Sunday, 29 April 2012

Watching the pros

"This is 29 Acacia Rd... And this is Eric, the schoolboy who leads an exciting double life. For when Eric eats a banana, an amazing transformation occurs"

As the twitterati will know, yesterday I went to watch the Crawley 12 hour. It was great fun - which I will do a separate post about - because I found a great way to give back to running and meet people. But it was also quite magnificent in that I felt like the ultra running community was seeing something pretty damn cool, and at the risk of making him cringe, that was watching Eriç run yesterday. 

I turned up at 3pm - Eriç had been running for eight hours by then and had covered the second most number of laps of a 400m track. He looked pretty fresh, maybe a bit cold, but cognisant enough that someone new had turned up to join his posse of supporters and even good enough spirits to laugh at us when we called out "nearly there mate, nearly there". 

His running style was really efficient, his legs appeared automated, identical gait, rhythm as the hours wore on; his arms didn't move much which at least made him look cold and he managed a small nod with every lap as we called out to him. 

He came in for a fuel stop and it was amazing to watch that you could stop, grab something to eat, stretch a bit and then keep going. I would have come undone at the stop point! At his next fuel point I wandered over to get a look at his face to see how far gone he was... I just couldn't fathom how you'd feel after so much running. He raised his arms up in a "I don't know" gesture as I said he made it look so easy. 

As the clock ticked to ten hours, we noticed other runners dropping their lap times. Eriç's times did drop, but continued to be very consistent. About this time, some of his Club team mates had to leave, the weather had got worse, the wind had blown two marquees down, the leaderboard had come crashing onto the track and the rain was persistent. It was quite frankly grim. The track was benefiting from a real blast of wind through one straight, you could see the rain dripping off people's caps, clothes and noses. 

Eriç came in for a fuel stop when we were sheltering in the catering tent. His mum, chief lap counter, myself and ultrarunner Allan were there. Eriç was soaked, his hands looked raw and he had an hour to go. He grappled round his bag for fuel. None of us could say a word. All I could think about was his mum; my mother constantly tells me how hard it is to see me go through pain when she can't do anything. I could imagine how hard this must have been for her. It was really emotional; the air was loaded with everything we wanted to say and everything that could not be said. I don't think any of us breathed until he went  back on the track. 

I'm going to tell the truth and say I didn't notice if there was a kick from Eriç in the 45 mins as the weather got so bad his mum went into the stands, and I was lap counting for a guy who needed every bit of support I could give. 

When the horn blew for the 12th hour all the runners stopped where they were and put a stick in the ground so their distance could be measured. Eriç stopped right on the other side of the track alongside the runner who had covered the most distance. Like obstinate petanque players, the two of them stood their ground chatting until a marshall came to measure their spot. After 76.19 miles, Eriç returned to the tent, massive hug for mum, enough presence of mind to thank me for coming (I was so cold I barely knew who I was!) and even started a conversation about how doing Monday's Asics runclub helped him run after a weekend's racing. It was surreal. 

Eriç is only 22 (and therefore not even old enough to appreciate my Bananaman reference!), and he's only been running three years. I don't think he's been massively coached or nurtured by any ultra running specialists. Even Allan, who I hope won't mind me saying, has been around and seen a lot, was very impressed. You know when you think you've just seen something that is going to be the next big thing... I know ultra running doesn't have a culture for big stars (and we love it that way) but I feel very confident that we had just seen something pretty damn special. 

By the way, Eriç is not a mild mannered school boy, I don't even know if he likes bananas, and his name is actually not Eric but Eriç - but when he runs he is a bit of a superhero. 

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