and European Challenge
Brno, Czech Republic
23 - 24 October 2004
Tomas Rusek staged this
event at late notice after the original event in Apeldoorn, Holland
in May was cancelled. The event was staged in a residential area
of Brno and the organisation was very good considering the time
scale for planning the event, the only criticism I had was of the
course, which was changed again just three weeks before the event.
After the inaugural World
Challenge was held last year in Uden, Holland, the event had been
classed as the best ever 24 hours based on the results of the number
of runners over 200km, 16 women and 54 men achieved this distance
barrier. Last year I was not in my best form but achieved 205km,
a distance, which would usually rank me in the top ten of the world
easily, last year however this only achieved 15th place in the race,
a demonstration of how the event has moved on and progressed to
a higher level.
This year my expectations
were higher, I was in much better form and was confident of achieving
a personal best. My previous best came in 2002 with 217km, (ranked
5th in the World that year) a distance that would have placed me
6th in last years race, so was hopeful that if I achieved my goal
I would get back into the top five in the world again, but as always,
it is a long race and anything can go wrong and alternative plans
are put into place. Unfortunately I had fallen off my bike and got
diagnosed with a broken right thumb and ruptured ligament on the
Monday before the event. I managed to put off treatment for the
thumb until after the event and refused a pot as it would be too
heavy to run with and upset my rhythm, luckily I saw an understanding
doctor who gave me a support gadget with Velcro fastening to see
me through the event.
At the technical meeting
the day before the race the weather had been predicted to be dry,
but could get down to zero overnight, none of the wet and windy
weather that we had been having in England. An updated start list
was issued and 170 athletes would be competing in the event, but
the bad news was the course had been measured even shorter than
anticipated at around 1.3km, not good with such a big field of runners.
After the technical meeting was the flag parade followed by a pasta
party for all the athletes and helpers. The rest of my team arrived
while I was eating my food. This year I had the support of a women's
team with Ramona Thevenet-Smith and Sandra Brown making the minimum
of three required, some countries had the maximum of six athletes.
After updating them on the main issues from the technical meeting
we went back to the hotel around 9pm.
We left the hotel at
8am for the 10am start. I was happy with this start time as many
races start in the afternoon making an agonising and nervous time
from getting up and not knowing what to eat. The morning was looking
very overcast and a little misty. The team immediately set up underneath
a balcony around the town hall so the supporters had some cover
from the weather and was the first table in the refreshment zone
which would make handling a little less congested than in the middle
of the feed zone. The runners sat in the hired van preparing for
the race. The temperature gauge that my husband Bill had on the
table was reading 12 degrees so opted for a long sleeve shirt and
shorts, it was drizzling a little and still a bit misty but not
The starting lap was
slightly different from the remaining laps to allow the runners
to space themselves out, as many parts of the course were very narrow.
After completing several laps I became aware of just how bad this
course was and began to doubt that a personal best time would be
achievable. I decided I would just keep things steady and see how
the race developed. The course was just a series of corners, hilly
and rough underfoot. There were twelve corners on this course, Ramona
counted seven right and four left hand bends, the twelfth was not
as severe at the other eleven corners. The course barely had any
flat sections, there were big drain covers to avoid, kerbs, broken
tarmac, dips in the tarmac, uneven cobbles, raised manhole covers,
and some very narrow sections that restricted overtaking, even the
refreshment area was a hazard as runners were getting supplies they
had to be weaved around and the other side of this was runners overtaking
and barging you out the way.
I knew this was going
to be a real physical and mental test to get through. The hills
did not bother me and could cope with being bumped and negotiating
other runners and getting into single file but knew my big challenge
would be the constant corners, braking and putting pressure on my
ankles, this is my only weakness and one that I had been working
on by doing race walking, I was not confident they would stand up
to running twelve corners every 1.3km (approximately 0.8 miles).
As the race progressed the drizzle subsided but the dampness stayed
the entire race.
I was lapping steadily
and got a glimpse of the champion-chip readouts several times. Everybody
wore a champion-chip around there ankle and ran over two mats on
the course, one where the laps were recorded and another to ensure
the entire route was covered. The readouts were very good giving
you your position, laps run, total distance and time for the last
lap run, the only unfortunate bit was there was only space for three
runners on the display and with a busy field your name often did
not come up if several runners were close. After a couple of hours
I was in ninth position and was quite happy with that and was lapping
at 10.8km per hour, by eight hours my pace dropped slightly and
was achieving one less lap per hour at 9.4km per hour. I went through
the 100km mark at 9 hours and 40 minutes, having looked at my certificate
for last year I achieved 100km in 9 hours 50 minutes. I was feeling
comfortable still and was gradually moving up the leader board.
By around eleven hours I was in third position and very surprised
at this, I had not stopped once during the entire race but had gradually
been overtaking similar paced runners who had may be just walked
a little to eat something. It was after this that I stopped to walk
to eat some food a couple of times and each time I did so I lost
a place. There were probably about ten athletes or so all on the
same lap as me.
By thirteen hours I was
in fifth place still but was being bugged to put cover on my legs.
Both Ramona and Sandra had tights on but there were still a lot
of runners in shorts, I was not cold and according to Bill the temperature
was still 12 degrees, however my ankles were starting to tighten
up and knew that I would start to slow up as the pain set in and
so reluctantly came in to put tights on. By the time I had taken
my shoes off to get my tights on, changed my socks and shorts (all
with a painful right thumb) and got back out on the course I had
lost five places and was now down in tenth position.
It had been dark a long
time now and was surprised that the field still felt congested at
times and thought a lot more runners would have dropped out with
the tough course. I knew my personal best would not be achieved
and so had to put plan B into action. This was to retain my British
Number One position for the eighth consecutive year and beat the
200km goal post. I was gradually slowing but was determined not
to stop and still achieve the best result possible. I turned my
attention to the team position and asked Bill how we stood. The
answer came back as either seventh or eighth.
It came down misty again and started drizzling again. It was becoming
harder to keep going and was really concentrating hard, it was hurting
more every time I stumbled and was aware that several runners had
fallen over, not surprising on the rough course. I was aware of
more women overtaking me now and gradually fell down the leader
board as dawn finally started to break. The ankles were killing
me now but had to fight on to finish, I was slowing down and had
to put another shirt and woolly hat on for the final few hours.
Sandra and Ramona had performed steadily throughout the race and
so helped to keep the spirits going to the finish.
In the final hour we
were informed we were in fourth position in the European team race
and could not let the Hungarian team catch us, as there was less
than a kilometre between us. I was reduced to race walking now and
Ramona was now lapping me with renewed energy. I fought the pain
barrier and ran the remaining few minutes but only recognised one
Hungarian and that was Edit Berces. Many runners were not wearing
their team kit and were sometimes difficult to identify runners.
Finally the gun sounded for the finish and we could all stop running.
What a relief, I had achieved plan B; last time I saw the display
it had read 202km. I staggered back to the van slowly and was pushed
in by Bill.
We returned to the presentation
for 1pm and collected certificates and medals for our achievement.
I had very mixed emotions, I was really disappointed not to get
a personal best and thought I would at least get top ten position.
I finished in 16th place, one worse than last year, but deep down
I knew I had given the race everything I had and had run very sensibly,
the corners beat me. I had done 149 laps, that was just under 1800
corners, not surprising my ankles were very stiff!! I was satisfied
in the knowledge that I had still achieved the 200km goal and was
British Number One for the eighth consecutive year and the team
were knocking on the door for a medal in fourth place in the European
event and sixth place in the World event. Ramona finished in 23rd
place with 182.1km and Sandra in 28th with 176.1km, I finished in
16th place with 202.6km and 11th place in the European event.
winners were both from Japan. Sumie Inagaki from Japan ran 237km,
the same distance as last year's winner Irina Reutovich from Russia,
this year Irina was sixth with 214km. The standard of the event
was very similar to last year's event and considering the tough
course this was quite an achievement. Compared to last year 17 women
were over 200km (16 last year), 49 men (54 last year), giving totals
of 66 runners over 200km compared to 70 last year. Also by comparison,
had I achieved running my personal best distance I would have come
4th in this event compared to 6th last year. Both of the last two
events have been run in the cool conditions of October, it will
be interesting next year when the event will be run in Worsach,
Austria on 23rd/24th July 2005, where I expect the conditions to
be much hotter.