Endure 24 …. The Mudbath

Before I begin this race report I need to give you a teeny bit of background info on my running history. It won’t take long. Back in 2008 I was in a long term relationship with a runner so in my desire to impress her I thought it would be easy enough to give it a go too. I trained by myself as she wasn’t happy to train with a slow plodder like me. I completed a half marathon in a disgusting 3 hours and 10 minutes, crossed the finish line and threw my shoes in the nearest bin. I hated it. I hated my girlfriend for mocking me. I hated runners. Evil people making it look easy. For various reasons that relationship didn’t work out and during the messy separation I was informed that I could never be a runner so don’t even bother trying again. Top tip : ladies never buy a house with another woman … it gets messy deciding who gets the cats.

Fast forward to 2014 and I am in a completely different place. I love running. I am still slow (not as slow as 2008 – you’ll be happy to know I have taken an hour off that half marathon time). I have somehow managed to complete 13 marathons and a 30 mile ultra in the last year. I realise this is nothing compared to 99% of you reading this but the key to my happiness with running is not giving a crap about what you’ve done in comparison to what I’ve done. I am proud to be a part of the main organising team at Centurion Running and will always have my loyalty with James Elson for all he has done for me. He has made me feel like my goals and dreams are no less important than the yellow shirted wonders that represent Centurion.

I’m not quite sure what I was thinking when I signed up for Endure24 though. I’m fairly certainly a glass of gin might have been involved. Run for 24 hours, in 5 mile circles and see how far I can get? Madness, utter madness. When I told James he asked if I had a goal and I think I said 70 miles and his quiet response of “Really? Wow?” made me re-evaluate. So, over the next few months in our back and forth Centurion work emails he’d occasionally ask me my plans, and if I was excited and how it was going etc. I realise now in his own quiet way he was putting seeds of sensibility in there. I came away with three instructions. No distance goal, no changing of shoes and no coming off the course for breaks.

Race day kept getting closer and I suddenly realised that with all the other stuff I had going on (Centurion, GUCR event crew, starting my own company, moving home) I had not actually put any thought into the logistics of the weekend. Some last minute arrangements and I knew I was sorted. I would be setting up camp with Lisa Hewitt (fellow Endure runner) and her lovely partner Ellen Cottom (an accomplished ultra runner herself ) who would be in the role of crew. As I knew Lisa and I would be running different paces I thought it would be unfair to expect Ellen to crew us both alone as it could potentially mean no sleep for her and I was quite grateful when my non-running friend, Morag, offered to help. As she had never crewed in any sort of way before it did put quite a bit of pressure on me worrying about her and putting everything together. To be fair though I did give her long shopping list of camping stuff to beg, borrow or steal and she came up trumps!

We arrived at Wasing Park just outside Aldermaston on Friday afternoon to find loads of campers already there which concerned me that we wouldn’t get to camp near Lisa and Ellen as they were seeing to more important things such as getting pizza! (I got over my jealously when they gave me a slice). All was good though as we found a prime spot right next to the course and made sure to save a space for them too. What was really lovely is that already I had been hugged by three Centurions (folks who have come and run one of our events not an actual Centurion. That would just be weird). In fact the whole weekend was quite humbling to me by how much support I had from those who I normally support. Way too many names to mention everyone individually so do not make a voodoo doll of me for not mentioning you. Just know that I will be forever grateful.

Once we were all sorted and were just sitting around chatting enjoying the evening sun the lovely Paul Ali came over to say Hi. Wearing THAT hat! Those of you who know Paul know he has this black hat that brings with it a black cloud of rain to any race he is in. I shared a few choice words about his hat and he then promised me that if he ever podiums on a Centurion event then I can have the hat. This is not relevant to Endure24, I just want
this down in print as a matter of record. I will try not to sabotage anyone’s race just for the sake of a hat. Honest.

Race morning. I can’t lie and say I wasn’t a tad nervous. I was totally falling apart inside and this manifested itself in my talking 100 miles an hour and repeating myself constantly. Standing at the start line somehow started to calm me as it became apparent that I wasn’t the only one a bit daunted by what lay ahead then something strange happened. I relaxed. I can’t describe it. It was like a warm wave came over me (no, I had not wet myself ). Off we went. Pretty much right from the start I was by myself and I was happy with this. Lisa and I had planned to try and hook up for a night lap as she knew my utter fear of running in woods at night but other than that we had agreed to do our own thing.

The problem I have now with this race report is that it’s all a blur. Don’t get me wrong I remember everything. But it’s hard to describe it all in logical sequence. There was mud, thick black shoe sucking mud. Clay mud that reminded me of military training grounds, tree roots that aimed for my shins, soupy mud that made me think of McDonalds milkshakes, puddles that were a blast to run through as avoiding them was futile, trees that jumped out in front of me at 3am, nettles that swiped my hands, mud and more bloody mud. Seriously, I honestly think if the mud had not been such an issue I might have gotten a couple more laps in. I have tried to describe it to people who weren’t there and I honestly don’t think they quite get how bad it was. Yet, I bloody loved it.

Massive thanks to Chris Edmonds for doing two of the night laps with me – you are my hero. I wouldn’t let Lisa do a lap with me as she was on such a roll with her race that I refused to slow her up. Sorry to the guy who said hello to me when he thought I was peeing behind that bush – my grunted reply probably let on I was doing more than peeing. My guts almost put paid to my race as I had to stop no less than 4 times on lap. I need to figure this out as it’s just no fun being in that kind of pain.

The marshals out on the course were lovely. I always make a point to thank volunteers and without fail every time I got a cheery response back. There was a bar out in the middle of
nowhere. Of course the sign on the beer taps said beer delivery was next week! Typical. I vaguely remember a fairy in a wig and thick make-up. Too much like a clown for my liking so I avoided at all costs.

The support around base camp rocked. Total strangers who started recognising me after each lap were cheering me on. I got given pizza. Sips of hot tea. Offers of red wine. Updates on a book that was being read. All these strangers have no idea how much I looked forward to seeing them each lap. Mostly though I looked forward to seeing my crew who totally looked after me. Ellen even washed my face at one point! I have to be honest though I didn’t do well with being asked questions (sorry for snapping Morag). I couldn’t think. I just needed to have the thinking done for me.

The thing that is the strangest is that at no point was I intimidated by the distance I had done. I was literally only thinking about it in 5 mile chunks. Then towards the end in sections of those 5 miles. Get to the top of the road leading into the woods. Get to 2k marker. Get to the black mud section just past 4k. Get to Als bar. The turn at 6k. The fabulously fun long downhill section just before 7k… I loved that and free wheeled down it 11 times. Biggest grin on my face each time. Then when I came in after doing 60 miles I decided I was done as I was only able to walk/jog down the hill on this lap. I declared to the team that I was finished. I had now gone double the distance I had ever done before. No shame in stopping. Ellen and Morag both just quietly looked at me. I left for another lap. This final lap was so painful and draining. I gave it everything I had and when I came into base camp I honestly could go no further. I cried the entire way to the finish. Paul Ali even said I could have his hat if I did another lap. I just had nothing left in me. I crossed the line, held on to the side rails and sobbed.

One thing I am blanking on is what did I think about for 24 hours? I didn’t use music or audio books (even though I had them at base camp as back up). I do remember occupying myself with alphabet games a few times (Sambuca does not start with a Z no matter how tired you are) I also had a chat with the cows at the top of the tarmac bit and wondered what they thought of us lot. Other than that though, no memory of my thoughts at all.

Did I learn anything? Get a better head torch, grab food and eat on the go – don’t stay talking to crew while I eat it (sorry James, you did tell me this), don’t have a non-running friend crew as it’s too much stress (no fault of theirs), and put my phone in a waterproof pouch. Not changing shoes was genius. My feet look better than after a marathon. Most importantly I learned that I have made quite an impression on some runners in their previous events. The support I got really, really stunned me. To have so many people willing me on was quite
humbling and I only hope I did them all proud. Will I do it again? No question about it. In fact less than 26 hours after the race ended I signed up for another 24 hour event at the end of August. I am hooked. Not hooked enough for a 100 miler Mr Rumbles so quit asking).

The folks at Endure24 have a little gem here and with a few tweaks (hey, I can’t help it – it’s what I do) then this will be a staple in quite a few folks annual calendars. I know it will be in mine.

One final thing. To that girl from the past who said I would never be a runner. SIXTY FIVE MILES!!!

Closure is a beautiful thing.

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