At 1am after 13 hours of running in a 24 hour race, I hit rock bottom. It looked like my race was over and there was nothing I could do about it.
I entered the Hardcastle 24 hour race at relatively short notice having swapped my planned run in the Calderdale Way Ultra for this event instead because I really wanted to see what it would be like to not only stay awake for 24 hours but to actually try and run for so long.
The stunning 5k looped course was in the woods
With grand plans for running 100 miles around a stunning 5km technical trail in Hardcastle Crags organised by my friends at TeamOA it became abundantly clear after only 2 laps of the course that 100 miles wasn’t going to happen.
It was just too hot and the course too technical and with my final elevation count of 14,310ft in just 63 miles – too tough for the distance.
However, I wanted to push myself and see just what I could do with such an open ended race goal and how I’d fare and so at 12 noon on saturday the 17th May, 5 solo 24 hour runners set off (Billy, Andy, Bob, Paul and myself) along with several who were competing in the 6 and 12 hour team and solo runs too.
Issues from the start
The heat was punishing from the very start, it’s oppressive in the woods and when you get out on the exposed bits of the loop, it’s direct sunlight and to be honest, 2 laps into the race even at a slow pace I was feeling a bit dodgy in the stomach. Not ideal when your brain is reminding you that there’s still another 23 hours to go.
I made an effort every lap to keep my bottle filled and to splash face and arms in the many little streams crossing the course and to wet my Berghaus cap which took the edge off but even plodding around at around 40 minutes / 5k pace, it took its toll and about 6 hours in I had to take a break and ultimately have a word with myself about how much I wanted this experience. (I really did, honest to god I did!).
It helped having the race take place next to the campsite and almost for the duration of the weekend friends and my ever supportive wife were around and about. It’s amazing what a pickup a friendly face can be at a low point.
With a bit of a sit down and a coffee, I wandered back down to the course (about 5 minutes from the campsite so time wasted!) and got back into the swing of it just keeping moving. To be honest, apart from a few stomach issues, my legs felt fine, my feet were perfect and I’d just about judged the effort levels right but the scale of the event was a little overwhelming when I thought about the fact I was only a quarter of the way in.
The start/finish tent
The beginning of the end at 1am
With the temperatures starting to drop a little as we got into the evening stretch, it became a lot more pleasant running and at this point. I was still very happy that I was eating plenty – mixing Torq gels with various bits of food from the start tent – and having no issues with hydration either. Textbook really on that front and I felt strong still.
My original plans were to stay moving for as much of the 24 hours as possible, cover 100 miles if that were an option and then ultimately, knowing there was a small field, to perhaps even win or place high depending on the final entry count. Gotta aim high right?!
Men with vaseline in the woods
My chances of completing any of my personal goals effectively started coming to and early in the night as I started experiencing the most excruciating pain from chaffing .. err .. between the cheeks.
Without wishing to paint too vivid a picture, no amount of vaseline or tape/plasters helped and at 1am, I stopped and ended up sat in a chair in the start tent basically unable to carry on moving despite feeling strong, well fed and hydrated and with no foot or stomach issues. I could have cried. I’d invested a lot of mental energy into this and it was drained.
Frustrating and one of the biggest lows I’ve experienced yet because all those things that are supposed to cause you issues when running hadn’t done and it was something else I’d not planned for or considered might happen.
The race was just getting interesting at this point too.
Andy and I had done a few laps basically together and were entering into our own little race behind Billy who had already built a commanding lead and I decided the only course of action at this stage was to go back to my tent and get a couple of hours sleep and see how I felt when I woke so I set my alarm for 5am and barely slept.
The morning of power running
When the alarm went off at 5am, I just ignored it. I was beyond gutted at how the race had panned out for me and I knew the other guys had all been able to stay on the course through the night so any gap now would be insurmountable anyway.
However, I didn’t enter this race to do only half of it! I wanted the 24 hour experience.
This race was about me. It was about testing my physical and mental limits and seeing just what I could do.
I got out of the sleeping bag at 6am and figured there were still 6 hours of running and as long as I could move, that’s potentially 30-40km that could be done. I had no idea how the bum cheeks would fare though but I was damned if I wasn’t going to at least do one morning lap even if it took 2 hours!
As it happened, the first lap wasn’t too bad, I had *treated* my area of concern (if you’re really that keen on detail, email me..) and I was moving reasonably freely.
As I came through the first lap back, I changed into a new set of shorts and figured it was all or nothing – this was personal.
The next 5km was by far my fastest around the course, something like 32:20 and I followed it with a few more low-mid 30 min laps and ultimately I think ran a half marathon in around 2:20 to claw back a bit of dignity and boost the lap count towards the 20 mark and at least make it to a nice round 100km and salvage something from the race.
Ultimately, I ended up running 21 laps spread over 2 sessions, the first 12 noon – 1am and then the second 6am – 11am. I could have gone out on a final lap at 11 but frankly at this point, we’d all stopped because the final standings were done and the effort everyone put in was something else.
I finished in 3rd place out of the 5 solo 24 hour racers with 65.1 miles (21 laps) which I ended up covering in a moving time of 15 hours 14 minutes which I guess is reasonable given the heat, course and err .. rubbing. My average pace was only 2 minutes a lap behind the winner and ahead of the rest of the guys so the running I did do was decent enough in that respect.
Billy Stott won the event with an incredible display of consistent running and endurance with 86.8 miles and Andy Connell blew me away with a great run for 2nd of 74.4 miles.
24 Hours solos – results
- Billy Stott 140K/86.8 miles in 19.12.29 (Avg lap 41.10)
- Andy Connell 120K/74.4 miles in 20.04.56 (Avg lap 50.12.33)
- James Young 105k/65.1 miles in 15.14.06 (Avg lap 43.31)
- Bob Smart 100K/62 miles in 19.19.42 (Avg lap 57.59.01)
- Paul Craddock 35K/21.7 miles in 6.10.21 (Avg lap 52.54.42)
I managed to just sneak past Bob Smart late in the morning to grab 3rd and Paul Craddock was desperately unlucky to see an injury flare up early in the race and had to retire but as he’s got some big challenges on the horizon I think he was wise to have his focus on the bigger picture for the rest of the year and the Spine Challenger.
What went right?
Despite my massive disappointment at losing hours in the night, a lot did go right.
My fitness, despite no significant long runs in training was actually about where I’d hoped it would be and overall my race strategy and pacing along with food and hydration were going well until 1am. I felt confident enough I could have carried on for longer.
In all the build up to the race, I knew one of the biggest challenges would be a mental one and I simply had no frame of reference for how to deal with running for 24 hours.
I had to think long and hard about the last time I was even awake for 24 hours let alone doing something this strenuous!
The beautiful course and good weather (it would have been grim if it was raining!) helped massively as there was a lot to look at and take in but I just had to switch off and ignore the time and my plan was only to really start considering it a race when it got to the morning and then treat it as a 5-6 hour race.
I ran for 15 hours although with breaks and stops for food at the CP etc, it worked out at about 18 hours on the course and was able to actually run some of my fastest laps in the morning and felt very capable of carrying on. That’s not too bad and gives me hope for similar events in the future.
The mental challenge of a 24 hour looped race has at least been covered off, the unknown is now a known quantity even though there were breaks and an unplanned sleep (at least it wasn’t because I was too tired), I’ve been encouraged enough to think there’s a lot more I could do in one of these races if things went right.
I also had the mental fortitude to get back on the course after a sleep when it would have been very easy not to.
What went wrong?
Frankly, apart from my low spot at 6 hours where I just felt a bit down (I had no intention of quitting at this stage though), the only thing that went massively wrong was chaffing that nearly made me cry.
As the day went on, eventually everyone suffered from it to some degree. That’s the heat I guess, I was just massively gutted my issues cropped up so early.
Thinking back however, the solution was actually simple in the end – prevention and hygiene. I had a shower after the race and immediately felt 99% better. I should have stuck my butt in a river earlier in the race!
I did change tops and shorts a few times but a quick wash may have ultimately saved my race. Annoying when something so simple might have had such an impact. A pack of baby wipes will certainly be in all my race kits in future too.
Kit and food
I took a reasonable amount of stuff and knew from past Team OA events there would be other food and drink available but frankly as the race wore on, I realised I’d packed too light – particularly food wise.
Andy put me to shame with his organisation and kit boxes and the inclusion of his own medical kit which he kindly shared with me taught me that I perhaps need to plan for having zero support at a race rather than relying on food from a CP table. Better I think to have something and not need it than desperately need it and not have it.
What I lacked most was a selection of savoury food after my chicken wraps I’d made were gone (they weren’t very nice anyway) and that my box was just full of sweets and fruit as was the CP table. I stopped wanting it after a while.
One thing I did find however was that Torq gels are extremely palatable even after 15 hours of running. The good news for me there is that having been chosen to join the Berghaus Trail Team this year (more on that in another post) I will be getting more Torq products to fuel future races!
Kit wise, I ran the entire race in my Adidas XT4’s. I had 2 other pairs of shoes but I was only ever going to change if I had issues. This race was their swansong, they’re done now but I’ve had some great runs in those shoes.
Beyond that, I ran with my usual Ultimate Direction AK pack, one water bottle and a couple of changes of shorts/shirts and my OMM Kamleika jacket for a few of the night laps along with my Petzl Myo RXP head torch. If the weather were worse I’m sure the kit challenge would have been significantly increased.
Frankly, I feel down about this race and my own result. I missed a big part of the experience in the night when I had to retire temporarily and it’s hard not to reflect on what might have been.
It’s entirely possible I’d have managed a couple more night laps and passed out with the fatigue of continuing instead of sleeping but I’ll never know.
However, one of the things I love with a passion about running is that it’s forever a learning curve and without the downs, you can’t experience the ups.
I knew Billy, Andy and Paul from other races and racing with them was an absolute pleasure and meeting Bob completed the day (not to mention the other runners in teams/6/12 hr).
I spent a fair bit of time messing around and chatting at the end of each lap when I could have carried on in a functional manner and it’s something I’d not be too worried about overall though.
Having experienced some significant lows in other races I often cling to the mantra of
It doesn’t always get worse
Distance running has a weird way of rewarding those who just keep on running beyond what they ever thought possible so it’s often a case of keep moving + keep eating & drinking through any lows.
Would I do it again?
I didn’t know how mindlessly running 5km loops would go, it’s a big ask to switch your brain off for so long.
That said, I entered this because I wanted a race where I didn’t have to expend mental energy reading a map (I suck at that) and just wanted to push push push.
I would definitely do this event again next year.
It was a first time event so there were a few little kinks to iron out organisationally but I’ve done a number of TeamOA races and whenever there’s an issue, they’re attentive and quick to try and fix it so I think next years will be even more fun!
I would like to suggest a wider range of savoury food be available though if possible, along with sugar for my brew and also perhaps start the 6/12/24 hour races at different times so they all finish at the same time to avoid everyone disappearing from the campsite at differing times when they’ve finished but apart from that, the course was beautiful, challenging and interesting and the event really one that will no doubt challenge me again in the future.
Congratulations to everyone who raced in the various categories and well done to all my fellow solo runners, some wonderful personal performances all round.