24 Hour Thunder Run
It was the first, it was tough, but it was worth every step.
What is the thunder run
The Thunder run (TR24) is an off-road ultra and relay race against the clock held in Cotton Park every year, think of it as Glastonbury for trail running. It's a gruelling 24 hour challenge set around a 10 km track with the aim of running as many laps as possible in 24 hours.The rough 210m of elevation doesn't seem a lot at the beginning of the race but adds up pretty quickly with some fast down hills and short sharp climbs.
Getting to the start
This was my second attempt at the TR24. The year before I had attempted it as my very first ultramarathon and made a fair few mistakes, one of which was choosing to sleep and then over sleeping. This time I was with a good friend of mine Andy who was going to look after me and make sure I got in as many rounds of the 10km loop as I knew I could.
To do this we needed the right kit, equipment and game plan. The kit was easy, it was going to be a hot 2 days, just my kind of race weather so we kept it light and cool, with rain proof trousers and jacket packed just incase.
Equipment was handled by Andy, the tents, food cooker, head lamp and any other bits I'd forgotten were under his watchful eye. It was a good thing too as at some points in the race I couldn't even remember my name.
FROM START TO FINISH
The game plan was pretty simple: I start running and Andy, who had set up our base right next to the race track, had to keep me running for the next 24 hours.
We started at 12pm in sunny warm weather. It was a pleasure to be out with 100 other ultra runners on the track and the easy pace made chatting with them effortless. Before I knew it the first lap was done. Andy was waiting with a change of water bottles and we had a quick word before I headed off on lap 2. The next few laps were pretty uneventful and I was holding steady around 45th position.
Around 8:30pm I stopped off for a bit of dinner, it was light and fast and followed by some amazing tea. We had a chat about the weather and decided that I had just enough time to do another lap before the rain started. So off I headed in the the fading light with only my head touch to help find my way.
By the time I returned from that lap the heavens had opened and the rain was well and truly coming down now. We had prepared my rain gear before hand so it only took 5 minutes to change and get back out. This would be the turning point of the race for me. It was wet, it was muddy, but it was also really warm and I was in a rhythm. I decided to take advantage of the fact that most of the other runners were waiting out the rain. I pushed on through the night and was treated to a spectacular light show compliments of the lightning storm.
This strategy worked well, and by daybreak around 6:30am I had completed 13 laps and was starting to feel the fatigue setting in. The trail had turned from solid hard pack ground to muddy sludge and the softer grass areas where now ankle deep bogs. I finished that lap and felt like that was the end, I couldn't go on. Every step was a challenge, I was walking more than I was running and the thought of leaving that amazing cup of tea filled me with dread. I was done.
The thing about the mind is with the right incentives you can do anything and this was proven when Andy returned from checking the live timing to let me know that I had coved 130km and was in 15th position. Was this right? Could I actually run 100 mile (160 km) in 24 hours? After that I didn't need much help getting back onto the track. It was clear what I had to do.
Lap 14 was hard, I had to focus on each and every step and the mental fatigue was starting to set in. It really helped to have the relay runners give me a pat on the back as they ran past and the cheers from the crowds as I weaved in and out of the camp site. It took me almost 90 minutes to complete the lap but Andy was waiting with a hot cup of tea and a motivating word to get me out on to lap 15.
I was now in 9th position with only 3 hours to go and then disaster struck. I was on a reasonably good pace and had perked up a little when I misplaced a step in a very slippery area of the track and took a hard tumble down the slope. I took a few seconds to asses if I had seriously injured any thing and then started to get up. When you are as tired as I was even a little bump feels terrible. The fall and sheer body exertion had me limping at a snail's pace. I could feel the time slipping away and couldn't do anything about it. Andy came to meet me about a 1km away from the finish and walked with me on the route to our tent.
There were a few runners there to meet me, everyone seemed to be excited that I was going to hit this huge milestone. While I was out on the last lap Andy had go a clean set of kit ready for my, he said it would make me feel better and look nicer on the finishing photo. Considering that I was covered in mud and dry blood where I had cut my leg on the fall I couldn't disagree. I fumbled my way into the fresh kit and took 2 minutes to gather myself.
This was it, lap number 16. I was in 10 place at this point and ready to do my best 10km yet. I lift myself out of the chair and headed out onto the track for one more go. I had been in the tent for some time and was left with just under 1 and a half hours to go on the clock so I got stuck in. I power walked up every hill and if I was on a flat or down hill I would interval between a fast walk and run. By the 5 km mark of the last lap I had a decent pace going and by my calculations had passed 2 other runners putting me into 8th place. How many more could I catch? This was my new goal, my new focus to distract from the pain in my body. Another 2 kms and 2 more runners further and the finish line was in site. With only 200m to go I past the last runner I could to finish in 6th place and a time of 11h53m.
Finding the limit
My running has always been about finding my limit. How far could I go, how much can my body withstand and where would it take me. Without a doubt in my mind I could not have run and finished my first 100 mile run without the help of Andy. It's a team effort and I now understand that every successful ultra runner is just a pair of legs in a team of amazing athletes. Now I encourage you to go find your team and tackle an ultramarathon together. I promise you will love it!