. There was little chance of getting to a 10m/m pace for the last 6 hours in my current state.
In fact the last few hours had been a bit of a blur as I was so tired and sleepy. I just remember Robbie shouting at me each lap. I carried on for another hour run/walking and then had a sit down at the crew point after having a little watery ‘spew’ around the track and here it was where I decided to bail early.
I had come out with a hit or miss target and I was going to miss it by some margin. I probably could have shuffled around the track for another 5 hours at a (3+ mph pace) and added another 15-20 miles to my total of 106 miles at that point and would still have fallen 10-15 miles short of my goal (so not even a near miss). So I took the pragmatic decision to call it a day there and enjoy the rest of the race as a supporter. There were a few other people who were in the same position as me, some stopped, others took a long break and came back and a few shuffled around the track for the race so a mixed response from people being in that position.
When the scoreboard was eventually reinstated, I checked my distance and was pretty comfortable with the decision. A few days later, I probably regret it a little bit (especially after the fanfare and celebratory finish which I didn’t partake in having nipped back to the hotel to shower and change) but not too much overall.
In terms of the other lead British runners (apologies for not mentioning everyone). Grant McDonald had a fabulous run and looked really strong during the night leg. He powered his way to 1st place position overall covering a touch under 240km. Ian Thomas was still in the Top 10, finishing 6th and hitting the Sparta auto-qualifier goal but by his own admission suffered a bit out there towards the end. A shout out to Gary House who also had a good run at the event, his distinctive headwear meant I could spot him every lap and shout ‘GARY!’.
Unfortunately, Wendy also bailed a couple of hours after me as she was also a little short of her target and her pace had slowed to a march after having looked so good up until that point which was a shame. I couldn’t really argue against the decision as I had made the exact same decision.
A quick shout out to a few people I chatted with or met on the day (apologies if I’ve missed anyone) including Paul C (bottom slapper), Claire S (finger pointer), Stu Wilkie (king shuffler), Natasha, Simon P, Bob O, Roz, Gil E, Katherine G, Nathan, Sam K along with the Irish contingent. Finally, a shout out to Jay McDonald who was going to stop, and then did ‘one more lap’ about 20 times and eventually stayed out on the course and helped pace Grant around for the final few laps. The camaraderie between the runners and crews was great and a really strong attraction for taking part in the occasional race outside the UK with other British runners.
Overall, I had a good weekend. I was disappointed not to have achieved my target but went into this with a 50/50 chance of doing it and came away with a few lessons learned I should put into practice before I try another track race. I did rather enjoy the event (up to a point) and would definitely consider doing another one with more preparation.
I feel a track race is all about the eventual distance at the end and probably doesn’t quite have the same appeal as trail race where you can enjoy ‘getting to the end’ of the course.
I thought the event was well organised overall with lots going on and an effort was made to create a ‘festival’ type atmosphere so thank you to the organisers, helpers and marshals who were all helpful and supportive (and also for having English language briefings). My only minor criticisms would be the fault with the scoreboard (a one-off) and the lack of toilet facilities with the volume of runners (more porta-loos around the track would have been perfect).
My personal reflections are noted below although any observations from other runners/crews are welcome.
* I should work on strengthening my quads more for this event through weights or more road/track miles in preparation. This was my single biggest area of discomfort.
* With this type of event there is always going to be a level of discomfort you have to experience but this was more on the ‘worse’ than ‘tolerable’ side for me. I’m writing this blog 9 days later and my quads are still sore.
* Despite my legs suffering, my feet were fine and didn’t feel battered at all. Hoka’s FTW. (I did have a few blisters on the toes but these were manageable i.e. I ignored them).
* Sleep deprivation and tiredness during the early hours was a struggle and pro-plus didn’t seem to have much affect. A power nap approach has been suggested.
* There is a definite strategy of saving yourself for the last 4-6 hours. I had listened to this advice, thought I ran sensibly and steadily earlier on but perhaps I should/could have ran at an even slower pace, taken regular walk breaks and tried to ‘save the legs’ a bit more. No point running ok for 18-19 hours and then stopping in a 24 hour event.
* Having a crew was incredibly valuable from a physical and morale support viewpoint. I had planned to go solo but was very thankful to Robbie, Drew and Natalie for their help.
* Take your own food and drink (which I did). Some food and water is supplied (with soup, coffee and pasta at certain times) but I wouldn’t rely just on the organisers food.
* Having a variety of clothing choices available is useful. I had hat, gloves, various levels of layers but it was suggested some options to keep the legs (and leg muscles) warm may have been helpful when it got colder during the night.
* I thought my eating and drinking was pretty good throughout the race. It felt like I was drinking regularly and eating enough and energy levels were ok.
* Next time, I won’t have a ‘hit’ or ‘miss’ target. My aim will just be to stick out the full 24 hours and see what distance I can accumulate.
* It was good to meet up with other runners from the UK (& Ireland). Everyone was happy to help and support others, there’s always a bit of banter and it’s good fun to hang around with a group of like-minded people regardless of the type of runner you are or your personal ambitions.
* My wife wants to go shopping in Barcelona, so a return trip is a possibility in the future.
The next couple of weeks over Xmas are planned rest and recovery (i.e. Xmas eating) although I do have the last of the Phoenix Marathon series (tomorrow) which takes place in between Xmas and New Year (which is probably going to be a bit of a plod) and then start again in the New Year.
Merry Xmas everyone.