Updated: Mar 5, 2021
What can I say about 2020? It certainly wasn’t the year I was expecting, and I think everyone can relate to that in their own way. For me 2020 was going to be an important year in my mission to complete an Ironman. I had a series of triathlons and fell races lined up which would culminate in The ROC in September. A triathlon which begins with a 1500m sea swim, followed by a 30 mile ride to the base of Snowdon, a (probably not so) quick run up and down Snowden, only to jump back on the bike to return to the beach for a 1km dash across the sand for the finish.
With all these events cancelled I had to look a little closer to home for my inspiration.
I enjoy challenging myself and trying to find out where my limits are. Primarily because they are often a lot further away than I thought they would be. So having watched Beau Miles’ A Mile An Hour on Youtube, I was intrigued to see if that was something I was capable of. In all honesty I didn’t think it would be. But the logistics of it worked well around various lockdown restrictions and if it all went to pot I would never be more than a mile away from home. So what’s the harm in trying? The most daunting thing for me was that I had told people I was doing this challenge and didn’t think I could face telling them I hadn’t completed it. Which in my mind was a very real possibility.
I was expecting it to be physically challenging. I had never run a full marathon before and wasn’t even sure I could stay awake for twenty-four hours. What I wasn’t expecting was it to be a journey of discovery. So here are twenty-four things I learned from running one mile every hour, for twenty-four hours. Some a funny, some are a philosophical ramble, and some just don’t make any sense at all.
ONE: Street signs are solid objects
It’s 1am and I am only on my second run of the challenge. I should have been feeling fresh and alert this early on. Although I had been up since 6am the previous day, I had managed a few cat naps and was raring to go. Then a street sign came along and slapped me right back down to earth. Figuratively and literally. In a momentary lapse of concentration I had not made the correct judgement on how much I needed to lean to the left to miss the sign. Before I know it I’m taking a blow to the shoulder and a blow to my confidence. If I’m making these lapses of judgement only two hours into a twenty-four-hour challenge what was going to happen in my fifteenth, twentieth, or twenty-third hour?
TWO: Don’t underestimate the power of a fresh pair of socks
This one is self-explanatory. I changed my socks a few times over the course of the challenge and I had underestimated the psychological boost that a fresh pair of socks would give me. Fresh feet, fresh mind!
THREE: As long as you can comfortably run 1 mile, it’s a mental challenge, not a physical challenge
In the run up this this challenge the furthest I had run was a half marathon. So although it would be broken into very small chunks, I felt nervous about the prospect of running a whole marathon. I absolutely didn’t need to be. Even after twenty-six miles I still felt physically fresh. The challenge was in the mental strength needed to get up and run again every hour, knowing that you’ve never quite enough time in between to relax, eat and sleep.
FOUR: One hour is not quite enough time for me to recover from a one mile run
Although I still felt physically fresh on my final run, very gradually throughout the day I was starting to notice signs of tiring. I certainly could have gone further, but the lack of time to completely recover would have caught up with me eventually.
FIVE: Strength is not the immunity from suffering, it is the ability to carry on despite it
When people have told me I am strong, I have always been a little confused. How can I be strong if I feel fear every time I take that first step out of my front door, every time I feel the initial buzz of my phone ringing, like the breaking of surface tension, every time something doesn’t go exactly as I had meticulously planned it would?
It wasn’t until I was several miles into this challenge, and I had started to understand that it would test me mentally rather than physically, that I began to understand that strength is not the immunity from suffering, but the ability to carry on despite it. I may feel fear in stepping out of my front door, but I do it anyway. My phone ringing may send rivers of anxiety gushing through my veins, but I don’t put it on silent. Most often things do not go as I planned, but I take the diversion and carry on. Finding this challenge hard did not make me weak and finding it easy would not have made me strong. Strength is finding something impossibly hard, but doing it anyway. Even if that is just opening your eyes to face another day.
SIX: Endurance is one hell of a rollercoaster
At precisely the halfway point of the challenge I crashed and crashed
hard. Within the space of 15 minutes my energy levels plummeted. Returning from my run I was pale and washed out. Panic set in, which intensified the crash and I was left wondering how the hell I would last another twelve hours.
How was I going to rectify this? FOOD!
I thought I had been eating enough, but apparently not. I dedicated the remainder of that hour to filling my body with carbs, and an hour later I felt great. This is the point at which I learned that the key to endurance is fuel. I also learned that although you’ve reached a dip, you can climb out of the other side. It’s not game end.
SEVEN: Having to wee every ninety minutes is quite inconvenient
I know I don’t drink enough. But I also know the effect that not drinking enough has on my ability to run. So when embarking on this challenge I was adamant that I would keep myself hydrated, especially as it was forecast to be a warm day. There’s only one problem with that. It meant I need to wee at least every ninety minutes. So on top of running a mile, trying to get little bits of sleep, and keeping myself fuelled every hour, I also had to throw going to the toilet into the mix. You wouldn’t think that this would be too much of a chore. BUT. This was in the times of COVID and as I had made the back garden of my wonderfully supportive friends Kat and Steve the base for my challenge, every time I needed a wee I had to go home (a half kilometre round trip). I’ll let you calculate how many miles that may have added to my distance for the day.
EIGHT: When you plan your food, prepare to be flexible
I had meticulously planned out what I was going to eat during this challenge and had it all ready to go. What I was not expecting was my friends to decided to have a barbeque which resulted in an extra trip home to grab a veggie burger. I really am collecting those extra miles!
NINE: 2.5 hours sleep in 43.5 hours is enough
Coming into this challenge I was expecting the hardest bit to be the sleep deprivation. I have always seen myself as someone who does not operate well without eight hours sleep every night. I was wrong. The day before the challenge I was awake at 6am, probably a mixture of excitement and anticipation. The plan was that I would attempt to nap in the afternoon and go to bed around 9pm to get a few hours of sleep before starting the challenge at midnight. I also tried to get my head down a couple of times throughout the challenge in between runs. This wasn’t as successful as I had hoped and I calculated that from 6am the day before starting the challenge and 1.30am two days later (when I had finished the challenge and final made it to bed), I had only had 2.5 hours of sleep. The amazing thing was I didn’t feel half as tired as I had expected to be and learnt that when needed we can get by on very little sleep.
TEN: Even when you don’t think you want it, having company is better
Although I was actively seeking company on my runs, primarily to break up the monotony and help me feel a little safer during the night, I was also looking forward to the runs I would be doing on my own. Those people who know me will know I am not a social butterfly and often do all I can to avoid social situations. However, it was the runs which I did on my own which I found the hardest. Being left with only my own thoughts allowed the reality of what I was doing and the self-doubt to creep in. A mile can feel like a long way when the only company is your mind telling you that you will be still running that same mile twelve hours later.
ELEVEN: When you think you’re not going to make it, you can go more than double the distance you already have
After my energy crash I was still going 12 hours later. My cycling and running friends will know this as bonking. This was the day that I found out a bonk was reversible.
TWELVE: People actually choose to go for a run at 2am?!
Yep on my 2am run there was someone else out for a run and they were not in my entourage.
THIRTEEN: You don’t notice something through its absence, but its arrival
The irony of this one is that I don’t remember what was absent?
FOURTEEN: Pretzels go soft when kept next to dried apricots
FIFTEEN: You don’t need to be asleep to start having dreams
This was a weird one. In the couple of times that I tried to get a little sleep between runs I would have vivid dreams. But I also knew I was awake and was aware of being in my bed.
SIXTEEN: The body clock is amazing
I think everyone has probably experienced the phenomenon of setting and early alarm and waking up naturally ten minutes before the alarm goes off. I set various alarms throughout the challenge to wake me up on time to start it or to make sure I didn’t oversleep on a nap. But I didn’t need a single one of them.
SEVENTEEN: Having someone wait on you hand and foot makes you feel very guilty
Kat was truly brilliant throughout this challenge and I can’t thank her enough. Whether it was updating my social media so my mum could see that I wasn’t lying in a ditch somewhere (yes that’s happened before), keeping a tally of how many miles I had run, or simply making me porridge, I felt like I was being waited on hand and foot. Although I can think of many scenarios where I would love to be waited on hand and foot, I felt rather guilty about this particular one. So Kat, if you’re reading this, thank you. I’m not sure what I have done to deserve such an excellent friend.
EIGHTEEN: Think about what time you start a twenty four hour challenge
I completed my challenge over the summer solstice so purposely ran midnight to midnight. This was the reason that I only managed to get 2.5 hours sleep in 43.5 hours. In retrospect I think it would have been much easier if I had started the challenge early in the morning having actually had some sleep over night.
NINETEEN: Heart rate alarms only work when something is reading your heart rate
I had set a heart rate alarm on my watch to make sure that I was keeping a low heart rate in all my runs. I was about quarter of the way through when I realised that the sensor on my watch had stopped working. This wasn’t too much of a problem as I had a good idea of what pace I needed to be running at.
TWENTY: I wanted to carry on to find my limit
When I got to the end of my twenty-fourth run, which was straight up the steepest path to the top of the Chevin (660ft of ascent in 1 mile), I still felt like I had a lot more in the tank. I was very tempted to carry on to find out where my limit was.
TWENTY-ONE: Spiders rule when humans aren’t about
On my final run (or brisk walk) up to the top of the Chevin I had to make my way up a narrow footpath with overgrown bushes either side. Having never had this issue before, I quickly discovered that during the night hundreds of spiders spin their webs between the bushes on either side, creating a curtain of cobwebs. Kat was adamant that I would lead the way up the Chevin so that I could finish my challenge in style. So I took every single one of those cobwebs in my face and probably woke half of Otley with my squeals and curses.
TWENTY-TWO: Don’t take a maths test when you’re sleep deprived
Although I wasn’t feeling the physical effects of having very little sleep, my mental capacity certainly suffered. The further through the challenge I was, the harder I was finding it to figure out how many miles I had run and how many I had left. It gets a little complicated when you’re trying to do an additional 2.2 miles spread throughout twenty-four runs.
TWENTY-THREE: The mystery mile
Although Kat and myself were trying to keep track of the miles, when I set out for my final mile I looked down at my watch and discovered that I had already run 26.2 miles. Somehow I had done an additional mile.
TWENTY-FOUR: What I didn’t learn. How much longer could I have gone for?