Competing for Great Britain at the World 100km Championships, Winschoten, Holland, 1995 en route to a new personal best
Competing for Great Britain at the World 100km Championships, Winschoten, Holland, 1995 en route to a new personal best


World 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 much wind.

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.

The eventual 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.


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