The European 24 hour Championships 2018 Romania

The International Association of Ultrarunners (IAU) 2018, 24 hour European championships, was the 22nd edition of the event. Here is a link to the IAU post race report: IAU report. It was held in Timisoara in Romania.

It's 9.30 am and in 30 minutes time, team GB athletes, crew and supporters would be going on a journey for the next 24 hours. Without this essential mix of individuals from around the UK, chosen for their expertise, their knowledge, their commitment, and attitude, skill and dedication then there would be a lack of cohesion, no team ethos, reduced performance and no point. Because, in a 24hour running race you all need to be singing from the same song sheet and trust that you all have the same agenda.

Before I get into the throws of the race, the functioning of the team was perfect. I've heard comments about 'dream team' and made up one even, about formula one pit stop area on race day. This day was not about individuals, it was, about how the collaboration of a team works towards the whole, or the greater good.

This was my debut 24hr race representing Great Britain and my second 24 hour race. I am a believer, I believe that we can all achieve what ever we tell ourselves we can achieve. It's comfortable to take the path of least resistance, the easy route, the safe bet. The 24 hour running race is the 'road less traveled' and will not be attempted or completed by most. It requires a certain mental fortitude that is not for the faint hearted. You will experience yourself and back again and it will change your world forever. Now, who's in for the ride?

On the start line the nerves were being felt, I had completed months of hard work and was confident of a good race yet, I was nervous. Mostly I'd managed a good block of consistent training, however a 'cold which turned into an infection, 3 weeks before the race had unnerved me somewhat. I'm remained injury free other than the odd niggled here and there that with careful management healed quickly and I was able to get back to training well. Nonetheless, in spite of the potential set backs, I felt prepared. The work had been done and I silently reminded myself that I'm there to perform. As I'm waiting for the starting gun, I don't look at anyone, I close off, and I get in my zone. I get focused and remained in that mindset for 24 hours without a waver. I am intent to run my own race, in spite of what anyone else is doing out there. In fact I didn't want to know what anyone else was doing until the last couple of hours into the race. I wasn't burdened with others racing strategies, training, race day preps or any other start line talk that can occur, no, this time I was focused, this time I'm getting the right perspective, because I was doing it for Great Britain.

A 24 hour race is not about about how fast you can go, how good you are at marathon distance, how fast you do your tempo runs, or whether or not you win many races. It's not that egoic. It's much closer linked to how well you know yourself and how you overcome adversity. You simply cannot run for 24 hours if you are not resilient, a problem solver, its a transcendent and you need to be a measured and self confident person with the capacity to switch off to the weird world of 'everyday' and switch on to real world of truth because there is no where to hide. It will strip you down to your true nature and afford you the opportunities to build on your strengths when you are at your most vulnerable.

So how would you tackle a 1.236 km loop in a children's park in on a 30 degree sunny day? The most difficult aspect came at the start of the race where I held off and let the speedsters go off. Lapping and passing me whilst I remained low down on the leader board for hours and hours. Yet I knew It was simply a matter of waiting for those people to stop, pull out, slow down or blow up. Inevitably, there were a handful of women that were strong enough to maintain their pace and control their race, it was these few that I was keen to be among at the end of the race when I naturally and organically moved on up the leader board without the any extra effort.

I found my rhythm and stuck at it, I want to go faster, it's natural to feel this as you are temporarily under performing, 'for now'. For me, over this period of time, the race doesn't really start until there are just a few hours to go. There is no point in even considering positions, catching, lofty goals or putting in nervous fast laps, before then. If you don't have that control, you risk your race. No individual is the same, we all respond differently to the variables and during the 24hours, for me, it's about how to deal with the weather, the fuelling, the pain, other runners, the support, or lack of it, the terrain, the boredom, distractions and so on. I had learnt so much about my body and how it responds in many different circumstances over the years and for the first time, I feel confident that I have a deep level of knowing myself.

In spite of my underpinning focus it transpired quite early on in the race that today, I felt like singing. I have no sweet angelic voice, I'm pretty sure I'm tone deaf, I don't know the words to songs, (so I'm prone to ad lib) yet, my singing kept me and many others amused (perhaps annoyed a handful too). Yet it brought me my smile and I simply didn't want to stop, i enjoyed it and I was happy. I recruited other nations to sing along Ukraine were particularly good and I themed the songs for example when the thunder storm was coming in, we had a Deano version of Bohemian Rhapsody, ("thunder and lightening very very frightening") and when the heavens opened, There was a number of from across Europe singing the Weather Girls "it's raining men". I was particularly proud of my version of Rockin Robin when the birds starting singing as dawn broke.

Inevitably during the race I had a few lul's. I was dealing with gastric distress for an hour and half, and general tiredness for another hour, however I rode them through as I knew that It was temporary. In the latter stages, I was feeling an Achilles niggle and both calves were screaming for a rest, they would get that of course, when the finish hooter is sounded. You can work through and accept niggles and general soreness and once I refocused and replaced the thoughts with other distractions, I was able to continue in less discomfort.

In terms of the other GB athletes, each was experiencing their individual races, and yet, when ever we passed on the course, there was an exchange of words, of encouragement, of support of a pat on the back, of a knowing nod, or look and general motivation. Paradoxically, whilst running is an individual sport, as a team we had the embedded the ethos that we are there as a team and running as a team and doing it for the team. In the rules for the race, individuals cannot run with someone who is not in the same race so this means that the women cannot run with the men as it's seen as 'being paced'. So there was always limited time to speak a few words of encouragement to one another, however there was a level of understanding where not many words needed to be said. Both Ali and Wendy the two other GB females had consistent races overall. They worked hard through their adversities, Ali, an experienced 24hr runner knew exactly how to respond to her experiences and dealt with them efficiently and swiftly before anything became a major issue. Wendy, was a Trojan. She unassumingly made her way around the track in order to stay focused and in the race. As a team of 3 women all three of us had to finish in order to stand a chance to count. It's the first 3 athletes combined distances that determine which teams make the podium. We had no room for error and totally dependent on each other to work their way through adversities in order that all three of us finished. There was no question of a DNF it simply didn't feature as a problem solving strategy as we were totally reliant on one another to get the job done in order to bring home some metal.

We were relentless, nothing was going to stop us and to help us every inch of the way we had a brilliant crew behind us. Guiding and dealing with us, thinking for us, responding to our needs and working together like a well oiled machine for 24 hours. The team support team includes experts in many fields.

The team manager John Pares for example is himself an Experienced International Ultra runner who won the Commonwealth Gold in 2011 at the 24hr event.
Team manager John Pares

A specialist Physiotherapist Guy Van Herp, who has the knowledge of how this extreme sport impacts on athletes which ensures his treatment is highly tailored and appropriate to ultra runners.
Guy Van Herp

 Renee McGregor a nutritionist who has been working with us and during the race she was on hand taking care of and doing the maths about our nutritional needs.
Renee McGregor

 Each athlete had a designated crew member to deal with all of the other stuff. I was fortunate to have Robbie Britton another experience ultra runner who has competed in 24 hour events and represented Great Britain in 2017.

We had been working together over the months, learning about how I functioned and what my strategies were in many areas in preparation for the championships. There was little he didn't have in hand and I felt confident that he knew enough to get me through this race. I am fierce-fully  independent and have confidence that I can deal with myself in ultra races, however I was willing and open to placing my entire trust into Robbie's hands and he took good care of it for 24 hours.

Robbie mid flow

Who's a cheeky chap then?

As well as the core team members there was a superb number of other crew members who gave encouragement and motivation throughout the race. They were friends and family of the athletes and my thanks go to all of them. I took my son, Samuel along as he is familiar with crewing for me and importantly he is the single most relaxed person in the world. His presence for me was key to me being able to remain focused. In addition, he was responsible for the social media and updates for the event in terms of the live streams, pictures and videos and therefore credit to him as he did a sterling job.
Sam Thorley

As the race entered into the latter stages, my mood and attitude took a different course. I was keen to find out how we were doing as the race had started for me about 20 hours in. I learnt that we, the women's team, had moved into a Bronze medal position and as long as we were sensible and remained consistent, then the ladies would be on the podium, I was ecstatic. The men, in spite of their ups and downs had moved into Silver medal position, this was going to be a GB day for sure.

On an individual basis however, I had no idea where I was position wise or how close I was to other females and now, I became interested. Yet, I couldn't work it out from the leader board, I saw that I had moved into 7th which simply wasn't good enough in my world and so if I was close enough to the women in front, then this was incentive enough to steadily continue to work my way through and reach some of my own goals. I felt fresh and strong, my plan had worked well form me for 20 hours and I just had the last 4 to employ the last part. Yet, I couldn't work out how far in front the others were. I was unable therefore to do the maths and so had to just keep going as I was. The uncertainty had a negative effect on me and as the hours went by and I wasn't making any progress on the leader board in terms of position, I started to lose focus, my incentives were gone (so I told myself), I didn't know if I could reel the next lady in as I didn't know where she was, as my incentives went, my motivation diminished which impacted upon my effort level. I started for the first time to feel negative and subsequently slowed down. I needed a small goal and had none. I eventually walked a lap, I couldn't get out of the lul. The hours ticked by and I picked it up slightly however didn't manage to get it back enough to perform to my potential in the last two hours. I was angry, I was annoyed and I was struggling mentally do deal with uncertainty. The last hour was a case of clock watching and trying to accept that in spite of not achieving my own goals, that what I had done was enough.

The last few minutes of the race pulled me out of my unhappy place. My son came running through the park, screaming, 'nearly there Tracy Dean, keep at it, come on' a huge grin came, tears in my eyes, he was running so fast, beside me, he was so proud. Robbie appeared, shouting words of encouragement, at the top of his voice, they both were, I was overwhelmed. "Stop, you can stop, stop now" said Robbie as the hooter sounded, I placed my sandbag on the floor and sat down. It was the first time in 24 hours that I'd stopped for a rest. (although i'd had 15 mins getting feet sorted at one point) It felt good. Would I ever get up off the big comfy chair of concrete I was sitting on.

Women Team1. Poland 720.45 km
2. Germany 656.24 km
3. Great Britain 645.06 km
Men Team1. France 754.62 km
2. Great Britain 735.15 km
3. Germany 725.96 km

Bronze Medal

In reflection, this was a good run. I was somewhat disappointed on an individual basis if only because I still felt too fresh when the race ended. I had wanted to give it all I had and I don't feel that I had done that. However, there is always the question in these cases, of if I had pushed in the latter stages, then could I have jeopardised the ladies race? I'll never know. Would I change anything? Not a chance!

A special thanks to Mountain Fuel, who gave me valuable advise pre race which was may well have been a saving grace for me.
To Norman Wilson who has patiently and expertly coached and guided me to the Championships in tip top shape. Thank you
And Adela Salt who's words along the way have motivated and inspired. Thank you

Dan Lawson
James Stewart

Steve Holyoak
Support crew members

Wendy Shaw

Ali Young

Pat Robbins

James Stewart

Craig Holgate

James Elson