Self-Transcendence 24-Hour Race 2014

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The 25th running of The Self-Transcendence 24-Hour Race was held at Tooting Bec track on 20th-21st September 2014. Fionna Ross from Edinburgh's Harmeny Athletic Club, in her first attempt at a 24-hour event at Tooting in 2013, had impressed everyone with a distance of 216.214 km (134.1 miles). Finishing in second place overall, a new event record, she was back to defend her title.

Fionna Ross sets new Scottish 24 hour record, and beats all the men too!

Fionna Ross This year Fionna went one better and beat all the men to win the race outright, in the process setting a new Scottish women's record for 24 hours.

The whole goal of a 24-hour race is to see how much distance you can cover in a 24-hour time span. In this event it involved circling the 400metre track, with each lap of every runner being meticulously recorded.

Ross (34) managed to run 582 laps to record 233.018 km, or 144 miles 1391 yards, beating the existing Scottish record set by Sharon Law (Garscube Harriers) by over 4 miles. Law had set this mark 226.107 km (140 miles, 872 yards) at the World 24 championships in Holland in 2013. Along the way Ross also eclipsed Law's 200 km record by over 18 minutes, as well recording 20 hours 28 min 41 sec.

It is not unique for women to win longer ultra races outright. Debbie Martin-Consani won the 144 mile Grand Union Canal Race outright in 2012 and British ultra legends Hilary Walker and Eleanor Robinson managed it several times in 24 and 48 hour races. Helene Diamentides, paired with Martin Stone, famously won the inaugural Dragon's Back ultra in 1992.

Izzy Wykes This year though, in an incredible display of "girl power", women filled the first three places in the race, with Ross's fellow GB ultra international Issy Wykes (Truro AC, Cornwall) pushing her hard in the last few hours to record 230.100 km (142 miles, 1757 yds) and fellow Scot, Noanie Heffron (Kilbarchan) with 213.011 km (132 miles, 631 yds) in third.

In the early hours of the race Ross, using the experience gained in last years race, started steadily. Heffron settled into a steady pace too and Wykes, cautious in her first 24-hour event, even more so. Ross reached the 50km mark (31.1 miles) in 4 hours 50 minutes with fellow Scot Noanie Heffron in 5 hours 02 min and Wykes some 20 minutes behind in 5 hours 20 minutes.

By 50 miles (7:46:20 to 8:17:00) Ross had increased her lead over Heffron and Wykes, and was steadily passing all the men who had possibly started a little enthusiastically!

When 100 km was reached in 9:43:34 Ross was lying in second place overall behind race leader, Ireland's Brian Ankers (9:35). Heffron (10:23) and Wykes (10:27) were also closing in.

Noanie Heffron Just before the half way mark at 12 hours, with Ankers taking a short "time out" Ross became outright leader. The 12 hour leader board showed Ross with 122.4 km (76.06 miles) Ankers, 120.4 km (74.8 miles), with Wykes in third 114.8 km (71.33 miles) just a lap ahead of Heffron 114.4 km (71.08 miles).

Competent 24-hour runners often talk of the long hours, usually mainly in darkness, between 12 hours and reaching the 100-mile point. It is a long haul, when your body is often by habit trying to convince you, you should be asleep. You are getting totally fed up with drinking the same drinks, your digestive system is pretty much in hibernation, and you don't feel like eating anything, but you know you have to keep nibbling and sipping away, or a big crash is awaiting you a few hours down the road.

Ross and the other runners were no doubt having similar feelings, but relentlessly she, Wykes and Heffron were circling the track, edging closer to that 100-mile mark. Ross slipped past the 100-mile mark first in 16 hours 11 minutes 32 seconds. She is slightly slower than her 100-mile split of last year (15 hrs 58 min) but this is all part of her plan to eventually achieve a better overall 24-hour distance. Izzy Wykes, although 30 minutes behind, at the 100 miles in 16:45:05, is looking strong though and moving well; the experience gained in placing first lady in her first "long" ultra this summer, the Grand Union Canal Race, now standing her in good stead. Noanie Heffron reaches the 100 in 17:37:35 and is now comfortably in third place after trading places with Slovakian Michel Masnik, the leading man for an hour or so.

All 24-hour runners know that if one wants to achieve not just a good distance, but a great distance, the 100-mile mark is just a stepping stone, and now the foundations have been laid, one just has to summon up that hidden will to keep up that steady, relentless, effort for a few more hours. All the time, you are just dealing with all manner of thoughts and feelings that are trying to pierce your concentration, and convince you to ease back or take a short break. Taking a short break is the last thing on these three ladies' minds - they have all come into the race with their own personal goals, and slowly, lap by lap, they are edging closer to them.

Slowly the first signs of dawn appear, with chinks of light appearing in the sky beyond the glow of the track lights. There is a distinct autumnal chill in the air, at this early hour. With dawn, as always, comes hope, or in the runners case, the knowledge that the race end is in sight and achievable, albeit a few hours away still.

As the day gets brighter, some runners who have left the track for short breaks, start reappearing. For our leading 3 runners, there is no let up. Ross is checking how close she is to 200 km, (124.5 miles) and when I tell her she is getting close, and, but for some unforeseen imminent disaster, is sure to break Sharon Laws existing Scottish 200 km mark, she looks as if she doesn't quite believe me at first, but reassured, seems to renew her focus.

The 200 km mark is duly reached in 20 hours 28 minutes and 40 seconds, 18 minutes inside the old mark. That time was also set in a 24-hour race where Law went on to set the existing Scottish 24-hour record. Ross now has to refocus and set her sights on another 16 miles ahead to achieve that. She now has something else to occupy her thoughts though, for slowly, Wykes has been gaining ground and is just over 20 minutes behind. 20 minutes seems a good enough cushion, but any thoughts from Ross of "just cruising" through the last 3 hours, have also to be dealt with, and readjusted.

Wykes has her own goal in mind, and has come into the race with the aim of surpassing the GB 24-hour qualifying standard of 210 km. She reaches 200 km in 20:53:08 and seems quite emotional to realise she has 3 hours to cover 10km. I calmly tell her it is a 24-hour race and just to try and concentrate on 3 hours more running, as it now obvious to those watching, that Ross and Wykes, along with Heffron, are all feeding off each other, and if they can indeed keep their momentum going are all destined to not only reach their pre-race goals but surpass them considerably. All three of them still look remarkably focused although the first glimpses of fatigue are now showing.

With 2 hours to go, Ross is just short of 133 miles (214 km or 535 laps) 5 laps short of her 2013 distance, and a new PB beckons. Wykes is 9 laps behind with 130.75 miles (210.4 km) and has achieved her goal of reaching the GB team standard. Heffron, now certainly feeling the effects of 20 hours on a track at 196 km, is closing in on 200 km. With the understanding that a 24-hour race is all about distance over time, they all know that they can push their mileage up some way, in those last 2 hours.

In the penultimate hour, when many of the competitors are now reduced to a walk or a shuffle, Wykes covers 24 laps, just under 10 km, to reach 136.7 miles. Ross, determined not to let her advantage get any smaller, manages 25 laps to total 139.1 miles, and looks like victory is secure - both of them now certain to go beyond the 140 mile barrier, a distance only achieved by 9 British women. Heffron has gone through 200 km (22:27:30) and is also closing down on 210 km.

With the clock showing 23 hours and 15 minutes, Ross starts lap number 565. It is on this lap that she will surpass her good friend Sharon Law's current Scottish 24-hour record of 226.1 km.She would probably like to stop and celebrate, but that will have to wait, as the nature of a 24-hour event is that the new record is now ever-evolving with each lap Ross covers. Wykes, like many of the other runners, seems galvanized that there is now under an hour to go and looks the stronger of the two. Indeed she is actually lapping the track faster than anyone.

Heffron achieves her goal of 210 km with 20 minutes remaining, but getting the drift of what this "24 hour stuff" is all about, is showing a steely determination to run right to the hooter at noon.
When the hooter goes at the end of a 24-hour event, there is a sense of total relief that you can now actually switch off, and stop pushing yourself. For hour after hour, all the runners in their own way have had to summon up something almost beyond physical capacity, as they strive to achieve their respective goals. It is no different on this occasion.

A very tired Ross, who was running her second 24-hour event, and earlier this summer won the 95-mile West Highland Way race, commented afterwards:

"That was the hardest race I have run yet, I knew Izzy was closing on me slowly in the last few hours, so I couldn't afford to let up at all, but it probably helped both of us to achieve the final distances we did. I had hoped going into the race that if all went well I could get close to Sharon's record, but you never know how these races will evolve. I am absolutely shattered, but very very happy. I am so happy for Izzy, she ran such a strong race. I also realized just how important a good support crew is. Karen (GB 24 hour international Karen Hathaway)was just outstanding and I was so grateful for all her experience."

Wykes (36) was running her first 24-hour event after winning the 145-mile Grand Union Canal race from Birmingham to London earlier this year:

"It hasn't really sunk in yet, I am absolutely thrilled. My goal was to try and achieve the GB team qualifying distance for the World 24-hour champs next year 210 km (131 miles), but just didn't expect I could run over 140 miles."

Noanie Heffron, who was actually nursing a minor calf issue throughout, said:

"I ran the Glenmore trail 24-hour last year, at Aviemore, and really enjoyed that. (She covered 203 km). I wanted to see what I could do on an accurately certified course, and am thrilled to reach the GB Team Standard. Whether it will get me in the team, I don't know, there are several other girls with the standard too."

For our three exceptional ladies, who have all achieved something beyond their original expectations, it will be a day or two before the true reality of what they have done, sinks in.

Ross and Wykes' distances are indeed exceptional. As well as putting Ross as #1 in the Scottish all time rankings, it puts her 5th all time on the GB 24-hour lists, and Wykes into 6th place. In perspective, only 4 of GB's outstanding ultra runners of recent years - Emily Gelder, Hilary Walker, Eleanor Robinson and Lizzy Hawker - have run further in 24 hours. Good company to be in indeed. Heffron too, is now in the GB all time top 20.

What is also exceptional too, is these three ladies, are all so very down to earth: absolutely set on bringing the best out of themselves and each other, but always just totally enjoying their running.

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  • MahasatyaSeptember 27, 2014 at 8:44am
    Hi Shankara,

    Thank you for letting me take part in this incredible event.

    At the beginning of this year if somebody would told me that I am going to run 24 Hour Race in September. I would probably laugh.
    It was a fun to experience this race from a different perspective, as a runner, not helper this time. And I must say Sri Chinmoy Races are the best you can get.
    Having such cheerful, enthusiastic and encouraging helpers really helps to get through the rough time. Also for me it was a great privilege to run with such outstanding runners.

    This was a wonderful experience, despite of my shin bothering me for the last 10 hours.
    Pure Inspiration!!!

    Many Thanks to All

    Mahasatya Reply
    • Shankara SmithSeptember 27, 2014 at 12:24pm
      Hi Mahasatya,

      It was a joy to see you on the track rather than in the counting tent :-) Though we did miss you there! Well done.

      Shankara Reply
  • Brian AnkersSeptember 26, 2014 at 10:29pm
    Hi Shankara. To echo my fellow participants comments I would like to congratulate you and pulling off such an amazing event. Professionalism at the highest standard. I never got a chance to thank my lap counters whose names i couldnt pronounce (tedjvar. Anna.. emma?) But at that stage i could barely remember my own name. A massive learning experience on my first 24 hr. Im still in awe at the top 3 girls. Amazing stuff. Will i be back? Most likely. Big Irish hello to Hugh and Mike. Reply
    • Shankara SmithSeptember 27, 2014 at 12:24pm
      Hi Brian,

      Some of our names are a challenge even when you're not sleep deprived and aching all over! Tejvan and Amaravati were your counters. Congratulations on a very good first 24 hr and we hope to see you back at Tooting in future years.

      Shankara Reply
  • Dave RichardsSeptember 26, 2014 at 7:36pm

    I wanted to say thank you to you and all your team for such an amazing event you put on. It was a pleasure to take part in the race. You and your teams relaxed and cheerful manner helped so many achieve so much on the day, that will live long in my memory and will be a life enhancing experience.

    Thanks again
    Dave Reply
    • Shankara SmithSeptember 27, 2014 at 12:25pm
      Hi Dave,

      Thanks for the kind words, it's a thrill for us to witness the courageous efforts of all the competitors.

      Shankara Reply
  • Max NewtonSeptember 26, 2014 at 1:26pm
    Hi Shankara (and everyone)

    This was my first track ultra and I loved it, despite really suffering with ankles/shins the last 5 hours. I'm still suffereing with cankles, but hopefuly will go down soon. At 7am I was thinking I'm never doing this again, but now I'm 120+ miles next time....?

    I echo everything everyone says here - thanks to all the organisers, lap counters and everyone.

    Thanks for letting me take part - it's allowed me to raise over £3000 for the work of the British Red Cross, which is brilliant.

    x Reply
    • Shankara SmithSeptember 27, 2014 at 12:24pm
      Hi Max,

      You have to do another one! You did so well but will have learnt so much from the experience that you'll certainly be able to improve next time - just have to get some rest and recovery in first!
      Congratulations on raising so much money for the British Red Cross :-)

      Shankara Reply
  • Bob JackSeptember 26, 2014 at 10:41am
    Dear Shankara and team,

    Thank you for organising the best running event of the year (I know I was supposed to run all of it but..). It was great to see everyone again. As always, the food stall volunteers were my saviours.

    Special thanks to my lap counters who kept me going especially the guy in the hat who yelled so loud everytime I came past at 4 or 5am. He was inspirational.

    It was a privelage to take part in an event with such a good field, but the important thing is that your crew made everyone feel important and helped them however they could no matter their ability.

    That is what makes the event so special.

    I take my shorts, sorry, hat off to you all.

    I'd love to give it another go once the blisters have healed.

    All the best.

    Bob Jack Reply
  • sally hewittSeptember 26, 2014 at 9:54am
    Hi Shankara

    A huge thank you and your team for a fabulous event. This was my first time at a track event and everyone was so supportive and cheerful even in the rain on Saturday night! The organization was fantastic, I certainly wouldn't have managed without the incredible lap counters - a huge thank you to them

    It was truly an amazing experience to run and meet some outstanding people.
    At the end I did say never again, but after a weeks rest my mind is thinking maybe !
    Once again thank you for a great event

    Many Thanks
    Sally Hewitt Reply
  • Rich KimmensSeptember 26, 2014 at 9:53am
    Thank you to everyone involved in the organisation of the event, I had an amazing time and really enjoyed myself, it would not be possible without all of you! Reply
  • RupertSeptember 25, 2014 at 3:28pm
    Hi Shankara,

    Just wanted to say a big thank you to you all for organising the race, and a special thanks to all the support crew and the lap counters. Everyone was amazing.

    I was feeling too ill to attend the award ceremony at the end unfortunately, and am now on crutches (hopefully not for long!).

    The lasses who came 1,2 & 3 were a real inspiration. They were so strong, absolutely amazing.

    Anyway, once again. Massive thanks

    Rupert Reply
  • IsobelSeptember 25, 2014 at 3:27pm
    Hi Shankara,

    Just wanted to say a MASSIVE thank you to you and your incredible team for putting on such a great event. I have never done a track race before and so it was all new to me and I was just amazed at the dedication and support you and your team were showing. From the tea man, to the lap counters to the wonderful 'grape lady' they were all just fantastic. Thank you.
    Very best wishes

    Isobel x Reply
  • SimonSeptember 25, 2014 at 3:27pm
    Hi Shankara,

    I want to say thank you for a wonderful event at Tooting over the weekend and for all the hard work done by you and your team. You were all so enthusiastic, helpful, mega-smiley (never a bad thing!) and the organisation was second-to-none. Please pass on my gratitude and congratulations for a job well done to all your colleagues, (lap counters, aid station assistants, helpers, et al.) well done all of you! Everything went like clockwork and your professionalism makes a huge difference to those of us out on the track, we use the positivity!

    Hope to see you again next year.

    Many thanks again,
    Simon Reply
  • ShonaSeptember 25, 2014 at 3:27pm
    Hi Shankara

    Another amazing race delivered by you wonderful people. My brother came with me last year and raved so much about it that my husband and two boys came this year and supported me too which was wonderful. They could not believe the amount of effort involved and all the amazing volunteers. We all loved the atmosphere, the food, the astounding participants and above all the friendly support which kept going for 24 hours!!!!

    Special thanks to your physio team. I am sure I am not alone in having found them lifesavers. They taped me up enough to keep me going. I had an unexpected op in June, cleared to run from mid July and crammed in as much training afterwards as possible - too much, too soon and hurt my shins. I eased off a bit and they had started feeling better but came back with knee pain too on the night and I was so disappointed not to get up to 100 miles - but in the circumstances it was not that surprising. I hobbled round and still packed in a fair old number of miles. Will I be able to come next year? Please say yes!

    I could not believe the women. Wow, top three! How inspriring!

    Also, the counters were amazing. I even had tips about my shoes (which are apparently totally wrong for the job - which the physio pointed out too!) in the shower room from one of them afterwards (sorry I cannot remember her name) and she told me you have a shop in London. I must visit. I need the right shoes or my poor body will hate me!

    Many thanks to you all once again,

    Shona Reply
  • JeremySeptember 25, 2014 at 3:26pm
    Hi Shankara,

    I just wanted to thank you and all the helpers for such a great race.
    Everyone kept on smiling even though the night and nothing was too much trouble.
    They were all very kind and I appreciate the help they gave me in hobbling to 88 miles.

    I'm sorry I couldn't do such a fantastic race justice by cracking 100 but, thanks to the
    tea, melon (which was fantastic), grapes and soup, I managed a pb.

    Great people, and a great event. What more could I ask for?

    Many Thanks
    Jeremy Reply
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