…is what I said many, many, many times, right up until the day before I signed up for this race. I had long wanted to try a 24 hour race, preferably in beautiful surroundings, during a time of the year or a place where the temperature would be pleasant, running on trails – but not very technical trails, I wanted a course where I could get a good distance. Problem was, I could not find such a race that would fit in with my schedule. So Bislett it was, an indoor track underneath Bislett Olympic Stadium, running on concrete, and surrounded by white walls.
Bislett was perhaps at a perfect time, 5 weeks after the last race of the Centurion 100 mile grand slam, meaning I could probably coast on all the training I had done for the grand slam. It could also mean that my body would be broken or worn out from running four 100 mile races in six months, giving me a convenient excuse to pull out. However, my body held up well during the grand slam, so with no convenient excuses at hand I started preparing for my 24 hour debut. My preparations consisted of three stages:
- Buying shoes. This took two days, two local running shops, and most of the staff employed there.
- Lying on my sofa eating candy whilst stalking my competitors on facebook and instagram.
- Reading blogs, hoping to pick up tips from more experienced 24 hour runners.
One of the blogs I turned to was the Centurion blog. After all, RD James Elson’s had provided me with the framework for my grand slam training, could he also tell me how to be successful at 24 hour racing? Alas, the answer was no. Debbie Martin-Consani, North Downs Way 100 course record holder and a very accomplished 24 hour runner, did have a lot of useful tips. However, it struck me that she does not seem to enjoy these races very much. I therefore posted in a facebook group for ultra runners, asking for race reports from runners with positive experiences from such races. What I got were tales of suffering and woe; blisters, vomiting and diarrhoea. If this was considered fun, what would constitute a bad experience?
In the last couple of days before an important race my focus is usually on resting and fuelling. Before Bislett 24 I did the opposite (not by choice) – working long days, skipping meals, and not getting enough sleep. This went on up untill and including the night before the race. I was staying with family and a misunderstanding, and an overdose of politeness on my part, meant that I did not eat any proper meals at all between lunch and bedtime. Which is why I ended up sitting in bed eating dry bread in an attempt to take the edge of the hunger pains and get to sleep.
With this kind of race preparation it was perhaps no wonder that I kept making silly mistakes on race day. At Bislett I got my start number, went to the dressing room to get changed, and then wandered off to the runners’ depot to grab a table and set up my personal buffet. Race day mistake number one – I should have done all this in reverse order. All the tables nearest the track had already been taken, so I had to make do with a table in the second row, meaning every time I needed something I had to leave the track and run through the depot, adding a few bonus metres each time. Race day mistake number two was only bringing one waterbottle, so I would have to refill it with electrolyte drink every hour, and since I didn’t have a crew (race day mistake number three?) I had to do this myself .
To pass the time the final hour before the start I checked out the nutrition strategies of the other runners, the guy next to me had simply brought 24 chocolate muffins, and chatted with people I knew. Which were lots, since most of the Norwegian ultra running community were running, crewing for runners, or marshalling. There were also many Swedes, some Germans, a couple of Mexicans, a sprinkling of other nationalities, and Craig Holgate, the course record holder for Thames Path 100, from Team Centurion Running.
I did not really have a race strategy, but wanted to stay close to Therese Falk, the current Norwegian record holder and reigning champion, Ninette Banoun, a former Norwegian record holder who has represented Norway internationally, and Guro Skjeggerud, who was best Norwegian female at the world championships in Belfast during the summer. I have met Therese and Ninette at several races before, Guro was one of the runners I had stalked on instagram. In addition there was Kirsti, who has beaten me regularly in local half marathons, but who had never run further than 65km prior to Bislett.
Ninette and Therese set off at a blistering pace from the start, both clearly wanting to win. Actually, I did not even see Therese until several hours into the race, even though by then she had lapped me several times. With 160 runners and just two lanes the track was quite crowded, which could be why I didn’t see her. Or maybe she just happened to lap me every time I was having a toilet break?
I was running with Guro and Kirsti for the first few laps, chatting a little bit and being entertained by speaker and DJ Henning. To get us in the right mood he was playing songs about shoes, pain and suffering, and the Swedish Eurovision classic «Främling» by Carola. This song seemed to have an invigorating effect the first time it was played, but after the 10th time, sometime in he middle of the night, vocal protests could be heard and all the Swedish runners threatened to quit the race. Henning had also given out his email adress so that family and friends could send greetings and messages to the runners, which Henning read out loud. Not all the runners got greetings, so the single, unloved, friendless runners was therefore encouraged to write an S on their calf so that they could meet another single, unloved, friendless runner during the race. At regular intervals thereafter we were entertained with stories of all the couples that had formed. We were also informed that all ultrarunners are divorced and/or single, followed by songs about heartache and breakups, so mixed messages…
After a couple of laps my calves and neck started feeling achy, it seemed like these muscle groups were absorbing most of the impact from the hard surface. I hoped these niggles would go away after a while, as often happens during ultra races. (Spoiler alert – they didn’t.) More worrying, my stomach also started cramping, and I felt like running to the toilet. I remembered Debbie M-C’s advice about waiting as long as possible between toilet breaks, so I waited, but after an hour or so it felt really urgent, and I gave in and dashed to a toilet. …where nothing happened. However, I did feel a little better when returning to the track. After a short while my stomach started cramping again, and for the next six hours my running was punctuated by futile toilet breaks at regular intervals.
We changed direction of running after six hours, and the second quarter of the race was much better for me. After about 7,5 hours of running the real cause of my stomach cramps revealed itself, and then the cramps and the related urge to go to the toilet seemed to go away. However, the stomach issues had taken my attention away from the need to eat and drink. I had eatn regularly, but after six hours I still had not refilled my waterbottle even once, and I was getting dehydrated. I am bad at drinking enough even during 100 mile races where I carry fluids with my at all times, when I had to stop every time I needed a drink I was absolutely terrible. So I carried my bottle with me for about an hour, until I had emptied it a couple of times, and also started drinking my calories in the form of soya chocolate milk and smoothies during pit stops. This seemed to work really well both for removing hunger, rehydrating and topping up on energy.
Every hour the speaker read out the women’s and men’s top 10. Since I did not have a crew this was more or less the only information I got during the race about how I was doing. There was a screen just after the timing mats that displayed the number of laps, lap time, distance etc, but so many runners crossed the mats at all times that it was difficult to pick out your own name as you ran past. Despite all my problems and mistakes in the first quarter I had been as high as second among the ladies, and then slipped to fourth or fifth as the toilet breaks became more frequent. When I felt better I was able to pick up my pace again and climbed back up to third.
One of the runners out on the track was the clown Melvin Tix (I can’t remember his real name), who was running in full costume and make up to raise money for charity. (We had been made aware of this before the start so that we would not think we were hallucinating when we saw him.) Another runner became a great grandmother during the race, her family sent her a greeting via the speaker to inform her. We were therefore reminded at regular intervals that if we quit now, we would be beaten by a clown and a great grandmother. Not many runners quit, however lots of runners availed themselves of the massages and treatments offered by a local clinic. I spotted Craig from Centurion on one of the benches, and his knee was heavily taped up when he finally reemerged onto the track. Lots of runners also seemed to be getting treatments on their necks and calves, so I was clearly not the only one getting grief from these muscles.
After the twelfth hour people hobbling away from the arena became a more frequent sight. I was still feeling good, and lapping Guro every now and then. Ninette and Therese was still ahead, taking turns being in the lead. Kirsti I had not seen for a long time, she had also been complaining of stomach issues, and then she had spent a long time being sick into one of the rubbish bins before disappearing. Suddenly, after 13,5 hours, my stomach problems returned as well, and this time the stomach cramps were not a false alarm. I decided to nip it in the bud and stopped by the first aiders to hear if they had something I could take. Their attitude was that stomach problems is part of the ultra running experience, MTFU! So I continued to the runners’ area where I stopped and asked Bjørn Tore Taranger’s crew for help. Bjørn Tore, who was in the top 5 in the men’s race all day, is one of Norway’s most accomplished ultra runners and also a really nice guy. Luckily, his crew was just as nice as him. (Maybe it also helped that one of them, Håvard, belongs to the same running club as me?) Of course they could help me. Unfortunately, the stuff they gave me did not help, or maybe it jut took a really long time to kick in, my stomach problems just kept getting worse for the next hour.
After 15 hours I was sitting in one of the toilets, crying with pain and frustration. I was having an argument with myself about whether or not to quit the race. I decided to go back to my table and take a timeout. So I stopped for about 10 minutes while weighing up the pros and cons of continuing. In the end I decided that it would be a huge shame to end such a great season with quitting a race, so I decided to keep going at least until I reached the 100 mile mark, which meant another 10 km. I changed shoes, putting on a pair with a greater heel-toe differential to give my calves some relief, and after downing some food and drink I hit the track again.
After a couple of slow rounds my legs started loosening up. Then a wave of nausea hit me and the food and drink I had just had ended up in a rubbish bin. Thank goodness there were lots of them around the track! I walked over to the food station hoping for some vegetable soup, but ended up with something even better, vegetable broth. This removed the nausea instantly, and after walking a lap I was able to refuel and then start running again.
Vomiting aside, the 10 km from 150 km to 100 miles went pretty smoothly, so I decided to continue until I had reached 200 km. I promised myself that when I hit that target I would leave the track. Or maybe stay on the track, but walk out the time on the clock. So I continued running, albeit at a slow pace, getting encouragement from the fact that I was still running, and greetings from my dad, sister, Lisa in the US, and from other runners, their crews, and the race marshalls.
Upper GI problems seemed to replace my lower GI ones, and I continued to throw up every few hours. I was OK with that, as I now had a strategy that was very effective for dealing with this: walk a lap, have a cup of salty broth followed by some water, then some high energy food (boiled rice, vanilla pudding, coke, energy drink), then run! The girls at the food station were great, after the first vomiting episode I just had to tell them as I ran/walked past if I was feeling sick again, and then they would have a cup of broth ready for me the next time I went past, at just the right temperature so I could drink it straight away. Or they would pull out a chair and bring me some rice.
I was not the only one with stomach issues. Didrik Hermansen, who has several podium finishes from the UTWT and who had been in the lead for quite a long while, pulled out after 16 or 17 hours due to severe vomiting. I spotted Ninette sitting at the food station a couple of times, looking rather ashen, and on the track she started walking more and more. Therese was nowhere to be seen on the track for a while, and rumours had it she was outside, vomiting. However Kirsti reappeared after a 4,5 hour break, determined not to quit until the final signal sounded. Tough lady! Guro was also struggling, but with painful blisters rather than the nearly endemic GI issues.
When I reached my goal of 200 km it was still over 2 hours left and the runners still on the track seemed to be speeding up rather than slowing down. Guys who I had lapped regularly throughout the day now started lapping me. I broke my promise to myself to stop and instead set myself a new goal of 211 km, why I chose that number I can no longer remember, and wondered if I could reach 400 laps. One lap was approximately 550 m, so how far would I have to run to reach 400? I had no chance at doing the maths at that point, but it kept me occupied for about 20 minutes or so.
As my legs did not seem to have much left in them I continued at a slow pace in the second last hour, hoping to become reenergised for a speed burst in the very last hour. With about 90 minutes to go I was lapped by another female, who at the last announcement of the top 10 had been one place and 4 laps behind me. Bjørn Tore’s team screamed at me to follow, but I could not maintain her speed. However I managed to speed up a little, swearing to myself that she would not lap me again. I had just had a greeting over the loudspeakers saying I was in silver medal position in the Norwegian Championships and encouraging me to keep going. I was sure the message was wrong, I was in third position in the race, and although Ninette was now behind me a runner called Anna had now climbed into second place. However, until then I had not given much thought to the fact that Bislett also was the national championships. Now that I had been reminded I was determined not to be pushed off the podium, so I did my best to keep up every time a speedier runner overtook me, and to overtake a many runners as possible.
With about 10 minutes to go I passed the timing mats where the speaker stood. He shouted at me that it was just three more laps to go. I thought «I can do that», and finally found that extra gear I had been looking for. I completed the three laps with about 20 seconds to spare, and sprinted all I could until the final signal finally sounded. Twentyfour hours of more or less continuous movement were followed by having to keep completely still while the final measurements were made. My 24 hour debut ended after 218,5 km, and I did indeed reach 400 laps. I was third in the women’s race, but second in the Norwegian Championships as it turned out Anna, who went on to win the entire race, was Swedish. Therese claimed gold and Ninette bronze. Bjørn Tore won the men’s race and claimed his fifth Norwegian Championship, while Craig Holgate ran the second furthest of all.
As soon as I tried to get up from the floor to reclaim my stuff and get to the medal ceremony I knew that at least one of my Achilles tendons were shot. However, I was still ecstatic to have finished the year and my 24 hour debut with such a great result, despite the shoddy preparations, no support, and all the problems I experienced on the day. Will I do it again? Well, I will definitely do another 24 hour race again, and if Bislett taught me anything it was to never say never. Besides, speaker Henning has promised me 50 % more Depeche Mode songs next year…
What revealed itself when I removed my shoes and clothes: a hematoma on my shin and a quite deep sore on my foot where the shoelaces had rubbed off the skin underneath.