252,250 km in 24 hours

Couple of hours behind, still feeling good (photo: IAU)
Finland brought to Katowice the toughest team we ever had on men’s World championships’ competition and we had every chance to take a medal in team competition. The fact just is that in this kind of sport final result and statistics seldom correlate directly with each other. Besides myself (personal best 234,989 km in Oslo 2010) members of our team were National record and Nordic indoor record 247,944 km holder Jari Soikkeli, Juha Hietanen (personal best 243,467 km), Janne Klasila (240,742 in Brice WC 2010), Petri Perttilä (238,969 km) and Ari Lindsten (231,080 km).

On Friday, the day before the race, we familiarized ourselves with the competition course. which we found quite straightforward and relatively flat. On the other hand, almost half of the 1,544 km loop was paved with concrete, even harder than asphalt and part of the loop was some kind of cobblestone. There was also uphill section which length was couple of hundred meters. There wasn’t much of an ascent, maybe 2-3 meters, but running that section over 150 times sure might have some kind of effect on race results. After familiarizing with the route I decided to use a little more cushioned shoe than I originally planned.

The start signal was given at noon while temperature was around 16 degrees, an ideal running weather – at least for me. The start area was quite crowded when 248 runners rushed there. As usual, first minutes of the race were quite nervous when everybody was looking for space. Actually the first hour was more or less nervous, but after that I find enough room to run my own pace. My plan was to take short walking breaks from the beginning and I followed that plan almost all the race. The running pace during first hours was around 5.15/km which felt very easy at that point. I knew that feeling won’t last 24 hours so I tried to enjoy it as long as possible.

After six hours I was about 1,5 km ahead of my schedule at 68,1 km. I was little worried that I may have started too fast, but running was still easy and I had no problems with my legs or stomach. I eased pace little bit and at the same time evening got cooler and soon darkness fell over. At 12 hours I had gathered 131 km, I was about half a kilometer ahead of my schedule. Often I’ve had the hardest moments of 24 hour run right after midnight, so I was prepared to slow down a little bit. Third quarted was the slowest part of my race and during that I ran only 59,2 km making 18 hours split result 190 km. I was still in my planned pace and my legs felt relatively good.

After 19 hours I had the most difficult moments of the race. Couple of times I felt strange dizziness and momentarily I feared that I am about to collapse. I managed to push through that and last four hours went without any problems. I could eat and drink everything that was offered to me, I had no pains in my legs nor anywhere else. Yes, I was tired and my legs felt heavy and I was under impression that my running looks like a slow motion movie. Couple of times I even shouted at my support crew that my legs don’t move at all. For some reason they just laughed – I guess there were some other runners also who had problems for getting their legs moving.

For the first half of the race I told my crew that I don’t want to hear any information about positions or how much I am ahead or behind some other runners. I wanted to concentrate just my own running. First time I really noticed my position was some time at night when I was told that I am 12th. I couldn’t believe that and couple of hours later; during my weakest moment of the race Finnish crew told me I am seventh. That gave me much needed energy boost to continue running. Before the race I figured that if I manage to do a perfect race I might be somewhere around 10th – 12th place and now it looked that I might end up in top-6. There were of course the most difficult hours of competition left and I heard that I was hunted by couple of runners just few hundred meters behind me. 

Now it was serious. I chased moving Finnish record over 250 km and, in addition to that, I was forced to race for positions. I knew that I hadn’t any possibility to just relax and take it easy during last hours if I wanted to reach my target, which actually had become my target just a moment ago. When there was one hour left I broke Finnish 24 h record on road running (240,742 km), but I had no time to celebrate, the race was still going on. I heard that at 23 hours I was 39 seconds ahead of German top-runner Michael Vanicek. Flashback from Bislett indoor track at November 2010: I was struggling during last hours to break Finnish indoor record (then 230,060 km) and at the same time Michael Vanicek was speeding towards 250 km barrier. I remember thought that came to my mind during that race: if there is one guy in the world that I don’t want to challenge on last hours of 24 h running he is that German, he seems to be so tough at the end when everybody else are fading. And now I was actually challenging him on battle for World championship’s 6th and European championship’s 4th.  I didn’t know exactly how much I was behind EC 3rd place nor how much was I still missing from 250 km so I just had to push, even though my body was shouting mercy. 

When there was about 20 minutes left I heard that Vanicek was 1,5 minutes behind me. “Damn, I just need to push”. I gathered all my strength and managed to run one lap below 5 min/km pace. Ten minutes left, all I could think was “push, you’re still behind 250”, actually I had no idea about what my exact distance at the moment was, but I continued to keep tempo until final seconds of the race. 

When the end signal was given I was totally finished and couldn’t take a single step in couple of minutes. After the race there was painful waiting until official results were published about seven hours after the race finished. 252,250 km! New Finnish record, 17 km improvement to my previous personal best. 6th in World championships, 4th in European championships. I guess that was pretty damn close to perfect race for me and I still can’t believe I really did that.

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