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I'd arranged my lead up of races to engineer this to be my 250th race - a big landmark that required a special race. I remember Reggie had said this one was basically a year's highlight - and there was a huge buzz in the club. They always send a few teams, but hadn't sent a team to "compete" since 2014. A year that went down into folklore as being horrific weather.
However - enough time had gone by for some of the lads to start thinking about another crack. I think it was last July we started thinking about it - and entered ludicrously early as it "sells out quick" (although it didn't for another few months)
The original squad had Mr Foster in, and a young keen lad, but as Mr Foster had spent most of the ensuing year injured, and the young lad having spent 6months out with a hamstring injury, and then managed to "forget" he'd booked a holiday - we needed to think outside the box.
A whole host of names from the club and the local scene were explored. Reggie and Joe would have been great signings, but clashes and suchlike stalled those. I had the brainwave of past thread contributor, and these days long term lurker Mee Meep, who as well as being an offroad and distance monster, is down to mid 36s 10k - so no slouch either.
Unfortunately, an insane looking mountain marathon the weekend before seemed to rule him out. Same deal for his training partner Rich Price.
We did fill one void, with an ex Dasher, Alex Barber, who was part of our 2017 12 stage campaign, but had since left for Kent. The patchiest ever PO10 record (Phil will be sniffing through it as we speak), but with no 1st claim club now, nothing he does registers!
When fit - he'd be fast, but tends to do tonnes of cycling.
A big break occurred when Mee Meep, aka Dean decided to commit to ours, despite his upcoming slog - and we were sorted - a pretty good team in the context of this event.
This left us with Samson as the star man, me, Chris Hunt and Barber, a couple of solid mid 36s in Dean n captain Sean, and then 2 recent marathoners too - we were set.
5k training and 5k races were my main lead up, but despite some silly talk of attempting some night runs, we realised a bunch of lads hooning round woods in the night would be nothing but sinister
Obligatory "Hot head" stressiness on the Thursday and Friday and it was getting very real.
I'd taken the Fri as a half day, and booked Monday off for preparation and recovery.
The super keen and organised other teams had all sent people ahead to book our prime camping positions at the event. Actually queuing at 8am to be let in at 10am Friday! For an event that starts at midday on the Saturday! Amazing.
I decided on a much more sensible 8am leave, to arrive for 9am - to be greeted by an absolutely huge park - plan below
As an absolute amateur, I rocked into Gate 1, and was duly parked in the area behind C2
Bearing in mind the gang were in roughly A4, I was about a mile away from where I needed to be, so started trudging over with 3 bag fulls of gear (about 1/4 of what i'd brought )
Luckily I found an old Sandhurst pal Nikki, who pointed out the errors of what I was doing, walked me back to the car, and showed me you the pros actually drive to spot you park at, and you get 30mins to unpack before moving the car - which despite them saying the B carparks were full - was perfectly easy to move the car to B1!!
Arrived to see this terrific planning from the Dashers, with 90% of the team's tents already set up, and space for the likes of me to put ours up.
Pop up tents being absolutely SG-proof meant, I'd quickly chucked this badboy up, albeit with a completely pointless and amateur ground sheet chucked under the bottom, unlike anyone else
Chucked all my stuff in there, and was amazed there was tonneloads of room.
Battery charge pack bought the night before, so even my shockingly poor phone was going to last this weekend.
We had a great spot, about a 3min walk from the start, and it was a quality view surveying the Dashers crew's tents
Plenty of excited chat as our team all turned up, with laughs at the two who decided to come at the last minute, and ended up in a monumental queue and had to walk their gear over, rather than the luxury of driving it over!
I'd, as you'd expect, left nothing to chance, and put together a ridiculous spreadsheet of rough timings, based on recent 5m/10k result, with 45secs for morning, and 2.30 added for the night
Obvs these would be off track after leg 1, but it was some sort of guide.
The order was vaguely ordered on speed - though if I'd known Mr Barber was in good form, I'd have put him 2nd and me 3rd, rather than the other way round. Not too much odds though.
Then it was time for the briefing at the start - and the nerves to really kick in.
A quick pic of the majority of the gang was enjoyed, and then it was time to embrace the start - which is always a mad dash!
The start was shocking and hilarious, watching two geezers utterly sprinting off, and a character dressed as a tree all beating Mr Samson, plus about 20 chancers as well...for about 100metres!
Then it got real, and I realised I'd be up in less than 30mins, and most likely at worst 2nd out. Bracknell were going to be our main rivals, and had 2.27 marathon and improving Kevern as their star man.
Scrolling through the teams it looked like they had 2 of the best 3 amongst our teams, and then we had a more solid mid to bottom. On paper at least.
They also had 7 to our 8 - but remember that - that'll be a key detail later
As expected Kevern was back super keen, and gave his man a good 80 secs or so lead.
I was next off, but can't say I saw their guy at all.
The course is a 100metres flat on grass, and then you take a long climb on the one smooth bit of path of the 5mile ish loop. Out through some exposed fields -only settling into the woods, where it's a right old undulation job, with a short sharp hill fairly early, a good downish km at about 4 to 5km, and the "Heartbreak Hill", a two pronged hill round a bend and up
From 6k to 8k is down and flat, but with plenty of dodgy roots and suchlike to not monster yourself on.
Elevation chart (nicked off someone) here - presumably in metres
The first 2miles were pretty surreal - a totally isolated job for me, seeing only a couple of marshals on stands.
However, unexpectedly I that early started coming across the mad solo people!
Not quite sure why you'd want to do an event solo, but be walking from the off - but I guess 100miles or more is such a shift that most people wouldn't dare run!
Got one of my few course pics (aside from buying one of the dreadful £11-12 individual official ones)..and I look an utter wreck with an absolutely ridiculous running style.
(Apologies to anyone eating while viewing)
You'll notice those shoes are not only flat racers, but flat racers I retired a year ago
Literally on the cusp of getawayable - only by virtue of being 2nd up on leg 1, 30mins into the race!! I quickly changed these for leg 2, and felt more comfy!!
That band on my left arm isn't my usual "id one", It's the team "baton", with the chip on the left ankle. Why don't more races do ankle chips - immeasurably better than shoe ones I find...
Anyway, back in 32.09 for leg 1.
All splits need a slight caveat that the chip mat is where runner A finishes, and you actually pick up about 100metres further on, so in effect you always take a bit of the last runner's time, and vice versa.
Lesson was learnt after handover 1, picking up in the middle of the pen! With unfortunate soundbite of the day me barking at some woman how i'd "try not to smash her" on the way out.
The other handovers were at the end of the grid, so you get a proper runway!
The pattern on finishing a leg was basically stand around recovering for a few mins, trying not to remember you're out again in another 3 hrs 40 or so and glad that the gang have secured such a close camping site.
Change straight out of the whole set of gear - into the "used kit" bag, that was overflowing late doors (!), and if a coffee was the plan - that had to be taken on board straight away. Bananas galore - probably 12 or so over the 24 hours (!), baguette, and any other little tit bits as the day went on.
Some of the dashers brought their kids, meaning we had a terrific waiter service when we finished a leg , like heroes. Marvellous.
But with such an amazing food emporium - we were well sorted
The best thing with the course, was how different parts were given different names, like "Pace Gully", and "Heartbreak Hill", and "Short Steep" for the middle hill.
Each KM marker had a little mantra written too.
The footing went from fairly stable with only a couple of muddy places on lap 1, to as you can imagine, pretty muddy as the event carried on.
The weather swung dramatically from windy, to pouring rain, to loads of sun. Enough to be cold at times, but still come away with slight sunburn!
At one point one of our gazebos rocked backwards, luckily smacking into our big tent, not anyone's individual one, that someone was in, or onto a kid!
This pic being the natural sign of mixed weather...
You could still monster bits of the route. The pace gully below for one. Strangely, a chunk of it was on an incline - as per the course elevation, but generally a good rampage.
4k to 5k was a good jig too - plus at times 6k - 8k depending on numbers in the way, or mud, or darkness!
This shot below only hints at the awkwardness. The markings in white of tree roots say it all - which when you throw in loads of people in the way, darkness, mud, and trying to do it at pace, was a right old giggle.
Similarly, there isn't a great shot of Heartbreak Hill, the fairly decent steepness hill, that in 6 legs I only saw 2 others run up!
This shot doesn't do it justice, apart from the way the chap is sitting resting before it, and how everyone is walking. It goes right up to the left, settles for about 2metres, then same again round a bend
It always took 90secs or so to recover after, before the glorious bit!
Once you'd got to 7k, it was really on, rampaging back into a twisty loopy bit, but one you could turn some speed on, with the finish in sight.
The support round here was great, with a few wacky characters out like these chaps below.
There were loads of quirky sights and characters on route too.
I always got a lift with some of this lot coming round
There were some fairies in the woods at night too - but they're one of the few quirks I didn't get a shot of
I'd managed to find Scott and finally meet up after many near misses at south coast races, so was good to see him. Told him the biggest boy Ric was here too, and had him for a second
Plenty to keep you ticking over on route, and off route, it was all about the flowing banter and making sure you kept a very keen eye indeed on who was going and where, and making sure it was going smoothly.
My first 3 legs were all pretty consistent.
32.09 - 32.21- 32.37
From lap 2 I was overtaking 150 or so people a lap -which generally was fine as people either kept left, or they politely moved over. Some were almost too polite, stopping on key parts to let you through. Always thanked people who made a specific effort.
Covered in mud after lap 2 was the one time I bothered with a shower - great little facility - but didn't feel the need, or have the time to go again later.
Rookie mistake of taking no towel over, having to make exceptionally thrifty use of a flannel!!
A few were a bit more oblivious, so on occasions I had to storm through some bushes, and one time I ended up hugging a couple who had both moved the wrong way at the wrong time!!
The solo runners were generally spot on, keeping left, and making sure they kept out of people's way. How you can keep going for 100+ miles I do not know.
My first 3 legs started at 12.28p - 4.50pm, 9.14pm, and while it was quite unusual for me to even be running on a Saturday, let alone these odd times, I knew the real challenges were coming up very quickly.
Our team were ticking over nicely - Samson doing great things, Barber being on his top form, then the rest of our order pretty much being in line with expectation.
Bracknell and us were very nip and tuck. Having 7 to our 8, it meant that it wasn't the same head to head each leg. That meant after Kevern's leg they could often be 7mins ahead, only for us to be 1min ahead 3 legs in.
On leg 2, I was surprised that a guy I overtook from Silva - a team put together by an event sponsor re-overtook me, and sat on me for 1/2mile. You can tell when someone has too much, so I let him go, and he then sat 200 metres ahead for the rest of the leg. Different category - in a team of 5 - so no odds. I'd be seeing him later though!
Either way, like we'd already realised before the day, Bracknell would be our main contenders.
Although there was a brief scare early on, when somehow a team had a lap count as 3mins 45, and another as a 0.00!! Those help the average
Leg 3 had just about needed a headtorch for the whole route, but largely for the woody 7th km.
For the next leg it'd be essential.
Getting back to the tent, I presumed this'd be time to grab a little lie down, but between me and the team we were all wired and awake still. A great eat and chat was had at this point, as the scene descended into darkness.
The night gave itself to some great snaps like this one
While the start line had a great atmosphere - as oddballs aside, who ever runs at night, let alone in a race?!
I was a little nervous about the range of the headtorch, but the one I borrowed was a superb piece of kit.
My 4th leg would be the most challenging to date then - by a long chalk! At a time you should be sleeping - 1.45am, off less than superb nutrition - in the dark, and on a challenging 5mile offroad course!
That's what it's about though son!
You certainly had to take some bits sensibly! And some of the overtakes were a bit fraught!!
I almost misjudged footfall or my leg slightly gave away on at least 4 occasions, but got it round safely!
34.06 for leg 4, which was a 90s hit on leg 3, but much better than our estimate of 2mins 30 down on night legs - which proved to be way too high in hindsight. Some of our lads did 60ish seconds only - which I thought was a terrific effort.
We were tracking Bracknell, and noticed Sankey - a good pal of ours locally, who has had a lot of injury problems for years, but is back well now, was going very well. With slower pbs, and behind me at recent races, he'd bettered all 4 of my splits - so was either due a drop off, or the format massively suited him - as I was certainly going decently.
At midnight we also suffered a blow, with our 8th man, having to basically retire with a case of the squits. Not a laughing matter, as that was 35 or so mins less recovery from here on in
In one way, we'd lost our slowest guy - but would the "gain" from someone else doing the legs be better than the "Loss" from everyone losing a bit due to less recovery. Impossible to say - but the man advantage had gone - and even more on that later
On finishing leg 4 then - at 2.15 (!), I threw one banana down - and programmed 1hr 40 alarm into my phone for a "sleep". Arranging with Mr Samson to wake me when he woke as a fail safe.
Not sure he slept, as in stead there was the gentle murmuring of chat and tactics, and I can't say it was a proper 100mins sleep by any means!
Hard to - when you know you're up again for 5.50!
Nice view as morning arrived though!
Any idea that leg 4 would be the hardest one was quickly disappearing!
Leg 5, with the worst nutrition - the time you really did need sleep but not getting it, plus growing fatigue all combining.
Me and Samson had got into the habit of me going over with him to see the exact time he was off - so I could be precise knowing I had around 30mins. I could also walk the previous guy back - essential on one leg as one of our guys was ruined!
Apparently a new feature this year - a scoreboard was brilliant in seeing names of incoming runners, along with footage of them. Thus getting a 20-30sec warning.
Apart from once, when Mr S stopped midway in the pack - and I had to come in, costing us 2secs - though bantered as being 30secs to the gang later - it was all pretty smooth
Leg 5 was tough to get the legs going, especially on the uphill first mile. It felt jog pace, for race effort! It even took a while to start caining past people, but once that kicked in it was good. The bits I was rampaging earlier were obviously less so.
You'd think the morning, where you can see 100% again clearly would be quicker than the night time, but the fatigue takes care of that!!
I took a 34.36 as a solid effort - losing 30secs on the 4th leg.
I knew for certain I had to go again later, as it was only 630ish, so another 5 1/2 hours to go, with only 6 others on the team! However, I knew I'd be able to see another one out.
We were actually as far ahead as 10mins at one stage. It was getting really confusing trying to work out what was going on.
Bracknell's top guy was slowing to mid 30s (30.30s I should say), but they had a vet animal, who in the end put an incredible 8 legs in! Their slow guys gave us a chance though.
Our 4th guy was definitely done after leg 5. The way he got back into jeans and just sat in a chair spoke volumes - but luckily Dean and our captain were bang on for more action - before they'd even done their 5th legs! Top teamsters.
Quick change to Chrome - as IE had decided I'd smashed enough pics into one thread for an evening Impressive screen above then - but by the main tent there was live tracking, where you could key in your number and check on individuals, as well as checking on team positions.Leg 6 was a memorable one - for being even more tuckered legs wise.Starting at 10am, this would deffo be my last one.One guy came past who I presumed was Bracknell (everyone is wearing random gear - not just club vests the whole way - i wore Dasher vest on 2 legs , but any old iron on others)I also saw my Silva pal from earlier - who had an incredible smooth style.Their team was basically a crack team of 72-73 or faster type half guys.Despite being at what felt like a pootle, I noticed Silva wasn't getting away in the distance, and was walking the hills! This let me go past on the tough hill, but I expected to see him again... I didn't."Bracknell" guy came back into sight in the last 400metres, and I quite ridiculously was gesticulating at some Dashers supporters with "is he Bracknell" type gestures, expecting them to know I put a big finish in, overtook him on the line, and handed to our 3rd guy barking "we're in the lead" Before collapsing to the floor, and staying there for a good 5mins. Lucky i wasn't in any difficultings, as noone gave me even a second look
35.50s on the official split, so 1.10+ on the last leg - but truly all bets are off this many miles in!Eventually wandered off, and found the guy i'd beaten. Are you Bracknell mate?"No, i'm just some random frigger" he probably didn't quite say....but ludicrously i'd smashed myself to beat someone I didn't have to...to end a 30mile shift Went to the live scores - we were bloody 7mins down again!Trooped back to the gang, gave them a laugh with the story, and then they brought the laugh down by revealing that that "8th man" we presumed wasn't coming, had turned up at 10am - 2hours before the end, fresh as a daisy.In the rules - but a leeetle bit rogue.We saw our last couple of legs out, and took the 2nd place finish, on the same amount of laps - 43, meaning 215 miles between us in the 24hours
Stevie G said:
You say that Phil, but when I did the Tadley XC (not far away from this event) this year, as a single race effort, I did 35:36 for 5.3miles.That's 6.43 pace!So my first 5 goes at the weekend were all faster - the first 3 a lot faster!Now arguably the Tadley XC is a tougher route, but still - that's definitely food for thought, as I definitely didn't feel like I was smashing it - I was very aware that I had a lot more legs later!
The solo lot can be considered in the same way as the relay teams.Some are ultra serious, some are out for shiggles.Top guys were doing 100+ miles and averaging 37mins a lap! Others were walking from the off - and probably slept half the night away.Similarly, some teams were competitive, and others had luxurious 6-7hour breaks in between legs, and took 2mins making changeovers, with a nice little chat in between.