After my fairly rubbish experience at Endure24 last year (specifically the running part), I was reluctant to sign up to a similar event. But a team from my running club needed another person to make a full mixed team and I was tempted to revisit my previous demons in a better running shape.
It was awkwardly timed with my visit to Bristol but it was doable so I agreed. It was also only 12 hours, rather than 24, so really it wasn’t as daunting. I’d planned to do three laps (each lap was just under 5 miles). Can’t be that hard, right?
We had a team of five and the race started at 7pm with Kate (furthest right) leading the first lap. I was to go second. The drive over from Bristol had really helped my digestion of ALL THE FOOD and I no longer felt overly full.
Because I’m a control freak and stress out about these things I was keen to get a schedule of timings together so I knew when I would next be up. We worked it out by saying each person would take roughly 40 minutes to do a lap.
The campsite was lovely and relaxed, with hay bales and a fire around the communal area and a few sport shop stalls (like CEP and Ashmei).
There was a catering tent to buy hot and cold food and drink and a massage tent (no set price, just donations – great idea!). There weren’t a huge number of loos (probably under 10) but we were only there for a day so it didn’t matter and to be honest no portable loo is ever going to remain rosy and delightful and by the end it wasn’t as bad as it could have been (urghhh, Endure…).
It wasn’t long before Kate was off on her first lap. We each had ankle bands holding our chip on so laps and timings could be recorded. There was also a live monitor screen you could view to see how teams were doing. It wasn’t just teams either, there were solo 50k runners and solo 50 milers. [Side note: One of our running club members was doing the 50k and she was AWESOME. She did it in just under 4.5hours!]
As soon as Kate left I knew I had about 35 minutes to potter about and prepare, before heading to the change over area in enough time to be ready to go.
You had to wear head torches after 8pm and most people were wearing them before then so for my lap I thought I might as well wear mine to be on the safe side. I was glad to be able to use my ridiculously expensive head torch again but as I tried to turn it on I realised what an idiot I was.
No batteries!! I am literally the biggest tool in the world. Who doesn’t check these things?!
Luckily someone leant me some batteries so I was good to go. Kate made a storming start with a lap of 36:18 and I headed off on my merry way. My legs felt a bit heavy and tired and I tried to pretend my earlier parkrun hadn’t happened. My aim was to stick to 7.30min/miles as I didn’t want to smash out a ridiculous time (not sure that I could have though) and then be in pieces for the other laps.
The course was mostly off-road on grassy trail and was quite picturesque running along the Thames river and through lots of greenery. It was nice and flat as well, though there were some sneaky rabbit holes and uneven terrain to be careful of.
I passed a marshal and she called out to me to say I had the best hair she’d seen. What? I puzzled over this for a while as I continued to run. I did a quick check to make sure it was all kind of in its place…all seemed normal. Apparently, I later found out from Mike who was next to the marshal, it was because my pony tail was “swooshing” a lot. Cool.
My first lap was 36:51 which I was pleased with.
As Claire had to leave ridiculously early in the morning she took my second slot which would have been just before 10pm. [Side note: Claire is literally a superwoman. She had to leave at 5am to head off home to lead a cycling group!!] So my next run would be before 11pm. It was time to get some fuel in. I wasn’t hungry at all as I’d just finished running and I’d eaten a fair bit for lunch but I knew I needed something to power me through the night.
I’d brought with me a 33Shake (All in One shake) which was absolutely perfect. I didn’t want actual food as I would be running soon but I did need something and didn’t want to have to eat in the middle of the night (running is hard enough!)
I added one pack of the Cacao All in One to 200ml of milk (you’re supposed to add a banana and blend but obviously this wasn’t possible out in the sticks). I’ll do a full review in another post, but it tasted good and had no ill effects. In fact I didn’t need anything else until breakfast the next morning.
For my next ‘shift’ I was keen to do a double run as the effort involved in stopping and starting was hard going. It also meant that it gave the other guys a bit more time between runs to rest. Mentally though this was a bit daunting.
I chilled out before the run by wrapping myself in a thick towel and having a cup of tea (cups of tea were just continuous throughout Ultra12!).
Our area that my club was camped at was right next to the start/finish so we could see runners running past and cheer them on, which was great. It also meant a nice boost when you ran past.
I decided to listen to a podcast as I wanted to treat it like any other ‘normal’ long run and I needed the distraction. I’m hugely glad I did this because a) apart from my head torching lightening a few metres ahead of me I couldn’t see a thing so it was fairly boring running and b) my head torch died on my second lap and I had to use my iPhone as a torch.
It was very surreal running at that time and knowing I was to be out there for a good while. I kept my pace around 8 minutes and actually didn’t feel too bad starting running again. Mentally though this was a tough, tough run. I kept looking at my watch and seeing the time and just thinking “this is mental”. As I passed our camping area I yelled out that I was on to my second lap and got some cheers which was a lovely boost. There were other people out on the course as well but a lot of those who I passed were walking (most of them the ultra runners doing nine million laps – major kudos to them!).
I was so pleased to have got through the double laps (39:46 and 39:57 respectively) and pleased I’d done my three laps. I knew I’d be OK for a fourth lap as well as I felt good (albeit tired and a bit crazy). My next lap was to be around 5.30am and as I had finished around 1am I had enough time to get a quick massage.
If I thought running in the middle of the night was surreal then getting a massage was even weirder! The masseuse was so lovely and we chatted away and it felt like the middle of the day (but in darkness of course). She really helped my calves feel better as they were starting to tighten up and my problematic one was being a bit grumpy.
Afterwards I headed straight to my tent and tried to sleep. My alarm was set for 5am and it was almost 2am now. I literally put my hoodie on and pyjama bottoms on over my running gear and closed my eyes. Sleep didn’t come easily as I could hear people talking around the tent and the constant beeping of people crossing over the finish mat for their laps.
By 4.30am I was just too awake and couldn’t sleep anymore .I think I managed just over two hours sleep in the end. I got up and headed out. What’s nice about events like this is that there will always be people awake because someone is out running and someone else is getting ready to run or just back.
I got ready for my final lap and it had started to rain. Typical. I felt creaky, tired and just out of it. I was nervous about this final run.
As I headed out I listened to a podcast again. I just needed it. It felt like such hard work, more mentally than physically. Physically I felt like I was OK but mentally I was feeling slightly unhinged. It was now light so I didn’t need a head torch thankfully.
On the second mile I slowly passed a young man. I was overtaking him and then he sped up. He said “right, you’re my pace now” in quite an abrupt way. I turned off my podcast reluctantly. It wouldn’t be so bad to run with someone else but honestly my mind at that moment was just wanting to GET THE RUN DONE. I didn’t feel up to making small talk or conversation. But to be polite I chatted away. He was a fairly new runner and part of a team of work mates.
I was running a comfortable pace but I could tell he was struggling a bit. Now I know this might be awful and terribly mean but I wasn’t going to slow down. If he was going to “use me” as a pacer he would have to speed up. I wanted to get this final run done sharpish. This was not a social plod for me.
Just before three miles he suddenly grunted loudly and stopped. Alarmed, I asked if he was OK. He told me to go on and he’d catch me up, he just needed a breather. Right oh! Podcast back on and I was outta there. Yes it was mean but honestly running at 5.30am with around two hours sleep does not make me a particularly friendly person. Incidentally he didn’t catch me up and finished about four minutes after me. I know this because when he passed our camp area to the finish I was already having a cup of tea. I did have the decency to look shamefaced.
My final lap was done in 38:09. And I was DONE. I tried not to celebrate too extravagantly because two of my team mates still had a lap to go, as did other runners around me. I did make myself some porridge though and enjoyed in immensely.
Mike was our final runner and as he ran up the finishing straight we all (but Claire who had to leave early) ran along with him to the finish. The bell had already rung for the end of the 12 hours (but if you were still on a lap it counted – so effectively you could start a lap with one minute to go before the bell).
In the end our team did amazingly. Between the five of us we did 95 laps (all but Claire doing four laps each). We won the mixed team prize as well! Woohoo!
And we celebrated with some of Mike’s very tasty homemade sandwich bread thing. Basically he de-middled the inside of a loaf of bread and stuffed it with sundried tomatoes, cheese and roasted vegetables and then popped it in the oven (at home). It was delicious! Though we all joked it might have been more impressive if he’d have baked the bread too as effectively it was an elaborate sandiwch… 😉 A very tasty one nonetheless!
I’m really pleased with how it went but honestly it knackered the hell out of me. Driving home from Reading (1.5 hours) I had to have the music up loud and the air con on super cold to keep me awake. I fell asleep after I showered – on my bed, still in my towel, soaking my pillow with my wet hair. Sunday was a rough day and I was in bed by 8pm. Out cold.
Have you ever done a 12-24 hour relay event?
What would be your ideal running shift if you had to choose? I was very lucky as I got a late evening one and an early morning one so no graveyard shift. The other guys who did those times were amazing.
What’s your camping essential (aside from a tent and sleeping bag)? I think a kettle and cooking utensil is a definite for me!