When I ran the Comrades Marathon in 2012 I discovered it was pretty much an all day party in ultra running terms. It was my induction in a way to ultra running and where I discovered I had an ability to run long, really long. At the Soochow 24 Hour Ultra Marathon I got a 24-hour party. The venue a university campus is otherwise a quiet peaceful place of learning.
My first few days in Taiwan were humid. There was a bit of a breeze at times but it was otherwise fairly warm and humid but not hot. I enjoyed some down time and a trip to a shopping precinct via public transport (bus) with our student helpers was fun.
I enjoyed the opening ceremony and other formalities leading up to race day. I met many of the other International athletes from Germany, Italy, Russia, Malaysia, China, Japan and more. It’s a little surreal to hear your name called out amongst the babble of a foreign language.
Race day it was overcast but still a little warm, it had rained overnight. We were provided a timing chip and I weighed in. I didn’t agree with this method of calculating the level of dehydration of athletes but as it was the same for everyone I complied. I asked what would happen if I missed a weigh in which was to be every 4 hours when we changed direction. I was assured that it wouldn’t matter that I could continue and I considered not participating in this part of the event. It was a warm day I knew I would probably drop a lot of weight running through the heat of the day and I did. I really didn’t think this system was fair for a small female. I weighed in at 58.1kg and I was down to 55kg 4 hours later. This was to be expected as we started running at 9am and were weighed at 1pm after running through the heat of the day. My crew were told I had to drink, I wasn’t thirsty and refused at first but took in 250ml a lap or two later. Mr crew followed my nutrition and hydration plan which has worked for me in the past and I did ask for more water if I felt thirsty.
As with any race the plan should be to get to halfway feeling fairly comfortable. I take the same approach with a 24 hour race. Get to 12 hours feeling pretty good, moving well and happy. I ticked off small milestones along the way, 100 laps (40km), 3 hours, 6 hours, 100km (250 laps) and so on. I had goals for each and I was pretty close to my target if not a little ahead. I didn’t take much notice of my competitors. A lot can happen in 24 hours and even with 6 hours to go a lot can go wrong and the race won and lost.
Day turned to night and it rained after trying to rain all day. I enjoyed the cooling effect of the rain and chased my first major goal a personal best and an Australian Age Record (Women 40-44) for 12 hours. I needed to surpass 127.789km. It was going to be close I pushed for a few laps picking up the pace a little and completed 320 laps (128km) in just under 12 hours getting halfway in 128.209km a new record. I continued on confident I had paced the first half of my race well but very conscious that there was a long way to go and my struggle in 24 hour events to date has been getting through the night, battling the need to sleep. It was only 9pm I kept on circling. I partied a little and felt happy with myself and smiled a lot.
My next target was 100 miles or 160.934km or 403 laps (402.335 to be exact). I was able to maintain a fairly steady pace and pushed hard for this goal. It was around 15 hours that I took my first caffeine tablet and really pushed for the 100 mile Australian Record which currently stands at 15 hours 38 minutes 18 seconds. I had it I was excited. The officials had marked the spot on the track and told me next lap. My crew told me one more lap and I circled around. I was excited I flashed passed the 3 officials and they said ‘right here’ as I passed. I knew I had it. Later I learned I had clocked up 100 miles in 15 hours 33 minutes and 56 seconds. Amazing. My next target was 200km but this is the toughest part of the race for me. Getting through the small hours of the morning. There was so much happening around the track that this wasn’t too much of a problem.
During the night there was a lot going on. The music played continuously, this was supplemented with live music from the University Concert Band on the stage erected just across from the track. There were also cheerleaders and other entertainment on the stage. While I couldn’t observe it closely I caught glimpses of it throughout the night. Then every 6 hours a 5 hour relay event started. These athletes ran in lanes 3, 4 & 5 with the changeover area at one end of the track. A large group assembled in that area and on a balcony there overlooking the track the whole 24 hours. At most 24 hour events there is a quiet time in the small hours of the night. This was not the case here. Even the crew area was animated right throughout the night. There was no shortage of encouragement from the entire crew gang that lined the fence on the edge of the track. Even those supporting other athletes had come to know me as I circled around and called out encouragement continuously. I received messages from friends back in Australia and around the World through Leanne (Matthew’s) Mum who had come to crew for Matthew. Thank you for your support.
After 15 hours or so I noticed that I was running close to my main competitor #2422 CHEN Ying a Chinese competitor, she had been running consistently all day. She was just 5 laps behind me and we appeared to be running a similar pace. We played a game of cat and mouse for a few hours. I pulled ahead managing a 7 lap lead, she rallied coming back to within 4 laps. I had no choice but to keep running and pushing. Almost every time I circled I would check her lap count and mine it hadn’t changed she was right there also ticking off the laps. I pulled ahead a little she seemed to be slowing I had a 11 lap lead but I couldn’t let up. Anything can happen in the last hours of a 24 hour race. You just never know who might rally and who will die. I was determined it would not be me.
A new day dawned and having consumed 32 Gu Energy Gels I had had enough and refused the next one. Having had something every 30 minutes for the last 21 hours I thought I probably had enough on board to get me through the last few hours. I passed through 220km (550 laps) in just under 23 hours achieving the International A standard, this was announced to the crowd and I celebrated. By now I had about a 20 lap lead, I kept moving but my paced had slowed. I wanted the running to be over. I asked my crew to speed the clock up for me. They really wanted to make it so but kept encouraging me just like they had for the past 23 hours.
Finally the 24 hours was over. I had finished near the grassy area on the far side of the track I put down my sandbag and moved onto the grass. Russian athlete Tatyana Maslova and my room mate who had not been permitted to participate (that’s another story) came over to see me and congratulated me. Shortly after I made my way back to the crew tent and I was immediately the centre of attention. My lap scorers came over with my final lap total (568) for a photo and an autograph. I thanked them they didn’t miss a lap.
I was interviewed, I quickly changed and then discovered I was immediatly required for the press conference which was also streamed live. I later learned my family had been able to watch it back in Australia and I wished I had thought to wish my daughter Kira, Happy Birthday. It was the 2nd year in a row I had missed Kira’s birthday because I was away somewhere in the World running an ultra-marathon.
I then had about an hour before the closing ceremony and presentations. This was just enough time to make my way slowly up several flights of stairs back to my dorm room accommodation, to shower, change and be back at the student common area. I loved the floral wreath and medal Ivan and I were given as race winners. The athletes at these events are celebrated by the students and spectators and they all seemed to want a photo with me and an autograph. Matthew received similar attention. That night even the staff who managed the Mexican food stall in the food hall on campus asked for our autograph and plied us with free hot chips. I couldn’t finish them.
The Soochow International Ultra-marathon is an invitational event. Up to 18 International athletes of a certain standard are invited to attend. The premise of the event is to help upgrade ultra-marathon in Taiwan. A further 27 Taiwanese runners whose personal bests meet the national standard may be invited and finally where openings are available the best runners from the 2015 Taipei Ultra-Marathon Festival are invited till the quota has been met. The event recently achieved and International Association of Ultrarunners (IAU) Gold Label. To achieve a Gold Label the event must primarily meet strict course measurement guidelines and haveat least 5 athletes (mixed men and women) performances at international level (220km for women and 240km for men).
My nutrition plan was fairly simple. I take something in every 30 minutes with some water to wash it down. This was primarily Gu Energy Gels, I rotated through several different flavours I had for variety, Vanilla Bean, Tri-Berry, Espresso Love, Chocolate Outrage and also included Gu Roctane Gels Sea-Salt Chocolate. Every 3 hours I took something other than a gel, a banana, sports drink which I sourced locally, 250mls Berri and V8 fruit juice which I brought with me from Australia and at one stage threw my crew a test when I asked for something that wasn’t on the plan, some coke. I was pretty sure that someone would have plenty and would be able to spare some and my crew delivered having 250ml available for me a few minutes later when I circled around again. I was pretty happy to find that Starbucks Frappachino was a sponsor of the event and I enjoyed their Iced Coffee before and during the event. I also enjoyed this during my 100km race at the 100km World Championships in Doha.
My stay in Taipei was brief but I was made to feel very welcome by the staff and students at Soochow University. I am extremely grateful for the assistance of Eileen Hsu and Harvey (Syu Chen) who were my crew, translators and guides while I was in Taiwan. It was great to have the company on my travels of fellow Aussie, Matthew Eckford and his Mum, Leanne who was chief overseer of our crew during the event and played an invaluable role in my performance.
Finally I am indebted to my husband Tim who is my biggest supporter I have the freedom to travel the World in pursuit of yet another ultra-running experience while Tim mostly stays home to work and look after our fairly independent teenage children. I’ve done some pretty cool things this year and feel really blessed to be able to do so. I can’t wait to see what 2016 will bring. BRING IT ON.
The following Australian and Australian Age Records are yet to be ratified.
100 miles – 15 hours 33 minutes 56 seconds
Australian Age Records Women 40-44
12 hours – 128.209km
100 miles – 15 hours 33 minutes 56 seconds
200km – 20 hours 25 minutes 17 seconds