Sunday, October 25, 2009

One week later.

The swelling in my lower legs is gone and I can almost walk without limping. The night after the race I found it hard to sleep as the pain was keeping me awake, apart from my head and arms almost every other muscle in my body was hurting. Walking the next day was very slow but apart from the expected muscle damage I finished the race in relatively good condition.
During next week I'll go for a sports massage and the following week I'll start training all over again starting at the beginning and focusing on building a strong endurance base up until the end of the year.
My training year usualy finishes with the Dublin Marathon which is tomorrow and even though I'm not taking part it will still be my years end. A training programme needs to have a starting and finishing point and mine ends with this race as it's a regular on my calendar.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

24hr Race Report from the Support Crew's perspective

The preparation:
When John O’Regan first mentioned about the 24 hour race, a couple things came to mind – firstly, who in their right mind would consider it fun to run for 24 hours, and secondly, who in their right mind …….!

And so my interest in the 2009 Self-Transcendence 24 Hour Track Race was piqued. The most John had run before in this type of event was 100k (Celtic Plate 2008, Galway) so it was going to be a challenge, a very big challenge; but having experienced his approached previous challenges I knew that his commitment to training, his competitive spirit and the application of a fair degree of stubbornness, that he would succeed.

The preparation for the race involved figuring out the answer to two major questions: (At this stage the physical and mental ability were taken as a given).

(1) How far could we expect John to run over the duration &
(2) What level and mix of fuel would be required sustain the required effort over the 24 hours.

The preparation involved consultation with and detailed testing by Dr Nick Mahony, Bernard Donne and the team in Trinity College’s Sports Science Department, who confirmed how ready the body was to take on the task and how far it could be pushed. He also relied heavily on the experience of athletes like Eoin Keith and endurance record holding cyclist Paul O’Donoghue to help with diet plan and just as importantly, the mental preparation.

And so a plan emerged: John was going to run 210km and was going to need 60gr of Carbohydrates each hour. Now we had a plan, all John had to do was execute it.

The Race:
The venue was the Tooting Bec track in south London, the time was 12 noon and the weather was just perfect for running. The first thing that struck me as the 46 brave souls lined-up at the start line, was the remarkable mix of ages, shapes and sizes. I was expecting a field of young, undernourished-looking men, but what presented was an eclectic mix of international competitors ranging in ages from 29 to 76, 11 of whom were women. There was quite a relaxed atmosphere at the start with many of the competitors having a number of 24 hour races under their belts. Not so for John, who was a little apprehensive on the start line, a bundle of pent-up nervous energy waiting to explode. But both Steven Seaton (Runners World) and I were there to support him and to do whatever is took to deliver the plan.

12:00 to 20:00
His instructions were clear – do not run any more than 10km in the first hour, stick to the fuelling plan, and certainly don’t try to keep up with anyone. Before the race we never assessed what delivering 210km would mean in terms of positioning, but it was largely irrelevant, this event was about going the distance and learning from the experience. John settled in nicely to the race and limiting his pace to a heart rate max, delivered the first four hours with a few km ahead of plan. The fluid intake seemed right, the fuelling plan was working and we were really happy with the steady start to the race. John hit the marathon distance in 4:05 and was feeling good.

My initial concerns about having lots of time to fill during the 24 hours failed to materialise as we soon got into a rhythm of preparing food, tracking pace, monitoring distance, supporting toilet breaks and satisfying John’s every whim. The hours started flying by. The next four hours delivered another 40k and a quick change into his Skins leggings. The 2 minutes it took to change the gear was the first John time got off his feet in the 8 hours. We were still slightly ahead of the plan, and started getting more confident that it could be delivered. This steady progress meant John finished the 8 hour mark in 7th place.

20:00 to 04:00
The middle phase of the plan was to deliver 73 km, which anticipated a slight slowing in pace. Just after a toilet break at 20:00 John walked his first lap. The walking lap is a great opportunity to eat some solids (energy bar, bagels or pancakes) and a chance to really assess how he was doing in terms of HR, effort and any potential injuries that were starting to emerge. At 10pm John noticed a bit of a ‘twinge’ at the end of his shin. At this point I was a little worried that it was early and a potential problems began to emerge. At 1am John decided that a change of shoes might help to address the pain in his shin and counteract any affect of his feet swelling after 13 hours running. He had run 318 laps of the track, had gone to the toilet 5 times, sat down twice to change gear but had only walked one of the laps. If we could keep the shin at bay, the plan was beginning to look good.

In the last part of this phase of the race, a few cracks started to emerge. The level of fluid being consumed was now requiring a toilet break every hour, he couldn’t tolerate eating the bagels or the raisins and the pace was falling a little but behind, eating away the gains we had banked. This stage in the night brought a drop in temperature to 0 degrees, so the dew that covered our gear quickly turned to ice. At 3am John donned his hat and gloves to counteract the affects of the cold and walked his second lap of the race. Things were now starting to get interesting as the leader board showed John O’Regan in fourth position. Was it too early to hope for a finish position like that? Or were the experienced runners going to eat him up in the last eight hours when John faded towards the end? We did not know, but we hoped he could hold on.

05:00 to 11:00
The last third of the race was always going to be the difficult one to judge, just because the plan said John was to do 57k, did not mean that he could physically do it. And two problems still existed – His shin was starting to really hurt and the carbohydrate intake was well below the required level – caused by having to do without the bagels and the raisins. That’s when Percy Pig came to the rescue! Well not completely, but he certainly helped. For those of you who don’t know Percy Pig – he is a wonderful sweet from M&S that delivers a wonderful 6g of carb per pig – they were reserved for a flavoursome treat in the plan, but were offered and consumed with a frequency that would have a school full of children hyperactive!

Things started to get really interesting when the 6am leader board was posted which show John now in third place. Up to this point it was not about the other runners at all, we monitored and measured their pace and observed their routines purely out of passing interest. But now we had a race on our hands. How far ahead was the guy in front? And more importantly how far behind was the next guy and could John be caught? John passed the 100mile mark after 16hours 50mins and cheered-up by the rising sun and third place on the board delivered a really strong 7 hours between 5am and 11am. In that time, he delivered an 8.4 km an hour average when the plan required 7.3km. Not only were we looking at a possible 3rd place finish, but 215 km was a near definite and 220km a distinct possibility. The fuelling plan now consisted of a lot of flattened coke which provided the necessary fluid and sugar boost. Percy Pig also played his part.

The Final hour:
The sun now shone brightly, the temperature rose to a very pleasant level and 531 laps were completed in the 23 hours. We had a problem, PerAuden Heskestad from Sweeden was running a consistent 2:25 minute lap and despite a 2km lead it was very possible for him to catch John. The inevitable happened with about 40 minutes to go, PerAuden made up gap and passed by. It was out with the calculators again to check two things – could we get John to 220km and was Neil Bryant going to be able to make up the deficit. I was now very worried, John was fading fast, the pain in his shin was getting unbearable and Neil was moving fairly steadily.

The last 20 minutes was a battle to keep him going, running was not possible due to the pain, and the reality was that he was moving faster when he walked. It was a very strange sight to see almost everyone still in the race pick it up for the last 30 minutes. Athletes, literally dead on their feet, found the motivation from somewhere, to raise their heads and eek the last few meters out of the 24 hours. So focused were we on keeping John moving that I miscounted the last few laps and we very happy to finish with 219km and a fourth position. Despite the difficulties over the last hour, John still managed to deliver 7.6 km, the last 3laps of which Steve and I walked with him. It was an amazing and emotional feeling to be on the track as the final siren sounded and 26 competitors stopped dead on their feet. At that point, it had nothing to do with the race positions or the distance travelled but the immense sense of personal achievement that each one of them felt, as they stood transfixed on the track, smiling in the sun.

The Result:
And so the race was over, the stretch target exceeded and an incredible maiden 24 hour race now firmly recorded in John’s CV. The icing on the cake was the fourth place finish, I believe that John secretly hoped for a top 10 finish, but was still more interested in getting the distance. It was a wonderful sight to see all the competitors now relaxed and smiling in the sun waiting to hear the official results. The winner, Richard Quennell covered 234.8 in the 24 hours, John was a mere 14.8km behind him. As I pointed out to John, if he was able to cover a mere 600m more per hour he would have covered the same distance – easy really!

Of the 35 athletes who completed the race, 25 of them ran over 100 miles. The last surprise of the day was the announcement of John’s fourth position and official distance. Steve thought he heard a distance of 220km being called, but that could not have been, I had tracked all the way and was positive that we had only made 219 and a lap or so, the holy grail of 220km was not achieved! A quick check with the referee confirmed a final distance 220km and 21m – had I known it was achieved; I might have been able to claim a near perfect result, but I was just as surprised and delighted as John. All of which goes to show that 24 hours is a long time to be doing anything!

Monday, October 19, 2009

24hr Track Race / The Result

Race report from Ultra Running Ireland.

Ireland's John O'Regan made his 24-Hour debut in style in London on 17-18 October 2009.

The Dubliner ran a distance of 220.002km, or 136.7 miles, to earn the standard for participation in the World 24 Hour Championships in 2010.

The event was won convincingly by Great Britain's Richard Quenell, but Paul Hart (GBR), Per Audon Heskestad (NOR) and O'Regan battled closely to finish second, third and fourth, respectively. Although John is no stranger to ultra running and adventure running, having participated in the North Pole and Antarctic Ice Marathons, the Celtic 100k, the Everest Marathon, the Inca Trail Marathon (co-1st) and the Yukon Arctic Ultra of 100 miles (1st), it was a spectacular debut at 24 hours.

John's principal crew member was Tony Brennan, but he was also helped by Steven Seaton, the former publishing editor of Runner's World magazine. Mike King - a top UK Sports Photographer - who photographs the North Pole Marathon each year, was also at hand to take some photos and voice his support.

John's performance in this IAU-labelled event is a great boost to Ireland's 24-Hour team.

For race results click here.

Friday, October 16, 2009

'Code of Conduct' 24 hour track race

This 'code' is to make the event fair to all competitors at all levels of ability during the 24 hours of the event.. Before the event starts all competitors need to identify and make themselves known to their lap recorder. These will be situated in a tent on the home straight opposite the Start/Finish line. This is very important, as you will need to be known to each other throughout the event. You will need to arrange how you will let each other know that a lap has been completed, usually by the runner calling the recorders name as they pass. Also you will need to arrange how you will either 'signal to' or tell your recorder when you have previously left the track for any reason before reaching them or that you are going to before completing the lap you are about to start e.g. a toilet break.

Distance over time is a different discipline to time over distance. As implied the objective is to cover the greatest distance in a specific time period. The overall distance is calculated from the number of recorded laps or part laps by each contestant during the time period. The greatest recorded distance for any runner during the time period is the one that wins the event. Overall distance is the criteria and the winner does not have to be on the track at end of the time period. In a track race the lap used for calculation purposes is the inside lane lap, which is 400 metres from start to finish line. Any distance run outside of the inside lane cannot be included in the calculated overall distance. This effectively makes it imperative for all competitors to use the inside lane. If the right 'code of conduct' is followed by all competitors for all 24 hours this can be achieved.

As soon after the start as possible all competitors should get into single file running at or on the white line marking the outside edge of the inside lane. This single file position at or on the white line should be maintained throughout the race. This will leave the opportunity for overtaking on the nearside, the shortest route for anyone travelling faster or accelerating to overtake the person in front of them. If at any time a competitor finds two other competitors side by side in the inside lane in front them they should shout the word 'Track' in sufficient time for the inside one of the two to accelerate in front of the other so resuming the 'single file' position.

There are a potential 45 persons who will be on the track at anytime all travelling at different speeds all wanting to achieve their maximum distance. If all competitors make it their intention to comply with this 'code of conduct' throughout the whole 24 hour time period there should not be any problems or reason to cover extra-unrecorded distance. Because racing positions will change constantly MP3 players will not be allowed to be worn at any time in the INSIDE LANE. All competitors should be able to hear anyone calling 'track' at any time and/or any other instructions they may need to be given by race officials. They should also be able to hear the presence of other competitors behind them. This 'ban on MP3 players in the INSIDE LANE' as a possible cause of problems during the event will be listed in the race 'risk assessment', and enforced by the Race Referee. (They can be worn in any other lane if the competitor is prepared to stay in that lane). All unaccompanied competitors by necessity will have to take their drinks and/or food from a table in a stationery position. To maintain consistency anyone accompanying a runner must also give any drink or food to their runner from a stationery position. Any other assistance given by a helper to any competitor, on foot and moving, must be from alongside or from behind the competitor. Any action by a helper that could be construed as 'pacing or unfair assistance to their runner' could ultimately lead to the disqualification of the competitor e.g. on the move, in front of them.

The toilets are situated on the home straight side of the main changing rooms building. Any competitor taking a 'toilet' break' must leave and return to the track using the same route from the track and back again. Any time a competitor leaves the track must be recorded. When verifying overall distance, laps by an individual competitor usually maintain a steady average. When suddenly there is a very extended difference in lap times it is usually one of two reasons. They are either, one completed lap has not been recorded or the competitor left the track during a particular lap. For this reason this communication between competitor and lap recorder must be maintained the whole time so there can be no subsequent doubt as to why the vast difference occurred. Any competitor that is off the track for more than 2 hours without giving an explanation of absence, or off the track in excess of 5 hours (with explanation) to Race Director or Lap Recorder will be retired by the Race Referee.

This 'Code of conduct' when conformed to by all entrants has been proved successful in other events and gives all entrants the opportunity to achieve their maximum distance for the time period.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Going back to my roots

My thanks to Sean Kenny for the article that appeared in today's Irish Times. Click here to view it online. Behind me is Ballybough Flats in Dublin's inner city, my childhood home. Photograph copyright Alan Beston.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A run in the woods.

Yesterday I took part in the Donadea 10K in Donadea Forest Park, Co.Kildare. Not ideal preparation for my 24hr race next weekend but this was a race I was looking forward to all year having enjoyed it so much last year. To fit it in without messing up my training and taper I decided to use it as a substitute for my weekly interval session and I made sure to stay within my Interval heart rate zone and not get carried away. That wasn't a problem as all the recent long slow runs have certainly slowed me down but all in all it was a good run and I was recovered enough this morning for an easy 11 miler with Tony before breakfast.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

It's only 1 day of my life

Since the confirmation of my entry in the 24hr race I've been thinking about it quite a lot and although my plan is to just concentrate on the time rather than drown in the distance I'm feeling slightly apprehensive about the race. The thoughts of staying awake for the race duration as well as the few hours before and after the race mean I could be awake for 36-40hrs when you add it all up.
This evening I went to a talk in the Great Outdoors and listened to Mark Pollock & Simon O'Donnell talk about their trek to the South Pole and their 16 hr days. I thought of Mark and remembered what it must have been like for him whe I was suffering on the way to and from Everest Base Camp but I had the scenery to ease the pain and distract my mind unlike Mark. So I thought just get on with it sure it's only 1 day of your life, shut up and put up with it.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Getting the balance right

This week has been a busy one with over 11hrs of training which had to fit around my work and family life. The runs varied in duration from 1hr - 4hr with the longest runs used to experiment with different food items that I plan on using during the 24 hr race.
At this moment I'm not thinking about distance and just running for time knowing i can't make that time pass any quicker which is what it'll be like in London.
The amount of training you can do is in some way determined by the amount of training you can recover from and for that reason I don't think my long run will be much longer than 4hrs, at most it'll be 5hrs.
To give it my best shot I think it best to arrive at the start line well rested, injury free, slightly undertrained rather than overtrained, fully hydrated and well fueled. For that reason my taper will start during next week and will include some dietary adjustments and a sleep plan.