48h World Championship, 1st female and team
It seemed smooth and easy but it wasn't. I was struggling from the get-go and my motto for the whole race was "It doesn't always only get worse". When things are already off the rail in hour 3 and you have 45 more hours to go, you have to have something to cling onto. Hoping it would get better is the only way to go.
Physically, in terms of fitness and running, I was feeling great. I had a really good build to the race, I had the endurance, I had the speed, I had all the fitness. I was also feeling mentally strong. I was exactly where I wanted to be at 10am on the 11th August.
Landing in London, England. Photo: Robert Sztrakota
The 48h World Championship race was on a 400-meter (1/4 mile-ish) high quality track in Gloucester, England. We had a really fun time getting there with my team mate, Krisztina Drabik, and our two helpers, her friend Adrienn Gergely and my friend, Robert Sztrakota. Driving on the left side of the road with the rental car was as much fun as an amusement park ride and we were laughing our heads off (see my FB page for the video!).
We knew that the weather would be a big factor and you just never know what you get in the UK. We had quite a hot first day with daytime temperatures of 24-26C / 75-79F , but because of the track, it easily felt 4-5C higher or even more. The nights were very pleasant for temperatures but very humid with several rain showers that ranged from light sprinkles to 2 minutes of hard downpour, but by the time we went around the track it was over. There was only one more serious period of heavy rain, during the second night - more on that later.
Back to the start. I really liked the 10am start, not too early, not too late. My nutrition plan was based on liquids for the most part, not even gels and barely any solids. I did the previous 48h World Championship race last September exclusively on liquids, and since then I discovered the unflavoured F2C Glyco-durance, which I can tolerate indefinitely since it is not sweet so it doesn't cause any taste fatigue. I used it for the full 30 hours at Badwater a month ago. I didn't even have many gels with me, only a few packs just in case.
I was feeling good and strong early on. Photo: Nilla Váry
Alan McCubbin from Monash University in Australia ran a few predictions for me based on my sweat tests, thank you so much for all your help, Alan! Based on those, we put together a very simple plan of going mostly with 500ml / 17 oz of Glyco-durance and when the weather gets hotter adding some water with electrolytes to increase hydration.
But, the best laid plans... I normally take nutrition every 15 minutes, 150 ml-ish carbohydrate drink, that's how we started but I was having stomach issues from very early on. This had never happened before and I had no idea why my body would refuse the easiest nutritional option there is. But it did. We even tried different drinks and they all caused the same problem. At this time, we just had to focus on solving the issue and didn't have any energy to try to figure out the root cause. Since I only had 6 gels on me, that wasn't going to be the solution, but Kriszta had a lot of solid food and I had some as well.
We started out with my staples: doughnuts. I had a good supply but I was only expecting to start eating them towards the very end of the race, maybe 40 hours in. But instead, 7 hours into the race we swapped to 1/4 of a doughnut per 15 minutes. This worked like a charm and I was fine. We went through the next 4 hours with those and then we tried to swap back to liquids but the same issues started again. After another 5 hours of struggles with liquid calories, we were back to solids as a final plan.
I asked for avocadoes, he gave me mangoes. Close enough. Photo: Trishul Cherns
I'm not used to having solid food so early in races and I'm especially not used to getting all my calories from solids. However, this necessity finally brought a break-through discovery and I'm hoping that my solid food intake for 6-day races will drastically change because of what worked in this race. The main point is that the food needs to look good for me to want to eat it. Seeing others eat something also helps, sometimes I will want exactly what someone else is having. Eg. at one point during the second night when I was miserable and it was raining, there was no food that I found appealing. Then I saw Marietta, one of the other Hungarian runners eat a cup of noodles and all I wanted was the same cup of noodles. Luckily, they had another one of the exact same and they shared it with me. Thank you!
I knew that Mara, the Romanian girl would start out faster than me and I wasn't worried about it. Even if she was ahead at 24 hours, I wasn't going to get worried. She is naturally much faster than me, she has a PR of 236km / 146 miles in 24 hours which might be way outside of my potential, although I don't really know how much I'm capable of, since I haven't run a pure 24h race since my first ever ultramarathon in 2020. It might be right around that mark but I also might be way off and not even be close, I really don't know. I did 215 km / 133 miles in the first 24 hours of this race.
I think there were a few others in front of me in the first few hours, even though I started out way faster than I had planned to. I was feeling physically good other than the nutritional problems and very strong so I just went with what felt good, which was a 5:15-ish / km pace (8:30 min/mi) instead of the originally planned 5:35-5:45 min/km (9-9:15 min / mi). I consciously tried to slow it down after a few hours and I did, still overshooting the original pace target but getting much closer to it. I was happy where I was in terms of my running.
The daytime was hot but I had just gotten back from my 4th place Badwater finish where the daytime temperatures were 45C / 113F so the 25C / 77F weather was not an issue. I had all my cooling gear, shirt, headband, bandana and we kept them wet for the cooling effect.
I completely ignored putting sunscreen on which wasn't a smart move. But I had just thought there was no way I was gonna get a sunburn in England. Oh well, I was wrong and my thighs started turning red... Needless to say, I put some sunscreen on for day 2.
Cooling shirt, cooling bandana and cooling headband. The tape on my chin is to prevent chafing from my asthma mask which I was wearing for the whole race until the last 5 hours or so. Photo: Robert Sztrakota
Around 21 hours I took over the women's lead - earlier than I had expected. The first night was relatively uneventful with some rain showers and pleasant temperatures. I was still running (jogging) and finished the first day with 215 kms / 133 miles which I think was a 24h PR for me.
I got sleepy during the first night at one point which is atypical of me, but I could afford a 5-min power nap so I did. Once the sun came up at 5:30-ish AM, all was good again and I had a comfortable lead in 1st female. We were also in the lead of the team competition with Kriszta. I was eating fine, jogging fine and all was well.
Robert handing me a drink during the first night. Photo: Adrienn Gergely
Adri showed up with more doughnuts the second morning, I just looked and them and said "blaaah" haha... I didn't have a bite. But I had other stuff, bread with humus, avocadoes, we also bought some gels in the local running store, I had quite a bit of mac'n'cheese, watermelon, mangoes, peanut butter, coke.
We eventually figured out after the race the the issue with the sports drinks was most likely caused by the tap water. Although it was perfectly potable, somehow it was different than what non-British runners were used to and a lot of us had issues. Many were throwing up and I was running to the bathroom as soon as I had any drink with tap water.
Not much happened during the second day. I was jogging around, eating solid food, without any major problems. The weather was a bit annoying, sometimes the wind got pretty strong but I don't generally mind the wind. It had a nice cooling effect and the way I look at it is that a head wind is a head wind for everyone.
Sometime around midday a tendon started hurting under my right knee. It got quite painful so Szabi Toth massaged it a bit and then suggested taping. We did and that solved the problem completely. The tape even came off after a while and the pain never came back. I didn't really have any other injury-type issues during the whole race.
I had another 5-min nap later that day and since it was clear that I wasn't going to hit my A goal of 380kms / 236 mi nor my B goal of 370 kms / 230 mi, I eased up and just wanted to make sure my gold medal was secure.
I found a really good rhythm behind men's leader, Szabolcs Beda from Hungary the second day. We were stepping in sync. Our natural cadence is the same. The Hungarian Train. Photo: Robert Sztrakota.
Around 3am the second night things got spicy. We have been seeing for hours that the Finnish girl, Marianne had been going at an impressive pace but we didn't know why. I was just hanging out with Mara, who was 2nd place woman, thinking that as long as the gap doesn't get smaller between us, I'm fine. We were chatting and I was really enjoying the slow pace for hours. She is a very nice lady, a doctor in Romania. She was targeting the Romanian national record which was standing at 315km / 195 miles.
But luckily Kriszta was paying attention. Or maybe it was Adri from our crew. One of them noticed that the Finns were closing on us in the team competition. They were only 8 laps behind, which is nothing, 3km / 2 miles. Kriszta, my team mate was already at her max, so it was on me to get going and stop the attack - or at least that is how we saw things unfold from our end.
I said good bye to Mara, I apologized for leaving her but I explained that our team title was now in jeopardy. I also started to get worried about Marianne potentially catching me in the individual race, she was standing in 3rd at this time. I kept wondering if she was after me. My lead was about 25km / 15 miles to her, and maybe 13 km / 8 miles to Mara, but I knew that Mara wasn't any threat at this point given the shape she was in.
I was first looking for Marianne so I could get on her heels but I confused her with someone else... ooooops... This other lady was also wearing a bright blue rain jacket, it was dark, raining, the middle of the night and I had been running for over 40 hours. I think she was from Germany and she got very mad at me. I suspected something was off because her pace was super slow but I didn't realize my mistake until much later. I eventually apologized to her several hours later when I realized what had happened.
Having been told off by this lady, I kept running and eventually found the other Finnish lady, Paula, so I got behind her to make sure she doesn't close the gap on us. I was still under the impression that it was Marianne who was mad at me. Paula was super friendly, she said "I should be following you" and we started chatting and running together. I was surprised but I welcomed the friendly greeting, especially after what had just happened, and it was definitely to my advantage to hang out with her. She was also a very nice lady and I really enjoyed her company.
We ran together for a while but then the weather turned and it started pouring like crazy. All my clothes, including my rain jacket soaked through. This was a serious downpour in the middle of the night and I became miserable. The two Finnish ladies were not even fazed, just cranking out the laps at a very impressive pace. They slowed, but they were out there keeping at it in the pouring rain.
Team Hungary had a tent rented where I could lie down for a few minutes. Photo: Nilla Váry
I came in and said that I had had enough. I couldn't keep up with the pace and in this weather I didn't want to be out there either. We had a brief chat with Kriszta and decided to let this one go. Silver is a very shiny medal too. Kriszta was actually relieved to hear me pull the plug because she was at her limits too. She asked me one more time "Viki, are you sure? Is this what you really want?" My answer was a firm YES. I went down for a 10-min nap, which turned into 13 mins because the downpour continued and my crew only woke me up once it started to quiet down.
I went out again and started jogging, thinking that maybe I can just keep a reasonable gap for now and then see what happens. Kriszta did the same, content with our silver medal prospects. BUT THEN... the Finns started slowing... the sun started rising... the weather started turning... and so did my mood.
After putting a gap of 8 laps between us, now with the Finns ahead, they completely let up. They were easy jogging and walking. At 5:15 the first rays of sun broke and I suddenly felt alive. I must be running on solar power...
"I must be running on solar power". Once the sun was up, my smile came back. Photo: Robert Sztrakota
When you assess what pace you can keep, it is always, always, always relative to the amount of time or distance you are expecting to have to keep that pace up for. The end point interaction. Your mind calculates "Is this a kind of pace I can keep for whatever is left of this race" and if it isn't, it says NOPE. When I pulled the plug at 3am with 7 more hours of running left, I did so, because the pace didn't seem sustainable for the next 7 hours. It doesn't mean I couldn't have run that pace for 1 minute, or one lap, or even one hour.
That was a mistake in my thinking. What crossed my mind when the Finnish ladies let up the pace was that I was looking at it all wrong. They were never going to keep that pace up for 7 hours, but after running for 41 hours, your mind is not capable of adding one plus one. It never occurred to me that the end point is not 10am.They had a plan to close the gap, put a few more laps between us and then they had nothing more in their plan. There was no plan for the last 5 hours of the race.
I had an idea. I cranked out a faster lap. Nothing crazy, maybe 5:30-ish pace (8:50 min/mi) and it felt good. I stopped and woke Kriszta up. I said to her, "The sun is up and I'm feeling great. I can put those 8 laps on them but you need to hold them off so we don't lose any laps on the other side. I can't do it alone. Do you want to try?" Kriszta says my voice was so convincing when I said that "I can get them!" that she had no choice but to agree. She had very little energy because her stomach refused any food for the previous 12 hours, yet, she hid her struggles from me.
Our crew, Adri and men's winner, Szabolcs's crew, Nilla made some hot soup for Kriszta, hoping that would stay in her. But all I saw was that she was still sitting, eating, rather than being out on the track so I shouted at her: "Stop eating and get out here! Actually you can eat but start walking!" I had no idea she had hot soup in her hands... she stayed cool as a cucumber, finished her soup and got going. By that time the Finns were 11 laps ahead of us.
We agreed that we would try for 30 mins and see where we landed and how we felt and then reassess. Off we went. I started cranking out the laps and I was feeling great. I just had to make sure I didn't push myself too hard because there were still almost 5 hours of the race left. I could only afford to go at a pace that was sustainable for that amount of time.
The Finnish ladies didn't respond to the attack which absolutely fired us up. People also started showing up at the track in the morning and I loved being in the centre of attention - nothing wrong with that, right? I was the fastest moving runner on the course at this time. A few observers understood what was going on, but a lot of them didn't. They thought I was going for a record or just for my own amusement...
All the championship medals. They were worth fighting for. Photo: Trishul Cherns
It didn't take too long to put those 11 laps on them. Maybe an hour and a half. So we got to 6:45am, the race was going until 10am. I wanted a little cushion but by then I was confident that I could hold any woman's pace from the field, so both Finnish ladies would have had to start cranking out crazy laps to take the lead back.
After taking the lead, I eased up a bit, but I still kept going until we built a small gap. Kriszta was also doing her part and running steady.
Once I felt we were safe, I found Paula again, she was the one going faster of the two Finns at this time, so I chatted her up again - and then the huge surprises came. Marianne joined us too, while Kriszta was going faster than the three of us. I felt that I deserved a little break so I let Kriszta put the distance on them now and I just guarded the two ladies at their pace.
What I found out was very surprising though... the whole team competition fight was only in our heads! The reason Marianne started going fast at night was because she wanted to break the Finnish national 48h record, standing at 313km / 194 miles. She had no idea about the standings of the team competition and she was definitely not after me.
That record was being held by her teammate, Paula, who was her biggest cheerleader during the race. Of course, I didn't tip them off that they were only a few laps behind us in the team competition and that in the last few hours they were actually ahead of us for a while.
They were happy to learn that they were standing in second place for the team - I told them that much. They said they had suspected they were in second. We kept running together for a good while. Kriszta in the meantime also found her groove and now she was cranking out even faster laps than I had been, some as fast as 5-min /km (8 min/mi). When she had had enough, she went to lie down for a bit. She told our crew only to wake her up if the Finns got very close and our team title was in danger.
It was around 7:50am, 2 hours and 10 minutes to go. Marianne was at 308 km / 191 miles. I told her that since she had 5kms / 3 miles to go and over 2 hours to do it, she could easily walk it in - of course, the comment had a purpose, I really didn't feel like running much for the last two hours, but a comfortable friendly walk while chatting seemed fine.
Walking around the track with Marianne. Photo: Trishul Cherns
Paula, on the other hand, was at 281 km / 174 miles and for some reason she got it in her head that she wanted to hit 300 kms / 186 miles in the race, just because it was a nice round number. I never understand goals like that. It wasn't going to be a PB for her, it wasn't going to change her position in the race either. She was about to put herself (and me!) through 2 hours of misery for absolutely no reason.
I was actually quite mad but couldn't show it. I thought that goal was absolutely unrealistic but of course I didn't want to say it out loud and sound negative or seem like someone who is doubting her abilities. I had no choice but to go with her. I also had to wake up Kriszta (again!) who was just getting comfortable for the start of her last nap break. I said to Adri, that I wouldn't wake her up if I didn't have to but we have absolutely no choice. I need her out on the track.
Adri said that Kriszta would hate me. I told her I didn't care and that "she will thank me after the race". (She DID!)
Adri knows Kriszta really well so she didn't have the courage to wake her up, she knew that Kriszta wasn't going to be a happy camper. She sent Szabi in, who was in Szabolcs Beda's crew - everyone was helping everyone anyway, the whole Hungarian team worked together throughout the whole race. Szabi said to her "Kriszta, you have a job to do. Your lead is down to 4 laps."
Kriszta tried to find a way out, calculating if the other two Hungarian girls might be able to play a role, asking what I was doing but she had to come to the conclusion that there was no other choice - she had to get back out.
Kriszta didn't get much of a chance to sit... Left to right: Krisztina Drabik, Adrienn Gergely, Robert Sztrakota. Photo: Trishul Cherns
Kriszta came back on the track and I was cranking out laps with Paula. I couldn't believe it. I felt it was stupid and that I was done, I could hardly keep that pace so close to the end, we were running around 6 min/km (9:40 min/mi) - or maybe more just that I didn't want to keep this pace so late in the race.
Kriszta was also hurting and profusely swearing at me in her head. "Viki is simply crazy. I can't handle this rollercoaster. She is a total idiot. She is going to kill me." We were both dancing on the edge. I asked her as we were running past, "What do we do now? Are we gonna let this go?". She called me stupid and said that after waking her up twice and both of us killing ourselves for the past 5 hours, how dared I even question that we were going to the end - whatever it took. She was right and I needed this boost. We were going to the end - whatever it took.
With Hillary Walker of GBR, previous 48h World Record holder, IAU secretary general, head referee of the GOMU 48h WC. Photo: Trishul Cherns
It took Paula maybe half an hour to realize how unrealistic her idea of 300 kms / 186 miles was so I got off relatively easy. I also let the gap close a little bit and was willing to let it go down to 2 laps by the end of the race if I had to. I did have a lot left in me physically, but I had had enough and I was just going to do the bare minimum that it would take to win the team title as well. I was fuming.
Once Paula slowed again, I joined her and we were walking together once again, Marianne, Paula and myself. At one point Paula said her feet were hurting and we were just passing their tent. I suggested that she sit down for a bit and put her feet up and then we could go around with Marianne and she could join us again - yeah, you guessed it, there were selfish intentions behind the suggestion. I just hope the two super nice ladies won't hate me when they learn about all the spying and strategic games we were playing.
Not one, but both of them decided to sit down for a bit! Unexpected bonus. As I passed our tent, Adri asked curiously "Where are the Finns?" . "Well, I suggested they take a break and they did." She couldn't believe her ears. "Whaaaat? You suggested they take a break and they listened to you?" "Yeah, I guess..."
I went around but when I showed up at their tent, they were gone. I asked their crew where they were and she said that they had come in but she sent them back out - darn!!!
Team Finland, left: Paula Wright, 5th place female, right: Marianne Makinen, 3rd place female. Photo: Trishul Cherns
We were walking happily until the last half an hour or so, when Marianne decided that she was close enough to 320km / 198 miles that she wanted to push the record to that number. They had talked about it a few hours earlier that it would be a nice round number to hit. So she started running again.
Me: "Damn... ooook, let's go runnning again...". At this point she looked thoroughly confused why I would start running too just because she was running. I'm quite certain that they still didn't have any idea of how small the gap was. They both had a lot left in them, so if they knew, they could have made it much harder on us.
She wasn't running fast, just easy jogging, I was fine with that. It only lasted for a bit and she hit her goal. With about 20 minutes of the race left we finally started to feel safe. Our lead was 8 laps. Small, but not so small that it could be made up in 20 minutes as long as both of us were out on the track.
Kriszta and I ran the last few hundred meters hand in hand, through the timing mat and when the horn sounded marking the end of the race, we dropped our bean bags on the track for the partial laps, hugged and cried. It was very emotional. Only the two of us knew how hard we fought for this. Even if we never run together again for a World Championship title, I will always cherish this as one of my most memorable races of all time.
We did it! Photo: Trishul Cherns
With Szabolcs Beda's win in the men's fiend and Hungary taking the men's team title as well (Szabolcs Beda, Szilárd Fodor), it was a clean sweep for Hungary, 4 out of 4 golds. Mara came 2nd in the women's race, Marianne 3rd.
I owe a big thank you to our incredible crew, Adrienn Gergely and Robert Sztrakota as well as Szabolcs Toth and Nilla Váry from the other crew. My mom and sister for watching the girls and everybody who was following our race and rooting for us!
A big thank you to my sponsors, Hoka One One Hungary for the Carbon X3 and Clifton 9, they were perfect. Injinji for the awesome toe socks, F2C Nutrition for the Glyco-durance, Amino-durance and Electro-durance, Squirrel's Nut Butter for keeping me chafe-free, HoldTheCarbs for the delicious baking mixes and granola, Running Free Canada for all my other race-related needs.
Next up is the EMU 6-day race in Balatonfüred, Hungary. Let's see what I'm made of!
Ultrarunning legend, Eleanor Robinson of GBR, who held several multi-day World Records, presented the women's awards.