• #igotscrambled

    On Saturday 15th August 2015 I headed to Hornchurch Country Park. I was about to take part in my first 24 hour run.

    The seed (for running 24 hours) had been planted by @greedyrunner in 2013 when he joined me for part of 26 marathons in 26 days. He had taken part in 24 hour runs and thought I'd probably enjoy it too. I laughed, saying I couldn't imagine doing anything like that. I couldn't imagine how anyone could run for 24 hours, or do any one thing for 24 hours, come to think of it.

    I thought I had completely dismissed the idea, but apparently not. The idea grew (festered?) until I couldn't ignore it anymore. Knowing that people chose to run for 24 hours obviously affected my decision to create a running performance that will be 26.2 hours long (Running Beyond Language, to be performed at ANTI Festival in Finland on 5th/6th September 2015). It can be done: not many people want to do it, but with the right mindset and the right preparation it can be done.

    One of the things that interests me about the relationship between sport and art are the similarities in performance, and I'm becoming more and more aware of how the performance art aspect of running affects my running performance.

    To prepare for Running Beyond Language, I binge entered three ultra runs: the 12 hour London Enduro, the 12 hour Ashmei Ultra and the 24 hour Spitfire Scramble. Each one a month apart, and just three weeks between the Spitfire Scramble and Running Beyond Language. After I had paid my entry fees I started to sweat. But I needed to have the opportunity to practice pace and fuelling (otherwise known as remembering to go slow enough to last 26.2 hours and eating and drinking) before Finland. My Finland run will be done in silence, so I need to know that I have everything in place: I need to know I can rely on myelf. And these three events would help me practice just that.

    At my first 12 hour run I was excited. I met someone new at the start line, her name is Janka (she was running 50k that night), and we ran and chatted together for her 50k. It was really powerful to run with another girl through a wood at night, something that neither of us would have done on our own. We were outside, we were meeting and connecting with someone new, we were alive and we were energetic. That 50k flew by. And Janka finished the 50k as the first female! We were over the moon! Except I had another 7 hours to run, and in my excitement and the rawness and the aliveness I hadn't eaten or drunk anywhere near enough! Not long after Janka left I was sick and I struggled to eat much for the remaining 7 hours. Yet somehow I still managed to run for 52 miles and finish as the 3rd place female. I was very surprised by this! And very pleased. I thought that if I managed to do well, even getting pace and fuel wrong (two of the most important aspects of an ultra run), what would I be able to achieve if I got it right???!!

    So I was determined to do better at the next event, and I very nearly did! I managed to eat and drink better until about 2am (the 12 hour runs started at 7pm and finished at 7am), then I started to feel a bit sick and struggled to eat, so I began fuelling with hot sweet tea. It's quite a good pick-me-up but doesn't do all that much in terms of actually giving you energy to run. I improved on my distance though, this time covering 60 miles and finishing as the 2nd female. So I was learning and I was improving.

    Onto the 24 hour run. I had a huge panic before this one: how do you make the transition from running 12 hours to running 24 hours? That's a big difference. I'm not very good at maths but even I could work out that it was twice as much. I was exhausted after running for 12 hours, so how on earth would I run for another 12?!

    I met with Dr Murray Griffin from Essex University again and we talked things through, which helped a lot. Murray has worked with lots of ultra runners, including Marshall Ulrich, who ran across America, so he knows his stuff.

    I thought about the things I did and didn't like eating at the 12 hour runs - Kelly from The Human Performance Unit helped me figure out how many grams of carbs I needed an hour to keep myself going and Chris helped me think of different ways of getting those carbs. I took enough food and drink with me to fuel about 10 runners.

    I planned my strategy and I gave myself three goals:

    1. to keep going

    2. to stay awake

    3. to stay happy.

    In the end I didn't do any of those.

    I thought I had managed to eat and drink just about the right amount each other to keep going - but when I counted it all up after the event I had only eaten about half the amount I needed to. My mistake was in fueling per lap and not per hour. I just didn't take out enough with me for each lap. My favourite thing to eat was a Mcvities breakfast bar. Not too dry, not too sweet, quite a lot of carbs in a small amount of food and tasty too. Rice cakes were too dry and left me feeling like I was spitting feathers. A curly wurly was a lovely treat in the middle of the night.

    The Spitfire Scramble is a lapped course - each lap is 5.9 miles and covers fields, bridges, gravel paths, hills, tarmac and loose stone paths. It's interesting to run without being overly technical.

    I kept going and stayed happy until lap 7. By this point I'd run just over 35 miles. But suddenly I felt angry and sad and not good enough all at once. I was a confused and shouty runner and I didn't like it. I'd been so determined to stay happy that I really tried to fight off the negative emotions, I didn't want to feel like this. I had been thinking about my failed marriage, and struggling with all the conflicting emotions that that whirls up in a storm around you. And the harder I tried to fight those feelings away the stronger they felt. In the end the only was to deal with them was to accept them, to acknowledge how I was feeling. To say, actually, yes it is horrendous to go through the breakdown of a relationship, it is hard to understand how someone can go from loving you to apparently hating you. But accepting that it was horrendous gave my head some space to think, ah yes, but look how things have turned out: things have happened that I would never have dared to believe or dream or even hope might happen. I thought about how blessed I am to have so many lovely people in my life: people who are strong and inspiring and powerful and determined and loving and passionate. Even that day I had met some new people including Andi, who ran with me and made me laugh and helped me to remember it's ok to be angry; Neil and Dennis at the water station who were always ready with a cup of their finest water, friendly chat and warm smiles - even in the dead of night when they were cold and tired too; Chris Spriggens and his delightful son Caleb. Chris has written a beautiful and moving book called The Reason I Run. In it he tells the story of how how he and his Uncle completed marathons together after his Uncle was diagnosed with MND. It's a funny and moving story. I also met Paul, who went on to win the whole event, running 118 miles, he told me about how redheads deal with pain differently to other people - apparently the gene that makes you a redhead also alters your perception of pain. I met Kate, a strong and determined young woman who ran 108 miles - the furthest of all the women there (and she ran 100 miles last weekend too!). I even met some new people from my home town (funny that I had to go so far to meet people that live so close to me!) The Halstead Road Runners had entered two teams, and although I did know some of them I also met some new faces too. I was impressed by how friendly and supportive they were - not just of each other and of me but also towards the other teams. One of the beautiful things about a lot of the runners I've met is that they can celebrate their own success and the success of others. Everyone starts from a different place, everyone has to put in a lot of effort and even if someone else is doing better than you, it is still possible to celebrate their achievement as well as your own. I ran with Nathan from the Halstead Road Runners for a lap too. He joined me in the small hours of the morning and we chatted about all sorts of things. Nathan helped me to put things into perspective - not an easy thing to do when it's cold and dark and you're very tired! I particularly enjoyed hearing Nathan talk about his wife and daughter - it was obvious how much he loves them and how much they mean to him, not just from what he was saying, but from the way he was saying it. They filled him with energy and lit him him up with love. One of my favourite memories from 26 marathons was listening to the men talk about their partners - they were obviously very much in love and very proud of their partners :)

    After my wobbly lap I decided I needed to take the weight off my feet, so when I returned to the start area I laid down: I stopped going. I laid on the damp ground for 5 minutes and just let my body relax into the earth. When the 5 minutes were up, I got up and carried on my way. I needed to do this another two times during the event. I laid down for no more than 5 minutes each time, but each time it was enough to give my resolve and my resilience time to recharge.

    My third goal was to stay awake, but just after 4am I found myself almost falling asleep as I was running. My eyelids kept trying to shut, I started weaving across the path and then I began to feel a bit light-headed. I never aim to injure or kill myself during these long runs so I stopped at the nearest park bench, laid myself down and promtly fell asleep for a 10 minute power nap. Some of the other runners stopped to check I was ok (thank you), but other than that I slept. And it was lovely. After 10 minutes I got up and carried on my way and managed to stay awake until after the run had finished.

    So I failed to achieve any of my goals, but I'm feeling really pleased about that. I learnt so much from it - namely to be careful what goals I set myself! But I learnt that sometimes I do have to listen to my body, I need to accept when it doesn't feel happy, when it needs to rest, when it needs to sleep. Running Beyond Language is about the experience of life: that place where life doesn't make sense and language isn't necessary. It's about tapping into the power of yourself, but to do that you need to listen to yourself and do something about it. There are no medals for staying awake; there are no trophies for being eternally happy. There is a far greater reward for being true to yourself, for being able to challenge yourself, make mistakes and pick yourself up. It's a reward without fanfare or pomp and circumstance. It's a reward that you can't see but it's tangible: it changes the essence of who you are, who you see yourself to be, it's experiential, enriching the fabric of your life in a way that you might not even have imagined possible.

    You don't even need to run for hours on end to achieve this reward. All running is, is putting one foot in front of the other and repeating. It's simple, ordinary and domestic. And how many things do we each do every day that are simple, ordinary and domestic? We are each our very own reward. So go and celebrate!

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