The Six Hours Challenge

Yesterday I did the six hours Musik Legends Challenge. The idea: Run for six hours and try to do as many laps as you can. I was a little bit nervous, not quite knowing what I would get myself into. Pure boredom and uninspired running of 3.75 miles (6 km) loops in Northampton? Or would it be a great way to explore the terrain beyond marathon distance, not focussing on the number of miles (or km) but overall time and having every round a save base station to come back to? It turned out to be the great, despite the odds increasingly being in favour of dull.
shorne_woods_1On race day it was announced that due to last minute street closures, they had to change the course to 3.3 miles (5.3 km) and instead of loops we pretty much had to run up and down the same way along the busy A45, traffic noise and uninspiring views included. Initially it was said that the course is half tarmac, half trail, but now it was 10% trail and 90% tarmac. The trail bit was very nice though and marked the turning point of the route, something that later turned out to be rather motivational. And so we started. I didn’t have a game plan, as usual. I just worried how to survive six hours running with dignity and so I focussed from the beginning on a much slower pace, than I probably ever had started any race with before. Once the first “loop” (rather back and forward) was done, the shock of the missing trails, boring views and iritating street noise hit me. How often do I have to do this now? 10 times? 11? Maybe even 12!? Having been just over 30 minutes into it I found this rather hard to comprehend. And another observation sunk in: This event was called Music Legends Challenge and was dedicated to Prince. But what happened to the music? There was none. Zero. The only Prince related thing was that runners were encouraged to wear purple, so you had roughly half of the runners wearing this colour. Big deal. I started my second “loop”, still no being convinced that I would managed to endure this for 6 hours, especially having had a late night out with too many beers the night before. My legs felt heavy and somehow unready to face any challenge.
MusikLegendsChallenge-PrinceThe turning point came after “loop” four and its name was Paul. Paul was what I would call a seasoned marathon and ultra runner, but came across so down to earth that it took a while to realise this. He did the Grand Union Canal race this year (145miles!!) and had attempted an other race over 250 miles non-stop running where he literally dropped out early: He collapsed, was unconscious, stopped breathing and needed to be revived, which took 15 minutes. It turned out later that he must have caught a nasty bug on his holiday just before the race. Now four weeks later he was happily running this race, entertaining me with his unbelievable stories. “Loops” five and six passed by in a breeze and suddenly over 3 hours running were done. My spirits somehow got lifted. The whole back and forward running had something comforting. You saw the same nice runner faces over and over again, encouraging each other (“Looking strong”, “nice running mate”, “good job”). The tiny loop at the end, the trail bit, became a real booster which you started to look forward to. The street noise became something familiar and reoccurring and the base station a point of interim reward. And so I went on: “Loop” seven, eight (marathon distance, but still 1 hour and 45 minutes to go), nine. I did not think in pace or distance, I only checked my running watch for how much time was left. At the end of “loop” nine I got the feeling, that in theory I could finish twelve in total. The rules are that you can start any new lap under the 6 hours cut-off and then still finish it. It felt that I could finish my eleventh just in time to start the twelfth one. I still can’t explain why I did not get really tired or had to stop and walk. I just didn’t. I ran on and on and on. I knew with finishing the twelfth lap I would have done just under 40 miles (63 km), much more than I ever though I am capable of. But because I never counted miles it did not seem to be a biggy. Weird how the mind works sometimes. And it happened as I hoped: 5 hours 58 minutes into the race I finished lap eleven. Asking the officials if I could still go out for the last one, the answer was: “Of course, if you do it within the next 2 minutes.” And so I went out and finished the race with just under 39.5 miles (63.5 km) in about 6:33 hours (don’t have an official time yet). I was one of the last ones to arrive, most of the other runners were gone, but I rung the bell which indicated I broke my own distance record (my first ultra marathon) and I was given the biggest, heaviest medal I have ever seen. What a glorious finish to what turned out to be one of the best feel-good races I ever had. I am still puzzled what actually had happened here, but hope I will continue working on these ultra distances and continue to have fun with it. MusikLegends-Medal