Last weekend I was sitting, shivering and weepy, in a cattle shed somewhere outside Cheltenham, waiting for Tim to arrive and take me home. If you’d crouched in front of me then and said “Next weekend will be better. Much, much better.”, I probably would have sworn resoundingly at you.
But you’d have been right.
Tim and I arrived at Wasing Park for Endure24 late lunchtime on Friday and Rebecca was about half an hour behind us. We set up Tim’s camper van in the On The Wagon campground; Rebecca also set up a tent in the solos and pairs campsite. Dear reader, we were only bloody at it again!
We’d booked Endure24 (billed as the Glastonbury for runners) before Race to the Tower. Largely, if I’m honest, because of my total inability to consult a diary. I just didn’t realise they were consecutive weekends. But I needed Tower for the hoodie, and we wanted Endure. So, like any sensible, rational people, we decided to keep both. More than that, we decided to set ourselves a team target of 100 miles for Endure – 50 apiece. Because what could be more sensible than running a 50+ mile ultramarathon on consecutive weekends, eh? Show me a thing. Any thing at all. I’ll wait…
But as we know, Tower didn’t go to plan. I went to A&E on Monday and was given permission to walk a single lap of Endure on certain conditions: that it wasn’t too slippery underfoot; that I wore a knee brace with comprehensive ligament support; that I walked. I needed to do a single lap, to make sure the Pairs team (and Rebecca’s laps) counted. So I Amazoned me the world’s most bomb-proof knee brace, and five days later, here we were…
Endure24 is a relay race run on a five-mile mixed terrain course through woodland and parkland in Aldermaston countryside, just outside Reading. The course includes two steep hills (up and down) and many gentle rises. There are narrow tracks, twists and turns, tree roots, grassy trails, cinder roads and good old tarmac. The race starts at midday on Saturday and ends at midday on Sunday, and the aim is to see how many laps your team can clock up in that 24 hours, with only one runner on the route at any given time.
We’d started with a target of 10 laps apiece in our minds. But Tower left us both a bit broken, and utterly exhausted. So our team discussion just before the first lap went something like:
Me: You should run the first lap.
Rebecca: Yeah, OK. That’s cool.
Me: Then I’ll do a lap.
Rebecca: But walking, yeah?
Rebecca: Shall we just see how we feel, after that?
So that was our plan.
We were part of a larger team – around 50 people from George Anderson’s On The Wagon group so there was lots of support and encouragement around us and lots of opportunity to take inspiration from the wider team’s achievements (which were many).
No plan ever survives first encounter with the enemy, right?? Right. Our plan was no exception. Rebecca ran her first lap. Smashed it. I set off on my first lap. I thought I’d just jog around the corner, for the cameras. After all, the knee brace was pretty bomb-proof. And that went well, so I thought I’d just run up the next hill, to see how it felt. It felt good. So I had a little run to the Pace Gully. Good stuff… Yeah, OK. I ran my first lap.
When I came in, Rebecca was waiting to go out. I thought it might be a good idea to take my poles on the second lap, to encourage walking, so I fetched them from her tent, and waited for her to get back.
And so we flick-flacked. One lap apiece, two. A double lap (10 miles) each. And then we decided to have a rest, and get some sleep – ultramarathons on consecutive weekends will tire you out that way, as it turns out.
One of the things I love best about 24 hour events is running through the dawn. So I tipped myself out of my nice, warm, campervan bed at 3am, struggled into my clothes and set off to watch the dawn appear over the trees. It’s a magical time of night – the woods are lit up by fairy lights and glow ropes; tree roots are highlighted with luminescent paint; the runners and walkers on the route are supportive, friendly and encouraging, and it’s a delight to bimble along through the trees, listening to the dawn chorus growing and swelling around you. Rebecca actually had better views of the dawn breaking over the campsite, but being in the trees as the light seeped through the branches was, as ever, a magical experience.
And so we flick-flacked on. I ran the dawn, then Rebecca went out, and I went again and she cheered me in for my second lap of the day. It rained, and the course got boggier and boggier. The sun came out and the course got a bit drier. It was dark; it was light; there was friendship; laughter (*so* much laughter); connection; food; dancing; running….
We were both hurting; my bad knee held up well; I’m pretty sure I haven’t made it any worse. But the good knee did a lot of compensating, and so I have one grumbly ITB to add to my torn MCL (on different legs!).
Between us we did 80 miles – 7 laps (35 miles) from me and a monster 9 laps (45 miles) from Rebecca. We ran the last closing straight together, in utter triumph, having far exceeded our own expectations. What a flippin’ brilliant team we make! And we placed as 6th female pair!! Bloody 6th! Looking at the distances the pairs ahead of us ran, I think we can definitely hit a podium place, next year. Because yes, OF COURSE there’s going to be a next year, Alison!