Thursday, 1 August 2013

Thunder Run 2013 - Sunshine, Storms and Broken Bones.

The Thunder Run 2013 will generally be remembered because of the extreme weather. By day, it was baking hot with wall to wall sunshine. By night, an aggressive storm had swept across Catton Park. The torrential rain that accompanied the storm lasted all night.
Team GRC
Grantham Running Club will remember the event because of an awful injury that was caused by the extreme weather. The torrential rain left the course in a quagmire and at approximately 3am John Ellerby decided to sit down on his ankle, breaking it on the way.   
Grantham Running Club was represented by over 20 runners split into three teams. I ran in a mixed team of eight. The idea at TR24 is to run 10 kilometres as fast as you can before handing over a wrist band to a team mate. The process repeats until the baton is back with you. The pre race planning led by team Captain Mason concluded that I would run five laps of the technical, off road circuit. The course involves mixed varied terrain of tracks, grassy fields, woods, hills and switch backs. The 24 hour nature of the event means that at some point runners will run through the night. If you are a solo runner you will run all day and all night. Captain Mason notified me that I would be going out at about 11:50pm and then about 4.30am but they would be my night laps and first I had to do my share of laps in the hot light of day.

I arrived at Catton Park on the Friday evening. The race begins at midday Saturday which left plenty of time to take in the atmosphere across the event campsite. Thousands of runners take part in this event and most choose to camp in the park grounds. This, as another post describes is, "the Glastonbury of running".  Friday night was spent regulating the amount of alcohol intake to manageable levels, for the effort the next day would involve much effort. Mark provided warm up entertainment in the form of a quiz before the main event of the evening "Scott Jones and his guitar".

Scott's running talents are matched by his musical ability. He is so good that he has someone to warm his strings. As Phil strummed gently the anticipation built up until finally Scott took over, taking the guitar and strumming diverse requests from "Postman Pat" to the "Stones Roses". We sat and we sung, Actually we sat and failed miserably at trying to remember the words. Mark attempted to find lyrics on his mobile phone. Eventually Scott was reduced to a two string melody. Scott explained that those two strings could be used as the background to according to almost any song. "Kumbaya" was suggested and the team launched into verse. We quickly became concerned that the religious  nature of the lyrics might lead to us being shunned the next day at race start. Concerns were heightened as we watched Scott break into solo, his eyes eerily piercing through the night. Scott peered over the guitar, his fingers strummed slowly and with a serious face he softly murmured the words to Kumbaya it was scary, very scary.
Scott Jones
It was decided as a team tactic that Scott would be placed with guitar in the woods the next evening. He would intermittently present himself on the trail in the dark usually in front of single female runners and usually on remote woodland track. Scott would stand menacingly in the trees, strumming the chords and singing the song in the same most serious fashion. If sightings of a guitar wielding ghost in the woods spread through the event, the more vulnerable runners would refuse to go out on the course meaning that by default we would be bumped up a few places. The whole thing seemed hilariously achievable - more hilarious than it should of done. Perhaps we had enough to drink, it was getting late. It was time to retire to our tents  but not before Scott struck some 1980's classics in the form of Erasure - at last we could all remember the lyrics to those tunes and we sang heartily before bed!
Saturday morning bought more serious business in the form of race day. I had hardly slept a wink through the night. I hadn't considered the strategy of "tent placement". On Friday evening I had plumbed for a spot nestled in next to Phil and Arthur's tent. You should never ever nestle in next to Phil and Arthur. My lack of tent placement strategy led to a night of listening to a member of the adjacent tent snore like a simmering volcano. I listened and tried to put the eruptions out of my mind, then it was morning.
The race start at midday approached and the anticipation around the festival grew. Our star runner Arthur was first to go out. Arthur steamed round the course in a super fast time. Arthur's lap gave our team, "Disco Balls Out" which was also known as, Grantham's A team, a handy place towards the start of the field. I was next to go. I remembered the course from the previous year. The tracks were hard after being baked in heat which continued. It was now 1pm on Saturday afternoon the sunshine was serious and the heat would be likely take victims. I was glad to have the first lap under my belt. I returned in about 43 minutes, handed over to Ben Hatherley and retired for a cold shower and five hours of rest before my next lap was due.
Andrew Pask hands to Scott Jones
The Thunder Run continues in that fashion for twenty four hours. The teams that have run the most laps win the day. Lap results are instantly uploaded and can be viewed in the food marquee which adds to the excitement and provides a handy source of motivation for teams. At one point we climbed as high as 9th in out category, not bad for the size of the club. Ultimately we finished 14th.   
Between laps there is a balance to be struck between, eating, resting, drinking, encouraging team mates on the course and taking in the atmosphere of the event. Saturday's sunshine continued. It was hot, baking hot. A commentator broadcast news across the Park. At one stage on Saturday I remember the commentator predicting a significant storm was on its way to the East Midlands and would arrive by midnight. At that stage it seemed an unbelievable possibility, the sky was blue, the sun was out and the humidity was intense. "The French were looking after the storm", we were told, but it was heading our way. The storm arrived with gusto making a rude entrance, unfashionably early at around 7pm on Saturday night. Let me not underestimate the strength of the storm, it was massive.
My first "rain lap" began around 11:40pm. The rain was torrential and the campsite had become cold in the evening dark. I opted for leggings and a waterproof jacket and soon regretted the decision as I quickly became too hot. Soon after setting off, I was to learn first hand that the "hard" course which had baked all day in sun had become a seriously boggy and dangerous mudfest. It quickly became apparent that a fast time was out of the question. This lap would be about remaining in an upright position and getting back safely. It was dark, darker in the woods, I was satisfied that Scott wouldn't endure these conditions with his guitar but I plodded on cautiously just in case. The rain was coming down so fast it obscured any vision. All I could see was a stream of rain falling through the light beam of my head torch in front of me. I just followed the rain and I was grateful when I could see the occasional red light on the back of a runner in front. The rain had seriously churned up the course and the lack of vision meant that this lap was going to be about simply getting to the finish in one piece.
The woodland sections were almost unrunnable. There seemed to be endless thick muddy trails with switch backs that hid deep puddles of mud, the puddles of mud hid ankle turning tree roots. About an hour later, I was glad to return cold, wet, muddy and miserable to hand the baton over and retire for bed. "Good luck with that mate" were the only words that seemed suitable as I passed on the baton to Ben Hatherley.
Wishing John a speedy recovery
This was a low point. I returned to the tent and took off my soaking clothes. I tried to put off thoughts of having to venture back out into that quagmire at 5am. It was time to try and get some sleep. I quickly warmed to a comfortable state but I found that like the previous night, I couldn't sleep, this time probably due to the apprehension of having to go and do another lap. I nodded off around 3am and woke an hour later with the sound of an unfamiliar engine that seemed to be right outside my tent. It turned out that John Elllerby had fallen badly in the storm. Other runners had summonsed assistance and between them they had managed to get John off the course and into the medical tent. After first aid John was transferred via quad bike ambulance back to his tent and it was the quad bike that I had heard as it pulled up to drop him off. I listened in a dazed state and tried to understand what had happened to him. I could hear pieces of conversation vaguely from the team members who had come to assist and I tried in my sleepy state to piece them together. It appeared that John had turned his ankle. In the cold light of the next day the swelling suggested it was more serious than a sprain and a week  later on, John is now laid up with pins and plates in his broken ankle after an operation at Grantham Hospital.         
As I lay in my tent at 4am, the rain was still pounding down and the storm was at its highest. I lay in my comfy sleeping bag. It was quiet outside, the others were either asleep or on the course. I questioned which poor soles had copped for the worst of the storm. It seemed ironic that Ben Mason was out on the course. The previous week, Ben as team captain had suggested that runners who were due to run night sections should do two consecutive laps. The rain thrashed again against the tent and I wondered how relieved Ben might have been that we decided against those additional night laps. I turned in my sleeping bag and smiled as I lay in the warmth thinking of the hapless soles outside. My only concern was for the storm to pass by the time I was next due out, then I remembered - I was due out and the storm hadn't passed.
My tent was full of misery. My kit was wet. I had to transfer my running number on to another t-shirt and I was running out of time. I didn't want to go back out. I questioned the point. Nobody could run fast in those conditions, it was dangerous at worst, miserable at best. Maybe the organisers might have cancelled the event? I struggled out of the tent in a dozy fashion and some of the other team members that were milling about confirmed that this nightmare was still on.
The last lap went slowly. The biggest achievement was only falling once. One minute I was up the next - "slap", I was down. This was my fourth lap and I spent it thinking up convincing arguments to sell to my team mates to ensure that I would be excused a final fifth lap. It was possible, given the timings, that I would be asked to go out again. I wasn't going to go out again but it was all about how I could sell that position to my team mates in as honourable way as possible and so as not to lose face.
Captain Mason and Andrew Pask.
I got back a little over an hour after setting off and I retired straight to bed. It was around 6am. A wink later I awoke and decided to join the increasing breakfast crowd that I could hear gathering outside my tent. I joined the others and quietly professed my unwillingness to do another lap. It seemed to go down very well, either the others recognised the difficulty I was facing or more likely hadn't heard me. Either way I got away with four laps with the heroic Arthur Short being the only GRC runner to complete five laps this year.
There was some final entertainment just before midday as the other two GRC teams had people on the course and if they got back before 12 noon another team member could go out to complete a final lap. We ran out to various parts and encouraged and cajoled the runners to try to get them to make the noon deadline. Meanwhile, the next runners stood on the start line hoping they wouldn't make the noon deadline.
Not 200m from the finish Yvonne Taylor stormed up the hill with three minutes to go until the cut off, she was going to make It! Gordon Geech stood on the start line swearing under his breath for if she made the cut off he would have to go back out. Team GRC watched from a distance to the race finish mat far below. We waited for Yvonne to appear for the final ten metres as the clock continued to tick down. The crowd below chanted "ten, nice, eight, seven, six, five" Yvonne appeared and crossed the mat - amazing she had made it and Gordon would have to run a final lap!
It turned out that Gordon didn't go. Yvonne had crossed the mat but by the time she reached Gordon in the change over area the organisers had roped off the start line to prevent any further runners going out. No-one was bothered, least of all, I suspect, Gordon!
A fine weekend in good company tainted by John's injury - Good luck John, wishing you a speedy recovery.