Cast your mind back to those first few days after my Ridgeway back2back FKT and when I spent days coughing up blood and picking up fallen toenails off the floor, I ask myself why am I just entered a Track 24hr race... not any track 24hr race but The Gloucester invitation elite race. When I saw the start list I was that excited about seeing some of the athletes I felt my heart race. In fact, I actually checked my COROS watch HR data screen to see if the graph had a spike. I had to slap myself and tell myself ‘get a grip Damo’
The race was stacked with proper experienced Ultra runners. Michael Stocks, Samantha Amend, Melissa Venables, Alison Walker, Andy Jordan, Dave Andrews, Alex Whearity, David Bone to name a Few.
24 hours is a long time to run, especially on a 400 meter loop, the combination doesn’t make any logical sense. Mates and work colleagues looked at me as if I had three heads when I told them of this. I did ask myself at times if I’ve totally lost the plot now.
“They wouldn’t understand. I don’t understand”
I’m here to tell you that there is so much more to it than you might think.
You love and hate the build up of a race and this one was the same. Preparations have gone ok. With Covid-19 the situation has been a case of adapt and get on with it the best you can. I was just grateful the race was on. And by the way the organizers did an amazing job.
I adapted my training leading up to this event. I was so pumped up for this race; I wanted to go into the race close to 100% healthy as I could. This meant reducing my mileage. Sounds crazy right? I would do a typical week which included a mixture of easy runs, tempo workout, speed workout and a long run. Under my new coach John O'Regan (ex international ultra runner himself) he guided me to some key long runs in the build up. Also what I found worked for me was to beast myself in the gym before most of my runs. This can’t be found in any coaching manual but in my head it sounded good. I would go in the gym for 1 or 2 hrs before a run. This helped me become strong without the high mileage.
Nutrition wise I was very confident in that department. I would use my normal race strategy of Mountain fuel Raw drink mix with Jellies as my backbone. Then I would get my protein and fats from my secret weapon which was Resilient Nutrition nut butter. Also for moral purposes I would have an army ration pack meal just before the night stage. I would also use Spring energy gels and Unived gels provided by XMiles just to spice the taste buds up.
Speaking of XMiles .... If no one has heard of them. XMiles UK is an endurance sports store with bags of knowledge. So, if anyone has any questions on what type of fuel to use in a race these guys will help. They also stock the famous Squirrel Nut Butter. OMG this stuff is pure magic. Best Anti-Chafe on the market.
Race morning arrives, and nervously looking around at the other athletes and you realised you just might be out of your depth here. These guys looked well organised and relaxed. Due to covid you were only allowed one crew member so for me it was my lovely, caring wife (Chloe). Basically she was the only one I could convince that staying up all night in all sorts of weather was going to be fun. Trying not to get too carried away with the buzz before the start I decided to sit on track side and brew a nice coffee. Great local coffee shop ‘Cafe Conexion’ gave me some beans that I grinded up before hand and brought them with me.
The race itself is a blur however do remember some key times. The plan was for the first 40 miles get into a nice controlled pace. I did exactly that. Apart from a couple of laps of bursts. This was soon halted as a shout from the side of the track ‘Damian, too fast, control it’
My coach did say that a friend of his was one of the organisers and that he will keep a close eye on me.
Got to say all the crew members and other runners were amazing and very encouraging. Had some good banter out there too.
The miles were clicking off nicely then around the 100k mark I went through a little bad spell, not sure why but I just thought it will pass and it did. Maybe not enough calories I thought so this is when the famous army rations were necked. Quick stop, the wife changed my socks and shoes while sat eating. Like a F1 pit stop. During the race we mastered the act of saving every second possible. Even got her to open the toilet door at the right time so I didn’t have to break my stride. I remember another runner - Dave Andrews saying that is just classic mate. He was a brilliant guy, tough as nails too.
After this I got back into my running again. At this point the race seemed to be claiming casualties. I noticed a couple of runners dropping out and some struggling on the track. I tried to remain focused and humble as the 24hr race is a brutal and savage event and anything can happen. One minute your flying, next minute your gone and in a world of mess.
The temperature dropped and after looking around and noticing I am the only one in a vest and shorts I quickly got some layers on. I walked a lap or 2 with a nice flask of coffee, trying to warm myself up. The next 40 miles or so was so strange. I went from feeling strong one moment to feeling like someone poured cement on my quads. I was suffering at this point and was praying to god that I would get through this bad patch. I tried lots of different strategies, even drinking IPA!
What I love about ultra running is the community within and the camaraderie. I felt the encouragement between the runners so inspiring. This was key for me to getting back on track. Someone said it looked like I was going from a death march to speed rep sessions hahahaha Loved it. Looking back this is where I need to improve. People say the night stage can be tricky.
Before I knew it the race was in its last 3 hours. I got information from my good friend Sam, who rang my wife to tell me my position. I was sitting in 3rd place but only 2 laps in front of 4th place and he was moving a lot better than I was. I was back in a bad patch. I remember my wife throwing me the phone and Sam saying .... “don't you dare lose that 3rd spot, put the hammer down”
I threw my wife the phone and told her to get me 2 gels and water ready on the next lap. It was do or die time. Got the gels down and started to increase the pace. Before you knew it I was smashing out 7:30/mi pace. Yes, my body was screaming at me but I kept reminding myself that I have been through worse so let’s rock and roll. I was cruising round lap after lap like it was the start. I looked at the clock and thought ‘holy crap’ I still have an hour and a half left. I soon got rid of this negative thought and focused on visualizing I just started a half marathon. The mind is a wonderful and powerful tool. I increased the pace and even managed to get into 2nd place. Still feeling strong and pushing I ended up 3 laps off first place.
So happy with the result. Not with just the position but how I adapted and problem solved issues during the race. I feel so excited about my ultra running career and feel this is only the beginning.
What made it special was meeting so many great people. Can’t wait to see you all again on the circuit.
Watch = COROS Vertix (Mojito edition)
Shoes = Atreyu, Nike and Hoka
Clothes = Coventry Godiva vest, Doxa shorts, craft and drymax socks, Inov8 Jacket, XMiles Cap.
Lube = Squirrel Nut Butter
Other = Squirrel Nut Butter muscle rub, Pulse CBD oil.
Photo credits = Tosh K Simpkin and Norbert Mihalik.