To wake up on a Saturday morning for a run and only to return back on Sunday morning requires a special kind of commitment. To run for an entire day, followed by an entire night, followed by some part of the next day exuberates dedication. To put oneself in a zone, where nothing but the highlighted final mileage matters, speaks volumes of one’s devotion. This, my friends, is just another day in the life of a 24 hour ultra runner.
24 Hour running is close to my heart. This is the event where I was fortunate to wear the Canadian vest on two world championships (Taipei: 2006, Drummondville: 2007). The excitement of running through a day-night-(some more) day at first scared me but then enticed me. My first inclination on running the Canadian Championships was primarily to cement a good dinner table conversation with my non running friends.
Why do a 24 hour run? If you want to try an ultra event, try the sprint distance, encompassing the half-century mark of 50km?? Ultrarunning is possibly the only discipline in sport I know which is unique in the description of its modules. While on one hand, 24 hour might seem a long distance for a 50km runner, it seems like a sprint distance for someone embarking on a 6 Day event. So “relative” is a term that is used widely when it comes to the week(end) ultra warriors who are gone for day(s).
The 24 Hour runner’s mindset is of a different kind. What are we thinking when we launch into our repetitive mode of hour by hour accumulating these kilometers? Some break it down by the lap, others by the hour, and still others by the next aid station. When I used to do these events, my goal and strategy at the start, was very different from how it was at the end, transforming throughout the day. I would start with more lavish hourly goals, which would be feasible for the first few hours but they would slowly turn to more realistic goals by mid day, just able to stay up goal by late night and a new lavish goal when the sun came up.
I have often claimed that if a marathoner lives one lifetime during the course of the 42.2km race, a 24hour runner lives through a multitude of lifetimes during the course of a day-night event. The highs and lows of achieving these goals is just one of those roller coaster rides that we call life. The key is to work through the low points, and not get discouraged but to turn that low around to a high knowing that the sun will be shining just around the corner.
We, on the international scene, have definitely noticed a marked increase in the number of participants in numbers and federations, who have started partaking at the 24 hour world championships. The distance/time does not seem like an unachievable distance. Over the years runners have started understanding, appreciating and respecting all that can be achieved on the ever prevalent saying of anything can be achieved on any given day.
Usually preparations for races start on the day off with the morning regiment. But for an event, as extensive as the day/multi-day event, arrangements start well before the start gun goes off.Athletes prepare their kit bags prior to the morning of the race anticipating number of different weather elements to battle during the course of the twenty four hours. They also assemble their food, drink bottles and other relevant nutritional requirements days before the big day.
The 24 hour is unlike a lot of the other races out there. The concept of time, combined with an inherent need for distance, gives the athletes the satisfaction of getting the best of both worlds. I have never been able to comprehend, how the concept of time is different from the concept of distance for ultra athletes in order to realize their best performance in any race possible. However, one does play a different psychological role, when anticipating covering a certain distance in a certain time as opposed to competing or a certain time and accomplishing a certain distance.
One can combine the innate nature of running of just going out there with running shoes and comfortable running gear with the complexities of modern technology researching the nutrition intake with performance and mileage clocks. It is up to you as an individual on what you want to get out of this discipline and what works for you. The ability to conform with each individual runner’s needs might be one of the reasons that 24 hours is gaining in popularity.
It is a challenge, it is an assessment, it is an education, it is a test, but beyond all of this it is an experience. An experience that will be with us for our entire lives. It will be a benchmark, a baseline for future runs to gauge ourselves when we go out for that long run again.
But it is important to remember, that just in life, when the going gets tough, there will be easier times as well. The trick is to keep pushing hard and working through the rough times to enjoy the calmer ones. After all, running any discipline is the “ultra” metaphor for life.