Runners Grant and Karen win track ultra races
Two Scottish ultra distance runners Grant MacDonald and Karen Wallace achieved great victories on the track this month. I wrote about them in my Sunday Mail column. Read the full story below or see the pdf.
On track for glory
Grant MacDonald, of Strathblane, Stirlingshire, won the Crawley Aim 24-hour race and set a new course record of 145.2 miles (233.73km). He ran 584 laps of the 400m track at the K2 stadium in West Sussex.
Meanwhile, in the 12-hour track event, Karen Wallace, of Balloch, West Dunbartonshire, also triumphed. In her first track ultra the 41-year-old ran 277 laps to reach a total distance of 68.9 mile (110.95km).
Many people will struggle to understand why runners take part in a race that sees them completing lap after lap of a sports track.
Karen said: “People think you’re mad when you tell them what you plan to do. I wasn’t sure it was the sort of race for me either because while I enjoy long-distance races on the trails, running laps on a track is very different.”
It was Grant’s second ultra track race. He ran 148.9 miles (239.791km) at a 24-hour track race in Barcelona in 2016. Incredibly, he suffered a stroke four years ago in his mid-30s.
The challenge of a track ultra
Grant, now 39, reveals he enjoys the races. He said: “I know it makes me a bit weird but I find the challenge of 24 hours on the track pretty fun. It is a very pure challenge – there’s just you and the track and how far can you can go in the set time.”
Grant focuses on smaller parts of the race. He said: “My target of 240km meant aiming for 25 laps per hour so this is what I focused on.
“I kept track of the laps on my watch and I gave myself things to look forward to such as music or something to eat.
“The most important thing is not to think about how long you have to go because that will drive you mad.”
Karen also set herself mini targets, focusing on one lap at a time. She said: “Pacing is very important for this endurance events. I was strict with my time for each lap.”
Marco Consani, of Glasgow, is an experienced ultra trail and track competitor. In 2015, he broke the Barcelona 24-Hour track race record and won the race after running 159 miles (256km). He also represented Great Britain in the 24-hour World Championships.
Marco reveals that the key to success is “run your own race”. He said: “I can’t control what’s going on around me but I can control what I do and the pace that I run at.
“I often see other runners take off ahead of me from the start of these events – and then watch when the wheels fall off later on.”
Non-stop running – and through the night
Running though the night adds to the challenge of these non-stop races. The 12-hour Crawley race started at a new time of 5pm.
Karen said: “I found it very hard after dark. This is a time when your body is usually resting or asleep and it seemed to badly affect my stomach. I thought I’d have to stop so many times but I just kept on counting the laps.”
The small things matter
Every four hours the runners swap direction on the track. Marco said: “It’s surprising how different it feels to go around the track the other way.
“For some reason people smile and laugh. It’s like an entirely new race, so much so that I often find it tougher running in one direction than the other.”
However, the fact is that running on a flat and smooth track for so long will take its toll.
Grant said: “Because there is no variation in the terrain the repetitive pounding your body takes is intense. But I kept thinking about the the plus side, about not having to carry lots of kit like in a trail ultra.”
When the going got very tough for Karen in the later stages, she had another way to keep going. She said: “Three hours from the end I knew I was the leading lady but I still had a long way to go.
“A friend had told me to think about running a lap for one of my sons, Will, and then another for my other son, Alex.
“So I did this, literally, and I thought about how proud they would be of me if I finished.
“It was amazing to be able to tell them I had won.”
Grant describes how it felt to finally reach the 24-hour mark. He said: “The elation of not having to run another lap is really very special.”
A few words from the coach
He said: “I was so pleased for both Karen and Grant. They both work very hard in training. I guess they have a few things in common, in that they are both fully committed to training and they genuinely love the challenges I set them every week.
“They both like to see the improvements they make after every training block and test how that will boost their race performances. They both just love to run. It’s an escape. A place where they find themselves. That’s why they can race on anything from track to trails.
“The real rewards for them are not the trophies that they pick up. I’m very lucky to work with such great athletes.”
Scottish track ultra record holders
Fionna Ross holds both the Scottish record for the 12 and 24 hour track event of 81 miles (130.9637km) and 144.7 miles (232.9km) respectively.
Don Ritchie is the men’s 24-hour track record holder with 166.6 miles (268.2km). He ran 100 miles in 11.30.51 when aiming for the 100 mile record.