My participation in 24-hour races

by Dr. Peter A. Tanner

My first 24-h race was almost 20 years ago, at Shatin Stadium in Hong Kong. Although I was performing very well, I had not realized the importance of nutrition so that without enough fuel I seized up after about 16 hours. Subsequently, I took part in the first 24 hour race in China, at the Tian He Stadium in Guangzhou. In the daytime the stadium was a furnace.

I finished third but was so stiff that I was unable to step up onto the winner’s podium. Then Frank Kuo inaugurated the famous 24-hour races at Soochow University in Taipei. I participated in quite a few of these events, which have a carnival atmosphere. The on-going music, dancing and festivities that go on outside the track serve to keep the runners alert, focused and outgoing in thought. I am not an athlete, just an ordinary jogger who should pay more attention to fitness. My best performance in the race was 208.7 km in 2005 at the age of 60. Another time, due to stomach problems from eating “contaminated pizza” from a restaurant I had the privilege of achieving the record of the most toilet visits during a 24-h race.

What personal qualities are developed through these races?

Perseverance

The 24-h race differs from a marathon in many respects since the duration is about 6-8 times longer. After 10 hours anything can happen to destroy your hope of completing the race. You travel into an unknown abyss. One is alone on the track for long periods. So what do you think about? The duration of the race is far too long to make any long-term plans. Body condition and fatigue can suddenly appear out of the blue. Thus, most of the time one focuses upon the next hour or the next 5 or 10 laps of the course. One is continually doing calculations of distance and time but they never seem to work out. How many laps can I do before stopping for a drink, or food, or a rest? Negative thoughts appear, like a friendly demon running by your shoulder – “Stop for a drink”, “Give up, you can’t do it”… But as a fellow runner told me during one race, “You must never, never give up. Keep on”. Thus when down, in the depths of despair, whether due to missing a personal deadline, feeling exhausted, or some other reason, remember these words. Say them to yourself and a resolution will strengthen in your heart that you can survive, you can do it, you can finish!

Training perseverance not only relates to the race but also to the many months of arduous training that forestalls it. I have found that my development of perseverance has helped me so much in life in putting up with and overcoming difficulties and also in studying.

Teamwork and friendship

Another quality is essential in order to complete a 24-h race. It’s much easier to run when you can share your burden – whether by a smile or a welcome word of encouragement with another runner. Everyone aims to help other runners endure the pain and fatigue to get through the 24-h race. Understanding and appreciating other’s difficulties is something we should all aspire to do.

Internationalism

The 24-h race is a melting-pot of races with runners from many countries participating. Friendships blossom between runners and particularly between runners and helpers and these endure for life. The helpers are so attentive and encouraging to runners and this is remembered always. Moreover, we realize that people from all countries are our friends.

Confidence

Why run a 24-h race? The 24-h race is a challenge, just like climbing a mountain. The sense of satisfaction on completion is enormous. Most of all, self-satisfaction, self-confidence and contentment all grow and this is lasting.

Charity

For myself and some others, there have been other reasons to compete: namely to raise money for a charity. The general public are generous in supporting this tough event and it gives one extreme satisfaction in being able to help a worthwhile cause. It really made me happy when I was raising funds for Orbis in a 24-h race that the helpers made a special poster without my knowledge, asking for contributions!!