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Kelsey - '24 Hour' Champion

Updated: Aug 25, 2022

Camino first met Kelsey a few years ago and her talent was evident from the beginning. At 24 Kelsey was finishing on the podium at the tough North Downs Way 100 Mile race. The following year we began to coach her and she obliterated the Robins Hood 100 mile trail race in 17 hours.

It wasn't long before Kelsey's curiosity and beautiful way meant that she was a natural to move into a Camino coaching role herself. Even at the tender age of 26 Kelsey is an experienced ultra-athlete with top performances in 50KM - 50 Miles and also cycle endurance/ironman.

During the training for her first ever 24 event there was the expected concern about how those extra hours/miles would play out. Added in the mix was one of the hottest UK weekends for decades and things weren't looking easy for big distance.

We knew that only 10 young British women in the history of 24 hour events had ever completed 200KM in 24 Hours or more (also only 118 ever in the World). In addition only 43 British women had ever gone over 200KM in the history of our sport. This was our A-goal and if anyone could do this on their first attempt - we knew Kelsey could.

We are grateful that Kelsey has put together this wonderful and insightful blog of her first 24 hour performance - we don't want to be a plot spoiler (don't read the title!!!!) We are incredibly proud of how she prepared for the event itself and how she gave the best of herself throughout the entire 24 hours.

It is one achievement to run for 24 hours.

It is another completely more magnificent achievement to 'smile and run' for 24 hours.

Here is Kelsey's account of things:

The before and after:

I am sitting here a week post Gloucester, having just done a 4 miler followed by a massive sigh of relief. A 24 hour track race had been almost 2 years pending. I was meant to run Gloucester in 2020 however despite having a good race, after Robin Hood 100 miler I had a femoral stress fracture which put me on crutches for 8 weeks, no running for 3 months. I therefore unfortunately had to pull out of the track race. My next big race was the South Downs Way 100k which left me with a tibial stress fracture, meaning I was unable to run Self Transcendence 24 hour in 2021. There was a lot of mental build-up and emotions around this race. Not so much around how far I could run in a day but more around what my body could take. This was going to be the run which either restored my trust and confidence in being able to run ultra-distances, or quite the opposite. If I had another stress fracture I think I would have had to have a re-think about how I approached it, or whether I was even cut out for the sport.

I had spent a lot of time learning and doing things differently. I went on a journey of education and discovery. I did more strength work (I swear by barre as one of the most complimentary things to running and seriously would recommended!), cross trained, stopped fasted running, had my iron deficiency diagnosed which I now take tablets for and kicked my menstrual cycle back into regular, healthy cycles.

On Monday morning, after my first sleep since Friday night with Gloucester sandwiched in between, I woke up unable to put any weight on my right foot. I think my brain had been wired to think the worst, another fracture. I went to see an osteopath, got ultrasound therapy and then pretty much rested big time for a whole week (when else do you get chance to do that!). I felt calm. This morning, a week since finishing, I have just been for a 4-mile plod and hurrah!! Everything is fine. Feeling like I can properly reflect without fear and I can dare to have those ‘what next’ thoughts...

Race day

I could tell I had never done this before, rocking up a whole hour before the 10am start. I was comforted with many runners turning up just 10 minutes before the briefing, some even with fry-ups! I don’t think I had processed the fact I would need to try and run for a whole 24 hours until I was stood there at the briefing. A few little butterflies and a whole lot of smiles, it just hit me that I was here, I had made it to the start, and I was feeling so grateful. The clock hit 10am, I took a deep breath, gave my boyfriend Ben a nervous smile, and off we all went.

The first 3 hours I just ran, with an impromptu plan to slow down for the second 3 hour block when the heat would be peaking to about 34 degrees. Ben was crewing and I think I checked on what he was up to on every lap. It was a chilled few hours where I got to grips with running on a track, chatted with a few of the runners and watched Robbie Britton fly by every couple of minutes.

At 2pm it was the first turn (of 5), which felt like a relief. At this point I was really hot, the buzz of the start had passed and the remaining time of about 20 hours had hit me. I remember thinking that a lot of people seemed to be running quite fast and I had to tell myself to just do me. I knew I needed to stay disciplined to my own race. At 3pm my friends Katt and Meg arrived. It lifted my spirits seeing their big smiles and they brought a serious vibe to the track.

I was still struggling until about 8pm - the 2pm-8pm block was the hardest section of the whole race. I was struggling to eat, which had never happened before in a race. There was a few mental challenges which came with this but more on that below. I decided on/off walking until I could eat was the best solution. At about 7pm my Dad arrived, I was really happy to see him having phoned him on the track telling him I was struggling. Dad has been there through my whole running journey and I definitely listen to his wise advice. My friends Molly, Alex, Emily and Alice also brought their cheery smiles to the track.

At 9pm as the sun was setting, the temperature dropped, I was eating again and felt a whole new lease of life. 11 hours in and it felt like the race was just starting. The sunset on the track was spectacular and as I was no longer in what felt like survival mode, I was able to soak it all up. I had some amazing conversations with the other runners on the track and ran into the night.

From about midnight to 4am it was quiet on the track. My friends and Ben had gone to get some kip and it was just Dad crewing. Despite having many moments where I was almost falling asleep – I genuinely would go to the toilet just to sit down and close my eyes for about 20 seconds - I felt very calm and peaceful and the miles seemed to be flying by in my meditative state. I think I has sussed it out. This was the way to do it.

At about 4.15am, Ben came back to the track and I was so happy to see him. Michelle, the lady in first place at the time had just reached 100 miles. 18 hours and 46 minutes in I also got to the 100 mile mark and the feeling of this gave me a new lease of energy, I no longer felt sleepy. By this point Robbie Britton, who was in first place overall, had left the track. We had to get to over 110 miles by 10am in order to overtake him.

I don’t remember walking too much from here, the odd break here and there. I finally stopped needing a wee every mile after I realised I didn’t need to drink quite as much as I did when it was at its hottest. At about 6am my friends came back to the track again bringing electric energy like no other. So many people have said about their joyful, uplifting presence. They set the tone of the track and it was keeping me going big time. Dan Lawson was on the side lines, also radiating his vibrant energy. I was soaking it all up and everything was making me smile. I had a bacon sandwich – I don’t even eat bacon normally but wow it was good. Just 4 more hours of this was possible right?

At some time between 6am – 7am I got into first place. That in itself kept me running. I didn’t know if I would be able to keep it up but it felt like everyone was running more and it was great. There was some weird momentum on the track as the sun was now beaming again, but it didn’t feel too hot. Music was playing, the crew on the sideline were cheering for every single runner. It felt like those who had made the 24 hours (a lot of people had already stopped) were really experiencing something special together. Endymion Kasanardjo was a big part of my race at this point, it felt like we were sharing the same energy.

I reached 200km with about 39 minutes or so to spare. I tried to kick on for the last half an hour. I couldn’t believe it. I genuinely was enjoying every lap knowing the end was approaching. Then at 10am I dropped my beanbag. 205.5km and 24 hours of running. The first female outright winner. There were tears, there were hugs. I always knew I had good people in my life but they went above and beyond to make my dreams come true and I am so grateful. It was a pretty damn special day.

Top tips and lessons learned

  1. Be versatile and adaptive rather than fixed on race strategies

I didn’t go into this race with a race plan. I hadn’t actually run more than 5.5 hours in a single training run so I felt it didn’t feel right to presume I could do X, Y and Z in unknown territory. Adding 35 degrees heat into the mix and I definitely did not know what could happen. I quite like to not overthink races beforehand. I like to set goals and milestones during the race, once I have sussed things out such as the conditions, how I am feeling and actually processed the duration or the distance. I am not saying this is the right way, but it works for me. It helps me to go into the race feeling calm, almost as if there are no expectations or pressures. And it helps me to be versatile and adaptive, rather than getting caught up when things in that moment aren’t going in a way that is aligned to the race strategy.

2. Adapt your running to the weather and don’t make training conditions perfect

I did pretty much everything to avoid training in the heat. Not the most clever thing I have done! But at 34 degrees I think it was the second hottest day of the year and in the week prior I actually messaged the organisers to check it was still going ahead. Duh, of course it was.

I wanted to get the first couple of hours out of the way before it got too hot. After 1pm it was really uncomfortable to run in and I was having to run on the outside of the track where there were sprinklers. Robbie Britton had special zip-buffs which could be filled with ice. My crew clocked on and started making me make-shift versions out of normal buffs. Not quite as glam but they were good, although occasionally I would litter the track with ice. I would recommend getting the real deal! There were a lot of positives of the heat which I had thought through before the race. 1. It made the second half a whole lot better than it would normally be in a long race 2. A good excuse for more walking breaks 3. Everyone was in the same boat and the fact it was on a track made this physically visible that we weren’t on our own.

3. Run your own race, despite 24 hour exposure

You can see everybody, all of the time, and they can see you! This was really strange. I spoke to James Ellis who said “it feels like we are in a fish bowl” and how right he was. The full spectrum of ultra running is on display for everyone. You see the fastest and the slowest laps. I found this challenging in the first half as I was comparing myself a lot. But then it became quite motivating – seeing people running in that second half definitely spurred me on. On the other hand, if I was having a walking break I loved that I run to certain people and join them. I had many lovely walking conversations with Rebecca Palser.

Be mindful that “Running your own race” takes a bit more discipline rather than getting caught up in what other people are doing. By the end I liked this more than I did at the beginning, the track was much quieter as a lot of people had called it a day. The heartfelt conversations and kind words in passing in those last hours is something I will cherish forever. There was a complete sense of unity and empowerment of those left. It felt like we are all running together and it was pretty special.

4. Be disciplined with the temptations each lap brings to enable yourself to zone out

Before the race I was curious about how I would cope with the monotony of laps where I was constantly running past my crew. I had not pre-empted having to make decisions on every single lap. Do I run on the outside lane, which would add unrecognised distance, in order to go through the sprinkler or get a water sponge? Do I go to my crew table and grab a cup of cold lemonade or look at what food is laid out because maybe there might just be something I can stomach? Do I need to stop to put on more suncream? I think the heat contributed to this massively but it took a good 8 hours to actually switch off from all of the decision making and actually relax my mind. Once I was able to do this, the miles began to tick by quickly. I would be mindful of this going into a track race. There is temptation on every lap but try and be disciplined with when you think about what you need, because it can be pretty draining otherwise.

5. If you cannot eat, think forward and slow down

I am good at run-eating and I love food. Before long races I tend to stock up on a whole buffet and have always been very lucky that combining my two passions, running and eating, comes naturally. About 4 hours in, I realised I wasn’t able to eat, the thought of eating made me feel sick. Unknown territory for me which brought a whole lot of nervous questions. How long could I run without food? Were there any food types I could stomach? How do I get myself to a position where I can eat again? I could tell my crew were a bit worried too, and they were being so amazing in offering me everything under the sun to get me eating again.

Up until this point at about 50km I had not stopped, so I decided I would have walking breaks and run slowly until I got myself to a point of being able to eat. It worked! There were cycles though where this happened again, but I knew what I needed to do. Ellas kitchen baby food was my best friend – top tip, just stick to the fruity ones rather than bangers & mash or bolognaise! When you can eat, eat! Once my appetite was back I made sure I kept on top of nutrition, little and often. My crew were amazing at making sure this happened.

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