Fresh in my mind having just walked through my front door about two hours ago, I wanted to share a quick round up of my latest running challenge – Endure24. Currently running on about 3 hours of sleep so if anything doesn’t quite make sense, there’s the reason!
I signed up to Endure24 sometime last year, having heard rave reviews from friends who’d participated in the Endure 12/50 event. Advertised as “Glastonbury for runners” the event was already a winner in my mind.
I was in a team of 5 females with fellow Advent Runners Julia, Sarah, Jess and Sophie – aka the #BadAssLadyGang. Although we all typically run at varying speeds, we had one united goal – to enjoy ourselves. The pressure was off. No time goal in mind, nothing to qualify for.
In the days running up to the race I was admittedly quite nervous. The last time I’d run a relay was when I was at school. I ran about 100m and felt like I was going to die. I’ve also never run in the dark (winter runs around London don’t count), never worn a headtorch and never run in ‘shifts’. But where’s the fun in not trying new things?
The main event
We arrived at Wasing Park on Saturday morning, set up camp and collected bib numbers. As I was among the first in our team to arrive, I took on the first lap. I’d checked out the race profile online but wasn’t really sure what to expect. Since the ground was dry, I opted for road shoes over trail shoes.
The gun sounded at midday to mark the start of 24 hours running. The start line was busy with runners from every category toeing the line – solos, doubles, teams. Despite that, it was an amazing atmosphere because everyone was out to watch the start.
Once through the first 200m of solid cheers came the first hill – arguably the worst, a long, steep beast on tarmac. You really had to dig deep, particularly in the later laps. At 5km came ‘heartbreak hill’ and it certainly broke my heart more than once! On my first lap I was determined to run up it, so I could say I’d run non-stop once. Having conquered the beast it was into the ‘fairy forest’, dancing over tree roots and trying not to let speed get the better of you. Into the ‘twisty bendy bit’ and out of the forest, the last 400m was on grass – nice and soft on the legs.
At the end of the 8km lap came the switch to a teammate waiting in the crowded holding area.
We took it in turns to run 1 lap, and each managed 3 in total before nightfall and it was time for torches. The ‘nightshift’ began for me at about 11pm. To maximise sleep at this point we paired up, taking in turns to run 1 lap and have 1 lap off.
I was feeling very tired and drained by this point – normally I’d be asleep by 11pm so the thought of having to run 2x 8km laps was somewhat sole destroying. Despite having familiarised myself with the course on the first 3 laps (which, by the way, resembled a dinosaur!) I had a fear of the darkness and the unknown. But off I went.
My first lap in the darkness took some getting used to, mainly because I’d never run with a headtorch. I wasn’t used to the limited viewing. I slowed down a lot – my first 3 laps I’d completed in 37 minutes, but I knew the night runs would be much slower. I walked up hills when I felt I was using too much energy, and didn’t propel myself as much on the downhill. It was starting to get slippy and I didn’t want to fall or risk injury. Still, I made it round in 45 minutes, and handed over to Sarah.
50 minutes later, I was off again. This time I really relied on my mental strength: “One more lap then bed”. I was really struggling. I was walking on some flats and downhills as I was having trouble breathing. A horrible stabbing pain in my chest saw me keel over twice. My hip was also giving me some grief – unsurprising since I’d given it quite a hammering already.
I kept myself going by offering words of encouragement to solo runners, complimenting people wearing t-shirts with good slogans, and thanking those playing music aloud. It’s the small moments of interaction which not only spur on other runners, but also give you a little boost at a time of need. Thoughts also turned to those out on the South Downs Way, running 100 miles. My little 8km would be a walk in the park to them, so I felt I shouldn’t complain about anything!
I finished lap number 5 in 47 minutes, and with that, it was off to bed.
The final lap
We’d calculated the night before that I’d need to wake at 5.15am to eat breakfast before starting lap #6 at 6.15am. However, we learnt over the course of the weekend that none of us can do maths, and it wasn’t until 7.20am that I was back on the course. I was still in pain. My left hip and left quad didn’t want to move. My stomach was cramping.
For the first time I used my iPod as a welcome distraction. I was actually thankful to reach ‘heartbreak hill’ as I knew I could give myself a nice walking break without feeling too much guilt. As soon as I’d conquered it, I mentally knew I was into the home stretch. I flew through the forest, and into the grassy home stretch. A few cheers from fellow Advent Runners from other teams gave some welcome encouragement. I handed over to Sarah and knew that was my race over. Despite flying through the last 2km, I was in pain. If I tried another lap, I’d probably injure myself.
Thankfully, there was only time for 1 runner in our team to complete #7 – thank you Julia for stepping up!
Completing 6 laps of the course meant I’d clocked up over 46km in 24 hours – the furthest I’ve ever run.
Despite going into the race with no pressure, wanting to simply enjoy the vibes, we learned on Saturday evening that we were third in our category. I didn’t think too much of this. I didn’t want the pressure and knew there was still a great distance/time to go.
However when I finished my final lap I heard we were in first place. The pressure was on – thankfully, not for me as I’d already completed my lap and told my teammates I couldn’t do a seventh without risking injury.
Into the final laps, all eyes were on the leaderboard. We were hoping to sneak in two #7 laps, but realised we could win it with only 1. Julia stepped up to the mark, and, after meeting her on the home stretch, we flew over the finish line as the winning small female team at 12.01 – after 24:01 hours of running.
For me this race represents everything important about running. The community, the friendship, the support, the fun, the enjoyment, the good times and bad. It was never about winning, that just came as a welcome suprise!