What will you do when you encounter new challenges?
For ultra runner, Alison Walker, she beat them with effort and unwavering dedication. Malaysian Alison has set an example and encourage others to be tough and persistent. As a female runner, it’s shown that she is unbeatable in every way when she breaks 6 Malaysia records (6 hour, 12 hours, 24hr, 50k, 100k and 100 mile) for best performances.
Running for 24 hours straight is not a piece of cake even for professional runners. Let’s find out how Alison took up the challenge and give everything she had to compete the Self Transcendence 24 Hour Race in Tooting Bec.
The beauty of a 24 hour race is that it’s the purest form of ultra running, where it is you against you.
RS: When did you start to develop the passion of running in your life?
Alison: I started running seriously about 4 years ago when I joined a running club. I also met my husband there, so we spurred each other to race more marathons and cross country races. We also did some fun runs like the Marathon du Medoc and the Beer Lovers Marathon.
However, I got bored of chasing marathon times at the same time I didn’t enjoy the training. So I took up ultra running this year. I love long distance running, and explore new places in the UK on feet. We often go and visit friends in different places and disappear for a few hours to explore the countryside. The fresh air and beautiful scenery are simply amazing!
RS: How do you get prepped up for the 24 hour race? Is there any secret in your training plan?
Alison: Although there is no other secret than hard work and commitment to the race, I have a coach, Peter McHugh of Run-Fast, who helps me with this. In the lead up, I did ten 100 mile weeks, which also included track sessions, 12 – 16 mile tempo runs, hills and back to back long runs. I run everyday and did a few warm up races as well, including a 50 mile race where I came in 2nd overall.
Most of my sessions are done with Run-Fast, and I did two night run with my friends at Daz n Bone. Night runs are fun – you take a train to a random location at 10 p.m. at night and run home 40+ miles for sunrise and breakfast! I also do strength and conditioning once a week with a coach, Graham Ferris, who targets my weak areas such as ankles (I had a ligament tear a year ago) and hamstrings/hips. I enjoy my training and it is important to when it takes up so much of your time!
RS: What is your toughest experience you had in the whole 24 hour race? How do you overcome it?
Alison: My main issue during the race was fuelling. As it was a warm day (the UK had an “Indian summer”), I struggled to eat anything and even drinking energy drinks was off putting. My calorie intake was only 1/3 of what I should be taking. The repetitiveness of terrain and the course also caused a few stiffness issues; this is why trail running and other undulating road races are easier!
Many runners were also suffering in the heat – I have never seen so much vomiting in a race as I did. The beauty of a 24 hour race is that it’s the purest form of ultra running, where it is YOU against YOU. I had some low moments in the race (I even had a little cry), but I bounced back from that too. Otherwise, I kind of enjoyed running round in circles!
RS: How do you motivate yourself to keep going during the 24 hour race?
Alison: I didn’t want to let my coach down, and my husband who was faithfully crewing me during the race. I also had the Malaysia Record in mind that I wanted to smash of 150 km. The race organisers also told me that I would get the splits for 6h, 12h, 50km, 100km and 100 miles – all of which I have got the Malaysia record for.
I have also received recognition from the Malaysia Book of Records for my 24 hour achievement. I had some beautiful friends who came to support me throughout the race – they all came at random times to cheer me on. Some even were singing and dancing for me (headphones not allowed under UK Athletics rules).
RS: Has the thought of giving up crossed your mind during the 24 hour race?
Alison: No. Once I get to a start line, I never give up.
RS: What do you think is your biggest takeaway from your 24 hour race?
Alison: It is a 24 hour race. Many people ran very hard for a 100 miles and then just either took their foot off the gas or had a rest. I was 5th for most of the race and made up places in the last two hours to achieve 3rd lady and 11th overall in the race. I did not expect it as it was a stacked field – 31/43 participants achieved more than 100 miles in the race. Fuelling is also so important. Just because you’re not moving from one point to another, doesn’t mean that you don’t have to fuel! There is a lot of discipline that is needed (which I’m working on) to fuel correctly!
RS: What tips or advice could you share with the runners out there? (especially women runners)?
Alison: Never give up! Do not let anyone talk you out of trying ultra running. I had someone tell me “if you hate marathon running, you will hate 100 miles”. That is not true. I have not been as passionate about running as I have now that I have taken up ultra running. I was a very average runner at the shorter distances, but I am finding that I do better on longer ultras.
Give it a try, it could be your niche too! Respect the distance – there is no point just racing for the sake of racing when you haven’t trained. If you want to do yourself justice, put yourself in the best position to tackle the distance you are going for. Things can still go wrong during an ultra that is out of your control (e.g. GI issues or the weather), but you will be pleased when you have gone into the race with the best preparation you have given it.
Don’t forget that everyone in the race also can’t control the uncontrollable. Generally, women are better at endurance than men. There have been a few races now that I have podium overall. In a race I did in July, the top 3 overall positions were all women!
RS: Do you encourage runners out there to challenge themselves for a 24 hour race?
Alison: A 24 hour race is the purest form of ultra running. I would thoroughly recommend it. But please go in prepared to enjoy the journey. You will hit the highs and lows like every ultra, but the highs have been the highest of highs I have ever experienced!
Alison Walker is one fighter in a race. Her story of pushing the human limits truly inspires us. We believe she will continue to do great things in the world of ultra running, so let’s wish her the best in her running journey.
Are you up for a 24 hour race just like Alison? If you got to run with her in a 24 hour race, what questions you would ask her?