The following article was written by George Green after his truly amazing effort at the recent Endure 24 race, held on 11/12 June 2016. A huge thank you to George for taking the time to jot down his thoughts – it is a wonderful insight into what it takes to compete in the solo category and a must read for any wannabe ultra runners out there.
Endure 24 has become a significant event in the Sandhurst Joggers calendar. This year, in addition to the 4 relay teams (32 runners), there were 4 Solo runners (George Green, Leon Hicks, Richard Boese, and Noora Eresmaa). Here are my thoughts on the Solo event, and Ultra Running more generally.
Put simply, a Solo runner has to run/walk as far as they can in the 24 hours. The vast majority of Solos run further than the marathon distance, so this is Ultra Running. I have done a handful of previous Ultras, mainly on point to point courses, such as Petersfield to Eastbourne along the South Downs Way (73 miles), or London to Brighton (55 miles). Endure 24 is totally different. You do 5 mile laps at the same time, and on the same course, as the relay teams. This adds to the amount of support you get while running, as there is a continual stream of relay runners passing you. On the other hand, you can feel quite slow at times! I really valued the short chats with other Solos too, as you share a common understanding of what you are doing. In fact, the Ultra fraternity is a wonderful group. I have met people while doing a race in Cornwall, only to come across those same people doing an event in Oxfordshire. And they are friendly and welcoming each time.
So, how can you run for 24 hours. Well, in reality very few people can. In the past I have found that a mixture of running and walking works well. When you are walking, you are resting some of your running muscles, and vice versa. For sure, you are getting more and more tired, but that’s when the mental element of Ultras kicks in. You just have to keep on the move, despite the tiredness.
At Endure, Solo runners get their own camping area close to the start/finish line. They also get their own marquee right by the course in which to store their food and drink. You soon learn in Ultra Running that you need to keep on the move as much as possible in order to cover the maximum distance. Obvious, I know, but you wouldn’t believe how easy it is to waste precious time “faffing around” with food, drinks, toilet stops, etc.
My aim at Endure was to go further than I’d ever been before. That meant doing more than the 73 miles that I’d done in 1996, which took me just under 13½ hours. So, I’d have an extra 10½ hours. Easy! Ah yes, but I’m 20 years older and I’d lost 5 months training from September to January through injury. In fact, my weekly average for the last 4 months has been 22 miles! Maybe not so easy, then!
So I set off. The aim was to walk the uphill sections and run the rest (for as long as I could). First lap was at 11 minutes per mile pace. My overall average was still 12 minutes per mile at 40 miles. Now I’m a great believer in even-paced running. But that’s not how it works in Ultras. If you look at the results, all of the runners slow down as the event goes on. Even the winner, who did an amazing 135 miles, slowed down by almost 4 hours between the first and second halves of his run. You just can’t save enough energy early on by going really slowly to be able to keep to the same pace. So, I slowed down. 13½ minute miles for the next 10. Now, I had intended not to sleep at all for the 24 hours. But (and here’s where the mental element come in) I just couldn’t resist the lure of my tent at 10.30pm, having done 50 miles. So, I stopped for 2 hours and had a nap. Probably not a wise move. When I got going again I was aware of discomfort between lower leg and foot, particularly on the left. I had an inflamed tendon, which made it hard to bend the foot and I just couldn’t get running again. So I walked. For the next 25 miles. At an average pace, including one or two brief stops, of 17½ minute miles. I reached my target distance of 75 miles at 9.15am and stopped for a good rest. But I never got going again. Even walking from tent to toilet was an ordeal by now. Could I have gone further without the injury? I’ll never know.
So, discomfort during the event. Limping around the house today. You’ve got to ask yourself “was worth it?” Of course it bloody was. I came 45th out of 123 runners. And I got a PB. My first for 20 years. Very happy!