Endure 24 Leeds, Bramham Park, Saturday, June 29, 2019

135 miles

Gareth Pritchard

Photo by Epic Action Imagery (www.epicactionimagery.com)

So what is Endure24 you ask? 
Simples really, you have 24 hours to cover as many miles as you can, run, walk, crawl or just endure till you can’t give any more and the time expires. The person who covers the greatest distance is declared the winner. You start at midday Saturday and end 24 hours later. The course is a mixed terrain 5 Mile loop, chip timed and quite challenging in places. You can stop/start whenever you like within reason, eat, sleep, change clothes, shower, whatever you need. Your battle is against yourself, the ticking clock and your desire to achieve a distance you never thought possible.

I ran this event in 2018 as my first ever proper ultra and it went really well to say the least. I won with 125 miles, breaking the course record with a personal distance PB of 90 miles. It remained my absolute top running highlight of all time, something I believed deep down I would never be able to top, so I was quite happy to move on to other challenges. It was with mixed feelings then, that I ended up entering Leeds endure24 2019.

How did this happen? As the Leeds champion, the organisers asked if I would like to run their larger sister event at Reading. Quite a big honour, so felt like I had to give it a go and said yes. I later checked the dates and realised to do Reading my traditional spring marathon would have to be sacrificed, a definite no from me. So I decided to switch my place to Leeds, allowing me to enter Blackpool and Windermere marathons, hopefully it would all work out for the best.

The build-up this year was very different, I was in good shape for my goal marathon at Blackpool, but unfortunately the wind destroyed my sub 2:45 goal. On the day I still went out hard chasing my dream time but suffered towards the end placing a good 3rd which I was still happy with. A bearded lad from a northwest running club caught and passing me in those last few miles. I’d aimed high and had fallen short again, as it turned out I’d see this runner again at endure24 for a rematch. Windermere marathon was only 4 weeks later, a quick recovery and turnaround. I ended up running it even faster than Blackpool proving to myself I’d been in shape to achieve that day if conditions had been kinder. I was happy with my training and had been in great shape, but unfortunately it will have to wait for another day, endure24 was fast approaching.

I had 6 weeks of good training leading up to endure24, the highlight being parkrunathon on the 1st of June organised perfectly by Catherine Smith. We helped raise approximately £6000 for IUCS and was a massive success on many levels. It was a privilege to play my part and running 8.5 parkruns with breaks between them was great Endure24 training too. In the build-up I also managed to win a 50k race on the Manchester canal ways holding a good sub 7 min mile pace. Training miles peaked with a 70-mile week (high for me but still quite low for ultra training) but in the end I opted for a longer taper this year. Not perfect but with so many variables in ultras, it’s better to be fresh and ready to go at the start than over train and tired.

We arrived early on Friday to get a good camping spot in the solo area, the event had grown again from last year, now with 4000+ runners in total taking part. We wanted to be next to the course if possible to make things easier. Me, Catherine, Kerry, Anna and Rob all got a great spot and started making the place feel like home. We had a 3 tent pitches with a good cooking/gathering area next to the course rope. The Strider solo team area plus Rob (borrowed from TBH) was done, First goal achieved.

The event was definitely bigger than last year, but the festival for runners feel was still present as we walked to the registration area. The Beer tent, pizza stall, hot drinks, a full canteen area, and a big fire pit in the middle. I started to get those familiar pre-race nerves and excitement coupled with doubts about the task ahead. I kept thinking, no way was I ready, last year was a fluke, all the ultra-pros will be out this time, you’re a short distance road runner….  what are you doing Mr Pritchard? I tried hard to ignore these negative thoughts, putting that pressure on myself is always a bad idea. Catherine in her normal easy way brings me back to reality and we enjoyed a relaxing pre-race night of camping. Good food/chat with friends and catching up with people from last year. Relaxed and ready, we tucked ourselves up in our tents for the night ready for the 24 hours of endurance ahead.

Catherine decided to run endure24 solo with Kerry, both hoping to achieve their distance goals together and enjoy the experience. Anna once again attacked her dream 100-mile target, and I was the other strider solo taking part. We also had some Durham Mums on the run here as relay team members (a total god send in the end for their awesome support) which also included Striders and other local runners we knew. Having taken part last year, we already knew a lot of the people taking part along with others from different events. This was quite normal, the running world is a small community and it’s one of the reasons I love it so much. I walked to the start line feeling relaxed and ready, kit/food sorted in the tent/solo area, I did my best to hide in the crowd on the start line. It was almost perfect till the PA announcement happened, “ the course record holder and winner from last year, Gareth Pritchard, is taking part” I felt like the whole place was looking at me and a very big target had just been painted on my back. I shrugged it off best I could, and off we went. The relay teams charged off, and I settled in around mid-field.

I went straight into my run/walk plan as per my training plan. It’s a tricky thing to do, walking so early into a race when you feel fresh and strong. But 24 hours is a long time and I wanted to keep going, this means I had to walk the hills to conserve as much energy as possible. Run clever and stick to my plan, I ran/walked from the very first to my very last lap. I knew I’d lose little in time from my training, and it really does help keeping things under control.

The plan went perfectly apart from one small problem, that Saturday turned out to be the hottest day of the year. The temperatures climbed to 30 + degrees from the start and we poor runners got slowly cooked. An unfortunate side effect is that your heart rate shoots up under hot conditions, so while I was prepared for the sun with hat, high factor cream, etc. I still suffered massively in those early hours and it required a bigger effort than normal to keep the miles ticking over at the pace I wanted. I somehow managed to stick to my plan for 50 miles, 10 full laps without too much issues. Then something happened, it all went downhill and fast, the wheels started to come off big style. I’m talking the 20-mile marathon hitting the wall hard here, wobbling about, end of the world feeling. The legs were gone, complete lead weights, I could hardly move let alone walk. Somehow I got back to our solo tent area and collapsed on the floor, the game over, I was done. No retaining the title, no 100 miles and no moment of glory, the disappointment felt absolutely crushing.

It was an odd feeling laying on the floor defeated, I didn’t know what to do. My body refused to move and I still had a very long way to go. Rob our support star was doing his best to console me and bring me back to my senses. Flat out on the floor is how I stayed for a good length of time as I got my thoughts together. Foam rolling my legs might help I guessed, hot drink/food, then hopefully try grinding out some more laps if possible. I slowly came round and tried to sound more cheerful as one solo runner after another went past our tent and saw my sorry condition, asking if I was ok. “just not my day, will hopefully still get to 100” this was all I could think of saying.  Rob helped put me back together and after a while I decided to set off again, very slowly for another lap, still struggling but at least going again. The trick is to keep moving forward if you can in these situations, one step at a time, relentless forward movement. The next 3 laps were my slowest and most painful. I was just about still in the game.

24 hours is a long time and the great thing about that is it’s possible to have a massive blow up yet still recover and achieve. Through stubbornness and effort, I kept moving forward and found myself on the other side. After some refuelling and time, I managed to get my legs back and started to feel human again. Yes, the win might be long gone, but I believed the 100 miles was still achievable. The joy of the event was back with full force.

I was really looking forward to the sun going in at this point and happily it turned into a perfect night for running. I ran throughout the night in a t shirt with calf compression and shorts, feeling very comfortable. I really got into a nice rhythm and started to count down the laps toward the dream 20 (100-mile point). I still stopped every lap, getting the food and hot drinks down me when I could. This is when your support team is absolutely priceless in keeping you going. I still believed the win was long gone at this point, but I was enjoying the experience, soon the sun was coming up with morning fast approaching. The relay teams were still crashing past me and words of encouragement were being exchanged with everyone on the course. I love this stage of the 24-hour event, the hard work mostly done, sun coming up and only another 6 hours to grind out……. 

After about an hour of morning sunlight and some good laps, the big 100 came and went in relative silence as I passed the start line. I cheered inside then slumped off to the solo area for a well-earned break, time out and food. Last year I loved milk chocolate as a treat, but now I’m a vegan and didn’t have this option. Gone were the pork pies, meat pizza and milk, I was now powered by plants and stronger for it. Catherine had found some amazing alternatives which I now gladly tucked into from my box. Greg’s vegan sausage rolls, mountain fuel bars, salted crisps, lots of coffee. Melon was also another god send, out on the course and in solo area. 100 miles done and I could still move, considering the state I’d been in at 50 miles, I was extremely happy and felt surprisingly good.

From Catherine, Rob and my team I started to hear that I might still be leading or at least it was very very close.  I was in shock, I still felt good, relatively fresh and apparently still in with a shot of placing well. The idea of doing the double and retaining my title came back with full force, I was back in the game. I knew who the leader was at this point as he had lapped me much earlier. The same lad who had beat me in those last miles at Blackpool marathon. A good runner beyond doubt but the idea of getting my own back now definitely drove me on.

I must have passed him at some point in those last 7 laps but I honestly couldn’t tell you when. Catherine was being amazing with her support and I’d get updates as I lapped. I would give myself targets I’d be happy to achieve by the end of the race to keep me going. Just try to equal 25 laps (my total from last year) surely that would be enough. 125 miles won by a clear 5 miles then, so on I went. I started to realise how close it was, but at no point did I panic or think I couldn’t afford to walk or stop. The 125 mark was a big milestone for me, achieved with a 54 min lap and still running well. I celebrated like I’d just won when I crossed the line.

I was quickly told the lad in 2nd was matching me lap for lap, slowing but still within distance and with race time still left. I’d have to do another; the course record would need to go. He was about 30/40 mins behind me at this point. The problem now was that this event is sort of a 25-hour race not a true 24 hours. If you pass the start/finish line before 23:59:59 then you are allowed to keep going for another lap as long as you’re in by the 25 hours’ point. This had always sat funny with me, I said before the event I wasn’t going to go over 24 hours as it wouldn’t count in my head as endure24. The real possibility now was I could stop before the 24-hour point as planned yet still loose due to the 25-hour rule. I knew deep down that my Blackpool Lad would go out for another lap if time allowed. It was eating me up inside as I set off for another lap, I still had no idea what I would do if it happened, would I have to run over 24 hours for the win? Did I want to? I felt I could if needed as I was still moving well.

I decided in my head I was going to keep running when I passed the line at 130 miles with 26 laps done, I would need 27 laps at the very least regardless of the 25th hour problem. it was too tight and the situation was starting to bug me. I learned later Catherine and the others were desperately trying to think of ways to get me out again for lap 27. They had already worked out that the Blackpool runner might be able to match my 135 miles, but would most likely run out of time completing his 27th lap and would not be allowed to attempt another. He wouldn’t get round within 24 hours and the time on the clock would beat him.

Just 23 hours and 35 mins into the race I crossed the line for my 27th lap and 135th mile for the win to massive cheers, one of the best feelings ever. The Durham mums on the run were cheering loudly but I couldn’t see my solo gang. It turned out I’d ran that last lap quite fast and they weren’t expecting me in yet. I could see them dashing towards me after the cheering and PA announced I was crossing the line. The DJ was asking if I would head back out for another lap? A big no from me, I’d finished within 24 hours and that was all I really wanted. I didn’t quite realise at the time just how close I was to regretting that decision.

Our bearded runner in second apparently ran round that last lap like a mad man, sprinting when he could and chasing the clock. He crossed the line 30 mins after me and importantly 4 minutes after the 24-hour mark, unable to complete another lap. I only found this out later, I couldn’t help feeling sorry for him. He had 20+ club members cheering him on in that last stretch and unfortunately he didn’t take it very well. At the presentation he refused to shake my hand, despite the achievement of running 135 miles. You can’t always win, but it’s important to know how to loose well too. I’m not perfect at this but I’m getting better, enjoy your achievements when they come but most importantly try to enjoy the experience regardless of the outcome.

So endure24 is over for another year, I won’t be doing it again in 2020. In September I turn 40 so it’s time to concentrate on the short and fast now for a while. I’ve learned I can just about do both, with a 10k PB in the build-up, but that 5k speed has definitely drifted.  Well done to The Durham mums relay team who placed first in their category. Catherine and Kerry achieved with good distances on the day, despite challenging conditions which caused blisters throughout. Anna suffered in the heat, yet still achieved an impressive distance. I have no doubt she will go on to get that 100 miles in the near future.

2019 endure24 Leeds champion and course record holder, I still can’t quite believe I did it. Recovery is ongoing weeks later and I’m not quite running again yet, but I have no regrets. I’ll be back up and running soon, fitter faster and just happy to be able to run. Onto the next challenge, ultras are amazing but I’m not quite ready to leave my short stuff behind just yet.

Gareth

 

Results click here 

 

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