A Reluctant racer
To be perfectly honest, I was not looking forward to this challenge. I have been in a bit of a funk for some time and this has resulted in little enthusiasm for, or consistency with training. This could just be a bit of “sporting burnout”, or maybe it’s work, diet (poor recently), sleep, hormones? I’ve got my suspicions, and have put corrective measures in place to dig myself out and get back on track.
At my best, I run 4-5 times a week, cycle once or twice, and swim once. If I’m really on fire, there will be a body weight strength training session or two thrown in for good measure (this happens as frequently as the proverbial “blue moon”).
My training leading up to this event was sporadic and of poor quality. I lacked the mental discipline to stick to a MAF pace, as I knew there was so little time to prepare for the event. I just chose to focus on getting a few 10 km runs in wherever possible (all morning workouts are fasted – I earn my breakfast).
Apart from this event, having booked myself up for a triathlon on the 15th September, I have managed a 22 mile cycle into work (and done the same back) once – and I’ve been open water swimming twice since Windsor. I have completely plodded along at my own pace with these – no speed in mind – just happy to be doing something other than running.
weekend of the event – 24 hours of thinking “how does jack bauer do this?”
It’s Saturday morning and despite the lack of training in the run up, I’ve got an inkling of what could be called “excitement”. I have woken up at my usual 04:30 am, despite not needing to wake up until 07:00 am at the earliest.
I use this extra time for a last minute trip to Tesco for spare head torch batteries and food supplies. I also take advantage of a 2 for £8 book offer (Billy Connolly’s new book and something on serial killers – just mixing things up). It dawns on me that I’m probably going to look pretty unsociable reading a book during a team event with 4 other blokes, but I pack them nonetheless. There’s bound to be a quite moment, I tell myself.
Laura and the kids are just planning to drop me off with my massive cool bag and the camping beds borrowed from a friend of one of our team (weirdly, that friend lives literally just around the corner from me, same side of the same street, but 37 doors down). But then, we’re informed that there may be spaces for the kids to sign up to do a mile race! Robyn isn’t interested, but Ralph is all over it! He absolutely smashes his first race ever – and I am so proud that despite almost stopping, he didn’t even walk ONCE! He ran the whole thing, and paced himself much better than his spontaneous “Dad, I’ll race you” efforts.
The course is 5.75 miles of off-road trail running. There are some paved sections, and gravel paths, but you also have some woods with precarious tree roots (marked with illuminous paint) and slippery grass sections like at the 3.75 mile mark as you run past/through the campsite. The worst part of all for me – Ingrebourne Hill – a short bit of incline work right near the end of each lap. If you’re not worried about your time, then this is a great place to stop for a selfie with its amazing view of London at night.
So the running order is Gary, me, Kieran, Liam and finally Noel (no, the Gallagher brothers are not running this event), kicking off with a first lap in the midday sun. The heat you feel as you pass through the open fields, is uncomfortable enough (apparently, it was 10 degrees hotter last year!) but there are also a couple of awkward low bridge gates to negotiate. You get some shade as you wind your way through the woods, but then have to stop yourself from tripping over the raised tree roots as you whizz down the steep-ish decline (all fine during the day, but during the two night laps, this is the part I’m most concerned about).
Kieran has been the driving force behind organising the event – for this I am both grateful and resentful, in varying percentages throughout the weekend. Liam has provided us with a tent – which took up all of his weight allowance on his flight in from Glasgow! Noel has a nifty little notebook, which he uses to make a note of our start/finish/lap times in…which is great, until he goes for his run…and we realise that none of us were looking at the clock (that may have happened the second time around – I’m pretty sure we were all on point during the first lap – but my mind has turned to mush).
We slap a high-vis wrist band onto the next runner’s wrist at each lap – easier to carry than a baton for this relay I suppose – although I still see some fails i.e. people missing the next runner’s wrist, or the next runner holding out their hand to take it instead of the “slap and roll” technique.
By lap 3 my back is in agony and my right knee injury has reappeared to haunt me. A 15 minute massage gets me back into some sort of running condition, and I manage to run laps 4 and 5 as a double lap, in the dark. Before laps 4 and 5, I drench myself in ice cold water from a 2 litre bottle, and change outfit. Cleanliness and new clothes…WHAT – A – FEELING!!!
Running at night is weird…without a swag bag, or the police giving chase…it just seems strange. Maybe it’s some prehistoric part of my brain kicking in and reminding me that unless I’m being chased, or I’m chasing potential food, I should be conserving energy in a safe little hovel somewhere? The quiet, apart from my panting and the crunch of gravel beneath my swollen feet, is definitely part of that strangeness. The world disappearing each time my head torch refocuses elsewhere must also contribute. Maybe under less sleep deprived circumstances, it would all seem far more normal.
I sleep* for a while after my double lap, and really don’t think I’m going to be able to do any more – but I can’t let everyone down, or miss out on a medically supervised chance to push my body to run 34.5 miles in a 24 hour period! (*when I say sleep, I mean “pass out”. Only regaining consciousness to 1) the realisation of how cold I am, covered in cool sweat in the sleeping bag or 2) the high pitched buzzing of a mozzy in my ear. My body is now covered in bites).
Apart from some sanity saving banter (tellytubbies, toilet lice, and suspected sex tents) as sleep deprivation takes its toll, I am cold, damp, angry and feeling very pessimistic. I have not trained enough mentally, forget physically, for this event. I am disappointed with my lack of resilience. My whinging. MAN UP!!! I take a last minute vow of positivity, and limp along for my 6th lap. I’m done, spent, finished. I’m praying that the pain will go away and that there won’t be any lasting damage.
We all end up running 6 laps each, except for Gary who heroically pulls a 7th out of the bag! LEGEND. We end up in 3rd place, winning ourselves a trophy each, on top of the medal we’ve already won.
An amazing effort, by a great group of lads – but that 3rd place is a BIG PROBLEM. Knowing that none of us had trained optimally, or dieted, or restricted our alcohol consumption in the run up…it begs that inevitable question: What if? What. If?
Like a successful bank robber…I’m out…I’ve done my last job…I’m off to live on my ill-gotten gains somewhere sunny, and drink Sangria (out of a third place trophy). But I’ve read too many of those novels, and seen too many of those films. I know that when the call comes, closer to the time, about that ONE LAST JOB…as hard as it is to imagine right now…I will find it hard to resist. I know me. I’m shaking my head at myself already.
Suggested improvements to the event:
- Live music – the DJ was great and the music selected was enjoyable, it would just be even better if the recorded music was broken up with some live local acts. I’m sure some young bands would be willing to play without needing payment (we played T-Fest for free each year).
- Mosquito/Gnat warnings and deterrents – it would have been useful to have had that warning in the starter pack. I go camping a lot, but there was a particularly high number of blood suckers at the campsite. Some citronella or spray on sale somewhere could be a good money earner for them.
- Bring back the Spitfire flyover. I was informed that it is too expensive to do, which is a shame. I was looking forward to the event’s namesake flying overhead at some point.
- No ball games after 19:00 KIDDIES!!! They were only slightly less annoying than the mosquitoes! We had all escaped our own children, only to be annoyed by someone else’s!!!
Things I would do differently:
- Bring multiple changes of clothing, i.e. socks, pants, shorts, t-shirts, and a towel
- Use their shower shuttle service every second lap
- Use their massage service very third lap
- Run multiple times a day in training (try a three 10 km run on a Saturday or Sunday)
- Eat little and often. Protein (20-30g) straight after each lap. You want nutrient-dense food, not big, bulky, hard-to-digest, “make you feel sick while you’re running” slop.
- Carbs two hours before your next lap. Drink some coffee for it’s laxative effects and later, skip rope for a few minutes, if you’re keen to “unload” before your next lap
- Have a 20 minute power nap, straight after your protein and before your carbs
- Take gels or cliff blocks on each lap
- Bring your own food. OK as the noodles, burgers and chips were, they’re more of a spectator food – but also quite pricey
- The Spitfire Scramble t-shirt is the only “team t-shirt” you need. Other than that, wear whatever you’re comfortable it and this again, keeps the cost down
- NO DOUBLE LAPS!!! Not unless it’s my last two. Stopping and starting is a killer, but I’d still have recovered quicker from a 6 mile lap than a 12 mile lap!
- Toothbrush and paste. My mouth felt disgusting my the end.
Left to right: Kieran, Liam, Noel, Deano (me) and Gary. Legends, each and every one of us!!! HA HA!!! What if…?