"Challenging" "Different" "Exhilarating" "Horrendous"
Some of the words used to describe the 2012 Adidas Thunder Run. Billed as "a 24 hour off-road relay race against the clock", the Thunder Run attracts some 2000 runners to participate in a race like nothing else they've entered before. Myself included.
I took up the challenge with four other female runners. None of us knew what to expect. You can run as fast or as slow as you like, but one member of the team must be running (or walking) on the 10km trail track at all times over a period of 24 hours. The winner is the team with the most laps completed after the 24 hour deadline. Game on!
Thunder Run is held in Catton Park in South Derbyshire. It's a lovely spot - undulating, varied terrain including woodland, grass and track. Runners arrive on Friday and can set up camp ready for the 12pm start on Saturday. This year the festival-like atmosphere was even greater with the organisers setting up a big screen so we could all watch the Olympics during our rest periods.
As a strategy of sorts, my Sportsister teammates and I decided to run each lap in roughly one hour, knowing that the night and early morning laps may not be our finest hour in 10km running, and so would be a little slower!
We then chose who would run when, but agreed that if anyone had any problems we would swap, or just adapt as we needed to. Our aim of the race was to finish it, to enjoy it, and to work as a team to look after each other.
I was the fourth starter in my team, so I set off around 3pm for my first lap after three of my fellow teammates had completed theirs. Feeling much more nervous than I thought I would I waited in the pen, eyes peeled for my teammate to come round the corner, baton in hand, to hand over to me.
The 10km course kept me amused. It's a challenging course, with enough twists and turns to make even Tigger dizzy. It's also great fun. It felt a bit like I was on the Krypton Factor, leaping over boggy sections, weaving in and out of marked sections of woodland, legging it up and down grassy hills.
A quarter of the way through, runners pop back out to race through the campsite and be cheered on by fellow competitors. Again at around 8km, runners pace through sections of the camp to be further encouraged to the finish line.
The last kilometre is brutal. The organisers know what they are doing. Give runners a glimpse of the finish....then send them up another hill before the end is really in sight.
Baton safely handed over to teammate five, I go back to camp to drink, eat, stretch and rest. It feels rather strange. I've just raced 10km, yet I can't relax as I have to do it again in another three hours, and then again, and again and again.
Round two came round too soon and I was off again. This time I knew what to expect, I felt a little more settled and really enjoyed the loop.
Round three at 1am was a slightly different race for all as it was pitch black. Headtorch and luminous jacket donned, off I set again. It was also the start of the unknown territory. Yes I've run Marathon des Sables but at least you run it all in one go then can rest. I've never run 5x 10km laps interspersed with non existent sleep. I've never run later than 10:30pm nor earlier than 7am. And I love my sleep.
However, I really enjoyed the night run. Maybe I have some weird fetish fantasy of running alone in the woods at night with only the sound of heavy breathing coming up behind me. Either that or the safety of the dark meant you couldn't see further than a couple of metres ahead which also meant you couldn't see the hills coming up. Either way, it felt like a magical mystery tour. Would I land in a bog or a pothole? Would I be attacked by the boogaman? Would I fall asleep while running? Endless possibilities.
Safely back again, I tried to get some more shut eye before the next round at 6am. The milkman round was less enjoyable. Even if I hadn't fallen asleep, lactic acid definitely had in my legs so I ran lap four feeling like Mike Tyson was clinging from my thighs.
11:30am. The final victory round. Feeling a little worse for wear, but determined not to let team Sportsister down I tried my best, though I will feel eternally grateful for the two lovely chaps who helped me round the first few kilometres with a bit of random banter. I managed to sneak in under the hour and our team came a very respectable sixth in our category.
Would I do it again? Most definitely. It's a brilliant, weird, exhilarating way to spend a weekend. It's also a great way to meet those even stranger runners who do the course solo. Much respect due to them.