Sunday, 29 April 2012

So what is a 12 hour?

Many moons ago, Valerie aka RomfordRunner, was going to do Crawley 12 hour before her shoulder fell off and I was excited to offer services as a lap counter. I really had no idea what I was getting myself into, but Valerie, if you will do it next year, count me in! To count, no way am I running.

As it turned out, Eric was running it, so I still knew someone in the field and turned up for a look see. It was a cold wet day in Crawley, I'd already got off at the wrong station (Horley) and when I got there, I really didn't know what to do! Most people were lap counting and there was a group standing up of people who knew Eric so I chose to hang with them. It turned out to be a few of his run club mates and his mum, an ultra runner called Allan and runner Ann Bradshaw's sister. They were a good bunch, really funny, pisstaking and experienced. You really need the right people around you if you're going to be cold and standing around for hours. My appearance meant lapcounters could take loo breaks and do stuff so I soon found myself occasionally taking a clipboard and nervously noting the lap times as people rounded the 400m track. Runners tended to nod as they went past you to check that their lap had been recorded. Essentially as a lap counter, you're noting the time on the clock as they pass the start line and then calculating the time it took them to do a lap. Yes maths. Ugh. Also if you have a regular person you're counting for, you can let them know how many laps / kms / miles they are up to. I helped out with a bit of counting, it's quite good fun looking out for your runner and giving them a nod, or seeing that some runners have to call out to their lap counter to wake them from a hypnotic daze!

Turns out that Allan is a proper ultra runner and many time Spartathlon attempter so I picked his brains about Davos and other good runs. It never ceases to amaze me that people like Allan and the competitors look so normal but are actually the kind of people that will break down their kidneys, risk dehydration and hallucinate running distances some of us wouldn't cover by public transport. And smile their way through it.

The Crawley 12 hour is run by a woman who would be described by the unknowing as a little middle aged suburban lady. Pam Storey is an ultrarunner who raises money for charity. She holds the 12 hour annually at the fab facilities at Crawley's K2 Leisure Centre in a low key way, staffed by volunteers brimming with clipboards and haribo. The race also has a 6 hour option which starts at 10am - giving the 12 hour runners some company on their 7 till 7 stint.

Not a lot happens on a 12 hour race. I missed the excitement of  a crow eating an energy gel but was there for the drama of clock turning over at 10 hours - that really was exciting and the number "one" sign being stuck up to remind people they had been there for more than 10 hours - like that was needed! I survived the collapse of two marquees with bits of metal veering towards my head.

As the number of lap counters dwindled I found I had a proper job looking after Robert Woodward, a man who, truth be told, looked a bit like he had no idea why he'd taken up this bet to run this in the first place. I first noticed him when he had friends / family running and walking the track with him or when he was on the phone. Despite this - or maybe because of this - it was hard for his lap counter to track him and she kept having to be told by him to record the time. So when it was my time to take over I tried to be a bit serious about it. I got caught out a few times (confirming the theory that if you walk a lap, your lap counter's mind is going to wander off) but then really put my VLM cheering skills to the test, making sure Robert got a massive wave, smile, cheeky comment, and lap / mileage update as he went through. He was joined by a friend who ran between him and me relaying comments. The armchair critic in me is going to say this as I doubt he'll ever stumble on this blog - but Robert could have cracked 50 miles if he wanted to. In fact if his friend, Allan and myself caught up earlier, we could have come up with a strategy to break the resignation in his mind. You can actually see in people's posture when they don't quite know what their mission is. Compared to Andrew, who Allan was counting, who was power walking the whole race, he covered more laps / miles and had a resolute spirit to the end.

As it was, we wanted Robert to get to 49 miles which involved some maths on my part and something which I am better at, some shouting. And shout I did. His wife called up, and we shouted down the phone at her. We shouted till his times got better and better, under 3 minutes, 2:59, 2:49, 2:46 - shouted so much his final lap was 1:46 and he made it by the skin of his teeth. Where other people bent over when the horn blew, Robert lay on the floor until he had to convince the ambulance staff he was ok! Once he'd done all his celebrating and groaning he even had enough strength to run over and give me a thank you hug. Aw you have to love running!

I was really impressed by everyone on the track - from Ann who looked doubled over with pain, Andrew who walked it all, the winner who had massive muscly legs and was apparently going to run a marathon the next day, the man who shouted like the Major in Fawlty Towers as he went past the start line "what's my lap", the French man who looked like he was on another planet, the man who turned down a coffee till it had sugar in it, and Robert who probably still isn't sure why he did it and why he listened to some woman shouting - all the loveliness and eccentricities made it worth four hours standing in the cold and four hours of bloody commute. I mean I might as well run the six hours next time... now there's a thought!

1 comment:

  1. Love the post Rowena which confirms somewhere in this crazy runners' mind that I should do a 6hr event in August organised by our local running club. Yep, must be crazy! John x