Just over two years ago I met my coach Johnny in a hotel lobby in Stockholm. He was going to help me train for an ultra, with the goal of managing to run 100 km. If someone at that point had entered the lobby and said that I would set the Swedish record for 12h, we would probably both have stood up and walked away. Laughing.
But then a thought was planted in my head at an ultra running camp in Spain, less than a year ago. In passing, Johnny told me that I would be able to beat the Swedish record for 12h. Then he just walked away. For about three minutes I thought he was being ridiculous, then I grabbed my phone to find out what the record was. A new goal for my running was set.
A nerve disorder in one of my shoulders, which I got in April 2015, slowed down the plans for record attempts somewhat, but they never disappeared. The pain and other things in my private life affected my training. During this spring, I was unsure whether the time was right and if I should race in Crawley. It was only two weeks before the race that we decided that I was going to run.
I had an awful lot of doubts regarding the race. In addition to doubts about what shape I was in, physically and mentally, I had set a goal that would not be easy to reach. I knew I had the ability to do it, but it would require everything to fall into place at the right moment. There are so many things that can go wrong during an ultra. So many small decisions that can change the outcome. And it turned out that I was dependent on the small decisions during the race.
Crawley April 2 2016
Alongside the track Johnny was ready to coach me to the Swedish record. I stood on the track completely ready to go for the Swedish record – aware while unaware of how hard it would be.
07: 00-10: 00
My legs, body, head – my whole being was happy. It was great to be running! The legs ran too fast but it was nice to stretch out and release all nervousness. The sun rose behind the trees and made the sky pink. The air was high and clear. The atmosphere among the runners was ultra nice. The only thing that made me slow down was when Johnny said that he was going to force me to walk a lap if I did not slow down. I do not like walking so I kind of obeyed.
Quite early, I realized that I was not eating enough but I ignored it, which was an extremely stupid decision and it could have cost me the record. Swedish curd cake/cheese cake, which had worked perfectly as energy at previous races did not work at all this time. I was hungry but did not know what I wanted to eat. When we approached three hours of running, the effect of this appeared and I ended up in a severe energy dip. Way too early. Completely because of carelessness.
10: 00-13: 00
The six-hour race began and my plan was to steal some of their power. It did not work particularly well, since I had to put all my focus on balancing my own energy. Johnny gave me bottle after bottle of Tailwind, which became the main energy intake during the race. It is difficult to turn an energy dip around and it took a long time, but I suddenly felt that my body began working again and my running became comfortable yet again. For a while anyway.
When I passed my first marathon of the day, Johnny ran up and gave me a choice: “Either you quit now, or are you going for the record.” This sentence stayed with me during the race and was repeated in my head several times. He had forced me to choose – he had given me a choice. Now, the record was my target. My already strong determination was further strengthened.
The sun was now high in the clear blue sky and the heat bothered me. We had not really considered that heat would be a factor, running a race in England in April. I had more to drink, took more bathroom breaks.
I looked forward to the turnaround. I wanted it to give me new energy while being aware that it could turn out just the other way around. I kept on fighting hour after hour. It was tough.
The turnaround. Trying to decide whether I liked the new direction better. The furthest side from the lap recorders and support quite clearly felt longer. But on the other hand, the side by the lap recorders became shorter in my mind… The headwind in the curve got worse. I tried convincing myself that headwind in one place means tailwind in other places, but I could not really find that alleged tailwind. I turned to my usual trick- I do not run against the wind, I run with the headwind. This works ridiculously well for me. I can handle wind, being a Scania runner you are a bit of a specialist at running in windy conditions. (Scania/Skåne is a region in the south of Sweden with a lot of fields, often- as in nearly always –windy.)
The hours went by very slowly. The body did what it was supposed to do and kept pace as planned, but I had to fight a lot. Suddenly Johnny shouted, “Now is the hour of energy” and gave me a stocked bottled of Tailwind. Hour of energy? Knowing that arguing with him is not worth it, I downed the whole bottle in order to get “energy hour” over with. I knew that he was counting calories. A new bottle? One more. And one more? I knew I needed energy and Johnny explained that the record entirely depended on how much energy I could get into my system.
Soon, the 6h runners were done with their race. Many of them picked up speed and I tried keeping up with them. I was looking forward to the final part of the race, but I was a bit concerned that there would be fewer fast runners. There were only two men in the 12h race ahead of me and they did not seem to be running very fast now, neither of them had passed by me in a long time.
During one of my dips I found myself staring at the white line that separated the tracks. I could see my feet walking on it, resting. The desire to stop was so strong that I in retrospect cannot understand how I resisted it. The image in my head of how I began walking was so real that it felt as if it was really happening. The only thing that kept me going was my goal, which stayed with me during the entire race. The goal never faded and it was stronger than my own will.
I was tired. I wanted to take a break. I told Johnny that I needed to go to the bathroom even if it was mostly a mental thing. I was taking a mental bathroom break. I am really quick during my bathroom breaks, but that extra break could have cost me the record. It is all about the small decisions.
We were not many left on the track and that felt quite nice. Otherwise, there were not many other things that felt nice. Not even the rain that kept us company during the last three hours was nice, even though it was nice to escape the sun. I had to work hard. I lost pace. I lost track of the time I had been ahead of schedule. With one and a half hour left, the real struggle began. Now I was worn out. Struggling. Running. Refusing to quit.
Johnny had to work hard. I got orders to pick up the speed when running the stretch furthers from the lap recorders and the support – on the side that I felt was extra long, that is. I was trying. I thought that I was increasing my pace enormously and that I was running my fastest lap yet. In my head, I was running really fast, but in reality it was a completely different story. I was running faster, but not fast enough. Johnny ran back and forth on the track chasing me forward. I tried and I struggled. The rain was pouring over my face and I just focused on moving forward, faster. It was cold but I decided not to put on my jacket – one of many small decisions that were correct. My gaze was entirely focused on the track a few meters in front of me. I heard the lap recorders shout and cheer when I passed but I did not see them. I heard Johnny chase me but I did not see him. I passed the lap recorders – one minute left. “You need to go another half of a lap” – Johnny screamed behind me. I found a little extra power within me and sped up, for real this time. I ran with all my might – I had to make it all the way. The signal sounded and I stopped. I could see the 200m mark on the track just a few meters in front of me. Did I fail? Did I make it? I fell to the ground, completely exhausted. I refused to let go of the stick with my number on – the stick that I had to put on the ground where I had stopped, so that the judge can measure the last lap. Finally I put it on the edge of the track and I realized that the race was over.
We thought that I had been short of the national record by 50 meters. The rain was pouring down and I was freezing. I did not have the energy to be disappointed. I did not have the energy to feel anything. I had to get warm, that was all that mattered.
I won the ladies’ race and we got more and more information that indicated that I also managed to set a new record. We estimated that I had made it by about 90 meters. We dared not think about it, we hardly dared say it out loud. One day later, I got it confirmed – I had beaten the record by 91 meters, and the final result was 125.791 kilometers.
I did not get anything for free in this race. It was a real fight. But we did it. It was teamwork from start to finish. Johnny had to work hard to get me not to lose my pace. There was praise and encouragement. There were downright threats. There was all it took to get me to make it all the way.
Swedish record by 91 meters. I made it. We made it.
Well, there was one more thing. I run with my arm in a sling. A year ago, I suffered from an autoimmune disease of the nerves in my shoulder that causes severe nerve pain and disability in the shoulder and upper arm. The running is affected because the pain takes a lot of energy and many training sessions have been lost along the way. Meanwhile, I have also consciously gone out for a run while being in severe pain, because I am often painless while I’m running. I’m on the mend, but I make sure to not celebrate too soon, since the disease has a tendency to swing back and forth. But one thing is certain – giving up is not an option.
Johnny. What a good team we make! Thank you for getting me to dare to look beyond all limits and to go there, for provoking me and knowing how to get me on track.
Agneta. You’re just full of crazy energy and great ideas! And you put up with me when I’m nervous before the race or when I have a picnic on the bathroom floor in the middle of the night. You are the best.
Scania Road Runners members. The world’s best running club with the world’s most wonderful, supportive, encouraging, cheering, inspiring members.
Pam Storey. Thank you for a really nice and well-organized race!
Sue Clements. Thank you for counting my laps! You spent 12 hours next to the track counting my and Agneta’s laps – amazing.
All runners, lap recorders, audience and especially the little girl waving the Swedish flag – thank you for your support.