In January I had the pleasure of meeting British ultrarunner Sophie Power for the first time. I attended her talk about the She Races campaign at the National Running Show in Birmingham and introduced myself afterwards. Sophie mentioned that she was planning to compete in the Crawley 24 Hour Track Race in April in a bid to qualify for the British team for the International Association of Ultrarunners (IAU) 24 Hour World Championship. She also said that other elite British ultrarunners were going to be at the race. This sparked the idea of volunteering at the race. Later that day I bumped into Pam Storey, the organiser of the Crawley track ultras. She said she would welcome another volunteer.
I thoroughly enjoyed being at the race on 15th and 16th April. I’d competed in the 12 hour race in 2021. Volunteering gave me a very different perspective. Afterwards Pam asked me to write the race report for the Road Runners Club magazine. Below you will find a slightly edited version of the report I submitted.
Crawley A.I.M. Charity Track Races
On the morning of Saturday 15th April 2023, 58 runners arrived at the K2 Stadium in Crawley, East Sussex, to compete in the Crawley A.I.M. Charity Track Races.
The competitors included athletes who had represented their country, veteran track ultra runners, runners who had run trail ultras but never set foot on a track before, and at least two people who had only taken up distance running in the past three years. Whatever their running background, each competitor had a story and a goal for their race. It is these stories and goals which make the races so engaging and interesting to watch.
The conditions were good for running. Saturday morning was somewhat chilly and cloudy with a cool breeze. Fortunately, the wind blew the threatening rain clouds over without any rain falling and the sun came out in the early afternoon.
The 6 hour and 24 hour races started at midday, following a briefing by race organiser Pam Storey and race referee Hilary Walker. Hilary was assisted by timekeepers Don Turner and Paul Corderoy.
The Crawley 6 Hour Track Race
There were ten competitors, eight men, two women. Nine completed the race at 6pm. All exceeded 50km.
The men’s winner and overall winner was Guy Hudson of Henfield Joggers who completed 200 laps, 80.299km/49.893 miles. Guy ran an evenly paced race with no breaks and led throughout. The women’s winner, Helen James of 100 Marathon Club, has competed at Crawley several times. She completed 158 laps, 63.310km/39.337 miles and overtook Emily Plummer of Harvel Hash House Harriers who had led in the early part of the race.
The Crawley 12 Hour Track Race
The race began at 9pm on Saturday, finishing at 9am on Sunday. There were ten competitors, eight men, two women and eight completed the twelve hours. All exceeded 75km.
There was something of a battle between Andy Day (unattached) and Sarah Funderburk of Mornington Chasers with Sarah leading for a good part of the race. Andy managed to catch her eventually and finished with 323 laps, 129.591km/80.521 miles. Sarah ran 317 laps, 127.194km/79.031 miles.
John Fanshawe (unattached) finished third man. His performance, 256 laps, 102.496km/63.685 miles, was a British v75 age group record. John beat his own record of 100.800km set at Gloucester in 2021.
The Crawley 24 Hour Track Race
There were 38 competitors, 27 men and 11 women. Nineteen were still going when the race ended at midday on Sunday. The weather remained good overnight. Sunday morning was sunny, and it was quite warm by the time the race finished at midday.
It’s an exciting time in 24 hour racing with the long-standing British records recently broken by Jo Zakrzewski in September (237.985km at the IAU 24 Hour European Championship in Verona) and Robbie Britton in February (277.439km at the 24 Ore di Torino). Athletes are looking to get qualifying times for the IAU 24 Hour World Championship in Taipei in December. Crawley attracted a strong field including eleven athletes who had represented their country at IAU 24 Hour Championships and/or competed for their home nation at the Anglo Celtic Plate 100km race.
The 24 Hour Women’s Race
Ali Young of Chiltern Harriers AC, who has competed for Great Britain at both European and World 24 Hour Championships twice, led the women’s race for the first third. Sophie Power (Guildford & Godalming AC) gradually narrowed the gap until she overtook Ali just after 8pm. For the rest of the race, Sophie maintained the lead with Ali in second place. Both women ran strongly throughout only showing the signs of the effort they were putting in in the last two or three hours of the race. They finished in fourth and fifth place overall. Sophie exceeded her previous best set at the IAU 24 Hour European Championship in Verona by nearly 17km, running 589 laps, 235.739km/146.476 miles. This moves her into the top 10 all-time British performances. Ali ran 561 laps, 224.524km/139.507 miles – over 6.5km further than her previous best set in 2017.
Aoife Ni Mhaoileoin steadily moved up the field to finish third woman and in sixth place overall. Walking towards the end, she just made it across the line to achieve 214.012km/132.976 miles to the delight of her support crew. This was her second 24 hour race and her first on the track. Aoife achieved her goal of breaking 200km, the qualifying mark to be considered for a place in the Irish team at the World Championship.
The 24 Hour Men’s Race
The lead changed several times in the men’s race. Brian Robb, who was running the race for the fifth time, led from the start. At about the 4 hour mark Damian Carr took the lead. Ben Carroll, winner of the Crawley 6 hour race in 2022, led from around 6 hours in until he was overtaken by Gareth Pritchard at around 11pm. Both Damian and Brian retired overnight.
Gareth retained the lead and ran 644 laps, 257.926km/160.262 miles, nearly 11 km further than his personal best set at Verona in September. Ben finished second with 621 laps, 248.473km/154.388 miles, a personal best by over 15km. Dave Andrews came third with 595 laps, 238.217km/148.016 miles. He had represented Northern Ireland at the Anglo Celtic Plate 100km race just two weeks before.
Gareth Pritchard pictured receiving his prize from Rose George and Pam Storey.
100 miles achieved
Fourteen runners exceeded 100 miles (403 laps). One of them was Marc Bromwich who claimed in his biography to have ‘achieved absolutely nothing in running yet’. He had a remarkable final hour, blasting round the track with 19 sub-2 minute laps in a row and finishing with a 1:20 final lap. We wonder what he might do in his next race.
Crawley Track Races – supporters and volunteers
Several runners were supported by very well-organised crews. Ben Carroll had the youngest crew members. His support included his daughter aged 9 and son aged 7 (as well as his mother, Mary). This was the second time his daughter had supported him at a race. She was keeping a careful note of the times when Ben had taken food and drink and what he had consumed. Iain Stewart, who was participating in his first 24 hour track race, was accompanied by a team of six supporters wearing matching t-shirts featuring the name and date of the race. There was much celebrating as he crossed the finish line with more than 500 laps.
When the race had finished, race referee Hilary Walker and Karen Webber-Brown from Timing Monkey painstakingly checked the timings and distances, before the final presentation of prizes and medals was made by Pam Storey and Rose George. Pam and Rose are both trustees of the Advance International Ministries (A.I.M.) charity which Rose co-founded. The event had raised £2,000 for the charity which supports a community in Kiyindi in east Uganda.
Another successful, well-organised event from Pam and her team of dedicated volunteers. As Paul Corderoy said, ‘It’s the best way to spend a weekend‘.
My thoughts on volunteering at the Crawley 24 Hour Track Race
Being a spectator, support crew or volunteer at a 24 hour track race is both engrossing and rewarding. We commiserated with injured runners as they withdrew. We agreed with elite athletes that it was better to withdraw if targets were out of reach. And we celebrated as milestones were met…100km (250 laps). 300 laps, 400 laps, 100 miles (403 laps), 500 laps (200km)… And then, for a few athletes, onwards and onwards ticking up the kilometres until the race finished at midday.
I arrived at the K2 Stadium at about 10am on the Saturday and was able to meet several of the athletes as they arrived to register. It was nice to see Sophie Power again and to meet Ali Young who had finished fourth in the Spartathlon in 2022. And it was interesting to hear some people talk about their aims for the race.
Ali Young and Beccy Davis
Aoife Ni Mhaoileoin
My main volunteering task was updating the laps board which we did every hour. The board was in a gazebo on the infield of the track. On Sunday morning, I helped with preparing porridge pots and toast which we put out on tables on the track.
I did not quite manage stay up all night. In the early hours of the morning I started feeling rather tired and cold. Pam kindly directed me to a dark room with mattresses where I got about an hour and a half’s sleep. When I returned to the track at about 6am, the floodlights were still on. But dawn was definitely coming and there was a beautiful orange pinkish sky. It seemed quite strange after sleeping to see several of the runners still going round the track at exactly the same pace as before.
Towards the end of the race on Sunday morning, I sat in a deckchair by the side of the track and told athletes how many laps and/or what distance they’d done. Afterwards several people, including Sophie, said that this had helped them.
I was particularly pleased to meet Hilary Walker for the first time. Hilary had acted as race referee in 2021, the year I ran in the 12 hour race but I had felt a bit shy about approaching her. She was rather busy with her refereeing duties.
Hilary is the General Secretary of the IAU. She is also one of Britain’s greatest ultrarunners. In the 1980s, she set the 24 hour and 48 hour world records. Her 48 hour record from 1988 remained the British record until it was beaten by Jo Zakrzewski in February 2023. From 1991 to 2003, Hilary represented Great Britain at IAU European and World Championships both at 100km and 24 hours. I tried to count all her appearances – I think it was 21 (see a list of Hilary’s ultra races). Hilary also won dozens of track and road ultras, including the Spartathlon in 1992, London to Brighton 5 times (between 1988 and 1999) and Two Bridges twice (1990 and 1999).
Results of all races here.
The Crawley 6 Hour and 12 Hour races have been taking place since 2006. The 24 Hour Race was added in 2017. It has been run every year since with the exception of 2020 when it was cancelled due to the pandemic.
The IAU 24 Hour World Championship will take place on 1st to 2nd December in Taipei City, Taiwan. It was last held in 2019. The course is a 2km loop on a flat asphalt pavement in a riverside park.
The athletes who had represented their country at IAU 24 Hour Championships and/or competed for their home nation at the Anglo Celtic Plate 100km race were:
IAU 24 Hour World Championship 2019 and 2017: Ali Young
IAU 24 Hour European Championship 2022: Damian Carr, Eloise Eccles, Jo Newens, Gareth Pritchard, Sophie Power, Wendy Whearity
IAU 24 Hour European Championship 2018 and 2016: Ali Young
Anglo Celtic Plate 100km 2023: Dave Andrews (Northern Ireland)
Anglo Celtic Plate 100km 2022: Gareth Pritchard (Wales), Jo Newens (Scotland)
Anglo Celtic Plate 100km 2019: Alastair Higgins (Scotland)
Anglo Celtic Plate 100km 2018: Natasha Farid Doyle (Wales)
Sophie Power is the ninth woman in the UK top 10 for 24 hours. This places her one place below Hilary Walker who ran 236.453km at the Preston 24 Hour Road Race in 1988, a race in which she placed both first woman and first overall.
Eleanor Robinson’s distance of 240.169km which she achieved in 1989 at the Melbourne 24 Hour Track Race in Australia remains the third best performance by a British woman, behind Jo Zakrzewsi and Lizzie Hawker.
Nine athletes have been selected to represent Great Britain and Northern Ireland at the IAU 24 Hour World Championship in December. They include Damian Carr and Sophie Power. Read the British Athletics announcement.
Banner photo: Eloise Eccles on Saturday afternoon in the 24 Hour Race.
All the photos are mine. If you wish to use them, please credit me and mention this blog as the source.