28 Mar 16 by James Elson

Athens 24hr. Eating to a Team GB standard.

Here it is. A blog about running around a 1km tarmac loop for 24hrs.

I think a few people were under the impression that Athens 24hr earlier this March was my first attempt at the distance. It most certainly was not. My illustrious 24hr career has so far involved some total car crash performances BUT, I learned a little at each one. And they were so important in laying the foundation for having a good race. 

A few years ago when some of my closer friends started getting themselves Team GB National jerseys, I decided I'd really like to try and qualify for something. At the time, I was woefully short of both the speed and endurance that I would have actually needed to get any of the Ultra Distance Teams: 50km, 100km, Trail, 24hr. But I'd run a lot of long races and thought that the 24hr had to be my best option. Through 2012-2015 I shoe horned 24hr races in to the beginning or end of seasons often on the back of A races, just to see if I could 'run the standard'. Well I didn't get anywhere near. 

When I started trying, the minimum standard for the GB Mens' 24hr team was 231km. As we have gotten stronger and stronger over recent years with the likes of Robbie Britton, Marco Consani, Pat Robbins, Steve Holyoak, John Pares, Dan Lawson etc, running bigger and bigger numbers, the standards have gone up. And the team level required for the 2016 Euro Champs was set at 240km or roughly 150 miles. 

In 2015 I ran 2 x sub 15hr 100 milers, and had a crack at Barcelona 24 again at the end of the season. I had a really good 10hrs or so but the wheels came off, I'd gone too fast, my legs just didn't have enough miles in them after the 100 in Mid-October, and I stopped 11hrs in. Marco went on to show how it was done and ran 256km to win the race and solidify his well earned place in the squad. There was still one place left in the team.

So I abandoned all other first half 2016 plans and focused 100% on Athens 24hr in Mid March. 

The differences this time were:

a. I knew I had the speed and endurance. The two faster trail 100s were hard but not debilitiatingly so. Sure I would not have wanted to carry on for another 50 miles but I came out of both pretty well.
b. My marathon time came down from half a dozen efforts in the 2:50's, to a 2:43 at Seville in February, so that was a good sign. The only other race in the training block was Country to Capital where I managed to turn in a suprising win.
c. I can really pack away a large amount of calories during longer runs and that is a major advantage for this format (see below)
d. I had a 12 week training block focused on one thing - going long on flat road.
e. I had a half decent runner with a top knot who just happened to finish 3rd in the World Champs last year crewing for me.
f. I had no more excuses.

I went out to Athens with confidence. Richard Brown the incumbent 24hr Team Manager emailed me to say 'just go and do what we all know you are capable of'. That fired me up.

Robbie and I arrived in Greece and took the bus to TGI Fridays where the waiter left me a love note. The next morning we got up and travelled over to the disused Airport & Olympic facilities. At 5pm we began. The loop is a 1km circuit on road out on to a disused car park.

There were some characters out on course. Most prominent in my day was Lithuania. Lithuania went off like a rocket. I've seen this many times at many different events and ignored it, but his first km was in the 3:30 range which was truly extraordinarily optimistic. We also had a man running the 48hr who we quickly ascertained was cutting the course in half as a charade of 'going for toilet'. Robbie and Dan Lawson had him DQ'd after some fine investigative work.

Lithuania (Aleksander) and I

My plan was - nothing under 8 min mile pace. Unlike at Barcelona where the first 60 miles were under 8 min mile pace. I ignored the rest of the field and focused in. I was about 5th or 6th through the marathon and on a sort of 5:15 lap / 8:20 mile pace. The difference was I knew I still had to be on that pace at 100 miles. After 6 or so hours, it started hacking it down and a keen wind brought a miserable period. But it passed. Robbie was feeding me like you wouldn't believe. I'd written a nutrition plan, and he definitely took it to the letter which was just what I needed. He managed during the race to crew me flawlessly, write down what I ate (see bottom of this post), get the 48hr cheat DQ'd and tweet the shit out of the race the whole time. 

7 hours in and Lithuania was lapping me out of all contention, but his blow up was surely inevitable and anyway I was there to do a job. 240km was all that mattered. 

My splits were all good and I ran a really good 3 hour section up to 100 miles to come through just a minute outside my PB in 14:37. Robbie then pointed out that this was irrelevant and threw a cherry tomato at my head. Again.

Past that point the maths started to really eat me alive. I just kept working on running every step, aiming for just over 10km an hour and giving myself a shot for when it got really tough. Between 15hrs and 18hrs into the race I had my first and only real low point but it was a 3hr one. I didn't stop running and I kept eating, but my body clock was now in the small hours of the morning UK time, and I'd been up for 24hrs with the 5pm start time so I just had a dip. But then almost with the click of a button, I felt ok again. My 2 year old, Louis, normally gets up around 0630 and afterwards I realised that right around that time in the equivalent point of the race, my body seemed to say it was ok to be up and running again.

At this point, Lithuania had destroyed the race. His 100 mile split was a staggering 12:35 and he'd lapped me 20 times. He then slowed to my pace, I told him what I was there to do and we fell in step for the hours of 18 - 22 in to the race. This was a really good period where we just got it done. We hiked a 50 metre section of very gradual incline at the start of a lap and then ran the rest. So all of our miles were in the 9:40 - 10:30 range and that was just what I needed to do. 200km passed with 18:54 on the clock and I knew then that things were looking good.

About 2hrs to go and Dan Lawson (who's own 48hr had not gone to plan but stuck around to support), appears with a Magnum. What a moment. Just after, another toilet stopped separated my partnership with Lithuania and I began to unlap myself ever so gradually as he hiked it out to the finish. 

With an hour to go I had 236km on the board. I always think in those times to Brian Morrison collapsing on the track with less than 300 metres to go in the lead of Western States in 2006. only to be DQd as Scott Jurek and others picked him up and helped him over the line. The km that took me from 239 to 240 was however a DAMN good feeling. All of those demons floating away on the breeze from 4 years of thinking about running a good 24hr.

With 29 mins to spare, Robbie snapped a picture and I went out on lap 241 slowly on to the finish from there with a final total of 242.497km or 150.6 miles. Lithuania walked his way to 260km. A massive total. Ok he was on pace for a WR for 10 hours or so but despite a really crazy pacing plan that is a great showing. Third place was around 205km.

A massive thank you to Robbie for all of his help this time. But also to Paul Navesey who crewed me for the previous 4 total shit shows. Nothing to do with his exceptional crewing, just my poor running.

Thanks to Richard Brown, Dan Lawson and his family who stayed all day to support me when their own races had not worked out. To Richard for putting up with me talking a good game for about ten years.

Thanks to La Sportiva, Gu Energy UK, Julbo and Petzl for the support. I ran the whole race in a trail shoe. The Helios SR - it's that versatile. I am hoping that is some kind of WORLD RECORD for that shoe.

What's next? Hopefully I make the team for the European Champs in October. I took the 6th and final remaining slot by reaaching the standard. I hope I can do it justice if I make it, certainly it will become my sole focus for the time being.

Here is what I ate:

Hour 0 Gu , 200m water , 200 water , Biscuit, S cap

Hour 1 Mars bar, 100 water, Gu, Cheese, 200 water, 3 pringles, Scap

Hour 2 Mars bar, 100 water, 4 Pringles, 100 water, Gu, 150 water, Biscuit, Scap, 100 water

Hour 3 Mars Bar, 100 water, 4 Pringles, Gu, 150 water, Biscuit, Scap, 100 water

Hour 4 Mars bar, 150m water, Biscuit, Gu, Cheese, 100m water, Scap

Hour 5 Mars Bar, 100m water, 6 Pringles, Gu, 100m water, 5 Pringles, 100m water, Biscuit, Scap

Hour 6 100m water, Mars bar, 2 pringles, 100m water, Gu, 100 water, 3 pringles, 100 water, Scap

Hour 7 Mars Bar, 50 water, Gu, 100 water, 3 Pringles, Scap, 100m water

Hour 8 Mars Bar, 100m, water 2 pringles, Gu, 100 water, 2 pringles, 100 water, Scap

Hour 9 Biscuit, 100 water, 2 pringles, 100m water, Gu, 100 water, 3 pringles, Scap

Hour 10 100 water, Mars bar, 50 water, Gu, 100 water, 3 Pringles, Scap, 100 water

Hour 11 Biscuit, 1.5 pringles, 100 water, Gu, 3 pringles, 100 water, Mars bar, Scap, 30 water

Hour 12 Biscuit, 100 water, Mars bar, 100 water, 2 pringles, Scap, 50 water

Hour 13 Small cheese, Cherry tomato, 100 water, 2 pringles, Small cheese, 3/4 Biscuit, Cherry tomato, Scap, Swig water

Hour 14 Small cheese, Square of pizza, 100m water, Small cheese, 2 pringles, 100 water, Swig Coke, 50ml coke, Mars bar, Scap, Water 100

Hour 15 2 pringles Biscuit 100 water 2 pringles Swig of coke Scap at :45 100 water, Swig of coke

Hour 16 100 water 50 coke Biscuit 200 water Coke and water - 150m 3/4 Biscuit Coke and water - 150m Scap

Hour 17 Small cheese, Tomato, Small cheese, Tomato, Coke and water, 150m Coke and water 100ml, Mars bar, Coke and water 150 m, Scap, 100m water

Hour 18 Half a Mars bar 100m water and coke 2 peach slices 100 m water Mars bar Scap 150m water and coke

Hour 19 Scap, Water, Water and coke, Peach slices

Hour 20 Cheese, Tomato, Cheese, Tomato, 150m water, 100m coke  

Hour 21 Coke, Water, Cheese, Cherry tom, Magnum, Cookie, Scap 

Hour 22 Coke, Scap 

Hour 23 Coke