Race Report Commonwealth 24 Hour Championship (John Pares, Buckley Runners and Wales)
The first ever Commonwealth Ultra Distance and Mountain Running Championship was held in Keswick, England, on 17th to 20th September. There were four events: two hill races, a 100km race and my event, the 24 hour race. All were being trialled for inclusion in the main Commonwealth Games in 2018.
The pre-race favourite was Martin Fryer of Australia with a PB of 155 miles. Other strong contenders were: Chris Finnill (England) and Jo Blake (Australia) both with 151 miles, Stephen Mason (Scotland) with 149 miles and Jim Rogers (England) and myself, both with 147 miles.
I went into the race the best prepared I’d ever been, both mentally and physically and had hopes of a medal. I’d completed over 1,500 miles in 14 weeks of training and had completed three training runs of 40, 50 and 60 miles respectively. Much of it had been over hilly terrain in North Wales, where I live, and Zurich (Switzerland) where I work most weeks. It had been a gruelling schedule to fit in around work and family. While in Zurich my life was generally: Wake – run – eat – work – run – eat – work - sleep (repeat!). I’d also spent a lot of time getting mentally prepared as this event has a lot to do with mind over matter and how to keep going when you are physically exhausted and your body is just crying out for rest.
The course in Keswick was perfect and consisted of a 1km lap of Fitz Park. This may seem boring to most people but it was ideal for us as the support, food and drink were never far away and the other runners were all within reach. This last point was important as this is a very social event – the ultrarunning community is quite small and close, and everybody supports everybody else, even their closest competitors.
The early leader was Jo Blake, a natural 100km runner, who had decided to go off fast and then take it a bit easier in the second half. Chris Carver (England) also started quickly. However, early pace and position generally has no relevance to the final outcome of these races. I felt very good myself, apart from a stiff neck and shoulders (thanks to Sharon Woods for a massage before and during the race which helped ease it off), and started slightly quicker than my target pace. By midnight the order was Blake, Pares, Fryer with Carver and Mason very close. John Pearson (Australia) Pat Robbins (England), Guy Gilbert (Canada) and Jim Rogers were also in the mix. Most of us were using a combination of run and walk to kep up a decent pace but also to allow for some rest.
The walk breaks were also important for eating and drinking. My intake was mashed potato, custard, jelly, rice-crispie squares, mars bars as well as water, coke and energy drinks. Dic Evans, of Aberystwyth, was my ‘corner’ and he did a great job of keeping me fed and watered but also focused and motivated.
At around 7pm I stopped to put on a long-sleeve shirt and have a neck and shoulder massage. At midnight I had a massage on my legs and picked up my i-pod to listen to some music. Unfortunately I felt cold leaving the massage table and struggled to maintain my pace. The music was too much of a distraction and I got rid of the i-pod by 3am. These early hours of the morning were my worst period. I had been closing on Blake who had slowed but the others were also closing on me. By dawn there was less than 3km between second and fifth (Fryer, Blake, Pares, Carver, Mason) and I knew that I would have to work hard for the medal. A 5am bowl of porridge helped get me going.
By now my legs were really sore and, following a discussion with Dic, I decided to stop for another massage. It was a risk, as I would lose at least one lap and the sight of me lying on the treatment table could have been a real boost for my competitors. This was a really painful massage and I was yelping out loud as the physio poked and prodded all the lumps in my legs and hips. When I got off the table I could hardly walk and thought, “oh no – big mistake.” I started walking, then jogging and finally running and then started to flow, the massage had been a success after all. I started to open a gap on the athletes behind but, having got within 2 minutes of Blake, he suddenly woke up and took off. Stephen Mason also found some new energy during the morning and kept very closely in touch, bringing the gap down to less than 3km at one point.
For the final few hours I kept my mind on maintaining third place. We decided I needed a 3km gap with 1.5 hours to go and I would be OK. Mason un-lapped himself again and I just hung on the back of him so he couldn’t do it again. Eventually his challenge waned and, by 10.30 I was 5km ahead and going strong. Carver was some way behind, Blake had pulled 5km clear and Fryer was chasing a new Commonwealth record.
The last hour was superb. Much of the Welsh team had appeared during the morning and they were now cheering me on. I wanted to make my target of 150 miles and, with 30 minutes to go I needed another 3 laps. At this point Dic told me there was a difference between the electronic and manual lap-counting and I might need another 5km. I found some renewed bounce in my legs and set off, managing to time my run to just finish the 5km with seconds to spare. The added bonus was that I finished just over the start line, where all the crowds were, waving the Welsh flag and it felt like I was actually winning the race.
I collapsed into a seat and burst into tears – I had won a commonwealth Bronze Medal. This was definitely the height of my running career so far. It was a good personal best distance and will probably put me in the top 10 of the World Rankings this year.
I was then able to enjoy the rest of the weekend – watching the finish of the 100km race on Saturday and even climbing up the hill to watch the mountain race on Sunday (unfortunately Wales just missed out on a team bronze). The medal ceremony on Sunday night was one of the best experiences of my life. I enjoyed every minute and the whole team looked great in the new kit (thanks to new sponsors Under Armour). Also special thanks to Arwel Lewis of Eryri (Team Manager) and Andy Walling (Physio).
Gold: Martin Fryer Australia 159.0375 miles
Silver: Jo Blake Australia 154.7948 miles
Bronze: John Pares Wales 151.8559 miles
Gold: Sharon Gayter England 140.7403 miles
Silver: Vicky Skelton England 132.1615 miles
Bronze: Susannah Harvey-Jamieson Australia 128.6171 miles
1. Australia 1. England
2. England 2. Australia
3. Scotland 3. Scotland
John Pares (T: 07713 793520, E: firstname.lastname@example.org)