Sri Chinmoy, the inspiration behind the Self Transcendence Races has a saying that “age is not a barrier”. 76 year old Geoff Oliver proved that in exemplary fashion at this years Self Transcendence 24 Hour Race by setting world age best performances (track) for 100miles and for his overall distance for the 24 hours in the over 75 age group. Oliver from Hinckley in Leicestershire is a familiar and very popular figure at running events throughout the country and is a member of the 100km Association club. He set off at noon on Saturday 17th October 2009 along with 45 other runners to circle the 400 metre Tooting Bec track in south London, with the simple aim of seeing how far he could run in the next 24 hours. With a dedicated team of helpers recording every single lap each runner completed. Oliver had done his homework and arrived at the race with a list of the existing British and world age group records he had targeted, and in his wonderfully humble manor asked the race officials to “keep an eye on his progress as the hours passed by.” His years of running experience have obviously taught him how to pace ultras well, especially in the early stages, and his steady running for hour after hour gradually ticked off the records.
THE STORY OF GEOFF OLIVER'S RACE
30 miles in 4hours 58min 25seconds.
50km in 5 hours 11 min 37 seconds
40 miles in 7 hours 57 min 25 seconds
50 miles in 9 hours 16 min 38secs
12 hour distance 99.359 kilometres (61 miles 1298 yards)
100miles in 20 hours 43mins 49secs
WORLD BEST PERFORMANCE over 75 years track
24 hour distance 111 miles 285 yards (178.898km)
The previous best marks were set by the American Ray Piva in San Diego in 2003 were 100 miles in 21.30.25. 24 hours 109 miles 667 miles 176.030 km. All Oliver's times and distances from 50 miles upwards are believed to be British age group records also. (All records are of course subject to ratification. ) Leaving aside the setting of age group world records, 44 other runners had all come to take up their own 24 hour challenge.
For those unfamiliar with how a 24 hour race works, unlike a specified distance like a marathon or 100 km where the set distance is run in a set time. In a 24 hour race the time is fixed, and the distance is variable according to the runner's performance. Each lap of the course, in this case a 400 metre track, is recorded onto an individual lap-sheet so that each runners distance can be calculated exactly. At the end of the 24 hours the total number of completed laps, with the additional measurement of any part lap run in the last few minutes of the race, is added together to give each competitors finishing distance. Physically, it is comparable to other "point to point challenges" like an LDWA 100 miler or longer road or trail race like the 95 mile West Highland Way. It does however need a different mental approach to deal with the fact you are covering the same flat loop a few hundred times!!!
The staging of the Commonwealth Ultra Distance and Mountain running championships at Keswick a month earlier, meant most of Britain's top ranked 24 hour runners had just completed an event. This didn't stop our regular visitor and good friend Ken Fancett from entering, but it also meant that this year's race was wide open and had attracted several competent and promising ultra-runners who had fared well at other shorter events but were taking part in their first 24 hour event. These included Scots runners Paul Hart from Dumfries and Aileen Scott from Glasgow's Clydesdale harriers. Hart has gained a lot of experience in recent years being a regular member of the Scottish 100km team (He had recently run at the Keswick commonwealth championships at the shorter distance) and also showing his potential at longer events with a 5th place in this year's 95 mile West Highland Way trail race. Scott too had run well at thisyears West highland Way in June and followed that up with a solid 3rd place at the shorter (53 mile) "Devil of the Highlands" event in August. From Ireland, John O'Regan, with several very competent performances at shorter ultras behind him, was also keen to see how he would fare in a 24 hour. There was also the usual contingent of experienced ultra runners from The Scandinavian countries and Holland to give a European flavour to proceedings.
Live updates of the race were posted on the internet for the first time and in slightly edited format are printed here to give an idea of how the race unfolded in the course of 24 hours:
24 hour updates tootingbec track
11am Saturday Preparations underway for this weekend's race... The weather forecast has a high of 13 degrees C and a low of 4 degrees with a bit of wind at the start that drops through the night. No sign of rain yet... The lap counters are gathering and descending from all the Home Countries and they'll all be huddled together in a little blue tent at the trackside making sure everyone lap is counted.
1.5 Hours 13.30 One and a half hours into the race and all the runners after the first nervous hour are starting to settle into their own rhythm. It is early days yet but at the hour mark, Lee Chamberlain Paul Fernandez and Stefan Liskowski have completed 31 laps,just over 12km with Scotland's Aileen Scott leading lady with just over 11km. The conditions, cool with broken cloud, are perfect at the moment. After
2 hours 3 runners have completed 61 laps, just over 15 mile, 24 km, Paul Fernandez, Paul Hart and Matt Mahoney have a small lead over Stefan Liskowski, Lee Chamberlain and Rob Wood. Leading lady is Aileen Scott who has covered 13.5 miles, 21.5 km 54 laps. She has a clear lead - 5 laps ahead of Rachel McCuaig and Liz Neville who are both on 49 laps, 12.1 miles 19.6 km. Oldest competitor 76 years young Geoff Oliver has completed 50 laps, 20 km.
4 hours The runners have the excitement of changing direction, and in the lead is Paul Fernandez of Abingdon Amblers who has completed 48.4 km,(30 miles)from Matt Mahoney,47.6 km, (29.5 miles) and Paul Hart and Richard Quennell 46.8 km,(29 miles). Aileen Scott is still first lady having covered the marathon distance in 4 hours.
6 Hours. The floodlights are on and in the evenings dusk, the runners are settling into steady running for the evening. The temperature is dropping so a number of the runners are putting on more clothing to keep warm. The leader Paul Fernandez has increased his lead to 7 laps having covered 179 laps 44.49 miles. Richard Quennell has taken over in second place with 172 lap 42.75 miles. Paul Hart and Matt Mahoney are both on 170 laps 42.25 miles.In fifth and sixth places are Tom Meldrum and Reima Hartikainen respectively. Aileen Scott, the leading lady, has covered 153 laps 38.03 miles with Liz Neville in second with 144 laps 35.79 miles and in third is Elisabeth Karlsson with 140 laps 34.8 miles. At the six hour distance Geoff Oliver has covered 35.08 miles exactly which we believe is a British MV75 6 hour track best performance. Hilary Walker, IAU General Secretary, Guest Contributor to the Live Update!
7 hours into the race and there is a change of atmosphere as night falls. Paul Fernandez continues to lap at a steady pace and went through 50 miles in 6:47 and at the 7 hour mark had achieved 51.5 miles, 82.8 km. In second place is now Paul Hart, 49.4 miles, (50 miles in 7:07). Third is Richard Quennell with 48.7 miles. Aileen Scott continues to lead the ladies having completed 176 laps, 43.75 miles in 13th place overall. She is 3.5 miles ahead of Swedish runner Elizabeth Karlsson. Already we have had several drop-outs with Lindsey Stewart and Lee Chamberlain retiring from the race. Mention of the hour is the great soup provided by the cooking crew that has everyone talking.
9 hours: For those unfamiliar with how a 24 hour race works unlike a specified distance like a marathon or 100 km, where the set distance is done in a set time in a 24 hour race the time is fixed and the distance is variable according to the runners performance.Each lap of the course in this case a 400 metre track is recorded onto an individual lap-sheet so that each runners distance can be calculated exactly There are runners representing 5 European countries Germany Norway Sweden Holland Ireland and Australia plus the Home Countries of England Scotland and Wales. Paul Fernandez has reached 100km in 8:33:10 and his total for the 9 hours was 104.8 km 65.1 miles. Second place is still Paul Hart at 99.6 km - one lap short of the 100 km. Aileen Scott reached 50 miles in 8:14 and at the 9 hours was 54.1 miles 87.2 km
Update 12 hours - We're over the half way stage in our 2009 race, and things are really getting exciting here!! Saturday evening has rolled seamlessly into Sunday morning. Geoff Oliver at 76 years young has just completed 99.369 km, which we believe to be an over 75 world best track performance. He then went on to achieve 100k in the time of 12hrs 6 45, only 11 seconds slower than his performance last year. Geoff continues to astound the ultra community by refusing to let age get in the way of inspiration. At the moment, Paul Fernandez is leading with 81 miles after 12 hrs. but Paul Hart has closed the gap to within 2 miles. First lady is still Aileen Scott at 70 miles after 12 hrs, but Elizabeth Carlson is still not out of the picture at 66 miles.In the counting shed, the second shift has just begun, so there is a new influx of bodies taking notes of each runners laps and times. 14 hours into the race. 2 am: While most of Europe is fast asleep there are 40 runners circling the Tooting Bec track, there is a strange aura of calm and silence at this time of the morning. The background buzz of suburban London, prevalent for most of the race, has died away. The temperature has dropped and is very cold for the helpers but the runners on the move seem happy enough. The big story at 14 hours is that Paul Hart has closed to within one lap of Paul Fernandez - 369 to 368 laps. Richard Quennell is 3 laps further back with 365 laps. All three are over the 90 mile mark. Scotland's Aileen Scott still leads the women's race on 79 miles - over three miles ahead of Sweden's Elizabeth Karlsson. Five runners have now retired from the race, the latest being Ian Beattie who doggedly struggled on to a 100 km despite having severe stomach problems
Update - 17 Hours"It is very, very cold outside" says RD Shankara Smith. "Every runner out there, running walking, or staggering, is a hero as far as I'm concerned." In the last hour or so, 3 runners have broken through the 100 mile barrier. Incredibly, only a minute separated the first two after 15.5 hours of running. But it was the Scotsman, Paul Hart of Dumfries RC, who reached the 100 miles first in 15:34:19 closely followed by Richard Quennell Rugby AC, 15:35:18. Early race leader Paul Fernandez, is still hanging in there - reaching the 100 miles 5 minutes down in 15:39:15. It is the first time all three have broken 100 miles. While every runner seems to have put on extra layers of thermal tops and tights and also a huge variety of different hats there is one exception, and that is Richard Quennell who is still wearing the same yellow tee shirt and black shorts that he started the race in. He is moving well and looking good, proving the long held wisdom that there is definitely no "off the shelf " way to run a 24 hour, you obviously take advice from the wise ones who have been there before, but you also find out with experience what works for you! The runners have now changed direction again for the penultimate time. Now is the time in a 24 hour race when not only the obvious fatigue of having run for 60, 70 or a hundred miles is taking its toll, but sleep deprivation will is also being felt. The runners inbuilt body clocks are subliminally telling them "I should be asleep" and the runners have to fight that natural urge. Everyone is looking forward to the break of dawn.
18 Hours We are at the three quarter point now, and the runners are now in the intensely cold period before the dawn. Thankfully, it has stayed dry! In the last hour, we have a new leader - Richard Quenell has taken the lead from Paul Hart, and currently has a total of 113 miles at the 18 hour stage. Paul Fernandez still holding on to third place. Irishman John O'Regan became the fourth runner to break through the 100 mile barrier - he has been followed by Ken Fancett, Neil Bryant and Per-Audun Heskestad. Aileen Scott is leading lady at 93.95 miles.
19 hours Its getting light - slowly the sky is lightening. There is a heavy dew on the infield. An influx of new counters has breathed new life into the race. The breakfast crew has been working for an hour already, and the porridge is going down a treat. Richard Quennell has increased his lead. Paul Hart is running well again after nursing a troublesome groin for about an hour. Aileen is still leading the ladies race.
20 hours Last turnaround, the runners are buzzing, the newly risen sun is glowing on the autumn leaves around the track, everyone's awake, breakfast has been served and there's less than four hours to go now. Richard Quennel has reached 200km, 124.5 miles in 19:53:17 and 10 runners have already surpassed 100 miles.
Update-23 Hours With just under an hour to go the track is really alive as the runners stretch themselves to their limits to reach their goals. 24 runners have crossed the 100 mile mark and there are still more to come. Richard Quennell remains in the lead having reached 140 miles. Paul Hart moved faster in the last hour and has completed 136 miles and John O'Regan reached just under 132 miles. Aileen Scot remains the first lady on 113 miles just in front of Elizabeth Karlssson. Rachel McCuaig has just reached 100 miles in third place.
24 hours - Quick update on race finish. Richard Quennell has finished first with approx 146miles, followed by Paul Harte on approx 140. First lady: Aileen Scott is probably just short of the 190km distance . In all 25 runners have broken the 100 mile barrier, a record for the event. Our track internet broke down which meant we couldn't post final results as quickly as we'd like, but full results and final post race report should appear this evening.
Post race overview The race was won by Richard Quennell of Rugby and Northampton A.C. with a distance of 145 miles 1942 yards (234.813 km) from Scot Paul Hart (Dumfries Running club) 140 miles 1862 yards((226.830km) with Norwegian Per Audun Heskestad third with 137 miles 1892 yards (221.978km) First lady was Aileen Scott from Glasgow's Clydesdale Harriers with 117 miles 617 yards (188.859km) almost 5 miles ahead of Sweden's Elizabeth Karlson 112 miles 1642yards (181.749 km) and third Emily Gelder of Dulwich Runners 105 miles 1304 yards ( 170 .175 km) A total of 25 runners broke the 100 mile barrier many of them for the first time. Quennell in his first 24 hour event probably doesn't realise he has fallen only a few hundred metres short of the GB standard for consideration for 24 hour selection of 235 km but his performance is incredibly impressive all the same .Hart, without a dedicated support crew, has also shown that his consistent form over shorter road and trail ultras the last two years has provided a good background for more to come over the longer events in the future. (see separate articles on how they prepared for and approached a 24 hour race )
Race details and full results at Sri Chinmoy Races Online.