(C) London Marathon, press conference for Flora 1000 Mile Challenge, December 2002
(C) London Marathon, press conference for Flora 1000 Mile Challenge, December 2002


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World and European 24 Hours
Worschach, Austria, 2pm

Preparation for this years championships had gone well, after a long build up including a 100km race in Dublin in May I was confident of a new personal best and getting back into the worlds top ten performers. There had only been one slight problem in the training in May when I was struggling to get my work done for the Masters and training was a little inconsistent and could not afford the time off at weekends to race, this was for about three weeks. Also I had broken my left index finger a couple of weeks prior to the race, but was used to this as I had a broken thumb for last years race and would not be a problem, it just made my autograph a bit scruffy.

On paper the race looked perfect, a small loop of just over 1km, reasonably flat and not many corners. On arrival it was evident that a lot of work had been put into this race, each team had a little wooden chalet for the helpers and the course was roped off to avoid any outside interference. The first concern was the width of the course, especially in the feeding zone where helpers also clog the course. With 32 nations entered this event was also the biggest event ever and was confirmed that this was now a more popular event than the 100km, very surprising, this also meant tougher competition with many countries sending the full team allocation of 6 athletes and a further 3 they could nominate for the individual championships. The starting list showed a very strong Russian team who would be hard to beat and Japan looked like second place but third was up for grabs for any team. Our British women’s team had the minimum of three in which we all knew we had to perform. We had done well under the difficult course in Czech Republic last year by coming 4th in Europe and 6th in the World, one more place and a medal could be ours.

The race started at 2pm just as a torrential thunder storm was finishing, unfortunately the wet course was enough to soak my feet from the start, the one thing my feet hate is being wet and I just knew I would get tender blistered feet. The start was extremely congested and found it very difficult to overtake and find my pace, it was just squeezing between people, sprinting by them and then settling down. Within half an hour the sun was doing its best and was reported to be up to 33 C in the shade. The course continued to be congested at times and on top of this was being pushed from behind by athletes wanting to overtake me, it was a very unsettling experience and could not just relax and run. It wasn’t long before an athlete fell behind me and was just glad it wasn’t me. As this was quite a small loop, the smallest I have ever done for a championship, this didn’t help as the large field did not have space to spread out much.

As time progressed I became concerned about my erratic pace trying to overtake athletes as was just not settling down in the congestion and had no idea how far I had run. There was supposed to be a board indicating distance run by the championchip mats, there was not even a clock. Frustrated by this I asked Bill for some feedback on my pace, it was some time later after three hours that the feedback was 33km for 3 hours, the plan was to run 42km for four hours and so felt that I had already set off too fast. There were two distinct climbs on the course, one sharp hill just before the feed station and one half way through the feed station, this was nice to break up the flatness and use different muscles.

Around 5 hours I had to make my first couple of pitstops as the shorts were rubbing. The new Adidas kit had only come two weeks prior to this event and was unable to do a long run in them to test the kit. After putting Vaseline on this was not doing the trick and had to stop to change the running shorts for cycling shorts, but this did the trick and felt much better, it was just that as it was warm the running shorts are cooler.

The race progressed incident free and next got feedback that at 8 ½ hours my distance was 85km. I was satisfied with this and felt as though I was now beginning to settle in a bit as darkness began to fall. At midnight fireworks were let off and almost as these stopped the weather created its own fireworks as the thunder and lightning started. For the next few hours the torrential downpours stopped and started, the surrounding grass turned into mud and the crews retreated into their little huts, this was the only good news as the course was less congested. It was around 11 hours that I had to make another clothing pitstop, the crop top elastic was tight and felt as though it was bruising my ribs making breathing painful, Bill got some scissors and hacked some of the elastic, also took the opportunity to put on a thermal top as was quite cold in the rain and the temperature had now dropped to 16 C. I stopped several times during the next few hours changing clothes trying to keep dry and warm.

It was at 13 hours that I got the feedback I didn’t want to hear, I had run 121km by this time and had planned on 120km at 12 hours so was nearly an hour behind the plan, the pitstops for clothing had wasted time and knew that it would now be very difficult to get a personal best. I then went through a couple of bad spells where I struggled to keep running for a couple of laps, I knew they were just patches I had to fight through and would come through them. I played many mind games over the next few hours trying to keep focussed knowing that my big race was spoilt, I still had many other goals to keep me going, my position was still important even though the distance was going to be poor, I also had to be the first British to maintain my unbroken record already held for 8 consecutive years and this had to be my ninth year, I was also aware that our team position was slipping, Ramona was struggling but was determined to stay out and that is all you can ask for, Sandra had been running the best I had ever seen her, but with only three members all our distances counted. The noise on the course was deafening at times, there was a stage where constant entertainment was performed throughout the 24 hours, such as bands playing, dancing, singing, break-dancing, but where the lap recorders were they were banging blocks on the metal side, the only time they stopped was when the heavy rain came down. This is a very big event and was reported that 30,000 - 40,000 paying spectators came to watch, I was oblivious to who was watching but was aware that there were crowds of people at times.

Soon dawn began to break and was pleased I could see my watch to see how many hours I had been running and it was beginning to warm up again, another pitstop to strip off back down to vest and shorts, it was 6am, 16 hours run now and only two thirds done, it was going to be a long day until 2pm. The hours ticked by and the course was started to dry out, at 9am I made my last pitstop to change into dry shoes, I was aware of several blisters now but didn’t have time to do anything with them and dared not even look at my feet. Although very tender the feet did feel better and the time was well spent changing shoes.

On now to the last four hours, the time I dread and the time I usually struggle to keep going. I had been working hard on my psychology for this section and this time instead of dreading it was quite curious to see what was going to happen. I break down 24 hours into four hour segments, I have to get through each four hour segment to get to the next four hours but the last four hours are the last four hours and seem to let go. This time the last four hours were individual hours that I had to get through. My distance came through as 171km for 20 hours, I was going to make the selection distance of 190km but 200km was beyond me. On through hour 21 and was still running, again 22 hours and was still churning out the laps, 23 hours, this was working, this was one of my strongest finishes, the last hour, I just knew I would run it and could hold back the pain, the distance was 191km, still didn’t think I was capable of that world class distance of 200km, especially as I just had to go to the toilet with 20 minutes remaining, just could not hold on until I stopped. One of my blisters on the forefoot burst with 30 minutes remaining and was stinging agony for a couple of laps before it was ‘run in’. With just 10 minutes remaining I was told there was a French woman on the same lap, one behind me about to be caught and another just in front that I could catch, my position was important, I dug deep and the speed increased, then I could see a French woman, I took her but knew it was Joelle Semur and she was a few laps behind, then I saw another, no its wasn’t her either, then by her side was a third French woman, which one did I need to take, oh blow me there is another French woman in the distance, I bet its her, am I running out of time, flat out she was hard to catch, but I caught her and made 100m on her before the sirens sounded for the finish. 14th in the World, 8th in Europe and that chase for the French gave me the distance of 200km, well worth the final effort. Looking at the results I was also the first vet 40 in Europe, second vet 40 in the World.

On reflection I am really still struggling to tell myself this was a good performance, I learnt a lot in this race and can take away many positive factors. My feeding strategy was altered in this race to obtain more consistency, which worked and my last four hours, apart from running these hours it also seemed to make them go quicker and is something I can take into future races. I lost time with the many clothing stops I made but these were essential stops and would have suffered more had I not taken them. The congestion on the course slowed me and prevented me from just relaxing and running and had to watch everybody to keep a clear course ahead, the bumping from behind also unnerved me and I believe all the minor factors together led to a solid but not exceptional performance. The weather played a factor in making my feet very, very tender, but only 6 blisters, which is good by my standards with wet feet.

After 20 hours the team was in 11th position, but the last four hours saw our position increase to a respectable 5th in Europe and 7th in the World, just one place down on last years. Although I didn’t make it into the top 10 it was still an improvement on the last couple of years. Sandra Brown finished with 180km in 28th and Ramona Thevent Smith with 150km for 49th.

Everyone keeps telling me this was a good performance under the circumstances but I really feel the good performance is still in my legs and just waiting to come out, I am not happy with 14th in the world, we all have to run under the same conditions and so am going to run another 24 hour race in October to try to get ranked in the top 10 in the world. This event is the AAA of England Championships in London on the Tooting Bec track on 8th-9th October. I have run here several times before and although you have to run further to overtake people it will not be as bad as the weaving and surging that I had to do in Austria and should not be fearful of being pushed from behind. I may also run in the open race at the European 100km race in Winschoten, Holland in September as a build up race, although I have the selection criteria for this race, UKA have made a few excuses and decided not to send a women’s team. Short term racing – well there is my local club 10km race this weekend!!

In the results I had five Russians in front of me, three Japanese, they took gold and silver as predicted, the bronze team medal went to the Americans, in the Europeans it was the French who took silver and Czech made there first visit to the podium with bronze.

Having now taken all my individual laps splits from the official website my calculations for my 4 hour splits are:

4 hrs 42.52km
8 hrs 39.38km
12 hrs 32.99km
16 hrs 28.72km
20 hrs 28.73km
24 hrs 28.16km

The last 12 hours show incredibly stable pace and from previous races analysed have been consecutively slower over these splits so is a very positive aspect from the changes implemented, I just need these to me a more stable faster pace!!

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