Race to the King 2017

Race to the King and Race to the Stones are two events I’ve heard a lot about and from what I’d seen they appeared to be quite scenic. It was fairly early on I started considering doing at least one of these events, though I’d been in awe of those I’d seen complete Race to the Stones in 2015. Both of these events have a number of options:

  • the full distance in one go,
  • the full distance split into two days,
  • or half the distance on either Saturday or Sunday.

For me, I thought the only option was to do half the distance – I couldn’t possibly do any more than that. When I started to consider one day running the Marathon des Sables my view on these races changed. I thought instead that if I was to do either of these that the better option would be to do the full distance split into two days – the perfect introduction into multi-stage events. I still wasn’t sure though if I had an ultra marathon in me – they’re crazy long distances, and I’d not been a runner long.

In the case of Race to the King, a race introduced in 2016, it is a run to Winchester – the former capital of Britain since the time of the Roman conquest. After the Romans left, it became the seat of power for the Kingdom of Wessex – one of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. Alfred, King of Wessex, envisioned a unified England and after fighting back against the Vikings it became the first capital of his new England. This race is so-called because it is a run to a statue of Alfred in Winchester.

After I completed Canalathon in 2016 I decided that one or both of these events would be a good ultra marathon for 2017. By the time the 2016 events had come and gone, I saw enough from people’s race report blog posts to know that I wanted to do both, and I wanted to do the full distance for both. Perhaps running Race to the King would be good training for Race to the Stones – and that’s how it began. When it came to book the events I was completely certain I’d try to do the full distance in one go, but was that unsure whether I was capable of it that I booked Race to the King first with the intention of booking Race to the Stones within a week or two (that would give me enough time to contemplate if I was doing the right thing).

With both of these races I found that if I wanted to drive that my best option would be to stay overnight on both the Friday and Saturday near to the finish. For Race to the King, a race going along the South Downs Way from Arundel, I booked a hotel just off the M3. I then prepaid £25 to get a shuttle bus from the park and ride to the start. After re-reading the paperwork, and an email to the organisers (which took 4 working days to respond to) I found that the parking at the park and ride was an additional £10 on top of that. This race was getting expensive very fast, and it didn’t help that everything was doubled due to having to pay the same for RTTS.

  • Event entry – £119
  • Parking – £10
  • Shuttle to the start – £25

On top of this it was £130 for a hotel for two nights, and about £50 in petrol for travelling. This would be on top of any other costs such as eating out before and after the race. It certainly isn’t a cheap race to do if you’re not local, though it does include free event photography and there’s plenty you can eat on the route.

I later contacted them again by email and by Twitter and found that generally they don’t respond to queries via Twitter – they use it for marketing purposes only. I did however receive a reply to my email the same day which was a relief as the week before the race they issued the parking permits and I found they had car registrations printed on them. I’d just changed my car so now had a different car registration, but was told I could just cross it out and write in the new one. Lucky!

At least once this was sorted I’d only have the training to worry about – right?

Training

This year I don’t think any training has gone according to plan as I’ve seemingly stumbled from race to race since I got back from Nepal in November 2016. To start the year off I built up to a marathon in Manchester and somehow, despite reduced training, managed to get a slight PB. Perhaps that wasn’t too bad a start, even if it hadn’t gone according to plan. Though I then had two weeks off running whilst I was travelling around a number of National Parks in the US. By the time I got back I had just two weeks until the Milton Keynes Marathon which I’d intended would be the start of ultra marathon training.

To start with I felt this went well – I did a 5K race on the Sunday and then ran back to my car afterwards (which was another 5K). On the Monday I then completed the aforementioned marathon. Every day that week up to and including the following Sunday I managed to complete at least a four mile run, and in a number of cases more than that. My legs were hopefully getting used to being tired at the end of this eight day run streak.

The following week I broke the run streak and switched to double run days – they weren’t all double run days though, but I felt that this switch in training would also help with training for Endure 24. On the Saturday that week I decided to do parkrun again for the first time since October 2015 – even though this was a parkrun PB I decided to follow it up with more running. By the end of the day I’d done four runs, though I had hoped to do a fifth. Sunday was a similar scenario – I’d intended to go out and run 26 miles, but after a tiring week I’d dropped this down to 20. This never actually happened though as I only managed 10.5 miles. I was getting in the runs, but I wasn’t getting in the mileage – it wasn’t going according to plan at all.

With just a few weeks left until Endure 24 I really wanted to start getting around 40 miles in over weekends, and to manage as close to 70 mile weeks as I could. Eventually I managed this at the end of May, though only because I did an extra long run during the week in addition to my usual two weekend long runs – I just couldn’t find the time to fit in 40 miles in one weekend.

Tweeting when I finally managed a 70 mile week did however bring about the wrath of some runners who believe that a 70 mile week for an ultra is too much. The implication there was that a 62 mile race (which is my next one) doesn’t warrant that number of miles. However, when you consider a lot of the faster marathon runners would run in excess of that number for a marathon – is it wrong? I don’t think it is, I think it’s important to do the training that you feel best prepares you for whatever your goal or event is, and that’s what I was doing. Just because someone has a different opinion, it doesn’t change the fact that everyone is different. They then went on to judge the quality of sessions, without actually knowing what sort of sessions I was doing and at that point I decided they were either just a troll, or someone who has nothing better to do than to complain. Best ignored.

When Endure 24 happened I found it far tougher than I expected which resulted in me walking the majority of the last ten miles I did. Once this was over I was no longer feeling ready for Race to the King, despite having done thirty miles in one block. In the weeks after this event I didn’t really feel like doing any long runs, in part due to the hotter weather, so kept them short up until the day.

Kit List

When I did Canalathon, my only previous “official” ultra marathon, there was a mandatory kit list that I had to comply with. I didn’t use everything I took with me, but I understood why it was necessary. With an ultra marathon you don’t know how long you’ll be out in the elements for, or what you’ll encounter, and it’s very likely you’ll be out longer than you expect. You have to be prepared for survival. For Race to the King I figured I’d be out for at least ten hours – that’s a lot of time to encounter issues, or for the weather to change drastically. So after some deliberation, I came up with my own kit list:

  • Salomon Agile² 7 Backpack with whistle and 2l reservoir,
  • Saucony Omni 15 trainers,
  • 2 x Garmin ForeRunner 235,
  • #UKRunChat #oneteam technical t-shirt,
  • Nike running shorts,
  • More Miles running socks,
  • Running cap,
  • Flipbelt,
  • buff,
  • Waterproof poncho,
  • Unilite PS-H8 headtorch with new batteries,
  • 3 x Compeed plasters,
  • 2 x large plasters (in case my backpack rubs),
  • SPF 50 sunscreen,
  • a small mixed bag of cashew nuts and pretzels,
  • cereal bars,
  • and a small bag of jelly babies.

Most of this had been tested previously at Endure 24, and even on some of my longer training runs so I felt this would work.

Pre-race Day

For this event I decided that I’d work on the basis that at the end of the race I’d be tired and would want as little travel as possible. So I booked two nights in a hotel not far from the finish in Winchester and drove down there after work on the Friday before the race. What I hadn’t realised though was that it was on the southbound side of the M3 with no access from the northbound side, so any trips to Winchester would be followed by a twenty mile round trip to turn around at the next junction. Such as the return journey after the race.

I’d started work an hour earlier than normal so I could be on the road to Winchester as soon as possible. This allowed me to get to the hotel for 17:30, and into the city centre shortly after. I found a short stay parking that I think may have been free after 18:00, but it also said you had to display a valid ticket. Unsure what to do I paid for an hour to get a ticket, and found it’d give me until 09:00 the following morning.

I’d decided to eat at Prezzo as it was easy to find, and I knew they did spaghetti bolognese. Being on my own also meant service was incredibly quick as I’d ordered and finished within fifteen minutes of entering. It took another ten minutes to pay, but I still think that was pretty good going! Unfortunately Winchester Cathedral was closed for the day so I couldn’t see Jayne Austen’s grave, but I did wander over to the statue of King Alfred to take a photograph – hopeful that despite an upset stomach that I’d still get to see it the following evening.

I was back at the hotel by 20:00, and ready to finally rest ahead of what would certainly be a long day.

Race Day

I didn’t sleep much, but this was it – today I’d be running over 50 miles if all went well. Crazy. I got up at 04:45 and quickly had breakfast – wanting to make sure I’d digested it as well as possible before setting off. I’d gone for my normal breakfast of crunchy nut cornflakes and a cup of tea, but added a third of a banana to the mix to recover some potassium from the last 24 hours. I also decided to add immodium to my race kit just in case. I was at the nearby park and ride by 06:10 in time for the 06:30 shuttle to Gaston Farm in Arundel. Fortunately I’d asked others about the location of this park and ride before the event as Google listed two, and neither the event website or the booking website indicated which of these it would be (though the parking permit I later received did). I noticed that the parking that had cost £10 would normally be £3 for the day if the car park hadn’t been commandeered for this event.

As I’d got to the park and ride early they let me on the 06:15 shuttle to the start. If I hadn’t been in such a rush I’d have remembered to pack my sunscreen – I’d taken it out of my bag to apply some before boarding the coach, but then never did, and left it behind in my car. I suspect though that it’d have been faster to have gotten on the 06:30 coach when our driver went the wrong way and came face to face with another coach. She then had to reverse along a winding country lane no wider than the bus – that was some impressive reversing skills! Eventually I made it to the race village, and collected by number. I was asked my name a few times, just in case I didn’t know my own name, as it took them a while to find my race pack.

Once I’d attached my race number to my shorts I spotted @SamABaxter so went over to talk to him as we watched the first two waves start off on their Race to the King through clouds of purple smoke from some flares. I’d hoped to say “hi” to @Mazzie1111 though once again we managed to miss each other as she set off in the first wave. Just before the third wave, the one I was in, was due to set off we bumped into @JenningsNicola and had a quick pre-race photograph. Apparently my race pack should have contained a map, but hadn’t – fortunately I was told that the signage is really good on this course. During the course of the day I found this to be completely true.

At last this was it – I was off on the start of a 53.5 mile run back to Winchester. I’m sure there must be an easier way to get back there. Instead we were all setting off across the field which soon takes a sharp right onto a trail outside of the field and from there it was a steady run along the South Downs Way.

After about a mile I’d warmed up enough to take off my jumper and tie it around my waist, though in doing so I managed to stop my watch and didn’t notice for almost a full minute – by which time I was on an uphill section, struggling to pass walkers swinging their walking poles around in the air. I’m not sure if it was that they didn’t want people passing them through the narrow path through the grasses, or whether they were just not thinking about what they were doing. In any case, it became a bit of an obstacle course to avoid them – but I realised I’d already caught up with the back of the second wave. Perhaps if I was lucky I could catch up with some of them from the first wave so I could say “hi” to @Mazzie1111 after all.

Once passed the narrow trail I was able to pass the walkers and start running again, and did so for the next three miles – occasionally talking to some of the others around. It was a very different experience to road races I’ve done as normally people around me don’t talk – they’re concentrating too much on running. In fact, another difference here was seeing people call out which side they’re passing on to make sure they don’t run into anyone – much better sportsmanship I think. Everyone is working together to get through the race.

At around 7 miles into the race, after the first of the really big hills, I saw a sign for Winchester that said it was 45 miles away – great. Thanks for the reminder. I’d been tempted to take a photo of the sign, but my phone was tucked safely away and would have taken too much effort to get out. Maybe for the best, at least at this point I was still mostly running.

The first pit stop was at only 8 miles into the race. Normally, if it had been a marathon and I’d not had an upset stomach the day before, I’d have started eating jelly babies from this point. However, I slowed down to see what was at the pit stop but carried on through. I’d not even sipped at the 1.5 litres of water I was carrying in my backpack at this point. In fact, by the end of the race I’d only used half a litre of what I was carrying. Why drink water when there’s tea on offer?

Even though I wanted to carry on running, I had to stop when we reached another narrow trail through stinging nettles and thorns which people were walking through. I was eager to run, but had no choice but to walk for the next mile. Another thing that kept breaking up my running was the need to open and close gates as the route passed from field to field. Though, for the next few miles I decided to walk for the up-hill sections, and to only run where it was flat or going down hill. My thought was that this would conserve much needed energy for when I’d really need it.

Even though there had been spots of rain throughout the morning it hadn’t been that bad. Eventually there was a downpour strong enough to warrant me getting my waterproof poncho out of my backpack. It turned out it’s really difficult to put on when it’s windy. After a few miles though I was able to take it off, and then tied it to my backpack. The running was becoming incredibly hard work, though just when I needed it a song on my iPhone kept me going that little bit longer.

May this lift you up,
When you feel you’ll fall again,
You cannot win, no,
Hope these words are enough,
For you to be strong, my friend,
Sometimes you fall before you rise,
Sometimes you lose it all to find,
You’ve gotta keep fighting,
And get back up again.
— My Champion, by Alter Bridge

 

I then turned my music off to save battery power for my phone – thinking I’d want that later. Though after mile 14 I didn’t listen to music again for the rest of the course. It’s odd though as I looked at my watch at mile 14.9 – the second pit stop, and the next time I looked at it, after some big hill climbs, I was at mile 22. I couldn’t believe that eight miles had just disappeared like that. At the second pit stop I didn’t stop for fuel or drink, but I did quickly nip into the portaloo for the only time during this race. After that I decided to try eating some cashew nuts, almonds, and pretzels during the long climb after stop. To get to this climb we had to cross a public road for the first time on this course. This next mile was one of the biggest overall climbs for a mile split in the entire race – it was 357 feet of climbing over one mile. Around this time we summited another peak and found a photographer waiting for us next to a cairn there – possibly the last photographer until the end.

At mile 23.4 I reached pit stop 3 after a slight diversion off the course to cross timing mats. This was where 1-day and 2-day runners would stop for the day. I envied them – it felt a shame I couldn’t stop there and carry on tomorrow, but instead I grabbed what I thought was some flat coke (as advertised) but turned out to be fizzy pepsi (noooo!) and half a banana. I felt the fizzy drink was a bad idea and then walked for most of the next mile along the quiet country road – a trend that continued to the eventual finish.

The hills continued to crop up on us, but with every climb it gave us views of the countryside around and of villages in the distance. It was starting to feel like every pit stop was down hill after one of the big hill climbs. This trend continued with pit stop four where I stopped for a cup of tea and a packet of crisps – and for the first time I actually sat down. This turned out to be a bad idea though as I found it difficult to get going again and it felt like 31.4 miles was going to be my limit. I’d run this distance before at Canalathon, and wasn’t far off this at Endure 24. I needed to keep going so I pushed on through it and eventually got my legs moving properly again.

Finally I got running and started to enjoy some more running through a wooded area. I found it fun whenever I got the chance to dodge tree routes, but along this section I also had to jump over a high tree root, and climb over a fallen tree. I was feeling incredibly tired, so much so that when a wasp landed on my glasses I did nothing. I just accepted I had a wasp now and that it’d be with me until it got bored.

I kept on running as I reached another field of wheat though eventually I found that once more I needed to walk. Sometimes in tough races you wonder why you’re running, and question running ever again. This was one of those moments where I even thought doing Race to the Stones would be a stupid idea.

I desired to live worthily as long as I lived, …

— King Ælfrēd the Great

The course was getting tough again, and this time I got my phone out and tweeted about how hard the course was. This resulted in a few tweets of encouragement that did help me to get running again, though I didn’t run that many of the miles through Queen Elizabeth Country Park. I’d also tweeted @Mazzie1111 who’d set off in the first wave and I found at some point I’d overtaken her without having realised it. I guess we’d meet at some other race, unless she caught me up whilst I was walking.

The hill climb up to pit stop 5 was unlike any before it – I found myself wanting to stop, but I pushed on and eventually started pushing my hands onto my legs to try and help with the climb. It seemed to go on forever and one of the others I was walking passed was on a mobile phone and commented that it felt like she’d been walking up this hill for ten minutes. It was a big hill, but not quite that bad – at least I didn’t think it was but time has a funny way of passing during an ultra marathon. At this pit stop they had camping chairs – far more comfortable for sitting on so I sat and had another cup of tea which I’d been wanting for the past couple of miles, a cup of orange squash, and a fudge chocolate bar. Maybe it wasn’t the best fuelling but I was hungry and felt I should eat something.

For a while I spoke to another runner who had set off in the first wave and was nursing an injury. I can’t imagine what it must be like to run with an injury over this sort of distance – hopefully he was able to finish. I eventually left him behind, but over the next few miles we did switch places occasionally until I’d run for long enough to stay ahead. It wasn’t intentional, I was just running whenever I could.

At around 42 miles I got to the top of Beacon Hill and this was the last of the big climbs, though it wasn’t the last climb on the course. Not long after this was pit stop 6 where I sat down once more, had another cup of tea, some orange juice, and another fudge chocolate bar. This time I also picked up a second with the intention of eating it on the course if I needed to. Around this time I also stopped thinking about how far was left and started to think how far it was until the next pit stop – it may have helped me to keep going.

Whenever the downhill sections appeared I ran for the majority of them. The ones that were riddled with tree routes and felt like very technical areas were the ones I found to be the most fun – and powering down them also got comments from runners who then passed me later about how brave it was to go at those speeds down the hills. I didn’t feel it was, I just felt it was fun – I don’t mind the concentration it takes! After the race I did find that some of these sections I’d taken  that quickly that I’d hit 2:53min/mile pace on the descent. I know on one of them though I had to jump out of the way for two mountain bikers that sailed passed me from behind.

I wasn’t sure when as I’d stopped looking at my watch for sometime, but I found that eventually I got to a railway line, and with it were steps to go up onto the bridge and over the tracks. It feels a little sadistic to throw steps at someone after they run over 40 miles. Not long after this though I stopped at mile 44.5 to help a runner who had cramp in his calves. He couldn’t ease them off however, and even offering to help him to the next pit stop he decided to pull out of the race. It’s a shame to get so close, but then have that happen.

The last few pit stops had been fairly close together, and this next one was only 2.8 miles after the one before. This was the last pitstop and I made a conscious effort to run as much of the mile before it as I could. My calves and my feet were aching so much at this point and I didn’t think I could do anything other than walk for the just over 10K that remained. I quickly drank some orange squash, some blackcurrant squash, and then stretched out. As I was getting ready to leave the pit stop I was offered some warm minestrone soup so accepted graciously and took it with me. The support at every pitstop had been amazing and they were eager to help and to motivate.

I hadn’t thought it through though as although it meant I could take on some much needed salt I’d need to carry the cup with me to the finish (though I found a bin in Winchester I could drop it into before the actual finish). It seemed that after crossing an A road that most of what was left would be down hill so I ran as frequently as I could.

After crossing the M3 bridge I was then in Winchester, I just had 3km left to go but didn’t have any running left in me. I tried to run for short bursts, but felt that if I ran too much of what was left I may end up walking over the finish line. This was mostly down hill though so I ran when I could. Eventually I got to the road that runs passed the Bishop’s college and under the arches of St. Swithun-upon-Kingsgate Church. It’d started to rain, but by this point it didn’t bother me. I saw a crowd ahead and they started to cheer – I thanked them as I rounded the corner and realised the finish was in sight! At last! Wanting it to be over I sprinted to the finish and then realised that there were a few steps I’d not seen – some people also shouted this out as a warning; but I’d already got this covered by a leap that took me clear of the steps. When I landed I turned on the spot and sat down on the stonework at the base of the cross in front of Winchester cathedral. I’d finished, completing an overall climb of 5,456 feet, and had earned myself another 4 UTMB points. Not that I’d ever use them.

The photographer at the side of me commented that if I’d had that left in me at the end that I’d not run hard enough. I had though, it’d taken a lot to get to the finish. The finishing medal was put over my head, and I got up to see where I could get food. I’d thought there might have been something to eat at the finish, but there was nothing. At least I didn’t think there was, but when I went passed the following day I found a sign to the food hidden behind the information tent – impossible to see if you weren’t collecting baggage!

I finished 160th out of the non-stop 53.5 mile runners with an official chip time of 11:25:06. Of those that started there were 581 finishers (which meant I’d somehow managed to walk into the first 27.5%) but there were many that had been unable to finish. It was a tough course though and I could totally understand it – I was surprised I’d been able to finish. I was even more surprised I’d finished with 20% of power left on my running watch – I hadn’t needed to use the back-up one I’d borrowed from my sister!

I saw some coaches parked up to take people back to the park and ride, and found that they’d leave every hour on the hour. I decided this would give me enough time to eat, so I hobbled up the hill to Ask Italian for pizza. It was uncomfortable sitting there, but after stretching a little I found I could sit long enough to eat my pizza. I couldn’t quite finish it though as it took 15 minutes to take my order, and I’d got limited time if I wanted to be on the 21:00 shuttle.

After the 20 mile drive from the park and ride to the hotel, and the climb up the stairs I was done. I could relax in a steaming hot bath, and start thinking about my next race.

Post-race Day

I woke up early and tried to stay in bed for as long as possible, but by 06:30 I’d decided I’d get breakfast. My plans for today had been for a bit of Winchester tourism, and to look around the cathedral I’d missed the opportunity to see when I’d last been in Winchester. With it not being open until 12:30 I had quite some wait ahead of me, but at least my legs had recovered from yesterday’s efforts – I didn’t even have any blisters. I guess walking most of it had it’s advantages – I’d even come out of this blister-free.

Before heading back to the city I sat around the hotel for a few hours and found that a photo of me jumping to the finish had made it onto Race to the Kings favourite photos of the day list. When I got into town I parked up in the same place as before and spent some time cheering in the first of the day 2 runners whilst eating a Subway sub, and waiting for the cathedral to open.

For those finishing on the second day they now had someone dressed as a knight you could have your photo taken with. As I’d missed out on a post-race photo, possibly due to it spitting with rain when I finished, I got my photo taken with the knight whilst I was there. I also heard after the event that there had been cakes at the finish from the Ministry of Cake – I guess that’s what they had for finishers who had spotted the hidden sign. I finally got my chance to go in the cathedral as well – and surprising it was free!

Having had time to reflect on the race it didn’t seem so bad. Sure it was the hardest race I’d ever done, and some of those hills were immense. I’d walked a lot, but I’d seen a lot of places I’d not seen before. I wished I’d taken more time to photograph some of the route – any of it in fact, but I’d finished. All that remained now was my final challenge of the year – Race to the Stones. At least now I’d completed a run that would give me an idea of what it would be like.

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Mizuno Endure 24 2017

Endure24-Wasing-logoI’d heard of the “Endure 24” race before, though I knew absolutely nothing about it other than the obvious – that it was a 24 hour race. In my mind it was like Le Mans – the famous endurance car racing event which is coming up to it’s 100th year.

After I’d already signed up for both Race to the King and Race to the Stones I was asked by Charly to join her team – “Team Half Pints”, as they needed some more runners. I thought it was a bit close to RTTK, but I figured that it could be good training. I then agreed to join the team under the condition that I’d get to at least do a 25 or 30 mile block in addition to whatever other running they needed me to do. This brought the team up to:

  • Charly (@_charly_b)
  • Steve (@1stevemac)
  • Kim (@kimberlyjmil)
  • Stephanie (@wentrunning)
  • David (@DavidNFLF1)
  • Myself

This would be the first race of 2017 that #TheDavids, which @DavidNFLF1 and myself are collectively known as by #UKRunChat on Twitter, would be doing the same event. After a few months had passed we sadly lost Kim and Stephanie from the team as they suffered with injuries. We were then unable to replace them before the April deadline. This would mean the four of us remaining in the team would need to increase the number of miles in order to make up the difference – an average of an extra two hours running each. This could potentially work okay for me though as if I wasn’t doing this event my goal would have been to do thirteen slow miles on the Saturday, and then thirty miles on the Sunday. There were a still things to sort though – for instance I had no idea where the race was, and hadn’t known there were multiple locations for it. Before the race I did at least learn that it was near Reading in a place called Wasing Park.

Training

I’m not sure if training for Endure 24 is specifically required as realistically when you’re part of a team you’re doing five mile laps and have time to recover in between them. I think the closest training you could probably do for that is to run five miles (or however many laps you’re doing per block) and to then repeat this a little later in the day. My training hadn’t been ideal though, but this is something I’ll go into in more detail when I post about Race to the King and Race to the Stones. I would be going into this race having not completed more than 26.2 miles in a day, but having done 40-70 mile weeks during the build-up.

Training for Endure 24 isn’t something I’d even thought about – my only thoughts had been towards the “bigger” events, though as I got closer to Endure 24 I started to think about easing off on the training a little for the week before the event. I was also starting to really look forward to the day but the weather wasn’t looking good – we were forecast strong winds and lots of rain. Just what you want at the end of spring when you’re camping in a tent.

Kit and Equipment Lists

This was unlike any other race I’ve done – I needed camping gear for the weekend. Now camping is not something I’ve really done much of – I did it once at Silverstone with some friends when we watched the Renault World Series. They brought all the gear however as they already had it – I just needed a sleeping bag, airbed, and a pillow. My first week in Nepal could also be considered camping as well, but again a very different experience and was using equipment that had been ready set up by the Impact Marathons team. For Endure 24 I’d need to at least buy a tent, and would need to expand upon what sleeping gear I had.

My car isn’t particularly big, it’s only an MX-5 which is a fairly small car. Whatever would go with me to the event would need to fit in my boot (if you’re North American – that’s a trunk) along with my bag for work. What I eventually came up with is:

  • Kelty Salida 2-person tent with footprint,
  • Down 500 Sleeping bag,
  • Sea to Summit Silk Liner for sleeping bag,
  • Exped Air Pillow (with pillow case),
  • BCB self-inflating sleeping mat,
  • camping clothes line (for airing used running clothes),
  • solar powered lantern,
  • earplugs,
  • camping chair,
  • picnic blanket,
  • Swiss army knife,
  • sunscreen,
  • tissue paper,
  • plenty of water.

In addition to camping gear, I obviously needed to take some running kit with me as well. It’s recommended by the organisers to take everything you own with you, though I decided I wouldn’t. What I instead decided was to take enough to last a few blocks under the assumption that I’d be able to do blocks of multiple laps instead of breaking them up too much. It would of course depend upon what the others wanted to do.

  • 2 x Saucony Omni 15 trainers,
  • Garmin ForeRunner 235,
  • 1 x Salomon Agile² 7 Backpack with whistle and 2l reservoir,
  • 1 x Technicals waterproof jacket,
  • 1 x Peter Storm waterproof trousers,
  • 1 x Unilite PS-H8 headtorch with new batteries,
  • 3 x technical t-shirts,
  • 2 x running shorts,
  • 3 x running socks,
  • 2 x Flipbelt,
  • 1 x buff,
  • 1 x running hoodie,
  • and a small bag of jelly babies.

I’d of course have my mobile phone on me as well to provide some music whilst running, and so to supplement this I’d also have my USB power pack. The backpack is something I probably wouldn’t need, though I packed it just in case during the 25-30 mile block there was some hot weather – I may find I’d need some water. I also didn’t pack much food for when I wasn’t running either – my assumption was that I could get some reasonable cooked food from the catering services there. I was careful to pack my usual crunchy nut cornflakes for breakfast though – I felt some consistency was important.

The Event

Most people travelled to the event on the Friday morning – but I didn’t want the day off work so travelled in the evening. I started the day earlier than usual so I could leave the office at 15:00. The drive from the office to Reading could be anywhere between two to three hours, or maybe even longer if I stopped for food. I didn’t want to arrive too late though as upon arrival I’d still need to get my tent set-up. I’d tried it out the weekend before so I could do it quickly, however I figured it might take longer in the wind or rain.

After 2.5 hours and 100 miles later I arrived at Wasing Park. The entrances were well sign posted and I found the area the rest that half the team had already set-up in pretty quickly. It took ten minutes to get my tent set-up but then a further twenty minutes to figure out how to attach the guy ropes. Once everything was set-up inside my tent as well I then went for a wander around the race village to see what it was like, and to get some food.

The food options in the race village were very basic, more so than even some of the races I’ve done. After having wandered around the area for a while taking photographs I returned to our camp site to relax. An hour later I wandered around once more to see the start of the 1 mile race, and to say “hi” to @FiaCarter who was also running as part of another team.

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Eventually the last of our team members arrived, and after @DavidNFLF1 had cooked his dinner everyone was ready for the day ahead.By 22:00 most of the light was gone from the sky, but the music of pre-race partying continued for some time after this. The temperature had also dropped so eventually I decided to call it a night and to see how warm my tent would be. I also took this time to figure out a way to suspend the lantern in my tent.

I awoke at 05:00 around the time that the sun rose. It was peaceful around, so I didn’t get up for a couple more hours. As I could be running I decided to go for my normal breakfast of crunchy nut cornflakes, a cup of tea, and a couple of biscuits. My flask by this time had cooled off which meant I had to buy some tea from the refreshments tent for £1.20. Around this time the others on the team started to awake and have breakfast.

It was a warm and sunny morning, but out of the sun it was windy and cold. This morning was a chance to make sure all our kit was ready for the running ahead of us. We also got a printed copy of our team’s schedule so we’d know roughly when we’d be running. My first planned run wasn’t until tomorrow, but there were gaps where I could potentially get in a run or two.

At 11:50 we all headed over to the start for the briefing and then cheered Charly as she started our team off. An hour later David took over and got around in under forty minutes, before being followed up by Steve who was going to do five back to back laps. As everyone came close to completing their fast lap I was ready with my camera to take photographs of them.

By the time Steve finished his fifth lap we were forty minutes ahead of schedule. David then set off on his second lap – unlike me and Steve he was splitting his thirty miles up across the twenty-four hours to get more of the Endure 24 experience. I decided I’d do the lap after him so headed over to the transition area and waited. Whilst there one of the ones that had just set off collapsed in the transition area, and needed to be helped out. Her teammates seemed more interested in getting another runner back to the pen to take over though. Sometimes competitiveness is too much – especially in an event like this which is about camaraderie – at best the competition should be amongst your teammates.

David finished his lap in around 36 minutes so I took over and started my watch for the first time this weekend. To start with the course goes along a tarmac path before it passed through an inflatable archway over some boarded up cattle-grids. This was the proper start to the race as the tarmac changed to gravel and started with a gentle climb up (referred to as the “Hill of No Return”) to a flat bit passed an old church. This was the first 1K complete.

Passed this it turns into a proper trail race through the trees, though for the next 1K a buggy carrying marshals was trying to overtake me, but even with me running on the grass verge it wouldn’t overtake for sometime. Eventually it did, but then found that running behind it was actually slowing me down. The marshals were looking out the back of it and smiling – perhaps in amusement that the buggy wasn’t going any faster than I was running.

A little after the first mile is complete it goes into a downhill stretch – a fast one they call “Pace Gully”. Apt name. Though this then has a sharp turn up “Little Steep” hill to 3K and into the “Far Away Forest”. At times this was making me think of Centre Parcs in Sherwood Forest, and at other times it reminded me of hikes I’ve done in the US. I even wished someone a happy birthday as they had a sign on their back to say it was – what a way to celebrate!

Between miles 3 and 4 there is a VDUB Cocktail Bar – which I think was serving energy drinks, and the Cliff Bar Cafe which was serving water. Around this area there are a number of lakes you can look down on from the trail, and it became a bit of a welcome distraction. I’d chosen to run without music and I found other than the odd comparison of my surroundings to places I’d been before, I was for the most-part concentrating on getting passed slower moving traffic, a lot of which was walking. I was surprised how many people were walking, but then when it’s a 24 hour race I shouldn’t really be that surprised. It was difficult to pass in some places though when people walked side by side with no space for people to overtake unless they ran through the bushes.

After the 5K mark I was just approaching 22 minutes – it appeared that although I wasn’t pushing I was making relatively good time. The one thing I didn’t want to do was walk on this first lap, and I knew what was coming up next was the one part I might need to for – Heartbreak Hill. This was a long inclination that seemed to last for some time, but what made it harder was needing to weave through the masses of people walking up it. I tried my best not to slow, though eventually I decided it didn’t matter if I slowed down, as long as I didn’t walk.

Eventually I reached the top, out of breath, but I kept on going. By the time I was in the area labelled “Deep Dark Swamp” I’d caught my breath and was back to a steady pace that was easy to sustain. What followed required some concentration to avoid roots sticking out of the ground. In some ways it reminded me of Nepal, especially when the pace picked up for the downhill sections. There was then a bit that was windy and included some very sharp, short drops that I decided to jump down to avoid slowing.

I could then see the farm building and realised that I wasn’t far from the end now, and started to hear the music and crowds as I left the trees and started on the switchback behind one of the camping areas and then around towards the finish. After rounding the corner I decided I might as well use some speed, and built up to a sprint finish through the Mizuno arch. It wasn’t my fastest finish, but I just wanted to give my legs a bit of a stretch before tomorrow. The announcer commented on an incredibly strong finish this far into the race – little did he know it was actually my first lap and I was still quite fresh.

I handed the wristband over to David so he could set off on the last lap before sunset. Although we’d got some time left, we’d decided we’d all have a break before going out again. I went to the refreshments tent and bought pasta bolognese (it wasn’t spaghetti), a cake, and a bottle of Fanta. After this I had some more time to relax whilst I considered whether or not I wanted to go out on a night lap – it’d be a new experience for me. Even though I’ve ran at night with a head-torch a few times I’ve never raced at night. Common sense prevailed though and instead I decided to get some rest.

With some earplugs I was eventually able to sleep though the noise, though was woken up just after midnight by the rain. This carried on until around 04:00 and I heard that the course was now incredibly slippery. An hour later I gave up on trying to sleep and decided to have breakfast and tidy my tent. The advantage to this was that it would give me time to digest my breakfast long before I needed to run.

Just before I headed over to the refreshments tent for a cup of tea Charly had gone to meet Steve who was just finishing his extra three laps, and was with David who was going to take over for another. David had done another two laps over night spread out over several hours so had experienced the dark and the rain.

After emptying most of my tent into my car I found that although the rain had been stopped a few hours the long grass was drenching my running shoes. I hadn’t thought that through, but fortunately I’d still got a spare pair of running shoes and socks I could change into before taking over.

I then set off on the first of what I hoped would be six laps – a total of 30 miles. Or it would have been if the course wasn’t short by about 0.2 miles. I set off at a slower pace than my lap the day before as I knew it was going to be difficult. In fact, I decided to walk each of the three main hills on every lap thinking that would improve my chances of doing the laps I wanted to.

This first lap felt relatively easy, though I could still feel the previous day’s efforts in my legs. The track was far muddier than it had been, and this made “Little Steep” and “Heartbreak Hill” take more effort. In fact, on this first lap I was going around fast enough to slide in the mud as I rounded the corner of that hill. The run through the section with the tree roots was just as fun, and by the time I finished the first lap I was having fun. For the first time I ran straight through the finish and carried on into my second lap.

This lap was slower than the last, and there were a couple more moments when I walked. Fortunately it was still early  so hadn’t yet warmed up too much. This second lap of the day was also quieter than the lap I did the day before, even the VDUB bar hadn’t started up yet. During this lap I started to eat one jelly baby per mile – my usual race plan when racing marathons. I was starting to feel some fatigue though, and as I finished my second lap I started to calculate in my head what sort of pace I’d need to manage in order to get another 4 laps done.

The third lap went pretty similar to the second lap, but by now it was starting to get warm. It seemed that the overnight rain hadn’t eliminated the humidity either. The bits of the trail that had been muddy before were now even more churned up as more runners were returning to the course. I found I needed to walk a little more than before on this lap and I started to wonder if I could complete another three. I was almost halfway though and couldn’t give up – this was training for Race to the King; something one of the signs on the course reminded me of. I figured if I couldn’t run this then I couldn’t run that.

My fourth lap was incredibly hard work, but I was still running for reasonable sections of it. When I started my fifth lap I was seriously considering making it my last as I started to walk for about 75% of the course. This would take me up to 25 miles for the day, and 30 for the event. It didn’t seem too bad really. Maybe I didn’t need to finish another. When I finished this fifth lap it was only 11:20 – there was time for another so reluctantly I carried on going though this time I got my phone out of my backpack and decided to walk the entire lap to take photographs along the way.

I tried to run a couple of times but my legs weren’t really that keen on the idea. I was struggling to finish 30 miles; it wasn’t like I was trying to do 53 or even 62. Eventually though the end was in sight and I decided to run, and then decided I’d try to go for a sprint finish.

Finally, I finished another lap. The race was over and I could at least be happy I’d done more laps than originally planned. I think I may have done the fastest lap in our team, and possibly the longest single block of laps as well. Steve managed to clock up the most miles having done around 40 miles over the 24 hours.

When I finished I handed over the chip timer and they placed the medal around my neck. Though all I was really thinking about now was Race to the King. Though this was replaced with thoughts of getting my tent down (thanks Steve and Charly for the hand!) and driving the two hours home.

The other David seemed to be filled with endless energy and seemed to love every minute of the weekend. He was also the only one of us who went for the more traditional approach of doing one lap at a time, yet still managed to get six laps in over the period. I think we all have a big thank you to Charly for putting the team together and making sure we were all organised.