Competing for Great Britain at the European 24 Hour Championships, Gravigny, France 2002
Competing for Great Britain at the European 24 Hour Championships, Gravigny, France 2002


Anglo Celtic Plate
Dublin 2nd April 2005

Training for this event began some 14 weeks ago. Instead of the usual long races at weekends I focussed on shorter races instead to improve my speed. Although I have won several medals at 100km events I had been told several years ago that I must specialise in either 100km or 24 hours. I had specialised in 24 hours and have now been ranked as British Number 1 for eight years at this event. The last time I competed for Great Britain in the 100km event was in 2000, the last time a team was sent, but I was the only one of the three women to finish. Since then no team has been sent but a couple of women have now got the qualification times to compete internationally again and just needed a third qualifier to justify a team. Team qualification had been set at 8 hours 50 minutes and so this was my target to beat.

My preparation had gone to perfection with only a few problems associated with my asthma, the most notable being dropping out in the only long race above 20 miles that I had planned to run, the Barry 40. This was also a selection race for England for the Anglo Celtic Plate, I pulled out of the race just before 20 miles but the result was that I was denied my place in the England team. As far as I was concerned the only difference this would mean would be the colour of my vest, I would wear my New Marske Harrier vest and run in the open race. The event was also doubling up as the UK National Championships. I had taken two weeks out in Portugal to do warm weather training which had worked very well and gained confidence that my speed was improving.

Just one week before the 100km I competed in the Mermaid 10km, a local event organised by my club, I managed third place in this with 42 mins 11 secs, my fastest 10km for three years and a good confidence booster that the breathing was improving now that the better weather was here and the asthma should not be a problem now.

I travelled to Dublin on Friday with Bill and had our last meal that night with Andy and Ramona, Ramona was also competing as an individual who had not been selected for the England team. It was a pleasant evening with no pressure and a short walk from our accommodation. The weather was predicted to be dry and a high of possibly 17 degrees. The race was two miles into Pheonix Park from the hotel and so we decided to share a taxi to the start as there was a lot of drinks to carry as well.

We got up at 6am for the 8am start. The hotel provided a light breakfast which also included porridge, I helped myself to a big portion and then realised it was pretty cold but forced it down anyway. The taxi came at 7am and was at the venue within a few minutes. Bill and Andy set up a table with all our drinks and we waited for the start. I had a schedule written down for a predicted time of 8 hours 40 minutes and Bill was going to record each lap time to see how close I was to the plan. It was a 2.7km loop that had to be done 37 times, a triangular course with three sharp corners on each lap. The weather was quite pleasant, recording 9 degrees at the time but was obviously going to get warmer and so decided to wear vest and shorts and leave the long sleeve thermal.

The field was quite small having a limit of 45 athletes, I would guess there were around 35 starters, including a couple of Italians, I recognised the Italian woman running as one of the national team members but her English was limited. The race started and an error occurred on the first lap, there were no marshals out and we ran too far up the road on the first lap to the second path which was a green cycle path, we should have taken the rougher footpath before this, but was not much further. My first lap time was supposed to be shorter than the other laps but ran this 30 seconds slower than anticipated due to running further. By the second lap I had my split times within seconds of the plan. Sue Bruce and Lizzy Hawker, two newcomers to the 100km running for the England team set off in front, they both had faster times than me for the shorter distances with Sue being the faster of the two and a 2:52 marathon runner. Behind them was the Italian lady and next was Vicky Skelton, the third English female selected followed by myself and Ramona. As the race progressed I pulled away from Vicky and Ramona.

Psychologically I had broken the race down into quarters with the laps being such an odd distance, these being 9, 18, 27 and 36 laps with just one lap left after this. I had written three times down on my arm to remember, these being the times at 9, 18 and 27 laps. After the first 9 laps of running I was 50 seconds ahead of my target time and had moved into third place ahead of the Italian. After 18 laps of running, just short of half way I was now 90 seconds ahead from my plan and running well, at this stage I was confident of breaking the qualification time and the weather was warming up nicely. Bill said it was now reading 27 degrees but the thermometer was in the sun and not the shade. There were several people walking in the park and was having to weave a little to avoid people on one stretch of the course. Round and round the triangle and I was lapped by Sue Bruce at around 24 laps before reaching 27 laps, just 52 seconds behind my planned time and had 10 laps to go (17 miles). This is the stage I dread where the muscles begin to stiffen and the energy lows hit.

I had lapped all of the women behind me now and was confident of third place in the race but was closing down on second place lady Lizzy. I was lapping around 30 seconds faster per lap and with 5 laps to go was just 2 minutes 40 seconds behind when I began to fade, with each lap that passed I lost another minute from my schedule until with just under two laps to go I felt the signs of no energy, I began to feel light-headed and struggled to run in a straight line, I was telling myself you can’t do this at this stage of the race, I had completely run out of energy and had to walk to keep in control, I focussed hard to get to the end of the lap and managed to slowly jog again, and desperately shouted to Bill to get some maltesers quickly, I lost three minutes on that lap and could see the 8 hours 50 minutes flashing ahead, onto my last lap and feeling better within a couple of minutes began to run as hard as I could, my time was so important and turning the last corner peaked at my watch, I could see the finish line now and knew I would break the qualification time, I finished in 8 hours 45 minutes and 41 seconds, just 5 minutes slower than I had planned.

A quick hug from Bill and sat down and got changed. Norman Wilson, the England selector and manager only came over to say “you proved your point”, then went again. The Italian lady finished around 9 hours 6 minutes in 4th place and then Ramona had a sprint finish to narrowly beat Scottish athlete Debbie Cox in around 9 hours 12 minutes. The second Scottish athlete Pauline Walker was around 10 minutes behind them and Vicky Skelton, the third English athlete had a bad run but battled to the line around 10 hours 22 minutes. Sue Bruce had a fantastic run with 8 hours 14 minutes as did Lizzy Hawker with 8 hours 40 minutes. England took 1st, 2nd and 3rd in the Mens event and so won the individual and team honours in both mens and womens events. England have never lost this event and kept the tradition going!!

After the race I managed to grab a lift from some Irish people who were supporting an athlete who finished just ahead of me, I was pleased not to have to walk the two miles back to the hotel. The presentation was in a local pub, not a big affair, I got a bronze medal in the National Championships, a hand made pottery plate for coming third in the race, a matching pottery cup for finishing the race and another pottery plate for coming second in the Road Runners Club.

The next day Norman spoke to me to confirm that the first three women in this race would be selected for the European 100km Championships that are being held on September in Winschoten, Holland (there are two other women that also have current selection times, Danielle Sanderson and Lisa Knights 8 hours 48 minutes, winner of last years Anglo-Celtic Plate and is possible a team of 5 will be selected, they are allowed a maximum of 6 to race, 3 to count). The World 100km Championships are being held in Japan in June and GB are not sending any athletes, they only have funding for the World/European 24 Hours in July at Worsach, Austria and the European 100km. I already have verbal confirmation of my selection for the World 24 hours but this will not be confirmed until 14th April at a selection meeting. Selection for the European 100km officially takes place in June.

The only other problem he informed me of was my decision to run in the Surgeres 48 hour race in France on 13th May, if I ran in this race I would not be selected to run in the World 24 hours and as well as this the whole team would be withdrawn as there are only 2 other athletes qualified to run and they need three for a team. UK Athletics have a rule that you will not be selected to run in an Ultra race if you have ran an ultra within 8 weeks of the selected race, the 48 hour race is 9 weeks before the 24 hours and so the rule does not apply but was being informed of the situation now and so I cannot be responsible for them withdrawing two other athletes (Ramona Thevanet-Smith and Sandra Brown) who made up the team of the World event last year. Given this information I am withdrawing from the 48 hours but will compete in a 12 hour race in Tipton on the same weekend which I have been given the all-clear to compete in. I will now have another attempt at breaking the British record set by Eleanor Robinson.

Overall I was satisfied with my run, it was the fastest 100km race I had run since I had last run in Dublin in 1999 with a time of 8 hours 27 minutes. Although some way short from my best time of 8 hours 12 minutes, this was set back in 1995 before I really specialised in 24 hours, but this was a definite improvement from recent times. I have trained for 14 very hard weeks during the winter for this race, not the best weather for me as I love the sun and am pleased with the result. I ran a well paced race and ran according to my schedule and had to ignore how other people were running. I had been confident of running a sub 8 hours 50 minutes time and was very pleased to achieve this goal, as an indication of the pace the average 10km time for the entire 100km was 52 minutes per 10km. I have won gold in the National Championships every time I have competed, the last time being in Gloucester in 2003 when I achieved 8 hours 53 minutes, so although disappointed to only come home with the bronze I was very pleased that another two women have been brave enough to tackle the 100km and add to the team. Looking back at the race I only really made one mistake that cost me a few minutes and that was that I probably should have eaten something when I realised I was slowing up with 5 laps to go and should not have gone through the dizzy spell I had with just over a lap remaining. The other satisfying factor was to prove the selectors wrong, although I only beat one of the three English athletes selected, they did not think I was fit enough to gain selection time for the GB team which is what this event was all about.

Year -100km time
1994 - 8:28
1995 - 8:12
1996 - 9:36
1997 - 9:15
1998 - 9:02
1999 - 8:27
2000 - 9:44
2001 - 9:11
2002 - 8:53
2003 - 9:47
2004 - 9:40
2005 - 8:45

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