Q&A with Ultra Runner Toni Metcalfe about her 12hr Run on a 800m loop in 50C

On June 27th, ultra-runner Toni Metcalfe decided to run for 12 hours around her block in Abu Dhabi. That day, she ran 73km on a 800m loop in an apparent air temperature of 50C. Since the beginning of May, she ran a total of 1’021.6km over 70 days as part of the Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee.

We asked Toni to tell us more about her impressive 12hour challenge and her battle with the heat and humidity.

What was your motivation to do this challenge and why didn’t you choose to run indoors on a treadmill?

I decided to sign up for the Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee as part of my training for a 24hr race in the UK. The 12hr challenge was going to be a test, but I decided to make it a little harder as I ran it all on the same 800m loop in my neighborhood. Until the day before the challenge, there was a Covid curfew in place and I had to plan my run around it. When the curfew was lifted, it was too late to change the plan as I had already told all of my friends. Running indoors was not an option. I know I can run for 12 hours but I wanted to push a little further and see if I could run in the summer heat in the UAE. I like a good challenge.

At the end of the day, you said ‘the challenge became more about the heat and hydration and moving forward’. Which lessons did you learn and what would you do differently?

You can’t run very long in these high temperatures. I always find ways to get through the monotony and the pain but this was different. At around 2pm, I didn’t have anybody running with me and I was thinking of going back home. I became so dehydrated I stopped sweating. I had to sit in the AC, eat, drink and reassess for a while. I called my coach, he said: just walk. I didn’t have any other choice but walk if I wanted to finish. I learnt to accept that moving forward was better than nothing. As an ultra-runner, you have to accept that sometimes you have to walk.

Tell us a little about your logistics and your nutrition plan:

Running on a loop made the logistics much easier to manage. We put a cooler full of ice, drinks and food at the end of our driveway. Whenever I needed something, I just called my husband and he placed it in the cooler. I am so glad I didn’t have to carry too much. I only carried water and put lots of ice in my Naked vest. My husband cooked a big pan of mushroom risotto and I had gels and crisps when I was dehydrated. When I run, I am strict with my nutrition: I eat every 40 minutes. But I drink to thirst, electrolytes and water. I use the Secret Training super hydration powder, elderflower and blackcurrant flavor.

Is there any advice related to your equipment that you can give to other runners?

When running in this kind of weather, you get wet very quickly and with it comes the risk of chafing. I always go for comfort first. I am a big fan of the Runderwear garments. I had 3 separate outfits ready to change in during the day. What I didn’t expect is that my feet swelled a lot and I ended up with black toe nails for the first time. Also, as I was walking and not running, my foot was moving differently. Next time, I will wear compression socks. I advise to change socks regularly and to stop from time to time to refresh yourself. I felt like a new person after I brushed my teeth and rinsed my face.

How did you handle the boredom? Did you count the loops?

I didn’t count the loops but I usually count the songs I listen to. I tell myself: 3 more songs and I can take a break. Also, I count to 100 and I force myself to smile every 20 counts.

How do you work on your mental strength?

When I am out for a run training for a race, I visualise myself on the course, feeling good and crossing the finish line. I practice it consciously. One of my dreams is to run Badwater in Death Valley in California. When I suffer in the heat, I imagine myself running there, in a similar heat.

You have 3 children, aged 6, 8 and 10. What did they think of the challenge and how were they involved?

Clearly, the kids are underwhelmed. They gasp and then they say: oh mum is doing something crazy again. They are very enthusiastic for a while and a few seconds later, they ask me for a snack. On the day of the challenge, they cheered me on and they were there when I crossed the finish line. It was very nice.

So, what is your next challenge?

I am training for the Ultra X Jordan in October 2020. If it is not held this year, I will do the crossing of the 7 Emirates at the end of November. I couldn’t finish last time I tried so I have a revenge to take. After that, I would like to win the Last One Standing Dubai. It’s a 6.7km loop you have to run on the hour every hour until you are the last person left. Last time it was only me and another man left. After 28 hours, I had been vomiting for 6 hours and I got severely dehydrated. I couldn’t run anymore. It was so frustrating because I had so much left in my legs.

Congratulations Toni Metcalfe, we at Sported think you rock and are following your  – at times crazy – adventures with awe and interest – good luck with your next challenges!

Toni Metcalfe is an enthusiastic and successful Abu Dhabi based Ultra and Trail Runner, well known in the UAE scene.  Amongst other things she came second overall in The UltraX 5 day event in Jordan last year and 3rd female and 8th overall at St Cuthberts Way.  Follow Toni #tonithatrunnergirl

Posted on 14th Jul 2020