The race starts at 12 so we got to E24 on the Saturday at about 11 and the camp was a buzz, the sky was also a buzz, literally, storms were brewing and when inside the tent running through final plans with tom the sky opened, the thunder bellowed, this is not a problem I said to myself, I have all the kit I need.
So we leave the tent at 11.55am and I head to the back of the field, no point getting in the hustle and bustle of the team runners. The rain stops and…
I stand with my fellow solos at the back, I look around, my mind does that thing it does, my mind tells me all these guys are fitter than me, more experienced than me, I’m crazy to think I can do this, but then a calm came over me, It then said to me, but this is why you’re here, you want to feel this anxiety, this uncomfortable feeling, you knew this would happen, of course you can do it, you just have to run, and keep running. I’m not nervous now, I give tom a smile as I start to enjoy the feeling, its all about laps, I’m now calm, this is it, it’s now, all the prep is done, what will be will be, so enjoy it.
The race starts and the team runners shoot off into the distance, we run through the crowd to fantastic support that didn’t change for the whole race.
I spent the 1st lap checking out the course, carefully looking at the tracks, imagining what they will be like later in the day and night, trying to make note of the danger zones for future reference. I did struggle to go so slow, probably 10 -11 min mile pace because of the congestion. I darted past a few then said to myself, come on, this isn’t park run, easy, easy.
After only a few minutes in, the heavens opened, I mean really opened, I am looking at the course thinking 2000 runners are going to change this, so lets just see what happens.
As I approach the start finish line I run to tom my crew man for the 1st time at the end of my 1st lap, the routine is he preps some high 5, I give him that bottle to fill, he gives me a lucozade I fill the other bottle, I grab the food and go, my 1st lap was in 1.01.
By the 2nd lap the course is already changing, gone is any sight of grass, its all just mud now, by the 3rd lap I can’t describe it as mud, it’s mush now almost everywhere, some of the course literally under water. I try wherever possible to avoid submerging my feet in puddles, I know I must take care of my feet at all costs,
At one point the track runs beside a lake, the track is under water so I try to hop round the side of the lake, next thing I know a group come charging down the hill and straight through the water, trying to avoid their splash and keep dry I step back & start to lose my balance and almost fall into the latke! I didn’t and jogged on chuckling to myself that it was silly to take the risk !
The course by now has taken a complete mashing by all the runners, like chocolate mouse in some places, wet sticky clay in others. I have given up trying to keep my feet dry and accept that it’s the way it is, just avoid what I can, but in reality my clean socks stay dry for about half a lap.
I came in at 7pm at the end of lap 6, I had said to Kristy I would call and say night night to the girls, fortunately they are just brushing their teeth, we chat I get a “love you” out of everyone, even Lucy who’s 1, this makes me happy.
I stopped for about 45 minutes in total, sorting my feet, while eating pasta I chatted with Tom about my plan, we decided I would aim to do 12 laps by 2.30am, that’s 7 hours away, and then I will stop and sleep until sunrise, about 4.30am and then start running again. (in retrospect clearly my brain wasn’t working properly because running 6 laps in 7 hours, in the dark was never going to happen, even in decent conditions),
At this point I started to feel a bit tired, so I decided it was time to try a secret weapon, chocolate covered coffee beans. I had read about these in ultra’s and they are meant to be rocket fuel. I recall one blog saying do not eat more than 3, it’s dangerous !
I had one, umm, nice, another please Tom, umm, one more please Tom, yummy ! that will do, I put on my 2nd pair of trainers, my new trail saucony shoes which I have had for about a month and so off I set for lap 7
As I passed the start finish line a marshall shouted to me, head torch, I said what ? she said, head torch, do you promise you will have it on by half 8, yes I promise I shouted as I ran past, (I didn’t have it, its still in the tent,) I’m sure it will be fine I thought to myself. The sun was out, it was near dusk, but still light, I thought no problem, it will be light until gone 9,
WRONG !, the minute I get into the woods, it dark, it is hard to see easily where to step, crap,
I then looked at my watch and realized the time is 7.50, that’s a 40 minute lap, to get back my half 8, double crap, so I semi-motored this lap, partly fuelled by chocolate covered coffee beans, partly worried about the increasing darkness and injury but more because for some reason I became increasing convinced I would get DQ’d for not having my head torch on by 8.30.
Half way around this lap it starts to rain again, so I put on my jacket again, but I can see blue sky, it’s just a passing shower I think. I ran lap 7 in under 57 minutes, my fastest lap of the race. As I approached the tent, there was no sign of tom, Tom I shouted, he emerges from the tent, WTF are you doing back to soon he said, head torch head torch I shouted (politely I think) we do our normal lap routine, I put on the head torch and am off again, note to self, dig a big hole and bury the coffee beans, they are work of the devil, no good can come out of having those in the house !!
Starting lap 8 at about 8.50pm, my feet start to hurt for the 1st time. The rain is getting heavier; what I thought was a passing shower is actually becoming a pretty biblical down poor, and it’s relentless. The blue sky has long gone, it’s all dark grey. As I get into the woods, the trail that was drying out and forming has gone, it’s a complete wash of mush again. Crap, I literally say to myself , the course is now worse than it was earlier today, the mush that was here and had dried is back, and there’s more mush now, god knows how but there is. Plus it’s dark and I really need to be careful where I step,
I turn on my head torch and I am immediately down beaten and seriously gutted when I see the light beam was projecting such a small area of light on the trail in front of me, I can see the ground but I can’t see ahead. In all our hedgie night runs I hadn’t realized how small the light circle was, I really had to slow down, literally bend over to be able to see the ground. I said to myself it’s because its not actually fully dark yet, it will be okay. It wasn’t ok at all.
Half way round I took the head torch off my head and held it like a normal torch, shining it at the ground and slightly ahead so I could see what was coming, I was getting slower and slower, grumpier and grumpier, I am thinking I can’t carry on with this all night, I remembered I had a hand torch in the tent and will grab that when I pass next, I trudge round in the mud and rain getting even more grumpy as the lap slowly passes by. I grumble to myself bout my crappy head torch, and about the crappy course conditions. I called this my grumpy lap and even said that to the marshals as I passed.
I see tom at the tent as I approach the finish of lap 8. He has bottles ready but no food, tom food please, he grabs me a brioche and I am off again, I get into the woods again, crap !!! I forgot to ask for the hand torch !!! It is now fully dark, my head torch is still as useless as it was, people catch and overtake me, I can sense them coming because of their glorious torches, their light is such a lifesaver, I try to keep up with them but they are all team runners and too fast for me. About 2 miles in I catch up a chap, turns out he was a pair, he had come from wales, and was aiming for 100m as the pair, he had a good torch, I explained my predicament and we ran together for a mile or so until he needed to stop at a marshal station to sort his shoes out, I ran on in the dark with my lack of light.
It was gone 11pm now and it’s still raining, it has chucked it down for 2 hours, the course is at it’s worst, and at it’s darkest. I can’t see anything, my feet hurt now, each lap is taking longer and longer, my feet are going to stay wet for longer if I stay out, I give it some thought while finishing the lap and decide I am going to call it a night. I just can’t carry on safely, I may trip and get injured, I may really have a foot problem being wet for so long. It’s just one race, I am going on holiday next week, I don’t want to be in a cast, so I decide to pull in at 11.30 after completing 9 laps. I explain to tom my decision and he tries to convince me to carry on.
I can see him recalling our conversation the previous week when I said to tom, if I want to quit or sleep or take a break, don’t let me, I don’t want to, I will only be saying that because I am tired, I had to let him finish talking then I explained why I was making this decision, it’s a completely different ball game out there, I’m not tired, I want to carry on, but I can’t, it’s not safe to do so, so let me get showered, changed have a cup of tea, a few hours sleep and I will get a massage and be back out at sunrise. Tom eventually gives in when he understands the game has changed.
We then crunched some numbers based on my lap times and fatigue and agreed realistically I am looking at 13 or 14, although I didn’t want to do 13 because its an unlucky number.
Tom was shattered and asked if I minded if he slept, of course not mate go for it, I set my alarm on my phone for half 3, 10 minutes later I changed it to go off at 3am.
I was wired, & couldn’t sleep, I laid there and decided if I am running by 5, I will set some targets, my D target is 12 laps, my C target is 14, B target is 15 and my A target is 16 plus.
Still couldn’t sleep, I could hear the runners going past still and the team runners calling out each others names for their hand overs, I wanted to be out, this is a 24hr race and I am in the tent trying to sleep, I felt like a fraud, I haven’t run a 24hr race now have I was the thought in my head, I then reminded myself I couldn’t be out there, it was pointless even trying, so now it’s time for a new plan…
I got about an hour and a half sleep.
I had a massage and was back out on the course just before 5 with my 2nd pair of trainers which are still wet, it was dry, a little cold but dry, as I progressed round the course it looked better than when I stopped last night, it’s not dry but it’s certainly not as wet as it was.
My 1st goal for the day was my 1st 3 lap block, that would take me to 12 laps, my D target. There seemed fewer runners on course, I felt the night had taken its toll, there were definitely less solo runners out there and those that were still going were like zombies, they were walking along, tentatively, hunched over, I felt fresh after my massage and was still jogging at about 12 min mile pace and walking all the hills, I felt good and had a few compliments as people realized I was a solo and still running, “looking good solo” “Strong running solo” was another, I knew I was only still running still because of my 5 hours off the course, but it’s still a race until 12pm, so I’m still in it I said to myself.
I reached Tom as I approached the finish line of my 12th lap, I said I’m not stopping, I’ll just get changed and run on but my feet really hurt, I have felt rubbing on my little toes, on the ends of my other toes, on the inside of my foot and my heel too. I come to the conclusion my new sauconys haven’t been worn in enough and have taken their toll on my feet. Tom can I have the duct tape please and my sketchers. I sat down, duct taped over the hot spots, wrapped both little toes and heel, slid on the most comfy trainers I have ever worn and I was off, boy was I comfy !! for a while.
As I went round lap 13 I was thinking about my targets, and the time I had left, in reality, I did have time to do 15 laps, as I would finish lap 14 at around half 11, but did I have the energy to run that extra lap, I went to and fro on the decision and came to the conclusion what am I going to do if I do finish before 12? I’m just going to sit around, so why not just keep going, I’ve got nothing else to do, how cool will it be to hit 15 laps, which is 75 miles, seventy five, that’s bloody crazy ! It’s on.
I chatted to a chap who was still jogging but slower than me, I said I was a hedgie and he said there are loads of you lot aren’t there, I was glad to hear we were making ourselves known !
I finish lap 13 and said to tom I’m doing it, I’m going for 15, he gave me a massive smile, and said fantastic, I knew you would do it T. I took the pasta pot and jogged on.
We walked the 1st hill as I ate pasta and chatted then Cliff said the strangest thing, and I had to pause to think about my reply, he said, are you coming training Tuesday then? ….. my brain repeats his question several times, did he just say that ? seriously ? I eventually replied, “sure, but only if it’s intervals round the track” with a grin on my face, Cliff then replied no I am serious, we want to get as many endure people there as possible, oh ok then I said, as long as I can walk.
Cliff eventually turned back not fancying a lap that had no purpose and I jogged on to finish lap 14, I had to walk more of this lap as I was beginning to feel it in my legs, this was the 1st time I actually started to struggle, I was pretty chuffed with that, even if I walk the last lap I’m going to do 15 laps.
As I neared the end of the lap I started looking forward to seeing Kristy and the girls. As I began my last lap, I welled up a bit but then said come on, don’t be silly, it’s just a run. As I approached my tent I saw tom, but no Kristy, not Amy or Lucy, I wasn’t disappointed surprisingly, I think this was someone somewhere just making sure I did that 15th lap. I reached tom, said can I have my hedge end race vest please as I wanted to finish the race with everyone knowing I was a hedgie.
I jogged on very gingerly over the start finish line for the penultimate time, I then stopped jogging and started to walk, my ankles are hurting they feel like they are locking up, so I walk the camp site bit of the course.
I am walking up the 1st hill and I hear a familiar voice, Tiernan the voice shouts from behind, its Kev (Martin) he caught me up and said mind if I run with you, sure I replied, but maybe not much running going on. Kev said no problem, this is our last lap, I am happy to run with you if you don’t mind, thought you might like the company, definitely I said. I tried to jog but couldn’t, my ankles hurt too much, I told kev and he said no problem with me mate.
We walked the whole lap, chatted about the event, he told me all about how the team relay thing had gone for each team, how the night running had been tough, it was great to hear all the other hedgies had had such a fantastic time, I was amazed by some of the lap times they put in considering the terrain.
I told kev how I wanted to carry Lucy over the finish line and hold Amy’s hand and as we reached the last mile, kev said I’m going to run on, make sure your family are there for you mate. Off he went, as I trudged on. I tried to jog but couldn’t, I thought it doesn’t matter, I’ve done it, I’ve done 75 miles, bloody heck !!
I walked the course through the camp site, saying thanks to everyone who was clapping, the same people who have been clapping me and all the solo runners for the last 24 hours. I then come into sight of camp hedgie and spot Alex. He’s in the middle of the course holding out the hedgie flag, I reached him and he said you are amazing mate, well done and draped the club flag over me. I rounded the final corner to a wall of hedgies clapping cheering, I struggle to look at them all as I feel myself going. I’m welling up. I then spot Kristy and the girls, I walk over, shake toms hand, grab Lucy and Amy and we very gingerly hobble to the finish line. I then spotted a hedgie tunnel formed for me to run through, what a great touch you guys, but if only you are all a little taller I think, as I have to duck down being 6ft 2 while carrying one daughter and holding the other one’s hand, and clinging onto the club flag, (who said men can’t multi task !!) I crossed the line, all pain has gone, I’m done.