Seeking asylum in the hills & transcendence on the trails

Thunder Run 24 – race report (July 2013)

Ok, so I can finally talk about the worst race of my life.

Yep, the Thunder Run 24.

I was actually pretty excited about it as things had been going well after wins at the Kintyre Way and West Highland Way races. This was to be my first ever 24 hour race. I’d really wanted to run the Glenmore 24 the previous year but it clashed with UTMB.

The Thunder Run is an off-road 10K loop with around 150m of ascent per lap. The start / finish area was in the middle of some fields with runners and support crews all camping on-site. When we arrived it felt a lot like a festival without the booze and music. We set up ‘Camp Nathan’ in what we hoped would be a fairly quiet part of the field (reserved for the solo runners). There would be hundreds of others running it as part of a team (with up to 8 x runners) which I’d later find to be a little frustrating.

Pre-race

Pre-race

The weather was ‘scorchio’ as it got closer to the 12pm start on the 27th. Stevie and I sat in the Nathan tent for a final bit of shelter from the heat before taking our places on the start line with a minute to go. Temp read “HOT”.

The start was exactly as we thought – people all out sprinting! It was bizarre. Hard to tell if any of those were part of the solo race or they were all team racers. I settled in and stayed reasonably near the front, trying not to be dragged away by the over-exuberance of the 10K’ers.

Whilst I didn’t feel too hot I could sense it was having an impact on me. I stuck to my fluid / food plan and felt ok for a few laps. By lap 5 (45K) I had that dreaded feeling in my stomach and I knew I was slowing. Something was very wrong. I really wanted to get back to the start / finish and my support, but half way round, the pain in my stomach notched up a level. I stopped and immediately and violently hosed my guts onto the woodland floor. “Oh f*ck” I thought. “This isn’t good.” I hoped it would settle down but my legs had gone completely too. I was in real trouble and doubted I’d be able to get to the start never mind run for another 18+ hours. A marshal heard the eruption and returned with a bottle of water. I took a sip, said I was fine and wandered off into the woods. “I’ll be fine……I’ll be fine…….it’s just a blip…….give it the rest of the lap”. When I got out of the woods the heat punched me in the stomach again.

Team Pyllon sorted me out temporarily and I was running again for a few miles where I could meet them on the loop that came back past our camp. By this point I was over-heating but started to shiver uncontrollably when I stopped to try and get sorted. It was like nothing I’d experienced before. I was overheating but shaking with cold. This wasn’t going well and I could sense that the crew were very worried. There was a hint at ‘pulling out’ which was at least enough to get me moving again. Not likely.

I had to pull myself together and within a couple of laps, I was back. The top came off and I was running quicker and stronger than I had at the start. I couldn’t understand how I’d gone from feeling so low to running hard again in just a few laps. Just then, the thunder-storm started. We all felt it was coming. “Short-lived” they said. It was an amazing couple of laps – as night drew closer and the rain battered down. I howled as I ran through the woods to the flashes of lightning. TAPPPSSS AFFFFFFFFF!!

The feeling of joy didn’t last too long though. The rain did. And as it got close to midnight I was soaked through and cold. Surely it wouldn’t last? By 2 or 3 am I was freezing. I had fallen countless times in the worsening mud and was miserable. The crew were pretty down too but turned out in the torrential rain every single time when they would have been forgiven for heading for the relative warmth of their campervan. Like clockwork, twice a lap, one of the crew were there with words of encouragement and food & drinks options whilst listening to me vent (and slowly break down).

By the next lap I had to change clothes. I had no choice. I was shivering the whole time from being thoroughly soaked through. The course was quieter by this point as many runners clearly took an extended timeout. I changed in the ultravan and longed to stay inside. It was warm and dry and for once my sister really wanted me to give it up. She looked worried and tired.

I pushed myself back out with some words of encouragement. The next few hours just got worse. The rain continued and the course got even more cut up and muddy. Many parts were un-runnable by this point. My stomach chucked it. Literally. Although this time from the other end  and every mile or so. It had clearly taken its lead from the weather and I was p*ssing out my backside (sorry) as consistently as the dark clouds above . I had no idea if it was energy gels, porridge, soup or mud I was eating as everything was in such a mess and my mind wasn’t very sharp. At the lowest point I was stopped taking a pee as my sister tried to force some food into my mouth and pick out some mud from my eyes. I wasn’t very steady, lost my footing and went half-naked into a ditch of over-sized, anabolic nettles that managed to grab onto every part of exposed flesh. I swore and cursed like a madman and the ridiculousness of the whole situation must have made my crew chuckle inside. Why did I ever think this was a good idea?

When the sun came up and the rain finally stopped I really questioned what I was doing. I had been leading the solo the whole way but got confused at a number of points –  the commentator was giving out mixed information (sometimes incorrectly too). Simon was onto it every time and kept it right. The course was a mess by this point though. It was more like some kind of jungle ultra but without the snakes / leeches.

With a few hours to go I just wanted to stop. The format was that the winner would be the one with the most laps completed. As long as you had started a new lap within the 24 hour cut-off the distance would count but your time would also be recorded to determine your position (where the numbers of laps were equal). By this time I knew my plan of securing a respectable distance was gone. I think I knew that the minute the course began to flood. I just wanted to finish the race now (and as the winner). I hoped that the guy in 2nd was slowing – Simon confirmed that wasn’t the case and on lap 19 I was told I’d have to go around again. It was hard. I really didn’t want to and was convinced I’d already done enough. If I completed that I was reasonably confident the win was in the bag – there just wouldn’t be enough time left for him to get 2 or 3 more laps in to catch me. Or so I thought. All gets quite difficult to work out by that point.

So that was it – I  just had to muster enough to get me round one final time. Sounds easy…..the course was comical though. I don’t think I’ve ever run on anything like it. Mud, bogs and swamp. It wasn’t running any more. When I finally got round towards the finish line I desperately wanted to be told I could stop. I crossed the line, 200KM done with about an hour to go. I looked at my support for the smallest of signs. They didn’t give me what I was looking for….”surely not” I just couldn’t go back out there.

Finally they gave me the nod and that was it. I dropped to the ground exactly where I stood. The torture was over. 20 x laps wouldn’t be passed even with an additional hour of running time. Simon and Nic joined me and we hugged on the ground. When I looked up I could see on their faces what I’d just put them through. That didn’t make me feel any better and I was suddenly aware of my selfishness. Fine if I want to destroy myself physically and emotionally. Not fine if I’m doing it to those that care about me. They helped me remove the caked-on shoes and calf guards. When I saw what was inside my shoes I knew I’d be losing a lot from the soles of my feet. We hobbled over to the vans and I sat on a rug. I was mentally trashed.

Finally over. Just as I phoned home I heard the announcer confirm that the showers had run out of water. A shower was all I really wanted. I walked over to the officials to check that they were being serious. They were. I was going to spend the night after running for a day, caked in more than I cared to imagine. Good way to spend a birthday eh?

Before I totally lost the plot, NIc and Simon had started the big clean-up and within 10 mins I was clean(ish), had fresh clothes on and went for a massage.

I was then given my birthday cake lying in the ultravan (vegan lemon drizzle) before the crew had to set off home after the medal presentation. Stevie, his family and I then spent the night in a muddy, empty field trying to come to terms with the nightmare. Stevie finished 4th – a brilliant result considering his trouble in the night and not having enough kit to get him anywhere nearly dry or warm through the storm.

Would I do another 24 hour race? Absolutely! Would I run round a swamp again for the best part of 15 hours? Not if I can help it.

Huge thanks to the #TeamNathanUK family and the southern division of the pyllon support crew. Some moments we’d love to forget but some that will have undoubtedly brought us closer together.

Living for these experiences.

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8 responses

  1. Congrats on the win mate, tough conditions to say the least. Our team of 5 knocked it on the head for a break when the lightning got a bit close for comfort and I ended up going back out for a couple of night laps in the dire conditions which were about as grim as I’ve “raced” in.

    I think at one point I did pass you earlier in the day and it was an honour to share a course with someone pushing to the limit you did for the win. Really inspiring and reading about all the troubles you managed to gut through as well is most impressive!

    @welcomebrand

    October 23, 2013 at 3:51 pm

  2. mark 2pure/9.9

    Ace stuff. Superb effort and very inspiring – i have ridden 24hr (bike) there and it gets wet like nowhere else…

    October 23, 2013 at 5:22 pm

    • Thanks a lot Mark! Yeah, weird place. Can imagine the bikes would soon cut it up.

      October 23, 2013 at 9:09 pm

  3. wow man !! you couragous bastard !!! nice one Paulo 🙂

    October 23, 2013 at 6:47 pm

    • Thanks buddy. Always appreciated. Hope you and the wee princess are good 😉

      October 23, 2013 at 9:12 pm

  4. Brilliant – I mean the blog as well as the actual race. Most of us will never experience anything like that, and this was such a full and honest account. May you never have to go through anything like that ever again.

    November 8, 2013 at 9:55 pm

  5. Pingback: 24-hour ultra support – the real hard work | Pyllon - ultra runner

  6. Pingback: UTMB – 2013 (Race review) | Pyllon - ultra runner

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