Thursday, 1 August 2013

Thunder (literally...and lightning) Run

Note: You are about to read a bit of a long and winding ramble. It might go round in circles, much like the race in question. It will probably come across as quite negative, but I’m just being honest from my perspective. From what I could tell, a hell of a lot of runners out there has a fantastic time & well done to everyone who did participate. There was definitely camaraderie going on for sure. Now, brace yourself for my undulating bloggage...


I love running long and I love running trails and I’m pretty comfortable with staying awake for long periods of times and enduring bad weather and sleeplessness. However, I also really like to go somewhere; I like to go on a journey. I like to travel from point A – Z and end up in some place new from where I started, knowing that I got so far away with my own two feet. I love it. I love the adventure and above all, it’s exciting.

I think it is true to say that I have rather avoided the whole ‘24hour race’ scenario. Like track marathons and lots of laps, this scenario fills me with a sense of running-dread. However, I was willing to give Thunder Run a try. The advantage of this course is that each loop is 10k in length and on off-road trail, through grassy paths and woodland. There were also a few hills in there, which added variety. For me personally, I need that variety. Sure, I’ve done the Brathay 10in10 and I’ve done marathons with multiple laps, but for a 24hour race, I wouldn’t just want to be running around a track. Hats off to the running nutters I know out there who do amazingly at 24hour races and just keep on and on, but I know that running around the same course repeatedly for a full 24 hours just isn’t where my main strengths lie.

So, whilst contemplating this event, the course offered some positive points to me. Furthermore, I was in a female pair with Sarah Aston, so it would be a fun experience and I wouldn’t be in it alone. There was a sense of camaraderie and ‘let’s do this, let’s go for it, rarrrgh!’ After all, there were only a small number of female teams and we were anticipating that we could in theory, do quite well.

We arrived on the Friday night and camped, ready to get going at midday on Saturday. Sarah did the first lap since she had done thunder run last year and knew how it all worked, whereas I was a bit clueless, but I soon picked it up. You basically wait in a cordoned off ‘holding area’ and spot your runner as they are running back in. Then, they give you the wrist band and off you go on your lap. At first it was hard to spot your runner coming in, as there were so many people all crowded around at the same time and lots of hustle and bustle, but I definitely got into the swing of things.

For most of the day it was boiling hot. It was so warm out there and we took a little longer at some loops that we had planned, but nothing too slow and it didn’t really matter because we had a full 24hours. By 7.30pm, the weather had changed dramatically. Thunder Run was living up to its name and there was quite a sustained thunder storm. I love thunder storms, but I’d rather have not been out running in it. I think it must have rained for the next 7 hours and the lightning was a little scary. Needless to say this drastically transformed the course and pathways became flooded. It was a mud bath out there.

You know that bit in Jurassic Park, when that big dude is out in the rain, with that canister full of dinosaur sperm (or something like that...) & it is pouring down with rain and he can’t see, and he loses his glasses and then that scary dinosaur starts attacking him and all the pathways are really muddy and rainy and scary....?! Well, that film clip kept popping into my mind!

Ultimately, I think my main grievance was that it felt to me that there were hundreds of different people all out there at once all running entirely different races. Yep, it was a race, but it was more of a rush for some than others. If you’re in a team of 8, you’re going to be able to run faster than those in a team of 2 or a solo runner. I love running through woods and I love the trail, but I couldn’t enjoy it. Some of the paths were very narrow, with exposed tree roots etc. I wasn’t plodding along, I was going at a fair speed, but obviously, teams wanted to win and were going hell for leather. That’s fine, but I constantly felt pushed to the side and in the way. On a few occasions I felt like I had to keep stopping to let people past me. But it’s difficult, with there being so many different sizes of team on the same course at the same time and I’m not sure how it could be rectified, but I just didn’t find it enjoyable.

It got much worse later on in the day, following the mega thunderstorm and monsoon style rain. Much of the course became a mud-bath and flooded and tree roots became hidden, running became slippery and with the low-light, some bits got a little treacherous out there. I don’t mind rain so much and I did GUCR last year in the pouring rain for 40+ hours, but it started to become dangerous in places. I was taking it easier because I couldn’t see properly and the paths were so narrow and now very muddy, but there was still a constant stream of speedsters itching to overtake. Again, this is all well and good, but a few times these speedier runners were flying all over the place and stumbling and because they were just throwing themselves about I nearly ended up falling into bushes and tripping also.

I just got fed up.

Things came to a head for me after my double-lap, which I finished at around 11pm-ish. All together I had run 30 miles. It was okay. Actually, we were in second place out of five female only pairs for quite a while. Mysteriously, during the night an extra team that had not been on there all day appeared. I think we eventually got pushed down to fourth, but we had basically given up by then, so all was ok.  We definitely deserved our medals though – we put in some hard work.

So, there I was after my last lap. I was soaked to the skin. I was beyond soaked. I was shivering uncontrollably. I was so cold that my whole body was aching, purely from shivering so violently. Stood in the food tent, I came across some solo runner friends who had changed into normal dry clothes. They had decided to rest and sleep until morning and then go out again when it was daylight and hopefully no longer raining. In my mind, I knew that I just didn’t want to go back out again. My original plan had been to run 50-60 miles, but that just wasn’t going to happen. I was running around the course, cursing it. My mind and heart wasn’t in it and then my body followed. I started to feel quite nauseous and whilst I was in the food tent I bought a baguette. I forced some food down because I really didn’t feel too good. Then I summoned the courage to walk the five minutes or so back to where we were camped. I just didn’t want to move, and yet, I was just stood there shivering.

I got back to camp and my pop-up tent had flooded. This wasn’t a surprise to me and fortunately Sarah had given me here car keys before she had gone back out to run her laps. Once in the car, I just sat there, you guessed it, shivering – shivering like a mad woman! I must have looked quite funny and mental now I think about it. I was shaking my head and muttering to myself that I didn’t want to go back out there.  I managed to rummage through my bag and dry myself with a towel and put on some dry clothes. My towel was soaked. I tried to snuggle down for a snooze, but at this point, I was still dreading the possibility that I might have to go back out. I didn’t want to let Sarah down. Near the end of her first lap, she came by the car, since where we were camped was on the course route, just past the 9K mark. There was still a possibility I could have to go back out, so I set my alarm on my phone, but deep down I knew that I really, really didn’t want to go back out there. A little while later, Sarah came back around, on the end of her second lap. She had some ‘bad news’, she said; she just couldn’t go back out there, it was muddy, it was dangerous, and we just weren’t running to anywhere in particular that would make it somehow purposeful, just running around in muddy circles. This news was far from bad for me, I was the happiest I had been in hours. I was so happy that the decision not to go back out was mutual.

So, right now, I’m sat here and I’m wondering, now that I’m writing about this around 4 days after the actual event whether or not my opinions of this event have changed. Was it all as bad as I had thought at the time? Could I have done more and gone on to enjoy it? Well, I guess you can always do more. I could have run further and kept on going. But, at what cost? I really think it got quite dangerous out there and although I had wanted to do well, it just didn’t matter that much to me that I wanted to cause myself serious injury. Also, a lot of it just became un-runnable, it was that muddy.

It got me thinking about GUCR in 2012 and how wet and miserable the weather was on that weekend. I was soaked to the skin and I had to wear a binbag and I knew from the very beginning in Birmingham that I had 145 miles ahead of me and that those miles would likely be very wet. Yet, I was so willing to endure this and I never once contemplated giving up. As extreme as it sounds, I would have done anything to finish. Similarly, a few years ago, I ran Hardmoors 55 in Yorkshire. This 55 mile trail race passes through open moorland and pretty high ground. The terrain is very rugged and we were faced with patches of snow, biting wind and torrential, unrelenting rain. It got so bad that more than half the field dropped out and many ended up with hypothermia. Yet, I was determined to finish it and indeed I did. 

So, I know I have the mentality and strength to overcome tough weather conditions and distance and keep going. I think the difference is that on other events, I had a clearly defined goal: to reach that finish line. Furthermore, everyone else running those races had the same goal in some respect, to go on a journey and reach the finish. On Thunder Run, I didn’t have that sense of purpose and I just grew frustrated, because even though I was trying to do well, I wasn’t going anywhere and I wasn’t going on a journey. I was running around in miserable circles. I think I’ve learnt some valuable lessons from this event and I know now that 24 hour thingy-magigs really aren’t my thing...

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