Leigh Weekend on the Track : 6 Hour Challenge

This event looked useful – 6 hours running 400m laps of a running track. It ticked so many boxes for me at this particular point in my comeback. I could get some distance in the legs without risk of tripping and falling and with no pressure to race or keep running if I didn’t fancy it. I could try out the new shoes – New Balance 1080W V8s – and have a spare pair of old reliable on hand if things didn’t work out. Get to test out 2 varieties of Clif Bloks, Blackcurrant with caffeine and Margherita Citrus with 3x salts without risk of being stuck miles from anywhere with a gut-bomb. All good stuff working towards getting myself as ready as possible for Equinox 24 after being out so long.

Here’s some of the fun comments from local club mates before the race when I was attempting to drag some along, for some reason I just couldn’t convince them of the benefits of the race, instead they preferred to make fun:

“Sounds horrible 

How awful for you 😂

Not exactly positive, was it?! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

And this is from people who run Ultras and Spartan Beast events… people who casually just rip their kecks down and shit in the wild when out for a run… people who roll around in mud on kids playground toys and call it challenging fun. I’ll take my ton of steady miles in a controlled environment anyday, kids – so much more to be learned!

Luckily I know them well enough to know they weren’t entirely serious with their jibes, and I’m glad to say they were wrong, and by a good margin. If they thought it wasn’t nearly gnarly enough for their tastes, well they didn’t see the weather we had before the race even began – torrential! But I loved it because, as any runner worth their electrolytes knows – rain running is the best running.

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Leigh track on a quieter and less-wet day

So it’s an hour before the start and it’s pouring down, the event team are all set up as they’ve been here all weekend for the track Marathon and Half the day previous. As I head over to check in, I see the usual fine spread you’d expect at a Time2run event – masses of goodies to eat with plenty I can go at being Vegan (bananas and bourbons, well with those two you make a friend for life), electrolyte drink, water, flat cola, hot tea & coffee, and the usual sweets and cakey things I’m not compatible with for the non-veegs with a sweet tooth.
Plenty of time now to check out the facilities – in the main building above, just down an exit/re-entry funnel over the start/finish line, there’s toilets that are a big step up from the portaloos you have to put up with on many events. One of the many benefits of being at the track! During the race I’d dash in here no less than 4 times, all those freely available drinks keeping me super hydrated, or was that over-hydrated. As I’m on my way I see I guy I think I recognise… but from where? The cogs turned, slowly. Somehow my addled brain picks it out, from a post a friend made about a guy she met at an event, a Big Issue seller who had an amazing past. I drag his name Stefan out of nowhere and, yep, he confirms he’s the guy I’ve read about on facebook. Follow that link and read about him, it’s impressive stuff!
Back to the van, sorting out my Camelback that’s going to be loaded with Clif Bloks, my inhaler and a full slab of Soreen Banana Loaf that I plan on devouring at the half way point. Through the rain teaming down the windscreen I think I spy someone I know from Bolton parkrun and Strava, so off I hop to the aid station. And yep, there’s Mark and we look at each other like “what are you doing here?!” as we’re both on the recovery trail after some time and both probably think there’s a few unknowns regarding distance and endurance if we’re to be out there for 6 hours. Fun times!
Then I see Charlie Sharp. Wow, I know he has close ties with Time2run, but didn’t expect to see him here for this one. Anyone who came with idea of winning probably had a little moment of realisation and downgraded plans for at best a 2nd spot 🙂
Back to the van to check & re-check the pack, get it comfy, and strip off the layers to just the shorts and a cheap and actually-not-very-waterproof, “waterproof” cycling jacket. It fits over the pack nicely though and I don’t really care to remain dry, just wanna be a little warmer, so it’ll do a job. Plus I got the good old one-size-fits-all-even-me Atari baseball cap to keep the rain out of my eyes. /|\
Five minutes to the off and we assemble near the start line for a quick briefing. It’s clear the inclement weather has put off some of those who entered from turning out – a shame, but a few more come in their place and there’s a respectable number on the start line if not nearly the maximum possible 50. We’re told there’s no completing your last lap when the timer runs down, it’s whole laps only within the 6 hours. Not much more to be said other than help yourself to the aid station goodies and we’re off. Or at least we were told to be off, but almost nobody moves and it takes a cry of “well, go on then!” until we spring into life.
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Charlie Sharpe doing what he does and opening up a lead instantly.

The plan was to keep it simple, run well within myself and get as much useful info out of the day as possible. Running with the pack on might have been a tiny hassle, but it’s going to be there in the 24Hr race so I need to train with it so I know what to expect. While it’s raining, though, it’s a little bit of a faff to unzip and reach around blind and squeeze out a few Bloks.

So there’s a couple of people in front of me and I’m happy to try and sit behind 2nd placed Mark as I ease in. It’s not long until we all begin to get lapped though! That guy is so fast and makes it look so effortless. It was a real treat to check out the form and some food for thought, not many people get the benefit of having someone of that skill and talent repeatedly run past and show you how it’s done. A real bonus.

It seemed like I’d settled down to something like a 9 minute per mile pace, which given the easy and forgiving terrain, not really too fast for what I was training towards. Something like 2:10 per lap. Chatting to one of the Team Deane runners we complete a number of laps together at this comfortable conversational pace and discuss running, football, Ironman (they’d all completed the Bolton event just a few weeks ago), swimming (I can’t – he couldn’t a year before his first IM – there’s hope for me yet) and when to pee. Ah damn… did I really go there? I said the word… a few laps of discomfort but there’s nothing for it but to duck out already after only 5 miles – when you gotta go you gotta go – bah!

After a quick pitstop I’m feeling really good, the freshfoam New Balance are ridiculously comfy on the artificial surface and it’s hard to resist the urge to rip off the jacket and pack and try to do a few laps at the leader’s pace! Instead I opt for something far more sensible and just up it a little to 8+ minute miles, just under 2 minutes per lap. It feels good but it’s not really useful pace for the 24hr training, no matter how easy the running is.

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The rain soon cleared up, about an hour in it was just splashing in little puddles

Now this “boring” race I’d been told to expect wasn’t happening, it was fun, felt great and I’d already enjoyed chatting to a few total strangers. Stopping for drinks and quick loo breaks, the event staff exchange words of support and encouragement – and it can’t have been easy for them in those first couple of hours when it was belting down. Lapping the slower runners, most of the time they step over and give you track position, something I’d regularly be doing looking out for the leader after he first caught me out on I think just the 2nd lap. That was possibly the hardest aspect of the first half of the event in fairness – not wanting to impede someone running so fast, so fair play to all those running in lanes 2 and 3 constantly, clocking up quite a few more metres than the rest of us with their wider laps. Of course, not everyone did this, a couple of people stuck hard to the white line of lane one to minimise their effort, and fair play to them it’s not Formula One and there’s no blue flags, they’re just doing their thing. As I wasn’t racing I didn’t mind taking a wider lane, often running out to the 4th and 5th lanes to pass a cluster of runners. No big deal.

The rain didn’t last too long. I would happily have taken the full 6 hours in the downpours, but the jacket came off – and for the leading runner even the shirt – as the sun baked down. And yes I managed to even get my close-shaven head a little sunburned! Wasn’t expecting that.

3:00 hours in was the time I’d been looking forward to – Banana Loaf o’clock! No, not a huge sandwich as someone thought I was devouring, but that big old Soreen loaf. 1PM is late for my lunch, and banana loaf doesn’t quite match the usual hummus/tomato/gherkin/pepper/feisty picked onion wraps I regularly devour in threes, but a big lump of sugary squidge would have to do on the go. So I walked a lap and stuffed as much of it in as possible before reaching the aid station and a chance to wash it down. I’ve got a feeling the rapid-fire Clif Bloks has been a bit too much every 20 minutes before this, and there was a little argument in my stomach between the two for 30 or 40 minutes, nothing dire but something to remember and beware of at Equinox.

At about 3:30 the leader had put in 110 laps. During these he’d run fast, some slower as he chatted to other runners and some at practically walking place as he gave tips and support to to a young lad who had only just been bought his first pair of running shoes the day before, had never really run, but continued to put in the laps. Some walked, some Jeffed, some run. Impressive! With an ultra-qualifying distance in the bag, he called it a day and left us to it. Well, he hung around for quite a while, shouted words of support and even cheered me on as I matched his total over half an hour later, but couldn’t be persuaded to come back out and give me something more to aim for 😉 It later turned out he was just looking to tick the Ultra box as he rapidly approaches 100 Ultras. Lucky for those sitting behind, as 10 of us would get the very rare opportunity to say they finished a race in front of Charlie Sharpe! Some would pay the entry fee just for that 🙂

So this turn of events had made me reconsider what I was doing here. Knowing that his place was just a matter of time to leapfrog, there was only really one person in front of me going off the last time I’d checked the standings on the big TV at the aid station. I didn’t know who it was or how far in front they were or even how long ago it had been, but I knew I’d been in 3rd place. So there’s this opportunity to win a race, something I’d only ever done once before in my very first event back in 2016, a charity 6 miler for Sports Relief in Chorley’s Astley Park where myself, my brother and my brother-in-law filled out 3 of the top 4 placings (which probably says it wasn’t really well attended by club runners, just lots of lovely people gaining that sponsorship money). But this is a proper race, and a distance one at that, and despite the low turnout it seemed you don’t get that kind of opportunity too often. So instead of keeping it steady and within a very comfortable threshold, I decided to try to maintain a pace and see how long I could keep it up and where it might get me.

The announcer also picked up his game from the half way point, letting everyone know the standings as this info was increasingly useful as time went on, and I was getting plenty of info on how many laps I was up to approaching 100 and then closing in on the leader at 110. From then on there was loads of encouragement from the guy as he repeatedly called out my name, my club name (which really did boost me, I have to admit) and often commenting “and he’s still going strong” which it actually didn’t feel like, as I was just putting in the laps and while it was getting increasingly difficult to maintain, it wasn’t really tough and I didn’t feel at all strong in what I was doing.

One lap I did choose to take it easier on was when I had the privilege to complete most of the young lad’s final lap with him and others including the Team Deane runners – his last laps being number 54 – i.e. over a Half Marathon distance! I’m not sure if it was for charity or just his Dad encouraging him to do his best, but he got (I think) £1.50 a lap for each of those 54 laps, and I’m sure the very next day he regretted every single one of them 😀 But now, looking back, he can say at age 11 he ran his first race and completed a Half. BAM! The thing that impressed me as much as his efforts was seeing the Team Deane guys, Charlie Sharpe and others doing plenty of those laps with him – heartwarming stuff and proving the TD motto of “nobody gets left behind” isn’t just a catchy slogan, it’s for real. I know if I ever get this swimming thing in the bag and want to join a Tri club, there’s only going to be one name on the shortlist. Mad respect.

lad-finishing-leigh-6hr

Young Ben getting the 54th HM lap in with Team Deane and others

What I also appreciated as the laps clocked up was the words of support from others in the event. I can tell you it’s quite fun and humbling to be referred to as “a machine” as you’re just trotting around putting in the miles, the words of encouragement gave such positive vibes and I returned them in kind, it really did feel like we were all aiming for that 6 hour mark in the best we could or dared, and doing it together rather than against each other. I think there was only one guy who I didn’t speak with the whole race and he was so in the zone hugging that inside white line that I didn’t dare risk putting him off!

The last hour was relatively tough, and I think after 6 hours at any pace that’s understandable, especially on the road to recovery being out for so many months. I’d already decided to knock the Bloks on the head and go with what was left in the tank – I’d hardly been killing it after all, they just weren’t necessary, more a matter of seeing how I stomached them when taking them on way quicker than I will at EQX. The lap times had been sitting around the 2:15s from hour 4, but into hour 5 they were stretching to 2:20s and more with only the occasional 2:15. I wasn’t sure how much of a lead I had until I lapped around the same time as 2nd place when the announcer chose to call his stats. It was a good lead and I could probably have stopped with over half an hour to go and been fairly certain of staying first. Now that might seem like it’d be a reassuring fact to know, but when you’ve been on your feet for 5 and a half hours, the last thing you need is some stupid excuse to go stopping or wildly adjusting pace. That last half hour was more of a struggle than I’d have liked to keep on it and keep moving, but at least I knew if I did it was mine to take – yay! The funniest thing I heard around this time was from Mark, he was in 4th and working for it, and we were discussing about keeping on it as you never know when someone has to drop out or decides to call it a day in these kinds of events, to which he replied “yeah, I was hoping you’d drop out… well… not hoping…” hahaha, I knew what he meant and it was spot-on, you have to think like that I suppose 😉 And he stuck to it and got his 3rd place!

As the 6 hours approached, it looked like I could finish on exactly 160 laps – a nice round number. But… as I just mentioned, those demons and their little ways of convincing you to do things you don’t necessarily want to do… well one whispered to me it’d be safer to complete 159 laps and walk the last one as a warm-down. Eff you, demon… that 159th walked lap was horrible! Fair enough a fast 160th could have been equally horrible and might have led to getting hurt, but I hate that you won out. The good thing was I managed to chat to the guy in 2nd place as he was walking the last lap, too. He’d kept at it knowing he couldn’t catch me from maybe 30+ minutes out, but still kept on. I had to get my legs moving properly though as I felt I might get stiff just walking, it just felt so wrong. So I hobbled then jogged on to the line and called it a day with 50 seconds to spare. Event director commented that I probably didn’t have a 50 second lap in me, heh, I agreed.

What I’ll say is that this event was the most social I’ve ever been involved in, and that’s a really good thing. I’ve done Endure 24 Reading the year it ended up as Ebola 24 with the plague of illness, I’ve run Equinox 2017 that was a super-friendly and welcoming event, but nothing comes close to this one I think because it was such a small event and everyone got to see a lot of everyone else throughout the entire duration. It really did feel like we all got through it together. Getting to stand up and receive a prize (red wine, wife guzzled gladly) was fun stuff, and seeing Mark do the same was great, he loved that,  and also Team Deane winning the team prize being the only qualifying team present got a laugh and a cheer. Another nice touch was the announcer from Time2run coming over to me personally afterwards and saying some really positive stuff – he didn’t need to do that but it was a classy move and I really appreciated it – top guy.

63.6km, just over 39.5 miles, in 5:59:10.

leigh-4

So yeah, every dog got it’s day, this was mine – woof bark!

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