IUA 24 Hour World Challenge
October 23-24, 2004
Brno, Czech Republic

photos by Andy Lovy, Alex Swenson and Peter Bakwin
click on a photo to see a larger image

Click here for the race website

U.S. Team Members, and Dr. Andy Lovy

Stephanie ran 130.5 miles in 24 hours at Across the Years last winter and was invited to join the U.S. team at the World event. Few of us will ever get the chance to run on a national team in World championships, how could she pass that up? Her team included Pam Reed (who set the American record on track last year, 138.96 miles) and Sandy Powell. The World Challenge is a team and individual event: each national team is allowed up to 6 members, with the top 3 scoring towards a team medal. With only 3 women running for the U.S. all they would have to run well in order to earn a podium spot (which the U.S. had never done in the 24 hour.)

The U.S. men's team consisted of John Geesler (who holds the American record in the 48 hour), Scott Eppelman, Roy Pirrung (former 24 and 48 hour American records, now 56 years old) and Alex Swenson.
Andy Lovy and Korean aid table

Alex Swenson

Scott Eppelman

John Geesler

This was my second 24 hour. I ran Across the Years (track) in 2000, racking up 135 miles. I would run in the "open" race, which is for runners who were not members of their national teams.

The team thing was really neat, and provided a really supportive atmosphere as well as excellent support in the pits: we had Pam and Sandy's husbands, Scott's wife, and team doc Andy Lovy. Andy is an osteopathic doctor and psychiatrist who has worked on many, many ultras, including the TransAm, Surgeres and Across the Years. He has incredible knowledge of the physiology of ultra endurance running. We knew that his presence was a huge asset to the team, and would help everyone safely run their best. A Czech friend (Jan Ondrus), whom we had met at La Transe Gaule in 2002, found us an additional support person.
We left home for Prague on Tuesday, arriving Weds (8 hour time change). We stayed 2 nights in a nice pension, and spent some time walking around town to see how things had changed since our last visit in 1992. Things have changed a lot! The Czech Republic is now very much like western Europe, only still much cheaper. McDonalds and KFC are everywhere, but Prague retains its spectacular old-world charm. Plus, the beer is still outstanding! The Czech and Slovak Republics entered the EU in May of 2004, so it seems likely that the pace of development will continue and these countries may before long catch up to the standard of living of the west. We also found the Czech people to be extremely friendly and helpful, even in the big, touristy city.
The race was held in a suburb of Brno. The course was a 0.84 mile loop on asphault roads and brick sidewalks winding around a bunch of large apartment buildings and though a park. Winding indeed: there were twelve 90-degree corners on the course, about 6 of which were extremely tight. There was also a hill with maybe 20-30 feet of elevation gain and loss per lap. With some uneven pavement, cracks and even a couple of curbs to step over it not the world's fastest 24 hour course! Being in a neighborhood had its advantages, as spectators were out cheering the runners literally all night, and a large crowd lined the whole course during the last hour or so. There was one old guy who seemed to be out there all night waving to every runner.
The last 200 yards of the course before the timing area was designated as a "refreshment zone", with each team allocated a sheltered aid/handling area. There was also a fully- stocked "public" aid station. The race was timed by Champion Chip. A nice feature was a large board immediately after the timing mats that displayed your lap time, place, and total distance each time. The team handlers also frequently received print-outs of the overall standings so that they could advise their runners of positions and trends. In all, things were very well organized and ran smoothly.

171 runners lined up for the 10 a.m. start. There were 31 national teams (18 men and 13 women) plus 29 runners in the "open" category (like me, not attached to a team.) Weather was cool and cloudy, with occasional drizzle, good for running.
Race Director Tomas Rusek

I used a run-walk strategy. I would walk for 4 out of every 30 minutes. I found that it took just about 4 minutes to walk up most of the gradual hill that began with a tight corner just after the timing area. This allowed me grab some food just before my walking break. The strategy worked out very well, and I utilized it for basically the entire race. Scott Eppelman and Sandy Powell also used frequent walking breaks, though Scott's were much shorter than mine, maybe less than 2 minutes. The other U.S. team members appeared to run pretty much all the time. As a trail runner I find it difficult to run continuously.

The international competition was amazing. All over the world (except in the U.S.) the 24 hour is seeing increasing popularity. Especially impressive was the Japanese team, which ended up capturing first place in both men's (Ryoichi Sekiya, 167.19 miles) and women's (Inagaki Sume, 147.35 miles) individual, and second in both team competitions. More than one third of the field (49 men and 17 women) ended up with more than 200 km, a distance that would win many U.S. 24 hour events outright.

Nevertheless, there was the flurry of ridiculously fast running at the start. There was a Danish guy who led the race for hours, lapping me probably 15 times before going into full zombie walk mode. Valmir Nunes (Brazil) led for a while, running very fast and steady with amazing form up until 100 miles (in the 13-14 hour range), when he quit for some reason. The former World Champion from Belgium, Paul Beckers, also ran very fast in the beginning but died. In the end it was Sekiya Ryoichi from Japan who kept up a strong, steady pace and won it. I didn't crack the top 50 until after 50 miles, but finished 18th.

On the women's side, with runners like Edit Berces (Hungary) and Irina Reutovich (Russia), both of whom have run over 150 miles, the competition certainly looked stiff.

The U.S. runners went extremely well. All started conservatively and ran very steady. John Geesler had digestive/bowel trouble and struggled, but still managed 142+ miles, speaking to his amazing toughness and talent. Scott Eppelman ended up with a PR performance of 144+ miles, 11th place overall, and a really outstanding run for him on this tough course. Roy Pirrung did 139 miles, setting a new American record for the 55-59 age group. Alex Swenson also PRed with around 136 miles. Pam Reed ran a solid race, finishing with 132+ miles, and Sandy Powell ran a solid 122+.

But, the big story for the Americans was Stephanie's 140.16 miles, a PR by nearly 10 miles. She ran very steady, moving up through the field finally to 3rd place. Her performance secured a Bronze Medal finish for the American women's team, the first time the U.S. has ever medalled in the World 24 Hour! She now has the 3rd best 24 hour by any American woman, behind only Sue Ellen Trapp and Ann Trason!

Steph and Pam relaxing after the finish

As for me, I used my run/walk strategy up to 16 hours (100 miles) but then suffered a metabolic crash: I stopped briefly and my blood pressure dropped to 70 over 40. It took me some time to recover from this, and I managed only 2.7 km in the 17th hour. But, under the expert guidance of Dr. Andy I was able to run well again for the last 6 hours, and managed to just crack the 140 mile mark (finishing 187 meters behind Stephanie!) I really didn't think I would make 140 until the last hour when Roy passed me saying he was gunning for the age group record, and I decided to give it a shot. Suprisingly, I was able to ramp it up and average 9 min/mile for the last hour, even skipping my usual walking breaks. I finished 18th male, and was suprised to find that I had won the open race!
Final notes:

A quick analysis of the results shows that the top runners without exception ran very steady paced races. On average for the top 20 men, 54% of the distance was run in the first 12 hours. A good number to keep in mind.

What is the future of international-level competition in the 24 hour in the U.S.? The 7 U.S. team members this year ranged in age from 38 to 56, so its safe to say that few of these people will be running as well 5 years from now. It seems that all the young runners are on the trails.

Bronze Medal Team
with Dr. Lovy and Roy Pirrung
In the U.S. everybody is running trails. Mention that you are going to run for 24 hours on a track or road and even people who don't bat an eye at running multiple 100s per year will say "Are you crazy?" Well, I'm a died-in-the-wool trail runner (I ran Massanutten and Hardrock this year), but I would respond with two comments:
    · Don't knock it until you try it
    · "It's all good." -- Kirk Apt

Hanging in Prague
This shows the number of km run in each hour as timed by Champion Chip
see the race website for complete results.
HOURS123456 789101112 131415161718 192021222324
Stephanie 10.8510.8510.859.4910.859.49 9.499.499.499.498.149.49 9.499.499.498.146.788.14 9.499.499.499.498.149.49
Peter 10.8510.8510.859.4910.8510.85 9.4910.859.4910.858.149.49 9.499.499.499.492.718.14 8.149.499.498.148.1410.85

100 km9:589:34
100 miles16:5516:04
24 hours140.16 miles140.05 miles
12-hour ratio*0.5240.542
*this is the ratio of the distance run in the first 12 hours to the total distance