We drove the short distance to Crawley on Saturday morning, arriving at 10:30 and soon set up our gazebo. Sarah was going to crew for me all night, while the children were staying for the start and then getting collected by my sister and mother later in the afternoon. There were plenty of familiar faces from Spartathlon and other races, so the atmosphere was very relaxed, and i was still pinning my race numbers on a couple of minutes before the start.
At exactly 12:00 we were off. I was planning on running at a steady 9:15 minute/mile pace for the first few hours and had worked out that was 2:18 per lap. I was very happy to hit that number on lap 1, but it felt very restrained, and i had to focus on keeping the pace slow.
The 6 hour race started at the same time as the 24 hour race I had entered, so it wasn’t long before the race leaders were lapping me. One of my goals was to try and be really disciplined with nutrition – to eat every 30 minutes during a short walk break, and Sarah had a detailed plan to what to offer up. The children were a great help here, running across to the infield and handing me a sandwich / gel / drink etc. For a while they were also counting off my laps each time i passed the gazebo… 90, 91, 92 etc. This was a little too much, but fortunately they soon bored of that game.
Time goes very slowly on the track. Every 400 meters you pass a large clock, and although i tried hard not to look at it, it seemed like only a couple of minutes had passed every time i looked up. Despite this things were not at all dull. The race was quickly getting strung out with the leaders pushing a few kilometers ahead on the board, but still never more than 200 meters ahead or behind. It was easy to fall into step with someone, share a few laps and a chat, and that really helped the time pass.
My right knee started getting uncomfortable after about 3 and a half hours. I had picked up an injury in training about three weeks before the race, so had backed off with my training – forced into an early taper. A diagnosis of bursitis triggered by tight quads was followed by some massage to loosen the muscles and ultrasound and icing of the knee. Everything seemed to be on the mend, but i’d not had a rigorous test until race day.
After four hours on we track, we were asked to reverse direction – as a track newbie i had no idea how this would work, but it was really simple. There were timing mats on the start line, and a couple of race marshalls stood on the line and asked us to loop around them and head back the way we came, staying out in lanes two and three until all runners on the lap had reversed. It was all very easy, and it actually felt great to have changed direction. My knee felt better and everything seemed to be fine again.
One of my goals was to keep moving at all times, and my only stop in the first 5 hours was a quick toilet break. I was taking on food and drink during walk breaks and never needing to stop. However, five hours in and my knee was getting sore again. With 30 miles run this is typically when I have a low patch. I regularly give up running for ever and this point in the race.
There was a first aid tent by the timing mats, so i decided to stop for a few minutes and get some treatment on my leg. Lindley Chambers was looking after the first aid tent, so massaged my quad to try and free it up a little before taping the knee. I told Sarah I’d push on for a bit and see how it felt.
Looking at the timing sheet i was running steady 2:20 laps at this stage, which fits with my memory of feeling much better. The six hour race was also keeping me entertained, as i could check the leader board and look out for the lead runners. Several had started to pick up the pace and push for the last thirty minutes, and there was even a sprint finish or two as the clock clicked on towards 6:00:00.
The weather had been cold all day. We even had a hail shower, but it only lasted ten minutes. However with my personal aid station never more than 2 minutes away I had manged to grab a jacket and stay warm and dry. However once the sun had dipped behind the leisure centre building and we were in shadow it was getting very cold.
Sarah bought me a hot noodle soup, and i kept moving – 30 minutes run, then walk and eat. After seven hours on track my knee was sore again, and even feeling wobbly – like it would collapse on me. The strapping was now irritating and making it feel worse, so for the first time i stopped by my drinks table and sat in the chair to rip the tape off. I was starting to wonder if continuing was a good idea, but i wasn’t ready to stop.
There is also a 12 hour race at Crawley, and that was scheduled to start at 8pm. I saw a few runners arriving and getting set up, and knew it would be getting busy on the track soon. We were due to change direction again at 8pm, so i wondered how that would work with the race start, but again it was simple. At ten minutes to eight the race marshalls were back on the start line, instructing us to turn. Three minutes later we were all heading round the track in the traditional anticlockwise direction and a few minutes later the 12 hours runners were lining up on the outside of the track for their start.
Fifteen minutes later i decided to stop. The knee pain was back, but more significantly i could feel it was affecting my gait, both when running and when walking. The most obvious sign was a blister developing on my heel where i never normally get them, but also my hip was feeling the strain. I stopped and told Sarah that i didn’t want to risk further injury and would stop soon. I asked her to check the timing to see how many laps i’d done – 191.
No point quitting until i hit 200, so after a couple of minutes rest i was back on the track, and counting down the last couple of laps.
200 and done!
Quitting when i did meant we were home and warm before midnight.
Why did i DNF?
On a scale of 1 to 10 I doubt the pain in my knee ever exceeded a 4. However after GUCR in 2017, I am scared of getting an injury that will stop me running for any length of time. What made me decide to stop was the realisation that i couldn’t maintain a good running form, and the knowledge that limping to the finish would risk more injuries. There was also the knowledge that it was already really cold, and forecast to get worse. Asking Sarah to sit out in the freezing weather all night, while i smash out an epic performance is one thing, but this was going to be a slow miserable grind, and way short of any target i would be proud of.
Thanks to the organisers and volunteers for putting on a great race.
Photographs by Jon Lavis, Anna & William Barker