At first it was the relaxed comment at the end of a meeting with Stevie Gildea that got me committed to the race. When he mentioned a bunch of people from 2Pure were going down to the Thunder Run I should have said 'thank you for the waffles.' That's obviously how you end most conversations. Instead when he said he might do it for a bit of training I responded with 'aye, I'm keen.' Because that's exactly the training I need too. For all those race plans that I don't have. Ah well.
Then it was the relaxed comment at the end of the phone conversation that got me into even slightly more bother. The very clichéd '(we'll) just do it.' With 'it' being the solo. We could just stop if we got tired if we wanted anyway. With my unsuccessful record in 24 hour races, how could anything possibly be wrong with that decision?!
During the Great Glen Way Ultra I picked up an Achilles injury. This meant that running to the train station in the morning in my sandals was still rather painful weeks after the race. It was probably also painful when I was running in running shoes but I didn't bother trying until the weekend before the Thunder Run. That's when I realised I wasn't going to be able to run unless it was barefoot. I'd read the race report from Paul Giblin and his crew from the 2013 race and I knew that if it rained it would be very muddy. Would that mean that I would be able to run it in barefeet? Thought that I better get some advice. I called my sister who stays in Brighton and planned on coming up to help support for the race to tell her that it might be a no-go. As I was only entered into the race a few weeks ago there's no major travel plans to cancel.
A trip to the physio occurs. His job is to keep runners running. I run to the physio in my bare feet, staring down all the office workers and pram pushers who are staring at my feet as I slam down the main dirty streets in Edinburgh. I grew up in New Zealand. I have tough feet. In the waiting room I frantically clean my feet with baby wipes. So classy. I pass all my tests at the physio. I jump, bend, squat, back flip... Nothing but enjoyable pain once it comes to the massage table. Achilles tendinitis it seems but not to worry, I just have to cut the backs of my running shoes off. Brilliant, I'll give it a go. Maybe on older shoes first. Older? The physio is concerned. Are these not my old shoes? Oh no sir, these are my new shoes, I got them for my birthday last year. Only 18 months ago. Check 'em out, not a touch of wear on the bottom of them. They look spanking new (albeit maybe a little smelly). Apparently the cushioning is shot. Also apparently, you are supposed to wear your shoes for a certain amount of mileage and then they are no longer good. Who knew? Luckily I don't count mileage.
Friday at 6am is chaos in our flat as we can't find enough headtorches. Then it's off to work until the train in the evening down to the in-laws in Doncaster. I listen to lectures on the train whilst drinking wine, eating macaroni cheese and reading questionable magazine articles.
My sister and brother-in-law don't quite have the same cruisey journey on their way up unfortunately and don't arrive until well after midnight. Then on the Saturday morning we start the one and a half hour journey to the race start by going in the wrong direction. Then we hit traffic. I drink too much pineapple margarita preload drink and then need to hit the garage. Turns out I hadn't told my driver the closing time for registration and we arrive more than a little late. I don't think it's too big of a deal, I've never had an ultra race close registration.
But then we arrive. The first carpark marshal assumes we are there for a team and can't tell us where we need to be for solo so we just pick a direction and drive. I jump out and start asking random people where registration is. And boy, is there a lot of people. Tents, caravans, runners of all assortments everywhere. Turns out this race is massive. Registration is closed. As in, there is absolutely nobody and nothing where registration was. Oh bother. I need to get my running gear on regardless. Number or no number, I'll be running. Scott talks to a guy at the t-shirt stand and he helps him find an official and get my number (which apparently was very easy and straightforward). At the time I remember thinking that when I see that helpful guy in the blue t-shirt in the race I will thank him. Turns out the race t-shirts were blue and everyone was wearing them. But he knows who he is (I was the lost-looking girl with the unruly blonde hair and flip flops).
Back at the car a warden is telling my brother-in-law Michael off for being parked where he is. We'd like to be parked where we should be but nobody seems to know where solo runners go. I ignore him for a few minutes while I gather a few essential belongings (err, running shoes and vaseline). Michael's a lawyer so he does a brilliantly job of stalling while I sort myself out. I take a box to the start while Michael manages to sneak the car through people and find a camping spot.
With a few minutes to go I am on the start line staring at solo runner signs on the back of runners who I can only assume are solos. Mild panic as I wonder if I should also have a sign. My sister, Olivia, starts trying to write it on my thigh. Ah, no thanks, tan lines. I meet Iain Morrice, an infamous figure in Scotland, who will be on the Osmo stand helping the athletes sort their drinks through the race. It's good to now have someone from the adopted homeland supporting! Robyn has sorted the crew out with a tent and sleeping bags to use throughout the race too.
Once the race starts, all the solo runners sensibly pull up the rear flashing our yellow numbers about. Although we are outnumbered by the mobs of relay teams I am impressed with how many of us there are. When I first read the race instructions I thought it was really silly that they said we were to line up by our 10km times. I can run a sub-40 but what bearing does that have on trail or the fact that I am running a 24-hour race? I was definitely going to line up at the back. But once I see majority of the race entrants I begin to understand. For many, this is a competitive relay race with runners representing clubs. They have the newest shoes (some even wear spikes!), tiny shorts and they can move at a pace. Like a fast pace.
We start on grass, a wide fenced-off patch with tents on either side of the fence. We wiggle about on this grass which is neither long enough to claim hero status, nor short enough to be easy running. Not an issue yet but I will come to dislike it later. Then there's some more grass but you can choose which semi-track to run on. They both run next to each other and go to the same place but it is important to commit early in order to avoid running on a slope for 100 metres (all distances are approximate and likely very dodgy). Then there's a shaded hill. Nothing major but there's a narrow track so we've come to a halt as everyone files up the hill. I am certainly in no hurry at all but it does surprise me how slow a crowd of people can go (further evidenced when I attended the Athletics at the Commonwealth Games last weekend). There's also some flat and uppy-downy bits during this shaded section and a 1km marker. As a crowd we walk it all though (I actually think that this was my slowest lap!). Then we come to a gradual incline, exposed to the brazen sun before tearing down a hill back to some more grass, flanked by lots of tents and cheers.
I am totally disorientated. Having no idea of what the campground is set up like, I couldn't tell you where the start line is at this point. I just keep smiling as there's lots of people about. I overhear (hey, don't judge, we're still jammed in like sardines) a conversation between two other runners. A guy (solo friend runner number one and now Twitter friend, named Chris Jones) has lost 6.5 stone. That's impressive, I've definitely got to get myself included in this convo. I tell him that I have gained one of his stones. Boom! I've got myself some friends. The other participants in the conversation Caroline Whitehouse (my new pairs running and Twitter friend) and yellow-vested Sarah. Just to throw in a bit of name dropping and boasting about my increased Twitter popularity.
We grind up a gradual dirt incline, followed by a grass incline, followed by a narrow windy downhill. There aren't any people here, just us runners bronzing the middle of our legs. There's a slightly cruel part of the course where we run down one side of a hedge just to get to the bottom of it and turn and run back up the other side. Then onto some dirt and smack into a water station at the 5km point. I have a collection of bag and bottle options with me but have decided that I can do the 10km loop without anything. Which I could have. If it wasn't about 27 degrees. So I am very grateful to get a cup of water and walk up the hill drinking it. Some spectators come over to this bit to cheer so it must be accessible from the tents but I wouldn't have a clue.
Then we do some dirt running through some trees and pop back out on some grass. From here you can look across and see the runners who are finishing their laps. I don't realise this for aaaaaages until my crew point out that they see me sensibly walking up the incline each time. Then it is back into the trees for some tip-toeing over tree roots during a windy technical section. A strong flat dirt section out and an incline (which I particularly like) up to an open flat grass patch. This is the 8km mark but to me this marks the end of the lap. The mind huh? Crazy thing. When you look down there is a steep-ish slope to the track below and you can see runners heading back to the campground. There's a loop which takes you downhill and then there's another 'commit to path' moment as we re-enter another side of the campground. The support coming through a gate here is particularly impressive during the first few hours. The last km is about keeping face as we run on some tough grass again through the campground to cheers. There's a cheeky wee dirt incline with a stack of people sitting on it screaming. I'm pigtails for about six hours until I let them know my name! They inform me that they'll still be around at 2am with the beer (wine was vetoed).
And then there is my crew. I had no idea where they would be and although I don't usually like to know my distance, because we run so close to the campground often it has been helpful to have the km markers out. I get passed some things I wrote on a list and biff my bottle back. I didn't think that there was a problem with chucking my lime green and purple Nathan bottle onto the grass. But apparently Scott needed to go on a good search for it. Drama queen. What was it in? Heather?
Tough day crewing
As I take the final grass bend back through the start/finish line I got passed by numerous runners sprinting. Fools. There's more laps folks. Oh, right, yeah, maybe not for you. Relays of course, relays.
Occassionally there are boards with quotes about Adidas products. One is even trying to sell me spikes. Spikes?! The last time I wore those I was about ten. They were hand-me-downs from my big sister and still too big. I remember the long laces flew all over the place. The memories are traumatic. Really held me back in the sprinting races. And the long jump. They caused chaos for the discus... ok, I admit it, I was rubbish at club Athletics.
It's rather hot. It was hot on lap one but we were excited. Lap two was hot but we were getting ourselves settled. Lap three was hot and I thought about asking for my visor (a cap is not possible with pigtails). By lap four I had remembered to ask for my visor. By this point it's about 4.30pm and occasionally clouding over briefly. Not quite the heat of the day but still useful. I am very thankful for that drinks stop at halfway. Sometimes taking two cups. So wild. There are quite a few kids out with water pistols. They are wonderful. Some runners must have grumbled at them because after a few laps they start asking before shooting. I enjoy the water although some of the places they hit me were a bit questionable. I did NOT pee my pants folks. Thanks for the pointing and laughing though!
Not being too familiar with the camp set-up, nor organised, I am not sure where the ladies rooms are. I ask my crew to suss the area out. Once sussed that also becomes an additional drinks stop as I realise that I am not drinking enough for my thirst. Most of the solo runners are carrying bottles or bags with them and I have had several comments about how I am not carrying anything.
Whilst on the lookout for my crew at the additional spot, I see a port-a-loo shining in the sun. Hopefully not melting. A lady yells at me for trying to go in it and makes me go to one up a hill instead. At the moment it is a mild inconvenience. Later, it'll be a mountain. Rumour has it that they emptied the port-a-loos twice. They were in good condition. I bet they didn't empty the one that the lady was keeping to herself. Karma.
I spend a lap upset about the port-a-loo situation until I hang with Caroline again. I must say that there are many quality runners named Caroline or thereabouts in pronunciation. She's in the pairs race. I reckon that is harder than the solo. When Stevie text me to say that we were in the race but he hadn't decided on pairs or solos, I text back saying I'd do the first 12 hours and then hit the drink. He didn't respond. I suspect that he didn't reply due to his disapproval of the response. Or maybe he didn't respond because he knew it would end up on my blog. I didn't realise that most pairs would do lap-about.
Being a race in England, nobody knows me. It's quite nice. The relays tear by me. The locals chat together. I just run around smiling getting called pigtails. Sometimes people make darts jokes as I go past which was confusing until I realised that my race number was 180. When I come through on about lap six (so we're at about 60km people) the announcer comments on my crisp-eating ability which of course is impressive. Due to where my crew are stationed I do come over the line eating each lap! This leads him to calling out my name and also to calling out that I am in the lead of the solo woman's race. Thankfully I don't hear that last bit and don't realise until the next lap when he calls it again.
I keep doing the running thing. Despite having other runners everywhere it's a bit lonely. Runners are either zooming past or I am passing them. It's still well warm but I ask for my arm warmers because I am trying to show that I am thinking sensibly. I come up behind another solo runner who is running at a similar speed. He's police cop Pete. I probably make a bad joke about him arresting me for my speed. I can see you all laughing. You think the joke's funny too.
Pete and I run together for numerous laps. He is my only long-term company of the entire race. Turns out he ran the race last year and has a serious run-crush on Paul Giblin. He doesn't want me to tell him so I obviously have respected his wishes. Pete's crew leave no room for error, offering massages, unpronounceable drinks and Jaffa cakes as I run. I decline, not being used to the pampered life, just offering up my rubbish occasionally. So low maintenance. Scott agrees.
There's quite a set-up on the incline out of the water stop. On one lap I think that I hear my chip beeping as I go up. Strange. And there's some very fast people running up. Hmmm. I think I should take on more sugar. Turns out that there was a timed race up the hill at a point in the evening. My casual walk didn't quite get me up the hill in the fastest time. I am sure it was a close call though.
Once I come through for my 100km tell the waiting relay runners that I have hit that mark and they give me a cheer. I have my headtorches now but I am not too happy with them. Physically I am not in good shape as I just haven't been doing enough exercise this year which means that I don't have any core strength. I have a headtorch around my waist but it is uncomfortable. It's uncomfortable because my stomach and chest muscles are sore but I still feel that taking it off will help. Other than that things are feeling good.
While I still have one headtorch on, it's tough going through the tree-root section. Pete's headtorch is good and he offers me another but I take one off Mike instead to stick around my neck sticking close behind. At one point, a crew member of Pete's arrives and I get an overwhelming desire to hug him. And then, because I am starting to get rather low blood sugar levels, I tell him of this feeling. Thankfully I have run with his fiancé earlier which makes the situation slightly less awkward. The next time I see my crew I suggest we start on the coke earlier than I'd originally planned.
Just after the 9km mark there are a team in green t-shirts. They've been giving me a lot of support throughout the race. Even as it passes midnight they are still there cheering. The hill folk are dwindling but there's still a few dedicated supporters holding fort. Technically it's quiet time in the camp but how quiet can it be when you've got loads of running teams out? Too exciting.
At about midnight I make the call that I'd like a sit-down with some pasta and a coffee. A few kms later I decide that I am stopping for a sleep. What?! Olivia is asleep so all I have to do is get the excuses past the boys.
- My headtorch is not working well enough. I am tripping too much on the tree roots. It's not safe.
- My eyes are fuzzy. Low blood sugar time.
- My Archilles is hurting. It was minor pain but enough for an excuse.
- I've done enough distance, why walk around for hours in the impending rain?
- If I keep going I'll just be walking in the morning when my in-laws come to watch. It wouldn't be good if they drove for an hour and a half just to see me walking.
All the excuses were semi-valid but they were (and I knew it at the time as well) just excuses. I just could not be bothered. I'd been running great and having a good time until about now. I was still running well but it was 1am and I fancied a wee nap. The boys were easily talked into it. Turns out that the solo tenting was right by the start/finish line so I informed the officials that I was going for a sleep and climbed into the tent next to my sister, getting Scott to set the alarm for three hours later. So after 11 laps (110km) and as leading female, I went to sleep. Or tried to sleep. I was very sweaty and therefore despite taking my running gear off and putting clean clothes on I was very cold. I was thankful for the sleeping bags lent to us. Then the legs started doing that twitchy thing. But it was still better than getting up so I stayed planning the next bunch of excuses.
At 4am Scott came in saying that the alarm had gone off but that it was still dark. Obviously too dark to run with that headtorch that I had been complaining about. Better sit tight for a bit longer. I ask about the possibility of us getting the car and tent out of the camping zone. My legs were stiff after all so maybe it was best that I went home. But we can't get out. Hmmm, there was that plan gone. I don't really fancy sitting in the tent for another eight hours listening to the race continue. Scott gets me a bacon roll and a coffee while I spend the next hour slowly putting on some clean running kit. I cut some slits in another pair of shoes, pop a few blisters and tentatively come back onto the course. It's 5am, most people are still in bed. I start creeping around.
As I thought that I would just walk the next seven hours until the end of the race I have put on way too many layers and spend the next few laps doing a very slow, unattractive strip. Rain jacket... off. Long-sleeve... off. Tights... I really want to take these bad boys off but that involves sitting down and more effort... avoid as long as possible... and off. Oh dear, we have a problem. My shorts are very short. I have noticed that many of the short distance runners have very teeny uniforms (and the majority look very nice in them, particularly a team of ladies in red) but I don't have a teeny short distance runner figure nor the confidence. I've got legs built to power me through
24 20 hour races. And a rather dodgy tan line.
I see Chris again in the morning, a relief as I hadn't seen him since a few laps in. Spectators are saying that I am looking fresh. That'll be the sleep for ya. Some people now have walking poles. I would say that is a bit extreme unless you are using them to train for a hike up some insanely high mountain. The course is undulating but hardly hilly. Have they considered taking a nap...? I've personally found it works wonders today! Those that have run during the night have also done a good job of flattening out the grass. Top work night runners.
My legs are just going for it. People are waking up all around. The announcer is back on. He calls me through as third lady. Is he sure? I have been sleeping for four hours. I am 18 minutes behind the second lady. Now I don't care for placings but I do know that if she doesn't start running faster I am going to catch her. And although I don't know who she is, I do pass her somewhere after another lap. I pass Caroline who is looking better after a rest longer than just the hour and she asks me if I am still winning. When I laugh and tell her no as I had a wee sleep instead she says that races can be won and lost in the night. I've also heard of another saying; the race doesn't start until the last four hours. I went to bed winning, then lost the race during the night (that was ok by me) but if the race has only started now that there is four hours to go and I am running well...
Just before the 3km mark are a row of tents. They have been great and given me a lot of support. Now they are trying to tell me something different. Something about a SNAKE! I scream, use the f word rather loudly and tear off. Yep, a snake on the grass. With an enormous head. New Zealand doesn't have snakes. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! It's there again the next lap too. I run as far away from it as possible.
I am starting to think that I should get to 100 miles which would be amazing because that is the furthest I will have run on trail before. Most of the relay runners are really supportive as they run past now. As I don't have a solo bib on the back of my shirt I only get cheers from people who recognise me as a solo runner but I hear them giving lots of support to people who they see with solo bibs.
It's getting really exciting now with lots of buzz. Some runners are zooming, some are broken but determined. When it comes to running, I am just picking a side and sticking to it. At first, I was constantly trying to predict what the runners behind me were doing and stay out of their way. Now I stick to my side, the faster runner comes behind, calls that he/she is coming on the right/left, we both say thanks and run on. Brilliant system.
The campsite turns to chaos when my in-laws arrive. Not because they do anything in particular, but that is just the sort of impact my mother-in-law has. I better keep running strong then. And everything feels good. Olivia starts encouraging me to take on more nutrition. I say that I think I'll only get one more lap in but she has other plans. As I come through the start/finish line on what I assume will be my last lap I realise that I must not be too far behind the leading lady. I know that I can run hard on the last lap but also know that I will only run for what I want and that won't be first place. So I just run. Olivia is yelling at me but I can't really understand her. I am going fast, doesn't she understand? I am passing loads of people.
The green team just past the 9km marker are chanting 'one more lap, one more lap!' I flick them the fingers with a big grin. Then there's Iain on one side of the course, screaming at me. I don't really know what is going on but I feel that by the way he is yelling that I should go faster. So I just start going for it, tearing through the last stretch of grass. Scott yells that I need to take a drink. I'm not taking a drink, I'm 200m from the bloody finish! He tells me to do another lap. No, I tell him, that's not very sporting. He doesn't know what I am on about and tells me that I am winning. I'm not winning! I heard the announcer calling a solo lady over the line when I was around the corner. I assume that that was the leading lady. Even if there is still another five minutes on the clock, if she has stopped I will not do another lap. I just don't think it is the right thing to do. I would rather stop and shake her hand.
But now the announcer is saying that I am winning. Oh dear. There's seven minutes remaining on the clock. If I have just passed the lady and stop, then she can come through and do another lap. I see Olivia and everyone smiling and cheering but I just keep running through. I don't really know what I am doing. I even run up a hill that I haven't run up the entire race. This sleeping thing sure has given my some energy. A relay runner comes up behind me to congratulate me. He offers to run with me but as his relay runner has just busted a gut so that he could run another lap, it's best that he goes on ahead.
Scott comes out to meet me and give me the drink I turned down. By this point I am rather demanding and want to know whether I need to be running this lap at all. His answer isn't too sure. I am not running past that bloody snake again unless I have to so find out what the answer is. I am very stroppy. I feel sorry for another guy running who has to listen to the verbal lashings that Scott is receiving from me. I feel less sorry for Scott. He has a job to do. Several phone calls and a snake passing later we get it confirmed that I do not have to finish the lap. I am now at the 5km marker. I try to convince a quad bike to take me back but he's the sweeper. Scott piggy backs me instead.
Support crew; Karen, Andy, Scott, Olivia and Mike
Finisher's request = wine
With the final half lap not counting, I ran 170km in just under the 24 hours. Not bad at all. Essentially what I did though was go for a long run one day, have a sleep and then woke up the next day and went for another long run. They say that sleeping is cheating. I think that they are right. First female and third overall.
Pete came in second overall with 200km. On my last half lap I passed a man running with his wife. He was doing his 17th lap. Because I was a bit out of it at the time I assumed he said that he was running it so that 100 miles could definitely be counted. I was a bit confused. Then at prize giving I found out that by completing that lap, he came third male. Gutsy.
Thanks to 2Pure for bringing us down a tent and sleeping bags. Turns out it was more than just for the crew! I also really appreciated not having to bring down loads of Osmo and Honey Stinger with me on the train as it was all prepared.
Thanks to Ann, Karen and Andy for driving down to support me in the last few hours, providing me with alcoholic hydration at the end and being accepting of my desire to eat the freezer out of mini sausage rolls. Andy, being a fan of the odd sports bet, even asked if he could bet on me next time. Compliment taken.
Thanks to Olivia and Mike for undertaking the stressful drive from Brighton on their anniversary. I may have taken a cheeky nap but I am so pleased that I could finally finish a 24-hour race still running at the end while Olivia was supporting.
Thanks to Scott for setting the alarm at 4am and then still letting me piss about getting ready. Also for putting up with my temper on the last lap!
I was worried about how so many relay runners would work with a solo race and although they do dominate I do think that it worked really well. Certainly the largest field I have run an ultra in! Very friendly atmosphere indeed. Maybe next year I'll enter as a fun team, the party definitely looks worth it :) Work on Monday was tough!