Running – Crawley 24hour Race Report.
Some days are better than others and this was one of the better days. The Crawley 24hr was to be my fourth attempt at a 24 hour race with the most recent being an indoor event in Espoo, Finland. Espoo was quite challenging as the heat indoors meant my feet blistered sooner than usual and I spent most of the race dreading each footstep. However, I did manage to set my new PB of 192.455km improving on the same race last year when I ran 172.256km. The temptation to stop in Espoo never subsided but when I think back to my previous race in Tooting Bec (London) last September, I knew I had to keep going. London was a wash out with heavy rain throughout and during one of my few stops to use the toilet a medic requested I come in for attention. I reluctantly agreed but then regretted the decision when they told me I was showing signs of hypothermia and couldn’t continue. I was in shock and denial. How could I be hypothermic in London when I had spent a week in Antarctica and ran a Marathon at -20C plus whatever the wind chill was? I tried to bargain with them to be allowed continue but the best result was they didn’t call an ambulance.
It took a few days to get over the disappointment and during those few days I registered for no less than three other 24hr races. The Endurance 24hr in Espoo, Finland in February. The Crawley 24 hr Track, London in April and the Energia 24hr in Belfast in June. Why three races? The answer to this is because I can only go to a race if I have the guides / support available and back in September I couldn’t expect anyone to make a commitment that far ahead because something more important might mean they can’t travel. Booking three races increased my chances of doing at least one of them. As it turned out this race in Crawley proved quite complicated and in the week before I didn’t have my team confirmed except for Louis.
I had emailed Pam Storey the Race Director who also tried to help with getting a guide even though I would have felt uncomfortable and less confident with someone I didn’t know. Having another person would have at least allowed me to take part as it allowed Louis to have some bit of a break and for that reason I would have taken any other assistance. Luckily it worked out and my Team were available but the travel plan was complicated. I would travel over on Friday with Louis after I finished work to allow for a proper night’s sleep. John and Philip would follow us over on Saturday. John would travel home on the last flight on Saturday with the rest of us travelling home after the race on Sunday. We needed to be home as early as possible after the race as Philip was in work for 6am on Monday and Louis had two clients booked for a sports massage that same morning. This was all sorted late on Thursday evening. It was a relief having the travel plan sorted but then we were hit with flight delays in Dublin. By the time we collected our bags in Gatwick we were over three hours late and this left us without time to do shopping and have a relaxing and stress free evening. Rather than relax I was then worrying about delays the next day with John and Philip. What if their flight is delayed? Not ideal preparation and it resulted in a restless night. Thankfully John and Philip arrived just in time for the race briefing in the minutes before the race started.
For the race we were allocated an area close to the 100M mark and next to fellow Irish competitor Alex O’Shea who is also a native of Cork and Alaistair Higgins from Scotland but living in Dublin. As we assembled at the start I was one of the few looking for a position at the back of the field and it wouldn’t be long before I was lapped. In the beginning it can be a bit disheartening as it makes you feel slow but we went there with a plan and I wasn’t going to jeopardise it by getting caught up in what anyone else is doing. As a team we agreed to not focus on the leader board as that wasn’t a concern and instead we just ensured that we went at an easy but consistent pace. Louis was first to run with me and Philip crewed while John went off looking for supermarket to stock up on supplies for the crew. I tend not to eat or drink much during these events but crew need feeding. When John returned he ran for the next while and we made sure to get the most out of him before he departed for his flight home. With less than four hours gone in the race I could feel a blister on my toe but I made the conscious decision to keep going. I always get blisters so this wasn’t a surprise but I had hoped I’d last a bit longer. As well as the blisters I was also starting to suffer from chaffing on my upper body to the point where it became unbearable. I had to stop. My breast bone was almost bleeding with the chaffing caused by my sports bra. I quickly changed my top and applied lots of Vaseline trying not to waste any time and soon enough I was back going again. It took a while to get used to the pain but I think it stopped. From seven hours in I could feel another blister plus my legs were starting to hurt. I knew it was seven hours as it was around the time that John was leaving. This was a distraction but it didn’t last long. The 12hr race started at 8pm which meant the track started to liven up a bit and again I needed to stay focused on my own plan and not get caught up with the other competitors. Every so often I would lose concentration and drift in the lane until my foot would clip the guard rail and that served as a reminder to stay focussed
In the first few hours of the race we had some rain and hailstones and it never really warmed up but later in the day the temperature dropped to below freezing and it got very cold. Philip and Louis changed over regularly during the night and when not running spent the time trying to keep warm whilst also crewing. I think Philip found it particularly tough as he kept saying how he was looking forward to sunrise. During the night I had a few extra toilet stops which I think was because of the cold and I found this quite frustrating because it was costing time but couldn’t be avoided. Although unaware of my position in the race I did notice that the Track was becoming quieter as I wasn’t being overtaken as often. When we changed direction for the fourth time at 16hrs it was then obvious that a few of the faster runners had fallen back. I was still feeling strong and knowing that I wasn’t being lapped but was actually claiming some of the laps back was motivation to stay strong. This is normal in a 24 hour race as a lot of runners start off too fast and then fade as the race progresses. I had started at the back and was now moving up the leader board. My fall back plan was to beat my PB from Finland and when I surpassed that distance it was becoming more likely that I would reach 200Km. The result was never guaranteed but in the last few hours of the race I was now also up there with the race leaders and in with a chance of a podium finish. Throughout the race it was a constant battle to keep going as I had to deal with the blisters, the chaffing, leg pain, the cold and I was also conscious of what my crew were having to endure. With almost an hour to go I achieved my target and was prepared to stop. I took a few minutes to celebrate with my crew and I got quite emotional. I was quite surprised at how my legs felt as I was comparing the feeling to previous races and today I felt like there was more to offer. I continued going and stopped only when the race finished with a final distance of 204.613Km and 2nd placed female (6th overall). This improves on my personal best by 12.176Km and more importantly it is the International B Standard as set by the International Association of Ultrarunners. I am now eligible to compete at World & European Championship level if selected to do so.
Last year I was stopped from entering a 24 hour race in Barcelona because they stated that I would mess up the race as there would be runners there trying to achieve this standard. I would be in the way of these competitive athletes. Based on the results from Barcelona my 204Km would have placed me 16th overall and 6th female but with the better conditions in Barcelona I might have been more competitive. I’ll never know.