One year ago, I started reading reports of a 24-hour endurance race called the Adidas Thunder Run. Initially, this sounded interesting due to the fact that they actually had thunder and lightning last year, turning the course to mush. As time came round, I looked out for the club e-mail offering places, and by the day of entries opening, I had seen nothing.
Being one to think on my feet, I fired off a text to Katie asking if she fancied a weekend away in July (smooth, eh?) and she was up for it. To make it feasible, I needed a team of 8 people to ensure that we only needed three laps each, so another six people were needed to legitimise our prescence. Dave Manley had asked on the NEWTS Facebook page to see if anyone was going, so he was onboard quickly. I just needed a few more to sign-up within the hour. Two eager runners from work, Rich and Dave came on-board, as did Jamie Davies, Chris Dunkerton and an ex-colleague Adam. The Lliswerry Leftbehinds were born! Over the year, there's been a few changes - we lost Adam due to pregnancy (note the lack of commitment, Dave M), so he was replaced with the lovely Julie from Fairwater Runners (ssshhh), and Chris Dunkerton withdrew to join Gareth Beck's superteam - "Lliswerry Boys on Tour" (who ended up coming fourth!) Luckilly, we recruited Andy James in his place.
I must explain, my camping skills are absolutely nil. I last went camping when I was nine, hence why we had no mallet (thanks Gilly), air bed inflater (thanks Chris), food (thanks Julie), hot water (thanks Martin and Julie), and "better than sex" flapjacks (Julie) - not my description btw, they were good, but not that good. I was, however, quite impressive at killing mosquitos and think that I slept through the night. I just remember it getting really cold and having to don an outfit that some kind souls bought me for my birthday party. Not my normal attire, but lovely and warm.
Encouraged by our hallowed leader, some of us chose to take in a parkrun before the main challenge. We went to Conkers parkrun at Derby, along with about 300 other TR24 runners. While waiting for the start, we got chatting to the lovely Sam from "Team Chardonnay" who was also using parkrun as a warmup - for a heavy session of wine enduced supporting for the Wrekin Road Runners.
We drove back to camp, and got together for a Team photo and pep-talk (run fast, have fun). The correct method of baton handover was described and demonstrated much to the aghast looks of passers by (though it wasn't possible on the race due to "logistical issues").
Before we knew it, it was time for the proper race briefing, and the clock was started at 12:00 noon. Congested it was, and hot. A bit like the Caerphilly 10K with way fitter people and as soon as we hit the woods, it was at a standstill. A geordie Solo runner behind started babbling incessantly about the race, which caused a bloke in front to ask if she was Solo. I thought he was being polite and interested until he responded, "oh no - I'm going to have to run ahead so that I can't hear you, can't put up with that all day". The race continued, and opened up a bit, but I was tired. Km markers looked like they were in the wrong place, my planned pace was shot and I just really didn't enjoy it. Finally, we came back through the campsite and I thought that was it - the last hill was waiting, I pushed through, and finished.
I felt ill. Proper rough. I got back to the tent and collected my recovery drink - more suited for the gym or cold weather running. Started to drink, then started to feel a bit faint. The sweat from my forehead was running down into my eyes, and I could no longer see. At this point, I felt that it was best to sit down and wait for improvement, so I did. I wiped my eyes, but it still took a while before eyesight was restored and I was able to get up. I wandered back down for a shower and waited for Katie. Just missed the handover, but caught up with her pretty soon. We sat down, and at this point she realised that there was something wrong. I was staring into space and not talking (the last bit is a really bad sign). I was led back to the tent and given a glass of Dioralyte, that well known hangover cure, before being instructed to lie down. I think that this saved me - after all that I'd read and previously adhered to concerning salt replacement, I think that this was the problem that I experienced. With a bit of proper food inside me later on, and a bit of Electrolytes, I was ready to go again.
Second lap felt much better, no congestion in the initial woods, I knew where a lot of the nasty tree roots lived, and was getting inspired by the Solo runners who I'd seen on lap one - did anyone else see the eighties Iggy Pop chap? Adequote support was provided by the Lliswerry camp, though the chap on the deck chair seemed a bit lifeless. Went into the field, rounded the corner and I turned to David Gates and said "watch this" before being provided with the most amazing shouts, cheers and hugs from the wine-powered support team. I happily sprinted the Conti climb, even though I realised later that the 100m competition was held the hour before, then promptly slowed to a walk. By the time the final "hill" came up, I was ready for it and started picking up pace. As I saw the finish, just around the corner, there was a bloke ahead - quite a good specimin, and he was looking strong... but not strong enough for me - I blasted through and got a shout out from the commentator as I passed - very proud to get mentioned. Found Katie in the handover pen, told her I was OK and set her on her way.
It was almost 21:00, so Katie just managed to get going on her lap without the mandatory headtorch. I took on some water, then headed back to the tent. The torches are adjustable, and I noticed one woman running with the torch angled straight down. This would be ideal for keeping an eye on your feet, although this seemed to have the sole effect of highlighting her not-insignificant cleavage. Probably not the desired effect, but another new experience all the same.
We had a bit of food at about 22:30, and settled down for the night at 11:30, when there was a knock on the tent. It was Jamie, calling to show me some pretty nasty blisters on the back of his heels. He was going to have to withdraw from the run. There were two options - Chris Hill had previously expressed a desire to run, and Andy James wanted to run as many laps as possible. In the end, I woke Andy up and got him to run a double at 02:00. We kept it in the team, and we kept him happy! Only trouble was (as I realised when I got back to the tent), the night runs were off kilter and the skies a bit lighter. Almost got off to sleep when the rain came in - oh no, hoping not to get a repeat of last year's washout. Not exactly condusive to a good night's sleep.
So, the alarm went off at 03:20, and it was time for action. I was struggling - trying to get up quietly, not to wake Katie from her slumber. Picture the scene, as I tried to get changed into my shorts, avoid any "early morning" chap embarrassment and suppress a dreadful bout of wind that was threatening to break loose. My careful preparation through years of Mad Cath's yoga class meant that the relevant muscles were toned and holding tight, but my stomach was hurting so much that I started moaning. By this time, Katie was awake and just told me to let it go, so I did. As this point, I must say, I scared myself with the noise - Katie exploded with laughter and returned the conversation. With tears in my eyes, I suddenly felt wide awake and ready for what lay ahead.
I wandered on down to the handover point, stumbled in to the food tent, and stared around. Alan King came in and joined me, so I engaged in conversation as best I could, saying how un-natural it is to be around at this time of the morning, and that I'm not quite myself at the moment. Alan responded with a curt "I know - we heard".
As if you think it's bad enough to stretch this one over two paragraphs, walking back with Katie, and we were approached by Cara Gates. "errr... did you hear that noise at about 03:30" she asked? David heard it, and couldn't stop laughing. I owned up, rather suprised to hear that my camping enduced troubles had a range of at least three tents.
And with the three laps finished, showered and fed, we wandered over to the "final hill" to watch Rich, the last Lliswerry Leftbehind to come in. By this time, we resembled "Le Corbussier et papin" and had a nice little spot to ourselves. We watched so many happy faces go by - people with teddy bears on their backs, teams, solos, Chris Morris in a tutu, but my favourite had to be the bloke who stopped and addressed the hill - "Oy Hill, you want it? You're 'aving it" and proceeded to storm up the hill in a manner reminiscent of Howard himself.
Rich passed at this point, and flew the hill, giving us just enough time to cut through to watch him sprint through the line like a nutter.
I later learned that one of the other support teams (not named for fear of reprimand) received complaints due to making noise after the 21:30 cerfew. They also hid a rubber snake in the grass and proceeded to wrestle it as the runners went past - genius!
All through the 24 hours, I was amazed and inspired by the Solo runners. Incredible how they can just keep on going - some running, some constantly passing me, some with poles, I wondered just what drives them, what keeps them going. By Sunday morning, I had an idea - the portaloos in the Solo runners field. While walking past, giving them as wide a berth as possible, the very act of a door opening produced a vile odour that made me want to retch.
Thank you so much to my team mates - Katie, Julie, Jamie, Dave Manley, Rich, Dave less Manley and Andy. Thank you to Marathon Talk for highlighting what I missed out on last year. Thank you to Lliswerry for the wonderful support (and putting up with me), and the tremendous support teams too - Ian (on site) and Jayne (back home).