According to my 10k training plan, the Endure 24 event didn’t really exist. The plan told me that I had to do a parkrun on Saturday and a 5 mile steady long run on Sunday. Since Endure 24 consists of 5 mile laps, it seemed to fit in quite well…
On Saturday, I did the parkrun no problem and then followed it up with and extra three 5 mile loops of the Endure 24 course. On Sunday, I did the 5 mile run, and then another one a bit later in the day. It felt like due punishment for missing an interval session earlier in the week because it was too hot.
On the day before the race, I drove past the signposts to Endure 24 on my way to and from work. Each time I saw them, I felt a little bit excited.
I finally arrived at the campsite just before 9pm , where my tent had already been set up by some friends earlier in the day. After a brief wander around to discover the event village, I settled down into a camping chair and had a few beers with the rest of the earlier arrivals.
I crawled into my tent at about 11pm. Despite being a bit cold during the night, I slept relatively well and woke up next morning in time to join a group who were heading out to Middleton Woods Parkrun.
The big day
GoodGym had entered two full teams of eight and one pair. Our final team members continued to arrive throughout the morning at which point we discovered that my team was one woman down, and one woman injured and only intending to run one or two laps at the most. Once most people had arrived, the two separate teams met up to decide strategy, which mainly consisted of setting the order of runners. I was up third.
Lap 1 – 1.20pm
Despite the heat of the day, I was excited to set off, so made my way into the exchange area earlier than I needed to. I hung around there for a bit waiting to spot Mitch bounding over the hill in the distance. With others eagerly awaiting their team members all doing the same, it wasn’t the easiest task to spot him, and even harder for him to spot me. Lots of teams had something to hold up in the air to help them to stand out. I just relied on shouting his name!
We managed our exchange of the symbolic baton (a red rubber wrist band) without too much fuss. I followed the route across and up the side of a big field before turning off into a thankfully more shaded woody area. The trail tapered gently downhill and past a sign declaring that I was entering Black Fen Drop. This took me past the first km marker before running under a huge ENDURE 24 sign which was strung up high across the path. It was a dry hot day and the runners ahead were kicking clouds of dust behind them as they made their way around.
Around a corner, the trail started to rise gently upwards and then a bit more upwards into a section marked Temple Drag. I came out of the woods after the 2km marker and around another corner. At bottom of the a short but steep hill there was music blaring from a camper van with some men in fancy dress dancing around and livening up the place. Tempting as it was to stay and dance with them, I shot past, giving them the thumbs up, hoping use my downhill momentum to get me part way up the hill on the other side. I’m pretty sure running doesn’t work quite like that but it was worth a try! I later found out that this was called Temptation Corner and that the van was blocking off a short cut which would lead straight across to the 6km point.
The next section of uphill seemed to go on for a long time, past some dancing marshals in grass skirts and the 3km sign, into the Deep Dark Woods. In the bright hot sunshine of the day, they weren’t that dark, but they did offer some tiny respite from the glaring sun en route to the half way point. A lot of it was even downhill. By 4km I was looking forward to the drinks station. By now, sweat, mingled with sunscreen was dripping into my eyes behind my sunglasses, making them sting.
Soon after, the woods opened out into the glaring sun, through Sheep Rush (I can’t remember if there were any sheep there) before I could see the Shambles Cafe drinks station ahead. I grabbed a cup of water, and poured it down my throat. Then I grabbed a cup of pink liquid (presumably rehydration fluids) and drank that too. It was salty and bitter. I immediately regretted it and made a mental note to drink the water after the hydration drink next time!
Next, the trail sloped gently down and I remembered from my research that the second half of the course was mostly downhill. But when I turned a corner I saw a really steep (but thankfully short) uphill section. Without hesitation, I slowed to a walk. It just didn’t feel possible to run when the flats were already really effortful. Thankfully, it quickly flattened out. The course opened out into less sheltered terrain, allowing a gentle breeze to offer some relief from the heat. A sharp right turn took me onto Festival Crossing which was a short grassy section. At the end of this, my sense of direction told me that I needed to go left – but alas, the route forced me to turn right. It felt like this was moving away from the finish line. Fortunately the 6km marker soon perked me up. Two more km seemed like an acceptable distance to endure before being able to stop. At the bottom of a nice long downhill section, was Dead Tree Drift. To the right a colourful Endure 24 sign decorated the hillside, next to the remnants of a dead tree. The sign was already injured and read ‘ENDURE 4’ (if only!).
The next named section was Ripple Rise – a hill that rose in two rippled stages, with the 7km marker part way up. Again, I walked it. At the top, I spotted the glint of cars ahead, from the festival car park. I was nearly there. Even better, there was a long, glorious downhill section, leading to another rise up to the Mizuno Arch and the giant Mizuno trainer that was visible from the race village. Once I passed through the arch, I knew I’d be visible to the spectators waiting for their next runners to come in. I put on my best ‘I’m not too hot and tired’ run and strode out down the hill, and then up a slight incline (The bloody last bit), onto the grass, around the corner and across the timing mats where Alex was waiting for me. I thrust the red wrist band into his hand and waved him off. Lap one done in 47:12. It was tough!
I was hungry, having held off on lunch until after my lap. I went straight over to the food tent and inhaled a disappointing jacket potato (small, overcooked, meagre fillings). When I calculated that my next lap wouldn’t be for another 4 hours, I went back to camp and opened a bottle of beer to celebrate.
My second lap came at 6.35pm. Again, I turned up at the start line nice and early so as not to miss Mitch run in. He’d run this one faster, so it was a good job I did!
It was still really hot, but I had to admit that it was noticeably cooler. The shade had started to spread as the sun got lower in the sky, offering a little bit more respite from the heat. As I entered the Deep Dark Woods, I moaned to myself that they weren’t deep or dark enough… but 100m down the line I was thankful that they did provide some element of coolness.
Again, I looked forward to the drinks station, but when I got there, I decided not to stop. I was running strong and could make it another 3km without a drink.
When I spotted the steep hill after the 5km point I decided that I could run up it this time – and I did. I resolved that I would also try to run up Ripple Rise. I wanted to complete at least one lap without any walking. I developed a mantra: I want to walk, but I don’t need to.
The section from 5 – 7km flew by, and before I knew it, I was running under the arch and onto The bloody last bit managing to finish in 44:41 – it would be my fastest lap. Alex was there waiting for me.
After a short recovery, I made a beeline for the food tent and bought a disappointing Chicken Korma (dry chicken and overcooked rice) which I took back to camp so I could eat it with a beer. Others were hanging around, mostly trying to work out when they were next running.
By now my skin was covered in sunscreen mingled with sweat and dust, so I decided to try out the showers.
There was a short queue, and while I waited, I saw lots of people come out declaring that they were cold, or just a dribble of water. I joked with Lizzie that mine was going to be luxury.
When it did come to my turn, the man exiting turned to me and I inwardly groaned, waiting for the warning of cold water. Instead, he told me that he’d left some liquid soap in there that I was welcome to use. I got at least 4 presses of hot water from the button shower – enough to wash my hair before it went cold. I had got the luxury one after all!
I went back to camp in clean gear feeling much fresher. By now it was 9pm and my next lap wasn’t due until about 11.30pm. I retired to my tent with the intention of having a nap. The family in the tent next to me had other ideas and continued their loud conversation until I gave up. I was out of water, so I needed to take a trip to the facilities to fill up and brush my teeth. I intended to come back to the tent afterwards, but my legs didn’t really feel like walking any farther, so I stuffed my toothbrush in my fleece pocket and wandered over to the changeover point half an hour early. The sun had set a while ago, but there was still an orange glow on the horizon, rising into pale dusky sky. Runners gathered around the fire pit to keep warm. I sat down on the hay bail sofa, not far from there, soaking up the residual heat from the fire.
Waiting for our runners to come in was a completely different experience after dark. The MC had long since stopped announcing names and it was impossible to distinguish any more than the number of runners coming through, by counting their bobbing head torches. As they arrived at the finish, and searched for their team mates, the finishing runners were also shining bright head torches in our eyes. Even so, I did manage to spot Mitch who arrived back at 11.42pm and tried to hand me his head torch, rather than the red wrist band. We quickly resolved that and I set off on my night lap. The air was gloriously cool. I was even a little bit cold. I made a mental note to appreciate being cold when I was running a sunny lap later on.
As I headed into the woods and along Black Fen Drop I noticed that my torch was considerably dimmer than everyone elses. As others came up behind me, their lights cast my giant shadow onto the floor in front. It was my first proper night run through a dark wood and a totally different experience. Though I’d done the course twice already, I didn’t know it well enough to be able to orient myself. Often, the parts I expected to be at didn’t appear until farther down the line.
As I passed Temptation Corner at around midnight, I missed the vibrant music that had been there for the daytime laps.
Though there was a chill in the air, I started to feel that I might overheat, so I removed the buff I was wearing underneath the straps of my head torch. This made the torch uncomfortable to wear, but seemed the lesser of two evils.
Again, I ran through the water station and up all of the hills, chanting to myself that though I wanted to walk, I didn’t need to. I crossed my fingers that Alex would be there when I got round to the finish line.
Running up to the last hill, and into the floodlit area, I thought that there were clouds of dust hovering in the air… but as I ran through it, and felt the chill, I realised that there was a mist gathering.
Remembering my struggle to recognise my team mate in the dark, I turned off my head torch as I approached the final corner, and as soon as I crossed the finish line in a time of 45:43, I shouted ‘Alex!’ He immediately stuck out his hand and I passed the wrist band to him.
Now all I needed to do was get back to camp to alert Heather that she was next up. Since Alex had been doing 35 minute laps, there wasn’t that much time. My head torch was rapidly running out of power and I’d forgotten to bring my spare batteries. I hadn’t realised until now I couldn’t see them, how much I’d been relying on the colours of tents to navigate to our little campsite. As I desperately scanned the site for something familiar, I eventually realised that I’d managed to circle back in the opposite direction and I was nearly back at the event village. I quickly found the entrance and tried again – this time jogging in the right direction, making sure I kept the event village behind me. Fortunately Heather was ready to go when I arrived at camp.
I crawled into my tent, changed my head torch batteries, had a quick wet wipe shower changed into my compression leggings, laid out my next set of kit, did some maths, and set my alarm for 4am – estimating my next lap to be starting at around 4:30am.
I had closed my eyes at 1am, and then suddenly awoke to the sound of my alarm. I groaned. It was 4am already. The light inside my tent suggested that it was already daylight outside. There was also a proper chill in the air.
I checked the online chip timing system to see that our team had fallen a little behind where I expected us to be. Stef still wasn’t back in, meaning that Mitch still hadn’t gone out. I considered getting another half an hour’s sleep but I needed the toilet so I reluctantly dressed. By the time I’d done that, the tracker told me that Stef had finished. I left my tent flap open so that he could see that I was up and about if he got back before I got back from the toilet block.
As soon as Stef arrived back at camp, I set off, shivering in the mist towards the start, feeling very far away from alert!
As I waited my turn, Lizzie arrived back from her latest lap which she told me was hard. Mitch wasn’t too far behind her, and so, at 5.16am I set off again. My lungs felt less than healthy and it took half a lap before the aching wheeziness eased off. By now, many of the solo runners had been going for over 17 hours. Lots were walking, some purposefully striding forwards while others were reduced to a painful, but determined shuffle. I gave encouragement to as many of them as I could, telling myself that I was in a much better position than they were. At least I could go back to bed after this one…
After 47 minutes and 37 seconds of running, I found Alex, passed over the wrist band and made my way back to camp. Heather wasn’t in her tent when I got there, so I ate a vanilla crown (which I thought I’d lost) while I waited for her to reappear and make sure she was ready for her next lap.
After another wet wipe shower, some more maths (my next and final lap would be around 10am), and a quick change, I slid back into my sleeping bag and closed my eyes… just as the entire campsite was waking up.
After an hour or so I decided that sleep wasn’t going to happen. The noise on the site was increasing as was the heat inside the tent as the sun rose higher in the sky. I could hear members of the GoodGym teams up and about. I got up and started to pack up my tent before joining them for my next breakfast, which today, consisted of three mini pork pies and a brownie…
Once I had packed up my tent, I found some of our team in the event village in various states of rest / eating / waiting. Our team’s strategy had been rejigged, meaning that I now wasn’t due on until about 11.30am – and would have the honour of the last lap of the day.
I ate a big piece of Rocky Road while I waited… Lots of the team members had already done their last laps, so they had showered, changed and collected their medals. Others were keeping their running kit on just in case. The other GoodGym team even changed their running order around to make it more likely they’d be able to send an extra person out before midday.
Bored of waiting, I went over to the changeover point relatively early. Which was fortunate, because Mitch ran his lap really fast! He sprinted over the line, shirtless (making my trying to remember what colour t-shirt he was wearing redundant) and passed me the wrist band.
I set off, initially pleasantly surprised at the slight breeze – it wasn’t as hot as I was expecting it to feel – for the first two minutes anyway. There was no pressure on this lap. It was 11.28am when I set off, so there was no hope of getting anyone else out before midday. I could even walk it if I wanted… but at the same time I didn’t want it to take over an hour.
At the first slight incline I decided to walk. My lungs were in distress and I was far too hot. This would be how I got round this last lap. I was pleased to see that the music at Temptation Corner had resumed. I fully intended to stop for a drink at the drinks station, but when I got there, decided not to. By then it looked like I might be able to stick to around 10 minute miles, even with walking up all the hills, but I didn’t need anything else to slow me down.
As I ran past the last marshal station, they were packing down their gazebo – but still cheering people on as they passed. Lots of teams were out on the course now, gathering around the Endure 24 signs for photos (the Dead Tree Drift one now just said ENDURE), or running in with their team mates.
When it came to the short hill before the Mizuno Arch, I decided that I could run up it and through to the end. Stef was standing at the top and cheered me through. There were now crowds of people, all wearing blue Endure 24 tshirts gathered around the finishing funnel making it difficult to spot my turning. Still, I managed it. I half expected some of my team mates to join me on the run in… I heard my name shouted a few times, and the MC mentioned my earlier tweet about finding my lost vanilla crown at 4am that morning. Lap 5 done in 50:41.
By the time I got home, I was feeling quite ill from lack of sleep. My right eye was streaming, no doubt full of sweat, dust and sun cream, making me feel worse. I dumped my bags in the hallway and had a much needed shower. I found some leftover chicken in the fridge and ate it cold and then climbed into bed.