Where to begin? Over the past few weeks I must have had half a dozen posts that I’ve meant to write, but they’ve all been shunted down the list after my most recent adventure. This weekend we packed up our troubles (well our tent and several changes of running kit) in our old kit bag (well the boot of Ginge’s car) and headed off down South to meet 6 virtual strangers (and Helen) who made up the UK Fitness Bloggers team at the Spitfire Scramble. On Thursday, stuck in the office all day, I had been giddy with excitement, but come Friday morning, the anxiety kicked in with a vengeance – I was meeting up with people who I didn’t know, who all look like Proper Runners and I had no idea whether or not I could actually manage to do what was been asked of me.
What was being asked of me was to be part of a team who would be running for 24 hours, doing three laps of a 5.8 mile course on paths and trails with some kind of hill in the middle of it. Friday night was time to get the tent up and meet half of the team before a bit of a chill out as we pondered the prospect of the next day. On Saturday, I politely declined the prospect of doing the local parkrun, preferring a gentle morning eating a sausage butty and chasing Mini-Ginge around the campsite (which quite possibly involved a similar mileage to actually doing a parkrun).
You know the weird sensation of waiting for a race to start? Spitfire was like this but multiplied by, oooh ,at least twenty-four. Even when you weren’t running, you were aware that you were going to have to run and that someone else was about to go out or be due back and would need cheering on. I have to thank Helen for planning the schedule to send out the slower runners first, this meant that I was second on the list (at about one o’clock) and wouldn’t have long to wait for my first lap. As I was following Helen, I knew that the sun would shine upon me as I would have the residual effects of her blessing/curse which brings warm weather to every event that she runs (Half marathon in Folkestone? 30 degrees? In October? Of course she can make that happen).
I was paced beautifully by a man in a jaunty yellow cap for the first mile and a half, but then I acquired a stone in my shoe and I lost him until the water station at three miles. The nature of the race means that unless you set off with someone running at a similar pace, you tend to be on your own for a lot of the time. I was passed by speedier runners any number of times (who were all very generous with their shouts of “well done!” as they legged it past me. In the later stages, I would pass the occasional solo runner, but quite frankly there is no satisfaction to be gained in overtaking someone who has already been on the move for half a day.
My first lap gave me chance to get to know the route and decide which bits I didn’t like (the winding, steady, energy sapping hill; the stretch along a field with the afternoon sun beating down; any of the potentially lethal trip hazards) and which bits I did (the water station; the shady, wooded bit with a lovely downhill that made me feel like a mountain goat as I hurtled down it at an unsafe speed; the two short steep uphills, because at the end of the day I am nothing but contrary).
Whilst I enjoyed myself, these were not my ideal conditions. The heat wore me down and I felt that my wheels fell off halfway round. My pacing was all over the show – setting off with wild abandon and then having to walk (my mile splits show a difference of about 2 minutes 25 seconds between my slowest and fastest laps). However, as I rounded the final corner I spotted Corey bouncing and yelling at me, and quite frankly I didn’t dare slow down. The route to the finish took you alongside two sides of the campsite which meant that there was always a lot of support from other teams as well as the welcome sight of our own team (who were easy to spot by the fabulous bright pink headbands that Corey had bought for us).
Normally my running kit is incredibly dull and ninja-like (possibly so I blend into the tarmac) but somehow I ended up wearing a riot of neon with my headband and my new fluorescent yellow #bloodnotmoney vest (which I will talk about more in another post as I still have another two laps to bang on about).
In between laps, I grazed on the vast quantities of snacks that people had brought with them to the race. Talk about the kindness of strangers! As well as everyone ensuring that no one would starve over the next 24 hours, Trespass had donated t-shirts, headtorches and glowsticks to the team, we had matching water bottles from Sistema (mine will enter my endless cycle of bottles that I regularly fill up and forget to take with me to work) and a Flipbelt for stashing essential bits and bobs.
I was strangely looking forward to my second lap which I was due to start around half ten. However, due to the general speediness of the team, we had made up twenty-odd minutes which brought my start time forward a bit. It was still dark mind you. The Trespass headtorch wasn’t quite strong enough for the middle-of-the-countryside-pitch-black darkness and I had been planning to run with that and my trusty handtorch that had got me around the National Trust Night Run. However we had been joined by the Amazing Abradypus (TM) who tried to give me her spare headtorch, only for me to go all polite and protest that no I was fine, I could manage with what I had. Eventually (on the start line, literally as Corey was coming into view for the handover) Ginge told me to just take the torch, Louise stuck it on my head and off I went.
If anyone ever offers you a really bright headtorch as you’re about to run off into some woods, just say yes and take the bloody headtorch.
It was dark. Very dark. The head torch lit up the path in the distance and I used my handtorch to sweep the ground in front of me for tree roots, uneven paths and foxes (I spotted two glowing dots in front of me, thought it was the reflective bits on the heels of someone’s trainers and then realised that I could just make out a foxy pair of ears). Parts of the route seemed familiar, but I managed to convince myself that I had missed a turning and then got cocky, thought that I was feeling much stronger as I ran along my dreaded field and then realised that I had misjudged the location of the field by a mile and a half (when I ran my final lap, I couldn’t figure out where I thought the field had been the night before).
The weird thing about the night lap was that one of the hills completely disappeared. Clearly the secret to running hills is to run them in the dark as invisible hills are much more managable. Other than the vanishing hills, I think that the highlight of this lap was passing a well-lit marshalls’ station, embracing my inner Northerner and exclaiming “ooooh, it’s like the Blackpool Illuminations down here!” before running off, playing an imaginary ukelele and singing “when I’m cleaning windows” in my best George Formby voice. I really hope that nobody heard me.
It turns out that what my running has been missing is darkness. I completed my second lap two minutes faster than my first lap and at a much more consistent pace. Getting back to camp, I was bouncing with excitement and was almost offering to go out again. Almost. Instead I had a beer and a chocolate milk, talked a lot and crashed into bed for a few hours sleep before my next lap.
I am quite a morning person and was probably annoyingly cheerful to anyone who crossed my path on Sunday. I brewed up with Mollie’s brilliant Primus Lite stove (I spent a lot of the weekend suffering with kit envy) and stuffed her peanut butter flapjack down my neck before walking to start line with Helen. At this point I discovered that I may be cheerful at 6am, but I am also massively incompetent. Having forgotten her number, I nipped back to collect it from Helen’s tent, misidentified one of two orange tents (and bear in mind that I had helped Helen put her’s up) and it was only when a poor slumbering Alma rolled over that it dawned on me that I was in the wrong tent and I beat a hasty retreat…
Anyway… An hour or so later and it was time for my final lap. Feeling fine on the start line, as Helen handed over the baton and my foot hit the ground, I soon realised that someone had been beating my quads with a mallet. This was going to be a very plodding run. As I reached the long, slow winding hill, I found myself catching up with a power-walking solo runner and realised that if I ran past him, I would inevitably end up walking and look a bit of an arse. So I walked up, we had a nice chat, wished each other well and I bounded off down the other side.
I decided to embrace some walking and took the opportunity to thank the lovely marshall at the water station who had been there for all three of my laps. We both marvelled at the leader of the solo male category who bounded past us looking as fresh as a daisy (he would eventually complete 20 laps, running for a total of 24 hours 15 minutes. Utterly insane) and I plodded on. I was determined to run up the two short hills and as I came through my favourite wooded downhill, I spotted Mini-Ginge shoulder-riding his dad to say hello and cheer me on. This was great until I had to keep running past them and could hear a “mummy…mummy” fading behind me. Luckily I didn’t have far to go and I trotted round the campsite, crossed the finishline and took myself off for a restorative bacon butty.
So, three laps done, nearly 18 miles – definitely the furthest that I’ve ever run in that space of time. It’s now Tuesday and I am still grinning like an idiot at the thought of this weekend. It was amazing to be part of such a brilliant, supportive team and to be part of this event. There were runners of all shapes, ages and abilities, and not once did I feel out of place. So many people were an inspiration and even though my times weren’t the fastest, I have been ever so proud of myself for doing this. On Monday I booked myself in for a massage and saw the therapist who treated me a few months ago for a very wonky back that was knotted into spasm. I was struggling to get going with my running at that time and I was a bit grey around the edges, so it was wonderful to be able to go in with a huge smile on my face and ask for some post-event recovery. Poor Laura endured thirty minutes of me rabbiting on and I am fairly sure that she kept applying some extra pressure just to shut me up for a bit…
So a MASSIVE thank you to Helen for putting the team together, the rest of my awesome team mates Alma, Andrew, Corey, Kat, Mollie and Sabine just for being so awesome, Ginge for driving me to yet another event at the other end of the country and for wrangling Mini-Ginge all weekend, my mum for the loan of her gazebo and to Danny and his team (especially his mum who had the uneviable task of changing the loo roll in some not entirely fragrant portaloos) for making the whole thing happen.
Trespass, Flipbelt, Primus and Sistema sent products for the team for to review however all opinions are honest and my own.