Lying on the grassy outfield, I tried not to think about the next 24 hours.
If I really did want to represent Great Britain, then the European 24-hour Championships was my only realistic hope. I had long realised that I was too slow to qualify at any shorter distance, and this ultramarathon – the last resort of the untalented trier – was what I was left with.
I was lying by the track in Humberside on 16th July 1994 with half an hour to go before the 24-hour race started. I was in good form, having won a surprise bronze medal at the National 100km championships the previous month. I had run 134 miles in 24 hours in 1987, and I knew I needed a bit more than that to catch the eye of the GB selectors.
My wife and I had travelled round the world 1991-92, and the time to think made me focus on what I really wanted from my running life. I realised that a GB vest might just be within my reach if I trained hard and performed well.
So I entered the National 100km in 1993 and a 24-hour race late that year. I did ok, but 1994 was the year I really had to deliver.
And so I set off on the endless task of going nowhere, round and round the 400-metre track. Hours came and went; tiredness came and didn’t go. Darkness fell and the stadium clubhouse hosted a disco. I think every runner did the actions to ‘YMCA’ just to relieve the tedium!
Now the prerace favourite had been Paul Bream, who had run over 150 miles in a race in Germany. Here, he reached 100 miles in the lead, with me in second, and then encountered some problem or other, and retired to his tent.
I could just see his socks poking out of the flaps. I of course hoped he would not reappear, so I made sure that I ran, not walked, past his tent on the next dozen laps – to convince him of the futility of rejoining the fray.
Well, I don’t know whether those dirty, underhand tactics were the cause, but he did not re-emerge, and I soon took the lead.
I passed 100 miles in a personal best (PB) of 16:43:13 – 16:40 is 10-minute miles – and 200km in another PB of 21:33:20. But I was suffering.
During the last few hours, I found it hard to run at all. I was something like 18 miles in the lead and sure to win. But I was going to miss my 134-mile PB by about a mile. There was nothing I could do. I had nothing left.
And then, with 25 minutes to go, “Come on, Steve, you can do this.”
It was my wife, and – as always! – she was right.
Somehow, I started running 8-minute miles, adding a precious lap every two minutes or so until the gun released me from my agony.
I had added a vital mile to my PB, running well over 135 miles.
It was a performance that led to my being invited to join the GB Ultra Squad in 1995, and then winning that long-sought-after British vest a year later.
My wife drove me back to Hampshire. It was the night of the football World Cup final, but I found it hard to concentrate or even stay awake.
I had been to hell and back – well, Hull and back – but, in the long run, it was worth it.