The longest time of my life to be running and walking continuously was when I finished the 1st edition of the Bataan Death March 102K Ultramarathon Race last April 4-5, 2009 where I finished in 15+ hours. Now, I could not imagine how these 30+ elite ultramarathon runners to be running around a 400-meter oval track for the duration of 24 hours. One-half of these runners are the world’s best in this kind of endurance event and it was a learning experience for me in terms of the organizational, administrative, and the technical aspects.
The Soochow International Ultramarathon 24-Hour Endurance Race is in its 10th edition where world records for such event had been established by no less than the best of the best of running. This simply means that Taiwan and other countries in our neighbours in the Asia region had been ahead of us in terms of awareness and participation to ultramarathon events.
BJ Park, an ultramarathoner from South Korea, told me that the development and interest in ultramarathon running is relative to the economic condition of the people and country. If the economy is good, the more people will be involved in such running event that entails a lot of costs in terms of logistics support in training and actual races. I think, he is telling his observation in South Korea and it could be true also in the Philippines.
The day before the start of the 24-Hour Race, I was one of the guests during the Press Conference, together with the heads/Presidents of the Ultramarathon Federations of countries represented in the race. The heads of the following countries were there: Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and the Philippines. Dirk Strumane, President of the International Association of Ultrarunners (IAU) was also there to grace the occasion. It was nice meeting with these people and it became a reunion among us as I first met them last March during the Jeju International 100K Asian IAU Championship Race.
I was also a part of the grand opening of the Soochow Ultramarathon Museum where I joined the President of IAU and other Heads of Ultramarathon Federation present for the event. I had also the chance to talk and “rub elbows” with the elite athletes.
The event started with a formal opening ceremony and program 30 minutes before the start. After a short talk from the President of Soochow University, introduction of the runners, and final briefing about the race, the race was ready to start. Each of the elite runners was asked to run through the RFID mat to check if their MyLaps timing “chip” was working. After this routine procedure, the runners lined up at the starting line and the countdown from 5 started. As the firing guns had sounded, the race was a go!
I intently observed how these elite runners maintained their running form; their hydration strategy; nutrition strategy; and their race strategy. It took me two hours to make my observation for the morning run, then another two hours later in the late afternoon, another two hours in the evening, and then the last two hours before the race ended.
After a total of eight (8) hours of watching closely to these elite runners, I have the following observations:
- Nobody was running on barefoot or VFF or “minimalist” running shoes. Most of the runners were using those stability and/or shoes with cushioning.
- The top runners have an “erect” posture while running. Nobody among the runners, except for the French lady runner, was running in a forward-leaning position or form. Ryoichi Sekiya and Mami Kudo; and the rest of the runners had maintained their “erect” posture from start up to the finish of the race.
- I was surprised to see that the Japanese runners had a short, quick and fast strides but consistent throughout the event. Sekiya maintained a time of 1:58-2:03 minutes per lap while Mami Kudo maintained a time of 2:30-2:35 minutes per lap. Sekiya whose height could be a good basketball player did not use his long legs for a longer stride. He was a perfect sample of a runner with an economy of motion.
- Sekiya and Kudo did not change their running shoes and their running apparel. Sekiya was wearing a short running shorts, a loose technical shirt with short-sleeves and cap while Kudo was wearing a compression shorts, a loose technical shirt with short-sleeves and a sunglass which she used as headband.
- Runners started to hydrate (while running) after completing two laps. The water bottle used has the same size with that of the Yakult Drinks. This drinking of water is done repeatedly every two laps. Eating was also done while they are running. Such foods were placed in small plastic container trays with cover which could be grasped by the hand. Foods consist of sliced fruits and nuts.
- Runners were all “shuffling”, maintaining a consistent pace. After four hours of running, the runners had to change the direction from counter clockwise to clockwise and so on. In addition to this pattern, every runner had to stand on the weighing scale to check if their weight had dropped to 3 pounds. If a runner reached this condition, he is advised to hydrate and eat some more in order to bring back his desired weight.
- The top runners did not sleep or “take the chair”, they simply “shuffle” or run throughout the event. It was only on the last hour that I saw some of the top runners took some walk.
- The average temperature during the day was 20 degrees Celsius and it dropped to 16 degrees during night time. The wind was calm during daytime but there was a breeze of air on the early morning the following day which was coming from the east. (Note: The oval track was oriented on the east & west directions)
After the gun has been fired to warn that the 24th hour had elapsed, only the “best among the bests” stood standing. The top runners were offered with chairs on the very spot where they stopped their runs.
The following were the results:
Overall Champion: Ryoichi Sekiya—268.1 Kilometers
1st Runner-Up: Martin Fryer—255.9 Kilometers
Lady Champion: Mami Kudo—239.3 Kilometers
Lady 1st Runner-Up: Anne-Celile Fontaine—204.4 Kilometers
I’ve learned a lot from this event. Hoping to conduct the 1st PAU 24-Hour Endurance Run in the future!