Monday, 29 July 2013

Rain Stops Play

I'm not sure where to start with this blog. The overriding feeling from the Thunder Run is one of disappointment and wondering what might have been. The Thunder Run definitely didn't end as I would have wished, but I had a lot of fun before it ended prematurely. So lets start from the beginning.
I jumped on the train and met Lauren at Rayleigh station at half 5 on the Friday night and we headed up with the intention of going straight to Catton Park to register and pitch the tent before darkness. We made surprisingly good progress, with the traffic alert warning of delays but thankfully they always seemed to be behind us or further along the road than we were going. We were keen to avoid the M6 toll as we approached it and so tried to divert around it, we managed to do this after a little bit of a panic. The timings were always tight and I didn't want to stress the night before the big event and so we pulled the plug on tent pitching and headed straight for the hotel.

We arrived at the Premier Inn just a few miles away from Catton Park at around half 8, quickly checked in and then headed for dinner. A platter to share to start followed by a Lasagne, not ideal pre-race food but far from my worse selection ever, I even managed to stick to Diet Coke. Then it was back to the room in time to watch Bolt win in a leisurely 9:85, amazing! Sleep soon followed, keen to get as much as possible with the challenge that lay ahead in the morning.

Lauren and I went down to the restaurant for our 'Premier' Breakfast around 9am, unfortunately the blue rinse brigade all had the same idea, and so breakfast was a little slow in coming and a little low on quality when it arrived. But I had some Sausage, Bacon, Egg and Beans inside me and I was ready to go. We then headed straight to Catton Park.

We found Pete's tent easily enough but couldn't quite decide on a pitch but eventually settled on a spot. Then Lauren and I got to work attempting to get the tent up. As anticipated this was slow going and thankfully we were saved by the arrival of Mike, Pete's brother as well as a negotiated mallet. With much huffing and puffing we got the tent somewhere approaching done in half an hour, at least it wasn't going to blow away and I knew once out on course Lauren could get some expert help to get it sturdy.

Pete soon arrived and the support team began to gather. I got my race number and timing chip as well as picking up my flash Adidas Thunder Run T-shirt and was told that writing 'Solo' on the back of both legs was the way to go. Lauren then enthusiastically went about marking me. I was now in my kit ready for the first stint, a little lube in sensitive areas and it was just a case of listening to the safety briefing before the 12 noon start.

I had read the race instructions and the briefing didn't add a great deal, but we were advised that IPod’s could be used but if we just had one earphone in. I had charged a couple of IPod shuffles in anticipation of using them, but in the end I ran music free the entire time. Martin, Pete and I all gathered near the back after a last minute photocall and then we were off!

The start was slow going as anticipated and we were in no rush, we had 24 hours to get through! Pete and Martin had walked the early part of the course and so knew there was a steep hill very early on and that it would all grind to a stand still there. It duly did as people walked up the steep, tree root lined incline. My intention was to run when I felt like it on that first lap and get the lie of the land, and definitely walking any proper hills. There must have been at least 5 of those on the 10km loop. But there was no frustration I was happy to be slowed up and it helped rein me in a little. We saw the whole support team at around 2.5km and it was great to see everyone, this spot would become a regular pick me up as the day wore on. Pete and I were still together at this point, but as the crowds thinned out, I let Pete gently drift away from me, but he stayed in sight for much of the first half of the loop which was a nice marker.
The loop was definitely front loaded with the hills and the second half of the lap was net downhill even though it did still have some very decent climbs in it as well. The markers I had through the course were:

- Stretch to the first climb
- Walk up the steep first climb
- A little running before the 1km marker
- The guys at 2.5km
- The climb up to the 5km point after a nice downhill stretch.
- The Conti climb just after the water station.
- The maze at 7km
- The flat stretch around 8km before the big downhill.
- The super steep downhill just before 9km.
- The campsite lined km before the run into the finish.

As the laps went on these markers really helped to keep me focused. Particularly when I was walking up the hill, it was nice to know when the next downhill bit was coming. On the first lap it was easy to tell who the solos were and who the relays were. On a particularly steep hill there were 3 or 4 of us Solos who began to walk at the base of the hill and did all the way to the top, whilst the enthusiastic relay runners who knew they had a break to look forward to rushed up there at full speed. There were a few old Ultra heads around me and overhearing their conversation, this was probably their 2nd or 3rd Ultra of the month! Those guys are made of oak!

The first lap was done and dusted in just under 65 minutes, even with all the stop, start stuff at the beginning of the lap. I saw the team again and grabbed a bottle of water and was off on lap two. I took it steady and continued to walk the hills and run when I felt the urge, particularly on the long downhill sections. I wasn't seeing many Soloists now, distinctive with their leg markings, white number on their backs and yellow numbers on their fronts but there was always a constant stream of relay runners about. I walked a little more on this lap but still made it round in 73 minutes. I decided after 2 laps and nearly a half marathon that I should come off course and get some food and drink in me and relax with the support team. They were all brilliant, swarming around me, nothing was too much trouble. Lucozade, water, crackers, crisps, sweets, even trying to force feed me a bagel or some tiger bread. My appetite was never particularly high, your mouth is dry and so wet food is definitely the preference but I was grabbing what I could. Pineapple was the find of the day, but some salty mini cheddars also hit the spot. I think I stopped for a little under 10 minutes and I was then out on to course again for lap number 3.

I had my first stop at the portaloo at 2km, and Ben Rockett the World Record Holder and Ultra Endurance guru said this was great, if you stop peeing you are holding onto waste products and that's no good for anyone! Thankfully I stayed regular throughout the race. Too much information? Sorry, this is a blog for you guys, but it's also for my future reference and so I can't go missing details. What I won't tell you is what Ben gets up to on his long bike challenges, thank God for black bike shorts!

I came through my third lap in a total time of 3:44:05 and a lap time of around 87 minutes (including that 10minute pitstop after lap 2) So a little running pace fade but nothing too dramatic or unexpected. I had another leisurely stop here and remember coming out again for lap 4 at 4:03 so around a 20 minute stop. I enjoyed the stops, and took them for me, but it was nice to see the friendly, smiling faces who had all given up so much to come and support me over this crazy weekend. In addition to the friends and family who were there to support me, I also had the support of pretty much everyone in Catton Park! The yellow number was a one way ticket to cheers and clapping. I have always been envious of runners who have their names on their shirts and are cheered all-round the course and at the Thunder Run I got that kind of treatment. Throughout the daylight hours there were shouts of 'Solo,Solo!' 'You're incredible' 'Go 12!' Every shout and cheer really picked me up. I ran with a guy from a relay team on one of the later laps, and as I was getting cheered for the 2nd or 3rd time since he had been with me he asked 'Do you get that a lot?' I was like 'Yeah pretty much the whole way round' he loved it and said it was like having your own cheer squad. I couldn't agree with him more.

The whole atmosphere at the Thunder Run was incredible, and something I haven't experienced before. I am usually very focused at races and so don't chat to other runners or high five spectators, but at Thunder Run my goals and mentality were different and so I high fived the kids in the crowd and chatted away to other runners when I could. I spoke to an older lady, maybe 60 plus and she couldn't believe she was pacing herself off me, when I was going for 24hours and she was doing one lap as part of a relay. It was a great leveller :-) There were also some super-fast club runners flying past us, and they were all keen to get moving and shouts of passing on your left or right happened, particularly as I slowed, but they were all very polite. I also chatted to a guy in a parkrun 50 t-shirt who had run this a few years ago with his wife and they were back for a 2nd go hoping to better their previous best of 2 laps each before injury got the better of him. He had set himself the target of 5 laps each this time.

Luke ran with me on my 4th lap which was fantastic, although not against the rules as far as I can tell, it felt a little cheeky. I justified it to myself as I didn't think I got any performance advantage out of his company but it did make the 7km or so we ran together much more pleasant. Luke got a good idea of the course that I would be drudging through over the next day. I was still feeling fresh and gave Luke a few little bursts of speed in amongst the walking and jogging. My favourite speed section was around the 7km point, where the course is very tight and technical and I hated to hold up the relay runners and so when the mood and my energy levels allowed I dashed through this leaping from foot to foot and jumping tree roots along the way. Luke thought I was nuts, but in a race of 24 hours I needed a little something to put a smile on my face, and to make me feel like it was a running race, rather than a shuffleathon. Luke peeled away before the final climb of the lap and the finish, and that hour or so we ran together was definitely my favourite of the whole event.

My memory is already starting to fade and so I might miss important bits or fluff the timeline abit but to be fair a looped course doesn't help with the old memory retention. I finished my 4th lap so nearly a marathon in 5:23:42 for a lap time of around 99 minutes including that 20minute break after the last lap. So still running pretty well in amongst the walk breaks.

Lap 5 included the Conti climb time trial section. 100m or so up a steep incline. The timing mat would take your time there between 6-7pm and the fastest person up there would get some flash trainers for every member of the team. I was solo and had been travelling for 6.5 hours by the time I reached the climb and this challenge wasn't particularly aimed at the Solo's but I thought I'd give it a bash and so went full gas and managed to take over 5 or 6 runners on the climb to the top. Much to the delight of the few spectators and Marshalls who were there. I then walked it off, and probably paid for my exertions for much of the rest of the lap, but it was good to have a little sprint again. I got a second wind later in the lap, but every time I tried to push the speed a little I felt the calves tightening and so I knew then that my interval training bursts were pretty much over for the rest of the Thunder Run. I came through 5 laps and 50km in 7:08:49. I took another 10minute break and then headed off with a kit change, a new shirt and my trail shoes ready to meet the team for head torch pickup at 2.5km.

After getting through the first serious climb of the lap and then down again to the 2km point I met up with the team for the drink and light pick up and was off for the dreaded night section. Shortly after leaving the team the Thunder and Lightning that had been forecast came. Starting with a little light rain before the serious stuff came. It was scary, with the lightening getting closest as I walked up the conti-climb and I was pleased after an hour when it stopped but the rain began to get heavier and it really settled in. I thought of the poor support team, and was going to tell my parents to go back to the hotel for dinner and bed when I got round to the end of the 6th lap but thankfully when I arrived there at 9:20 pm I was told they had left at half 8 when the rain really started so that was a relief. It was at the end of the 6th lap when we tried to check my position that we encountered problems. Luke typed in number 12 into the competitor search and it came back as 0 laps and 0 time. After the farce of getting the wrong chip at the Outlaw Triathlon I was gutted for it to happen again. Luke was great though and dealt with it, the techno guy thought chips might have been swapped but I had been given a duff one, apparently they had all been checked Thursday. Luke pieced together my splits as best as he could from memory and the 9:20 through 6 laps was definitely right. Looking back at my Mum's great photography I think I have pretty much all the splits now. It was a stress I could have done without though.

The hard-core support team gave me a cup of tea which was incredible and I was then towelled down and given a fresh t-shirt and my lightweight running jacket a good sit down for 10minutes and I was out for some more punishment. The rain was consistently heavy on that 7th lap and I was soaked through, my jacket sticking to my arms and the course was a mud bath in lots of areas. I was now walking pretty much the entire lap, and on the narrow and well-worn sections I was sliding all over the shop. In the course of two laps I must have seen 10 or so people hit the deck and just pick themselves up and carry on. I was getting down as I trudged through the woods, standing in another ankle deep puddle and soaking my feet completely. The fast runners were still running regardless of conditions underfoot and I got out of the way as best I could. The head torch wasn't powerful enough so I would pick up a hazard just as I stood in it, but the head torch did pick up the white painted roots and stumps which helped keep me on my feet and not on my butt. My mind was in a dark place at this point and had been for much of the last four hours. Heavy rain will do that to a guy! I got through the zigzag maze at 7km, and had to walk it due to the dark and underfoot conditions and managed to move aside for the faster runners as I exited it. The large puddle from the beginning of the day which you could skirt around was now a lake and so I picked my spot and dove in. My trail shoes now full of water. Just 3 km or so to the end and a warm food tent.

My mind however had wandered to thoughts of the warm hotel room and shower that we had booked for Lauren to go and recover in that was sitting there waiting for me. I just thought of my minimum target of 10 laps and 100km and that meant another 6 hours of slogging around in the rain and the mud. I just couldn't face it, I couldn't find a good enough reason to walk and slip around a boggy 10km for another 30km and so at that point I had given in. I knew Luke, Amber and Lauren would be gutted and try to talk me out of it, and I spent the next 45mins slip sliding through the rest of the course coming up with good reasons for my lack of mental fortitude. I made it back to the finish of that 7th lap at just after half 11 to be greeted by the 3 of them. All enthusiastic and with a game plan to get me through the night. I just told them I couldn't face it, and their poor faces just dropped. They tried to talk me out of it, to come up with another solution. Get warm, get in the tent, and hit it again in the morning. I was just mentally gone and knew that even if the weather improved the course was going to be a bog the next day. After 10 minutes of negotiating they let it lie and operation get Simon back to the hotel began. Pete Scull however was on another planet and still going strong and came through the finish as we headed for the car. Luke then switched to Operation quick change on the move. It was so impressive 5 or 6 people with Umbrellas as Pete changed his shirt and jacket after he had been dried off. All done in 400 metres and with military precision. Luke then returned to help me into the car and set me and Lauren on our way. I left there with no regrets, I was soaked through, cold and miserable, I couldn't find a reason to be out there through the night trudging through the mud. But with time to contemplate it, the small niggling doubts and regrets start to come in, they always do the further away you get from an event. You downplay the state you were in and wish you had stayed out. The weather beat me, the 24 hour challenge by itself was enough without the added rain and mud bath, but ultimately what let me down was a lack of mental toughness to suck it up and get back out there. I could have done with this Saturday night!

Lauren and I came back the next morning at 9 or 10 and watched the runners still trucking on, many of them covered in mud, some of it in unusual places. Obviously from falling during the night. It was that final couple of hours watching the reception that the Solo runners got as they completed their final laps that were really gutting. I hadn't just sacrificed my 100km target by bailing out, I had sacrificed that amazing finishing reception. I don't like Marathons much and I really don't like Ultras. I said to Luke, Amber and Lauren I would never do an Ultra again and I probably shouldn't , but me and the Thunder Run have unfinished business. If I find out in October that I haven't got an entry into the London Marathon, there is a very real possibility that I will sign up for the Thunder Run when entries open in November 2013 for the July 2014 addition. I get in, come hell or high water I am getting round 13 laps.

Special mention to Pete Scull who made it round 19 laps in 25 hours, just an incredible physical and mental performance. Out of this world! 2nd Solo Male and the most well earnt rain jacket ever! Such an inspiration, will definitely use that performance as fuel for my fire in the build-up to Thunder Run 2014. Also huge congratulations to Martin, sorry I didn't see you much. You were just behind me most of the way before I took the soft option, and you just kept on moving for 13 laps. A beer to celebrate and then driving yourself home, all off minimal training. You make it look so easy!

Thanks firstly to my wife Lauren. I can't thank you enough for your unwavering support through all of this. The prep, the tent making, the sun cream in the eye, force feeding me dry bagels, I'm sorry I let you down in flaking out after 12 hours. I'll get it right next time. Thanks to all the other support crew Mum, Dad, Luke, Amber, Mike, Niki, Ben, Rosa. You all worked tirelessly for Me, Pete and Martin and we really appreciated everything you did. Hats off to the lady that rocked up on her own in the car and crewed for herself. Hardcore! Thanks Thunder Run what a challenge! See you again, Saturday July 26th 2014 at Midday. This time you're mine!

Unofficial Splits
10Km – 1:04:41
20Km – 2:17:52
30Km – 3:44:05 (10min stop)
40Km – 5:23:42 (20min stop)
50Km – 7:08:49 (15min stop)
60Km – 9:20:00 (10 min stop)
70Km – 11:30:00 (15min stop)

1 comment:

  1. Simon you were a star! Ok so you want to go back and attack it again, but you did 70k! I was so inspired that Sunday afternoon I ran 10k (for only the second time in my life) and realised 70k is an awesome distance. At 60k you were looking as if you were on another planet and then a thunderstorm that just went on and on. Fantastic performance and then you had the strength of character to come back and cheer Martin and Pete home, that took some guts. You can be well proud of your achievement.