Epic, Brutal, Relentless
You know that feeling of “why did I decide to do this?”… well that was me after only 3 laps of the 5 mile route at the Mizuno Endure 24 race in Reading, UK last weekend (15th and 16th June 2019).
As the name suggests, it is a 24 hour endurance race and it starts at midday on the Saturday and the last lap must be started before midday on the Sunday. The race numbers carry the tag line Epic, Brutal, Relentless and by lap 3 brutal and relentless was already kicking in!
The organisers bill the event as Glastonbury for Runners and there is certainly a festival feel with hundreds of tents, a race village with colourful flags, food vans, craft activities and a real atmosphere of community. This year there was an even more authentic feel with the rain and mud – unfortunately I can’t run in wellies! Mind you, I’m not sure how much use they would have been anyway.
This was my 5th year at the event and it has grown hugely over that time. I ran in a small team of 5 runners for the first 2 years and then a team of 4 runners in the 3rd year. We were a mixed bag in terms of ability, but all had a steely determination to do our best no matter what. We did reasonably well each year (apart from the 3rd year), falling just outside the top 10. We all did 35 miles each (7 laps) most years, but in our 3rd year we covered 40 miles each.
Last year, one of the team members, Emma, asked if I would like to run as a pair in the Mixed Pair category. Initially hesitant, I agreed with grave reservations of whether I could actually run 5 miles every 50 to 60 minutes for 24 hours. On the event weekend we ran just for the fun of it, and were surprised to learn that by Saturday evening we were in 3rd place! No pressure… Aside from a bit of a mixup in the race results at the end when we thought we had come 2nd only to be demoted to 3rd (which was actually the correct result), we were elated! Despite my joy, it had been tough and I really wasn’t up for facing going round and round that course again – enough!
But when Emma asked if I would do it this year, I somehow found myself agreeing – what was I thinking!
All this went through my mind as finished my 3rd lap last Saturday, covered in mud and already feeling exhausted. I said to Emma, who hadn’t had any sleep the night before due to an upset stomach, that I didn’t mind if we called it a day. “No, I’m fine – I’ll keep going” she said. Drat! I thought…
The training hadn’t really gone well for either of us and we knew we weren’t as fit as last year. We were happy just to plod along and finish wherever we finish… kind of. You see, both Emma and I are highly competitive at some level. And last year’s 3rd place was a benchmark that neither of us really wanted to let slide so much that it fell off the table. “Top 10” we agreed. But this early on I just wanted to pack it in. The course was muddy and a lot busier than it had been in previous years – it was hard work.
At the end of the next couple of laps I tried the same gentle words to get Emma to rethink our continuation of this torture, but she held fast. At one point Emma’s friend Magda stuck her head in my tent during one of the brief few minutes of rest I had when Emma was on the course. She said sternly to me “You are not going to quit – are you” in her firm Polish accent – it was definitely an instruction, not a question. And it was what I needed in order to get my head together – thanks Magda 🙂
Rest is Overrated
I noticed that so far I had run every lap faster than the equivalent lap last year. When running the laps I felt fine and didn’t want to slow down – however I was waiting for the fatigue to hit me like a brick wall, but it never really did. And, if I had needed any more incentive to keep moving quickly, by 5pm we were sitting in 3rd place out of 36 pairs in our category. This slipped to 4th place over the next couple of laps, but by midnight we were back to 3rd although it was very close on timings.
The way the event works is that the runners/teams (solo, pairs, small teams, large teams) with the most laps in each category are ahead. If a runner/team has the same number of laps, then it comes down to who has run them faster. We were only just ahead of 4th place on time but determined to hold it.
Teams have different strategies of how they run the event. The only official rules are that everyone in the team must do at least one lap, and you can only have one person from your team on the course at any one time. You must hand over the wristband in the official changeover area.
Pairs is often seen as the hardest combination, although I would also say a team of 3 is pretty tough going. Solos clearly have it tough because they are by themselves, but they can at least come off the course for a rest or food whenever they like and if they are overdoing it, then can go and have a nap. Of course, this will affect their race result, but many of the Solo runners do this.
Pairs is a bit different. There is always that pressure to get back to the changeover area in the time you said you would because you know your running partner is waiting there for you. This is especially critical as you also know that they have given up rest to get there for that time, so they are mighty annoyed if you are late!
Some pairs start running single laps (lap, changeover, lap, changeover etc) and then overnight they switch to maybe two or three consecutive laps to give the other runner a chance to rest. Emma and I tried a double lap once last year but it really didn’t work for us. So this year we stuck to just doing 1 lap each.
Because Emma was running a lap between 48 minutes to start with, and then in about an hour as the event progressed, I got about 20 minutes where I could lay down (alarm set and one eye open!) You might think 48 to 60 minutes is a decent amount of time, but when you consider walking from the changeover area to the toilet and then back to the tent; a quick chat with friends who were in teams; try and get something (actually not really anything) to eat; rehydrate; head down; back to changeover area 5 minutes before they are due in… it goes pretty quick!
And I had sheer luxury because Emma had virtually no time between laps because I started out at just under 38 minutes per lap and never took longer than 50 minutes. I have no idea how she survived it.
But survive it we did. Even overnight when the course was pitch black and all we had to rely on was our head torches, feeling our way through the slippery mud. And there was mud! The course is a 5 mile loop on mixed terrain that takes in some beautiful forest and countryside. There are one or two hills to mix things up, some crazy folk with inflatable guitars blaring out rock and roll from a VW camper van and handing out cocktails at halfway… and did I mention the mud?
On the Saturday lunchtime it had rained a lot. It was sloppy and yuk. Then throughout the rest of the day it started to dry up and even overnight it got better. The mud turned from very slippery to gloopy, but at least we could run through it. And then it rained… 7am saw a downpour that drenched Emma and the other runners on the course. There was so much rain that it turned some parts of the course into a quagmire reminiscent of a wet and muddy farmyard that has been driven through several times by a tractor.
Some parts of the course were so bad that I had to run along verges and pick alternative footing. One advantage I did have from doing so many laps though – I knew which bits all the runners were going through and which bits were left alone and made a better route. At one point in the morning part of course was diverted as it was just too slippery and dangerous.
But did that deter us? No it did not! By early morning we were over a lap ahead of 4th place, but also a lap behind 2nd place. Knowing it was unlikely that we could catch them I kept maximum effort up anyway, and we did gain a bit.
Last year I ran a total of 14 laps which was 70 miles. Emma ran 13 laps or 65 miles. This year, Emma was determined to get that last lap in, and I encouraged her so that we could make absolutely certain we held onto that 3rd place. We had worked so hard that I really didn’t want to give it up now. In the end, 4th place decided to stop at a total of 25 laps so Emma probably didn’t need to run that final lap – but she wasn’t having any of it. We both ran 14 laps (140 miles combined), equalling the 1st and 2nd place pairs, only they ran them faster than us.
As we crossed the line together on her last lap (I had handed my timing chip in already so as not to break the rules), we celebrated that fact that not only had we finished 3rd despite the lack of training, pre-event stress and tiredness, Emma had ran 5 miles further than last year and I had run my 70 miles more than 38 minutes faster than last year, completing them in 10 hours 40 minutes and 17 seconds. Now was the time for Epic!
Hydration and Fuelling
Just to finish, I have to say a huge thank you to Ian and Amy from SOS Hydration (20% discount code CHRIS20 at http://bit.ly/2IVv7Jo ). SOS has been my preferred hydration product for a few years and it really makes a positive difference to my running. At Endure 24 Ian and Amy were there as sponsors of the event and provided much needed support and hydration after each of my laps.
As I mentioned earlier, there really wasn’t time to take on much fuel. Add to this the fact that I suffer from stomach issues if I eat too close to running, so I knew nutrition would be a big factor. I burned an average of 460 Kcal per lap, so I definitely needed to fuel. This is where Generation UCAN comes in (10% discount code RunTeach at https://www.generationucan.co.uk/). As a very slow release carbohydrate, one scoop was giving me up to 2 hours of sustained energy. As such, I didn’t need to start taking any until lap 5 and after that it was every 3rd lap. I had absolutely no stomach issues at all, which is unheard of for me at this event. I did also have some fast acting sugar in the form of marshmallows and American hard gums, as well as a few dry crackers throughout the 24 hours. But I couldn’t have done it without the slow releasing energy of UCAN.
The other product that I used (and caused much hilarity amongst my friends and running buddies) was the vibrating foam roller from PulseRoll – much easier to use than a standard foam roller.
So, if you want an event that will challenge you but is also very sociable and where you can choose how much running you do, then Endure 24 Reading or Leeds could be for you.