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Thunder Run 24, 2017

Thunder Run 24 2017 Race Report – Martin Cross

The first thing I will say in this report is wow! What a weekend, what an atmosphere, and what was the weather playing at?!?

Before we get to the exciting stuff, here’s a little about me, how I got into running and joined the club.

During my childhood, I was one of the least athletic, active people you could ever meet, always finding any excuse to get out of PE. My idea of a good time was sat inside playing FIFA, watching TV, practically allergic to fresh air and exercise. About 4 years ago I realised the pounds were piling on sat around in an office based job, completely inactive.

That’s when I made the mistake everybody has made, signed up for a gym for a year, went for 6 weeks and gave up. Although a fairly costly mistake, I discovered that I enjoyed running on the treadmill.

At the same time, I was part of a development programme at work, and we had chosen to raise money for the Donna Louise Hospice who were holding their annual 10k run at Trentham Gardens. A bit of peer pressure later, I signed up for the run with 3 weeks to go, only having run 5k on a treadmill before this. 3 weeks training for the first time on roads is not a solid training plan, however it stirred something inside me, and I was very proud of my accomplishment.

Fast forward to March 2017. I had trained quite a lot more in 2017 than any year before, determined to improve my running and get a decent time at Stafford Half. Ran it, got a decent time (by my standards), once I’d finished retching after the finish line headed towards the free massages and bumped into a bat. I know most of you know will Fiona as a bit of a shrinking violet, but I would never have guessed as we had a good chat in the queue. Joining a running club hadn’t really been an option for me, being a bit nervous about whether I’d be considered a bit ignorant on the runs due to my hearing loss. Fiona took my email and gave me a bit of confidence to get myself to the club and give it a go.

If you are reading this, uncertain, nervous, apprehensive about giving it a go and joining a running club. Trust me, go for it, you will surprise yourself! Joining Stone Master Marathoners is one of the best things I have ever done. I have made many friends in just a few short months, and improved my running considerably gaining PB’s in every race I’ve done (until this weekend). There are closer clubs to my home, but SMM is close to my heart.

Now to the Thunder Run 2017

I was a bit of a latecomer to this party. It was an event that was so popular it sold out in minutes. My first thought turned to training, for what I guessed would be 3 or 4 10k laps in the 24 hours. That’s almost marathon distance, which is further than any distance I had done before.

The great thing about SMM is that everywhere you look there is experience and knowledge. There is support everywhere so I felt confident that I would be ready for the distance and terrain that Thunder Run would throw up. I made sure I had a good mix of off-road training in my schedule, and got multiple runs done in a day to prepare.

Nothing could have prepared me fully.

In the weeks leading up to the TR there was a great buzz around the club, with plenty of teasing from the club’s higher echelons over the teams. The weekend finally came round, I got there on Saturday morning to set up camp, thanks to all those who put in the effort getting the camp set up on the Friday. I can’t report on the happenings on Friday night but I was informed we had somebody serenading and winning the hearts of all clubs around.

The atmosphere was brilliant, there were bats as far as the eye could see, and many supportive family and friends. I was especially grateful that my wife and little girl came to support me even if it was only for a few hours. We got together for a club photo, then those kicking off for their teams got to the starting line for 12:00.

If you don’t know how Thunder Run works: it is a continuous 24 hr race, on a set 10k off-road course. The aim is to do as many laps in the 24 hours as a team as you can. Only 1 member of each relay team is allowed on the course at any time. SMM was one of the biggest clubs there in terms of runner numbers. We had 5 teams of 8, an all-girl team of 5, 2 pairs, and 2 solo runners. 51 runners in total, and the famous red of SMM was everywhere to be seen.

I was in the Vampire Bats team, led by Captain Paul Phillips and kicked off on the first leg by Mike Keeling. All teams were there to do their best, and we could see from early on that our A team (Flying Fox) had the ability to be one of the best at the whole event. I’d like to say more about each team that entered as everybody was awesome, but there was so much going on to keep track. Thankfully those of us running didn’t have a lot to think about, all our thinking was done by the brilliant support team. They kept us organised, hydrated and fed so that we could just enjoy ourselves. Thank you to everybody that helped to make this happen.

Due to the organisation of the support team, and their estimates of lap times, as I was 4th in the list to go out my ETA for the first lap was around 3pm. My first lesson, and advice to anybody who wants to take part next year. Try to rest, and don’t pace around in excitement for over 3 hours! I was begging to go down to the pen and wait for my relay. Captain Paul relented and told me to go and wait. Half an hour of pacing on a different patch of grass to before, I saw the fantastic Aggi racing towards the finish line/pen, on snapped the relay band and off I went.

46:47 was my first lap time, a time I was happy with as I came to realise that it was quite a hilly and difficult course, and in context this was a time that would have been a 10k PB before I joined the club! Next up was the determined and speedy Indira! The laps settled my nerves and excitement enough to be able to rest my legs a lot more between the laps. About half way through my lap it started to rain. Take note of what time that was, about 15:25.

Pom Pom Guy

Time flew all afternoon, we had a fantastic cheerleading team with lead cheerleader Grahame putting in an endurance performance that the solo runners would have been proud of. As the afternoon wore on, we were hearing more and more stories about the condition of the course. I was due to run around half 8, and rain hadn’t stopped pouring since. I pulled on my bat t-shirt, puffed my chest out, and got to the start line to hand over from another great run from Aggi. This was my first run with a head torch as rules state that any run after 20:20 must be run with one.  My lap time was 50:13, again, a time I was satisfied with as once I got going I only had a target of an hour knowing what the course was like.

The legs felt surprisingly fresh after the second lap, and everybody was still in great spirits around the camp, and course, with the cheerleading squad still putting in a sterling performance. I thought this would be my opportunity to freshen up, have a shower and clean off all the mud before my next leg. Since having my little girl, it is very rare to see this party animal up past 9pm, so thought best to get a few hours kip around this time. I let the support team know I needed a wake up call, and that I would be leaving my hearing aids in so that when they shout me I could hear. I honestly do not know how all you normal hearing people get any sleep! The sound of runners going past, and the patter of rain on my tent ruined any hope of getting any sleep. If nothing else I’m determined though, which is why I spent 3 hours staring at the roof of my tent.

My wakeup call came, and up I shot, already eager to get my next lap in. I pulled on my fresh running kit and headed towards the communal tent to a stern faced captain. The conditions were somehow worse than my previous run from an additional 6 hours of rain fall. I had the option, some teams had sensibly delayed their next runner until there was a bit of daylight, and I know that had I said no that nobody would have thought any less of me.

So I said yes, there’s nothing more I’d like than to run in the pitch black, up and down hills in wooded Staffordshire countryside at 3am. Everybody’s time had been affected by the conditions on the course, with everybody expected to arrive in 10-15(at least) longer than normal. It was chilly, so I kept wrapped up in the bat cave resting until my turn. Thinking I had around another 5-10 minutes before I had to head down, there was a shout coming from the track next to our camp…

“AGGI, AGGi, AGGi”

I think Aggi was expecting an “OI, OI, OI”, instead of “was that really Aggi? Oh ****”.  For those that weren’t there. The bat cave was set up just a short killer hill and corner away from the finish line. I didn’t expect to have to sprint to the start for my 3rd lap. All credit to Aggi for a great time in the pitch black in those conditions.

This was probably the most dangerous of the laps, as for me the pitch black actually gave a false sense of security, which meant my lap time was quicker than the following one in the morning. In the dark, you can’t see that you are about to leap into a foot deep puddle, or step over one of the many fallen bodies on the course (kidding), you focus more on what’s further ahead in front so you don’t clatter into another competitor, a tree, or a barbed wired fence, all of which I was extremely close to doing. Don’t let this put you off if you plan to do it next year, it was great fun! Despite the many false alarms, I only ended up slipping just the once when I was trying to avoid wading through a very slippy patch next to a barbed wire fence. The option was to run alongside it and pretty much guarantee if you fall to your left you’re going to get caught, or run a little bit up the hill with a greater risk of slipping, but a chance to hang over for dear life before you get to the fence. Getting back up was a challenge in itself, and I’m glad it was too dark for anybody to see me.

A bit of advice for anybody wanting to take part, try to plan your nutrition properly as I had an SIS energy bar before this, and nearly had a visit from the poo fairy. Not sure why I was too concerned though as my backside was already brown.

I completed this lap in 57:23, and to be honest, it was the proudest 10k I’ve ever ran! Handed over to Indira with a truly emphatic and heartfelt good luck.

Fatigue was starting to set in now, but it was around half 3 in the morning, and I didn’t feel there was much point trying to get some more sleep. I headed over to the showers and waited for around half an hour before giving up, the water had ran out, and the tanker changeover was taking a long time to complete. When I headed back to camp, Indira had decided instead of cleaning up and then going back out, to run again after the next team member. It was a good idea as it had started to get light, and meant we could get our 4 laps done, and enjoy the last 4/5 hours cheering everybody on.

After a last minute check-up on the dodgy stomach, with just an hour between my 3rd and 4th lap, off I went. I could tell within 5 steps that it was going to be one of the most difficult runs I had ever done. My legs were tired, I was hungry and the conditions meant that this was no normal 10k, it was going to be rough! The only positive is it has just stopped raining, meaning that 12 hours of non-stop rain had pounded the route.

It was this lap when I fully realised how bad the course was when I could see it, and it made me much more apprehensive about approaching at speed when you can see fellow competitors hanging off trees. It’s very hard to describe what it was like to people that weren’t there, hopefully this picture is a bit of a taster…

If I had to describe, I’d say it was like a muddy ice rink. There were many times that I had to slow down from a jog, and walk around corners, or over sections. It also gave me a bit of rest from jogging as I was really struggling with this last lap. Another note about the course that a few of us had agreed on, was that the first 5k felt like it went on for ages! Once I had got to around 6k, there was light at the end of the tunnel and then I started buzzing about the achievement of doing 4 laps of this course, I could sense the finish.

I was extremely glad to see that Grahame and his cheerleaders had come back out in force after a couple of hours of much needed rest, they helped me get around that last corner and hand over to Indira who was also going out for his second run after only a short break.

1 hour 4 minutes and 15 seconds is my recorded time for this last lap. Which for me (no disrespect to anybody) is slow on a normal 10k run. I still put it up there as one of the most arduous and challenging 10k runs I’ve ever done. In fact, give me Potters ‘Arf over that last 10k any day.

I got cleaned up, and treated myself to a bacon sausage and egg bap (my egg fell out), and a latte from the stalls, then settled in to the bat cave for what promised to be an exciting last 4 hours!

All throughout I had tried to cheer on any solo runners I saw around the course, I have so much respect for these guys that braved this course nearly non-stop for the 24 hours. There were 2 solo runners that represented our fine club, Phil Cape and Paul Glover. Well done to both of you on your amazing achievement, you are an inspiration to all of us.

As we went into the last stretch, although we already had an inkling, we were getting word that we had 2 potential winning teams at this year’s event!  The Flying Fox were flying, and kept pounding the course, looking for their win, and Phil Cape, although retired from the course, was leading by most laps.

It was obvious now watching the runners with a nice warm cup of coffee, that although the rain had mainly stopped, the conditions were not getting any better, and that fatigue was getting to a lot. It was also funny to watch the reactions of many runners that they ran through the cheerleading squad. Many loved it, some ignored it! There have been a couple of messages from other clubs saying how much they loved it. The 24 hours were up, but under the rules of the event, anybody on the course within this time, is entitled to finish, so we stayed and cheered the last runners through, each and every one of them amazing.

So, on to the awards. My team finished 28th out of 226, and completed 24 laps between 8 of us, which we were happy about. The main boys and girls in the Flying fox team however, were looking for that podium place! From what I can tell, there was a bit of controversy about a lap not being recorded for Flying Fox, but thankfully it got sorted, which meant that they were crowned Thunder Run team of 8 champions!!!

Well done to captain Ben Gamble, Tim Hulse, Ryan Nokes, Michael Downes, Tom Wilson, Phillippa Steele, Mark Neeld and Craig Pilsbury on your amazing achievement. Also, well done to the beast Phil Cape who won the solo male category, with an unbelievable 17 laps (100 miles)

Well done to everybody that ran and supported this event, we can’t all be on the podium, but we should all be proud of our achievements this weekend. It was honestly one of the best weekends I’ve ever had, and I’m already anticipating 2018. I’m so glad I joined the club, so if there is anybody out there that is in two minds to give it a try, please do.

I’m a broken man today, so it’s been a treat visit to Oatcakes and Milkshakes, then my feet up to write this essay. I may see some of you to put in a recovery performance at Tuesday’s FUN session.

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