Phoenix Running 24 hour Track Race 2024

An experiment in ultra marathon race nutrition and racing in bad weather

By the time I arrived at the athletics track at Walton-On-Thames, just a short 45 minute bike ride from home, I was already drenched and had to change into a dry set of clothes before the race had even started.  And it didn’t help that some of my spare clothes, including two pairs of spare socks, had managed to get wet in my bag during the rainstorm I had cycled through.

By the time I lined up on the start line 25 minutes later I had also managed to lose one of the four gloves I had taken with me, and with the weather forecast, four gloves (two pairs) was never going to be enough.  I was definitely under-prepared for the weather we would be facing during the race.

The day wasn’t going to plan!

My ultra marathon race nutrition experiment:

And speaking of plans, I was using the Phoenix Running 24 hour Track Race, a race I had completed last year, to test my nutrition strategy for next month’s 6-day race in France.  I’ve always tried to eat regularly (every 30 minutes) during ultra-distance races but have never focussed too much on the nutritional content of what I’m consuming, nor the total calories or grams of carbohydrate.

I realise that when it comes to nutrition, what works for one person may not work for the next, and what works in one race may not work in the next, but a rough rule of thumb that I have read many times is 300-400 calories per hour and 1 gram of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight per hour.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been analysing everything I’ve been eating and found that it is actually quite hard to consume (in my case) 85 grams of carbohydrate per hour whilst consuming only 400 calories – 85/400 is a ratio of 21%.  I reviewed the foods that I usually eat during races and the only foods that came anywhere near a 21% ratio were fruit – both dried and fresh.  And consuming more than 400 calories per hour while exercising is not recommended because your body needs blood circulation to the working muscles – to move forwards – and digestion takes the blood away from those working muscles (or something like that).

If I’m going to be eating every 30 minutes for 6 days – as I will be doing in the 6-day race – I want to be eating more than just fruit, and in the past I have consumed a wide range of foods during 6-day races to ensure variety but have only eaten ‘normal’ foods and have avoided ‘sports nutrition’.

This is partially because of some bad experiences during my triathlon days of the early/mid 90’s and also due to the cost of specialist sport nutrition products.  But to consume the quantity of calories, and especially carbs, that I will need during the race I’ve decided it’s time to spend some money.

Surprisingly (to me anyway), specially developed endurance sport supplements have a lower carbs to calories ratio than I expected.  In face Tailwind has a lower carbs/calorie ratio than Coca Cola and Clif Bloks have a lower ratio than fruit.  I expect they are better quality carbs than you find in average foods though and I’ve purchased 10,000 calories of Clif Bloks (3 boxes of 18 packets) for this race plus the 6-day.  They are easy to eat and can be used to top-up my carbs when needed.

I also bought some Tailwind, figuring that it may be easier to ‘top-up’ my calories and carbs by drinking them, especially in hot weather – i.e. not in the 24 hour race ☹.  As with the Clif Bloks, the ratio of carbs to calories is only 25% – Coca Cola has a 28% carb/calorie ratio – but I assume they are better quality carbs.

Also, Tailwind only has 1 gram of carbohydrate per 10 millilitres of fluid (based on a normal concentration) whereas Coke as 1 gram of carbohydrate per 8.5 mls.

I decided I would attempt to consume an average of 380 calories and 75 grams of carbohydrate per hour for the whole race.  Four litres of Tailwind would be my only drink other than water when needed.  It wasn’t going to be hot, so an average of just 166 mls per hour should be sufficient, whereas in the 6-day in France in late April I should be able to double that quantity.

And for food, I would start off mainly with fruit (both dried and fresh) as I do in most races, and add in other foods as the race progressed.  The only real difference being that the quantity of food consumed every 30 minutes would be a little more than usual.

To improve my overall nutrition at work, on the days that I walk to work (Tuesday through Friday), rather than buying lunch I’ve been eating Huel ready meals – 400 calories of pasta-based meals which have added minerals, vitamins, etc.  I’m also intending on eating the Huel ready-meals during the 6-day, so for the 24-hour I decided to have half a meal every six hours.  200 calories, 25 grams of carbohydrate.

For the 6-day race this year, I’ll be consuming Huel meals as well as some frozen pasta-based meals that my wife, Ruth, is preparing.  They will be frozen when we leave London for the race and we will put them in the fridge when we get there with the intention that they should be Ok for the first three or four days of the race.  The idea being that both of these types of meals will be more nutritious than what I have been eating in previous 6-day races. Ruth’s meals won’t be high carb – at a ratio of about 9-10% carbs to calories, but will contain veges and other ingredients that should help me get through the race in better condition than previous years.  The Huel meals are 13% carbs to calories.

Without access to a microwave at the 24 hour race, the Huel meals were the only new food that I haven’t eaten during races previously.

Race day nutrition - 10,000 calories
Race day nutrition – 10,000 calories

The Race:

My goal for the 24 hour race was to average 7km per hour and try to hold that pace throughout the night, ideally finishing with a total of around 170km although anything over 161km (100 miles) would be satisfactory.  Last year I eased up after 18 hours and cruised through to 164km at the finish.  And then in the 6-day (in April last year) I completed 168km in the first 24 hours, and 170km in the first 24 hours of my last race – the Gloucester 48 track hour race in August in which I DNF’d at 32 hours.

The race started OK.  22km in the first three hours, 50km in 6:55.  It had rained on and off, but wasn’t too bad, but by 9 ½ hours I was cold, wet, and starting to struggle.  I had my first stop to change clothes and by 10 hours my overall average pace had now dropped below 7km/hour.

Worse was to come though, and in the next two hours I walked less than 12km – 81.6km (50.7 miles) in 12 hours.  I remember at one stage trying to put a second rain jacket over the top of my main jacket and being so cold that I couldn’t do up the zip.  And due to a lack of gloves, and frozen hands, I was wearing a pair of waterproof socks as gloves.

One good thing was that I had some hand-warmers with me.  These are small crystals that when kneaded, generate heat.  Without these I would have been in serious trouble.  As it was, my hands were still sore from the cold 12 hours after I finished the race.

I stuck to my nutrition plan though and tried to push the pace.  For a while I was holding the 6.6km per hour that I needed to reach 100 miles by the end of the 24 hours.  I reached 100km in 14:46 but I was starting to experience stomach cramps.  I don’t think they were caused by my nutrition strategy, but I had worked out that I can’t handle dried apricots and I decided to swap out my hour 18 Huel meal with Clif shots as I didn’t feel like eating another Huel meal.

I had also been struggling for several hours with the start of blistering under the front of my left foot – the padded area between the ball of my foot and the outside of the foot.  I stopped to tape the area at 11 hours and took some painkillers a while later.

This is the same problem I had in the 48 hour race back in August. That race was also a track race.  The constant turning on the track was causing problems with my feet.  The question is, why?  I’ve done plenty of 100 mile/24 hour track races without any problems.  The August race was double the distance, which is what I put the blistering down to, and this time it was the wet feet – my feet were constantly moving within my shoes – slipping on my orthotics.

In long races I wear extra wide shoes with two pairs of socks.  I have wide feet and used to blister on the sides on my feet and toes until I discovered extra wide shoes, but perhaps in track races I need tighter shoes.  Another possibility is that 15 months ago (shortly after walking 178km on the track in the 2022 NZ Centurion race) I got new orthotics which have a different surface on the top, and definitely in the rain this makes them a little slippery because they don’t absorb moisture like my previous orthotics did.  Could this be the problem?

Regardless of the cause, with my decreasing pace and the threat of another downpour I decided to DNF just short of 19 hours, at 124km.

My main rational for the DNF, which 36 hours later I still think was the right decision, was that if I tried to push through on a blistered foot, I could end up altering my gait which could result in injury.  My most important race this year in next month’s 6-day race in Vallon Pont d’Arc, and I couldn’t risk getting injured in a race where I was going to be unhappy with the result anyway.

What’s Next:

I’ll take a week to recover and then I have three more high-mileage weeks planned before a three week taper through to the race.  I’ll also be spending more time working on the nutrition plan for the race.

Phoenix Running 24 hour Track Race lap times
My lap times, showing the gradual slowdown towards the end
Ultra marathon race nutrition plan
My race nutrition plan


Me at Bushy Park parkrun this morning

It’s 2024, and for me this year is going to be big!

As it has been for the last two years my main focus will be the 6 Jours de France six-day race which is just 16 weeks away, but this year I’m also planning on competing in a second six-day race – the EMU race in Hungary in September.

In last year’s 6 Jours de France I learnt so much about myself and the things I can improve to walk even further than the 711km (442 miles) I completed last year, but unfortunately, I’m starting on the back foot a little this year in that I was unable to train at all between mid-August and early December due to an injury. The injury didn’t stop me eating though and I’m starting 2024 8kg heavier than I was 12 months ago (and I’ve already lost 1kg over the last month).

So I’m making a major change to my training plan for this year’s race, and I’m going to be incorporating some running into my schedule.  I’ve been doing some secret (not on Strava) running over the last three weeks, building up from 1km at the end of each walk to running 5km this morning. My first 5km run since August 2021 and only my fourth 5km run since I gave up running back in 2015.

The running combined with my annual removal of Coca Cola from my diet (no more Coke until day two of the six-day race) will hopefully see me get back down to around 84kg by race start (20th April).

I’m going to follow a very similar training plan to last year, with a main training block of 12 weeks (starting on the 14th January) comprising of 3 weeks at 100 miles (160km) followed by a lighter week of around 60 miles (100km). The difference being that each week I’ll run 10 to 15km by adding a few running kilometres on to most walks and running my weekly parkrun rather than using the parkrun as walking speedwork.

As well as using the running to lose weight, because running uses different muscles to walking it should help build additional strength in my legs.  My rehab from my injury is also requiring me to spend 30 minutes four or five days each week working on stretching and strengthening exercises, mainly focused on my weak and inflexible hamstrings.

Another thing I’m doing is using a circulation booster for 30 minutes most days while watching TV, and that has worked wonders in removing the tightness I have had in my calf muscles for the last few years as well as the pain in the top of both feet.  My only concern about this is that maybe the muscle tightness and foot pain may have disappeared due to my forced injury break and might come back as I ramp up my mileage, but I’ll keep using the circulation booster until I find out whether or not that happens.

I think that is enough of an update for now.

My two big races will be the two six-day races (April and September).  I will probably walk in the Phoenix Running 24 hour track race in March like I did last year, using it solely as a long training walk with the goal of walking 100 miles. And in August I hope to complete in the UK Centurions 100 mile walk, but again, that might only be a training race given that it will just be a few weeks before the EMU six-day.

Thanks for reading, and Happy New Year!

2023 GOMU World 48 hour championship

I’ve been avoiding writing this race report but if I don’t do it now, I might never write it. It’s already been five weeks since the race and the painful memories are still fresh in my mind. Painful enough for me to seriously consider giving up the sport that I enjoy so much.

When I planned my races for this year, I had one ‘A’ race – the 6 jours de France in April and that was it.  100% of my efforts, both mentally and physically, were focussed on that one race and I wasn’t prepared to even think about anything else until after the race.

Once that race was over, I decided my second ‘A’ race for 2023 would be the GOMU (Global Organisation of Multi-Day Ultramarathoners) 48 hour world championship race, mainly because the race was in Gloucester making travel relatively easy, and also because I have never achieved what I think I’m capable of over 48 hours.

Timed races are exactly that – races that finish exactly x hours or days after they start.  The idea is to run (or in my case, walk) as far as possible in that amount of time.  They are usually held on short circuits, mostly between 400 metres (a lap of an athletic track) to 1 or 2 kilometres.  The Gloucester race was on a 400 metre track.

I’ve done at least five 100 mile/24 hour races on athletics tracks without any problems, and apart from the likelihood of some hallucinations during the second night, I had high expectations for the race.  My ‘A’ goal was to walk 200 miles (322km) which would have been a world class walking performance and would exceed my 2018 48 hour PB of 178 miles (278km) significantly.

I have only competed in two 48 hour races. Royan, France in October 2018 where we had summer for the first 24 hours followed by torrential side-ways rain for the majority of the next 24 hours, and Athens in 2020, just before lockdown in which I was under-prepared and ended up with a disappointing 211km.

My ‘B’ goal, if 200 miles was unattainable, was 300km which would beat the current Oceania area 48 hour walking record set earlier this year by Australian, Joffrid Mackett.

But it wasn’t to be.

The race:

2023 GOMU 48 hour world championship start
Before the start. I’m at the back

I had a good first day, covering 170.4km in the first 24 hours. I had hoped for 175km which would make day 2 a little easier, but another 152km should be possible, I thought.  It was a hot day on an exposed track with no shade, but as I usually do in hot weather I wore a cotton t-shirt which I kept wet, and during the afternoon I also wore my white arm sleeves and a buff around my neck, which I also kept wet.

The short story though, is that I only lasted another eight hours, one of which was off the track for medical treatment on my blistered feet followed a few laps later by an attempt to sleep, before dropping out at 32 hours (6pm) because I couldn’t face the idea of walking through a second night at the slow pace that I was struggling to maintain.

My average lap times started to slow soon after passing 24 hours, and with that I started to suffer mentally – I couldn’t get my positive attitude back and the area under the front of both feet, on the outside (not the ball of the foot) was also starting to blister and I was really just going through the motions.

Richard McChesney and Sandra Brown on day 1 of GOMU 48 hour world championship race
Walking with the legendary Sandra Brown (multiple world record holder and finisher of over 200 races of 100 miles or further)

I was actually doing OK in the race. Of 58 starters, I was in 13th place at 24 hours and as the day progressed I moved up into the top 10. Not bad for a walker in the ‘running’ World 48 hour Championship!

If I had had a positive mindset, I would have been telling myself that whilst I’m slowing down, others are slowing more than me, and I would have been getting positive energy from that. But I just wasn’t interested.

When my feet got more and more painful a positive mindset would have told me to take some painkillers and change my shoes – but I didn’t.

I eventually stopped to visit the medical tent at 29 hours (201km) but by then it was too late. The medical staff were actually no use at all. They were NHS staff not familiar with ultra-distance racing, and they refused to drain my blisters because they “weren’t working in a sterile environment”.  Give me Maxine Lock (the awesome medic in races organised by Challenge Running) or my friend Suzanne Beardsmore (a former nurse who has drained my blisters many times) any time – someone who understands what is required to fix an athlete’s feet and get them out on the track again.

Instead, they suggested that I soak my feet in ice-cold water and have a rest.  Being tired and looking for any excuse to stop, I stayed in the medical tent soaking my feet for 20 minutes before hobbling down to my bag to use my own ‘medical equipment’ (a needle, cloth and tape) to drain and patch my blistered feet.

The break hadn’t been good for me, mentally or physically, and I walked at an average of only 4 ½ minutes per lap for the next hour before deciding that maybe a short sleep would help.  The 20 minute powernaps I had during the six-day race in April had worked well, but I found I couldn’t drift off to sleep. It was now 5:30pm and I decided to give up on any attempt to sleep and start walking again, but now I was even slower.

And that is when I made my biggest mistake. I got my phone out and checked whether there were any trains going back to London that night.  There were. And that was it. I finished my race at the end of the next lap, just before 6pm, packed up, went and had a shower and caught a taxi to the railway station.

After the race:

I’ve dropped out of races in the past and whilst dropping out always seems like a good idea at the time, usually I realise afterwards that I could have finished.  If only I had persevered and pushed through the bad part.

This time, I was in such mental pain after the race that I couldn’t even think about it for the first two weeks, and I seriously contemplated giving up on the sport and sitting on the couch eating potato crisps and drinking Coke for the rest of my life.

In reality, I should never have done the race.  I pushed myself so hard (mentally) during the six-day race in April that I’ve hardly done any training since. Definitely no structured training. Therefore I wasn’t physically ready to walk for 48 hours at the pace I wanted to walk, and I don’t think I was mentally ready for a 48 hour race either.

For me, having now completed 44 walks of 100 miles or further, a 48 hour race is like an 800 metre race for runners.  In an 800m race the runner starts off at close to 400m pace and tries to hold on through the second lap as best they can. Whereas in a 1,500 metre race they start of at a more conservative pace.

For the 48 hour race, to achieve my goal, I needed to walk at close to maximal effort for the first 24 hours and then hold on the best I could for another 24 hours. Whereas in a six-day race (my equivalent of a 1,500m running race) I start off at a more conservative pace.

To do this (a 48 hour race) requires serious mental strength – to keep pushing the pace when exhausted and in pain.  And I didn’t have that mental strength.

And that brings me through to today.  I haven’t done any exercise at all for five weeks.  For the first two weeks after the race I thought I was finished with the sport. I couldn’t face the idea of competing in another multiday race, and the idea of training for next year’s six-day race in April was terrifying.

Even now, I don’t know how I can get back that positive mental attitude that I need, but I am starting to miss the exercise and miss my long Saturday walking adventures.

A couple weeks ago I finally entered the 2024 edition of the 6 jours de France.  The organisers had posted on facebook that the bungalow accommodation was already 50% full and I do want to have another attempt at a big 6-day distance.  So I entered the race.

This week the EMU six day race in Hungary is in progress, and next year that will be the GOMU 6-day world championship. I would like to do that too perhaps.

I’m planning on taking another two weeks off before I resume training, and will slowly get back into it so that I’m ready to start serious training again in January.

Lessons learned:

Failure is a part of success

I don’t know where to start, but this is a bullet point list of some of the things I have been thinking about over the last five weeks:

  • Don’t think about how far you have to go until you are near the end.
    I’ve learnt over the years that until you have covered at least 2/3rds of the race distance/time, you are still just warming up. During the ‘warm-up’ just focus on the here and now.
  • If you haven’t done the training, don’t expect the results.
    This isn’t to say don’t enter the race, but enter it with appropriate expectations regarding what can be achieved based on recent training.
  • If/when I next attempt to achieve something big, I will take a support crew.
    Support crews do much more than help out with feeding. For a start, if they have given up their time to help you, you will be less likely to give up.
  • Ring your wife!
    I purposely didn’t ring Ruth when I was thinking about dropping out because I knew she would tell me not to. I rang her once I was on the train.
  • Take care of your feet.
    Foot care during a race is more important than almost anything else. On this occasion, if I had stopped earlier to deal with my foot pain, while I still had a relatively positive mindset, then the foot pain (blisters) may not have got to the stage where, even with a negative attitude, I decided to stop.
  • Plan to sleep.
    In races of less than 36 hours I don’t sleep because you are unlikely to make up the time lost in the remaining hours, but any race that goes through two nights probably means that a powernap will be required. I went into this race intending on not sleeping and therefore I didn’t have a sleeping bag or anywhere I would be able to sleep comfortably.  In my first 48 hour race in 2018 I didn’t need any sleep, but it would be better to plan to sleep and not sleep, than to plan not to sleep and then need to find somewhere suitable to sleep when already extremely tired.

The positives:

It wasn’t all doom and gloom. I walked my 21st sub-24 hour 100 miler and my 7th best time.  And my 24 hour split of 170.4km was my 8th best 24 hour distance.  I also walked 28:50:45 for 200km which is both a new New Zealand M55 record and a new NZ track record, giving me both the road and track NZ records plus the M45, M50 and M55 records.
Note: M55 and NZ track records will be subject to ratification (there was a walking judge present although officially it was a running race).


Apart from being totally exhausted mentally and needing this long break, I’m using this period to try and get over some niggly injuries – without much success unfortunately.  The injuries aren’t serious but they make training a little less enjoyable.  I have four injuries at the moment:

  • The top of my left foot has been sore on and off since the six-day race last year. I had physio treatment on the foot for months last year without any success. The discomfort/mile pain comes and goes but often wakes me in the middle of the night.
  • Both calf muscles are very tight and have been for several years. Stretching doesn’t seem to make any difference and when I wake up in the morning I have to be very careful not to stretch or move my legs suddenly as doing that results in cramp in one or both of the calf muscles.
  • Outside of left knee is a little numb at times.
    I don’t know what this is, but sometimes if I scratch the outside of my left knee I can’t feel anything more than a light touch, whereas normally I would feel my fingernails. I don’t know when this started. Probably only in the last few months.
  • Top of left hamstring/glute.
    Where the left hamstring connects to the bone in my bum area is probably the worst of the injuries. It hurts almost constantly except for when walking once warmed up.  When I say it hurts, it is just uncomfortable and there is definitely something not right. It hurts sitting, standing and even lying down, but once I have been walking for an hour or more and am properly warmed up, I no longer feel it.
    This problem started early this year and I’ve been seeing an osteopath working on resolving this problem, but no success.

With all these issues, which could just be due to getting old and perhaps walking a bit more than the average person, I’ve recently invested in a circulation booster which I use twice a day for 30 minute each time – while eating breakfast and dinner.  I don’t know that this is making any difference either, but I’ve only been using it for two weeks and these injuries have been there for a while.

What’s next?

When I finished April’s six-day race I really felt that I could improve on my 711km (442 miles) substantially and perhaps become the first person in modern race-walking history to walk 500 miles (805km).  That will require exceptional preparation, both physically and mentally, and I hope to get back into shape by Christmas so that I can start training for that race in January.

I won’t be doing any serious races before April but there is the possibility that I might use one or two races as a part of my training.

So potentially this might be my last race report until April.  But I’m sure now that it won’t be my last.