After running the Self Transcendence 24 Hour Race at Tooting with an injury, and notching up a feeble 93 miles, I looked for another 24 hour race straight after. I found this race in Barcelona. The race in Tooting turned out to be a defining moment. Not only did Adrian Stott say ‘Hello’ out of the blue and compliment me on my victory in The Thames Challenge the week before, but I also had the pleasure of accompanying Antonia Johnson (below left) for some of her quest to make 190km and achieve the New Zealand qualification distance for the 2013 24 Hour World Championships in Holland.
Until those moments I was completely unaware that there were (a) national qualifying distances, (b) that mortals like us could achieve them, and (c) that Adrain Stott knew who I was! (Adrian Stott is part of Team GB ultra management set-up)
So with this new found knowledge so began my imagination running riot, thinking ‘Well perhaps I could qualify and for the Great Britain team one day’. This became one of my goals for 2013, alongside winning The Atacama Crossing, and The Kalahari Augrabies desert races. To be honest, this GB qualification was be far the least likely in my book.
So onto Barcelona. This event was primed as a dress rehearsal for a future attempt at 230km, the GB qualification distance. I tentatively aimed for 200km, thinking that a very nice benchmark, especially as the furthest I’d ever achieved before was less than 150km. I’d got in touch with some other Brits before the event, as to build up a little camaraderie, and I even arranged to meet John Pares for dinner the night before the event. John is quite a legend in the game and I considered it an honour to even meet the guy, he’s been the number 1 British 24 hour runner for some time. I met John coming out of his hotel with his lovely wife Kathy, and Richard Brown (another intrinsic part of Team GB’s management team). We had a great dinner, and it was just fantastic be around these wonderful people. I was asked what I was aiming for the next day and replied 200km thinking that might be a bit bold, but to be fair, I think it was met without a murmur, and if anything, a little disappointment at it being so low. It was at this meal that I began to ponder really having a go the next day. With John on track, and Robbie Britton (see both above) who I’d met and seen running super strong in Tooting, I wondered if their combined experience and fantastic company might help me achieve something big. Anyone who knows me knows that I run far better with company, and long for that camaraderie and distraction from my own pain and thoughts. The fact that Richard was there too cemented the idea, I mean, what better company to achieve the GB qualifying total in front of than part of the teams selection panel!
The race morning came and I really couldn’t be bothered to get out of bed. 14 days of Marcothon including a marathon on Wednesday mean’t I felt pretty lifeless. I got up with so little time that I ended up having a Quarter Pounder with Cheese meal from McDonalds for brekkie, and bought up some random ‘nutrition’ from a local corner shop. I think this feeling of sleepiness, and rank-amateurism mean’t I continued to feel nice and relaxed. I got to the start around 40 minutes before kick off, got my kit on and chucked my food stuffs under a table.
At noon we began, the following noon we finished. We ran round and round in circles for 24 hours, switching directing every 3 hours, it was amazing! The race went so well it’s hard to comprehend. I started strongly, and stayed strong for many hours. For race strategy I would run for 55 minutes and at 55 past the hour I’d stop and walk, taking of food and drink. This consisted mainly of coke, electrolyte drinks, raisins, dates, muesli bars, and the odd strange concoction made by Richard. I aimed to do 10k every hour, and any more was a bonus. I allowed myself to reevaluate the equation every hour, to see how many kilometres I had banked, so that if the 10k/h slipped, I knew how much it could slip by.
Myself and John ran head to head for the first 16 hours at least, with Robbie running a fantastically controlled race just a couple of kilometres behind. At times the three of us built the ‘Team GB Train’ getting together as one unit, in indian file, and storming round together feeling invincible.
I must admit, after perhaps 17 or 18 hours the wheels started to slide off a little. I think I had my worse hour, and posted only around 8.5 or 9 km. I started to fall into the mistake of equating that distance for the rest of the race and perhaps just missing out on 230km, and my head dropped. I walked for several laps, and wanted to sit down. Richard would have none of it, maybe allowing me the odd 90 seconds rest, but then back out there soldier!!! I went back out, but I was dying out there. As I walked/stumbled around the track, feeling so sorry for myself, John ‘The Legend’ Pares came along side me and put an arm round me. The energy I received from this great runner, caring about my cause, and empathising with me, was instant. John backed this up with the perfect words, “Think about the prize, it’s too big to let it slip away now”. Profound, and perfectly timed, thank you so much John, you saved me from myself in one fail swoop. Realising what I was allowing happen made me angry. Letting down John, Robbie, Richard, myself, made me very angry!!! With several shouts of “F**K, F**K, F**K”, and throwing a little tantrum at myself, with full on face slaps, I was back in the game. I was awake again and fully aware of the situation. Adrenalin and endorphins reignited there was no stopping me now!
With each passing hour to the finish, the belief that I would make it gradually crept in. The equation kept getting better and better until I finally had around 40 minutes left to do 1km or something similar. It was still difficult to believe. After doing the final marathon in The West Highland Way Race in 9h30m back in June I knew that anything was possible! As I came into the finishing straight of what was the lap that would take me above 230km I saw Richard and we exchanged thumbs up. It was all I could do to choke back the tears, I had just qualified to represent my country in The World Championships. I would hopefully be wearing a Team GB vest on my back and running for myself, but mainly the squad and the country, what an honour. No time for sentimental nonsense however, there was still work to do!
Robbie was still going strong, but he was 3 or 4 kilometres away from the total. I now know that he’d have been fine by himself, that guy is so ridiculously strong, both mentally and physically. But we didn’t know for sure, so with the pressure off myself, I felt a new wave of energy and we once again boarded the Team GB Train and rode it all the way. Robbie was a machine at this point and myself and John would take it in turns to sit out a lap, such was Robbie’s speed and power. Robbie made it with time to spare, he never had a doubt, the guy is a legend in the making at only 26 years old, and already winning 100 mile races, and qualifying for World Championships!
Knowing the enormity of the moment, myself and John did our best to stick with Robbie on his final ‘essential’ lap, in order to cross the line and share his moment. The power in his legs made this impossible however, and although we tried our hardest to stay with him, we were mere spectators, 150 metres back when Robbie crossed the line to go over 230km. We caught him up by the nutrition table and the whole gang, runners, crew, management, exchanged hugs, hand shakes, and high fives, what a moment!!! Robbie cried like a baby, it was awesome! I would’ve done too if my own moment hadn’t passed and I’d swallowed down the tears inside. Robbie’s outward expression of emotion said it all for the whole team, I will never forget this moment. John didn’t have the best race of his own but I really don’t believe that mattered in the slightest. What he gave on that track for myself and Robbie, and what he hopefully got back in satisfaction from seeing us both through to Team GB qualification, will hopefully make up for being off the pace very slightly. I saw enough in the man to know that he is a machine, and I welcome Mr John Pares to kick my arse all over the track in Holland, and allow me to sacrifice myself for his own mammoth total should that be of benefit to Team GB, or John’s solo ambitions.
Oh yeah, I finished 3rd overall with 234.8km, Robbie was a couple of kms behind, and John finished with 222km. We all finished in the top 6, but these details really didn’t matter at all.
I also got to meet other fantastic Brits: Izzy Knox, Vicky Hart, Garfield Jones, Mark Woolley, and a great Irish guy called Eddie Gallen, well done to all, and well done to the winner, a great German guy called Oliver Leu who stayed friendly and positive though out.