I saw the Adidas Thunderun a couple of years ago whilst flicking through the Runners World website looking at what kind of Ultras there were. I’d just done my first Ultra – the High Peak 40 and wanted more. I was too late that year for entry and couldn’t do last year or this year and stumbled across Endure24.
It looked ace, a very different kind of event where time is the A to B, not distance. So an okay (you crazy fool!) from the wife and my entry was in as Solo runner. I crammed my car boot with just about everything I thought I’d need, I had five pairs of trainers, four changes of clothes, two tents, a tarp, enough food and drink to feed an army and The Spartan Flag!
The drive down the night before was bad – Friday night on the M6 and round Birmingham took me five hours but at least I got there. I hate rushing for a race, it makes me stressed and not enjoy the race. I was listening to the Glastonbury coverage on Radio 1 and there was a blackout for an hour due to the thunder and heavy rain. Luckily only a few spots of rain on the way down.
Most people had already got there so I shoehorned in the last spot between two other campers. The Solos have their own designated area where the course snakes through to allow us to quickly duck into our tents for rest, recovery and supplies. Tent and flag up, chicken madras on the stove and a beer inside. It was getting dark now so best get my head down for as much sleep as I can get.
The next morning I was up, had my breakfast and then took a leisurely stroll round the site to see what was about and then went to register. It’s a great atmosphere, like Glastonbury but with better music. I was tempted to nip out to do the Parkrun at Newbury but thought I’d be pushing my luck. Parkruns are short but fast and put a lot of pressure on legs so my senses got the better of me and I stayed put.
I had time in the morning to recee the route but didn’t bother, there’s no point putting extra mileage in the legs that doesn’t count. I thought there’s plenty of opportunity to get familiar with the course.
About 1⁄2 hour before go, thunder, lightning and heavy rain so I hid inside the marquee with the rest of the runners. It didn’t last long and we were out on the start line. I started right at the back, I didn’t want to hold up the relay teams who would be legging it. I certainly won’t be going at their pace (or so I thought). I was really excited to be there, it was a thrilling atmosphere.
After the announcement we were off. I started in my Speedcross and after 100m we turned off the grass and onto a tarmac drive. Oh no! What have I done? Had I done wrong shoe choice again but the opposite way round? No, I was saved, next to the drive was grass which I ducked onto and then gravel paths after about 1⁄2 mile. Even if I had road shoes on I’d have stuck to the grass, I need cushioning.
The course is about 90% paths and trails except that the rain had turned these into a quagmire. My feet were soaked by the end of the first loop. I was running real steady and got round the first lap in 38mins which was actually quite fast. I didn’t stop on the first loop.
On the next loop I went past someone who definitely had chosen the wrong ‘shoes’, they were actually wearing flip-flops. I made a passing comment and had a laugh with the ‘runner’.
It had started raining again but only lightly and as it’s mostly undercover in woods it’s not always noticeable, however the rain got heavier and heavier and I resorted to putting my jacket back on. The course was now getting more and more churned up and muddy. Going was tough but steady.
I find Speedcrosses good in mud but not suitable for anything over marathon distance as they are quite hard and rigid with not much cushioning. I knew I’d be struggling later. There was a decision - keep with grippy but hard or swap to slippy and cushioned. Looking at everyone falling about I stuck with the Speedcross.
Every loop I stopped at the tent for whatever I could shove down, banana/flapjacks/crisps/pop.
About 3 or 4 loops in the rain it had abated and when I went through the start/finish gantry I heard on the PA that I was lead Solo Male. The feeling was amazing and a real confidence boost as people cheered and clapped as I went through. 1st! I’d never lead before and now I was the hare.
I was surprised at how many relay runners I was passing so early on, surely it should be the other way round. I was running steady 40/50 min loops and wasn’t really pushing it. No solos passed me (they had a yellow number). If I passed a solo I gave them words of encouragement which was reciprocated.
Unfortunately one of the problems I get of running whilst wet (apart from the cold) is that skin becomes soft and supple. My nips were getting sore and when I took my jacket off I was leaking an unfashionable cover. A stop at my tent and plasters on but they were rubbish plastic ones and just didn’t stick at all so I tried Vaseline. This kind of worked but only just. I had to run with one arm stuffed up my t-shirt to stop it rubbing.
My feet were now starting to feel the water and mud. Speedcross whilst grippy were not grippy enough and I still slid about alot.
I learnt a new skill to ‘skim’ across the large puddles, some were 5 or 6 meters wide – just leg it as fast as you can and stay on the balls of your feet= minimal water exposure.
The mud was clinging to my shoes and making them much heavier. The paths had become very rutted with the removal of mud in places and revealed a sharp hardcore undersurface that cut through my soft feet.
On about the 7th loop as I was exiting onto the tarmac I heard a shout of ‘Spartan!’, looking over it was Stu Mills!
Every time I went through the start/finish gantry the PA announced that I was lead solo male and everyone clapped and cheered, it really was an loop as I was exiting onto the tarmac I heard a shout exhilarating experience and helped greatly to push me along and keep me going.
On my 11th loop about 8 1⁄2hrs in I decided to stop proper and get kitted out for the night session. It was getting really overcast and started to darken in the forest. I thought I’d be pushing to get another loop in. Whilst in my tent it started chucking it down with more thunder and lightning.
I got the stove on and made a hot meal (Pot Noodle) had a cup of tea and tried to eat as much as I could.
I prised my Speedcross off, dried my feet, changed my socks and shoehorned them back on.
A check of the weather said it’d stop raining about 11PM so I thought I’d have a few minutes rest and wade out the worst of the weather. After about 45 mins I knew time was passing and had a conversation with myself that went something like:
What are you doing?
Are you asleep?
Then you’re not tired. If you’re lying down then you can sit up, if you can sit up you can stand, if you can stand you can walk, if you can walk you can run.
But my feet hurt.
So why are you lying there crying about it? You’ve dried them and swapped socks, there’s nothing more you can do.
But I’m cold and wet.
So? You may as well be cold and wet and getting some miles in so get your sorry arse back out there.
What do you think the other runners are doing? Do you think they are sleeping or running?
So jacket and head torch on and back out into the rain.
It was difficult to get the legs turning again but they remembered what they were supposed to be doing and cranked over. To be honest the night section was a bit of a blur, it was dark (obviously) and raining which made comprehension less than easy. By now my feet were really hurting and I thought just another 8 loops and I’ll be done. If I can do them in blocks on three then I can manage it.
I did another three and checked the rankings on the screen – I couldn’t possibly be that far down the rankings – I was 4th, no, it was a mistake, they hadn’t counted the last loop I’d just done. I had to find someone to sort it out there and then otherwise later on they’d never do it and probably wouldn’t believe me.
The PA was now turned off for the night and whilst I wasn’t too far behind I was feeling deflated. Another stop at the tent, this time I did a full kit change – swapped Speedcross for XR Missions (zippo grippo but dry and cushioned). It felt great to be back in dry kit. I lay down again and was getting cold and slipped into my OMM waterproof trousers to try and keep warm. Whilst it wasn’t raining heavily it was still raining.
After a bit I had another conversation:
Look, are you gonna run or bail?
Because I’d be a failure if I didn’t do well. How could I go back and tell everyone I failed. My feet hurt so much.
Do you think your feet will be better in 1⁄2 hour?
Then they ain’t gonna get better until the race is over.
Look, go for plan B, you can still do 100 miles, you’ve got plenty of time, even if you walk the remaining you can still do it.
What, walk, really? I didn’t know that was allowed.
Yeah sure, if you do 100, even if you walk then I’ll let you off and you haven’t failed.
Okay. See ya at the finish!
So off I went. It was about 1am and still very dark. Running was very difficult as the ‘good’ lines soon became every runner’s ‘good’ line and then soon became ‘bad’ lines as they got churned up.
I’d kept my waterproof trousers on which was a big mistake. I got really warm and they ended up getting covered in mud and rubbed against my ankles so when I next came round to my tent they were quickly ditched.
Another thing I found was that as I was constantly looking a few feet ahead I wasn’t looking far enough and took a bad line and end up wading through deeper mud than I should have or hit a puddle that wasn’t there before and got soaked.
My nice dry feet very quickly became horrible wet feet. Changing shoes again was futile, they’d only get soaked again and no point getting five pairs of shoes totally soaked.
I caught up with a guy called Shaun from Plymouth who was going to run the entire SW Coast path, planning 45 miles/day to take 2 weeks. I wished him good luck.
Relay runners were now flying by, some at crazily fast speeds, maybe not that fast in reality but it felt it at the time.
Very soon the dawn chorus came and it was a beautiful morning, I had tingling sensations all over and felt a really chilled relaxed buzz.
The field had thinned out somewhat now as I guess solos (mainly) and teams had bailed through the night onslaught.
I plodded on, jogging round and passing solos, some who looked in a real mess.
The PA was back on and no longer the attention was on me, I still got cheers and claps at the start/finish gantry though.
I completed loop 19 and checked the standings, there was no way I could get a placing, my feet were trashed and I was mentally finished but I had one more to do. I still had four hours left and knew I could just walk this one so out came the walking poles and I just walked it. It almost felt like a victory lap and that nothing could stop me from getting 100 miles. I took my time on the last loop, taking photos of the carnage of a course that we endured.
As I came round the last corner along the home straight to the finish gantry I couldn’t face walking in so I did a 100m power blast and legged it across the finish – that was a shock to the legs.
The PA announced that I’d just done 100 miles and everyone clapped and cheered, it really was quite emotional and very humbling.
I’d done 100 miles in 21:27 and technically could have done another three loops. Knowing that even if I did another three I still couldn’t get a placing so I called it a day. At that point I was fifth.
I slowly waddled to hand in my chip, get my medal, back to the tent and get showered. I’m not sure what ended up cleaner – the shower or me.
I pulled up a chair in the solo area next to the course, grabbed a beer (at 10 in the morning) and cheered on the remaining runners.
I wasn’t expecting there to be a presentation for the 100+ milers so was pleasantly surprised that I got called up and had a photo and presentation.
As I was coming back to my tent they’d pretty much stripped most of the course already but there was still a solo that was just finishing – amazing seeing as although he did less loops than me he’d been on his feet for four hours more.
Will I do it again?
No, it was the worst experience of my life.
Well, it wasn’t all that bad.
Some of it was okay.
In fact there were parts that I quite liked.
It was brilliant!
More, more, more!
Looking back now, I have mixed feelings about my efforts. On balance I feel disappointed, yes I ran 100 miles but so did others and one ran 120. I wanted 100+ and a placing. Did I set my expectations too high? Did I dig deep enough? Could I have done better?
I’m not on Facebook but stumbled across their webpage and there is a piccie of us 100 milers and how people are inspired and I notice my medal. I never really pay much attention to them but there is an inscription on it round the edge. It reads ‘Life begins at the end of your comfort zone’.
I think I didn’t do so bad after all.