By now you may have already had a peek at my build-up to this year’s TR24. You may have even endured the War and Peaceness that was last year’s race report*. Brevity isn’t one of my strong points, so I’ll try my best not to get into a thing this time round. Honest.
Act one: Introductions
After learning my lesson last year, I rocked up early, arriving on site at around 5pm on the Friday. Clearly, this still wasn’t early enough as the campsite was heeeaving. Luckily, some of my team mates had been a bit more organised than me, and I was glad to learn that Taff had secured us a fantastic plot right on the 2km marker. Through liberal use of a pointy stick and some top Welsh swearinesss, Taff had protected our camp from insurgents and ne-er-do-wells since his arrival at the crack of lunchtime.
I pitched my tent (fnar!) and then set about the business of meeting my lovely team-mates…
Team 1: Shibby Factos
Stuart (a fellow member of the Hairy Shortarse club and one of the nicest chaps you could ever hope to meet)
Jane (as per my thingy from last year. Still brilliant)
Rob (Scouse speedster)
Matt (Firefighting mountain-botherer)
Team A: Fibby Shactos
Jo (Top lady, wifey of Pete)
Pete (Top bloke, hubby of Jo)
Taff (still as legendary as ever)
Kesh (Fielder’s ace karate buddy and veteran of several thunder runs)
Anneke (Ukelele-toting cake-ninja. Quick of wit and pace)
Super Shibby Support Squad
Savannah (artistically and musically gifted, to offset the crushing burden of being Fielder’s daughter)
Neil (Official team cheerleader)
Vince (husband of Anneke and my new favourite photographer)
Right, that’s enough gushing about how lovely everyone was. Shall we get on with some running? Not yet? Okay then, more waffle first…
Act 2: the night before
For the first night it was me, Taff, Fielder, Rob, Savannah and the Kellys, with the rest of the gang due to arrive the following day. The evening was spent relaxing with beer while we idly pondered the many mysteries of the universe. Mysteries such as: Why has nobody invented an edible shower gel that you can also use to brush your teeth? The one thing that wasn’t being talked about much was the actual business of running. Could it be that I wasn’t the only one bricking it a little?
Act 3: The first lap
Exactly as I had predicted, morning followed night, and before I knew it the race had started. Fielder and Jo had the pleasure of the first lap for our two teams, and I didn’t envy them as the weather was hotter than a fat librarian wrapped in a duvet and then gaffer-taped to a speeding treadmill. No idea why I’m picking on librarians there. Matt followed after at a cracking pace, and before I knew it I was gathering up my kit and heading over to the handover paddock to take the third lap for my team.
I was sporting lime green shorts and a bright orange T-shirt. Jo kindly pointed out that I looked like a pack of fruit tic-tacs, which was exactly the look I was going for.
As soon as I took the baton and sped** off down the grassy opening straight, all worries of under-training and fatiguing conditions were distant memories. I was running, and that was all that mattered. Having said that, I decided that I would make one concession to my lack of training this year in the form of allowing myself to walk some of the hills. I was also under no illusion that, given my pitiful mileage over the last couple of months, anything more than one lap would be a massive achievement.
I noticed that a lot of people were sporting shirts from previous Thunder Runs, which tells you one important thing about runners: We never learn. The camaraderie and chirpy banter between Thunder Runners old and new was still alive and well, and I think this is one of the things that keeps people coming back year after year. I crossed the finish line in just a shade over an hour, which fitted in nicely with our team’s totally scientific “bung ten minutes onto your normal 10k time” principle of Thunder Run.
That reminds me… although most people enter this event as a bit of fun and a break from the usual races, there was still the usual hard-core of serious teams who were clearly in it to win it. I couldn’t look at them without thinking of Cobra Kai, although for legal reasons I would like to point out that I am in no way suggesting that any of them were evil, wore black pyjamas or had 1980s haircuts. Anyway, those teams may have had coaches, clipboards and special atomic stopwatches, but we had ukuleles, stickers and a vague sense of mischief. And besides, everyone knows that plucky underdogs always win, so we were in with a shot.
Act 4: Lap two (the deluge)
This year I was in a smaller team (5, down from 8) and the shorter rest period was really noticeable. My post-lap strategy (stretch, poop, eat) had paid off and I felt like I had another 10k in me, but the time passed in a flash and before I knew it Matt was slapping the baton onto my waiting wrist for the second time.
One of the first things I noticed during this lap was that there was a team called the “Thundercats” who each had the name of one of the characters from the cartoon show on their vests. That’s great if you’re in a team of five (although someone would probably have to draw the short straw and be Snarf), but if you fielded a couple of teams of eight you’d quickly run out of core Thundercats characters and have to think outside the box a little. Nobody wants to run for 24 hours with “Villager” printed on their shirt, or “Cheetarah’s Mum, from that episode with the flashback dream sequence in the haunted forest”.
I sped into the second lap at a cracking pace, at which point I was blessed with a rare moment of clarity. It occurred to me that if you find yourself going a minute/mile quicker than usual during your first mile, it means one of two things:
1) The magical running elves have sprinkled your legs with enchanted go-faster dust.
2) You’ve gone out too fast.
I reined myself in a bit, and stuck to a steady pace for the second lap. All was going well until the final couple of kilometres, when the heavens opened and all the rain in the world dropped onto my head like a big wicker basket of damp psychotic howler monkeys. Nothing guarantees a PB more than the prospect of drowning mid-race, so I sprinted the last leg as fast as my little legs would carry me. Booming thunderclaps chased me towards the final straight, and I found myself grinning from ear to ear at the sheer epicness (real word) of it all. I handed the soggy baton to Rob, told him “I’ll stick the kettle on” and then headed back to camp.
By the time I got there, I’d reached that special kind of wetness where you begin to wonder whether you’ll ever truly be dry again. The rain had soaked deep beyond my pores and was starting to settle around my spleen. Fielder made me a coffee which may as well have been a 20 year malt distilled from the tears of virginal mermaids (it was nice, is what I’m clumsily getting at) and I headed off to grab a shower, change into some warm dry clothes and get something to eat. This proved to be a fatal move, because once I’d done all that and then spent an hour cosied up in my tent with some thick blankets and an iPhone full of episodes of the Simpsons and Family Guy, there was no bloody way I was about to get soaked again. Luckily for me, by now the conditions had become truly awful. It was pitch black, and the rain was still driving down in vindictive icy spikes of fury. I love the sense of smugness that comes from running in the rain, or in dark conditions armed only with a head torch and an aubergine***, but this was something else. As a team, we decided to take a short break and head back out when the conditions became a little less murderous.
(Strange dream involving a cruise ship crewed by talking puppies, with Dale Winton as their captain)
That seems like a natural place to stop and let you catch your breath and/or do a wee. I’ll be back in a bit with part two. Byyyyyyye!
* 9 trillion words and counting. Very few of them actually related to running. ** Okay, ambled. *** Aubergines do ward off zombies, right?
All of the above photos were taken by Vincent Wong. I should probably add some legal stuff using words like “copyright” and “intellectual property” but I don’t really understand that sort of thing, so I’ll leave it to your common sense and put my faith in your unwavering moral compass.