Ultramarathon: Elite runners prepare to push limits

By Peter Thornton

Mosgiel endurance runner Greg Hannah. Photo / Phil McCarthy
Mosgiel endurance runner Greg Hannah. Photo / Phil McCarthy

When you pick up your paper this morning spare a thought for a select group of ultramarathon athletes who begin the Sri Chinmoy 24-Hour Race at Sovereign Stadium in Auckland.

Twenty five athletes will be running and walking non-stop until 9am tomorrow.

And two of the athletes, runner Val Muskett and walker Andrew Shelley, are looking to complete world record and New Zealand record distances respectively.

Many New Zealand reps like Vivian Cheng, Greg Hannah and Muskett have been training all year for the 13th edition of the event.

Three events are offered - the individual challenge, the Centurion walkers challenge and the 12-hour four-person team challenge.

Muskett, who ran 50km in the Great Naseby Water Race in Central Otago on her 56th birthday, is hoping to better world age group records in the concurrent Sri Chinmoy 12-hour race including the world 100km best of 9:41:31 held by French women Paulette Echevarne and the 12-hour record of 114km set by American Sue Ellen Trapp in 2002.

"It is going to be really tough in the wind but I am focused on keeping around 5'30' pace - that doesn't sound that fast but it is over 100km," said Muskett.

"My best marathon was 3:05:00 so I never thought I would represent New Zealand in ultramarathons.

"Now I have the chance to break some world records that is really exciting."

Andrew Shelley hopes to break the walking track record of 182.648km in a day set by Peter Baillie in 2005.

"I'm well prepared but there is some trepidation as well," said Shelley who has completed five ultra-marathons in 2010.

Shelley looks to break the 50-mile record, take 10 minutes of the 100km record, break the 12-hour record and the 100-mile record, but most importantly, the 24-hour record.

"After 14 hours I am heading into the unknown," he continued.

"It is whole new territory in terms of time and distance so the night is going to be interesting ... I feel like I am well prepared for it, but we'll see."

Also putting in plenty of miles is New Zealand rep Cheng, who admits the 24-hour races are addictive.

Cheng ran 80km at the Great Naseby and is back for her third 24-hour race after representing New Zealand at the Commonwealth Championship in 2009.

"It really tests you mentally as it's really hard to overcome not sleeping and the feeling of running for 24 hours is something quite surreal," said 32-year-old lawyer Cheng.

"It's hard to describe ... your mind becomes divorced from your body.

"There are unbelievable highs and lows throughout the 24-hour race. You go through about 20 different emotions and you end up totally frayed mentally."

Race director Simahin Pierce knows all about overcoming mental pain.

At 62, he ran his most recent marathon in August and has run 55 marathons and about the same number of ultramarathons.

He loves what the 24-hour race offers. "It is self-discovery in the highest sense of the term," he said.

Pierce said only 30 years ago marathon runners were regarded as freaks but now that achievement is commonplace and it is only natural to push things.

"The human body has far more potential than people use - these 24-hour races are all about pushing the limits and seeing what the body and mind is capable of."

Pierce said the New Zealand 24-hour record is 264km in a day and the World 24-Hour Record is 303km held by Yiannis Kouros.

Kouros is known as the "Running God" and holds every men's world record from 100 to 1000 miles and from 24 hours to 10 days.

Pierce said the formula for success at the 24-hour race is experience. "You need athleticism and patience and you need to now your limits and how to take care of yourself over that distance," he said.

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n1 at 23 Sep 2014 08:44:23 Processing Time: 561ms