The runners readied for Gloucester's 24-hour race

Image copyright Thinkstock

Ever complained about being on your feet all day? For a committed group of ultra-runners that will be the hope, mission and desire as they spend exactly half of the weekend racing around a 400-metre circuit in Gloucester.

Here we meet some of them - past and present - who have gone the extra mile to take their place on the start line of the city's 24-Hour Track Race.

Image copyright Dave Dowdle
Image caption In 1982 Dave Dowdle set a world record in Gloucester for the longest distance run in 24 hours

'Fighting yourself'

The race begins at noon on Saturday, three decades after the city produced a world record at the same event in 1982.

Local runner Dave Dowdle, aged 27 at the time, ran around the oval track 686 times setting a record distance of some 170 miles (274km).

"I couldn't sleep for three days afterwards," said Mr Dowdle. "I couldn't unwind. I needed to go to sleep but I couldn't."

It was his first attempt at a 24-hour track race and something he said he did to test how far his body could go.

"You're fighting against yourself - half of you thinking 'I can't go anymore' and the other half saying 'of course you can, keep going'."

However, two years later Greek-born runner Yannis Kouros claimed the world record and still holds it with his greatest distance of 188 miles (303.5km) achieved in 1997 during a 24-hour track race in Australia, where he lives.

Back in Gloucester though, there will still be a mini-celebration reserved for Mr Dowdle as he returns to the refurbished Blackbridge Jubilee Athletics Track to complete one lap with the current crop of wannabe record breakers.

Image copyright Steve Holyoak
Image caption Steve Holyoak is the favourite to win the Gloucester race

Staying awake

Norway-based Steve Holyoak, 50, is the favourite to win. He took up running aged 18 in roughly the same year Dave Dowdle was celebrating his world record.

"Sleep? That's for after the race," said Mr Holyoak, who has competed in five 24-hour track races during his career.

He said he avoids stopping except for toilet breaks and his mental strength depended on various factors such as physical state, progress against his plan, time of day and weather.

"It can be tough, but successful experience of fighting through the inevitable bad patches helps a lot," he added.

However experience alone is not enough. His training takes place over 16-weeks which builds distance, strength and stamina. Even his commute to and from work - a journey of up to 16km - is turned into a daily run.

There is certainly no financial incentive for winning, as with no sponsor he covers his travel and associated costs himself.

"I once won a jar of honey at the Cyprus Marathon," he said. "Sadly I couldn't get it through customs so had to leave it behind."

Image caption Jeremy Mower, a member of Gloucester Athletics Club, is aiming for third place

Keeping the body going

Some 36 runners from across Europe are competing with local favourite Jeremy Mower, a 48-year-old Gloucester Athletics Club member, hoping to finish in the top five.

"The true test of ultra-running is to run as fast as you can over a certain distance and run as far as you can in a certain time," he said.

"For me it's 24 one-hour races. That way I can cope with it quite easily. I can just tick off each hour as it goes by and try and stick to my plan."

Generally the most common injuries include blisters, sore thighs and lower back problems, but the biggest dramas can sometimes unfold once the race is over.

"I've done some 24-hour races and I've been running around for the last 15 minutes absolutely flat out, feeling great and trying to push extra metres out, and then I've finished and your body seems to realise what has just happened.

"A couple of times I've even collapsed. Not been able to stand up. I've not ended up in hospital but my blood sugar's dropped so low I was forced to drink coca-cola until my blood sugars came back up."

Image caption Pictured here are less than half of the foods consumed by Jeremy Mower during a 24-hour race

Run-thru' dining

All the competitors are offered three meals during the race and one afterwards at the presentation ceremony. But no tables and chairs are used for this dining experience, most of the runners eat on the go to minimise rest breaks.

For Mr Holyoak, natural foods are preferred to energy gels with foods like yoghurt, custard and rice pudding being passed to him "little and often" during the race by his support crew.

"Weight loss is a given, but I'm sure there are easier ways of dieting," he said.

The science (in rough numbers)

  • The competitors will burn 100 calories per mile
  • Their bodies can absorb a maximum of 300 calories per hour
  • 1lb of body weight, which equals 3,300 calories, would be lost over a 33 mile distance
  • More weight (5-6lbs) is lost in water through dehydration
  • Runners' muscles store up to three hours-worth of carbohydrates

It is a similar menu for Mr Mower who feeds on foods like bananas, malt loaf, mashed potato with cheese, and porridge.

"I'll be taking on proper food every 40 minutes, and every 20 minutes having energy drinks which contain electrolytes and added protein to help prevent muscle break down," he said.

Image caption Geoff Oliver, 80, holds multiple world records for his age category

Age is no barrier

At the very top end of the age field is 80-year-old Geoff Oliver, from Leicestershire, who will be attempting to set a world record distance of over 100 miles (161km) for his age group.

He almost cannot recall a time when he was not running, pointing to an active paper round he did as a seven-year-old as well as running four miles to school every day to play rounders before lessons began.

Now, even with a dozen 24-hour track races under his belt and multiple world records for his age category, he said he expects to "keep going with great difficulty" in Gloucester.

"I'll try and split the race into stages - 10 miles, half marathon, 20 miles, full marathon etc," he said.

"As the race develops the concentration on the pace becomes increasingly hard and so I tune my mind into pace with fitting rhythmic tunes, whether Beatles, Beethoven and great hymnal and patriotic music."

Image copyright other
Image caption The all-weather Blackbridge Jubilee Athletics Track in Gloucester was refurbished in 2012

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