I was talking into doing something a bit silly the last weekend in June. A 24 hour relay race on trails! Or Endure 24 as it is known. Well, I say talked into… It seemed like a good idea at the time, and a different sort of challenge appealed to me. From their website:
Endure 24 is a twenty four hour race run over a 5 mile loop of forest trails. It takes place in the scenic Wasing Park Estate, Aldermaston near Reading.
Runners (and support teams, friends, spectators) all camp on site, though of course spectators are free to come and go during the weekend. There is something of a community feel to the whole site. Though queuing for a hot drink when you are cold, tired, and wet, does leave a little to be desired with the numbers there this year. And the weather…
I know well enough that signing up in advance for an outdoor endeavours in the UK will not ensure you have sun, or even dry weather. But the rain that fell several times on the Saturday was something else! Thunderous torrential downpours is a very apt description. If perhaps a little understated. It had the effect of turning the course rather rapidly into bog like conditions, which made keeping ones footing or keeping a steady even pace going, rather hard work.
This tweet sums the conditions up pretty well!
— Le Matt de TdF (@MattversusMatt) June 29, 2014
Though of course the weather was lovely Friday afternoon during initial setup, and Sunday afternoon post race! The image at the top of the post shows the muddy track through the field after many tents had packed up and gone.
I was doing the event as part of a team of eight. Box Bell Fit (BBF) had four teams of eight entered this year, so we had a friendly corner of the campsite. Each lap was 5 miles (though oddly marked in km, so 8 km), and the current runner on the team had a yellow band they wore, and passed on to the next runner. The Allsorts were just that. A mixed bunch, of people who wanted to get involved, but not über fast runners.
This is what the ground looked like on the Sunday morning from one of the runners in the BBF Girls team.
I was running sixth so my first lap was not until late afternoon. By which time it had rained heavily again and there had been several hours of runners churning up the trail. It was an experience! My second lap was supposed to be around 11pm, though because of the worsening conditions (yes, even more so!) it was closer to half past as all of our runners slowed as it got dark. It turns out running through a quagmire in the dark is a tad tricky. My final lap was around 8:30am and the route had started to dry a little which made it easier again than the second lap. I was glad to only have to do the three laps to get to 15 miles in total. A couple of The Allsorts team did four laps but I was more than pleased with my achievement.
Just after the start there is a deceptive hill. Almost not a hill, but that annoying long climb that goes on for ever and exhausts you. From there the trail starts and I had to get used to running on the surface. I’m not (or wasn’t!) a trail runner so it definitely took its toll on my lower legs in terms of stabilisation.
I missed the first couple of distance markers on my first and second laps, so was mightily relieved to see the 3km and 4km marks to ensure I was making progress. It turns out after all my laps that the half way mark is magic for me. It seems to feel easier having passed that magical mark. Even if it’s mental, it seemed to help me push on. I’ve also always been a runner who warms up into runs, gets into a breathing routine, etc. so I think that probably kicks in too. I found I enjoyed the route more in the second half of the laps as well.
The route involved paths through forested areas, some tracks made by vehicles, which given the conditions caused two narrow tracks in which it was possible to run in, and then a nice peaty bit weaving in and out of trees. Everyone else I spoke to seemed to hate that bit. Personally I loved it 🙂 A non trail person! I think it was because I was able to mountain goat over it like I do in the Lakeland fells (peat bogs are often encountered up high there) whereas the proper runners were trying to maintain stride etc. through it. Which was impossible. I was very impressed I was able to overtake some people on my last lap at this point, and stay ahead of them 🙂
There was a well stocked water and fuel station at 5km which was very welcome as I didn’t run with water. For a 5 mile course I didn’t think it necessary to carry a bottle, but was glad of the cooling liquid all the same. I also took some gel shots on the second and third laps. I needed the carbs boost at that point. Leaving the water station entailed climbing a steep hill. Which on the middle of my laps was flowing mud the opposite direction to that in which I wanted to go. I admit I gave up and walked it on that lap. It just sapped so much energy to try to fight it.
My last lap was of course on tired and sore legs. The lower leg muscles had taken a battering, especially on my right side which is the ankle I dislocated. I’d taped it up after the first lap just to be on the safe side. But I was very glad of the sports massage offered on site for a donation. I was left with bruises by the end of the day where the knots massaged away. But that shows how much of a beating the legs had taken. The other thing I did in that last lap was to make a very conscious effort to ensure I ran barefoot style. On a normal surface I do this without thinking now, but conditions on my first couple of laps meant I had no idea what sort of foot striking I was doing. Focusing on the light quick movements helped on the tired legs and it felt much less of an effort. It reinforced that it is a way of running that I and my body prefer.
I managed to grab about four hours sleep between my second and third laps which I was pleased about. I’m sure it helped with my final lap, and gave me energy to carry on for the rest of the day.
Obviously a tent was a fairly basic requirement, along with basic camping items. Our new(ish) Quechua tent performed admirably in the appalling conditions and has now been very definitely rain tested. And passed with no nasty puddles 🙂
Beyond that I ran in normal running clothing. I didn’t bother with any sort of waterproof despite the weather because it wasn’t that cold. Drying off afterwards wasn’t that bad, and I made sure to keep warm when not running.
I used wicking t-shirts, and for the second and third laps, a long sleeve cold compression top underneath to provide some extra protection. Though on both laps I ended up pushing the sleeves up part way round. Wicking shorts were fine too. No need for tights even in the rain. I needed several changes of clothes though given the mud and rain. I’m note sure this pair of socks are ever going to recover though…
It’s no secret that I am a huge Inov-8 fan, and I have the Mudclaw 265 for use in the fells which proved very useful in these runs. I had my usual running shoes as well but the conditions meant it would have been foolish to try using them. The Mudclaw’s proved perfect in terms of grip and comfort. Even when put back on still wet, cold, and muddy.
Felix had to “help” when I was packing on the Friday though 🙂 Sitting on things is very necessary apparently.
The Event (Endure 24)
Endure 24 was well setup on the whole, though I’ve seen comments on the Facebook page that some people thought with the increase in numbers on site (not just runners) some optimisation could be made. I was pretty much always able to get straight into a toilet which was one of the things concerning me. They perhaps weren’t the nicest places by the end of the race, but the wet and muddy conditions will have contributed to that.
The food options were decent, though at times there seemed there was too much reliance on pasta which I rarely eat these days. It seems runners means pasta. As I prefer other sources of carbs, I wanted a jacket (or rice) and couldn’t get anything so left it and had own stuff from the tent! And maybe a sneaky donut kindly bought over by a friend from BBF as a mass support effort for all the teams.
It was quote annoying to have to queue for hot drinks in the same queue as the food queue. We had kettle capabilities in our section of the campsite which was useful in this scenario. But like the pasta situation, I was more than willing to pay the caterers but it seemed too complicated!
Having said all that, the cumberland sausage bap was pretty awesome pre-race.
The safety seemed decent, though I heard complaints about the lighting at night. There were glowsticks on the route, and runners were mandated to run with head torches after 8:30pm. I had no issues with that at all, and because all the teams had runners on different paces there was almost always another run around adding their head torch to proceedings. I also loved seeing the paramedic guys scooting around the route on buggies 🙂
— Dystonia Paul (@DystoniaPaul) June 29, 2014
Would I do Endure 24 again? On the Sunday when a friend asked I said no. I may have wavered slightly since then, but the weather really put a dampener (ha!) on it for me. In all honesty if I had a training run to do and encountered conditions like that I would turn round and go home.
I have learnt some things from doing it though.
It turns out I like trail running, and I can do it with my ankle. I like the 5 mile distance. Eons ago when I solely ran to keep fit (and duly made myself very fed up of running) I enjoyed that distance and I’d forgotten that. I should do more 5 mile related things.
I’ve always known I need my peace and quiet. This was clear during the event where several times I took myself off to my tent for some solitude. It’s just me. Having the support team, BBF visitors, and the other competitors from the BBF teams was great. It was good to go into the mess tent and have a chat. But when I needed to focus on what I had to do I needed to get my head into the right place.
I’d like to thank (I think 😉 ) Anna from BBF for talking me into this, and doing a major organising job with all the teams. My team captains Martin & Alison were also fantastic sorting us all out, setting up a schedule, etc. And Tina and Cheryl were awesome at running all the teams, giving me a pep talk over nerves (thanks Tina!) while waiting at handover, waking people up, retrieving forgotten timer chips (not me!), and a myriad other things.
I’m very happy to have earned this 🙂
Now… When’s the next race?! 😉