“We’re on the road to Nowhere” was the song made famous by Talking Heads ( if you are too young to remember this, google it ) and back in October I joined 16 other hardy souls who were following a road to nowhere, well actually it was a combination of park path and water logged muddy path but it still went nowhere. It was one of the most fun days I’ve ever had in sport.
The Chorley 6hr race was in its third year and had grown in size. It takes place each October in Astley Park in Chorley, Lancashire. The race itself is run entirely on a 700 metre loop in the park, the premise of the race is to see how far you can run in 6 hours. For me the seed for this adventure was set a couple of years ago when I watched my brother take part in a 24hr race on a 400m running track, that day Craig ran 100 miles but illness prevented him from finishing. I was intrigued at the mental toughness that it takes to deal with the repetition of endless laps. Now I knew that I wasn’t in any shape to run for 24 hrs ( yet )but i figured that I could get in shape to run for 6 hours. All I needed to do was change from a triathlete to an ultra runner.
With the help of my coach Gobi I spent 10 months preparing, running longer and longer without breaking. This was key, I slowed down and ran at 10-11 minute mile pace on my long runs to allow me to recover better and not get injured. This process was brought home to me in September when I did my first ultra, a 45k along Lancaster canal. I finished in 4.30 and the next day I ran for 90 minutes without any issue. In the past whenever i have done a marathon ( and the canal race was bang on my standalone marathon pb pace ) I’ve been crippled the next day. Yet here i was feeling fit and ready for another week of intense but steady running. The plan was working. This was a huge confidence boost with a month to go until Chorley.
The week before the race I ran for 90 minutes on the course just to get a feel for what lay ahead. I was joined by my good friend Chris Lawson who I’d persuaded to take part in the race, not that Chris needs any help from me to do daft things. We both agreed that the course was tougher than we were expecting, there was about a 60 metre incline, which you wouldn’t really call a hill but after a few hours it would definitely have an effect on your legs. It was good to gain that knowledge.
All week I watched the weather forecast, almost obsessing about that coming Saturday. As the week wore on it got worse and worse. Oh well there’s nothing more fun than running round Chorley for 6hrs in the pouring rain.
Race morning arrived and Chris and I travelled down with my Dad, who would be our main crew person for the day. Dad has experience at this sort of thing having crewed for Craig in several 100k lap races over the years. We arrived at race village ( a tent next to the path ) and set out our nutrition on a table. Chris “IronHippy” and Fiona Wild also joined us, Ironhippy had been coaching Chris Lawson so had come along to support us both. There was a steady drizzle, I opted for the shorts and t-shirt, I had a change of clothes and full waterproofs on standby.
Seventeen of us lined up including the previous winner for the last two years Mark Bissel, looking for a hatrick. He would have serious competition however from Charlie Sharpe who had won the 100k Canalathon earlier in the year just a minute slower than the course record set by Craig the year before. Charlie and Mark had an epic battle but eventually Charlie won in a new record of 78.36 km.
We set off in probably the slowest race start I’ve ever taken part in. All i was interested in was my own pace, in the weeks before hand I had spent countless hours running pace calculations and my dad had a spreadsheet with distance scenarios and pace levels. I ran consistently for around 3hrs, each mile ( except when i stopped for the toilet ) was within 5-10 seconds of each other. This was metronome running, this was how I’d trained, this was how my day would go. But come on it’s me, nothing goes smoothly.
Around two hours in I ate a chia charge bar ( something i’d used loads in training ) and I instantly was sick, Forcing the vomit back down my throat, I tried to ignore my stomach. My dad was getting concerned as I abandoned the nutrition plan, i couldn’t face food, all i could take was fluids. Although I was running consistently I could feel myself getting weaker and weaker. It was so frustrating.
I was also getting colder and colder, so at 3 hrs I stripped off my sodden shirt, replaced it with a dry one and put on my OMM waterproof – at least I’d stay a little dryer in the second half of the race. I made myself a promise that I would get to the marathon point and then I would have a walk, that would be my reward. I passed that mark in 4:30:16 and then walked for a lap. Talking in another chia charge bar in a desperate effort to fuel myself. It stayed down and it gave me a renewed burst of energy to start running again. Chris Lawson was flying, I’d lost count of how many times he’d lapped me – he would go on to finish 8th with an impressive 57.62 km.
As I was walking and feeling a bit sorry for myself Ironhippy was cheering me on, “I know you are not going to quit, you are way to stubborn for that sort of thing”, I laughed and replied “At the moment I really i wish I wasn’t so bloody stubborn”. It was the low point of the race for me, but the encouragement from him, my dad and each runner as they passed me brought me back to life. Phil Watson from COLT also appeared and was his usual enthusiastic self, what a boost. I kept moving forward.
In the later stages of the race my right knee seized completely and i couldn’t run resulting in miles 29 and 30 being just shy of 20 minutes a mile. I was desperate to hit 50km but my head was playing tricks on me, I couldn’t do the calculations, Dad kept encouraging me, and when he told me that Chris and I were in contention for the team prize I pushed on, my knee came to life. With minutes to go I was handed a bean bag, looking perplexed I asked what it was for. “Drop it on the ground when the finish buzzer goes”. Ahh that made sense. I drew alongside Chris Lawson and said “Come on lets just have some fun” And we blasted it, it felt like we were flying, each of us pushing the other to the limit. Reality was we were probably 8 minute miling but it felt like a 400m track session. The buzzer sounded, we stopped, dropped our bean bags and embraced. We had done it, all that was left was to see how far we had run.
On stopping my legs seized up and the cold hit me, 6 hrs of running in torrential rain and strong wind had taken its toll. I was shivering uncontrollably and my teeth were chattering. My Dad got Chris and I a coffee, and it was the best drink of my life. We missed out on the team prize but finished 2nd. That’ll do.
I finished 10th overall, i was extremely pleased with that. I achieved my aim of beating 50km finishing with a distance of 52.49 km, 71 laps of the course. In my head i wanted to run between 50-60km so given the weather and the problems with the stomach and knee I couldn’t have asked more of myself. I was very proud to be an ultra runner.
I’ve spent a lot of time analysing the race, and have learnt from the experience, there are things i would do differently, in particular with the nutrition plan. I’ll get it right in 2018, just need to persuade Chris to come and do it again, and maybe a few other COLTS.
If you are interested you can find all about the race inc results and entry for 2018 here:
I really can’t recommend it enough. So come on, join me on The Road to Nowhere in 2018, you know you want to.
Craig would finish a 24hr race in November 2017 in Oslo, Norway. He ran 245.7km or 152 miles on an indoor track to achieve the world a standard.