(or, The Second Installment of My Long-Winded and Largely Off-Topic Race Report of the Adidas 24hr Thunder Run 2012)
Back for more? Well, it’s lovely to see you – have you done something new with your hair? Looks amazing. If you haven’t read part one of this race report you can find it here, but if you have and you’re (for some reason) hungry for more tenuously-linked-to-running blathering then please read on.
Where had I got to? Ah yes…
The race started and the pack sped off. That’s right, sped. All sensibilities about taking it steady and treating it as a 24 hour endurance race (um… because it was) seemed to go out the window and the first wave burst onto the track like they were running from the bulls in Pamplona (or to use a more local tradition, the angry badgers of Tamworth). We waited around to cheer on Jane and Taff, who went by a few moments later at a rather more sensible pace, and then it was time for me to head back to camp so I could get ready for my first lap.
I’d like to say that I spent the next hour in quiet meditation, interspersed by a complex programme of prep stretches. In reality, it involved putting some shorts on and then sitting around drinking coffee and reading comics. Any nerves I’d had were now long gone – my only worries had been about actually getting here in one piece and without forgetting to pack anything essential, so now I was here I could just relax and enjoy the race.
I made my way to the handover place with plenty of time to spare, just in case Jane had abandoned her plan of taking it slowly on the first lap and instead decided to go for a PB. The handover area consisted of a fenced-off paddock just next to the start/finish line, the idea being that when runner number one passed over the chip mat, their lap time stopped and the clock started ticking for the next runner. Runner one passed the baton over the railing to runner two, and the handover was complete. It seemed to work well, despite looking from the outside like the world’s sportiest petting zoo. The only real snagging point was in trying to quickly spot your team mate as they finished their lap, allowing you time to jostle for a spot close to the railing. As the day went on, this was made difficult by several team manager types who decided it’d be a good idea to crowd into the gap between the handover area and the finish line, blocking our view just so they could marshal their team. I’m a bit of a shortarse, so it doesn’t take much to obscure my view at the best of times (I once stood behind a duck at a music festival and missed the Prodigy*), and these clipboard-wavers made it even more difficult. I think it was just hard for me to relate to those chaps because they were taking the whole thing very seriously, whereas I was solely there for fun and the promise of a goody bag.
Ah – I knew I’d forgotten something in my previous post; while we’re waiting for Jane I may as well tell you about the goody bag. As much as I love running, it can never compare to the goosebumps I get when I first open my bag of freebies*** to see what delights are inside. This was a bit of an odd one, to be honest. We got a really nice Adidas technical tee, a TR24 sticker, an Adidas deodorant (although others got shower gel instead) and… nothing else. I’m not grumbling in the slightest – this event was fantastic value for money (if you added up the cost of a decent running shirt and a weekends camping, those things alone would cost more than the entry fee); It just struck me as odd that there were none of the usual free samples or discount vouchers – companies normally fall over themselves to promote their products via the time-honoured medium of goody bag.
Anyway, enough about that. Here comes Jane…
As she slapped the baton onto my wrist, I was comforted by the fact that Jane looked remarkably fresh. I’d heard some nasty things about how challenging the course was, but now I wasn’t so worried – this was going to be easy-peasy.
Ten minutes later I wheezed a few carefully chosen swear-words as I slogged my way up the first of many hills. This was going to be hardy-wardy.
Tough as the hills were, it was a lovely course, and my inane lopsided grin was firmly plastered onto my face for the entire 10k. In the past I’ve heard people describe trails as “technical”, but I never really understood what they meant by it. If pressed I would have ventured a mumbled guess that it had something to with quadratic equations or dark matter, before quickly changing the subject to something I did understand. Like cheese. But as I made my way around the Thunder Run course I found myself being quickly schooled in the fact that when people say “technical” what they actually mean is “bloody difficult”. Parts of the course where you could just relax and run as a passenger were few and far between; it was peppered with countless twists and turns, ups and downs, roundheads and cavaliers. Well okay, not so many of the last lot. As soon as you got used to one gradient, or one type of terrain, it changed and you had to quickly adapt. Dirt track gave way to grass, grass gave way to mud, mud gave way to minefield.
…Actually, the organisers asked us to keep quiet about that.
Umm… For anyone who’s yet to do Thunder Run, there are definitely no minefields. Especially not a third of the way into the final mile, just after the alligators. Honest.
The first lap seemed to pass in a flash, but it actually took just over an hour – nearly ten minutes slower than my 10k PB. I wasn’t bothered by that though; it was a hard course and I’d been trying to take it steadily so I didn’t burn out on my very first lap. I could tell you a bit more about the various features of the course, but there are plenty of bloggers out there far better than me at writing proper race reports, so I’ll leave that to them (and try and post some linkies at the end). I handed the baton to Emma (completely forgetting to apologise for its extreme sweatiness) and my work was done for the next few hours.
After a quick check-in back at camp it was time to refuel, so I headed to the food tent and got myself a jacket potato piled high with tuna and cheese. Then, under the pretence that I needed some quick-hitting carbs, I treated myself to a chocolate rocky road flapjack. Although delicious, it was also ridiculously messy to eat, especially on such a warm day. Rather than the flimsy serviette supplied, each one should really have come with a three-man clean-up crew armed with high pressure hoses and an assortment of squeegees****.
Tummy full, I now had a few hours to relax and enjoy being campside. It was still mid-afternoon, and the heat that had been so energy-sapping to run in was suddenly pleasantly balmy once I was on the other side of the tape. The atmosphere in the camp was still buzzing, especially when someone mentioned that Taff was matching us lap for lap.
I was delighted to realise that being camped so close to the toilet block wasn’t actually that unpleasant after all. They were cleaned and emptied several times over the weekend, and I never noticed any problems with smells, noises, or smelly noises. If anything, it was pretty damn convenient for someone like me, who has a bladder the size of a baked bean*****. Another unexpected bonus of our campsite was that we were right next to Viewing Corner, a spot near the 2k marker from which you could see runners approaching from quite a way off and give them some much-needed encouragement (by the time they reached us they would have just finished tackling the nastiest set of hills). All of the event marshals were absolutely fantastic, but the couple at the 2k marker were by far the best of the lot, so even when we weren’t running, my team were treated to a constant background noise of encouraging comments and general cheeriness. One of the best things about an event like this is that rather than just being a runner, you get to be a spectator and a support crew as well; three for the price of one!
It was soon time for Sofie’s lap. Her knee had been expertly taped up by Paul, but she was a little worried about running in the dark as she has a problem with her night vision. Andy G leapt to the rescue, finishing his own first lap and then straight away removing his timing chip so that he could run with her. The next hour-and-a-bit was extremely nerve-wracking as we all waited to see how Sofie got on. If her knee gave out and she couldn’t finish the lap it would mean the entire team would be classed as DNF; this in itself wasn’t an issue as we were all just there to have fun and run about a bit, but pride can do terrible things to a runner, and the worry was that Sofie would push herself too hard to finish for the sake of the team and end up doing herself a more serious injury.
Then, just as the last of the daylight was starting to fade, a welcome sight rounded the last bend. Not walking, not limping, Andy and Sofie ran for the finish line shoulder to shoulder, matching smiles plastered across their faces. It was a great achievement for Sofie, but one tinged with sadness for Andy, as he’d just committed the cardinal sin of running two laps in the same outfit.
By 10pm it was as dark as the inside of a ferret, and finally time for my second lap. My excitement about the race hadn’t waned, and (helped a little by my good friend Mr Caffeine) I’d spent the last few hours gently vibrating, eager to get back out there. I made my way to the handover area in plenty of time, only to hear over the PA system that the Adidas tent were just about to start dishing out glow-in-the-dark facepaint to whoever wanted it. My handover was due any second, but I couldn’t resist so dashed off, returning a minute later with a luminous stripy face guaranteed to frighten off even the most determined wereduck******
I was so excited at the prospect of my second lap, that I honestly can’t remember who I took the baton from. I’m fairly certain it was someone from my team though, and at least 75% sure that it was indeed a baton. There were reports of me completing my second lap holding an antique wooden leg, but until I’ve seen photographic evidence it didn’t happen. As I sped (okay, waddled) away from the starting line I switched on my head torch, the excellent Alpkit Gamma. My favourite feature was that, as with all head torches, it made me look a little bit like a cheerful fleshy dalek. Doctor Who-isms aside, it did a fantastic job of illuminating my path and I was able to avoid the many low hanging branches and hefty tree roots, all of which were just itching to cause me an owwy, a hurty or (shudder) a third degree booboo. Joking aside, despite valiant attempts by the organisers to light up hazards with paint and glowsticks it was still a treacherous course to run in the dark, and I wasn’t surprised to hear the next day that someone had sustained a nasty ankle injury. However, the fact that there was (as far as I know) only one incident like this suggests to me that my fellow runners were treating the night laps with the respect they deserved.
Not me though, I mostly got by on obliviousness and luck.
I handed over the definitely-not-an-antique-wooden-leg to Emma and made my way back to camp, where a few of the team were still up and cheering on the night runners. I was still buzzing and at that point would have cheerfully attempted another lap, but while my team mates got their laps in I took advantage of a little bit of downtime. First off was a shower, which considering the campsite had been up and running (I did a pun!) for nearly a day and a half were still very clean and dishing out piping hot water. After shovelling down a post-midnight chicken casserole and chatting to a few fellow runners I headed back to my tent for a bit of a sleep.
But it soon became clear that sleep was for sleepy people, and I was wide awake again two hours later. The camp was silent and in complete darkness, and in my bleary-eyed confusion I started to panic that nobody was out on the course. I quickly got dressed ready to run, and then just stood in the middle of camp like a bewildered totem pole. It took a good ten minutes until the rational part of my brain decided to put in an appearance, at which point the shadowy figure of Paul (or Andy T – I couldn’t be sure, it was very shadowy. Could’ve been Batman) bounded over from the direction of viewing corner and called into Rob’s tent that he was next up. I brewed up a coffee and sat back looking up at the stars, totally relaxed; somewhere out there in the darkness we had a runner, and everything was right in the world.
Just as the first tickle of morning light was starting to creep in around the edges of night, the tranquillity of camp was shattered by a worrying sight. Taff appeared, but something was wrong. By this point he’d done something like 75 continuous miles, and now he suddenly looked like someone who’d run 75 continuous miles. A little disoriented, he told us that during the last lap he’d fallen over and that he’d also started to hallucinate (shadowy cats and the childcatcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – it was a good job I’d already done my night lap because there was no bloody way I’d do one now). When you push your body and mind to those kind of extremes, I suppose that sort of reaction is inevitable at some point, but it still wasn’t pleasant seeing him like that. My extensive medic training kicked in, and I sprung into action by handing him my coffee. Taff took just a couple of minutes to collect himself, and then he was ready to go. The transformation was a welcome sight in the camp – Taff had become our barometer of possibility, a beacon of what the human body is capable of when mixed with buckets of grit and determination.
By now I was restless and hungry for lap three. Rob had offered to do a double so that everyone could get a bit of sleep, but he offered to switch that to a single so I could jump in. Four miles later and I was starting to regret his kindness as I succumbed to the miles and the terrain, every step feeling slow and clumsy. I did have a little bit of energy thanks to the perfect runners breakfast I’d invented earlier (pot of Oat So Simple porridge with a crumbled up Nutrigrain Elevenses bar stirred in), but this was certainly my least favourite lap of the event. I handed over the baton to Andy G (after giving it a courtesy wipe on my sleeve – by now it was 70% sweat and only 30% actual baton) and realised that lap 3 had taken exactly two minutes slower than lap 2, which had in turn been two minutes slower than lap one (which had been two minutes slower than my usual 10k time). If nothing else, it’s nice to have a system.
I milled around camp until mid-morning, just enjoying the atmosphere and cheering on my fellow Thunder Runners. The mood hadn’t dipped since the start of the race, and everyone still had a smile on their face, even when in some cases the rest of them was clearly in a world of pain. This sort of event is a great leveller – the usual competitive thrill of overtaking someone loses a lot of its appeal when there’s a distinct possibility that the person you’re overtaking is on his or her 15th lap to your 3rd, so you can instead just concentrate on enjoying the all-in-it-together-ness of the whole thing. Speaking of awesome mileage, with around an hour to go someone said that Taff was close to hitting 100 miles. I had a marker pen in my bag, and suggested that six of us got together and wrote “LEG END” (the Taffster’s well-deserved pseudonym) across our collective stomachs in big letters, so that we could give him a bit of encouragement on his momentous final lap.
Minutes later Taff came running into sight towards Viewing Corner, along with his neon one-man-army support crew in the shape of Andy G. Desperate to get one last (albeit unofficial) run in before the end of TR24 2012, I took off my timing chip and stepped under the barrier to join Taff and Andy in their final lap. As we set off I realised that I’d been the only one to go through with the marker pen idea. Taff couldn’t have picked a more bizarre honour guard – on his left the Neon God, on his right a short bloke running sideways while lifting his shirt to reveal a giant letter L*******.
I’d like to think that the Taffster ran just a little bit faster with me around, and I’m sure I just imagined his whispered comment of “Andy, get this lunatic away from me”.
It’s not for me to go into too much detail about this lap – this was Taff’s time to shine. For me it was enough to trail along like an awestruck plodster, inspired and humbled by his achievement. Despite having clocked up an impressive number of laps himself over the course of the event, Andy was relentless in his support role, a neon shadow who’s only purpose for the next few miles was to keep the Taffster on his feet, keep him moving.
And then we hit the final kilometre.
The three of us had been going at a steady 10 min/mile trot interspersed with walking breaks on some of the inclines. I knew I could manage another few minutes of that, so all was good. Taff had been understandably quiet for most of the lap, and I imagined him to be fighting an internal war, willing his legs to carry him just that little bit further. But then as we came to the foot of the last hill a grin crept across his face, accompanied by a sentence that makes my legs ache whenever I think of it:
“I’ve come this far. A bit more running won’t kill me”.
As I pumped my legs in a vain attempt to keep up with the Welshman bounding joyfully up the hill in front of me, I just about managed to utter the words “Won’t kill you maybe”. That last half mile was probably the fastest I’ve run in my life, and I had to bite my tongue to avoid the shame of asking a man who’d just done over a hundred miles if he’d mind slowing down a bit so I could keep up. He sprinted triumphantly across the finish line, while I staggered across a few seconds later, lungs screaming, legs on fire.
After we got our medals (very nice, and hefty enough to bring down an albatross) it was confirmed that Taff had made fourth place in the solo category, an awesome achievement in the truest sense of the word. All that remained was to get a few photos, pack up camp and bid some fond farewells. We later found out that the Runners Forum 24hr Trotters had completed a total of 21 laps and finished 156th in our category out of 188. We’d nailed our team objective of simply enjoying our first ever Thunder Run so our ranking didn’t matter, but I think we did pretty well anyway.
I felt remarkably fresh on the journey home, but as soon as I got indoors my body politely reminded me that 25 miles at 10k pace will always come at a price, especially when combined with two hours sleep. Fatigue hit me suddenly like a sledgehammer to the tezzies, and I slipped into the blissful sleep of a Thunder Runner.
Crikey, I’ve really stretched this one out haven’t I? If any of you have made it this far, well done. Have a scone. I promise the next post will be much much shorter.
(Note to marshmallow guy: If your marshmallows aren’t for sharing, don’t put your table so damn close to the course. I would have apologised at the time, but my cheeks were stuffed with fluffy goodness. Mwahahaaaa!)
* Not a true story** ** It was actually a crested grebe. *** Yes, I know they’re not strictly freebies if we’ve paid an entry fee for the race. Don’t spoil the illusion! **** I wonder if Haile Gebreselassie’s camp would have spent as long as ours did debating the different ways of spelling squeegee. I’m guessing yes. ***** I actually think it’s more to do with the fact that (as I may have mentioned earlier) I’m a bit on the short side, which means my bladder is closer to the ground and therefore more susceptible to gravitational forces. ****** I’ve talked in a previous post about how my first nocturnal run resulted in my fertile imagination and my inner coward teaming up to beat me round the head with cricket bats made of pure terror. I don’t have the link to hand, but if you go to my site and search for “badger” it should be there somewhere. ******* You know how they used to write a little “M” on peoples foreheads if they’d been given morphine? If I’d collapsed during that final lap, I wonder if the paramedics who found me would have thought I’d been given a massive dose of Lemsip.
If you fancy reading a proper race report, Taff’s epic tale is well worth a read: http://hewhotrainstrains.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/thunder-run-2012.html