Well. It’s Friday, I’ve been running twice since Sunday and the best feeling on each of those runs was that I didn’t.have.to.go.again. Well, not within 3 hours anyway.
“adidas Thunder Run is a 24 hour off-road relay race against the clock. Whether you run solo, pairs or teams of 5 or 8 it’ll test your tactics, endurance, speed and team work. It’s an exhilarating, rewarding and tiring race with a great atmosphere. You’ll find TR24 physically challenging and mentally tough but an experience not to be missed”
(100% agree with this entire paragraph)
Last Friday, I had a 5pm panic-phone call to my mum about what to pack. I thought I had everything, however she gave me the (much-appreciated) reminder about a pair of gloves. I shoved everything into my trusty blue and yellow fluoro rucksack and got an Uber to our meeting place at Clapham Junction because a)it was raining and I didn’t want to start the weekend wet and b) I couldn’t be bothered to carry everything. Plus it only cost me a tenner.
We had 4 Clapham Chasers teams entered into this year’s Thunder Run – 2 mixed 5s and 2 mixed 8s (which weren’t really 8s by the start due to several injuries). Our trusty (?) minibus arrived and we played a bit of Tetris to fit 14 people, 13 tents and at least 14 bags of varying shapes and sizes into the minibus. Which we then spent approximately 90 minutes in before even getting out of London. Not entirely sure if he understood what we were doing or why on earth we would want to.
The long journey obviously necessitated a Burger King and alcohol stop at Toddington services, because G&T is the ideal way to prepare for a 24 hour race. We sang along badly to Oasis for about 85% of the journey and finally arrived at about 10.30pm to find that most people had been there for hours and it was a struggle to find a parking space. However, thanks to the advance party, we had secured a spot right on the edge of the course at about the 2km mark.
So, we gaily directed our minibus driver down there, in the dark and rain, and proceeded to put up our tents, in the dark, with some potentially not-sober team members. Alice and I immediately had a dilemma when we realised her 4 man tent was missing a VITAL part i.e. the bit that one of the main poles plugs into, and we had to downsize to my mental-age-of-a-7-year-old blue flowery tent. Which was cozy. Some members of our group may have tried to pitch their tents ON the actual course but we shall move on from that.
For the first time in WEEKS, I had a lie in! It was fabulous, bar the expected sore hips I always get from trying to sleep on my side in a tent. And the sun was shining! Bagel and PB for breakfast.
Now, at some point this morning, my team, the Clapham Beasts, suddenly realised we needed an actual plan. The other team of 5 was aiming for the mixed team prize, and had a very, very logical and complete plan. As you can see below, our ‘dynamic, easily-adjustable, no pressure, 10 seconds to create’ plan was distinctly less structured. We decided to just give the first 5 laps a bash, see how everyone got on time wise and then just work it out as we went through. We had no target, apart from Ania wanting to do 6 laps in total. We worked out that this could be manageable!
The race starts at 12, and there was a briefing at 11.30, which approx. 10% of us heard because of the general noise and buzz.
We quickly realised what a good location we had for our camp. 2km was perfect for spotting runners, which therefore gave you a pretty good indication of how long you had to get ready for the next lap changeover. Also therefore gives you a VERY good vantage point for cheering on your team, other teams, anyone who runs past…Matt smashed his first leg in around 42 minutes, with Richard following sub 40. So, no pressure girls…
The changeover works pretty well – you stand in a pen, try and spot your runner and then shout their name REALLY LOUDLY and jump up and down and wave to them! They hand over the baton (in this case, a reflective yellow snap band) and then you head off! If you don’t have the baton, you incur a 5 minute time penalty. Whilst waiting for Alice to complete her lap, I had already obtained a pretty good course profile from those who had run it first.
So, the course itself. Grassy start (lots of cheering provided by our other team, the Thunder Honks) then a steep right uphill to wind up and down through the woods – it then opened out after about a kilometre into what I can describe as a muddy slip and slide….I giggled my way through this with fellow Chaser Diana as we realised that the only thing that would given us any decent grips would have been 15mm spikes! You then hit the grass again to head back through the campsite…hitting the Chaser cheer bridgade at its finest!
After winding through the campsite for a few more minutes, you duck out into a twisty wooded section and then a drag across the side of a field to hit 3k. Up a short and sweet hill and back into the woods again – I’m glad I come from a trail background as it was SO much fun and the kind of running I love to do. At this point, the woods were muddy, but little did I know how much fun I would have later on…
At about 5.5k was ‘The Conti Climb’, a marked hill with timing mats at either end – the aim being that between 6 and 7pm, the fastest male and female up would win trainers for their entire team. Matt reckons he smashed it but, sod’s law, apparently the timing chip didn’t clock him going over the finish…nor did it clock several others that we knew of.
One thing I did notice was that there was a cracking set of cross-country jumps, however apparently no-one else in my team noticed or cared, so I kept that quiet. There were a few technical bits in the trees (e.g. practically running in circles around some tree stumps) and I was already slightly apprehensive about the numbers of roots, stumps and holes I was going to have to dodge in the dark.
However, once you hit 7k, you knew that the tough stuff was pretty much done and dusted. A nice track down followed by an incline up to a ridge that opened out onto an incredible view, and then from 8k onwards it pretty much felt all downhill, round the lake and into the campsite again.
Once you hit the campsite, you were obviously flanked by cheering runners from all teams, then hit a quick slope and then the finish was downhill and grassy – win! Due to my inability to run on mud, first lap was a 48.42. I could easily spot Ania in here bright yellow t-shirt, a quick slap of wristbands and she was off! I think I had a jacket potato after this. But I don’t really remember as most of the weekend has blurred together…
Got to say, the course changed significantly across the weekend based – it had rained heavily all Friday, so the first lap was tough, but by the time people were coming back from their second laps, there was word that it had dried up significantly, the mud was almost gone and that road shoes would definitely suffice.
As expected, our trusty mascot Ingrid was having a whale of a time – apparently she did freak a few people out during the night…
My second lap I went for the trail shoes once more, just in case. Started at 6.45 and it has DEFINITELY cleared up – the long muddy downhills at the start were now fabulous and easy to make up time. Came in at 47.53.
Before the third lap, I do remember standing at changeover with Ed, just before 10pm, rolling our eyes that we STILL hadn’t got through 10 hours yet…and then it was pretty much pitch black. Fairly amusing. The twisty bit in the woods was ridiculous as there were headtorches coming from all directions and I really had minimal idea of what I was doing. Random muddy bits would also throw you off that you weren’t expecting or didn’t quite get in your line of vision…
This lap I came in 51.25, which I’m happy with considering the vision…Handed over to Ania, and I think this is when I had a shower and some pasta! Lots of thumbs ups to the showers by the way – lovely and hot and ample space to hang things which I wasn’t expecting. Ania had decided to bash out a double lap in the middle of the night, so Alice and I had additional time to lie in the tent and discuss the merits of running (currently now minimal) and eat flapjack and jelly babies, as well as whether there were any sheep or bears in the woods that we needed to fear…
Again, our camp location worked well for preparing your changeover – you could make sure your next runner was awake by shouting at them loudly until they eventually groaned at you and admitted they were awake. I had another in the dark that started around 3.30am – and this was a 51.41, so I’m taking max points here for consistency!
My 5th lap started at 7.12am. By the end of this, I was pretty much done. – 51.28 (again, although I could see this time, my legs were starting to feel the strain a little bit and, to be honest, I don’t know how much more they could do). I wandered back up to camp and threw in the towel. Well at least I tried to.
Easily persuaded by how much better 60k sounded than 50, I agreed to it. Plus, the boys were stopping at 50 due to injury/running it a fair bit faster and obviously the girls all had to hit the 60k mark to prove a point 😉 Luckily, because we had no schedule, we were neither ahead or behind!!
However, the rain started to set in around 10am and we were getting reports of how, as quickly as it had dried up, it was getting wet again but my current attitude was along the lines of “JUST GET IT OVER WITH”, so I decided that as I had my road shoes on already and had started packing, I couldn’t be bothered to change. I mean maybe not my best idea, but I was told that all I had to do was get round and that there was literally no time pressure on me at all, except to finish.
Got down to the start and Ania had smashed her last lap, despite saying she would be slow and was there waiting! Luckily she hadn’t been there long, so a quick handover and it was time to head off again…in the rain. It was just after 5 past 11, so as long as I took it steady, we were DONE.
To be fair, I couldn’t have done much more due to the conditions! I walked a few bits (i.e. the mud). They had removed the motivational sign above when it came round to my actual last lap…thank goodness otherwise I probably would have given up for the second time. I have dubious thoughts about how motivational some of the signs were….such as “now you know how hamsters feel”.
And then, I heard Kevin screaming at me from across a field and it dawned on me that I only had 1k to go. And the final k seemed short and it finished DOWNHILL! Up the last of the hills (couldn’t walk now, obvs) and then round the corner and I could hear Chasers screaming at me from both sides of the course. Over the finish line and straight into team hugs and I genuinely didn’t know what to feel. I’d done it. And we’d done a pretty good job of it as well.
So, turns out that we came 9th overall out of 113 5 person teams, with 28 laps in a smidgen over 24 hours. HAPPY DAYS! I would like to say a huge, huge thanks to my team who all gave 110% effort, despite injuries, exhaustion,and potential humour lacking moments…smiles all round which I think are legit.
60km, about 500ft of ascent and descent on each lap, and surprisingly, despite having done minimal training, and to be quite honest, minimal running recently, I was probably by overtaken by a max of about 7 people per lap…I mean I had some where no-one overtook me. And this was a biiiiiiig boost for me. Also been told (quite rightly) that if I can run a 47 on that course, there is no way my 10k PB should be hovering just above the 46 mark so I think I have a few people to answer to in the coming months…
Grabbed a shower, another jacket potato (<3) and tried to catch some of the others coming in in the rain – we then had to wait for PRIZEGIVING because a MASSIVE congrats to Frankie & The Clap Claps was deserved as they won the mixed 5s – as if we ever had any doubt!
Cracking weekend, cracking club (to have 2 teams in the top 10 for mixed 5s shows some serious strength in depth) and super super support from all involved. I couldn’t have done it without everyone. Despite the fact i said “please remind me to never do this again”, our messages about 2016 started as soon as we’d got off the bus and I have to say…never say never 😉
My Top Tips for Taking Part…(ignore at your peril)
- If it rains, you will probably get wet. And struggle to get dry. Be warned. The course will also be muddy. Have decent trail shoes!
- A two-man tent each and one gazebo for about 14 of you isn’t enough. I wish I’d taken our 5 man, mainly because it gives you somewhere to sit, as well as the ability to get dressed standing up rather than wiggling in a tent…
- In general, I would recommend proper camping stuff. Chairs, tables, stove, the lot. We looked at the people opposite us in amusement when we first arrived, then realised just how clever their military-like operation was. We need to become real adults…
- Take more clothes than you ever think you could need. Especially if point 1 is going to occur. You do NOT want to be putting back on a sports bra that you have worn already. It’s gross. Hard to do when you are cramming into a rucksack…therefore see “becoming real adults” point above!
- Accept that you might not get any sleep. It’s tough to immediately disconnect from the adrenaline buzz of running, especially at 3am when you’ve been prancing around in the pitch black.
- Make sure everyone on your team is on the same page – you don’t want some people wanting 8 hours sleep with others trying to get a set number of laps in or challenge for a podium position.
- You need a plan. It doesn’t have to be super technical, but enough so you have a rough idea of everyone’s predicted times, know how much sleep you have, who needs to wake who up and whose bag you need to bring with their additional post-run layers.
- Support teams would actually be incredibly useful. It takes a lot of the stress away about planning, organising and arranging food. Maybe even a team manager….
- Nutrition is a bit of a gamble – I went for a couple of ‘proper’ meals and a lot of snacking on sweets. Probably could have done with some more real food.
- Double legs are tough – try and decide whether you actually want to risk it, or if it might be better to alternate in pairs so that the others get a bit more sleep rather than slogging your guts out on a tough course, especially if you’re going for a placing.
- And a special number 11…ENJOY IT. Seriously, it will seem like one of the toughest things you’ve done when you are getting out of your sleeping bag at 3am….but that feeling at 12 on Sunday is sublime. You’ll realise you were capable of more than you ever thought you were and you can wind people up about how you RAN SIXTY KILOMETRES for days on end (legit days on end, just ignore them when they say they are bored of hearing it)
Big thanks to Ross Mcleod & Gemma Brierley for some of the photos!