24 hours ultra run

My first 24 hour ultra run

It is hard, brutal and at some points of time unbeareable. In some periods you want to be at a totally different place. In other periods you just enjoy the presence, like being in another universe, filled with a feeling of positive float. Welcome to the world of 24 hour ultra run races – a 24 hour break from the rest of the world.

It is 12 years ago that I had my debut in a 24 hour ultra run race. At that time my marathon level was good, and I had been doing long runs up to 100 km. So I decided to try it.

At the 24 hour race, I enjoyed a lot to run with a slower speed than I normally had for the shorter distances. It was an indoor track, and each lap was 546 meters. In the beginning I was even walking 20-30 seconds for every lap, at a place where there was a small uphill. After 12 hours I reached 123 kilometers. My father was with me and ensured that I got enough drink and nutrition, and at this point of time it felt good. However, after 16 hours, my legs suddenly startet to hurt a lot. It then quickly became unbearable to run. The next 3 hours were spent on a camping bed. When 4 hours were left of the race, I got better and wanted to get out in the track again. Even if I would have to walk, I wanted to experience the last hours of the race, since I had heard a lot from others about the special feeling you get during the last hour of a 24 hour ultra run.

Being born again

I stumbled around in the start, since my legs were still full of pain, actually it was hurting in my whole body. I ate some oatmeal porridge, which was served in the morning to all the runners. It started to be lighter outside, and several of the others who had been walking in the morning hours, had started to run again. My body started to feel somewhat better, and then I tried some running strides as well. It almost felt like being reborn. The pain in the legs disappeared and I got up to a good speed. My original goal disappeared when I spent 3 hours in the bed, so what should now be my goal – what could be realistic in this situation? Then I suddenly remembered another ultra runner who had made his debut in a 24 hour ultra run, ending up with 180 km. That was looked upon as a good debut at that time. I realised that this could be realistic, and at the start of the last hour this goal was already achieved, and I ended up with 186 km. My first experience and insight into this new world had been made.

Do it again, or not?

At that time I looked at this a sort of “stunt” from my side. I just wanted to try something new, something very different from other races I had participated in previously. Now I had tried it, and I did not have any further plans to do it again.

It took me 4 years before I wanted to do it again. This time I was aiming towards a qualification requirement for the world championship. It seemed like I had forgotten how it was to run day and night for 24 hours.

I was looking forward to run in the night time, and it turned out that it worked very well this time. I achieved to qualify for the world championship, and a good portion of the reason was the huge support I got from my wife and a running friend of mine. Most of the time during the race I enjoyed being detached from the rest of the world, and the feelings it gave me.

What about injuries?

After having achieved the qualification for championships, I had several years of participation in international 24 hour ultra runs. I had broken the code.

When your run for 24 hours, you are deemed to have some pain somewhere during the course of the race. It is not always easy to know whether the pain is a sign of an upcoming injury, or just an intermediate overload that will vanish after the race. My experience is that, as long as the training basis is good, most pains will disappear a few days after the race. After having competed in a number of international championships and races, from 100 km up to 24 hour races, I have not yet experienced a single injury as a result of a race. It is very much a result of the ability to be 100% present in the “running universe” all the time until the race is completed. This requires a strong focus and concentration, a strong will, motivation and patience.

A tough threshold

12 years after my debut on a 24 hour ultra run, I was again ready to participate in the same indoor race. Now I had a better general training basis than in my debut, but due to insufficient number of long runs prior to the race, in combination with a slight hip injury and a stretch in the right thigh, I set a quite low goal for the final result this time.

I had to start working hard with myself quite early in the race. I had a friend who was supporting me this time. We put up a plan beforehand and we were prepared, knowing that my down periods could start quite early in the race. None of us should become stressed if the speed became significantly lower during periods of the race.

After 5 hours the pattern was clear, a pattern that would follow me for the next 19 hours. Already after 1-2 hours, my legs became stiff as timber logs. After intake of some fluid and nutrition, I could start walking 500 to 1000 meters, before I tried to start running again. This is much of the key to be able to achieve a good distance after 24 hours. To start running again when your legs feels totally stiff, is a big threshold to get over. It feels painful in a cruel way, almost unbearable. Then it is easy to think that it is not possible, and that you just as well can pack your things and leave. But after “softening up”, you get into a running pattern again. I lost the count of the number of times I experienced this during the race. My support, who was looking at this from the side of the track, was several times sure that the race was finished and that my forces had come to an end. However, with patience, stamina and a strong will, you can achieve a good distance after 24 hours.

The result I achieved was actually far above my goal, much thanks to my fantastic support, who was a great motivator, despite his doubts at times. He made sure that I did not fall out of my “break from reality”.

Read more about ultra running here:

Author: Gjermund Sørstad

Editor’s note: Gjermund’s personal record for a 24 hour run is 247,9 km. Beat that one!

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