Crawley AIM 6hr – Saturday 2 April 2016.
Round and round and round we go, where we gonna stop, nobody knows!
What an experience and probably the most fun I have had running round in circles!
Way back last year after dragging my miserable self around the South Downs Way 50 and then a near meltdown at the Arun River marathon in May, I decided I had had my fill of long distances and wasn’t actually enjoying running any more. So releasing myself from pressures of having to run, shortening the distances, getting in some quality stuff I started to run for the simple enjoyment…and actually started to see some improvement. So, what on earth possessed me to enter a 12hr track event, but enter I did. I had actually had my eye on it for two or three years but other races got in the way.
Anyway, Autumn turned to Autumn…well the temperature did ….then the rain came down, then the ground turned to mush, then I lost my appetite for slogging miles out for hours on end, so I parked the 12hr in the back of my mind and carried on enjoying. I discovered cross country for the first time in my 56 years, learnt to embrace Arena Thursday evening’s 15 hill rep sessions and concentrated on run specific strength and conditioning in the gym especially upper body stuff to help with my form when tiredness sets in..I can now bench press 26kg compared to 20kg and deadlift 40kg compared to 28kg!
Autumn part two turned to Winter, then Spring, then Winter, then while in Portugal last month I finally officially pulled out of the 12hr. done! Free to enjoy the WSFRL and the Bognor 10k ….until…the race organiser (RO) came back to me with an offer of a place in the 6hr!! So with 10 days to go I accepted the place and so began my non-existent taper! Children, don’t try this at home!
I’d been pacing the 4.30 group for Runbrighton all winter so knew I was marathon fit in terms of distance, my training had been consistent even though I wasn’t really sure what it was being consistent for and I knew my head was in the right place (not just on my shoulders), so what did I have to lose? In prep I did a 3hr run with Runbrighton on the Sunday before followed by the Lewes Easter 10k on the Monday…followed by nothing in the remaining 4 days and a lot of eating, no alcohol or caffeine.
Race day dawned, the sun came out and Michele, my dedicated lap counter, whisked me up the A23 to the K2 athletics track at Crawley. We spent a pleasant journey putting those less perfect than us to rights and I voiced my race strategy for approval! I did have butterflies in my stomach, but nowhere my usual pre-race anxiety level, it was more nervous excitement, I also enjoyed my first hit of caffeine in a week. I was actually looking forward to getting on the start line. Both of us have lap counted at a track marathon before so had an idea of what was in store for us. One last minute panic when I realised ear phones were banned. I was hoping to pass the time listening to Pop-pickers on R2 at lunch time, then I remembered Tony Blackburn had been given the push anyway and Michele told me I would just have to get on with it! I pushed away any thoughts of the entire 6 hrs ahead, just break the race down, only think about each 30 minute section at a time and breaking it down to the 25/5 ratio.
So at the K2 and I ambled off to set up my fuel station on a chair, (some experienced had small tables!) I’d packed enough gels and stuff I knew I wouldn’t eat to last me a few days, but I do like a bit of choice. This was one of the attractions for me, no need to carry loads of gear, it can all be left in one spot, impossible to get lost and I am never far from the start. The 12hr runners were already on the track and seeing them helped ease the butterflies, they were just ordinary runners, chatting as they went round at various speeds and one lady power walking. Number collected and pinned on back and front like a pro, instructions for us both…make eye contact at least on every lap, wave preferably, run in lane one or on the line and enjoy! Then we were off to join the 12hrs, 3hrs in for them, going round and round.
Having no idea where I was in terms of pace fitness I had sort of planned to start around 11min miling, thinking I was probably around 10.15 pace marathon fit. I had decided on two run/walk ratios, 25/5 and if it got too tough, 12/3, nice rounded segments to concentrate on and break the distant down. The first 25 mins clipped away quite sharpish, so much for 11min miling, I was doing 10…oh hell, slow down…no, no, keep going, it’s comfortable…you’ll suffer for it! Never listen to my own advice, I ploughed on, forcing myself into the 5 min walk section I picked up a piece of flapjack, cup of high5 and water at the communal fuel station weighted down with the usual goodies and carried on, dreaming up different types of waves to give Michele who had now been joined by two more friends, Lisa and Anne. I decided to try a thumbs up combo and perhaps a salute on the next few laps.
Back into a run section and I clipped off two 9.38 miles…11min miling!? Another walk break and this time I didn’t feel so self-conscious as others were taking frequent breaks apart from the leaders and two extremely focused Swedish women. One of them was called Agnetha (our names were on our numbers, back and front) and every time I passed her or vice versa, I started singing Dancing Queen in my head, you can dance, you can run, having the time of your life here at Creepy Crawley! Gel time I decided and an opportunity to visit the facilities before the next run time kicks in. Fuelled by a lemon and mint SIS gel (not sure about the taste) it was another 9.38 followed by a 9.57…11min miling!? I clipped the half marathon point off with a 9.33 and then broke into the pineapple chunks as a treat on my next walk break, I interspersed this with little chats to my fellow runners, haven’t I seen you before, bit breezy isn’t it, nice scenery! Opps, nearly forgot to wave or was it thumbs up time? I was treated to a Mexican wave on occasions, it turned out it was every time I completed 20 laps. Round and round we go, I feel in the zone, metrognomic! This is how running used to feel, this is how I used to be consistent with my pace, I was finishing almost in the same spot after each run section, I must be consistent.
9.30 through 18 miles and we reach a point of huge excitement, time to change direction…yay! 3hours in for me and 6 hrs for the 12hr gang. The RO makes an occasion of it and I get to see the faces of other runners, they look a bit tired too, that’s good, I’m normal. Oh this is nice, a different view, tall trees rather than office windows on the bend, however, it also took me a while to orientate myself. Now I would have to take my gels to the fuel station rather than water to my fuel chair. I could also see the race clock head on rather than turning back and the leader board as well as the lap counters at a different angle. By now I had decided a jelly baby between two cheesy nibbles was the way ahead…that and pineapple chunks and I was still clipping off sub 10 min miles….11min miling!?
Until about now, 22 miles in and I hit a bit of a low patch, time to engage my mantra! From William Ernest Henley’s poem Invictus comes the lines, I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul. The two lines were paraphrased by Nelson Mandela whilst he was incarcerated and brought to life again recently by my other inspiration of today, Eddie Izzard. (The poem that is, not Mandela, although Easter has just passed so it could be feasible) Come on, draw on those dreadmill sessions, all that threshold running staring at a wall, draw on that mental strength. By now another couple of friends had arrived to hurl abuse at me and take some photos of my pain. Better try to keep my form for the camera, head up, shoulders relaxed, drive those arms!
By now we were about 4 hours in, 2 hours to go and I started to feel the effort of it all, the 25 mins were taking an hour and my stomach was feeling a little queasy at times. Time to hit the coke at the fuel station, coca cola that is, not the white powder, this worked on my stomach but not on my mind, it didn’t make the 25 mins tick any faster…so time to change the combo to. 12/3. This did wonders to my head and a well caught plunge into the dark places of my mind was avoided. 90 mins to go, the back of it is broken, I’m still waving, even smiling apparently…personally it was probably a grimace..but who cares. Two walk breaks in the next 30 mins, an extra visit to the fuel station for coke, come on dig deep…I am the keeper of my soul…that’s wrong, what was that flipping quote! Money, money, money, she can dance and her coach can shout! And shout he did, something in Swedish that sounded rather rude! The girls were apparently trying to qualify for a Swedish something and he was trying to spur them on and he did laugh when she was further down the track.
Walk break, chat to a 12 hr chap who seems quite envious that my race will soon be finishing, the sun has disappeared, it’s gone chilly so I grab my arm warmers on the next fly past of the fuel chair. One hour left to go, we’re in the last hour whoop, whoop, I can do this, soon be home and able to eat the chicken thingy I had out in the pre-set oven, chicken dinner, winner, winner, come on dancing queen keep moving.
It is about now that I found Michele hanging out at my fuel chair waving a pair of gloves at me, they don’t look like the ones I packed! Are they mine? No, they’re Lisa’s, you have gone a funny colour! Green? No grey? Are you cold? A bit? Put these on, they don’t fit! Lisa must have small hands, no mine are puffy! I’ll have mine, where are they, in my rucksack…I’ll get them next time around, don’t stop me now, I’m having such a great time, I’m having a ball, that’s not Abba but who cares. Sure enough, 2 mins later or there about, my gloves await me. Walk break and it’s 30 mins to go, just a parkrun….not sure why I thought that, then I remembered thinking that at mile 23 during the 2012 Brighton marathon and then I had 30 mins to finish with a PB….which I did with some to spare. So that passed another lap, tick them off, come on shouts Jan, only 6 laps and you hit 50k, come on dig deep…I pass the race referee who gives me a marker and tells me to leave at the side of the track where I stop when the whistle goes, I spend the next lap wandering where to put it rather than clutching it…I settle for stuffing it inside my glove. The next lap is spent wondering what side of the track to place the marker and the next one if I stay with it or not, finally I caught the ref again and my thoughts were answered.
Last walk break done, it’s the home straight, I must have done the 6 laps by now? It feels like a million and six! More words of encouragement from my cheery team as they shelter from the spits of rain…are you lot alright under there? Into the last few minutes, to shouts of put the hammer down I found something deep inside and pushed on, passing the 6hr leader having a walk…come on, you can’t walk now, past dancing queen also having a walk, glad I haven’t got another 3 hours to go.
Another lap, all those threshold and interval sessions on the dread mill each week are paying off, all those 15 thousand hill reps on a Thursday have given my legs the strength to drive me forward, round I go, two minutes on the clock, I pass the woman in 3rd place who has got stronger as the race progressed but still took time to say well done each time we passed. The hammer is almost well and truly down, I wish I had shoved it down a wee bit more as when the whistle blew I was just a shade off the start/finish line…I like completeness, joined up circles and rounded miles. Hallelujah, I’m finished…how brilliant was that, how absolutely delighted am I! No need to beat myself up on the drive home, no need to wish I had gone faster or further. I had played a good part, I loved my stage today and best of all those dark demons stayed away, I really was the master of my fate….and I made it just over 50k!
Some years ago, 11, to be precise I did my first ultra, the Dartmoor Discovery, 32 miles over the roads of Dartmoor, it remains my favourite to this day. None of the commercialism of some of today’s races, just good honest running organised by good honest runners and this is what the AIM 12/6 hr event is like. Don’t expect chip timing, an overrated goodie bag full of flyers or a medal as big as your backside. But do expect and embrace the simplicity of it all, the organisation even down to fixing the dodgy timing clock, your lap counter and fellow runners for that sense of camaraderie and community, a well-stocked fuel station, a finishing bag of essential crisps, drink and chocolate bar and a medal to be well and truly proud of. For me the best of all, the sense of achievement, I had been round and round that track 120 something times, did I ever get bored, no never, what did I think about, lord knows…was it tough, yes at times, but even parkrun has it’s tough parts…well all bloody 3 miles of it actually! Will I do it again, not this year and 6 hours was probably enough…but then I said that after the 100k London to Brighton, then look what happened?
Onwards now, a little rest then back to fun and enjoyment…oh and swearing on a Thursday!