The art and allure of 24-hour track racing

Author Michael Stocks gives his perspective on what it’s like to tackle the challenge of running for an entire day PLUS win a copy of his new book One-track Mind

Most us have experienced the feeling of standing on the start line of a track race, consumed by the mixture of tension, trepidation and anticipation of what lies ahead.

Not so many of us, however, will have stood on that start line knowing that the finish line is a full 24 hours away. Michael Stocks is one of those people and his new book One-track Mind: What Running 150 Miles in a Day Can Teach You About Life is a beautifully written account of everything involved in a challenge which test the limits of physical and mental endurance.

The race about which he writes is the 2018 edition of Self Transendence 24 hour, which takes place annually on the track in Tooting Bec, South London.

Rather than it being a case first past the post, when the hooter sounds after 24 hours victory goes to the person who has covered the greatest distance.

A place on the Great Britain team for the 24 hour World Championships was part of the incentive and Stocks manages to take the reader on just about every step of the incredible journey which unfolded along that 400m lap.

He will be back in action later this month at the Centurion Track 100 race in Ashford, with designs on breaking the V50 100-mile world record of 13:27:27 which is currently held by Russian Oleg Kharitonov.

So what is it that draws him to this particular strand of endurance running?

“In a way it suits my character and plays to one of my strengths which is that when I’m running I don’t really mind where I am – the act of running is the thing, if it’s a race,” says the man who has competed for both Great Britain and England.

“I do love going to beautiful places and running – and then I’m aware of my surroundings – but if I’m racing then really I don’t much mind where I am because it’s about the race and the running and the movements.

“I can honestly say that the fact that I was in the same place, running around and around wasn’t a big thing for me, though I did prepare mentally for that, which I think is really important.”

Stocks admits to being daunted ahead of the race getting underway but, as many long distance runners will attest, breaking the task at hand down into manageable chunks is as important as it is mentally helpful. 24-hour track racing is no different.

“I broke it down into half hours,” he says. “We know we need to drink every half hour, to eat every half hour and that really was my horizon. I just tried to stay in it and not think longer than half an hour.

“But then you’ve also got the change in direction every four hours, which was really important. I was also ticking off every 10k early on, so you kind of find those little goalposts, or goals and then I think the key when you when you get to them is not to think ‘okay I’ve done one hour but I’ve got 23 to go’ but rather to think ‘I’ve got one hour’ and to put that hour behind you.

“I almost had the sense of physically picking something up and placing it behind me and going ‘wow that’s great, I’ve collected that hour’.

“Yes it was daunting, but I really worked hard on staying in the present and thinking about what I’d done rather than about what was to come. It wasn’t successful all the time but on the start line I was confident that I had prepared well enough to get through it.”

One key challenge to overcome during a 24-hour race is, of course, running through the night. Stocks had never done it before and the experience was one of the most memorable and enduring points of the event.

“When I got through the night and the light came I suddenly realised how special the night had been,” he says. “I was really struggling a lot for a lot of it, and obviously you are late in the race, but there was this complete quiet and a sense of nothing outside. It creates this very unusual environment.

“I went through some of my worst stages and bad patches in the night but when I got to the end of those I remembered how the light looked brighter on the track because there was a wet sheen and you’ve got these massive spotlights, but you’ve got hardly anyone on the track because half of the runners had left by then.

“It was an almost surreal environment and I wanted to cling on to part of that quiet  because it was such an unusual and special experience and I also had never run through the night.

“It would have been special in the mountains, too, but there was something about the track and the colours and the sense of quiet that just made it quite, quite special.”

Another special aspect of ultra marathon running, Stocks insists, is the community which surrounds it. From the athletes, to the support crews who literally keep their runners fed, watered and clothed, to the race organisers, the nature of the events create a unique sense of camaraderie.

“One of the things I really wanted to get across in the book is this excellent sense of community,” says the London Heathside runner. “When I left that track and the race it was almost heart wrenching because I felt there was such a sense of presence and positivity and community around the track.

“Everything from the organisers and the whole ethos of their races to the other crews who were supporting all the runners, not just their own runner.

“Paul [Maskell], who I was racing for the victory, we were just increasingly helping each other and encouraging each other and it’s really, really incredible.

“I think it’s probably the adversity that keeps you humble. There are just so many amazing people doing the sport.”

WIN A COPY OF ONE-TRACK MIND

We have six copies of One-track Mind: What Running 150 Miles in a Day Can Teach You About Life by Michael Stocks to give away.

To be win with a chance of winning a copy, answer the following question:

At which track does the Self Transendence 24-hour Race take place?

Email your answer, with your name and address, to: [email protected]

Closing date is 5pm, Friday April 9.

» ONE-TRACK MIND: What Running 150 Miles in a Day Can Teach You About Life by Michael Stocks is out now, price £8.99pb, £5.99 e-book. There is also an exclusive extract in the April issue of AW magazine – CLICK HERE

» For more on the latest athletics news, athletics events coverage and athletics updates, check out the AW homepage and our social media channels on TwitterFacebook and Instagram

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