I’m going to just put it out there and say, that I have just had the best weekend of running ever!! Drafted into the ‘Fools Rushing’ team, following a number of squad permutations, Alma, Rachel, Louise, Carla, Lorraine, Jon and I all headed to pretty much the centre of the country for the Adidas Thunder Run 24-hour race.
The concept is simple; how many 10km laps can you complete in 24 hours? The start list itself was impressive as 194 teams of 6-8 members, 129 teams of 3-5 members, 63 pairs, and an amazing 143 solo runners had signed up to take the challenge. That’s thousands of runners amassing for a fantastic weekend of camping and running, and as a result the atmosphere was brilliant.
The campsite didn’t open till 3pm (apparently) but when Alma and I arrived at just past 3:30 the field was full and we ended up having to nab a spot at the far end of the field. I was afraid that we’d come to regret being so far out, but in hindsight it was actully a pretty good find, as the area was generally pretty quiet with little general traffic around, and we were close enough to a bunch of toilets that weren’t on the main path so were pretty quiet too. Evidently you had to be there at about midday to get a good spot nearer the action.
It was nice on Friday evening as we registered our entry and picked up our T-Shirts, but with adidas as the main sponsor it was great that they had provided a big screen and a grandstand and many of the competitors and their families sat to watch the opening ceremony of the olympics under the light of the moon.
Owing to work commitments, our team was not properly whole until after the event was finished, but Jon opened our account with a tasty 53 minute lap and a report back of the conditions on the course. As a team we had come up with a bit of a schedule based on a guestimate of 70 minute laps on average, and although this was flexible we were slightly better than that target until Alma tried to fight with the woods, and a little bit of blood later – Alma won. Passing on the baton to me, I was a little shocked to see Alma come through the Start/Finish with blood streaming down her face, her t-shirt covered, and bloody elbows and knees.
So, in the afternoon sunshine I set of for my first loop of the course – something of a sighter lap before I attempted it in the dark later on. Undulating would be a fair assessment – so much so, I am not sure there is actually any part of the route that is actually flat. Throughout the loop I was wondering whether to go full gas and see what I could do over the beautiful and challenging course, or how much I should hold in reserve for later on. A lot of the course is single track trails where you can get caught up behind others – but unlike big town/city races where people grumble about being stuck, runners were all in it together and a few polite words as passing and being passed meant the loops were very pleasant, and it was great to support the solo runners who must get just as tired from saying ‘thank you’ to words of encouragement, as from the exertions of moving for 24 hours :-)
It turns out I was pretty much going for it, as I completed my first lap in 51:30 – not bad considering my unofficial 10km PB is about 50 minutes, and I’ve been crocked for months!
As the afternoon progressed it was great to cheer on other runners as they passed the campsite, and prepare our carb-loading strategies for the runs to come. As we were ahead of schedule I was thinking about trying to stay awake before my run.
But as it got dark I decided I needed to have some kip. I had a tent guest – Alma’s tent was far too small for two, despite the advertised space, and so Carla had set up her bed in my porch area. I didn’t want to wake Carla, so I headed to the front seat of Alma’s car, hoping for a few hours sleep. Sadly tho the front seat wasn’t overly comfortable, and the caravan club were having the Karaoke competition in the opposite site :-( As the rain started at just before 1am I was eased out of sleep. Thankfully though, before I could get my shoes on to get out and move stuff, the drizzle had stopped, and done no serious damage to the bits and pieces around the campsite. As I was awake I decided to start my fuelling and hydrating ahead of my double loop to come.
Rather than the thin long-sleeve top I had on, I probably could have coped with a T-Shirt despite the early hours, but I was very comfortable setting off for my run with my superb new head torch on my noggin, and a back-up light source in my hand. The aim for this run was a simple 2 hour run, averaging 10min/mile and as I set off I felt really good. The single track route in the dark was a different beast altogether as depth perception and general awareness of whats going on around and under your feet generally just disappears. But, I absolutely loved it. Despite the number of competitors around, there were a number of times when I was solo in single track sections of woodland, navigating the route and the tree roots completely alone and the silence of all that the circular beam emitted a few metres infront of me.
Entering the second lap after almost exactly 1 hour was when the magic really started though. Each time the route bought me out of the tree-line, the black sky had started to turn inky-blue, and further into the loop the sky grew gradually lighter and lighter. In the final 2 kilometers I turned off my head torch as the tiny band of light on the horizon infront of me grew steadily and the footpath opened out in front. I enjoyed it so much I even attained that holy-grail of a negative split as I finished the second lap a little quicker than the first. Handing over to Alma I headed back to camp.
I was hobbling though, as the strain was showing on my knee and the distance back to the campsite, for once, was not a blessing. I changed and put ice and compression on my knee before climbing into the sleeping bag. As Lorraine’s alarm clock went off I shouted at her to wake up for her loop (and broke the good news that she had an extra 20 minutes) and tried to sleep. It was a vain attempt though, as I was awake at 7:30am and figured I best get out of bed and do sutff. It was tricky though as my knee had completely seized up, and I was in quite a bit of pain. It was a lovely clear start to the day as weary runners either came back to refuel or prepped and headed out on course.
We packed up camp and headed back to the start to cheer our tail-runner Carla through the final lap as she bought us home with 22 laps in 24 hours and 50 minutes – a resounding success for a team who were there ‘to complete, not compete’ and we had such a brilliant weekend. The final baton handover was made as Carla awarded it to Alma having been so good at organising us all, but also for literally giving blood and sweat in the duration of the event. For the first time in the whole weekend our entire team were all together and we donned our medals for a group picture.
I think the resounding success of the weekend is that all of us are discussing how we’d be back again in the near future – either as another fun group of 8 having a good time, or perhaps as a part of a smaller team going for a real challenging event. I’m not planning it next year, but I certainly wouldn’t rule out a pair attempt sometime, and maybe even a solo one day!!
A long drive home finally saw me take up position on a comfy sofa with good food, and it wasn’t long before I was asleep, but I had an absolute blast, and I must say a huge thank you to the rest of team Fools Rushing, and the event organisers for an incredible weekend!! If you ever get the opportunity to give it a go, then seize it with both hands!!! The one criticism I would have, is that the website does not seem to be very well updated, and I am not sure when results will be updated.
EDIT – Just a quick note to say that I finally found the results (not on the event website), and have taken the time to tidy them up a bit. For anyone who is interested team Fools Rushing came in 151st in our category of teams of 6-8. You can Download the Thunder Run 2012 results here.