A cold, dark, rainy evening last November, I was having dinner with some friends from the club. Then, I blurted out:
- You guys. Wouldn't it be cool if we put together a 6-hour event?
It wouldn't be official. Just a fun club thing maybe. Just to see how many people would turn up. Were people interested in this kind of thing?
I had run a race like this before. Skövde 2012. 6-hour races usually take place around a loop of approximately a kilometer. You have 6 hours to run (or walk) as many loops as you can and want to. I had had a great time in Skövde and broken my personal distance record. I wanted to share the elation I had felt then with my friends and everyone else who wanted to participate.
My friends were immediately on board with my idea. We started planning on the spot. It was going to take place by the river, on a 5,5 km long loop, on the 28th of June. I am so happy to have friends who share my kind of crazy.
As months passed and winter turned to spring and then to summer, all the bits and pieces slowly fell into place. We worked hard, fueled by enthusiasm and love of running. I won't lie and say that it was always easy. There was some stress involved. Especially on my part. But I knew that my friends were there, working just as hard if not harder, and we were going to make it.
A few days before the event, I borrowed some bibs and water tanks from the club secretariat. This was it. It was really happening. As this fact slowly dawned on me, excitement and trepidation took turns occupying my brain. This was not just a club thing anymore. The news had gotten out and people outside the club wanted to participate in our unofficial race.
This was serious business. Even if it was ”just for fun”, I felt I had a responsibility to make sure that everyone had a good time, everything worked as it should, hell, even that the weather was good enough.
Again, my friends were there. An hour before the event was due to start, we gathered at the start/finish area and started getting things in order. Signs, bibs, food and drink, a makeshift toilet, tables, chairs...
People started showing up to get their bibs. They chatted with each other as the sun shone on us all, and spirits were high. Soon, AIK showed up too. They were going to run the same loop as us, partly to keep us company and also, for those that wanted it, to provide pacing. I was so happy to have them there, both for the sake of the event but also on a personal level, knowing that many of my running buddies and our coach were out there.
After a few words about the event, it was time to get going. One of our volunteers counted down and we were off. I ran conservatively but tried to average 6 min/km including the food breaks. I had great company to keep my mind from getting obsessed with time, and before I knew it, four hours had passed.
I realised my body was doing really well. My first goal had been to run 30 km. I hadn't done more than that since last autumn. Since I got my latest bout of runner's knee, that is. I figured that if I made it past 30 with 3 hours to go, I had a chance at 40. So when I achieved that goal pain-free, I let myself dream I could do an ultra.
After 44 km, I ran alone. With no one to distract me, I went into my own body and started listening. No pain. Some niggles that disappeared after a few minutes. Tired, for sure, but I was keeping a pretty good pace. I had been worried before the event that it would be mentally exhausting what with the loop being so long, but I hadn't needed to. It was never boring, and the beautiful surroundings, the birds singing, the afternoon sun, the people floating lazily on one-man inflatable boats on the river, all made for almost surrealistic, almost hallucinatory distractions.
My brain is not very good at counting at the best of times, and it gets even worse when I run far. Somehow I still managed to calculate that my pace was good enough to give me a new personal record. I had run 58,5 km in Skövde, stupidly giving up and walking the last couple of kilometres, so I had to at least try and run 60 this time. I was running on fumes now but I was still pain-free, except for a niggle on the outside of my calves. I was confident I could do it. I had plenty of time. I ran past the finish line with a couple of minutes left on the clock.
As our volunteers sounded the horn that signified the end of the ”race”, I was overwhelmed with emotion. Not because I had broken my record, but because everything had gone so well, people were smiling, lots of them having broken their own personal records. It was perfect. We had done it and it was perfect.
Have I mentioned our wonderful volunteers? None of this would have happened without them. They worked hard for over 8 hours registering results, making sure there was food and drink available, and generally making sure that everything worked. I am so incredibly thankful for them and my fellow organisers and friends. And for all 24 people who showed up to run even though it wasn't even a real race.
There was a sense of community to it all, that people had gotten together to have a great day in the sun, doing something that they love doing. This feeling got stronger every time I ran past the start area and saw relatives to the runners and even others that happened to walk past and then stayed to watch for a while, seemingly enjoying themselves.
We popped open a couple of alcohol-free sparkling wine to celebrate. Then some of us stayed for a barbeque. We started planning next year's event even as we ate and drank.