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Tuesday 6 August 2013

Thunder Run Race Report: For the Love of Running ...

Adidas Thunder Run is a race which lasts 24 hours – from midday Saturday to midday Sunday. The aim is to complete as many laps of the 6 offroad hilly mile course as possible. Team sizes range from solo to a team of 8. I was running this in a team of 2. Our team name is ‘Doing The Zombie Shuffle’ as we felt this would be a pretty accurate description of our style of movement come hour 24 ...

Friday … On the way to Thunder Run 24hr

I sit in the car. The impulse to blow the horn and swear is overwhelming. I’ve been ready for hours but Mr is faffing around. Finally the car is packed. We give 4 year old a hug and wave goodbye. Get 1 mile down the road. Mr: “Oh I’ve forgotten my phone charger”. I restrain the urge to swear and beat him with a trainer. Instead I give him a dagger-eyed look and turn around.

Sitting in car. Finally he’s back in the car. Minus the charger. “I can’t find it. Expect I’ve already packed it.” Consider beating him with TWO trainers. Restrain self. Get 1 mile down the road. “I’ve forgotten my headphones. I REALLY need them.”

I beat him to death with 3 trainers and stuff my Garmin up his nose as a finale. Not really. I didn’t have time to do that, hide his body and get to the race in time.

Instead I turned car around while muttering phrases which would cause a sailor to blush and U-turned the car with smoking and screeching tyres. 4 year old looks confused at our 2nd reappearance. “I thought you were going camping.” So did I. I’m not turning the car around again. If he’s forgotten his running gear he’s just going to have to regress back to primary school and run in his pants.

I hugged 4 year old. “I’ll see you in 2 days” I tell her. I didn’t mention that she may not see Daddy in 2 days as I may be forced to strangle him with his headphones, plug his charger into somewhere unmentionable and leave his body in a campsite portaloo.

I plugged the directions into the phone and followed the instructions as it led me through smaller and smaller lanes ... finally! A field full of tents! Pulled up to gate and a chorus of howling met me. Maybe some pre-race psyching up from some REALLY dedicated runners? A pack of wolves set loose in the forest to discourage dawdling on the laps? No. Apparently there CAN be two fields full of tents within a mile of each other. I’d just attempted to set up camp at a dog agility event. I hadn’t practised on seesaws and running through tunnels and even a can of Pedigree Chum couldn’t persuade me to stay so I set off leaving the wet noses and glossy coats of the canines behind. 

Finally made it to the right campsite, but where were the rest of the team? I was running Thunder Run in a pair but we were camping as a 15 and having barely any mobile signal I had no idea how to find them. Luckily, our organiser and bouncy camp leader, Tigger soon spotted us and she leapt into the car and guided us into camp where the others were already set up and waiting.

Trying to put a tent up in the dark IS a lot harder than it sounds, especially when half of the poles are in the wrong bag and unmarked. I left the boys to it, Malcs and Mr trying manfully to wrestle the tent into shape.

Walking into the circle of the team I wasn’t sure whether I’d walked into a human cloning lab or whether we were going for the Midwich Cuckoos look. We all had a blue hoody each and a dazed expression. I soon recognised the dazed expressions for what they were, a mixture of trepidation, beer and – in my case – a desire not to beat people with trainers otherwise I’d have to run as a solo.

We discussed strategies. ‘Doing The Zombie Shuffle’s team strategy was to run a double lap for our first run out and then play it by ear. I didn’t realise until I was out on the course already running the first lap that this wasn’t much of a strategy and the only way to communicate any changes would be a bellowed “Double” or “single lap” during the changeover.

The campsite had a great atmosphere, conversation was buzzing all around and the excitement was palpable. There was plenty of room and the cars were parked close to the tents which was a bonus so there was easy access to phone and Garmin chargers. There were plenty of toilets from single portaloos to cabin-style toilets and showers and we were – luckily upwind – of a row of single portaloos. These were clean and non-stinky, but the water for washing hands had run out which wasn’t a good sign … and I didn’t find this out until I’d already squirted liquid soap all over them so I had sticky – but fragrant – hands. Better to come out of a portaloo smelling of soap though …

I had a wander and did a brief recce of start to find out the important bits. Crossover point, food tent, portaloos. Spot where the ice cream van should be …

Saturday – Thunder Run Day 1

I settled into my sleeping bag, was nice and toasty and as is law once you’re in a sleeping bag and all zipped up I needed a wee. So after managing to extricate myself, climb back into jeans, I went back to the portaloos. Sorted. Finally managed to get back into sleeping bag and set my alarm for 7am. The registration pack pickup time was 8am – 11am and while the chances of me sleeping past this time was extremely slim, I didn’t want to risk it. After all my restraint not beating people with trainers and managing to get in and out of the sleeping bag for midnight wees without dislocating something, it would be gutting to miss the registration time.

I also didn’t fancy queuing for an hour to pick up the pack if I left it until the last minute. Alarm set, I snuggled down. As is standard when sleeping in sleeping bags, I woke at 6.30 half an hour before the alarm ... needing a wee.

Got back to the tent from the portaloo and something smacked into my ankle with a splat. Looked down and saw a teeny tiny frog trying to hide between the water bottles. Quite possibly the smallest froggy I’d ever seen. He wasn’t scared. Or maybe he was dazed from headbutting my leg. I set him free with a gentle nudge in the direction away from my tent. However, he was either very sociable, there was a plague of teeny frogs or he managed to visit almost every tent in our camp as when I mentioned him later it turned out almost everyone had had a visit from a small squishy amphibian.

The race pack included a bright orange wristband (our relay baton), the timing chips for our ankles and the numbers for our vests. And 2 safety pins which promptly disappeared in the long grass. Thank goodness for overpacking and bringing an entire packet of safety pins. We ticked off “Doing the Zombie Shuffle” from the list of teams in attendance. This was it! We were IN!

That's my attempt at a Zombie, by the way ...

I get a nervous tummy before races and this wasn’t any exception. Luckily there were no portaloo queues, no lack of loo roll and no nervous farty runners in front of me. If every race could be this organised with their toilets, it would make everything run a lot more smoothly. And fragrantly.

Thunder Run - Laps 1 and 2

I had been volunteered as first runner for team ‘Doing the Zombie Shuffle’ and as I was planning on 30+ miles there was no point starting anywhere near the front with the teams of 8. With the gentle 10 minute mile pace I was planning, I’d be mowed down by hordes of runners moving at a sprint, safe in the knowledge they’d have 6 hours to recover before their next lap.

Tigger & Malcs

It was as hot as a Sumo wrestler’s armpit so Malcs, Tigger and I stood a long way back from the start line in the only shade there was available. We could just about spot the start gantry from where we were but there didn’t seem any point boiling in the heat when we could melt in the shade instead. Besides, we weren’t going for a sprint finish but in it for the long haul. It was only a shame that the ice cream van wasn’t close enough for us to lean over and snag a 99 with a flake.
After about 2 or 3 minutes we were over the starting line and were part of a crowd of 2,000 runners all enjoying running in the sunshine and looking forward to 10km of trail running. There were spectators on both sides of the start and because we had vests with our names on, everyone was shouting out for us. It was AMAZING!! We grinned madly and waved back enthusiastically and decided that this must be what celebrities feel like! But without the having-to-run-in-25-degree-heat running. Also thanks to the vest I was spotted by a friend in the crowd who screamed extra loud to cheer me on – thanks Anne-Marie! 

Thanks to Stoo Bar for the picture

We were taking it very steadily and the first kilometre flew by helped along with the mad waving, inane grins and chatter  ... then all of a sudden everything ground to a halt. We’d reached the first hill – and the first bottleneck. We were all standing still, queued as though we were waiting for a REALLY clean portaloo.

Never mind. 5 minutes out of 24hrs wouldn’t matter. The atmosphere and excitement was brilliant and I got carried away chatting to everyone. It was great starting off with friends and being able to chat during a race. Usually it’s eyeballs out and a mad dash for the finish line so being able to take pictures and talk as we went was brilliant! I probably even inspired a few solos to speed up to get away from my inane chuntering. See, I’m all heart, folks. Inspiration – and escape – all the way.

The trails were smooth dirt at this point and it was lovely to run on. I was wearing my new Salomon trail shoes for this double lap although I’d been a bit wary of wearing them for 12 miles. However, they’d performed nicely on their first outing – the 5 mile trail run the other day so I decided I may as well give them a bit of a run out. Like a dog that had behaved well. Besides I was a walking first aid kit. Plasters? Check. Rennie? Check. Extra safety pins? Check. Loo roll? Of course. I wasn’t planning on watering the countryside but should the need arise I was prepared.

Plus I’d also brought along my ‘Pub Tenner’. Disappointingly there wasn’t likely to be an opportunity to stop for a cold coke (cough, cider, cough) at a pub on this route, but it seemed silly to chance it. There might be an ice cream van parked halfway round and I’d be gutted not to have any cash. There’s ALWAYS time for ice cream and 24 hrs is a long time.

After the bottleneck, there was about ¼ of a mile of winding single-track woodland trail which opened out onto a grassy track. This turned into a hill and then at 2km you turned back into the campsite again and did a long looping lap of the field on the other side of the starting line. Through some sort of wooden fences which I assumed were horse obstacles (although I wasn’t sure why horses wanted obstacles) across a stream and through a small patch of woodland and out into the open with a cornfield on your left.

The route continued with a mixture of grass tracks and dirt paths. It was lovely to run on but you had to watch your step as on the dirt trails there were tree roots snaking across the path and in one particularly tricky section there were multiple small tree stumps sticking up about 4 or 5 inches above the ground. It would be very easy to trip here, especially if you were tired from doing several laps … or if you got over-confident. However, it was a beautiful route and it was trail running at its best. A mixture of terrains, some nice undulations and some good fun sections which involved weaving in and out of the tree trunks without getting involved in some sort of bondage-style tangle with the white tape marking the route or knocking yourself out on a tree trunk. It was Russian Roulette but with trainers, trees and tape. 

There was one water station on the route at the 5km point and interestingly I needed water at this point every time. I never normally drink during a 10km run but a combination of the heat, the hills and the time it was taking me to run the route (just over an hour), I’d have finished my handheld water bottle by this point and was ready for a refill. The marshals here were brilliant and never complained about having to fill a water bottle rather than hand over a cup of water. The lady wo-manning the stand even started referring to my water stops as my ‘Gin & Tonic’ top ups. It made me smile every time and just reiterated the brilliant camaraderie of the Thunder Run and how enthusiastic the marshals were.

Just past the water station was a steep hill referred to as the Conti Climb after the sponsors. There was a competition held on the first evening to see who could sprint up it the quickest. While I appreciate I’m not a speedster, it seemed a shame not to have a go on my first lap while I was still feeling fresh. I had a quick run up it and logged 24 seconds. I later heard that the sprint winner did it in just over 10 seconds … doesn’t sound as though I’ve got a future in the sprint!

Towards the end of the first lap at about the 8k mark there’s a long downhill section at a funny camber. I was running along with a man who was telling me about his muscle tear which had caused problems for him at London Marathon (despite which he’d still managed a PB) and as we
came through the gate into the campsite the trail makes a sudden drop. Muscle Tear Man – I’m SO sorry. I didn’t mean to fart at you and it was in no way a reflection on the conversation. It was ENTIRELY the fault of the trail and the sudden hill took me by surprise. I would also like to say – for the record – that I don’t blame you AT ALL for your sudden burst of speed soon after which took you a good few metres in front of me.

I had expected the double laps to be hard and for it to be a bit soul destroying going past the start  and having to go around again, but in fact it was nice. The route was so interesting and everyone waiting in the switchover area gave you a big cheer as you went past so it was lovely! I almost always ended up with a quicker lap the second time too.

The second lap was no different to the first – apart from the intentional flatulence. I talked the WHOLE way round and had a great time speaking to everyone and cheering on the people who were zooming past me. The camaraderie was brilliant and everyone was in it for the atmosphere rather than the win which was completely unlike other races I’d entered. A person behind me spotted a number fluttering to the ground so she put on a bit of a sprint to catch up to the solo who had just unknowingly dropped it. I offered a safety pin and we got her numbered up again. Just another example of the team work between all of the runners. It’s times like Thunder Run that you realise that there really IS a running community and that it is AWESOME to be part of it.

After all, who else but a runner would understand that a lost toenail doesn’t mean you can’t wear sandals (you paint your toe with nail varnish). That Vaseline works perfectly well under your armpits (and above your eyebrows). That it’s perfectly acceptable to spend more on your trainers (which you’ll use to splash through mud and puddles) than on your best going out shoes.

Laps 3 and 4

I was experimenting with food and I decided that snacks would probably be my best bet. I’d have about 2 hours between laps, so it would need to be something quick to prepare, that wouldn’t upset my stomach too badly and that would be quick to digest but that would see me through 12 miles. I tend to have what is probably most delicately described as a ‘nervous stomach’ especially during races so I decided that to avoid carrying a 12 roll pack of Andrex at all times I’d eat simple things that I’d tried and tested. Things that worked well: baked sweet potatoes, pea and ham soup from a can, cashew nuts, pick’n’mix (any excuse), seed mix, popcorn. I kept it as simple as possible. I was worried that the nuts would be too high in fat and might slow down my digestion but it all actually worked pretty well. Apart from a couple of Code Browns and resulting portaloo dashes, things were uneventful which was exactly what you want when the only loos are shared with a couple of thousand other people. Just to clarify: shared in a consecutive manner, rather than a concurrent manner.

I did find though that the maximum time that this would see me through was 12 miles – as soon as I got near the end of the 2nd lap of the double I was feeling low on fuel. I didn’t really bother with gels as I thought that while those would see me through a faster and shorter race, on a long haul run like this one I’d end up crashing and burning. 

Running along the course, at the 2km point, I’d spotted a sign which was familiar to me from a photo on Twitter: ‘Camp Shibby’.

I’d promised to shout when I passed it as although I hadn’t met Jay and Taff, Mrs Bedders and Spin Queen in person I’d chatted to them all on Twitter. I bellowed a giant “Team Shibby!” as I passed. There was no reply from the camp and after briefly considering looting it for unattended trainers and beer, I carried on.

Later we all had a brief Twitter conversation in which we’d all discussed what colours we were wearing so we could spot each other. I mentioned I was in a cherry pink top and would bellow again as I passed. Again, my shout went unheeded.

After the lap, I read the following tweet from Jay:
“Look out for Sarah, she’s in a cherry pink top”
“Is THAT cherry pink?”
“No, that’s more of a warm cerise”
“Camp Shibby!!”

Lesson learned. Never trust a bloke to be able to tell colours apart. Next time I’m emailing everyone a paint chart.

The heat was still oppressive and I was glad I’d remembered the sun cream.

Although it wasn’t the heat of the sun wasn’t that was making it hard to run, it was the humidity and when it started drizzling slightly it was a relief to have the cool rain on my skin. Thunder storms had been forecast but every time I checked the rain was predicted later and later and it seemed that the bad storms might even miss the weekend altogether. However the light rain was appreciated and if it eased the humidity and closeness of the air it was most welcome.

I wore my road shoes for this double lap and on the grass and dirt they were fine. The trails were solid and although the grip was better with the trail shoes, the road shoes were absolutely fine on the packed dirt of the trails. 

Thought I’d better call home and check in with the Grandparents and make sure that 4 year old hadn’t locked them in the shed and gone on a rampage of the house. Apparently they’d had a lovely day and visited the zoo. Spoke to 4 year old who confirmed they’d visited the zoo.
“Went to the zoo, Mummy! I went on the train!!” 
“Oh that sounds lovely! What animals did you see?”
“Dinosaurs! They squirted water!”
“Um … ok. What REAL animals did you see?”
“DINOSAURS, Mummy.” (In patronising tone)
Silly me. I hadn’t realised day passes were available for Jurassic Park.

Lap 5 and 6

I wandered up to the crossover area with Angela Isherwood and as we got to the arena the heavens opened. People were dashing in all directions and even after 24 miles I managed a pretty reasonable sprint to the relative dryness of the food tent where I huddled along with 200 other damp runners peering out at the suddenly dark skies and forked lightning which crashed down every few seconds. The thunder was getting louder and louder and we all made a mental note to avoid blaspheming especially near any tall trees. We huddled in the food tent as long as possible but had to break for the crossover point. Due to the darkening skies it was difficult to tell which was your team member so as people came around the corner they were shouting the name of their teammates. Warnings were coming in thick and fast and as the rain became heavier and heavier, runners were coming in covered in mud – and in some cases blood – where they’d slipped on the trail.

Angela’s teammate came and went – a very damp Tigger no longer bouncing – but there was no sign of mine. 10 minutes late, then 20, then 40. At what point do you call a marshal over and say “Well, you know this rain? I think my teammate might have drowned …”

Luckily at about the 1 hour 45 minute point, he WALKED over the finish line and wandered over to me and leisurely handed over the wristband. I restrained myself from screaming “It’s a race!! Run BITCH Run!!” and simply asked “Why weren’t you running?”
“Oh”, he said “Well it’s a bit rainy and a bit slippy and I started talking to a solo runner and we decided to walk this lap. Besides I’m only wearing road shoes, I didn’t bring any trail shoes with me.”  Breathe, Sarah, breathe. No time for battering people and jumping on their dead bodies. Breathe. Actually, no time for deep breathing either … run Cowbag!!

It was brilliant. The rain was pouring down and by the time I got to 1 mile I was soaked to the skin, but it was brilliant. There’s a photograph I’ve seen of a runner running down the side of a mountain with the phrase “Running is life … but with the volume up!” This was like that … “Running … but with the volume up!” Brilliant. Every step was into a puddle and there were inches of water on the ground, every step splashed and the lightning forked overhead and the thunder rumbling was a background to my running footsteps. The rain sparkled like glitter in the light of my head torch and the rain running down the trail made a river parting around my feet. It was mad and exhilarating. Running with a twist.

As I got to the 4km point, I heard a shout behind me and turning, saw a man running too fast sliding off the trail. He caught himself on the tape marking the boundary of the path and ran on again, slipping again towards me. I opened my arms to try and catch him and stop him hitting the ground but he caught himself, thanked me and ran on. I suddenly thought “Hang on! Why did I try and catch him? He was twice my height, twice my weight. There would only have been a small smear of blood, an orange wristband and a pair of trainers left to show where I’d been.”

Although it had only been raining an hour, there were already deep puddles of water on the trail and the path was softening. Although I was absolutely drenched, the night was still warm so I wasn’t cold although my fingers were white and wrinkly as though I’d stayed in the bath too long. It was Down-To-The-Underwear wet but it was PROPER running.

As I got to a part of the trail that went between 2 high hedges, there was a shaking from one of them and something small and crazy ran at my ankles. I leapt up into the air with far more enthusiasm than I had known I could possess at that time of night and screamed like a 4 year old girl. Apparently squirrels DO come out at night. Who knew?

As I completed the first lap and went on to do my second of the double, there was a cheer from the runners at the crossover point, a small touch but it made me smile. Despite the fact that the cheer was probably “She’s mad. Thank God that’s not me.”

On the second lap, the trail became more slippery and the puddles of water deeper. Although it was fun to run it, it was harder work than on a dry trail in the sunshine. I’d planned on trying to put a third lap on the end of this one as I was already completely drenched but there wasn’t any fuel left in the system. I was going to have to go in for food. Also, there was an ominous rumble from my tummy. Initially, I mistook it for the grumblings of a stomach which wanted feeding, but as we got to the 7km point, I recognised it for what it was. A red light for a Code Brown. In others words I was being told “there had better be a loo within the next mile or you’d better hope the loo roll in your pocket isn’t soaked by the rain”. It was soaked by the rain. 

I can safely say I have NEVER been more pleased to see a portaloo. There have been times in my life where I’ve thought, “A portaloo. How fortuitous.” But never before “OhdearGodCanIGetThereInTime”. Not my favourite part of the lap. But quite possibly my favourite portaloo. EVER. 

I called Mr to say I was at 8km and I was coming in for food. However, rather than meeting me at the crossover point ready for his night lap, he flatly refused to leave the snugly comfort of his sleeping bag. Sigh. I was too wet and cold for a 3rd lap now and I had to come in for food. I tried a few thinly veiled threats but apparently the sleeping bag was zipped up to his neck and there was no enticing him – or threatening him – out into the rain. I could see his point.

I headed back to the camp and crawled into the car. I ran the heaters and after a few minutes I warmed up and dozed off. I was awakened by a knock on the window from Malcs, a camp mate who just wanted to check I wasn’t getting desperate enough to run a hose to the window. I confirmed I was only snoozing and waking every half an hour to throw another handful of pick’n’mix in. I knew that I should be getting changed, fed and back into the rain and darkness to run but at that point a couple of hours sleep seemed like an amazing idea.

I set the alarm for 5am and when it started buzzing, I went into negotiation mode. From the warmth of the car, I called Mr who was asleep in the tent and told him that if he ran a lap at 6am, that could be his last lap and I would run the remaining time left. He agreed, safe in the knowledge that as soon as he’d run the 6 miles he could shower and sit down for the remaining 5 hours. He’d have nailed his target of 30 miles and I wouldn’t have to sit around waiting for him to finish – I could just get out there and run.

Laps 7 and 8

Good news! The water was no longer 2 inches deep over all parts of the course. Bad news: It was now 6 inches deep … in mud. I reckoned it was time to launch my running wellies TM. Wellies … but for running in! This time next year, I’d be a millionaire. “Running Wellies … for when you’re up to your ankles in crap but want to keep on running.” Maybe I need to work on that slogan. 

However, feeling OPENLY smug at how well my Salomon trail shoes were performing and SECRETLY smug when I noticed that all the runners in front of me were covered in mud from multiple falls, I slid. Splat. Straight into the mud. Luckily I didn’t fall on my face as my fall was broken by my water bottle. If I wanted a drink for the next 9km it would be mud flavoured. In the spirit of TR24 the runners next to me checked I was ok. I confirmed that the only thing injured was my pride. Smugness dissipating, I wiped the mud off and carried on. 

Highlights of this lap include: Mud mile, Pit Filled With Water and Mud, Ankle Deep Mud, Slippy Mud and Mud That Smelled Like Poo. Although that might have been down to the runner who had been caught by surprise when he fell over. I almost nearly had a shout at someone peeing at the side of the trail: “Seriously man, you’re making it MUDDIER! Do it further away!” But I didn’t really want him turning around and accidentally rinsing some of the mud off my trainers so I let him be.

Running down the hill at km 7. I exchanged a smile with the runner besides me and caught by surprise when she said she’d read my Endure 24 post! (Hi Katie!) How lovely to know that someone other than my Mum reads it! Apparently she had taken my top tip for bringing loo roll and had her very own stash. Spreading the word. Loo roll on long runs. This is my running legacy. Don’t say I don’t give anything back …

Coming back into the campsite at 8km, the grassy track had turned into a swamp. A PROPER swamp with reeds, mud and squishy, sodden grass. Somehow this didn’t seem to clean the trainers any, but just increased their weight.  At least if I didn’t fancy drinking from the mud encrusted water bottle I could suck my trainers. 

Thanks to Stoo Bar for the pic

The whole of the 10km route is lovely. But one real beauty of the route is that the last half a mile is downhill, so despite having to wade through the deep mud and trudge up the hills, you can do a beautiful run to the finish line. Had a chat to the chap running alongside me and asked if he fancied a sprint challenge. Of course he did. With big grins we sprinted for home and I’m sorry to say I was pipped to the post. It must have been like the dash of the mud monsters. However I did have to carry on and do another lap. That’s my excuse anyway.

I slogged through the mud for lap 8 and despite the extremes of the course, from roasting hot the first day, to torrential rain and to the stickiest mud I have ever experienced, I can seriously say I enjoyed the whole thing. It was trail running at its best and most extreme, but with the best people and with brilliant organisation and marshals. I was 42 miles into my run and I couldn’t think of anything I’d rather be doing. THIS was the runners high – the pushing on through the mud, keeping going, in it until the end.
I was enjoying it until the 44 mile mark … then the tummy rumble started again. Sigh. I left my water bottle and chip with the marshals at the water station and sprinted for the portaloo. WHY, WHY aren’t there any closer to the arena? Got there fine but couldn’t help thinking that if I was capable of a sprint at this point in the race surely with the right encouragement I could have run a bit faster on the previous laps …

I phoned into the Mr at the 8km mark to put in an order for a cup of coffee and some food and stopped for a quick break. I had a nice surprise then - Taff came to say hi. He was doing really well in his team but he had decided that he couldn’t be doing with all of this sitting around so he’d already emailed into race HQ about going in as a solo in 2014! Can’t keep a good ultra runner down...!

Lap 9

The temperature was really starting to heat up again at this point and it was sunburn weather. As I’d been running since early I hadn’t thought to put any suncream on. Never mind. I was so covered in muck that I was probably protected from the sun with an equivalent of Factor 50 …
It was drying too and it was lucky that I’d hadn’t sat down for long otherwise I would have been baked into position by the mud like a horrible statue. A dreadful warning to future Thunder Runners as to why you should always shower quickly after a muddy lap …

However, the mud on the course was drying too but it wasn’t getting any less, instead it was becoming more and more sticky and clinging to your trainers and weighing them down and really making your calf muscles work. My trainers – so beautiful at the beginning of the weekend – were now brown all over. No trace of the vibrant pinks and reds and the soles appeared to be 3 inches thick from the mud like some horrible tribute to the platform trainers of the 90s. The trails were really quick dangerous now as the mud was more slippery than before and treads – even on the trail shoes – were getting clogged up. 

Even worse, a few people were now sporting bandages on their hands as at the bottom of a hill was a strand of barbed wire which was about hand height. Apparently when you’re slipping and sliding, you don’t see the barbs and a few people had reached for it to steady themselves ... 

The course was amazing but several parts of the trail stood out for me. The first hill through the woods – twisty and narrow and cool in the shade of the trees. The maze: white tape and slim tree trunks, running and zigzagging between the trees. This was interesting to do at speed ... especially with 3 inches of mud on the ground and roots standing up like twisted ropes. The pit of water ... this may have started life as a slight dip in the path ... but ended up being a waist deep soaking for anyone brave – or silly - enough to run through the middle of it. The steep downhill from 8km which gave you the strange sensation of running with one knee at the height of your waist due to the steep camber. The rocking running motion made us all look as though we were Quasimodos in training and the urge to scream “The bells! The bells!” became difficult to resist. 

As I came through the final kilometre, it sunk in that I was on my last lap. I had thoroughly enjoyed Thunder Run – it had been amazing and I had never known that I was capable of carrying that amount of mud on one pair of trainers. Or sprinting so fast for a portaloo after 42 miles. It had definitely been a race for learning about myself.

As I neared the final uphill by the water tanker, I heard a scream at the final hill – it was Spin Queen cheering me on to the finish! Nice to know that even covered in brown mud I am recognizable! And it made me glad that I’d decided to run up the last hill as Dave spotted me and a camera flash went off and I realised that my final photo was to be of me running. Phew!

As I came around the last corner at a slow run, I decided that the “Zombie Shufflers” weren’t going to live up to their name after all and gave it everything I had for a sprint finish. Who says I can only sprint when I need the loo?

Final Result:
13th team out of 25 mixed pairs.
14 laps total for the team (84 miles)
9 laps by me (54 miles)

Learning Points
  • Having your name on your top is a MUST! People calling your name was brilliant to keep you going!
  • Trail shoes were a MUST. In fact I’ll probably get a 2nd pair for next year. And a hose.
  • It’s a brilliant atmosphere during the race so expect to chat. You don’t have to but you’ll miss out on part of what makes this such a great race.
  • Bring a gazebo for next year. If it rains then you’re stuck sitting in the car or the tent to eat.
  • Don’t even bother guessing the weather. Bring suncream AND waterproofs. And the Running  Wellies TM.
  • Don’t run in a pair unless you’ve got enough restraint not to beat your teammate with a trainer when they start faffing around.
  • You’ve ALWAYS got enough left for a sprint finish ...


  1. Absolutely loved this post! Your hilarious posts always make me giggle :)

    You made Thunder Run sound like so much fun that even I might consider it - I won't just that your enthusiasm for it was epic! I would literally die there and someone would have to scrape me from the course.

    Amazing work in those conditions and in all pics you've got a smile on your face inspirational lady!


    1. Thank you!! It was AWESOME!! I can totally recommend it! If you fancy running as part of a team next year I think we're getting a few together on Twitter! You'll be more than welcome! And we'll bring a shovel to scrape you from the course if that makes you feel better ;)

  2. Your post has simultaneously made me think 'this is mental' and 'god I really want to do this next year or the year after with some friends'!

    Also I would have killed your husband... WALKING THE ENTIRE LAP?!

    1. Do it! Do it!! It was SO much fun! And there was an ice cream van!! (Although I missed it every time - grrr!!)

      Yep - murder was very nearly committed ... I don't thin I'll be running as a pair again any time soon!!

  3. From your pictures of the start we were running SO CLOSE to each other! I'm so surprised we didn't run in to one another on course. Great report, for a great race (though, not such a great Mr.!)

    Oh, also sorry Sarah, you've been beaten to the punch on the running wellies front:


    1. Really?! Argh! I was looking out for you but didn't spot you all weekend! It would have been lovely to have had a run with you there!

      I want those wellies!!

  4. Don't get me wrong, I love Borntoplod but this was a blog worth waiting for! See you next year for solo run (started training already!)

    1. Thanks Taff! Was great to see you this year and I'll see you next year!! As a solo!! Eeek!!

  5. Brilliant post Sarah! Thanks for the mention- I'm glad you didn't think I was a crazy stalker with all my loo roll chat in the middle of the woods...Roll on next year :-)

    1. Ha ha! Best phrase ever: "Crazy stalker with loo roll chat!" That's BRILLIANT!! No - it was so nice to meet you and run with you!! I'm definitely back for more next year - see you there!!

  6. Epic run. Epic blog.
    I see someone else has beat me to it in referencing the Jo Wiley running wellies so I won't mention them again.
    54 miles in one day (and night). Fantastic.

    1. Thank you!! I am GUTTED that I'm not going to make my millions with the running wellies ... but I may write a harshly worded letter to Sports Direct to demand they start stocking these. The world needs running wellies.

  7. Excellent read as usual, well done on your race, the post, and keeping your hands off the mr. :-)
    Maybe I will be there next year.

    1. Thanks Mike! I can totally recommend it! If you fancy being part of a team, there are a few being organised on Twitter - you'd be welcome!

  8. Possibly to best post ever :)

    1. Ha ha! Thanks Paul! Was it all the mud, the portaloos or the teeny frog that swung it for you? ;)

  9. AM-AZ-ING! And you are crazy! But in the very best runner kind of way! :)
    You have MADE me want to be there next year!
    I love the chilled-out-ness of ultras, and the fact that this is round a 10k loop I love the idea of chatting running to everyone the whole way round.
    Love it!

    1. Thanks Mary! Runner crazy is the best kind of crazy!! :) It was so great out there - are you tempted by solo next year? I bet your Autumn ultra will be similarly chilled too - I hope the atmosphere is fantastic there too!

      Can totally recommend Thunder Run - I'm trying it solo next year so why not come along?

  10. In an event like TR24, preparation is everything.

    Can I suggest that next year, you spend the week before the race plotting out the route between your house and Catton Park, and then digging a shallow grave at the side of the road every half a mile. That should prevent unnecessary delays following the inevitable shoe-bludgeoning.

    Fantastic race report, really captured the atmosphere perfectly. See you next year!


    1. Brilliant! That will save me loads of time! Thanks Jay - knew I could rely on you for the best kind of running tips! :) I'm also considering just duct taping his mouth as soon as we get in the car but I reckon that would only be delaying the trainer beating.

      See you next year!!