Last weekend, 40 runners set off in near perfect conditions to circle the 400 metre track at the superb south London venue of Tooting Bec athletics track. Unlike a standard marathon or a 100km race where a fixed distance is covered in a certain time, in a 24 hour race the time is fixed and the distance covered, as laps are meticulously recorded, determines the end result. Mens pre race favourites were Chris Finill (Harrow) and Jim Rogers (East Hull) and it was these two who showed at the front after the race settled down. Rogers looked the more purposeful and relaxed in the first few hours and it was the Yorkshireman who reached the 50 mile mark first in 7hours 9mins 51secs from Finill (7.20.41).
Sharon Gaytor who had topped the woman’s UK 24 hour rankings for the last 11 years led from North Devon’s Vicky Skelton at this point by 10 minutes: 7.44.21 to 7.54.18. By 100km Rogers still led Finill by almost 8 minutes and Gaytor had increased her lead over Skelton to 13 minutes. Experienced observers know that this is still “Early Days” in a 24 hour race. Approaching the half way mark Rogers left the track to seek help from the physio’s for a hip problem. Gaytor also appeared to be moving less comfortably and Skelton maintaining her steady pace took the lead. Gaytor although starting comfortably was possibly feeling the effects of missing a lot of training in the summer due to injury, and shortly after the 12 hour mark sensibly retired from the race. Roger’s too although trying his best to keep on the track also retired about this time. This left Finill and Skelton as clear leaders and as the hours passed by they relentlessly kept churning out the laps, taking short walking breaks every so often to drink or have a small snack but never once leaving the track except for changing gear and the occasional “call of nature“.Both seemed focussed on pressing on ..and on.. and by the time they had reached 100miles Finill in 15.11.49 and Skelton in 16.55.05 their respective goals of surpassing their previous bests now looking distinctly possible.
Throughout the field runners were giving one last effort as the final minutes approached to beat respective goals. Chris Carver consolidated on his victory at Hull earlier in the summer and made the 140 mile mark to seal third position. Previous winner Ken Fancett showed remarkable consistency to just miss out on 220km and the tall long striding Swede, Stefan Lindvall added 10 km to his pb. Fellow Scandinavian and multi day specialist from Finland Ashprihanal Aalto astounded everyone by seemingly hurtling around the last hour. His experience of being five times winner of the remarkable 3,100mile self-transcendence race in New York obviously making 24 hours seem like a sprint! Right throughout the field Self-Transcendence was happening. 75 year old Geoff Oliver set new British age group records at 100miles and 24 hours. William Sichel completed 200km exactly one month after covering a similar distance in the Perth event and Fellow Scot Ritchie Cunningham also achieved the guideline qualification for the Scottish team for next years commonwealth ultra distance championship.
All in all a successful event with 21 runners surpassing the 100mile mark and an emotional prizegiving, as results are read out, and the enormity of what people have achieved throughout the field starts to slowly sink in. Chris Finill slightly, the worse for his endeavours, joins others in praising the organisation and along with his winners trophy, he is a fitting recipient of the trophy donated by THE ROAD RUNNERS CLUB in memory of our good friend Ongkar Tony Smith and presented by Ian Champion to the first RRC member in today’s race. Ongkar, who was the inspiration behind today’s event for many years, will be delighted and proud of the continued tradition that his daughter Shankara and the Sri Chinmoy Athletic club crew have continued since his passing.