It had all seemed like such a good idea at the time. I’d had a couple of drinks and had been encouraged by all the fervour on Twitter into thinking that entering a 24hr event as a solo would be a good idea. It all sounded pretty simple.
Run as much as you can, eat as much as you can hold. Don’t stop.
I had recruited Lozza, one of my running buddies as my support crew (read: Run Servant) for Thunder Run 24 ... and I was already a bit concerned that she was going to be a bit too conscientious about keeping me on target.
|Lozza making sure I'm not sitting down.|
Initially I’d asked her to shout at me if I tried:
- Pretending to fall over so I could have a quick lie down on the floor.
She took it seriously. In fact she took it a bit too seriously. And after an email chain which culminated in her threatening to put me in adult nappies if I tried going into the portaloos for a quick sit down I was considering all the hiding places I could think of should I need a nap.
When I told her I had vetoed the adult nappy idea, I got this back:
Sent: Thursday, July 24, 2014 4:46 PM
Subject: Re: TR24
You just have NO commitment Saz!!!"
|The perfect spot for the tent ...|
Canvas and Confusion
I’d been set up.
I was surrounded with string, springy poles and confusion. It had all sounded so simple. “Sarah – I can’t get to Thunder Run until Saturday, will you pitch my 3-man tent for me? It’s easy.” I’d accepted this. I have a 3-man tent – it takes one person 7 minutes to set up and I can have a beer open and my feet up within 7 ½ minutes. It’s the perfect tent.
But here I was trying to manhandle the equivalent of a canvas mansion into position, assisted by Lozza, Caroline, Paul and Liz. And we weren’t entirely sure it was supposed to look like this.
“It’s a bit lumpy ...” We whipped the top layer off and tried it another way round. Are tents supposed to be this confusing? We then realised we had half the poles in the wrong holes. Stupid tents.
After a brief debate in which the idea of sticking-all-the-poles-upright-in-the-field-and-throwing-the-tent-material-over-the-top-and-waiting-to-see-if-Chris-noticed was discarded, we took it all apart and started again. Eventually we got the tent up. It was MASSIVE.
“What’s all this extra leftover material?”
It was supposed to have BEDROOMS. Sod that. We pretended we hadn’t noticed the extra tent material and stashed it in a dark corner for Chris to find. If he wanted a bedroom, he was going to have to make it himself.
However, despite our tents looking a bit slapdash, we had found the perfect location. About 200m from the start/ finish crossover point and on the other side of the 2km point. And even more importantly about 100m from the portaloos. No middle of the night long distance treks across an obstacle course of dark tents, guylines and whatever else runners leave in a field in the hours of darkness for US, thankyouverymuch!
We had started setting up and heard a “Hello!” and discovered that not only were we camped right next to Paul and Caroline (Yes – the same Caroline who had saved my butt at London Marathon with her magic Garmin fixing), but we were also camped opposite Liz and Damian and about 2 tents down from Yvonne and Andy Windsor. So in several fields of over 1000 tents we were next to our run buddies.
|Me and Caroline-The-Magic-Garmin-Fixer|
See - running really IS magic. And ultra running makes for a very small world. Everyone knows everyone.
Or there are actually only 25 people who actually run and the rest are actors brought in by the race directors. It would explain a lot. Maybe these are the people who go into the portaloos and make all that mess. I’m sure it wouldn’t be anyone I know.
The Start: Are they SURE this is an ultra event?
I was daunted.
So many impressive looking solos here. Lots of wiry, leathery tanned people. And there was me. Skulking at the back with my English tan (pale with freckles) and my impressive lack of experience. And lack of plan.
In fact if there was a competition for leathery skin, impressive running vests and a less toenails per digit than the average amputee, then the Thunder Run solos would win hands down.
I was so out of place. And thanks to Plantar Fasciitis the previous couple of months I even had 10 toenails. I was expecting to be kicked out of the race any moment to cries of “Fake runner! She hasn’t even read Born to Run! AND her toenails are normal colour!”
Luckily there wasn’t some sort of test you had to go through to cross the start line as a solo. I wasn’t spotted and asked to demonstrate barefoot running technique, my opinion of the Salomon S-Lab vest Vs the Innov-8 Ultra Vest or even to participate in a gels Vs Real Food debate. Didn’t even get asked if I was vegan.
Huh. Are they SURE this is a proper ultra running event?
In fact, the start was the most relaxed start of a race ever. We hung around at the back in the shade trying to keep out of the blazing sunshine which was already hitting temperatures of 27 degrees and just started pootling along when the starting horn blew. It took me even longer to cross the start line than at the start of the marathon ... well that’s 2 minutes of the 24hrs done already. If the rest of the time passes that fast, I will be DONE before I’ve even had a chance to make a proper dent in the snacks.
I was liking this. There was sunshine, long slow running and a tent full of snacks to get through in my immediate future. Life was GOOD.
I was running with Paul, a friend I’d done the Thames Trot 50 with earlier in the year. The vague plan was to run together as much as we could as the company would make the miles easier. We started out running with Chris – he of the confusing tent – and Caroline – of London Marathon Garmin rescue fame – too and our mouths were running twice as fast as our legs.
|Paul, Me, Chris|
Spirits were as high as the sun and I was relieved to have slathered on the sun cream and worn a cap. I may end up with dodgy tan lines around the hat and the ultra vest, but better than burning and being in pink burny agony for the next 23 hours and 55 minutes. We had upgraded our pootle pace to a trot ... and just as we got to the first hill at 1km everything ground to a halt. The trail narrows here and there was only room for one or two people to run side by side. Also the solos were point blank refusing to run any of the hills and one or two of the more enthusiastic ones (cough, me, cough) were already digging out the first snacks.
Chris, Caroline, Paul and I were having a good old catch up and Chris mentioned to Caroline about how he’d got into running originally and how he had lost 6.5 stone. A runner behind us said “Wow!” and we had our first introduction to Antonia as she chatted away. She had a brilliant bouncy style of running and every time we saw her she was flying around the course as easily as if she was running a 5k, her blonde plaits bouncing earning her an affectionate nickname of “Pigtails” at our camp. She was friendly and chatty and we would have loved to have envied her effortless running style but she was just too likeable.
The course for Thunder Run is beautiful and every section is completely different to the last making it perfect if you’re going to do lots of laps as you don’t get too bored of the course. There are a lot of ‘technical’ sections (which basically is a runner way of saying ‘easy to fall over in’) and some big hills. I bloody LOVE big hills in an ultra. They give me an excuse to walk. And eat more snacks. In fact my perfect ultra would probably be up the side of a mountain and involve my own bodyweight in snacks. (Preferably carried by some sort of solo runner servant). And then a nice run down the other side. But gently and with a couple of portaloos along the way. And snack stations. And cheering.
|High on sugar from all the snacks. Source:|
There are a lot of twisting woodland sections at the Thunder run and one particularly maze-like section through the trees with plenty of exposed roots on the ground. You end up River Dancing your way through trying not to trip. And at night the headtorches flashing make it even more fun.
The team runners were dashing past us at top speed. It all looked a bit tiring in the heat. Sod that, I thought. I’d rather run slower and further. Plus I bet *I* have more snacks.
Heat & a Good Hosing
The heat was extremely intense, with another runner confirming it had hit 32 degrees. The main problem was the humidity and lack of a breeze – you’d get hot and sweaty but it just wasn’t evaporating. I was rocking the Sweaty Runner look by about mile 3. Another thing that was concerning me was the amount I was having to drink. I’d brought my ultra vest so I wouldn’t have to stop for water too often, but I’d found that I was drinking 1–2 litres per lap – that’s 6 miles! We’ve all heard of hyponatraemia which is something that long distance runners sometimes get from drinking too much water and lowering the sodium concentration in their blood. I tried to counter this by adding electrolytes to my water bladder and by scoffing salty peanuts (MORE snacks!) and as hyponatraemia is more dangerous than dehydration I tried to keep an eye on it.
|If only she was dispensing vodka tonics instead ...|
The water station lady at the 5km mark was hosing people down with chilly water but even better, there were sponges in a bucket of cool water here. It was amazing wiping a cool sponge over the back of my neck, the cold water making me shiver. However, as the time went on the sponges disappeared. Apparently some people were sticking them down their tops to stay cool. It was gutting to get to the water stop looking forward to a cool down to find there were no sponges. Next year the Thunder Run organisers should implement a rule that sponge thieves should have their snacks confiscated. I will of course selflessly volunteer to be the Chief Confiscation Marshal.
Strategy & Bickering
Paul and I had started with the strategy run-the-flats-and-downhills-and-walk-the-uphills from the start. It had been difficult with the enthusiasm of running and with the team runners flying past not to push the pace too hard, especially in the heat but we’d stayed at a fairly conservative pace. So why did we felt like hell?
Should the first 18 miles feel this hard?
It didn’t bode well for the rest of the race, but we cheered ourselves up by telling ourselves “If we’re finding it this hard, then so will everyone else. And we’re more bloodyminded than them. AND bet they don’t have an awesome Run Servant.” We also boosted our spirits by saying “At least we’re not waist deep in water today.” The last time Paul and I had run together had been during the Thames Trot 50 and most of the course had been flooded. There had been thigh deep water. It had been a very damp 50 miles.
We even tried schadenfreude: “Bet some people will have dropped out already. It’s a bit hot.” And “We can still hit x amount of miles even if we walk now.” We distracted ourselves with maths for a while and how far we’d get if we used the rest of the time for walking at a 20 min/mile pace. The bickering over how appalling my maths was also used up some of the time.
|Death marching up the hills|
What do you talk about when you’re running multiple laps and big miles? Every lap we discussed our newest ache, our most irritating chafe. Bad jokes routinely made an appearance with Paul confiding in a solemn tone that he had a drinking problem. And demonstrating this by throwing his drink in his eyes.
We decided that there should be a 50 Shades of Running. “Oooh!” She moaned as the deep heat got into her latest chafing.” “She shuddered as he poured cold Lucozade down her back.” We entertained ourselves by thinking up alternative versions of these for a while until we got back onto our favourite topic of how the hills are getting steeper every lap.
It had all started out so politely too. We’d chatted about kids, races, jobs. Had apologised after every accidental burp. Now we were talking about achy buttocks and intimate chafing. And after each food stop farts were rolling like machine gun fire. No wonder the team runners were so keen to get past us.
Run Servant Tactics
As the day got hotter, the hills got steeper and the final section through the campsite got longer. However, my ‘Run Servant’ or ‘Solo Slave’ was brilliant and well up to the task of cheering up grumpy, demanding solo runners. Lozza would get a 5 minute warning via text to get soup on, to get the next set of trainers out or some other random thing that seemed SO crucial while I was plodding around the course. She was amazing. Thank you, Loz.
|See - she even has a CAPE. Told you she was Super ...|
However, while Lozza was a brilliant and extremely enthusiastic crew, I did have to point out she was doing supporting wrong. She was cheering ALL the solos. Especially Pigtails who was flying around the course putting the rest of us to shame. AND making it look easy.
Told Lozza that her tactics all wrong and instead of encouraging the other solos she needs to DIScourage them. And maybe even throw things to slow them down a bit. Unwanted canned food, discarded trainers, the tent peg mallet, for example. And if she had time in between preparing my food, kit, cleaning the tent and campsite and charging my Garmins, she could feel free to dig pits to trap them in. Or tell them the race had finished early. That kind of thing.
One of the things that made Thunder Run so much fun was the number of people that we knew. Liz and Damian from Northbrook running club had managed to win some free places with the Adidas team and were zooming around the course as a team of 6, Liz rocking the electrical-tape-around-knee look.
I’d randomly met Louise of Abradypus and parkrun fame in the registration tent. She wasn’t running but had popped in on her way Oop North. After chatting so long on Twitter it was great to meet her in real life at last. She also adopted me as New Best Friend immediately when I described her as petite rather than short. Speaking as someone who will also never hit the heady heights of 5’4 I can appreciate this.
Lozza and I found the Dirty Daps, Muddy Tracks camp the evening before adorned with Purple and Gold banners. Everyone was chatty and lovely. And strangely enough, less Welsh than I’d expected. I saw Sarah and Sandy on course at several points, both looking determined and smiley.
The Bootcampers I knew from Runners World were out in force. I’d popped over to say hello the night before and had beer envy. Everyone in their large teams had brought a bottle or crate of choice and were getting happily sloshed. Except for Tigger who was getting happily legless but still managed to persuade us to pose for a selfie like this:
|Me, Tigger, Lozza|
It was lovely to know that I had so many friends to look out for even if some of them were zipping past at top speed. I knew that at any time there would be 2 or 3 people from the Bootcamper’s teams on the course. (Waves at Simon, Tigger, Sarah A, Chris A, Angela I, David I, Clive, Alex, Malcs, Jen, Neil, Paul, Monika, Minni)
We spotted Chris of Sandhurst Joggers from Endure24 who gave us a big cheer from the camp every time we crossed the line. He didn’t offer me a sandwich though, did he? Take note Chris, next time we’re expecting snacks. Just kidding, the cheering was awesome. I like nutella sandwiches.
Randomly a few people cheered me by shouting “Come on Hannah!” Hannah? Who’s Hannah? I had changed into my red and white vest with ‘Sarah’ emblazoned on the front in big letters. Maybe people’s reading abilities were getting confused by the heat. Then a few hours later I passed a girl with dark hair wearing a red and white top and ultra vest. This HAD to be Hannah. She looked a bit grumpy though. Maybe she was sick of people shouting “Go on Sarah!” at her ...
The general support for the solo runners was amazing. Team runners called “Go on Solo” as they passed, camps had buckets with sponges in for us to use to stay cool. And coming back to the final hill in the campsite there was an entire cheering section shouting on the runners. The support was brilliant. Next year if we can persuade them to cheer AND throw snacks, it would be perfect.
My glutes start aching first. See ultra running really IS a pain in the arse. My knees feel delicate but not sore. They click strangely when I stop running. The Plantar Fasciitis made a brief reappearance as a stretching feeling under the arch of my right foot but everything is feeling a bit stretched and over-used so it’s muted. My shoulders are aching. When I consciously move them down and relax them, it’s like a muscle release. My toes are sore but it’s blisters not joint problems or toenails trying to escape.
The bottom of my feet are so hot from the heat and the constant pounding that I can feel them swelling. I put my trail shoes on again for an evening lap but I have to take them off by 2km where the trail passes our camp and bellow across the hedge for my road shoes. We fling the shoes across the hedge and they cross in mid air. My feet were too swollen now to fit into the 2 pairs of trails shoes I had expected to wear for the majority of the time so I was down to the Asics GT2000 and the Hoka One One Mafete shoes.
Evening to Night
The heat finally abated at about 8pm. I was walking up the hill with the cornfield on the left and despite the sun having disappeared behind the horizon, still couldn’t believe how warm it was. I’d carried my sunglasses all day in the pocket of my vest but had been subject to runner superstition. The last run wearing these sunglasses had involved crazy hills, stupid heat and ant attacks on the arse. So I’d carried them in case I needed sunglasses, but had been too frightened to wear them in case it prompted another plague of insects. Or hills.
I’d worn my DDMT cap on for the entire day and finally removed it at about lap 7. It was time to pop the headtorch into the ultra vest now ready for darkness. I couldn’t wait. I’d had plenty of practise running at night and it would make a welcome change from the sun. As a precaution, I also sprayed myself with bug spray. I’d be exchanging one for another - burning sun for biting midges. I was a bit too enthusiastic with the spray but I hate mosquitoes. However ALL I could taste was bug spray. I had a drink from the ultra vest pipe. Great. Now my water tastes of bug spray too. Nice one Sarah. In fact the taste was so strong I wondered if I’d brought Raid by mistake and sprayed myself with fly killer. I spent the next lap convinced that I was about to keel over from Fly Spray poisoning. I wasn’t getting bitten by bugs but I wasn’t sure a horrible death from Fly Spray was a better alternative.
However, running at dusk was such a relief. I’d escaped the sunshine finally. Now just to concentrate on not dying from spray poisoning and keeping running.
Keeping running was the problem. My pace was slowing dramatically from the 11 – 12 min/miles per lap including walking the hills to about 13 – 14 min/miles. Paul and I had been running together the whole time but Paul was now watching the time we’d banked slipping away and his mileage targets becoming unachievable. I’d managed to wing it so far, but the lack of long runs due to the PF was now showing.
About 11pm I told Paul to go on without me. I’d carry on running, but I wouldn’t feel like I was slowing him down. To his absolute credit, he was reluctant to do so. Despite seeing his times drop and his goals disappearing, it almost took the threat of violence (or snack theft) to get him to go on without me.
Seeing him run off was almost a relief. We had to run our own races and I didn’t want to feel responsible for Paul not getting his goal. Also I was relieved to be able to go at a pace comfortable for me rather than feeling like I was being death marched up the hills and sprinting down them. Besides I had a packet of Haribo stashed in my pack. I could eat the whole damn lot on my own now.
In the daytime, it’s easy to see who the team and the solo runners are but this distinction disappears at night as paces slow and the colours of the running numbers are indistinguishable. The supporters are mainly gone, only an occasional lone runner sitting up waiting for their next lap under a gazebo at midnight. The roots and holes in the trail are hidden by the darkness and the other runners are just a bright light in the blackness, no distinguishing features except for the different footfalls or breathing as they pass.
|See how dark it is!|
The night stretched on. The trees highlighted by the spotlight of my torch and the roots on the trail in stark black and white. I run on in my own little patch of light, around me only darkness. It’s like I’m running in a bubble, walk the dark uphills, run the dark downhills.
It feels as though I have always been running in darkness.
I get back to camp after the lap and Lozza asks me what I need. I don’t know. She asks me if I’m hungry. I don’t know. Thirsty? Don’t know. She gives me some food and drink and gets her headtorch out. She announces she’s coming with me for the next lap.
We get to the short sharp hill at the 1km mark. I am sure someone has replaced the nice hill earlier with a much steeper one. My legs are disliking having to go up hills – even walking. We run down the next hill and I realise I have dragged poor Loz out of bed in the middle of the night and as if that isn’t bad enough, I am now making her run. We decide to walk the next section. It is not as if my legs are going to complain about walking.
Lozza and I have the best conversations and we get onto the subject of height. And somehow come to the conclusion that all ultra runners are short. We have a think about our running friends and because it’s gone midnight and we have been in the hot sun all day, we decide that ALL ultra runners are short. We decide it’s because their legs are closer to the ground. At midnight in the middle of a wood it made perfect sense. We even start thinking about our running friends and we cannot think of one over about 5 foot 8. And when we do we discount them because it doesn’t fit in with our theory. We carry on plodding along, pleased with our contribution to running science.
|A nice bright light just before the Conti Climb.|
We get quieter and quieter and I am going slower and slower. As we come up to the hills, I start bending over.
Lozza admitted to being concerned at this point and thought I was falling asleep on my feet. I wasn’t ... although I’d liked to have been. It was just that my legs had stopped going up hills. There wasn’t room for negotiation, they were just refusing. Stupid legs. If we don’t get back to the tent, then we can’t have more snacks. I start moving again.
We come up to the ridge at the 8km point. I am moving very slowly and am answering Lozza in grunts. I am moving, but very, very slowly. I have perfected the solo zombie look. All of a sudden I hear “Sarah! Hi!” I see Malcs and Jen of the Bootcampers have stopped to see me. Malcs took a glance at me “Sarah ... you look – “Jen caught his eye and shook her head. “Great!” Malcs finished unconvincingly.
We shuffle around the final 2km in what could have been a convincing scene from The Walking Dead if the zombies had been wearing running gear and forced to walk on trails. I had certainly perfected the shuffle and grunt and Lozza was matching my speed as she didn’t want to leave me to wander off into traffic.
We finally made it back towards the race village and from one of the few lit tents, a lady shouted something in our direction. Huh? I looked at Lozza who translated. She wants to know if you want a cup of tea. I didn’t but appreciated the simple act of kindness.
We finally made it back to the tent and Lozza told me firmly to get some rest. It had taken 2 hours to get around that 6 mile lap and I couldn’t face walking for another 2 hours. She had her strict face on. I got into the car and ran the engine to get the heaters going. I’d spent all day roasting hot and now I was freezing cold. I also couldn’t get comfortable. I finally compromised with 2 ibuprofen and my feet up on the dash. Lozza also used her own sleeping bag to cover me up with ignoring the fact that my revolting feet were up on the dash of her lovely car and I hadn’t had a shower since the day before the day before as the campsite showers hadn’t opened until the race had begun.
I set my alarm for 4am. And got my head down.
I woke up a few minutes before the alarm – this appears to be an unbreakable law even if you’ve run stupid distances – and moved myself. Huh. Nothing has seized up. In fact, I feel GREAT!
It IS a bit cold though.
I decide to leave my hoodie on and SPRINT off onto the course bellowing “Morning Lozza!” as I pass the tent. It may be 4am but things are GREAT! My legs are working, the sun is coming up and the night has sodded off!! Hooray!!
I am super-pleased with myself for discovering how amazing and toastie running in a hoodie is ... until the 1km point where I start overheating. I take it off, nearly garrotting myself with the hood strings and whang it over the hedge onto Tess’s tent at the 2km point bellowing “Hoodie! Wheeeeeee!” for good measure.
Hooray! Life is good! Running is great! I have to stop myself sprinting up the hills! In fact I feel SO good, I wonder whether my morning flapjack was drugged. Maybe it’s the after effects of bug spray poisoning. Mad euphoria before a painful death.
|See ... I'm still running! Source: Paul's Dad|
I was wearing my Hoka One One Mafete. My feet just wouldn’t fit in any of the other shoes I’d brought. I hadn’t really taken to these shoes previously but for this run on solid trail they were brilliant. They were like bouncy canoes. No more fear of tree roots and stones, I could be walking on the bodies of fallen runners and I wouldn’t have realised. Although I might have looted them for snacks.
I may have been in great spirits but my balance was shot. I’d fallen over a few times the previous day, but for no other reason apart from general clumsiness. I’d fallen into the nettles and fallen over the grass. I’d also tripped over a tree root for good measure. And this is where wearing an ultra vest really comes into its own. I’d fall down, get a nice soft landing on the bouncy water bladder in the vest and land unhurt. It was like falling onto a very small personal bouncy castle.
Luckily it hadn’t burst although on the last time I’d fallen over and dislodged the hose. I couldn’t work out why no water was coming out and tried to sort it out while on the move. I managed to entangle the straps of the pack, with the hose for the bladder and tie myself to my headphones all while running along. It must have looked as though I was attempting a record for the most complicated Cats’ Cradle while on the move. Finally got it sorted out through a mixture of thumping it, pulling the leads and swearing. The swearing genuinely helps.
I noticed that I actually got better at falling as I got further into the race. Maybe it was practise, but probably it was that I was getting more knackered so everything was more relaxed. Or maybe I was just looking forward to the opportunity for a lie down on the ground. Even an unexpected one.
I’d heard that when you get past 70 miles running, people occasionally get hallucinations. I was kind of looking forward to this in a strange way. It would be something new and it would be quite fun to have a run accompanied by pink bunny rabbits or Jessica Ennis. I didn’t get hallucinations, but I did get Chronic Misidentification (Don’t think this is an actual Thing) where I see one of my running buddies and shout out their name only to realise that I was bellowing a random name to a complete stranger. On the plus side I was probably speeding up people’s laps “Uh oh, it’s that Shouty Solo again – quick speed up” but it was a bit annoying. I’d think I’d see a friend only to have them completely ignore me. Or turn into a stranger. I must have done this 25 times.
|Uh oh ... it's that mad Solo who keeps calling me Dave ...|
However, despite this I did cheer up when I realised my current Thunder Run mileage would finally push me over 100 miles run for the month. I’d had a shocking running mileage this month. I’d just have to think of it as a REALLY long taper.
The sky was getting light now and the warmth was coming back into the air. It was wonderful. After all the hours of darkness, it was like an epiphany. An awakening. You made it! You survived the darkness! Although I still had 8 hours left, it felt as though the race was nearly finished.
Coming up the ridge at about 4km, I saw Rhianon just as sunset was breaking. It was so nice to see her and we had a chatter briefly and then she flew on to complete the rest of her lap. A sunrise, a friendly face and a pocket full of snacks. Maybe I’d survive this Thunder Run after all.
One thing I did find, was that the longer the race went on, the further my oversharing filters fell away. It was terrible. If someone had asked, I probably would have told them anything.
|Keep away if you see me like this. I have my 'oversharing' face on ...|
I was looking out for a portaloo and finally I spotted one at about 9km where the course doubles back. Just as I passed a group of spectators one of them kindly (but not truthfully) shouted out: “Looking good!” I smiled and gave a thumbs up and shouted back: “Won’t be looking good in a minute as I’m going to the loo!” Then shrivelled up and died a little inside. Not entirely sure I made it any better by going back and apologising after the portaloo visit. Well. They wouldn’t shake my hand anyway.
Getting By with a Little Help From My Friends
The next few laps flew past, I saw Laura out on course and she was running really strongly. I’ve been reading her blog for ages but still didn’t expect the lovely accent. When I chat to people online, I always expect them to sound like me. Dorset-y.
I chatted and plodded and enjoyed the morning laps. I was going slowly ... I think. By this point, both of Garmin batteries had given up so I was just keeping going. Running the downhills and flats and walking everything even remotely inclined. By now I was into numbers completely unknown to me. I’d been impressed when I’d gone past 47 miles which was my previous longest run. Now I was in the 70s. It just seemed an uncomprehendable number to have run.
|My new running technique. After 50 miles I jump instead ...|
About the 2k mark I bumped into The Mister who ran a lap with me despite having to go slow. I know how much he HATES having to walk up hills and share my snacks. Cough. I said goodbye under the start/finish gantry and carried on, to be joined by Clive who The Mister had handed over to. I ran a bit with Clive and having forgotten how speedy I was, I attempted to keep up to carry on the conversation and knocked in my fastest half mile of the entire day before telling him to go on for the sake of my legs. I ran a bit with Angela who was looking fresh and happy despite running in a large number of laps herself then had company for a bit with Neil. It was lovely. I’d thought being a solo would be lonely but I was being supported by my friends and they were carrying me along on the tide of conversation, making me forget my blistered feet.
The team runners were still dashing past at top speed. Despite the insane soreness of the blistered soles of my feet I’d STILL rather be running long.
My feet were now very sore. My legs weren’t feeling brand new, but it was the soles of my feet that were shouting the loudest. They had swollen in the heat yesterday and as a result I’d been constantly wearing the one pair of shoes that I’d brought with me that fit. It was lucky I’d brought them as I’d been planning on running the whole event in my Asics GT200s and Salomon Speedcross 3 which had been so brilliant last year. Despite both of these shoes being half a size bigger than my usual shoe size, I was completely unable to fit my feet into them. I’d never had this before on any of the marathons or training runs but it seemed that the combination of the heat and mileage had given me yeti feet. Hopefully minus the hair. I’d also managed a blister between every toe and along my toe line on both feet. My feet were now mummified in tape and I was bouncing along on massive blisters on the ball of each foot. Mmmmm. Bouncy.
|Mmmm ... I have SEXY feet.|
I’d been SO proud of my nice feet and 10 pink toenails too.
Damn you ultra running.
I was plodding along chatting to another solo lady whose legs appeared to be entirely swathed in rainbow coloured rock tape when Paul caught me up. We’d run separately since midnight last night and this was the first time I’d seen him since then. He was running well, if in a slightly hobbley way and appeared to be in good spirits. Apparently I was 6th place lady.
Wow. I hadn’t expected that.
I’d been plodding along, adding miles up for me without even considering the placings. In fact I hadn’t even looked at the results board the whole time. I was so enthusiastic about hearing I was 6th that I ran down a bit of the hill. It promptly turned into an uphill at which I started walking again. That’s enough enthusiasm for one day.
Paul was on one more lap than me but we decided to run / walk until the end. We were so close to the end of the race now. The supporters were out in force, cheering along the runners, the team races still running fast, the solos stumping along determinedly. Everyone counting down the minutes until midday.
We crossed the start/finish line and carried onto the next lap. My feet were feeling very sore now but it was time to ignore that and just get on with it. Coming along to the 2k point, I was grabbed around the middle in a bear hug. It was Sarah or as I know her, Goldilocks! After chatting on Twitter for years and years we were finally meeting in person. She was lovely, just as nice in real life as online. But tall. And she couldn’t believe how short I was. I introduced her to mine and Lozza’s ‘All Ultra Runners Are Short’ theory. She wasn’t convinced. We had a lovely chat and then she dashed off to complete her final lap. I love it when online friends are lovely in real life too.
Paul and I carried on. Up the familiar hills, down the familiar hills. On the same paths we’d been running for the last 24hrs.Coming up the final hill, we got a cheer from some twitter buddies, casually leaning on the haybales halfway up the Conti Climb. I waved at @mazymixer and @m8dn and exchanged a few words and carried on the plod. It seemed like it was reunion time as we met Mike Wells and Natalie. I hadn’t seen Mike since he’d paced me to a PB at Colwick Parkrun a few months back and he’d been bouncing and twirling away as he made running a 20 min 5k look so easy. Natalie was on her final lap and had just covered a further-than-marathon-distance amount of mileage! Inspiring!
We came past the 9k point and were cheered up the hill and back down into the campsite. I was on 14 laps (86.8 miles), Paul on 15 laps (93 miles). It was 11:30am and we had half an hour until midday.
What to do? I wanted to do 15 laps but my feet were no longer touching the ground. They were floating on a bouncy, pillow of blister pus. I’d taken my nail varnish off before I came to TR24 and thanks to almost a month off running my toenails were all the same colour. And there were 10 of them. This almost never happened. And here I was destroying them all again.
Meh. Toenails were transitory. Sometimes they were there, sometimes they went away.
I headed back to camp. The Mister, Lozza and Chris were there. This is how you know who your friends are. The Mister went off for an ice cream and Lozza made me a sleeping bag nest and handed me a crème egg. The one I had been looking forward to ALL weekend.
I had REALLY been looking forward to this crème egg.
Apparently, they had all been impressed with my 14 laps. But what they will remember MOST from that weekend was how I made a crème egg disappear in 1 second.
It was the best creme egg ever.