24 hours of running

Endure 24 is a twenty four hour race held on a 5 mile trail lap in Wasing park estate in Aldermaston, near Reading. It can be ran in teams of 6-8 or 3-5, pairs and solo.

In 2012 I took part in this event in a team with 7 other completely inexperienced ultra runners from my running group Parklands Jog and Run. That weekend we some how managed to win our category and broke the course record in the process. This was the beginning of my love affair with Endure 24.

I completed 7 laps that day, so 35 miles in total which was by far the furthest I’d ever ran in a 24 hour period. I loved every single minute of what was a beautifully sunny weekend and I was in absolute awe of the solo runners. To me they were on a different planet. Until that weekend I’d never even began to imagine that running for 24 hours was even possible but after it I could stop thinking about it and decided to take the plunge so as soon as the 2014 entry opened a couple of weeks later I was all signed up. I was going to run Endure 24 as a soloist……

One whole year of anticipation later and the day had arrived. I felt that i’d put in a fairly good amount of preparation around all the other events I’ve done and I was ready to take on 24 hours of running. I had a rough plan and a target in mind and on Saturday morning I made the 90 mile journey along with my mum to Aldermaston to meet up with some of my Parklands Jog and Run teammates who weren’t as crazy as me and were again doing the event in a team.

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On arrival the sun was trying to shine through but was being blocked by some rather unsightly grey clouds. Although we had been treated to blazing hot sun for the past couple of weeks rain had been predicted for Saturday daytime and those predictions came true!

Around 30 minutes before the 12pm start time, a time 12 months previous I’d been filling paddling pools up with ice to cool myself down, I was huddled under a gazebo trying my best to avoid getting any wetter than necessary before it became unavoidable as it was time for the race briefing and the start of what was going to be a long, wet, muddy 24 hours.

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The rain was coming down so heavily that the race start was slightly delayed but at 12 minutes past mid day we were off and I did my best to hold back from running too fast. Just around the first corner came the first hill. It was a long steady climb on one of only two hard gravelled sections before a cattle bridge marked the 1K point and the first of a whole lot of mud.

Last year there were very little muddy sections and it was quite easy to get round an entire lap without getting my trainers dirty but as I entered into the woods for the first time it was apparent that the combination of heavy rain and 2000 runners was going to turn the surface of this course into a cross country run of epic proportions.

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Another couple of kilometres into the course came a beautiful, tranquil lake surrounded by forest land. This was my favourite part of the lap last year but a huge puddle upon arrive that required wading through dampened the mood some what and the vision of rain drops rebounding off the waters surface rather than sun rays tarnished any further memory of a year gone by.

At this point was a change to last years course with a right turn rather than a left one into a new section. This section had twists, turns, fallen branches to weave around and almost every type of mud imaginable. More mud than I have experience in several of the obstacle course races I have done on a terrain that even the most hardened OCR event organiser would be proud of.

Once we’d looped around this section it brought us back to the lake and then into the first drinks station or Ally’s bar as it was called. Here giant lettering stood proudly on the hill spelling out the words Endure 24. The bar had an endless supply of water, energy gels, bars and sweets and alcoholic pumps with a sign reading ‘sold out, next delivery Monday.’

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There was no resting on my laurels though as next up was one of the muddiest, slipperiest hills I’ve ever encountered. This was tough to get up but before I’d even had time to get my energy bar down came another drinks station. This time stocked with orange Lucozade.

Up another steady climb and the welcome sight of a gazebo with some enthusiastic marshals signalled the 8K point. This later became my favourite part of the course due to the fact that it was mostly all down hill or flat and on more even ground from here on in. Well that was until the rain came again that evening causing even the last 1K back around the campsite to become cut up and quite treacherous throughout.

That last 1K did bring about an air of excitement and accomplishment as it signalled a full lap completed and was lined with fellow runners and supporters acknowledging your achievements.

For the majority of the first quarter of the race I stayed on course managing to clock up 6 laps/ 30 miles before taking my first lengthy break where I returned to the PJR team’s camp and relaxed on a sun lounger as they made me a welcomed cup of tea as I took in some pasta and for the first time in hours the rain stopped and the sun came out. This galvanised my spirits and after just over 2 hours I was off for more.

My seventh lap was as fast as my first and I followed that up with two more consistent laps before grinding out lap number 10. I knew that if I had any chance of getting anywhere near that magical 100 mile mark that I had to make 50 miles with room to play with before the half way point came. On lap 10 I felt surprisingly good, it was still before 10pm and I was confident in my ability to keep going. But then things took a significant change.

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As the lap was closing in and darkness was falling it started to rain, again. Heavy, heavy rain poured down, thunder echoed and the skies lite up with lightning. This was not in the script. I was all ready for the night shift. In fact I was looking forwards to it in some ways as I’d done plenty of night time training runs and enjoyed them but this changed the game.

Running at night through forests with only a head torch to guide you is a testing experience at the best of times but the thought of doing it with a full days running in my legs, in the pouring rain on a course that was a task in itself in broad day light was too much to take in. At the completion of lap number 10/ 50 miles, I steeped off course, got out of my soaking wet clothes and into what dry kit I had left and headed for a hot meal at the 24 hour catering facilities and contemplated what I was going to do next.

I accepted that 100 miles wasn’t going to happen in these conditions and set a new target of 75 miles. I would be very happy to return home being able to say I’d almost ran three back to back marathons on my first attempt and with that I went into my tent for the first time. It was 11pm, I hadn’t made up my mind exactly how long I was going to sleep for but I had told my mum who was due back out on course for her relay leg at 2.30am to wake me ready when she was heading out incase I felt like setting off with her. A 1.10am I got a call saying that she was due out earlier than expected and with that I was up and back on course by 1.30am.

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The rain had stopped but it had got colder. I stuck on several layers including a hoody which I soon regretted as I quickly warmed up as I started to run again. My legs hadn’t stiffened up as I had feared they would after laying down and I felt ok. I managed to push out 3 night laps before sunrise meaning my 75 mile target was more than achievable.

I later found out that a lot of solo runners had turned in at the same point as I did and many didn’t get back on course until day light, some never returned.

I took another break before grinding out laps 14 and 15 at which point I had enough time to go back to the PJR base camp again and relax with the team before heading out at 10.30am for my 16th and final lap. Knowing that was going to be my last lap felt great and I was proud of how far I had gone in such tough conditions.

I finished the race in 23 hours 43 minutes and 12 seconds in 23rd place from 200 solo runners having covered 80 miles/ 128k.

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I collected my medal that I will cherish for all my days and also use as a reminder each time I’m struggling for motivation in the build up to next years event because I will most certainly be back again to have another crack at that 100 miles. Next time with all the experience of this event, another years training and hopefully better conditions.

I said it last year and I will say it again. This is the best event I’ve ever done (and I’ve done my fair share). Brilliantly organised in every department, extremely good value for money, very friendly, so so inspiring. The weather did it’s very best to spoil things but everyone just got on with it and embraced it which is a true testament to just how good they have it.

Endure 24, thank you very much.

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