The 24-hour Chronicles Nº 2: On your marks, get set, go!

Ten, nine, eight, seven six… I stood at the starting line hand on my watch to start the chronometer, ready to begin running – I was calm and excited at the same time. My mind was cool and focused while my body was taut with nervous tension, and was ready to go. Five, four, three, two, one – the horn sounded as the oversize digital clock started timing, and I was off!

I set off to the sounds of applause from the small group, fired up and happy to have started, while at the same time very aware that no matter what happened over the next 24 hours, I wouldn’t be able to stop for more than the absolute necessary, I wouldn’t be able to relax or rest until the large digital clock marked 24:00. I knew it would be a very long 24 hours.

As I finished the first lap I looked down at my GPS watch hoping that the problems I had had with it over the last few days would have stopped, and that it would be marking my pace. I had attached the GPS sensor to a strap around my waist, as I knew it would bother me to wear the cumbersome piece strapped to my bicep. I was disappointed to see the pace timer leaping from four minutes per kilometre to ten minutes per kilometre and making pace changes in between every few seconds; I hoped that it would settle and regulate itself into a steady pace over the next few laps. As I passed the starting line again, I signalled to Frank for him to join me for a lap so that I could tell him the bad news – that the GPS didn’t seem to be registering my speed properly.

This was a dangerous situation; I had no way of pacing myself. We had decided to plan this challenge based on my running pace, whereas in previous similar challenges I had set out running conservatively and gradually picked up my pace towards the end. With this change in strategy it was imperative that I keep track of my pace and control it, especially at the start. I know the risks of the first few hours of a challenge or race. When you start you are rested, full of energy and feel motivated and strong, and the risk is to run too fast as your natural mental pacer may be out of synch. Had I been running in the inside lane, I could have kept track of my running pace by timing the kilometres; one and a half laps is one kilometre. This though was impossible as I had chosen to run in lane eight – the outside lane – so as to run in wider circles, thus lessening the potential damage to hips, knees and ankles, because of the wider curves.

“I can’t keep track of my pace, and I’m almost certain that I’m running too fast as I’m so fresh now!” I explained to Frank as he trotted along beside me. “I don’t want to run too slow as I want to try to break my record, and no doubt during the night, my pace will drop as exhaustion sets in. I can’t time myself manually as I’m in lane eight and there’s no set marker for one kilometre!”.

I was worried. Very worried. The risk of burning out during the first few hours was high, and could jeopardise my challenge, and the risk of running too slowly could also jeopardise my goal of breaking me record.

Quim had brought along another watch which he had borrowed, but which no one knew how to use – as I flew around the track they all tried to figure it out. In retrospect I feel that the more worried I got the faster I ran – even though I was trying to control myself. At some point I removed my watch and the waist strap with the GPS and gave them to the team. I asked if there was any way someone could leave and buy me a new watch – this though was not very likely as they had no idea where they could find one – none of the team lived in London.
As I tried to control and keep a steady pace my mind began focusing on the finish line – I visualised breaking my record, but I let go of any fixed number of kilometres, despite the fact that I was aware that I should be able to run considerably further than my previous record. Knowing that our strategy had been severely compromised by the inability to pace myself, my focus was on building up my mental strength to face whatever I had to between then and 1 pm on Saturday. I already knew then that it would be my inner strength that would keep me going; I already knew inside me that I was running too fast, and I was more than aware that this is one of the gravest errors a runner can do at the start of any event.

As the team struggled with the other watch I ran on, knowing that sooner or later I would have to pay for these first few hours…
Be excellent!

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