Soochow 24 Hour Invitational Ultra-marathon

Soochow 24 Hour Invitational Ultra-marathon

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.

SoochowTrack_NormalMy 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 Taiwan Soochow ‘family’ Harvey, Eileen, Jodie (me), Leanne (Matthew’s Mum), Tim, Humphrey & Matthew

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.

Jodie SooChow Cover Photo
The final hour I savoured the experience waving the Aussie Flag proudly.

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.

22 hours 58 minutes 59 seconds and I had just completed 550 laps, 220km.  Image courtesy of Eileen Hsu

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 had two lap counters who took turns working is shifts right throughout the 24 hours.  They did an amazing job and did not miss a lap.  Image courtesy of Eileen Hsu.

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.

Ivan Cudin, 1st Male 250.731km, Jodie Oborne, 1st Female 227.429km, fellow Aussie Matthew Eckford 210.573km

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.

Australian Record

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

Gobi Ultramarathon 50km

Gobi Ultramarathon 50km

On the 8th November 2015 over a hundred runners assembled on the edge of the Gobi Desert in China to run 50km. Runners had come from all around the world for this experience. For an inaugural event it was extremely well organized with all the runners needs catered for.

Pre Race Entertainment Gobi Ultramarathon, China
My journey to the race in northern China began on the morning of Friday the 6th November and my travel plans and race preparation was immediately thrown into disarray by my flight’s delayed departure from Brisbane. I spent over 3 hours trapped inside the plane on the ground and had enough time to watch a movie and enjoy the inflight meal before we finally took off for the 8 hour flight to Guangzhou, China. This meant I missed my connection that night to Lanzhou and instead stayed the night in Guangzhou. A lovely Chinese woman an event volunteer had waited into the night for my arrival in Lanzhou. The race organisers soon worked out through the airline that I was booked on the next available flight the next morning.   I finally made it to Lanzhou in the middle of China and it was snowing. After a few warm humid days in Brisbane this was a nice change. Ada who had waited at the airport the night before was there to meet me the following morning. She was very pleased to locate me, this international athlete was not lost somewhere in the middle of China. We waited for a Japanese runner on a different flight and then the final leg of my journey was a 4 hour high speed train ride to in northern China. I had of course missed my earlier train and caught the last train of the day, which didn’t arrive at my final destination until 10:00pm. I arrived late at the hotel in downtown Jiuquan which doubled as the race headquarters and sadly missed the press conference, a tour, race briefing and an evening meal. I did have the essential information my race kit and my roommate USA athlete Meghan kindly updated me.

There were only a few mandatory items, 2 race bibs (1 front, 1 back), a timing chip and a whistle. We were strongly advised over and over and over again to wear running gear that covered our legs. One section of the course passed through thorn bushes and the event organisers did not want anyone to be badly scratched up. I had planned to wear my running skirt which has plenty of pockets to stash my nutrition and my whistle so I didn’t need to wear a race vest. So now I had to seriously reconsider my race outfit.

Race morning there was a minor delay as all athletes were taken by bus to the race precinct a 30 minute drive from downtown Jiuquan. Thankfully I was able to enjoy a light breakfast before we were on a bus heading to the race start. The morning was cold which I enjoyed and it was clear and sunny, great conditions for racing.

Jodie with local Chinese women one of many many photos taken that day.
Athletes milled about inside the runners marquee going through their race preparation. I stepped out to take some photos of the race precinct and was soon asked to have my photo taken with locals. It seemed EVERYONE wanted a photo with us (the western athletes) we were certainly a novelty in regional China. I am pretty sure I did not have my photo taken that often on my wedding day. After watching a traditional Chinese drumming display we made our way to the start line only to be told that the race start had been delayed as they were still waiting for athletes to arrive via bus. I enjoyed the pre race entertainment found it was warmer if we stood up next to the white marquee in the full sunlight and chatted to the other international athletes. This also gave people opportunity to gesture at the uncovered skin on my legs and to urge me to cover it up otherwise I would be injured. In the end I told them I would collect some tights at the major checkpoint at about halfway.

Runners on the start line of the Gobi 50km Ultra Marathon
Finally the race start was rescheduled one hour later for 10:00am. We huddled on the start line where 5 officials were poised with starter pistols. The countdown in Chinese started the starter pistols fired, not exactly simultaneously and we ran off  into the Gobi Desert while fire crackers and rockets were fired off in our wake which made for quite an electric atmosphere.

Fireworks at the Start Line of the Gobi Ultra Marathon 50km
The course was well marked and easy to follow, the course markings consisted of two pegs hammered into the ground marking the shortest course through the desert. From time to time large flags were on the rises. The course did not follow a road or trail for the most part we simply picked our way through the low scrubby bushes, over the sand dunes and through the fine powdery sand of the desert. Timing mats were placed at strategic turns which meant it was impossible to cut the course short. In fact it was often faster to run longer and to skirt around the short steep sand dunes and this was well within the rules.   I soon adjusted my expectations when I found the running particularly over the first section of the course quite challenging.

View of the Gobi Desert from the Race Course
The desert was vast, desolate but beautiful. Small hills could be seen in the distance. We passed some ancient ruins just visible between some dunes, a stone marker I had no idea of its significance but it was quite distinctive and seemingly in the middle of no where. We came across a lake surrounded by some trees and tall reed like plants and some buildings but it was otherwise fairly sparse and rocky. Near the lake we passed through two round concrete pillars at the top of a small rise and enjoyed running on a paved road for a short period before crossing another timing mat and heading again off through the desert following the posts.

I finally came across what I thought was the section with the dreaded thorny bushes. Instead of being waist height as I imagined they were remarkably similar to vegetation we had encountered earlier and it was easier and possibly faster to take the gravel road around it rather than run the shortest route between the wooden pegs. I am glad I didn’t decide to change my race outfit. The vegetation soon thinned out again and imagine my dilemma when I needed a comfort break and there was nowhere to hide. There was about 5km to go and I was sure I wasn’t going to make it to the finish. Fortunately I came across a small mound of dirt that hid me from oncoming runners. My modesty was intact. I crossed the final timing mat on the course and headed for the finish which I could clearly see in the distance 2km away. Often on the course a white marquee set up for aid stations could be spotted in the distance and often it was several kilometres away.

Dusty feet, the fine Gobi Desert penetrated my shoes and socks to leave a fine layer of dust on my feet.
I crossed the line in 4th position. A volunteer immediately offered me a bag of ice and a towel and I was handed my medal. My volunteer escorted me to the runner’s recovery tent keeping an arm on me to ensure I did not fall over. While this was not necessary I expect she had been instructed to do so. She stayed with me as I made my way to the runners marquee to collect my drop bag. Again security was great as only runners were allowed in here and while I had simply left my bag on a chair in the runner’s marquee someone checked that the bag I was collecting which had my race number securely fastened to it made sure the number matched my race bibs.   The recovery tent was well equipped with massage tables and therapists, mats and foam rollers, chairs and more bags of ice and the runners tent had a table full of recovery snack food and bottles of water. Chinese race recovery food at this event included small bread rolls, packs of savoury crackers, tins of soup that were served at room temperature, which a British athlete said was ‘extremely unappealing’ and long skinny sealed sticks of processed chicken meat. I settled for the bread roll which was slightly sweet and the crackers and plenty of water.

The Chinese definitely have a strong running community, there was also a large contingent of Japanese runners as well as the other ‘invited’ runners from right around the World that included this athlete all the way from Australia.  The Gobi Ultramarathon 50km is sure to be run again in 2016 the race organisers are keen to improve on this years experience and hope to see me again.  Absolutely.

Link to my Strava file here.

Race nutrition: Gu Energy Gels Vanilla Bean, Roctane Sea Salt Chocolate and half a banana.  Bottles water collected at aid stations along the way.