Wednesday, April 15, 2015

2015 24 Hours World Championships, Turin. Part I, The Dramas

Going to your first international championship is a nerve wracking thing. I had not slept well for several days already when on Saturday, exactly one week before the race, I got an email from Reinhold, the Austrian team manager, that the team had been moved to a new hotel, 60km out of Turin. If I had been travelling on my own I would not have minded too much but I was travelling with family and Niamh completely and utterly ruled out the possibility of being stuck so far away in a place without public transport. It really was not an option.

Austria and Australia
I was already in a fragile mental state and it did not take much to push me over the edge. I barely managed to sleep at all over the next few nights. I was always confident that we would have SOME place to sleep, but the uncertainty was too much to take. Our situation finally got resolved on Tuesday when the organisers accepted my plea and put us back into the original hotel. Only us (me and family) not the team, which wasn't ideal either as it would isolate me from the team, and I was already a complete outsider. Still, it was the best I could have hoped for,

Apparently the original local organising committee had not paid the hotels, tried to move the race to September with less than 2 weeks to go and had to be replaced by FIDAL, the Italian Athletics organisation. I even heard rumours that the original organisers had been arrested for fraud but I have no idea if that is correct. I do, however, have full admiration for the way FIDAL stepped in at extremely short notice and pulled the race out of the fire at the last moment.

With the hotel situation resolved I thought the drama was finally over and I could be looking forward to a couple of nice and quiet days before the race. Oh boy.

We arrived in Turin on Thursday morning after a disgustingly early flight from Stansted. My joy of meeting Jan Uzik was immediately tempered when he told me he was injured and would not be able to run. He was only going there to support his Slovakian team mates. On the shuttle bus to the hotel my stomach hurt, which I put down to hunger pangs because breakfast had been many hours ago. I did not have much appetite at lunch time but made myself eat anyway because I knew I would need every ounce of energy. Things rapidly went downhill over the next couple of hours and then I spent the rest of the afternoon either wrapped around the toilet or doubled over in bed with excruciating stomach pains. Niamh insisted that the room temperature was hot but I was shivering, feeling extremely cold, but I did not seem to have a temperature.

At dinner time I went to the meal hall and tried to force some food into me but as soon as I started smelling the food I had to make a rapid exit or it would have been a very unsavoury scene. For some reason I walked up the two flights of stairs to our room instead of taking the elevator and by the time I reached our floor I was dizzy and almost fainted, took some downtime and literally crawled into our room.
At 10 o'clock Niamh called a taxi and got me to the nearest hospital. In the waiting room I was close to tears. I had been preparing for this since August 2013, straight after the Connemara 100. 20 months of preparation had just gone out of the window! It wasn't just me, I had been asking a lot of Niamh in that time - being married to an ultra runner is not all about fame and glamour, believe it or not. We managed to locate an English speaking nurse who did a few tests, Blood pressure was okay (actually, lower than usual but he thought it was fine), pulse was still there (elevated!), no fever, nothing seriously wrong. He seemed to think I should just take a few paracetamol (which are allowed as per anti-doping) and would recover in a day. Problem was, the race was starting in less than 36 hours. Even if I felt well by then, if I got to the start line not having eaten for a couple of days my chances of having a decent race were absolute zero. I felt a bit better by now, the acute pain was gone, but mentally I was still on a very low point.

Last minute preparations.
Photo by Martin Mayrhofer

For the first time in a week I slept really well, probably due to complete exhaustion. After 8 or 9 hours in bed (with a couple of interruptions) I felt a hundred times better than the evening before. The stomach still wasn't entirely settled and I had a mild headache but I managed to force down some food for breakfast. My appetite was still low but I reckoned that I had to eat to have any chance of making it through tomorrow. We went into Turin itself for some family time and then met the team at the stadium for the pre-race meetings and the opening ceremony. The team manager had a difficult decision to make; you can only nominate 6 runners for the team scores but we had 7 men. He toyed with the idea of moving me back to number 7 and move the other Tom up into the scoring places. He did discuss this with me and initially I agreed. However, when I asked what Tom's chances were to be in the top 3 of the team, he said it was unlikely (you can nominate 6 runners but only the first 3 count as scorers). I think that clinched it, he left everything as it was. It did add an extra bit of pressure on me but I was okay with that and I very much appreciated the confidence shown in me.

By dinner time my appetite was back to normal and for the first time in what felt like an eternity I dared to hope that everything might turn out alright after all. I slept for 6 hours that night - about 5 more than I could usually hope for the day before such a massive race. Another decent breakfast confirmed that I was seemingly back to normal, though how my body would cope with the extreme requirements I was about to subject it to was yet to revealed. I still had a light lingering headache but mostly managed to completely ignore that. Both my own Austrian team mates as well as my Irish friends joked about it and figured that the 3 pounds I might have lost during that ordeal might be to my advantage now - less weight to carry around for the next 24 hours.

I paid a last-minute visit to the GB tent to have a chat with Marco Consani, otherwise John Kynaston would have given out to me for not saying hello to his mates yet again. Nice guy! His better half was still busy and I decided to leave her alone. Not everyone wants to chat to some random guy they had never met before when they are about to start a World Championship.

Getting last minute encouragement.
Photo by Martin Mayrhofer
I soaked up the electric atmosphere with athletes, officials and supporters all buzzing. No matter what would happen over the next few hours, I felt incredibly lucky and privileged to be here and the drama of the last couple of days only served to magnify that feeling.

Ultra running is not an Olympic sport and the World Championship is the absolute pinnacle of it all. Somehow, don't ask me how, I had made it all the way to here.

The biggest day of my running life was about to begin,


  1. I'll just say, superfun pictures, Thomas. ........................What an ordeal just to get there.

  2. That was close! FIDAL did well - the venue looks great in the photos and video.

  3. What the hell are the kids doing with Austrian flags, that's not on ;-)