Running, A Love Letter: TR24 Race Report #allin24

TR24 really kind of started at around 5:30am on Friday morning, when I got up to the squeaking Neon Toddler, deciding to give Mr. Neon the opportunity to have something of a pre-work sleep in as he would have to deal with all-toddler-all-the-time during the weekend.  So, as I hadn’t packed yet for TR24 and she was in a super energetic mood, I decided she could help me pack before I took her off to nursery for the day.  She was super excited about it.  I don’t think she realised that she wasn’t coming along with whatever we we packing for.

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So, toddler to nursery, and packing done, I headed into London to change over some sports bras that I’d bought at Runner’s Need Holborn the day before, but had bought the wrong size in a silly brain-mix up.  That done, I headed to Senate House to run though some quick work with a friend and then to St. Pancras International to meet up with one of my TR24 team-mates, Kate.  We headed to the train and finally settled into our motel before ducking out for some dinner (carbs with a side of carbs, please!) and then trying to get a good night sleep.  This turned out to be a much better idea than camping on the Friday night.

So, early Saturday morning, our final team member, Ben, came by the motel to pick us up and head to the Catton Park.  I was feeling pretty good at this stage, and just eager to get the race started!

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So, we had a loose plan to get in and registered and then set up the campsite, but as it happened we just hung around the race village until the briefing, followed by the start.  Over breakfast the three of us had made a bit of a loose plan which saw me taking on the first lap.

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You can (just) see me in the back here, just off the start/finish straight:

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But, by the time we hit the first section of proper trail, the track narrowed from a super-wide path to single-lane steep uphill track, and there was bottleneck galore the whole way up the climb (fine by me, we had 23 hours and 50-something minutes of this craziness to go at this stage!).  The course was the hardest, craziest and funnest 10km loop I have ever run (can you tell I train in the concrete-wasteland of London?).  Over the weekend it produced some of my slowest ever 10km times (and by a long, long way too!).

Lap one was fairly uneventful, just getting bearings on the course, chatting to other runners, feeling the running love, and getting acquainted with the heat.  It was hot.  I’m Australian and I thought running through that was hot.  By the time I hit the (only) water station, just after 5km, I was ready for a hose down!  Somehow I got it in my head during this lap that the first 5km were tough – they were, but that’s neither hear nor there – and the second 5km were easier.  The second half was faster than the first on every lap I ran, but I don’t think that had anything to do with it being ‘easier.’  The last two kilometers, aside from the little but sharp and nastily placed hill just before the finish, were beautiful open grassland, flat or downhill, with some running though the campsite, so that was certainly easier than some of the other parts, but the most technical part of the trail – which we affectionately dubbed ‘the maze’ – also fell in the second 5km.  Who knows, but I wish I had shaken this idea before I set out on my second lap.

My second lap was meant to be three laps together.  I didn’t make it.  I was having a glorious run until just after the 7km mark, when I came out of ‘the maze’ and was stopped dead by a pain that ripped across my chest.  At first it was okay – very painful but only for a flash – and I picked up to run again.  A few steps later I realised it was not okay, and what had started as a pain really had become an awful tightening around my chest.  I ran, walked and hobbled the last three kilometers back to the start finish line, and was pulled by a marshal at the water station there who asked if I was okay and promptly made me sit down and got a medic.  I was mostly worried about handing our team baton over, and finding either Kate or Ben, but that’s neither here nor there at this stage.  I spent a while in the medical tent, and asked the question that I’m sure all runners ask: can I run again?  Of course the paramedic said no.  I wandered back towards camp to try and find Kate and Ben.  They were obviously concerned, and Kate took the baton and started her two laps.  Ben and I headed up and I got something to eat and just rested a bit.  By the time Kate came in, two laps later, and Ben went out for three laps, I was feeling much better but just exhausted – still very tight across the chest, but the pain had dimmed to just an ache.  I decided to try and get some sleep, which didn’t happen but at least I got some rest laying in the tent.

And, really, that’s when the rain started.  And, it rained.

By the time I took over from Ben, at around 1am-ish, it was coming less heavily but it was… wet.  I met another runner walking towards the start-line and hand-over area from camp and we trundled along together looking dejected and worn out.  And we hadn’t started running yet!  When Ben arrived, he looked shattered and I wasn’t really too excited about the lap.  A lot of runners had come in saying it was terrible out there, but I chose to keep remembering the one woman who’d run up to her team mate, handed the baton over and yelled – arms raised in the air – ‘THAT WAS AWESOME!!!’

And, I will tell you – that woman was right.

That lap – in the rain, with terrible visibility, my head-torch bumping around, discovering puddles within other puddles (who knew that was possible!) was the single most fun I have ever had running in my entire life.  That lap is what is mean to be a runner.  That lap was a love letter to running.

It wasn’t fast.  It wasn’t beautiful.  It wasn’t graceful.  It was just dirty, amazing, fun.  And, I almost lost my shoe in a slurp of mud.  We really reached the point where there was no point trying to dodge the puddles and mud-slides anymore – you just went with them!

But, if that was the best, my final lap was the worst.  After I came in, Ben and I decided that what we needed was to sleep and the course was getting too churned up and, as all three of us have bigger things going on in the near future, we didn’t want to cause any injury.  So we went to bed to re-convene at 5am.

After a bit of very-broken sleep, and the most glorious baked potato with beans I have ever had in my life, Kate set out for another lap and I went off to get changed (yes, if you were there, I was the person having breakfast dressed in their sleeping bag) and do a bit of cheering before I headed out again.  Kate had twinged her leg a bit, and so was only going to walk the lap giving me around 2 hours to get organised.  Ben found me standing on a corner of the course yelling encouragement to some very muddy looking runners shuffling past towards the end, so we went back to camp to get ready for our remaining laps.

Kate came in and I went out, hoping to not take any longer than the hour and a half night lap I’d done.  Since the rain had stopped the course had gotten worse.  It was just one massive churned up bog of a thing.  This is one of the better sections:

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I fell.  And fell again.  And I fell into a nettle bush.  But, then I fell into a waist deep puddle.  Also, it had gotten hot again.  I’m not sure how I managed to get around this lap, but I did – and only about 15-20 minutes faster than I had hoped.  This was my finish, so I did a bit of a victory arm-pump though the finish banner, and then a heel-click before handing the baton over.  Ben set out for his final lap and Kate and I got some lunch and sat down by the finish to cheer.  Time was ticking away and as the clock moved from 23:59:59 to 0:00:00 there was a big cheer.  We had done it!  24 hours of running down!  A few minutes later, Ben came though the finish and we got to celebrate together!

We were wet and muddy, but happy.  I didn’t reach my goal of 5-7 laps.  In fact, in the end, I was never going to reach it – between the time I spent in the medical tent and the conditions, I’m not sure I could have pushed out any more.  So, I ended up with 4 laps and we had a team total of 130kms!  So yeah, I’m pretty proud of what everyone did, and I’m proud of what I did.  Bring on next year!

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