I think the moment it hit me that I’d either lost control of my faculties, or was in the midst of something extraordinary, came at just after 3am on a dark, wet, stormy Sunday morning when I found myself singing out loud and performing the finest air guitar solo ever whilst zig zagging around a series of traffic cones.
It was then that a large dose of sleep deprived delirium mixed in with a huge dollop of endorphins finally tipped me over the edge during my Longest Day challenge on the weekend of 20/21 June. Bloody hell, I was enjoying this, I was having fun!
A mile an hour on the hour every hour for 24 hours. Sounds interesting, doesn’t it? Some might even say it sounds easy (spoiler: it wasn’t).
A social media post about a month earlier alerted me to the existence of a virtual race – the P24 – which consisted of doing just that, 24 miles in 24 hours on the Longest Day of the year.
The concept intrigued me. I, like seemingly everyone else in the running community, had watched Beau Miles’ short film during which he had explored the potential of a single day by doing just that alongside working his way through a series of odd jobs around his home.
But he’s some sort of super human. There’s no way a mere mortal like me, and not a very good runner to boot, could take on a challenge like that.
Or could I?
It was an idea that just wouldn’t leave me.
I began to do a bit (ok, a lot!) of research. It wasn’t easy finding examples of other people doing the same thing but I did find a few and of those that had committed their experience to YouTube the vast majority had given up mostly due to tiredness and a lack of sleep kicking in.
That didn’t put me off. I can get by on around four hours sleep per night backed up by a series of small naps during the day if necessary.
I mooted the idea on my own social channels, hoping someone would tell me to catch myself on (in that great Northern Irish parlance) but no-one did, apart from one half-hearted attempt but, as it turned out, she was almost as bonkers as me!
Indeed, all I got was encouragement and messages offering to run a mile with me. I was in too deep, I was going to do this, I had to do it.
What appealed to me is that although it was a virtual event that I would start and finish at home it did have proper rules and organisation surrounding it. All the entrants had to start at 8am on the 20th and run at least a mile every hour on the hour (so mile two was 9am, three 10am etc.) right through the day and night until 7am the following morning whilst also posting their Garmin/Strava data for each mile on a dedicated Facebook group.
It had the feel of a proper ‘race’ or event. To others this might have seemed restrictive for a virtual but it only enhanced the appeal of the whole thing for me.
Even up to a few days beforehand I hadn’t signed up. I was still hoping that I’d read or watch something that would scare me off. Nothing was forthcoming.
The tiredness I knew I could handle, but what about other potential problems? I didn’t want to enter this and then have to give up. Would I be fit enough? Would the stop-start nature of the event injure me? How would I handle my nutrition? Would I have the mental strength to keep going when it inevitably started to get tough?
So many questions, so many unknowns. I didn’t even want to attempt a trial run. I did want to do this, and whilst giving it a bit of a go beforehand would have been sensible, I also didn’t want it to put me off.
There was only one thing for it. Wing it.
Beginning at 8am, I was joined for the first mile by my friend Judith from my running club. It was great to see her after quite a while, and to have someone with me to ‘launch’ the entire adventure. I knew it would become a lonely, repetitive day so all company was greatly appreciated.
After bidding my farewells to Judith it was back home to post my first mile and to update my social media accounts. It was to become a very familiar pattern as the day wore on.
Before I knew it I was back out at 9am for mile two, then mile three at 10am … you get the picture. As with the opening mile by the time I had finished posting or having a drink/snack plus a bit of a rest it was almost the top of the hour again so back out I went.
I was enjoying myself, the adrenaline was still keeping me enthusiastic and reading about everyone else’s experiences (there were around 1000 others doing this dotted throughout the country and, indeed, the world) helped maintain the sense of ‘event’. I was running alone – mostly – but yet it didn’t feel like that.
Mile four came and went and, in what seemed like the blink of an eye, it was noon and time for my next bit of company, Bronagh, also from my club and one of my two regular running buddies.
I was still feeling good and feeling strong but Bronagh’s presence came at just the right time to propel me into the afternoon. And she bought me an ice lolly so life was good!
1pm was mile six, 10k or thereabouts, and my first bit of difficulty. I made the mistake of taking a drink literally seconds before I set off but it seems that didn’t agree with me. I had a stitch in my left side for the entirety of the run, it felt most uncomfortable and was a reminder to keep an eye on my nutrition going forward.
Still, I was a quarter of the way there and still going! That felt good.
Thankfully, the organisers – Phoenix Running – had designated the 2pm mile to be the Family Mile. I was joined by my daughter, Danielle, who doesn’t run so I took the opportunity of walking this mile to give me the chance to have some lunch and to allow it to be digested properly before resuming running.
Whilst we were out another friend from my club, Alison, messaged to ask if she could join me at 3pm. Of course she could! This was a lovely surprise. The support and encouragement I had been receiving online throughout the day had been wonderful, and it meant a lot to have someone else along to run a mile with me. My legs were starting to feel it a little by now but Alison’s company helped divert my attention away from them. Thanks Alison!
Up to this point I had been running around my local area but I knew that at some stage I would become very bored with this, so for miles nine and ten I decided to mix it up a little with a run to Sainsbury’s and back again.
The idea was to run there, buy the little essentials I needed, relax a bit in the sunshine and then run back home when the hour came round again. So that’s what I did. I was fortunate in that it was still a great day weather wise, and the change of scenery was just what I needed.
Moving into early evening, at 6pm I still wanted to avoid my usual routes so ran 11 times around my block. I’m sure the neighbours thought I was a little crazy but explaining to them what I was doing probably wouldn’t have appeared any less puzzling!
7pm brought the halfway stage. Really? How? Where had the time gone? The day had flown in but, by now, the weather had taken a turn. The wind had picked up and it was drizzling but the cooler temperatures helped renew me a little to the extent that I turned in one of my fastest miles of the day, helped no doubt by listening to Bon Jovi for a while (think about it!).
I was joined at 8pm by Iverene, another one of my running buddies. Although we’re in regular contact we haven’t actually been out for a run together since lockdown so it was great to do just that, even if only for a mile. As with everyone else who had accompanied me Iverene came along at the right time just as the second half of the day was getting underway.
The forecast had warned of rain, and the rain duly came.
Mile fourteen (9pm) was a wet one, as was mile fifteen, but this was brightened up by one of the highlights of the day.
I had been including the club Twitter account in all my tweets throughout the day and earlier in the evening I got a message back enquiring about my route.
I thought this was simply out of curiosity and didn’t really think anything of it. However, midway through mile 15 I spotted someone waving at me slightly in the distance. I initially thought he was just taking the mick out of a nutter dressed in bright orange hi-viz gear running in the rain on a Saturday night. I mean, it’s a perfectly understandable reaction!
But, as I got closer, there was a flicker of recognition so I decided to run over just in case. Much to my surprise and delight it turned out to be Peter who runs the club Twitter account with, I presume, his son. This was fantastic, they filmed me running a bit and had a quick chat before sending me back on my way to complete the mile.
This was fantastic. I was starting to get tired, I was wet through and the ‘fun’ part of the whole experience was beginning to wane but this gave me a huge boost. I absolutely did not expect it.
By the time I had started mile 16 (11pm) Peter had posted his video on Twitter via the club account, and that one single act generated a flood of support and encouragement right through the night into the wee small hours and long after my friends had sensibly gone to bed.
Never at any point in the entire 24-hour experience did I ever feel alone, never did any update not get a positive response from someone, be it a friend on Facebook or (mostly) a stranger on Twitter. It really did seem that what I was doing had captured the imagination. This was turning into an epic night.
Another significant moment came at midnight. Given the weather I didn’t really expect anyone else to come along to join me so there was another surprise when Bronagh messaged just as I was getting ready for mile 17 to tell me to look out my window. Sure enough, there she was, back for a second mile! She had been here at noon, so it felt appropriate she was here at midnight too. And, as an added bonus, she even made the rain ease off considerably!
It felt great to be into Sunday but, now, I knew this would be when I might really start to struggle. As I said earlier I can survive on very little sleep but it was now getting to the time when I usually do doze over so I was somewhat apprehensive that this might be when the challenge beats me.
Bronagh had gone, the wind and rain had returned (coincidence? I think not!) and, perhaps significantly, I was getting bored of running. Could this be my biggest threat? I really didn’t feel like going out, the novelty was beginning to wear off, but I managed to squeeze out another mile which meant I had three-quarters completed. Almost there.
Surely I wasn’t going to back down now? I had a slice of pizza between miles 19-20 (2-3am) to keep my energy levels up and that seemed to do the trick.
The weather was awful by this stage but I had made it to 3am, there was no way I was going to give up now. Absolutely not.
I was tired, so so tired, but that was when the silliness really kicked in.
By that stage I was listening to whatever randomness Spotify presented me, I was so tired I couldn’t even be bothered picking my music, and on came a little known Europop song from the early 80s. The 12-year-old me loved the song at the time even though it never made the top 40 in the UK.
(If you’re interested – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OMDbX1zksgI)
I hadn’t heard it in years but, here it was, back in my consciousness in the most surreal of moments. Yet it seemed absolutely appropriate for the circumstances, especially when the chorus kicked in.
It just captured the mood. It was dark, gloomy and wet. I was tired, exhausted and emotional. I laughed out loud, then starting singing and playing along. Why not? There was no-one around, and anyone who might have been probably would have thought they were imagining things anyway!
Mile twenty-one literally was the difference between night and day. I had returned from the murky, dank wetness of mile 20 and, as usual, posted my updates, changed into dry clothes, had a bit of a rest etc. all without thinking to look out the window.
So I couldn’t believe it when I stepped out at 4am. You’d almost think someone in the heavens had turned the lights on, the rain had gone, it was bright, even the birds were singing. Morning had broken!
I felt totally rejuvenated. I had been toying with the idea of adding a little extra to my later runs in an attempt to push on for full marathon distance but this boost from Mother Nature made my mind up to go for it, to eke out those extra 2.2 miles from somewhere.
5am came and went. I had my focus back. I was no less tired and exhausted but it was more a physical thing by now. Mentally I knew with an absolute certainty I had this.
I took it easy at 6am, I had just over three miles left to get to the marathon so I decided to do most of the extra this hour to leave me with at a neat 25 miles down going into the big finish.
Probably because I was so close now I found this hour quite difficult but there was obviously no way I wasn’t going to push through now.
That left me with 1.2 miles to do at 7am. This final hour had been playing on mind for a little while. How would I feel? Would I be dead on my feet? Would I have anything at all left to give? Would it be little more than a damp squib?
It turned out to be my victory lap. I managed to dredge up some energy from somewhere deep within me to finish strongly. Completing it, I was exhilarated, ecstatic and emotional all in equal measure (ok, maybe more emotional!). I had done it!
To be honest, once I started I never really thought I wouldn’t get to the other side but there were plenty of doubts in the days and weeks beforehand. But I also know that it would have been a whole lot more difficult if it wasn’t for the help of Judith, Bronagh, Danielle, Alison, Iverene and Peter plus the constant support and encouragement from everyone on social media.
Would I do it again? At the minute, no. Certainly not alone, but if someone asked me to do it with them I don’t think I’d need too much persuasion!
If anyone is thinking of giving it a go my biggest tip would be to keep active when you’re not running. Rest but don’t sit still for long because your legs will eventually seize up, keep your mind busy because that’ll really help pass the time and be prepared for moments of craziness when you’ll question what you’re doing!
But it’ll be worth it. Trust me on that.
Playlist: Because The Night (Patti Smith), Golden Brown (The Stranglers), Brass In Pocket (Pretenders), Everywhere (Fleetwood Mac), Suspicious Minds (Elvis Presley), Life On Mars (David Bowie), Born To Run (Bruce Springsteen), No Regrets (Walker Brothers), London Calling (The Clash), Love Will Tear Us Apart (Joy Division), Martha (Ton Waits), Another Girl Another Planet (The Only Ones), Stuck In A Moment (U2), You Raise Me Up (Westlife), Postcards (The Blizzards), Here With Me (Dido), I Don’t Want A Love (Texas), Duel (Propaganda), Knowing Me Knowing You (Abba), In The Air Tonight (Phil Collins), Alive And Kicking (Simple Minds), Music (John Miles), More Than This (Roxy Music), All Works Out (Riptide Movement), Planet Earth (Duran Duran), Moments Of Pleasure (Kate Bush), So Lonely (The Police), Something Happened On The Way To Heaven (Phil Collins), Brass In Pocket (The Pretenders), You Get What You Give (New Radicals), The End Is Nigh (Bell XI), Angel Of Harlem (U2), Livin’ On A Prayer (Bon Jovi), You Give Love A Bad Name (Bon Jovi), It’s My Life (Bon Jovi), Always (Bon Jovi), Wanted Dead Or Alive (Bon Jovi), Limitless (Bon Jovi), Unbroken (Bon Jovi), Keep The Faith (Bon Jovi), The Rain Came Down (Steve Earle), Major Tom – Coming Home (Peter Schilling), Space Oddity (David Bowie), Mr. Brightside (The Killers), Hey Jude (The Beatles), I’m Gonna Be 500 Miles (The Proclaimers), Wonderwall (Oasis), Live Forever (Oasis), Footloose (Kenny Loggins), Breakfast At Tiffany’s (Deep Blue Something), Summer Of ’69 (Bryan Adams), Mr. Blue Sky (ELO), Sit Down (James), It’s Like That (Run DMC/Jason Nevins), Go West (Pet Shop Boys), Paint It Black (Rolling Stones), Go Your Own Way (Fleetwood Mac), Smells Like Teen Spirit (Nirvana), Festival (Sigur Ros), The Trap (London Philharmonic), Going Home (Mark Knopfler), Carnival De Paris (Dario G), The Final Countdown (Europe)