24-hour racing is the new ‘must-do’ running experience. runABC finds out more...
Your running adventure might have started a few years back at parkrun. Or in your youth at the school cross country run. You were pleased when you ran a 10k and surprised, but chuffed, to finish your first half marathon.
And it was a big day when they hung the marathon medal around your neck. You thought that was it but then your running buddies started banging on about an ‘ultra’. Against your better judgment you did the extra training and notched up that 35 miler. Surely this was the end of the road!
WRONG! Just when you thought it was time to get back to 10k, suddenly there’s a ‘new kid on the block’ - the race you must complete to nail the bragging rights you thought were yours already. Yes, we’re talking about a 24-hour race which, unsurprisingly, has you running for as long a distance in - wait for it - 24 hours.
24 is the new black
If you ever wondered what Thunder Run, Endure 24, the Spitfire Scramble or Equinox 24 were all about then we can share the news, for many of you one of them will be your next big challenge this year or 2019. OK, you might not go straight in at the deep end and do the solo version of 24-hour racing but there is a good chance you will be joining thousands of others at one of the events as part of a pair or a team.
So, what’s the attraction? Well, the clever people behind these events have somehow managed to convince unwary participants that 24-hour races are fun! Social affairs where like-minded people come together, pitch a tent, chat about running and maybe put in a few miles to work off the calories from the BBQ and the beer tent!
We’re only joking! All those fun things are true but, the unique atmosphere, at 24-hour events is created via the excitement generated by the super-human efforts that are going on all around.
Jane’s awfully big adventure
We spoke to one enthusiast who had taken part in 24-hour events a few times before daring to fly solo in 2017. runABC’s Jane Holt likes to go long - the marathon is a minor jog for our Jane. The prospect of a full-on endurance test was right up Jane’s street as she reported: “My first Thunder Run experience was in 2013 when I ran as one of a team of eight. I loved it - the atmosphere, the ‘esprit de corps’, the amazing respect for the solo runners and a brilliant occasion where lots of people where having lots of fun. I came back a couple of years later for the Lightning 12 which I ran solo and then teamed up with a friend for the 24-hour pairs (one of us always on the course). I handled both of those experiences reasonably well and I knew it was time to go the whole hog.”
Glastonbury for runners
While we leave Jane getting ready for Thunder Run 2017 it’s worthwhile to re-cap on some 24-hour race principles. Most are run around circuits of 5 or 6 miles, which seems like a good distance to keep the course populated without snarl-ups. The aim is to run as many laps (or miles) within 24 hours either solo, in pairs or in teams (3-8 is standard). There is a holding pen where runners can pass the baton (usually a snap-on band) to their teammate, and the changeover area is located in the event village where runners are taking time-out, and family and friends cheer on the participants as they make their way to the start of another lap.
As mentioned, event organisers make great play of the social dimension. Race villages with hundreds of tents and camper vans and lots of food and drink outlets, and chatty groups congregating at BBQs and the pop-up bars. Families, couples and groups make a weekend of it and hence the sobriquet ‘Glastonbury for runners’. The 5/6 mile circuits mean that it is relatively safe, no one gets lost towards the end of a 50-mile run across the moors and ‘casualties’ are always within just a few miles of medical attention. The appearance of the solo stars, and your clubmate or personal favourites, every hour or so gives a ‘grand prix’ flavour to the occasion. All 24-hour racers say that they didn’t expect to clock so many miles and that the event buzz inspired them to go further.
Exhausted, soaked, hungry and... happy
Talking of ‘solo stars’ – let’s get back to Jane Holt on the start line at Thunder Run 2017. What shape are you in Jane? “Good shape. I have been working with coach Gary House, himself an experienced ultra runner, and this is my target race. I’m aiming to start modestly - it’s easy to get carried away by adrenaline - and also to start refuelling from the very early stages. You can use 8,000 or 9,000 calories over the course of a 24- hour race, you need to make sure your tank doesn’t empty.”
Jane was as good as her word and posted lap times of 1:21:27, 1:27:23, 1:27:56, 1:38:14, 1:38:10 and 1:35:51 before a late evening break. Our heroine enjoyed a hearty repast of protein-packed pasta, a sports drink and a nice cup of tea before she headed out on the night shift.
Later Jane reported that the midnight to dawn laps had been the toughest and she had to work hard to keep her footing in dark and muddy conditions. However the support of the other runners kept her going and she was delighted to see the sun come up and remind her she only had only a few laps left. When she received the cheers of the crowds at 12.00pm on Sunday, Jane had completed 12 laps and run 75 miles to finish eighth out of 43 solo female runners.
Post-race Jane said: “That was amazing. The camaraderie among the runners was fantastic. And the sense of achievement is hard to describe. I’m exhausted, soaked through and very hungry but happy too!”