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A Round trip to Barcelona with Vicky Hart

16/12/2012

In December 2012, Vicky Hart took part in the Barcelona 24 hour track race. The following article was written by Vicky about the event and was published in issue 4 of the e-magazine 'Ultra-Tales' in January 2013...

A Round trip to Barcelona – the Barcelona 24 Hour Track Race.. by Vicky Hart.

A few months before I 'fell' pregnant, I ran the Tooting Bec 24 Hour Track Race. I ran a lot better than I expected. I put it down to two things - my West Highland Way training and stubbornness. It wasn't the perfect race however, a lot of things went wrong, from pretty early on; so even before I had finished at Tooting I knew I was going to run another one. Unfortunately 24 Hour races are not exactly ten a penny so I had to look abroad: France beckoned, entry sent. Then fate intervened, and along came Annabel. Despite the wreck that pregnancy and childbirth left my body in I was determined I would venture back into the world of 24 hour races. So I entered Tooting again. I didn't know how I was going to fit in the training and at the time could barely run a mile but the mission was set. Fast forward to September and once again fate intervened. The Hart family had been floored by a nasty stomach bug so there was no trip down to London. Perhaps it was a sign I should have taken more note of. Another race was found and plans were set in motion to head to Barcelona in the middle of December, a last gasp attempt to get one done before my first year of post-baby running was over.

Barcelona 24 Hour Track Race

On Saturday 15th and Sunday 16th I took part in the Barcelona 24 Hour Track Race. The 24 hour race is the flagship event of the two-day running festival that takes place each December. This year was the 9th successful hosting of the event and there was a great buzz of excitement leading up to the festival with some of the world’s premiere ultra-runners on the entry lists for the various races to be held over the weekend. Top billing went to Brit Lizzy in at the deep end though as it was the first time he had ever been to any race, of any length! (I maybe should have broken him in with something a bit shorter!)

The race started at 12 noon on Saturday 15th and the basic concept is to run as far as you can around laps of the athletic track until the final horn sounds at 12noon on Sunday 16th December. The distance is recorded by special electronic chips worn on the runner’s shoes which record every lap that is run and the winner is the person who has run the furthest at the end of the 24 hours. To break up the monotony a little, the race changes direction every 3 hours. The 12 hour and the 24 hour races took place on the 3 outside lanes of the track, whilst the relay and all the shorter races took place on the inside lanes.

Often in these types of races runners set off too fast and suffer for it later on when their legs are too tired to keep going. I was aware of this so set off at a deliberately steady pace with a specific target for the first 6 hours. Because of this I found myself being lapped regularly by other runners but knew I just had to be patient and run my own race. This paid off in the 2nd 6 hours as I became aware that I was gradually starting to pass people who had been lapping me earlier. I felt strong and was running comfortably.  After 3 hours I started taking a 1 lap walk break every 30 minutes to refresh my legs. This was when I would take on my food and drink. There is a danger in a track race that you can eat and drink too much as the opportunity is always there, so I made a decision pre-race to make sure I only took on a small amount of food and fluid each half hour. At Tooting I had started being sick after only 6 hours so this was a concern, but everything felt fine at 6 hours and the plan seemed to be working.

I felt like maybe this was going to be a good race for me. At 12 hours I was pretty much bang on my target with 106km. I had had some blister issues at 9 hours but soon got those sorted. I made a quick phone call home at 11pm during my walk break (10pm UK time) just to let Paul know I was doing ok as I knew he would be worrying about me.

All 24 Hour Race runners were also given an official classification for the first 12 hours of the race as well as their final 24 hour result. My official 12 Hour classification of 106.115km would have given me 5th place overall in the 12 hour race so that is pretty pleasing.  I was on target at half way.

Before the race I had said there were only four things that could go wrong - my legs, my head, my bowels or my feet. I could cope with one or two of these going, but if all four went then I would be up the proverbial creek.

Well, the feet tried, but failed to stop me. My legs were doing ok, and my head was in a good place; so that leaves my bowels. Gory part alert!! The trouble started at 2am (14 hours into the race). My stomach was starting to go and my bowels were churning away. Not unusual for an ultra as you'll know. However, I have had painful medical issues since Annabel was born and these had weighed heavy on my mind before the race, and made me question how sensible it was for me to be running ‘long’ ultras so soon after a difficult pregnancy and childbirth with complications. Thirty or forty miles is one thing, but aiming for one hundred plus is quite another.  Was I putting my health in danger in pursuit of such an extreme quest? I did write a detailed paragraph of my medical issue but then decided it really was far too much information and deleted it. All I will say is that it involved a lot of blood. It really unsettled me and I did consider pulling out of the race, but I have worked so hard this year and made so many sacrifices that I couldn't just walk away. I had to get something from this race to make to make it all worthwhile. At the very least I had to come away with a PB. My head, my legs and feet could have run but my insides could not. So I marched. I marched with purpose. I had 10 hours left and I had to make every minute count. I was disappointed that I wasn't going to achieve my A or B targets but I had to keep my head together and whilst I still had strength in my legs I wasn't giving up on my C target of a PB.

The same stubbornness that saw me through 100 miles at Tooting Bec got me through the final miles at Barcelona. When dawn broke with only a few hours left in the race I knew I would achieve my target so I was able to ‘enjoy’ the final hours and soak up the fantastic early morning atmosphere. I reached my PB with an hour to go. With no chance of reaching my other targets I made sure I made the most of the time left (thanks to Richard Brown making sure I didn't just stop) and I took my camera round the track getting some 'action' photos. Mind you, the action was pretty slow by that time ha ha! I cheered on the other runners. I regarded with great admiration the GB train of John Pares, Matt Moroz and Robbie Britton. (see Matt's blog for a great account of the train). I walked and jogged round with my marker and my Saltire.

When the final horn was sounded we all dropped our markers which would indicate our final distances. Huge cheers and applause broke out around the stadium and we all congratulated and hugged each other. We were all exhausted and in varying amounts of pain, but we all shared a special bond at having gone through such a gruelling experience together.  There is a special bond between runners of a track ultra. It doesn’t matter what level you are at, you are all in it together, literally. Nine-minute milers are running alongside fifteen-minute milers for the entire race.  All the ups and all the downs are shared with everybody. The scenery may not be up to much but the atmosphere and the support from fellow runners cannot be beaten. 

In the end I was relieved to have run a new PB, recording a distance of 164.125km (101.98miles) which is 2.312km further than I ran at Tooting Bec. I have to be honest though, I was really surprised and pleased to discover I had finished so far up the field being 5th lady and 34th overall out of 91 runners.

It was a memorable event for me, for good reasons and bad reasons. Not many people can say they have run over 100 miles, and even fewer can say they have done it 13 months after giving birth. That is something I can always be proud of and is a story I can tell my daughter Annabel when she is older.

A big thank you goes to my brother for being a great support crew at his first ever race no less! Well done to everyone who took part and to the race organisers for such a fantastic event.  I met some wonderful people at the race. The Brits did amazingly well. Well done to Izzy on her 12 Hour race win, to Helen Taranowski on her 6 Hour race win (and new GB record!), to Matt on his 3rd place, Robbie on his 4th place, to John on his 6th place and to Garfield on his 45th place.

Vicky

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