I first did this event in 2013 and fell in love with it almost instantly. It went straight to the top of my favourite races list and from that weekend the countdown to the following year’s event began as it has done every year since.
Although my first five events were all at Reading on relatively the same course, each year threw up something different from boiling heat to torrential rain and I have participated in a team of eight, three times as a soloist and once in a pair so no two races were the same. I had however racked up a grand total of 67 laps of the five mile course so as the organisers had added a new venue in Leeds my running club teammates and I thought it would be a welcomed change to give that a go.
I was once again going as a soloist and aiming for what had so far been an elusive 100 mile/ 20 lap target. Even more excited than usual for the different venue and better prepared than ever before I headed to Leeds with my first ever 100 mile training week and an ultra race win under my belt.
The plan was simple – Hit 40 miles in the first eight hours, 35 in the next eight, leaving me ‘just’ 25 in the final eight for the magic 100. The race starts at 12 midday so I thought that middle section which covers the entire night would be make or break and that turned out to be right.
Arriving at Brammam park roughly two hours before the start along with my mum who was going to be my support for the weekend, we pitched up our marquee, met up with our fellow Parklands Jog and Run club mates who were in a mix of teams, pairs and four other soloists including my Dad and I got kitted up ready to run.
It was a roasting hot day, the sun was beaming down on us as we stood on the start line raring to go. The excitement is high and adrenaline is pumping but with so long to run you have to stay calm and really rein it in. As 12pm struck we were set off with the first members of the teams flying into the distance as the solos ambled along at ‘24 hour pace’.
Within the first couple of kilometres I found myself running with my teammate Steve Cory who has done the event twice before running 100 and 110 miles so I thought he would be a good, experienced head to guide me. We ended up staying together for much of the first three laps. One of us would slow down for one reason or another then we would find ourselves side by side again. That was until Steve said he wasn’t feeling great and told me to go on ahead. I certainly didn’t speed up but it was a while before I saw him again and it ended up not being his weekend to hit a triple century.
I however was feeling very good. The heat was tough and there was very little shade on course but other than that I liked the route and everything was going to plan.
Every lap my mum would be waiting for me with a smile at the area set up just for pairs and soloists which was situated just past the start/ finish point. Early on I would just grab a drink then get going straight away but as the hours went on I would take a little more time here. It was working out at roughly 50 minutes on course and then 5 minutes ‘in the pits’ refuelling. After five laps/ 25 miles I took my first extended break where I went back to our camp area and had a sit down and some pasta.
A quarter of the way to my target and well inside time I headed back out to get another three laps in to reach the first 40 miles going back to my strategy of very short stops between laps. Up to this point I’d been running all of the course but from here decided to start walking the hills. There were four significant ones over the lap but none were very long so it didn’t slow me down much and I was still maintaining a fairly good speed throughout the rest of the course.
As confident as I was feeling I knew the real test would come when darkness fell. The weather was far too hot for ideal running conditions but it had been a beautiful day and as the sun set there was a huge moon on show. It was a stunning scene.
Eight laps completed I moved on to the second section of my three part plan. I’d done four 24 hour races before and never made it through the entire night so as darkness fell I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little reluctant. I knew if I was going to get to 100 miles then keeping going was the only option.
The next milestone I had in my head was ten laps. Not only did it signify half way but it also meant my lap countdown went into single figures which felt highly comforting as lap 11 came around.
The sun had now gone down so I chanced from a vest to a t-shirt for the first time but soon realised that the temperature was still high and the air still very close. I tipped some water over me in an attempt to cool down but then felt uncomfortable with my top sticking to my skin so although it was now dark I decided to go shirtless. With a refreshing breeze in the final quarter of the lap I stuck my t-shirt back on and thoughts soon went back to counting the miles.
Apart from the ones by the start/ finish arch there are no lights at Endure 24 other than from your own head torch. What I found much better on this course than the Reading one was that there is much less forest which meant significantly less tree routes to look out for. This along with the clear sky allowed for the night running to be almost hazard free and it seemed to fly by.
Before I knew it my next big milestone of 75 miles was complete and it was well inside my 16 hour target. I stopped for what was only my second extended break and went into the food tent where my mum got me a jacket potato and a cup of tea. I struggled to get the food down but eat what I could. Physically I felt good but mentally I was now really tired. I put my Dryrobe on the grass and laid on top of it. I told my mum that I didn’t want to fall asleep but if I did to wake me after no longer than 15 minutes. I didn’t nod off but I think that rest made my body think it was finally bedtime so when I did get back up and sat down at the table again I was now really struggling to stay awake.
This was clearly my worst period but knowing I now ‘only’ had 25 miles to run and I had over eight hours to do it in was keeping me going. I had come so far and there was no way that I was stopping now. I pulled myself up and was back out on course within target time of 4am.
On this lap the sun came up which is always a massively revitalising feeling. I’d made it through the night! It wasn’t long however until the heat was back. 80 miles done and a quick change back into a vest and I was off on what would equal the furthest I’d ever ran. I use the word ‘ran’ loosely as the more I realised I had time on my side the more my pace slowed into walking as energy levels were by now pretty depleted.
85 miles/ 17 laps in the bag everything I did from here was new territory. There was only one thing I had my mind on though and it required another three laps/ 15 miles to achieve it. My focus had remained throughout and now that goal I’d wanted so badly for so long was within reach.
I had two laps left to run and over four hours to do it. The dream was becoming real! Strangely though, this didn’t give me a new lease of energy, quite the opposite in fact. Knowing I had so much time to spare I was finding it hard to push myself to run. After four and a half miles of plodding I managed to muster up a jog as the lap finishing arch was in sight. I’d now covered 95 miles. It didn’t seem real.
In the pit area spirits were high. I didn’t want to hang around too long though, I had a job to finish. I put on my custom made club t-shirt with ‘solo’ printed on the back so that I could lap up the appreciation from fellow runners on what was going to be my final lap and headed out.
The pace was slow, again I knew I didn’t need to run so found it hard to motivate myself to do so. This was however the glory lap so I did push on a little bit more which meant I finished with plenty of time to spare in a time of 22 hours, 49 minutes and 30 seconds.
Five years in the making, four previous failed attempts but now I’d finally joined the 100 mile club! I wasn’t feeling as emotional as I thought I would but I put that down to being so confident for so long as almost everything had gone to plan. After all, you get a lot of time to think during 24 hours of running, the majority of which was on my own.
I’m writing this over a month on and it still seems surreal. I know to many accomplished ultra runners coving 100 miles in 24 hours is a big milestone but it’s nothing special but to me it really does mean a lot. Five years ago when I first turned up at this event as a middle distance track runner in a team of eight I was completely in awe of the solo runners and I didn’t even know it was possible for a human being to run 100 miles in a day (and night) so to achieve it myself is up there with my biggest ever running accomplishments.