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Race report Ultra

Bat Girls Win Thunder Run 2018

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!

Categories
Club Race report Ultra

Aggi & Paul – Thunder Run 2018

Thunder Run Mixed Pairs.

So the crazy idea of doing Thunder Run as a pair came after last years Solo effort. I managed to do 13 laps by myself in 2017 which considering the very wet weather conditions I was happy with. During a conversation some days afterwards Aggi asked if I would do Solo again next year, jokingly I said no but we can do it as a pair? Aggi, being Aggi, straight away said yes ok….. I did ask on a few occasions before registration open that she was sure? Each time was the same answer… So October came round and the registration window opened, this event sells out in a matter of hours so you have to be quick to secure your place. I sat at my keyboard hitting the F5 button in the minutes leading up to the 10am entry open time. It wasn’t long before the queue had opened and it was a waiting game to see if we could get our place. After around 15 minutes the window changed and I was able to secure our place. Brilliant! As TR24 was another 9 months away we didn’t really worry about it at this stage as we had Manchester Marathon to train for before this.

Skipping forward to May 2018 and both having a great start to the running calendar. We made a decision to step things up a level, so enlisted the help of Ben Gamble. His training plans and sports treatments really helped us to further improve. We were both running well and felt great. So it was at this point we thought to take TR24 seriously and go for a podium place. With Ben’s help we devised a plan of attack, I managed to get hold of the last three years mixed pairs results and found that if we made 20 laps, this would have been a podium spot. So our target naturally became a minimum of 20 laps.

Any endurance event or ultra-marathon needs more than just being able to run for long distances. The nutritional side is a very important factor, but can also easily be overlooked. Get it wrong and you could soon run out of energy and miss out on your target. For this, we looked towards former Thunder Run Solo winner, Janson Heath of INnutrition. Janson was happy to work with us, create our nutritional plans and he even came along with us to TR to make sure we followed his plan. He was so confident with his plan and us that he said we are not going for anything else other than to win.. We knew we were up against last years winners, so it was not going to be an easy task.

As Catton Park is only an hours drive from home, we had already made the decision to pitch the tent on Friday but not stay over for the night. We needed a good nights sleep. We arrived back at camp on the Saturday morning ready to go. I was to take the first lap, there is a bottleneck after around half a mile, if you get there too slowly it can easily cost you some valuable time.

Our start plan was to do a lap on, lap off, and try to average 1 hour laps, but mainly to run at a comfortable pace. The sun was out and another very hot day. This was going to be challenging! 12 noon soon came around and before I knew it I was off. I purposely started my first lap at a good pace, as I wanted to be clear of the bottleneck that can happen after the half mile point. Runners make a right turn onto a narrow hilly path into the woods. Last year I waited for over 5 minutes at this point, not this year though! I was straight through this section and slowed my pace down to something more sensible for the job ahead. Support as always was fantastic on the well marshalled and supported course. The first few laps in particular are always some of the best, as everyone is still fresh and excited.

My first lap was completed ahead of time in 53:27. Aggi was waiting at the changeover, so I handed over the baton and she was away with her usual excited smile on her face. The first few laps passed very quickly with both Aggi and myself very consistent on the times. Always sub one hour laps, which was ahead of our target but we both felt excellent. Janson made sure we stuck to our nutritional plan on and after the laps, this was definitely working to keep our energy levels high. The first main obstacle came up when we got to our main meal time. It was very important to make sure we had a good meal before the night laps, but this would also mean that we must be able to eat and digest the meal before running. The best option for this would be to do double laps. We had already completed 4 laps each when it got to the meal time and I would be going first while Aggi ate. We were both still feeling very good and spirts were high. As I reached the end of my first lap of the double I was passed my headtorch, although it was still fairly light we had to have our headtorch’s equipped after 8:30pm (event rules). Darkness quickly falls, especially through the woodland sections. I managed to complete my first double laps in 54:44 and 55:11 then handed over to Aggi again so she could do double laps. I had a quick change of clothes and then made my way to the camp. I enjoyed the extra long break while I ate and recovered, but before I knew it, it was time to go and meet Aggi as she completed her double laps in 57:01 and 59:10. These were night laps with the headtorch which made these times even more impressive. At this point we had completed 12 laps and all sub 1 hour. Team talk was always short but Aggi made it clear she was not keen on the double laps, and would need more time to recover. So I just said ok, let’s stick to the original plan of one on, one off and see how we go.

It was now pitch black so the headtorch was a vital piece of equipment. The course seems so different at night, in particular the sections through the woods were challenging, the trees had lots of exposed roots on the well run course. A lapse in concentration and you could easily trip on the roots and that could mean the end of the race. On more than one occasion I nearly lost my footing, kicked a tree root and stumbled. There were a few choice words spoken out loud to myself. As I approached camp I knew Aggi had said she would need more recovery time after her double laps. So I made the decision to go again. As I had two laps rest previously I felt good and needed Aggi to be as fresh as possible. I had a quick word with Aggi to say I was ok and for her to have the extra rest before making my way out for the second lap. Again these laps were both under the hour mark; we were flying. I had resisted temptation to look at the live scoreboard, although I had received a couple of updates previously from camp. At one point we were 5th. Then we were 3rd. Now I felt the need to check for myself. It seemed an age for the different categories to scroll through. Eventually the mixed pairs came up. We were in 1st place!!! I had to double check, just to make sure.. Yes, it was down to us now. We had to keep pushing and not give in. I didn’t mention our placing to Aggi as I knew she intended not to look and wouldn’t want to know at this point.

As night eventually turned to day we had managed to run through the night pretty unscathed, still running the lap on, lap off strategy, but we were both tiring now. The lap times had started to drop to over an hour for both of us, but not by much and we were still in control. We just needed to keep an eye on second place as they had gained some ground on us but were still a lap behind. Second place were last years winners, and we knew that they wouldn’t give up without a fight. Now it was a numbers game, we just had to keep moving. The problem now was that we were both hurting. Aggi was really feeling it and no wonder, she had already completed 9 laps. As I completed my 11th lap Janson asked me to go again. Aggi was asleep, she really needed an extra rest. This lap was going to hurt, but I knew we were still in with a good chance of winning. We had done too much to give up now. So I set off on what was my 12th lap and 3rd double lap, I just had to keep moving and hope that Aggi would be good to do another lap on my return.

21 team laps done, 1 more than our initial target but we still had several hours to go, Janson had been looking at the times and said if we can do one more lap each it should be enough to secure the win. Aggi was now up and about but was not in a good way. Janson had convinced her to go again though, I said just take your time and get back in one piece and we will be good. I had another change of clothes and tried to eat some food but really struggled to take anything on. I really hoped Aggi would take longer than she did to get round as I needed a rest myself. I don’t know how she managed it but came in on her 10th lap at just over an hour. 22 laps total. Second place were still fighting away at the minutes between us, I knew I had to go again. Hopefully this would be our last lap but mathematically there was still enough time for Second place to catch us.

I came in on lap 23 in just over an hour, we checked with Janson and second place had 21 laps on the board but it were just about to complete their lap 22, it wasn’t a clear enough gap for me to risk stopping. I was really struggling to move as was Aggi, but we both knew it was ours now, all we needed was one more lap on the board. It wouldn’t matter if it was a walking lap. Aggi said she would go again, Shaun Ashworth stepped forward and said he would go round with Aggi again. This definitely made a difference and Aggi completed her 11th and our team lap 24 in a slightly slower time, but that was it we had secured the top position. As Aggi came in before 12 noon I had the option to go again for one final lap… so obviously the competitive side of me won. I thought I’ll just have a walking lap with no pressure and thank all the marshals for their time, these guys had also been out on course for the 24 hours. So that’s what I did. A nice easy no pressure lap. As I approach the Stone camp for the final time, Aggi was waiting for me, we were able to complete the final few hundred yards and cross the finish line together, as the mixed pair winners of Thunder Run 2018.

25 laps completed with an overall average time of 1:00:08 bang on target for the event. We would both like to thank Ben Gamble, Janson Heath and everyone connected to Stone Master Marathoners for having by far the best set up at TR24.

Aggi Pope and Paul Glover

Stone Master Marathoners

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10K Race report Social Ultra

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.

Categories
Half Marathon Race report Ultra

8th 9bar Sunrise to Sunset Challenge

The 8th 9bar Sunrise to Sunset Challenge

Fantastic running by our ladies Kathryn, Jackie and Anne-Marie at the 8th 9bar Sunrise to Sunset Challenge yesterday.
 
Anne-Marie recorded a superb half Marathon, Jackie cracking her first Ultra at 27 miles and Kathryn completed 58.75 laps which totalled 35.6 miles and saw her finish first in her category and seventh lady overall.
 
Brilliant running by all three – well done!
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Categories
Race report Ultra

Phil Cape smashes UTMB 2016 in aid of Lucas’ Legacy

Weird circumstances – did some ultras last year to show London Marathon that I didn’t need it after a load of unsuccessful ballot entries, then got GFA for London and UTMB entry for 2016.

Did ok at London but struggled to comfortably change training gear afterwards. Chamonix fantastic town in full carnival mode for the UTMB week – few nice days with family relaxing in heat and enjoyed supporting some of the finishers, knowing that a lot of tough races were taking place – then the work started 6pm 26th. The start was the most emotive I’ve seen – check out Vangelis : Conquest of Paradise (UTMB theme) – people were stood on the start line crying. Police on rooftops and single peace dancer before the start reminded us that France was still in state of emergency – then we were off. image

Lovely gentle ups and down to Les Houches, then carouselled up past the ski-lifts, reminding us that we were there to do some climbing. The views were and remained breath-taking. I’d been worried about carrying walking poles (which actually fitted fine into my vest) but very quickly it became clear that they would be out the whole time… Was running too fast especially on downhill then got to St Gervais, where got an idea of the magnitude of the event – there were hundreds of runners and supporters at essentially the first checkpoint and the only event to challenge LDWA catering. I sampled my first of the famous noodle soup here and would have knocked back litres of the stuff by the end. The other bit was recognising that as a mere mortal, a lot of this event would be walking-pole trekking up-hill as opposed to a conventional running event.

I normally worry about two things on ultras – directions (never going to be an issue in this race) and company (not a big talker normally but the miles and hills disappear as you jabber on about anything). Language clearly an issue at UTMB, but didn’t get sustained chat which was a challenge.

Notre-Dame de la Gorge stone fires and Les Contamines gave superb scenery and support, feeding stations and steep ascent. The difficult first night included the summits of Bonhomme, Calcaires and la Seigna, but I felt ok. The dark skies star views were fantastic. First hallucinations began – seeing marshalls where they weren’t, others were worse – some shouting at anyone who would listen for no reason at all! Lots of high mountains up and down including in T-shirts and shorts across snow-fields which was superb. Fantastic view over lakes into dawn from mountains framed by clouds. Steep descent into Italian Courmayeur smashed feet up ready for drop-bags. The run out of town –ahead of schedule – was hot and steep but was impressed by the way Italians were treated like superstars by the locals.

imageThe rest of Italy was just hard – 30 degrees at least. I had become fixated upon getting ahead of the cut-off times and ran too hard down two mountains (the beginnings of over-doing it), which set me up for a slow-cooking up Col de Ferret: able to see in the hot daylight just how steep and far we had to go. Became absolute convert to drinking lots from streams – more on that later. Too many people seemed to be giving up on the Ferret, walking head-down back down the hill and crushing when you think how far people travel to take part. I had been pushing hard for a long time by this point and when tried running downhill found had proper good quad-pain. Sat at check-point and for the first time felt vulnerable around completing, but also began to get confused about check-point times. Had been over-caffeinating and taking too much liquid and sugar; and was at this point that I decided to add brufen to the mix. The quads eased and a good downhill got me to into La Fouly with greater margin. Also now had irritating thirst that couldn’t shift and (wish I took photos) quality bloodshot eyes! A good feed then took off for the Swiss-leg, past the chocolate box chalets and drops from paths that you didn’t want to dwell on.

imageThis would be the hardest leg for me. About an hour into it although absolutely clear that I needed to be moving forward, I got the ‘detached’ feeling and lost sight of my next objective. The nutrition/heat/foot care/tiredness combination was checking me out. I focused and followed some French guys for about five miles until I moved ahead into a superb second evening electrical storm and cooling rain. I hadn’t reached the bottom yet but watched others simply lie/fall down and sleep! I staggered up to Champex-Lac where a huge aid station was located. It was a sensory overload. Hadn’t eaten for ages and become worried if able to drink as had been drinking so much. A very kind volunteer steered me towards the medics who did some tests (all ok) and wanted me to sleep for 20 mins to help in their assessment. Sleep? I had timescales to meet! I can’t sleep on command, but was on a sticky wicket – important that I get checked out, but I was in the worst place to present as flaky, as a headshake would have put me out in Switzerland in the middle of the night! Tests were all ok and was able to convince a really nice set of people that although hadn’t slept was fit to continue. Necked some food and drink and got out quick but with a new objective, forget the time – finish…

The rest of the night would be two of the last three last hills. Loads of relentless climbing, hot again and best described as when you’ve had one more than you should have but are trying to act normal. The second hill felt like the first – I was convinced that I’d seen that fir-cone or tree before… I had some conversations – some lucid – others not-so: I spoke to a guy called Dave at one point who was getting married next year in Hawaii and was thinking how to sell doing an ultra whilst there to his wife-to-be… he ran ahead a bit and I continued talking to him. After a while, the Spaniard who was clearly not Dave, gave up correcting me and we shot the breeze about whatever until we went our separate ways…
The final significant checkpoint was at Vallorcine. The bit I didn’t appreciate at the time was my need to change foot-care for these events – my descent to the food-station was woefully slow but my feet were on fire. I’ve thought before how do some people run 100 in the same socks and shoes and I’m ready to change both after 30. I left the CP very focused upon time – I had nine hours to finish (do-able) but I had to be at the top of La Tete aux Vents quicker (but not as quick as I thought) to avoid an earlier cut-off. The ascent was my opportunity and I pounded-up the last mountain, sparking a comedy race within a race where I think people thought I was going for places whereas in fact I was giving myself breathing space on the descent. Went most of way up with lovely guy called Craig (I’m sure but forgive me if mistaken) who was there for third time having lost his mother whilst taking part in last years’ event and was on course for a PB this year.
It would have taken a minute to have taken a picture from the Col prior to the big run-in but I was too focused on getting done.
Any other time the downhill would have been an enjoyable sprint – I shuffled for about two and a half hours, steering the odd runner away from the edge as they staggered down more than half asleep, until I hit road and could actually jog again. Did that, got a huge gilet as a reward (no medals at UTMB), my can of Kronenbourg and shuffled off to recovery… job done.image
Afterwards – couldn’t move the day after, then legs/muscles came back quite quickly, blisters were a problem and perversely right rotator-cuff pull meant two days not using right arm! Day two was stomach cramps heralding four days diarrhoea got me a little weak and under 12-stone for first time since kid! Loved the spring water – challenge them when they tell you it’s ‘potable’!

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Was privilege to be able to run for Lucas’ Legacy charity and am humbled and grateful to those who have pledged. Most are in now, but something in the region of £1300 has been donated – thanks and well done.
It’s a week since the finish, across the last few days I never wanted to run again at all, but am apparently eligible to be able to apply for next year. Not sure how reads, but if you want to run like you are running on the roof of the world, with the very best of views with runners from every corner of the globe, the pleasure is very much worth the pain. The PTL appears the actual toughest (290km), but the festival includes also the OCC (55km), CCC (101km) and TDS (119km) – have a look and review your bucket-list, cheers.

Categories
Race report Ultra

Kathryn’s Thunder Run – 24hr Solo Race – 23rd/24th July 2016

Kathryn’s Thunder Run report

Before I begin, I have to say that I’ve written many run reports, but I’ve never been quite so daunted about writing one as I am about this. Perhaps it is in keeping with the magnitude of the race itself?! In true ultra running style, you might need to grab yourself a cup of strong black coffee and a few biscuits before you start reading as I fear I might go on for some time…

Preparation for the task of running for 24 hours began in September last year, when I decided for some strange reason that it would be a good idea. After running my first ultra in March 2015, I was well and truly bitten by the ultra bug and wanted to do more and more – to see how far I could go. It seemed like everyone I knew was still talking about the Thunder Run and planning to enter the 2016 event, so when entries opened in October, I was in there like a rat up a drainpipe! It felt like I had forever to train, but I knew that it would come around quickly, so I needed to decide upon my target and race strategy. More on that later!

So, what do you do to prepare yourself to run for 24 hours? A lot of running is the answer, but only part of it: there are other things to consider. I knew that I wouldn’t be the fastest solo female on the course by a long way – my 10K PB on a flat road course is 56 minutes – but what I lack in speed I make up for in determination (for that read stubbornness/refusal to give up – ‘death before DNF’ is one of my mantras!!), a very high pain threshold and the ability to go without sleep. With these three weapons in my arsenal, I focused on gaining as much strength and endurance as possible over the next nine months. A typical training week would involve some of the following, sometimes all:

1. At least three double run days, with the first of those runs usually pushing a heavy two-year-old in a pushchair up hills and off road at an easy pace. I did a few triple days too.

2. Back-to-back long runs at a very easy pace to get used to running on tired legs.

3. If I wasn’t planning a back-to-back weekend, I would do two long runs a week, usually 15-18 on a Wednesday when Giovanna was in nursery and a longer one at the weekend.

4. Lots of hills. Roger ‘The Mountain Goat’ Taylor was enlisted in planning the hilliest routes he could think of. The day we did Redhill Lane, Beech Caves, Hanchurch and the Monument I might have thought bad thoughts and said a few bad words.

5. Running most days. I rarely take rest days – I find I get very twitchy and would prefer to just to do a slow two mile jog than have complete rest. Not conventional I guess but works for me.

6. Speed work! Tempo runs of up to 50 minutes (this hurts. A lot!) and long intervals are my ‘favourites’.

As well as all of this, I planned in key events as training runs. These included the Sunrise to Sunset (8 hours of 0.81 mile laps) in December, to see how I managed with laps, Dukeries 40 in May, the Mourne Mountain Ultra in June and the Potteries Marathon in July. Roger and I also did the route of the Six Dales from Hartington in the Peaks (26 miles).

All of this running and generally being quite busy burns a lot of energy, so I tried to plan good meals and snacks to keep me going. I eat a mostly plant-based diet (loads of fruit, veg, salad, nuts, seeds, pulses, tofu and slow release carbs like porridge and wholemeal pasta) but occasionally eat fish. I do have a terrible addiction to dark chocolate though!

Mental preparation was also going to be key, and I developed a few techniques to help me to stay positive and/or zone out when the going got tough. One of them is to laugh at things around me that might be a bit random or silly. On the day, this turned out to be people who farted or burped on their way past me! Another is to sing to myself. When it’s really bad I count to ten in as many languages as I can. I also think about my sister, who has a rare genetic disorder and is totally immobile. So when I think I’m hurting, I think about her and how she can’t run a step – never has been able to – and I soon get going again, usually with tears in my eyes. Some of you may have noticed I wrote her name on my arm to remind me. People often ask why I put myself through the pain of running such a long way and my standard response is ‘because I can’.

imageSo, race day dawned and I was pretty nervous, but also excited about completing the task in hand. I knew I would have brilliant support, both out on the course and back at the temporary Bat Cave, but little did I know just how incredible this support would be. It all began with our lift to the start from Tom – this really meant a lot as I knew I would be in no fit state to drive home! We arrived on site at around 9:40, which gave me plenty of time for multiple toilet visits, much faffing about with kit (thanks to Victoria for the vest that actually fits!) and some time to collect my thoughts. I had decided in advance that my aim was going to be at least ten laps but hopefully more like twelve. This would get me somewhere near the top ten. After studying results from previous years, I discovered that the winner had typically achieved 16 laps, with a podium finisher usually completing 15. I am pretty certain that I have this in me one day, and especially now I have experienced the race and know what not to do! More on that later.

High noon soon came around and I made my way down to the start area with Roger, who gave me a goodbye and good luck hug and kiss. It felt a bit like I was going out on an epic expedition even though I knew I would see him in about an hour and twenty minutes! I started at the back and settled into a very steady pace. I have no idea what that actually was because I took the decision not to wear a watch – mainly to stop myself from obsessing about being too fast or too slow, but also because the battery life on my Suunto is naff. New watch hint!

The aim on the first lap was to get to know the course and settle my nerves. Mission accomplished as I got back to the Bat Cave in about 78 minutes. A quick stop for a Pepsi and a hug ensued, and I carried on to complete my first lap in 84 minutes. Just what I had planned. On lap two I still didn’t really feel like I was into my running and I realised, if I didn’t know already, that the heat was going to be a massive issue. I took three cups of water at the 15K mark and felt slightly better so on lap 3 I opted to carry a bottle of water, something I don’t normally do. I have a race belt but I wanted to carry as little as possible around me because of how sweaty I was getting! Despite the extra water, I felt a little nauseous and had headache, so at the end of lap 3 I had a longer stop for paracetamol, crisps, the first of many strong black coffees and my magic concoction of one electrolyte tablet and one Berocca in a bottle of water to take with me. This made a huge difference and by lap 5 I was really enjoying my running. The oppressive heat was also starting to die down, which made a huge difference. Lap 6 was done in failing light. I just about managed to get away without a head torch, but knew that lap 7 would be the first of the dark ones.5 laps done

Donning my head torch that looks like I’m going down the mine (it is that massive!), I set off for lap 7, which was probably my favourite lap up to this point. I love night running, even if I do sometimes get a little spooked, but the course was so busy I never felt alone. I made it a game to spot the black beetles on the floor of the woodland sections – there must have been hundreds. Speaking of insects, it was also quite nice not to have flies in my eyes or worse, in my mouth. The Bat Cave was starting to get quieter by this point as people took well deserved rests, but the stalwarts Brian, Bernie and JC were always awake, it seemed! I don’t know whether they appreciated my inane chatter throughout the night but they did a good job of making it seem like it was amusing. Bernie also continued to provide me with very strong coffee, which definitely helped (although he has since told me that they ran out of coffee on lap one and I was in fact drinking Fence Guard. This would quite possibly explain why, at 3am, I apparently looked like a bush baby as my pupils were so dilated they had disappeared into my dark eyes!). Onto lap 8, and it became much darker. Not because it was night, but because my head torch was running out of battery. Needless to say, I slowed down because I couldn’t see much and I was concerned about staying on my feet. This was one of the mistakes that cost me an extra lap – one that I won’t be making again. Lap 8 also saw me start to suffer very badly with chafing in a rather delicate area, from about 75km onwards. At this point, I decided to have a longer break at the end of the lap so I could find my handheld torch and get my chafing sorted! Thankfully Victoria was awake so I didn’t disturb her when I went in the tent to get my inhaler, paracetamol and Savlon. Much hilarity ensued when Roger woke up to a conversation he would probably rather not have heard – basically that his first aid skills were required between my bottom cheeks! Under normal circumstances I might have been embarrassed by his shouts from the tent of “Oh God that’s awful! It looks like a baboon’s ass!” but I had just run 80k so didn’t much care ? Set off for lap 9 with a slightly less sore bum and was feeling pretty good as I knew that sunrise would come by the end of this one.

imageAs dawn came round, I felt a new surge of energy and enthusiasm, and started to feel confident that I would run for the whole 24 hours without a break for sleep. Lap 10 was also a lot of fun, and as I finished I treated myself to breakfast of honey nut cornflakes. Left for lap 11 feeling good, but I hadn’t seen Roger for a while as he had either been asleep or running when I came back, and my irrational pathetic brain took over from about 101-104km. I couldn’t seem to get going, I didn’t really give a stuff and although I knew I would carry on, I couldn’t be arsed, to put it bluntly! Just before I reached the water station on what I have come to know as the ‘lap of doom’, our very own captain of vice, Paul, must have seen I was struggling as he gave me a big hug on his way past. That gave me the boost that I needed and I started to get moving a bit more quickly again. Had a bit of a cry at the end of that lap when I did actually see Roger, but JC and Ben encouraged me to keep going. So, after a big hug, I set off for what I knew was going to be my final lap. I also knew that at any time after the 1km mark, Roger was going to come flying past, which also kept me going. What is even more impressive is that he still managed a 42 minute lap with a quick hug stop ? Past the water station for the final time, I summoned up one last push to take me over the ridge at 8km (my favourite bit of the course) and down the hill the other side. By this point I was in floods of tears (tears of joy and relief!) underneath my sunglasses, but I did manage to stop crying by the time I got to the grassy straight for the very last time. I felt like running royalty as I was welcomed by cheers and Bats lining the bank with party poppers, and that gave me a massive boost as I headed towards the finish. Throughout the whole race, I was truly blown away by the time that people took to get me through. I felt like a queen every time I ran along the grassy straight back to base camp, as I was welcomed by cheers, offers of food, drink and a chair (sometimes two to put my feet up!). I have no idea where it came from but I don’t think Roger was expecting to run in to the end with me at 8 minute pace!! Crossed the line and heard the joyful chorus of beeps that signalled the end of this and every lap, but this time I stopped. Time stood still for a second, or at least it felt like it did, as the enormity of what I had done began to sink in. I had achieved my twelve lap aim and finished 11th lady. Not quite top ten, but I will be back next time to rectify that!

“You don’t need to be fast. But you had better be fearless.”image

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Categories
Race report Ultra

Dukeries 40 Race Report – 14th May 2016

It isn’t often that I do races more than once (especially long ones – I like a bit of variety!), but after doing this extremely well organised, friendly and scenic route last year, I said I’d be back. Starting just outside Sherwood Forest, the route is on relatively easy woodland trails before it passes through the stunning backdrop of Cresswell Crags at Mile 23. It then crosses Clumber Park, before passing through farmland and looping back to pass the Thoresby Estate and returning to Sherwood Forest. With my solo Thunder Run training well underway, this race formed an ideal opportunity to get some decent miles in the legs on beautiful woodland trails.

The day started at the somewhat ungodly hour of 4:30. Had a quick bowl of porridge and honey with a cup of tea before setting off on the 90 minute journey to Nottinghamshire. Had a five minute snooze in the car (it’s ok, Roger was driving – thanks Roger!!) and felt quite refreshed upon arriving at race HQ. Ate my second breakfast of Wow butter (like peanut butter but not peanuts) and jam sandwiches and did the customary multiple loo visits before the race briefing at 7:10. We were informed about how well marked the course was (I remembered this from last year), how there was a new finish (course extended to be 41 miles) and the importance of making the cut off at the last checkpoint (34 miles) by 4pm. There was one little surprise that we weren’t told about though – more on that in a bit!

Moving outside to the start area, I was feeling a little nervous and apprehensive, as my last long race (Wrexham Marathon) saw my first ever DNF. I tried to put that out of my mind and concentrate on the task ahead as we set off. There is a 30 mile race running at the same time, so I tried not to take too much notice of those going off at a quicker pace. My plan was to run at about ten minute miles, walk and eat/drink up the hills and not stop for too long at checkpoints. I settled into my pace fairly quickly, until all of a sudden everyone ahead appeared to stop. I thought there might have been a narrow stile causing a bottleneck – however, it soon became apparent that there was significant flooding that required us to wade through water over our knees for a good hundred metres. It was actually quite refreshing on the legs but I was concerned about getting wet feet so early on. I needn’t have worried though – within a few miles my feet were nice and dry and I had settled into a comfortable rhythm.

Coming into the first checkpoint at 7 miles, I grabbed a quick black coffee, some squash and a handful of salted peanuts and Hula Hoops. This was to be the theme of the day – grab salty snacks and leave as quickly as possible! The next checkpoint wasn’t until 17 miles, but I had plenty of food and water in the lucky race belt borrowed from Roger so all was well. Well, until Mile 13 – unlucky for some, and it certainly was for me! I tripped rather unceremoniously and fell hard onto my knees and hands. I lay there, quite stunned, for a few seconds and then told myself I was ok and I had to keep running. I could see that my right knee was bleeding quite heavily but it wasn’t too painful to run on. The worst thing was my hands as I had taken quite a chunk out of one of them. I gave everything a quick once over with an alcowipe whilst jogging and still felt strong going into Checkpoint 2. More squash, some cola and more peanuts and Hula Hoops saw me through the halfway mark way under my target of 4:30. I finished in 9:39 last year but really wanted a sub 9 hour finish today. The next checkpoint came along quite quickly, at Mile 23. I knew then that there was a big gap (11 miles) until the next one, so I made sure I had full water bottles before making my way through the farmland section. Miles 20-25 were my slowest so far, but I found a new spring in my step after a much needed pee at Mile 26 ? Felt strong going through 30 miles and confident that I was going to finish in a cracking time. A somewhat irritating factor at this point was that my watch decided to add miles for me (done at 5 second pace!!). There’s nothing more annoying or confusing for an exhausted ultra runner who doesn’t know EXACTLY how far they’ve gone! Coming into the final checkpoint I was starting to feel really quite sick and a bit dehydrated, so I had some caffeine and electrolytes and felt almost instantly better. Quick stop here for yet more Hula Hoops (bad salt cravings!) and then off to complete the final seven miles. This seemed to go on forever and my legs were feeling quite tired now – not helped by the sore knees. I knew that the finish was different this year so I wasn’t sure how far I had to go once I’d gone past where the course had changed, so I was beyond relieved to see a marshal telling me that it was only 400m to go! Got around the corner and I could see the finish, and the most welcome sight of Roger running towards me ? He took a few nice finishing pictures of me grinning like an idiot as usual, then we went back into race HQ to get my medal (engraved with my name, which I thought was a nice touch), race vest and veggie soup. Felt a bit emotional as I realised that I had smashed last year’s time (even on the longer course) and gone way under my 9 hour goal, in a time of 8 hours and 43 minutes. I’ll be back next year to see if I can go under 8 hours!