Adidas Thunder Run 26-7/08/2014

The Thunder Run is a 24 hour race in Catton Park in the Midlands. The idea is to run as many laps of the 10K course as possible between midday Saturday and midday Sunday. You can run it solo, as a duo, a team of three, five or eight.
My Facebook running group has entered a team of eight and one person drops out. I offer to fill the last slot so I get myself organised at the last minute.

Everybody in the race camps on the fields in the centre of the course. I'm going to travel up by train and Peter and Kathy kindly offer me their spare tent to keep my luggage down. Claire and Gareth meet me at the station.
I've never met any of out team but I feel like I know them having seen photos, read their race reports and exchanged comments. Funnily enough Gareth and Claire look exactly like the people in the photos. They come from Wigan and even stranger, they have northern accents.

We arrive at the campsite and my tent has been out up for me already. We have a food location right by the running route about a kilometre from the finish. We have a gazebo with cooking facilities. Everyone is great. Peter is the team captain, there is his wife Kathy, and Claire and Gareth who are another couple. Derek is an excellent club runner and I've read plenty of his accounts of cross country league races and club night track sessions. Vicky is there with her dog Digby, she won the Kielder Marathon so is going to be extremely fast. Brian is a specialist in crazy multi terrain and hilly races so he is going to be well suited to this course, he is here with his wife Karen who isn't running and they also have a dog. It's Friday afternoon and first off I go to recce the course with Gareth and Claire which gives me a chance to get to know them. I know their back story from Facebook. Gareth is in remission from cancer and Claire originally took up running to raise money for a cancer charity. Then after he beat the cancer Gareth began running as well.

The event is huge with loads of teams in all categories and sold out. The course is all off road, through woods, across fields and along tracks. It passes through the campsites in the various fields and the start/finish line is right in the centre. The organisation looks good with the timing/registration tent, banks of portaloos, a shower block, loads of food stalls and retail outlets. We walk down to where route enters the woods and climbs up on a challenging and muddy path.

We all head down to registration as a team. We have matching team T shirts with names and numbers on the back. They are more like something from a stag or hen party and make me feel quite self conscious but it's all good fun. Evening comes and Peter and Kathy produce a delicious meal for us all. Everyone has brought loads of food of all types. I've turned up with three cartons of coconut water.

As usual I have been overworked all week. I've come straight from a venue in Leeds and I'm shattered. They assume from a couple of my better race reports that I might be an interesting person but as the beers and gin are broken out I run away to bed. I'm going for the title of most boring team member.

The next morning we are up for breakfast and Peter picks the running order. He has a scary looking clipboard on which all our times are going to be recorded. As it's a continuous event we're all going to get at least one night time lap which most of us are looking forward to. We all head to the start to see our first runner off. There is a fantastic atmosphere building. We cheer as Derek flies by well to the front of the field.

The timing system is slick. Everyone has an individual chip and there is a team timing baton which gets handed on to the next runner at the end of your lap. It's a flexible plastic strip which you slap on their wrist and it wraps around the changeover pen is just past the finish line with the usual inflatable arch.

Our next runner waits at the changeover and the rest of us head back to our camping location to wait for Derek to go by and shout encouragement. This forms a familiar pattern and finally it is my turn to head to the start/finish. Claire comes storming round the final bend, through the finish and slaps the baton on me shouting 'Go'. I'm going to have to bring my A game. I race off round the corner and along the grassy straight section to the wood where there is a sharp turn onto the narrow path through the trees with a steep climb. It is time for a more circumspect pace through this section making sure not to slip over, then it is on to unknown territory that we didn't walk the day before. It's a really interesting course constantly twisting and turning, switching from path to grass to track and almost always going up or down. Every so often it turns back through another part of the campsite and there is huge encouragement from all the team members around the tents.

There are a couple of challenging hills including the 'Conti Run' just past halfway. This has a measured 100m section up the steepest part and whoever is running it between 5 and 6pm is going to have their split recorded for another mini competition. Judging by the event timings it is going to be me on this first lap for our team. I belt up it as fast as I can and try not to die at the top.

We are back into the woods for another challenging section watching for tree roots and stumps, the worst ones are marked with white temporary paint and the narrow parts have marker ribbon tape along the side of the path. Out of the woods there is another good climb across grass to the far turnaround point, then a long descent of about a kilometre back down to the camp. This section is good fun although needs care on the uneven path. The other team members can see you come into view at the gate through the hedge if they can be bothered to look. Then it is round a field and past our tents and the 9 kilometre mark. I have to remember to run fast and smile for the camera.

Shortly before the final run in there is a last short very steep hill. This is lined with spectators sitting on the grass like the crowd at an execution waiting to see who still has the energy to run it and who is reduced to a walk. It does set up the run in nicely which is a glorious sweeping downhill grass section with barriers either side. It curves round to the finish and I am in my element managing to overtake a small gaggle of runners before crossing the line and handing over the baton to Kathy.

Then it is off to the tent with the race computers to look up my first lap time before heading back to our spot to report to the Skip and get my first entry on the infamous clipboard. I've done OK with and I've got a few hours to refuel and relax. It is a hot day, before the start and in between the first two laps I go to lie down in the nearby river. This is a wise tactic.

Everyone in our team is recording good times. Kathy is both the slowest and the best on the day as she has a bad chest infection, she shouldn't really be running but is doing just the one lap to qualify our team for a full result. It's a tremendous effort.
There are plenty of moments of humour, Peter shouting for emergency cake as he runs down the hill into view. Claire's outrageously coloured trollies (running tights apparently), insults (and encouragement) to Dave Johnson on a rival team, crazy dogs and amongst it all blistering pace from Vicky and Derek. There is also huge respect for the solo runners who have separate identification and are going at a more circumspect pace.

We are on to the night time laps. My turn comes and I don my head torch. As usual it is one of the weakest powered in the field which is how I like it to stay connected to the night environment. There are some moving power stations blasting the trail with light. I nearly pay in the second deep wooded section when I trip on a steep downhill and the world tips on its axis, briefly I am going to be thrown off into outer space or at least sustain an ankle injury. I instinctively grab the marker tape at the side of the course, it isn't designed for support and it stretches like in a cartoon as I stumble like a drunkard. But it's enough and I stay upright. I redouble my focus on the ground in front of me.

It's actually completely magical running at night. The atmosphere is unique and I'm also glad of the practice session I did in Eltham Woods. We are back out in the open under the moonlight but there is no activity in our tent area as I run by. However Brian is there at the changeover point now that we are down to seven. I head back for a bit of sleep and to make sure the next runner in line after Brian is getting ready - they are.

It is daylight and the third lap comes around. Some of our team are calling it a day after this one and Peter checks who is up for a fourth. I'm feeling strong. I finish my third lap and hand over to Derek.

We are doing well as a team. Looking at the computer we are 61st out of 227 eight person teams, just behind the Marathon Talk team. We are in the easiest category, the smaller teams are having to put in many more laps each and the solo runners are ploughing on continuously or with short breaks. Many of them have poles and are mostly walking.

Back at the tents we are calculating the time. At the midday finish you are going to be allowed to complete the lap you are on so the trick is to get to the changeover before 12 o'clock to squeeze in an extra lap. We are going to have to run the penultimate lap in under an hour to achieve this and Claire isn't confident of doing it on her fourth so I am going to go out again after only two laps break. I'm doing my laps in around 51-53 minutes so even with a last lap slowdown I should be able to manage it. Everyone else is asleep, finished, knackered or in the case of Vicky out on the course.

Gareth is training as a sports masseur and we also have complimentary small bottles of massage oil in our race goody bags. He expertly revives my legs and I change into my fourth race T Shirt and head for the changeover. I actually quite relish pressure situations like this and Vicky is still fast enough to give me enough margin. I'm tired but I enjoy my last lap. A final burst around the grassy run in and there's Claire ready for the final lap. The rest of our team - and all the other teams - accumulate at the finish to welcome their final runner home, marvel at the remains of the solo runners still going and then change into our event race shirts for the group photos. I have an ice cream. Then we are back to the tents to break everything down, get it in the cars and exchange a few goodbyes. I have a final dip in the river as the showers are busy to make me respectable enough for the train journey back to London. Derek is giving me a lift back to the station.

We finish 60th, just ahead of Marathon Talk. We've both done 26 laps but Claire has overtaken their last runner on the final lap to give us a quicker cumulative time. What a great weekend. As it turns out we are going to do it again next year - and the year after.