Bold. Very bold. That was the words used by both my coach and crew when we came up with the Tooting 24 plan. And they weren’t talking soap powder.
In November last year, Paul Giblin and I met in Pret on Bothwell Street, Glasgow. I had a white coffee and a quinoa dish. Paul something similar. The 2017 “A” race we left that meeting agreeing on was the Self Transcendence 24 hour race at Tooting Bec. In that meeting we knew that the Scotland vest was a possibility in March but wasn’t confirmed, and that I may run the West Highland Way – but again, no place confirmed. But what we did agree on was the priority in 2016 was getting to Tooting and to run a distance that would get me into GB 24 hour team contention.
It was big. It was ambitious. It was going to involve sacrifices. It was going to hurt at times. It would mean me having to move everything from training, to eating, to preparation, to racing to a new level.
But it could be done.
I share this as a preamble to make the point that planning a running year to be truly ready for 2 or 3 big races is not only sensible but it is darn important if you really want to execute the best you can on race day. From that meeting on we were able to shape the full year both from a training and life wise point of view.
Now on to Tooting.
It is 11:45am on Saturday 17th September. Race brief is over, I have met my lap counter and I am standing in my Hoka Flyer vest laughing and joking with Adrian, Neil and my crew. Andy and Skoosh have sacrificed their weekend to hand me soft flasks of sugary drinks, fizzy juice and food for 24 hours. That’s dedication.
Me? I am feeling super-relaxed. I had spent some time the evening before and in the morning clearing my mind of the detritus that flies around the head of a 40 year old husband and father of two these days. I had found peace and calm. In there I also found strength and belief. I had no doubts. There was nary a thing within my control I felt I couldn’t be happy with. That meant I was ready. I said as much to a few close confidants.
At noon precisely the race started. I am not going to give a lap by lap account. I could mention the insane pace of the early leaders, or the issues I had with sickness and shits for a few hours, or I could go into detail about issues with GPS and how that really threw me mentally for a few hours too until I found a new rhythm.
At the end of the day these are just padding to the simple sounding, yet painful task, of going slow for long. The act of moving as fast as you can for 24 hours constant, but never too fast as that would result in an early bath.
I had a plan and that involved getting >160 miles. That was bold indeed. But it would also put me squarely on the 24 hour racing radar and that appears to have been achieved. My emotions about this are so strong I find it hard to convey them sensibly. I am proud, excited and relieved. Finding the depth of strength – of head and body – to execute this is without doubt my most satisfying outcome to date.
Instead of my metre-by-metre riposte, I’d like to call out some true heroes of the event. Firstly, Ann Bath: Wow. I shouted to my crew as I passed Ann at around 8 hours that she was amazing. She ran almost every minute of the race. A frenetic, arm-led style that just keeps going. A relentless eater of ground. It was no surprise to me to hear that she broke two world records for over 65 year old women in the 100 miles and 24 hour distances. By broke, I mean utterly destroyed.
I then look to Shankara and her team. The lap counters were brilliant and I thoroughly enjoyed shouting and smiling at these guys. 645 times I got to shout over, I got to say “yo!” or “hey!” and every time it was met with a sense of joy. They were rooting for me, my extended crew. The standing ovation I got from these amazing folks was humbling at 160 miles.
As well as these guys, there is a whole team of helpers who made the event happen. I didn’t eat any meals or food, but I had some melon and tea; and the friendliness at which things were offered was great. Shankara, be very proud of these guys.
A special mention to a special guy here; Mr. Adrian Stott. He was incredible in terms of encouragement, support and information on and before the day. Not only was he rooting for me (and others) but his passion and excitement is infectious. A giant.
As I look back on the day, I cannot walk past the effort of my friend and foe Neil MacNicol. Almost 152 miles and enough to be in contention for GB vest is incredible and once again, he paced sensibly, sitting 12th a few hours in he comes through to finish 14 miles ahead of 3rd place.
On the day there were two special performances off track which without I wouldn’t have made it. Skoosh and Andy, a friend and a father combining to push me on. They were at my beck and call for the duration and nothing was too much trouble. Perfectly heated soup, lovely lukewarm tea and a heady mix of Tailwind and Irn-Bru provided by these guys got me through. The lump in Skoosh’s throat at the end reminded me more than anything that this is indeed a team effort and those guys have a massive share in the win.
It would remiss of me not to mention Louise and the boys who continue to offer unequivocal support for this insanity. I was glad I could give Euan and Caelan a trophy each when I got home. And, of course, Paul whose coaching and guidance has transformed my running. I follow his plans to the letter and I am reaping the rewards.
I had literally hundreds of messages / notifications on various platforms to wade through after the race. It was overwhelming to be honest but from my great friends across running (you know who you are), to TeamPyllon, to those in my family and village life, thanks a million. Every message added depth to the corner of my smile.
There it is, an almost Oscar-style succession of recognition as opposed to my traditional self-effacing reporting of a race. Why is that? Well, I want to sign off 2016’s racing with this thought: we hurriedly rush to recognise and give love to winners or record breakers in most sports, but go back through that list of folks above and you will quickly realise that they are the very kinds of people of underpin ultra-running, the quiet and meek heroes of the everyday. They are the folks who make this great sport happen. They are the people who I draw all of my energy and enthusiasm from and without the whole package, my personal achievements and experiences would be so much poorer.
I thought I’d better write something about the actual race outcome. I ran 160.38 miles to move to 2nd and 7th in the Scottish & GB 24 hour all-time lists respectively. I was through 100 miles in 14:32:59 and that was pretty much on plan. Most mind-boggling is the that only Don Ritchie is ahead of me on the Scottish list. He’s an absolute colossus in ultra-running.
The weekend was also my Pyllon Racing debut and there is more, much more, come in this space. It was an honour to set the bar for the team and to put something out there for us all to shoot for. Keep an eye out for news on this project. The tees look cool, and the experience is going to be even cooler. In fact, as Willy Mason sang, “cooler than TV…”