I started this blog on 7th August 2013 with this post and the intention of tracking my running progress and thoughts towards the first ultra event I entered – a little 24 hour endurance race called Endure 24. Back in August last year, the furthest I’d ever run was a marathon, which I’d managed 3 times before slowly 3 times in 1999, 2006 and 2011. Since starting this blog, I’ve run at least marathon distance over 10 times, run 4 ultras, covered 56 miles in a training run and just this last weekend covered 75 miles in 24 hours. Not bad for 10 months 🙂
What is Endure 24?
The website has all the details, but essentially Endure 24 is a running event that carries on for 24 hours (ish). You start at midday on a Saturday, and run as many times around a 5 mile off-road course as you can – either solo or in teams of up to 8 people – and you finish the lap you’re on at midday on Sunday. You can stop when you like, sleep, eat etc. It’s completely up to you. You can’t DNF (Did Not Finish) an event like this really – everyone has their own targets and is running their own race.
What was the plan?
I had lots of reasons for entering this race, but I mainly wanted to see how far I could go before I broke. And how I broke – physically or mentally? And how do I do better next time? And what does it feel like to run through the night – to keep going hour after hour after hour?
The plan was to keep going without any significant breaks, and try to get to 100 miles overall. I figured I could sleep when I’d finished, all I had to do was stay awake and plod my way round. And round. And round.
Easy, really. 😀
I was on my own for this. Most of the other solo people seemed to have some support back at their tent, but I was going to have to figure out food etc myself. That meant I had to plan things that I could eat without warming up, and as there was no fridge I mostly had tins for “proper” food. I also had a bucket load of gels, water etc back in the tent.
I arrived with my cousin (who was running in a team of 5) on the Friday, and we set up tents. The sun was shining and it was a lovely day. We’d had no rain for the past few weeks, but the forecast was for a bit of rain over the weekend… oh joy!
My tent was in the solo camping area about 40m from the track entrance/exit. I got an ok night’s sleep beforehand, although I’m not a natural camper and with the demands of the following 36 hours I could probably have done with a better sleep! In the morning, I had some porridge and cereal and wasted time until about 11am when I got into the tent to get my running gear on.
Cue rain, thunder and lightning. Obviously. There’s something awfully British about sitting in a tent in the pouring rain, covering yourself in sunblock.
The rain stopped a bit before the start, and everyone lined up ready. 12 o’clock came and went – there was some issue on the track I think – and we eventually got off at 12:07 (it felt a lot longer than 7 minutes while you’re nervously standing there).
Part 1 – 45 miles
I started in shorts, t-shirt, rain-jacket and road shoes. I knew the course was mostly off-road, but wasn’t sure of the terrain so I figured I’d start in road shoes and change if it made sense. I’d forgotten my nice handheld water bottle from home, so I ran with a 500ml supermarket bottle of water.
Lap 1 was a bit muddy, so when I got round to the start again 53 minutes later I went over to my tent and changed into my trail shoes (Salomon SpeedCross 3’s) which are brilliant in the mud. I also topped up my water bottle with water and popped an S-Cap (electrolyte tablet)
Lap 2, 3 and 4 were fairly uneventful, although it did start to rain again and the course got muddier and muddier. I settled into a regular run (56 minutes, 55 minutes, 56 minutes). As I usually have a hard time around 15-20 miles (which I think is from not taking enough food on board in the early stages of long runs) I was eating quite a bit and expecting lap 4 to be a bit of a bad one, but it was fine and I was pretty pleased at the 20 mile point.
Lap 5 soon sorted that out – it was tough mentally and I was enjoying myself quite a bit less by the end of this one. It was 72 minutes from the start of lap 5 until I started lap 6 (the times include any breaks I had filling up water bottles, changing shoes etc).
I can’t remember exactly why, but lap 6 felt much better and I thought I had this nailed for the next few laps. I think the rain might have stopped around here, and I was feeling a bit more positive about the rest of the run. But something went really wrong for lap 7, and as I got back to my tent having covered 35 miles I was seriously pissed off with it all.
I decided to do everything I could to cheer myself up. I changed clothes, finally getting rid of the rain coat, had a tin of ravioli to eat, took on lots of water, put my MP3 player on and changed into my Hokas. I also put on my Salomon race vest so I could stick 2 water bottles in the front and not have to keep returning to my tent to fill up every lap, as well as adding a few bits of food etc.
The next lap was wonderful – it felt really comfortable like the first laps, and I was really enjoying myself. It’s funny how things can change around so quickly – just half an hour before I was wanting to quit, and now I felt like I could go on forever! I’d done some calculations, and I was nicely on track for 100 miles, only needing to do about 17 minutes miles on average for the remaining time to get there. At this point I was running faster than 15 minute miles, so building up some time per lap which I was thinking I’d use for a quick 30 minute sleep at 3 or 4 in the morning.
Yes… it’s funny how things can change around so quickly. On the start of lap 9, it started to rain again. The joy evaporated, I trudged my way around the now darkening course, and by 4 miles in I was swearing loudly at the mud and rain. I was still in just a t-shirt (idiot), it was dark, I was soaked, shivering and freezing. That was it. I’d had it with this shit. 45 miles in, about 22:15 at night – I quit.
I got back, got into my tent in a furious mood. I stripped off all the wet, muddy running clothes, put on my normal clothes, got into the sleeping bag and got comfortable. To show just how annoyed I was with the whole thing, I was determined not to set an alarm. Ha. I’d show this run who’s boss. I’d wake up to lovely sunshine tomorrow morning and do a bit more running, but when I was ready for it. Then I remembered my sister was coming to see me early in the morning, so I caved and set my alarm for 04:30. I put my head down and slept.
Part 2 – 15 miles
I woke a little after midnight with the most painful quads. My legs just ached all over, and as much as I tried I couldn’t get back to sleep. Then I realised I wasn’t cross any more. I felt much better. And it had stopped raining. Quickly – before I changed my mind – I got myself up, put on fresh clothes (including a base layer and long running trousers) and my still soaking Hokas, got out the tent and went over to the catering tent. I grabbed a cheeseburger (food of champions!) and a cup of coffee, and bumped into Chris Edmonds who I ran the last 18 miles of the Green Man with in March and who I’d kept in touch with on Twitter. We chatted for bit, and at 01:15 I headed off again into the night.
What a beautiful sight. My headtorch lit the way, helped with a hand torch for the times I was running rather than walking. Glow sticks marked the route, and dotted around the course were fairy lights, twinkling away. You could see the head torches of other runners on different parts of the course, like a trail of glowing ants in the distance. And I had quiet music playing in one ear from my MP3 player. The whole lot was magical, and I slowly ran and walked through the mud. I’d been a bit nervous about running in the dark – the times I’d tried at home on my own I was quite nervous and twitchy, but out here with people not far away all the time it was just lovely. It was amazing how much better I felt after getting some sleep.
I heard some Night Jars in the forest, and then first light appeared in the sky around 03:30 and by 04:30 the birds were tweeting all through the woods. At about 05:00, half way through the 3rd lap, I started feeling quite light headed and moving became a bit more of an effort. By the time I met my sister, I’d covered another 15 miles since waking up in the night but I felt quite dizzy and she commented on how pale I looked. I’m guessing it was just a case of not having eaten enough for the amount of running I’d done.
I took this opportunity to have another break. We chatted for a while, I had a coffee and an egg roll, and then she left to get back home and I hobbled my way over to join my cousin and his team in the Purbeck Runners area. The rest had caused the blisters on my toes to inflate, and they were making walking pretty difficult now. I’d changed out of my running gear into normal clothes, and I was exhausted – the thought of going back out onto the muddy course filled me with dread. I’d covered 60 miles – 3.5 miles further than I’d ever run before – and I was happy with that. My 100 mile target was out the window, so 60 would do.
Part 3 – 15 more miles
And then my bloody cousin had to go and do it. “Get out and do 2 more laps, then you’ll feel like you’ve really achieved something. You won’t be happy with 60 miles”, he said.
The sun was up, the rain was gone and it was warming up. Nice weather for a bit of a run, eh?! But those blisters meant I couldn’t even walk – how the hell was I going to run any more?
Oh… bloody hell! I slowly walked painfully over to the medics tent, and had a word with them. 10 minutes later, my blisters were popped and taped, along with a suitable warning that they may now get infected, and I was to try and keep them clean. Which, considering the course was foot deep in gloopy mud for sections of it was an absolute impossibility!
Hoka’s back on and camera in hand (which is why most of the photos from the course are in daylight and with slightly drier mud!) I set off again, pain from my blisters subsiding with every step. By the time I reached the 1k mark my feet felt pretty much fine, and I felt like I was running fresh again. About 7k into this lap I got a really sharp stabbing pain from the blisters – I think another had formed and then popped on top of the last one, and for about 300m I could barely walk. A guy called James stopped to check I was OK, and as we chatted and slowly ran the pain subsided again. We ran together for the next 5 miles or so, chatting about our lives and the running.
James was content to walk his last lap, taking him up to 70 miles, and I was now thinking about adding an extra one to take me up to 75 miles. I felt tired but good – I think mentally that I was getting a big boost being near the end. I started running again, and even managed an 8.5 minute mile in the middle of a lap which was quite something! I felt like I was flying and just didn’t want to stop.
The last lap seemed to go really quickly. I passed the hill, the cattle grids, the first sections of mud, the puddles – all with a sense of joy that I wouldn’t have to run past them again! Round the loop I went, thanking all the marshals as I went round. Then, before I knew it, I was on the last hill then the long straight back to the camp site. I half ran, half walked round the zig-zag course through the field and round the final corner to the finishing straight. I couldn’t resist it – a sprint finish, which I don’t actually think was a bad speed (although if anything had gone wrong I would have gone absolutely flying as I had no control over my legs once I started sprinting!).
And that was it. 75 miles. I bounced off the course with a massive grin on my face.
What I’ve learnt
Here are a few points about what I personally learnt from the event, and what I want to remind myself of for the next one of these (because there will be another one)…
- The down times can be worse than you expect. I expected periods of not really wanting to run, but didn’t quite expect the total feeling of wanting to quit. Of just giving up.
- Don’t be scared of a decent break. My original plan was to not have any breaks, but I ran so much better for 2 or 3 laps after each break I had, so next time I do this I’ll be planning in periodic 30 minute (ish) breaks to boost myself mentally.
- You don’t have to go too fast. And it’s not a great idea to calculate everything. Keep plodding on as best you can and you’ll get there.
- Don’t skimp on foot care! Be careful what socks you wear. I started in Injinji socks, swapped to Coolmax ones and everything was good. At the end, I couldn’t be bothered to put on fresh Injinji socks so I stuck on some generic socks and in 15 miles my feel were shredded.
- Eat plenty, and eat properly – it’s fine to walk a lap after eating. It won’t slow you down as much as not taking enough food on board. And gels etc just get dull – tinned pasta (Ravioli) was lovely in the middle!
- You can be faster at the end than in the middle. It seems like an impossibility when you’re trudging round a black lap in the middle, but that 8.5 minute mile in the last few laps made me realise that when your brain gets a boost your body will just get on with it.
- Don’t forget to enjoy it!
It took me 2 days to empty the car, mainly because on Monday I just didn’t do anything! I’m finishing writing this on Thursday afterwards, and only just beginning to feel properly human again. I’ve had quite an appetite afterwards – with sudden moments of massive hunger and dizziness. My legs didn’t really ache much but those bloody blisters on my little toes gave me a couple of days of serious grief and are still bothering me now. My ITB is very, very tight on one side and my knee is playing up because of it, but I’m planning on a short run tonight to see how things work. I think some sensible stretching and massage and getting back to a normal walking/running routine will sort everything out.
Strangely, after long events in the past I always used to think “never again!” for a week or so and then slowly get back into the idea of another one. This time, I wanted to do it again from Sunday evening. I think it’s because I didn’t get my 100 mile goal, and although it shouldn’t, that annoys me. I’m happy with 75, but I still feel like I let myself down a bit in the night. Still, it’s the first time I’ve done this, and I will almost certainly do E24 again next year.
My next event is the Bournemouth and Poole Marathon – I haven’t run an actual marathon since 2011, and I’m determined to finally get under 4 hours in this one so I’m going to be putting in some decent speed training as all this ultra stuff recently has slowed me down a lot. But I can’t resist the long ones… I’ll still try and get a 30-40 miler in once or twice a month just to enjoy the run.
Those hard times in the night and the joy of the morning and finishing made Endure 24 a really emotional event. I’m looking back really fondly and want to do it again soon – I can’t wait until next year to get back out on that course and get that damn 100!