Back in the autumn someone from the club posted a link on Facebook to an event called “Hope24”. It was a charity event which involved running laps of a 5 mile course, either on your own or as a team of 2, ,3, 5 or 8 people. “Sounds fun” I thought…
This started a flurry of activity, and before long the club had a bunch of teams and it had turned into a big club event.
Fast forward through my Manchester training and recovery and before I knew it it was race weekend.
My preparation had hardly been ideal. I’d done no specific training – how do you train for an event like this without compromising your marathon training aims? In the days before the event I was in Iceland on a business trip and then had to drive the 3 hours from Luton Airport back to Yeovil, to pick up Jodie and then do the next 2 hours onward to Plymouth.
When we arrived at the site we immediately went wrong, driving down a road around the perimeter of the site – a mistake several runners would make over the course of the event! We eventually found our way into the site entrance, excellently marshalled by a Billy Connolly lookalike who would prove to be a highlight later in the weekend…
We pitched our tent easily enough then went to get some carby fish and chips before settling in with my now pre-race ritual – a couple of cans of Thatchers Gold. Talk turned to the weather – at this stage of the night the sky was a little overcast but there was no rain. The forecast for Saturday was good, once the morning rain was out of the way, and we hoped for a good clear day to run in.
It was nice to spend some time with the guys from the club. I’m not a particularly social animal and meeting and chatting with new people isn’t something I’m very good at beyond an informal “hello”, so it was good to sit around with everyone and shoot the breeze.
Jodie and I headed to bed on our comfy airbed and before I knew it the tent was getting light and I could hear the rain falling on the lightweight canvas. Bad news, but I still had my fingers crossed for the rain to clear. Thankfully it had gone within the hour and brightened up by 8.30.
We headed to the registration tent to pick up our numbers. It was fast and easy, and gave us the opportunity to meet the event director, Danny Slay. I’d chatted with him on Facebook a few times so it was great to put a face to a name. We picked up our packs which included a free Clif energy bar, and we’d also won a couple of spot prizes! The event was sponsored by Buffwear and we’d won a couple of “Buffs”. I was the winner of one, but as Simon had gone on and on AND ON about them, I donated mine to him in order to promote (unfortunately unreciprocated) team spirit.
We “warmed up” for the event by heading to the local Plymvalley parkrun, which seemed like a good idea at the time, but my legs would later regret the extra effort which was put in.
Once we got back, the camp site started building with energy and excitement, and we headed to the pre-race briefing. It was short and swift and before long the leg 1 runners (And soloisits) were lined up and before we knew it they were off!
Simon headed out for us on leg one, but after he got back rather unhelpfully decided not to share any knowledge of the course with us… Not the best team work Mr Carney!
Captain Matt Driver headed out second for us…
… and I took over for lap 3. I actually did the teamly thing and passed on as much as I could whilst I was running past the halfway point, which is where the rest of the team Jodie were stood. This was shortly before I fell on my ass on a slippery bridge! (Which I WAS warned about in the race briefing!) Thankfully no-one got a photo of that…
I handed over to Steve…
… Who in turn handed over to Mark.
The weather at this point couldn’t have been better. I just wish I could say the same about the course! It was utterly brutal. The elevation profile below tells the story, two massive peaks. I have to say though, it didn’t quite feel like it looked. There were certainly 2 very steep (And unrunnable for me after the second lap) sections but it didn’t feel like the first 2 miles were all uphill, in fact the first mile felt pretty level. But that may explain my stuggle later in the weekend, which I’ll come to later…
Although the course was brutal, it was actually very interesting. Mostly trail, the first lap looped away from the race village along a long flat section, before winding around some muddy track and crossing a bridge over the river. You then came to a steep ascent and ran through a genuine clay pigeon shooting range! Thankfully no-one was shooting today, (Though that probably would have made me run faster). We then ran across some sort of car park where there was a group of people in a caravan cheering us on. They were there for most of the weekend, the only time I didn’t see them there was my middle of the night stint. They were magnificent. After passing “caravan alley” you went through some more muddy track before a sharp turn and the first very steep climb.
On my first lap I ran this climb all the way to the top, but I couldn’t sustain that at all. It was far too much on the legs. I think from what I’ve heard, most people ended up walking it, especially toward the end. As you reached the peak you winded around the woods and made your way back down towards the river and the cheering van before crossing the river again and leveling off for a flat grassy run back toward the race village.
This was about the half way point, and was the perfect location to see team and club mates for support – though what was great about the event was that everyone cheered every runner as they went past, regardless of club or team. It was 24 hours of constant support and encouragement, which was brilliant to experience.
You then crossed another bridge (Which was slippery and where I performed a text book power slide on my hip…) before heading to the second big climb. This was through some kind of peacock park. I’d never seen or heard a peacock other than in a conservation park. I’d never heard one before (They are bloody loud) and I’d certainly never seen one up in a tree, I thought they were flightless! Anyway, the long slog up the hill took you to the 3 mile mark before sweeping round for a slight decline before another gentle climb up to the peak. At the peak of this second hill was a Thomas the Tank Engine bench! Now this doesn’t seem particularly significant, but I used it to signal that it was downhill from there. Thomas became my psychological crutch in later laps.
After Thomas it was a long rocky downhill before reaching a tarmac section and rounding the corner manned by Billy Connolly (Who I always enjoyed seeing as it meant I was near the end). “Billy” was there almost all day and night, and he was excellent in his support. Then you crossed another bridge and you were back in the campsite. The campsite was lined with people offering their support as you looped around it to cross the line and handover the “baton” wristband.
I did my first lap in 37 minutes. A massive mistake. It felt good to be able to conquer the course that quickly, but it really did ruin the event for me. After lap 3 I really started to struggle. If you take a look at my heart rate stats you can see why I may have blown out…
Though Lap 2 is clearly where the damage was done. I’ve never had an “Extreme Sufferfest” before, and I don;t fancy having another one…
One of the things I enjoyed about the event during the day, was that after running our laps we could just pull up a chair and support all the other runners fom the side of the camp site. The course was very spectator friendly and chilling out in the sunshine was really lovely. Unfortunately, the stop start nature of the event ended up affecting my performance too. My laps got slower and slower and things started to become a real struggle.
Running the course at night was the hardest part of the event for me. I ran my last daylight leg at dusk. Steve who followed up from me would have needed his head torch to get around, and my first night stint was at about midnight. It was dark but clear though with my tired legs and in the dark I slowed even more. I found that I just couldn’t run fast AND have confidence in my footing, whilst nursing exhausted legs.
After my first night lap, we got the bad news that Mark couldn’t continue as his ankles had flared up, dropping us back to a team of 4. This meant even less rest between stints.
Speaking of rest, I was unfortunately unable to get any sleep. Every time I got my head down, my legs took a long time to calm down, and the campsite was noisy. Every time I thought I could drift off to a slumber, it was time to get up to do the next stint again.
My 3am stint was the hardest run of my life. I didn’t want to get up. It was cold and now it was foggy too.The start/finish was eerie and the wait for Matt to come in to hand over to me felt like it took an eternity. As I headed out I could feel that my legs were spent. By the time I reached the first big hill the fog had gotten so bad I could barely see 2 feet in front of me, and found that I had to look down at the floor all the time. I couldn’t distinguish between the track I needed to run on and the grass that I was meant to avoid! The course was marked with glowsticks, but these were barely visible. Thankfully the course markers were reflective and the head torches provided JUST enough light to see them, otherwise I’d have ended up in Lands End! It was so dark I didn’t even see that there were some photographers at the end of the bridge. When this photo was taken I got the fright of my life and my HR probably spiked – and I could have drop kicked them into the river for giving me that shock (If only I had the energy…)
Getting to the top of the hills post-walking and having the opportunity to actually start running provided little respite – mentally I was shot to bits. As I ran through half way back at the campsite before turning to the second big climb, I was ready to give up. Half way walking up the hill I had to stop completely. I couldn’t even walk it.
I’m not ashamed to admit I could have cried. It felt like the loneliest place in the world, and although I only had 2 miles left to run in the lap it felt like the end was a world away. It was a very dark place (Quite literally). I wanted to be anywhere but there. There was a lot of walking that lap, and the relief I felt when I finally made it back to hand over to Steve was almost overwhelming.
Thankfully this was my last night time lap. I did one breakfast lap before my amazing supporter Jodie joined me for my last two. I was struggling big time, but having Jodie running with me really did keep me spurred on. it kept me honest, and she kept me motivated. That and my sense of male pride meant that I didn;t want her to see me struggle too much! We kept talking about how excited we were to see Thomas, who we were BOTH relieved to see. Jodie couldn’t believe how many laps we managed doing those hills! My last two laps were about 50 minutes, which I was very happy with. Without Jodie I could have taken well over an hour. She helped me so much.
I managed 7 laps/35 miles all in all which when you add parkrun on top isn’t a bad haul for 24 hours. Despite my moaning I probably could have managed a couple more laps – especially if Jodie had tagged along.
At the end I was exhausted and a bit cranky. I just wanted to go home but with 5 minutes left on the clock Simon decided he wanted to do a last lap of glory, so we ended up waiting for him. We ran the last 200 yards together and crossed the line as a team.
The best thing about the finish was cheering everyone back in. Watching all the teams cross the line together was just inspirational. It doesn’t matter how fast or slow they were, how many were in a team, it was just a real privilege to be there.
Unbelieveably the winner, Matt Bisco, achieved 135 miles – a new course record. How he managed that is just mind boggling, the man must be some sort of machine!
We collected our medals (Which were of an excellent quality) and packed up for the trip home.
From a running point of view, I think its clear from this post that I didn’t enjoy it, but that’s my own fault. I taught myself some valuable lessons that I won;t make again. Not going out too fast, maintaining a sensible pace, walk the hills from the start, take some ear plugs. But I don’t want that to misrepresent how good the experience was. The event itself was amazing. So well organised, such a good vibe, and really, truly great fun.
Would I do another 24 hour relay? Definitely.
Would I do Hope 24 again? I’m not sure.
Writing this I am still pretty mentally scarred from the hills, the tiredness, and the loneliness. My legs are still recovering and it feels like I’ll never run fast again. I’m sure that will change over time. After all, when I crossed the finish line in Paris I said I’d never run another marathon, and that soon changed.
It was great to meet and get to know so many new people and it really brought a brilliant sense of camaraderie I’d not found before.
Thank you to Danny and the Hope 24 team for the hardest, yet one of the greatest experiences of my life.