I knew it had to come one day, a race that didn’t got to plan that is. I’ve read enough runners blogs and tweets to know that we all suffer them, but it doesn’t make it any easier to take.
My race fail was really through no fault of my own, but by Mother Nature. I’d been looking forward to the Adidas Thunder Run for 12 months, since I did it last year as a mixed pair, racking up 10 laps of the 10km trail circuit each over the space of 24hrs. I was so well prepared this year, physically I am the fittest I’ve ever been and building up endurance so had big plans of reaching 15 laps. I had even arranged a support crew, some dear friends Nina and Fiona, who sacrificed their weekend to come and camp, supporting not only me, but also hubby & pal Ben who were also run as a pair. Their support was invaluable, especially when things went wrong!
It was a hot start, not just hot, but roasting! I started with Dion, but he quickly left me in his wake! At the end of the first lap the ambulance was already carting people off for heatstroke. The trail circuit was hilly, with 142m gain each lap, some areas very woody and winding with tree roots to look out for, and some areas of old fields where the heat radiated up from, creating a sauna! I was enjoying the heat though (good training for Kalahari), keeping my fluids up with plenty of water and Nuun. I was looking forward to the sun setting I will admit.
My strategy was to carry a camelbak, particularly through the day to keep fluids handy, and to eat every lap. I looked forward to the 8km marker each lap as this is when I would call my friends & request my next ‘meal’. This was working well, the first three laps were just a grab n go scenario, but lap 4 felt a bit tough, so took a 5 minute sit down as I had a cup of sweet tea and some food, which worked an absolute treat, and so lap 5 was brilliant. I was feeling strong, we’d had visiting support in the way of Dion’s Mum & husband, and a couple of friends of Ben as well. This was a great boost. And of course the ongoing support from Nina & Fiona.
I was really coming into my element, enjoying lap 6 even more as the sun had started to drop along with the temperature. I met one of my ultra running idols, Sarah Gardner-Hall on lap 6, who won last years with 18 laps, and ended up 2nd female with 15 laps this year, and had a lovely little chat with her for a bit. I heard the boys were doing well, Ben suffering from the heat a bit, but Dion was absolutely flying through his laps. 1km into lap 7 and the thunder rolled and lightning flashed all around, and the skies opened up with torrential rain. And I mean torrential! Within a minute I was soaked through, which at the time I thought this is great, a but of a shower to cool down and then back to dry conditions, perfect! This was not to be, by the time I got to 5km the trail had turned into something resembling Tough Mudder, with ankle deep water and mud, making running impossible in parts. It was now 9pm, it was dark and the amount of sheet rain made seeing a task even with the head torch in full blast. By the time I reached our camp at the 9km mark I was absolutely freezing as I was no longer running, but walking to prevent slipping over. And the rain was not easing off at all, if anything it was getting heavier if that was even possible!
This is where the support crew came into action. They got me in the back of the van, brought me some dry clothes and made me get changed. Thankfully Dion was also in camp after having just done a double lap, but poor Ben was out in it, moving slowly. There was no other decision for me but to sit it out and see if the rain would clear, it was dangerous up there in tired legs in the dark in the mud. A lot of people kept running, many of these in teams, where they only had to go out and knock out one lap, which actually would have been quite fun I would imagine, but I wasn’t seeing the fun side, all I could see was a very real potential fall resulting in injury, or cold causing me to get sick. With Kalahari coming up there was no way this was worth it. Absolutely gutted with this I decided to sit it out until morning. We had to wait for Ben though and time ticked by. We were getting pretty worried about him when he finally appeared at 11.30pm in a bad state, freezing cold & not really functioning. The girls jumped into action and made him a cup if tea whilst he wolfed down a massive bag of peanut M&M’s. Now making a cup of tea is not normally an amazing task but the fact that they did this in the tiny porch of a tiny tent in the torrential downpour without any regard for their own comfort makes them heroes in our eyes!
The boys also made the same decision to sit it out and re look at the situation in the morning, as devastating as this was for all of us as it meant an end to our race plans, but safety must come first.
The rain continued to come down until 4.30am. As the light came we arose and surveyed the damage, the ground was wet through, the camp next to us now had a swimming pool, and the part of the trail that cam past us was pure mud, we were watching participants coming through, slipping and sliding covered head to toe in mud themselves. As our races were over we were in no particular hurry, so it was time to make cups of tea and BBQ the bacon. Tasty start to the day but I started to wonder what the trail was like, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, I’d already done 7 laps, it was only 8am, I could still fit in a few laps….Ben was keen too, so we got changed and off we went. I felt pretty good considering I’d already run 70km and jogged along until about 1.5km in then it got really muddy, and really slippery. A slight downhill meant you were sliding all over the place, then other parts had so much sticky mud that my shoes were threatening to come off each step! It was slow and laborious and not at all fun. There were a few crocodile tears in the woods as I was feeling pretty sorry for myself until I caught up to a lovely lady taking it a but slower than me who was in a team, I stayed an chatted with her which took me out of my sorry self, focussing on someone else, a much healthier approach! This made the last couple of Kim’s go a bit easier wi some company (I’d lost Ben at the start). I made that my final lap though, yes I could have walked another one or even maybe two, but I still wouldn’t have been satisfied with that and it just wasn’t fun, and still dangerous in my eyes, some of the steep descents and even the deep and uneven puddles were all injury potential!
Dion was happy with both Ben & my evaluation of the course so we wandered back to the finish line to wait for our finishers medals. Ben’s wife had turned up by now as well, and shouted us all ice creams.
We got our medals, still richly deserved and waved goodbye. Thunder Run is unfinished business as I know I was in plan to smash it! This will have to wait for another time.
It was still an enriching experience, I learnt more about 24hr racing and the strategies needed, how the support crew work (which they did absolutely fabulously), used my new head torch, and realised that for future 24hr races, the importance of a better camp set up, we missed having a marquee that we could have sheltered under, instead of sitting in cars or crawling into small tents. I realised our planning was pretty good, nutrition and hydration strategies worked, the gear was all correct, but how do you prepare for that sort of freak weather?
We are eternally grateful to Nina and Fiona for their support, and we still had a really enjoyable weekend of running and companionship!