Why Would You?
Imagine a stranger suggesting that you suspend your usual Saturday training and instead do a 10k race at noon at "balls out" speed (I think the balls are eye balls and the speed means fast). After that at around 6pm you will be required to do another "balls out" 10k race across the same undulating, off road tracks. For good measure the stranger then suggests another 10k, later in the evening at perhaps 11pm, this time at as close to "balls out" speed as you can muster. You can then go to sleep, but at approximately 3am you will be woken from your slumber and asked to do.... you've guessed it, another balls out 10k. The following morning at about 9.30am a final lap of the technically tough course will seal the strangers proposal. Finally you must give the stranger £30 after he informs you that any sleep you do manage to get between races will be in a field.
Two thousand five hundred people thought that was a great proposal and duly parted with 30 hard earned pounds in order to enter the Thunder Run event at Catton Park.
The Thunder Run is a 24 hour event where runners enter either as teams of between two and eight runners or if you are daring and daft enough you can go solo. The idea is to run around a tough, technical, off road course which winds, undulates and switches back several times, before returning to the start/finish area where you pass a wrist band on to your next team member. In the case of a solo entrant you pass through the start/finish area and begin your next lap....
Race Day 1
At noon the klaxon sounded and I shot off at a fast pace through the grassy field. I was keen to start fast and keep up a good pace. I wanted to get clear of the masses and arrive back to give Captain Sinclair and the rest of the team the best chance of a clear run. The course was hard with endless twists, turns, switch backs, woods, grassy fields, inclines and descents. The course roughly followed the perimeter of the campsite. It had been well thought out because occasionally the route bought you through the fringes of the fields of tents where crowd support was in abundance. My first lap was completed in 44:05. I was glad to pass the band on to Stuart and have the first leg out of the way.
Returning to the camp Scott Jones had arrived to put in a day shift which turned out to be a coupe of decent and consistent sub 49 minute laps. Arthur and Phil had also arrived and instead of pitching the tent decided to visit the trade stands and take in the atmosphere. Arthur took over from Stuart who had whizzed round his first lap in 43:17. Arthur went out in inspirational form, coming home in what turned out to be Grantham's fastest lap of the event in 41:54. Meanwhile in the second team, Helen Brown, 50:29 passed on to Robert McArdle, 48:43 who passed to Phil Hall who came home in 52:56. Things were looking good, everyone clocking good times and then enjoying the friendly atmosphere.
Between laps runners could walk around the course cheering other team members or perhaps sit around the campsite talking and refreshing themselves for their next legs. I went out again at about 6:20pm. I went faster than leg one recording 43:35 but I began to realise that five of these laps was going to be a real challenge. The challenge was intensified when darkness fell at about 9:30 pm. Gordon Geach was having difficulty in the dark deciding whether to go to the right or left of trees and ultimately learning via a sore head that you can't go straight through them! Head torches was the order of the night.
My first night leg began at about 11:20pm. I was grateful that the darkness meant I had no choice but to run a slower pace. I had spent lots of energy on the first two laps and I couldn't have kept up the same degree of effort. I enjoyed the night section. Running through the dark woods with only distant head torches of other competitors for company was exciting. Occasionally you would pass a slower runner in front. The spirit of the event was illustrated as slower runners stood aside to let you passed and each exchanged words of encouragement. I was a bit tired and perhaps a bit delusional during the night. I remember various fighting birds flapping aggressively in the trees. I heard them on two separate laps and was quite sure it would be a talking point back at campsite. Strangely nobody else witnessed the bird scraps and after reciting the story it prompted someone to ask me in a concerned way, if I was alright! Ben Mason arrived on Saturday evening and provided good fresh legs for the team effort clocking a solid 48:56 on his first lap. Is wasn't until Ben's third lap that he got to see the course in daylight.
The Morning After
I managed perhaps another couple of hours kip before joining the others for breakfast. I decided to get up a bit earlier for my last leg and eat earlier to try and give the porridge time to settle. I found some peppermint tea (like you do?) in my tent. I was conscious that I needed to eat for energy but my lower stomach was still hurting in a pressured kind of way and I didn't feel like eating much at all. It was reassuring to learn that I wasn't the only team member struggling, Stuart had similar symptoms and had decided not do a final leg. He passed the honour on to the heroic Ben Hatherley who had run consistently fast throughout. Although he wasn't slowing down much it was a big ask to ask to do a fifth lap so soon after completing his fourth but step up to the plate he did and ran his final lap in good spirit in an amazing time of 47:53.
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