Thunder Run 24 2018 Race Report – Team of 5 ladies: The Bat Girls
by Fiona Bradley
Thunder Run 2017 had been my first experience of this amazing event and I’d absolutely loved it. My team of five ladies, ‘The Bat Girls’, had had a little bad luck when one of our fastest runners, Kirsty, was unable to run after her first lap resulted in her having to spend a night in hospital! Down to four, Amy, Angela, Victoria and I, ran as hard as we could before the horrific weather caused us to stop during the night, meaning we dropped to 6th place (a small price to pay for staying in one piece)!
As a club, we register our interest in the event and are then allocated a team a couple of weeks before it happens. I won’t lie, I had unfinished business and was desperate for a place in ‘The Bat Girls’ again so I trained hard and managed to achieve a fair few PBs in the process. I found out I was ‘in’ as I umpired a Rounders match – the children in my team were thrilled as they knew how much it meant to me!
So, the countdown began! Multiple runs in a day started early – sometimes 5.30am(!!) so that Indira could squeeze in an early run before his long shift at the hospital. This also worked well with our heatwave. I struggled to make club runs but there are always friends up for running pretty much any time of the day or night! Interestingly, none of the runners who spent a few vital weeks training with / dodging my lively dog, Betsy, fell over during TR24 – perfect ‘obstacle training’!
As my nine year old, Maia, was joining me this year (she’s far more practical than I am) we’d decided to camp out on the Friday night so, kindly chauffeured by Jonny and Ema, we arrived to a packed-out campsite with the entertainers well into the swing of things! Great teamwork had occured as usual. Huge thanks to Caroline, Matt, Jonny and anyone else who had arrived in the early hours to reserve our very special plot. The Erection Team also did a fine job – although I did hear that it took three men (namely JC, Mick and David) to pitch the tent that Maia puts up single-handedly… Great job, thank you!
It was lovely experiencing the inter-club social on the Friday – not least because a new ‘old boy’ band was born: Lee Jones, Drew, Churts, Mick and Bernie were the vocalists accompanying our legendary guitarist, David. But if I hear ‘500 Miles’ one more time….
The night was unbelievably cold. After hardly sleeping for weeks due to over-heating, I had stupidly travelled thinking we’d feel the same under canvas. Seeing John Danahay’s blue-tinged skin proved it wasn’t just me who was freezing! I finally gave in just before 4am when I searched for warmer layers, firmly regretting staying over as I’d been too cold to sleep! The morning came and we knew we were in for a hot one when we could hear fellow campers discussing forgetting their suncream. The clean, fresh and energised runners began to arrive. Anna H was our saviour – arriving with pillows and lunch. A lovely catch-up and I was feeling better already!
After our annual 11am team photograph, the excitement began to build and the first-lap runners began to prepare themselves. I’d been lucky enough to witness Phil winning the solo title last year and seeing him back for more inspired me to want to do well – surely running five or six laps is easy when you compare to running 24 hours?? I think that’s the joy of TR24 – whether you’re a crazy soloist; an almost as mad pair; in a team of five or eight, everyone matters – you don’t have to be the fastest or have the most stamina, sometimes it’s just a case of allowing somebody a break or breaking through your own barriers. We just need to get out there and enjoy being a part of it!
I genuinely can’t imagine how Phil, Mark ad Jayne felt as they set off on that very first lap of their 24-hour run. It very much shows that mental strength is equally (if not more) important than physical strength. Our pairs, Indira and Martin; Laura and Trish; Aggi and Paul; Jonny and Drew had drawn straws and the (un)fortunate one had set off to begin their mammoth task too! We non-runners (for then at least) assembled near to the start and witnessed the countdown before the hundreds of runners raced past – a sea of club vests, fancy dress, bare chests and even a bishop formed part of the crowd!
My team had received their running order courtesy of Captain Amy: Michelle, Amy, Jo, me and then Pip. Michelle had stormed to a flying start and we were well on our mission for a podium place! Waiting to run allowed me the privileged position of watching the outstanding support of our club offered to EVERYONE. The cheering was incessant; encouragement second to none and, as for Grahame, ‘the weird cheerleader man’ in his dress – priceless! Michelle had thought of everything and the red pom-poms were like energy gels to the flagging runners.
As my time to run approached, it was clear that we were doing incredibly well. I adopted my usual technique of not thinking about my run in order to avoid anxiety. Instead, I looked around me at each and every person – all putting themselves out of their comfort zone in some way. Earlier in the year, I had worked on ‘motivational running quptes’ with my class and one sprung to mind: ‘If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you’. With that in mind, I trekked down to the start.
I secretly love the waiting pen. You meet all kinds of people, each with their own tale to tell. The anticipation builds and there’s nothing quite like spotting your team-mate, orange band in hand, ready for the hand-over. Jo ran in (looking amazing and effortless as usual) and it was my job to keep The Bat Girls flying. I set off sprinting before reminding myself there was quite a way to go and the sharp right-turn naturally slowed me down. I’d remembered snippets of the course: the winding narrow paths in the woods; the steady climb up the field; the welcome half-way drinks station and the subsequent climb; the circuit of the lake – I’m not sure if our soloists would agree but I could never tire (metaphorically as opposed to literally!!) of this course. The colours, different terrains and beautiful scenes mean that the 6 miles pass quickly every time.
It was great to see other clubs / teams putting their effort into supporting everyone too – I loved the ‘Boss Duck corner’ (even holding a Strava segment for all of 20 minutes!); the ‘Bubbles Disco’ and the general encouragement / compliments. Nothing, however, matches the feeling of coming home to see The Bat Cave. Turning the corner past Trentham RC, seeing the sea of red was like a boost of energy being injected into you – no matter how much your legs / lungs / head hurt, you’d summon up every ounce of effort to show your thanks to your team by running your heart out. I felt great coming past our camp and, after the short uphill just past it, love nothing more than letting my legs go crazy down the uneven hill and then, as Bill calls it, ‘running off the hill’ continuing my sprint right in to the finish before confidently handing the band over to Pip, in the knowledge she is an absolute machine!
I had my ritual after each lap: breathe(!); drink a few cups of water; check the results so far and then head back to ensure Michelle knew she had 40ish minutes before she was to run again. This arrangement worked well for our team and ‘transitions’ ran like clockwork. The consistency of my team’s times was fantastic – even as I slowed, they seemed to speed up to compensate! I ran my laps at 2.20pm, 6.20pm, 10.20pm, 2.50am, 7.20am and then… The second placed team were a lap behind us after a number of hours but even when the screen told us we were two laps ahead, we wanted to make sure we weren’t caught out. I started Lap 5 knowing that I might possibly have to run again but after several hours sleep, I felt reasonably refreshed – and our lead position spurred me on; I couldn’t let The Bat Girls down! Finishing Lap 5, I was met by our grinning captain, Amy, who gave me a huge hug and said: “That’s it – you’re done!” I was taken aback as I’d been doing the Maths during my run (a common time-passer for me) and I’d realised that if I finished by 8.15am, then each of my team were to run a 50 minute 10k, I’d be off out again at 11.45am, so half-relieved, half- puzzled, I asked: “Really??” to which Amy replied: “Well, you might be…” I could do nothing but laugh!
Our next few laps were tough. Pip was feeling the strain of running 30 miles and her hip began to ache; Michelle’s feet were in tatters (I have so far been spared the sight but Tim insisted they were bad!) and poor Jo had struggled to eat / drink more than water for 24 hours and unbelievably ran her 6th lap completely empty. The vision of her pale figure being supported by her husband (and our team manager), Dean, really touched us all and the emotions started to flow. Only Amy, our tough leader, seemed to be okay but who knows what she was really thinking… Her experience in running showed as her mental strength appeared untouched.
As I sat watching the tiring runners coming past, faces lighting up as they heard cheers and saw the pom-poms, I found myself overcome with every emotion I could think of! I was so grateful to everyone for their consideration; proud of everyone for their perseverance; elated at our performances yet worried for those friends who were battling exhaustion. Heading down to meet Aggi after her final lap was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Knowing how hard she has worked and the battles she has encountered made her achievement all the more special. I thought I’d hid my tears well but an eagle-eyed Shaun had spotted me and, as always, offered his support and encouragement. Being part of The Bats, and running in general, has given me so many life-long friends – the people I turn to when I’m feeling low / anxious / worried as well as happy / elated / proud. They have brought me through tough times and celebrated with me during the great times. TR24 was definitely a highlight in my running life so far.
Anyway, back to my saga! So, I sat around, milking the pity from everyone as a potential 6th lap loomed… It appeared that we had won by two laps but dared we risk stopping in case there had been an error? It was time to man-up and hopefully seal the deal with one last lap. As I set off, my greatest concern was missing the presentation, so although everyone was telling me to just walk, my FOMO (Michelle’s favourite phrase: Fear of Missing Out!) caused me to run as fast as my tiring legs (and throbbing toes) would allow. Coming into the Bats’ area, I was met by Jo, Amy and Pip, who (flip-flops galore) ran in with me towards the finish. Joined by Michelle, we Bat Girls crossed the line as one – 29 laps in the bag and we were the TR24 2018 Team of 5 Ladies Champions!
The presentation was fantastic. Within the eight categories, Bats took five podium places and other local teams took quite a few too! But the thing with Thunder Run, it’s not about winning a Dry Robe big enough for an entire team(!) or a trophy for the mantle piece, it’s about the cameraderie, the laughter, the friendship and support; each and every one of us should be proud and happy to have ‘made the difference’ in our own achievements and in the TR24 experience of so many people. Keep up the great work, team!