I wrote the following review for http://www.ultrarunningcommunity.com
The Good, the Bad and the Massively Unfortunate.
After trying and failing in my last attempt at covering 100 miles in 24 hours at Endure 24 back in June
(https://chrislambracingdiary.wordpress.com/2015/06/22/endure-24-1314-06-15/) I felt I had unfinished business so I was back for another crack, better prepared and more determined than ever, this time at the Joust 24 hour race.
As if 24 hours of running wasn’t going to be a long enough day I also had to go into work first which meant a 5.30am start to my day in order to complete my post round in time to make the 80 mile journey to Worcester for the midday start time.
I managed to arrive with an hour to spare, along with my mum and dad who were acting as my support crew for the weekend (something I haven’t had in any of my three previous ultra-races). The set up looked great and although there were actually more people there than I was expecting, we were still able to get a perfect spot right by the start/ lap finish point (another thing I hadn’t done before).
Car parked, tent pitched and kit set out I gathered for the race briefing where I found out the rules of this event were slightly different to that of the Lightning run and Endure 24 in that the cut-off point falls exactly as the clock strikes 12 o’clock meaning unless you’ve completed your final lap it doesn’t count whereas normally your last lap counts towards your total mileage whatever time you finish it as long as you have started it before the deadline. This didn’t change my approach but did mean there was less room for manoeuvre when the going gets tough in the later stages.
As the race got under way the first thing that was apparent was the almost immediate drop down a hill. My research had told me that this 4.8 mile lap was flat but my common sense was now telling me there would now be a definite incline somewhere along the route.
I’d already noticed that the majority of the field was made up of solo runners as those in teams were required to carry a baton and as the course opened up into the countryside I realised even those in teams of the maximum number of 8 were taking the early running slowly as I found myself in the top 20 positions.
The path followed a route through a succession of country fields before bringing us to a little village and the first and only marshal check
point/water station on the lap. This was at approximately 2 miles in (there were no distance markers on course) and required a sharp left turn into the garden of a pub where every competitor had to shout their race number out then turn back on themselves and continue up some steps and through a church ground complete with grave stones.
A couple of farming fields followed then the first of several course gate climbs to enter what was, for the first few laps, an empty field but later one full of very intimidating looking cows and bulls mooing at the top of their lungs each time a runner approached.
The next gate climb came with great relief as it signified getting clear of the angry cattle in one piece as grass underfoot turned into stony terrain that lead into a gravel quarry. This wasn’t the end of this tricky section though as a swinging gate that left the quarry lead to some enclosed woodland, two awkward fence jumps either side of a bridge crossing and another gate climb.
A paved track cutting through more countryside brought the running to an open agricultural farm where, on a couple of laps, I was able to view part of a pig race with entertained children and their parents shouting words of encouragement (at the pigs that is, not me!)
A right turn onto the farm’s entrance road followed by a left turn into an activity centre and the finish line was in sight. It wasn’t however the right finish line. Just a huge banner that had been put up early ready for a fun run which was taking pace on the same grounds the following afternoon.
Just past this banner was a cafe which my Garmin watch signified as the 3 mile point. Mentally this area became a positive place to reach each and every lap for me as it meant over half the course lap was done. I also liked the fact that something different was going on each time whether it was a group of kids on the climbing wall, the bouncy castle or getting kitted up to take a variety of boats into the nearby lake.
I then ran alongside a football pitch, that I was hoping would be hosting at least one match in the 24 hour period that I could become a passing spectator of, and round the outline of another field of farm crops. This was swiftly followed by a low bridge to run under which, although probably a good foot above my 6 feet 1 inch frame, gave the impression that ducking down was needed. Getting out the other side meant negotiating the most demanding, yet by no means the last, of all the lap’s gates with two more following in quick succession.
The last of the course’s fields and the final gate climb also signified the four mile points. From here a straight path lead to another village with a church on the right hand side and a complete mixture of houses on the left. The one I particularly enjoyed passing was a huge building set amongst old castle relics. There were two reasons for this. One was the impressive nature of the building and disbelief that someone actually lived in such a place and the other was that it was the last in the row meaning just a few hundred metres remained to the laps completion.
That few hundred metres did however include the inevitable hill back up to base camp. One of the many things I’ve learnt about ultra-running is that it’s wise to walk hills to save the legs so as this was the only one on the course I did so on every lap including the first few when the legs were still fresh. Saving energy wherever possible is key. This one hundred metre incline was, for the first 35 miles, the only part I didn’t run.
It was enjoyable that each time I crossed the lap’s finish line the 3 or 4 marshalls always on duty always made a point of calling me by my name as they gave encouragement. This was a nice personal touch and galvanised me to get going on another lap each time.
As we had managed to set up camp in such a good position I had the luxury of making a quick pit stop almost every lap whether it be to change clothing, have a drink or take some high energy food on board from the car boot where all my gear was laid out. On one of my early laps however my Dad had strayed away from the car and accidentally locked it meaning he had to run to catch me up as I continued on course and he ended up running the whole lap with me in his full track suit.
As I ticked off mile after mile, lap after lap, I was very happy with how things were going. My pace was good and my stops were minimal and short. I’d planned not to stay off course any longer than 15- 20 mins in one period and I was sticking to that well and didn’t feel the temptation to break it. I just wanted to keep moving forwards.
It wasn’t until mile 35 that my energy levels started to deplete slightly. I was satisfied in my performance this far that I could allow myself a short walking period. It only lasted just over a quarter of a mile but was enough to recharge my body adequately to push on for several more miles without incident. I continued to used this strategy once or twice a lap and it was very effective as my pace stayed consistent with none of my laps taking any longer than an hour.
Apart than that early lap that my Dad had inadvertently joined me for and lap 8 which my Mum accompanied me on, the running tended to be quiet and lonely other than for a few passing words. In a relatively small event this was perhaps only to be expected. Personally I didn’t mind this too much as I’m used to training on my own but in all honestly I wasn’t looking forward to the night a great deal and for that reason my Mum and Dad had planned to re-join me as the sun set.
On lap 11 my Dad took up the role of support runner as our head torches were now in full effect and on completion of that lap I posted the following on my Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/chrislambpjr) “Darkness has well & truly fallen. 11 laps/ just under 53 miles done. Now the hard work really begins. Must keep going!!!”
I was still going strong, I wasn’t at all sleepy and my legs were comfortable. I really did feel as though I was going to achieve my 100 mile target. I set out on lap 12 with my confidence high oblivious to the fact things were about to take a dramatic turn.
Other that my Garmin watch battery dying at 56 miles the lap itself went without incident (for me anyway) and the plan was to switch watches and get going again but as I came up the hill I noticed a much larger than normal gathering of people which I found strange as I was expecting less with anyone that wasn’t actually running now fast asleep in their tents.
I crossed the finish line and was told by two head marshals to stop. I was immediately informed that a female runner had been attacked on course in the quarry area and on police instructions nobody could continue. It was 11.10pm, I’d ran 12 laps/ 57.6 miles.
After just over an hour of uncertainty and worry as the organisers did their best to account for each and every competitor we were all called to the catering marque where we were informed that the police had given the all clear to go ahead. However, after getting the views of as many runners as possible and with the attacker still on the loose, we were all told that in the interest of safety the race would be postponed. This decision was met with cheers and applause from some while others, including myself, knew it was the right call but couldn’t help feeling massively disappointed.
It was said that the race would restart in daylight at 6am for anyone that wanted to continue for the remaining 6 hours. Less than half chose to take this up and I wasn’t one of them. For me this event was about one thing and that was reaching my 100 mile target. I truly believe I would have done so but for the actions of the sick individual attacker that we all have the misfortune of sharing oxygen with. The same feelings will no doubt be shared by so many others who had put their bodies on the line for 11 straight hours as well as all our months of preparation. I will never know if I would have gone on to reach 100 miles on this occasion just as others won’t know if they would have reached their goals.
The most important thing in all of this though is that the lady who had to go through this horrific ordeal was ok and with huge credit and respect to her not only did she stay the night but she was also one of those who did go back out and run in the morning.
I am not in any way pointing the blame at the organisers for this massively unfortunate incident nor did anyone else that I heard of but it was of great reassurance that they sent out a quick response via email addressing the situation and pointing out improvements they will be making to the event for next year which are as follows:
• Adding two more manned control points, also with water available.
• To encourage on our race page that running with a buddy (competitor or non-competitor) throughout the times of darkness is strongly recommended.
• Introducing ‘The Knights of Worcester’, which will effectively be Time Lords departing at 15 minute intervals. These positions will be available to anybody who would like to offer their services and be capable of running the course at designated lap times. The Knights will benefit from a free entry, a special edition medal, and a Joust Hoody. Any competitor can tag along with any Knight that they choose.
• To locate the check point at the pub directly to the right of the carpark entrance. This is directly on the course and will make it impossible for runners to miss.
There are only a couple of other improvements I would suggest and neither reflect upon the incident in question. One would be to have a clock on display at the lap finish point. It seemed surprising to me that there wasn’t one for an event ran specifically over time with a strict cut off point. The only other one would be for better signage on arrival to the event. It took us a while to find once in the venue and I know we weren’t the only ones. I would point out however that the course markings were almost faultless.
Will I go back next year or indeed have another crack at what is becoming an elusive target? Quite possibly.
I wouldn’t like to show I was put off by what happened and my unfinished business with the 24 hour race remains, for now.