On the eve of the race Darryl and I went over to Belvoir Castle to help set-up the camp with Bomber and Sileby RC. The support camp would provide everything we needed over the 24 hour race, hot food, drinks, shelter, medical kits and encouragement. It consisted of around a dozen tents, 2 gazebos and a kitchen!
There was a buzz in the air and as the sun set, the band played and the beer bus opened we were somewhat tempted to stay and do the beer mile!! Sense unfortunately on this occasion prevailed and we returned home.
Race day was a mixture of excitement and nerves, each of us having our own personal targets we wanted to achieve. The Poplar Soloists comprised of Lee Dawson, Darryl Hughes, Daniel Ryan, Shaun Bomber Crowson and myself. What a motley crew!! The hour before the race we were busy preparing our food boxes, electrolyte drinks, taping of legs, vaselining our feet and deciding what to wear as the morning started to heat up. Favoured foods during the race included pork scratching, beef jerky, bacon, jelly, jaffa cakes, soup, chocolate and jelly babies – clearly the food of athletes!
The race started under the midday sun and it was hot. We decided to run a steady first lap together and finished the first 10k lap in 1 hour 5 minutes (except Bomber who went out quick going for the win) which may sound slow but in actual fact for a 24 hour race was probably a bit too fast!! After that we did our own thing as we each had different strategies and targets. The course itself was a mixture of off road and tarmac. The spongy grass sapped the energy from your legs with the tarmac providing the opportunity to pick up the pace. Two main hills dominated the course, one that was just under 1km of a continual drawn out uphill on tarmac to the 5km mark (and disco tent at night) and another much shorter but incredibly steep off road hill. Undoubtedly the most enjoyable element for me was the final 1km when you ran around the edge of the camp field where all the running clubs and their supporters watched and yelled out encouraging words like ‘keep going solo’.
End of Lap 3 and 18 miles in I was feeling really sick from the heat, the weather turned humid and Lee was telling us he was already bored! Lap 4 and disaster struck for Bomber when kidneys issues forced him to decide whether to withdraw from the race or continue at a much slower pace. Being the legend that he is, he decided to carry on but not compete for the win, I have no doubt Bomber will return next year and absolutely smash it to bits.
As night time fell the temperature dropped, we put on more layers and donned our head torches. This was when we needed to dig in as runners on the laps became increasingly spread out and it could be incredibly lonely. Strategy now became run on the tarmac, walk on the off-road as foot placing and high moisture on the grass made conditions difficult. One lap I walked the entire distance. Fortunately a wedding in the castle grounds provided a break to the monotony of running as we passed the marquee playing bhangra music. The support camp were incredible, we placed our food and drink ‘orders’ as we passed by giving an approximate next lap time so that when we went by again it would be cooked and handed straight to us. Amazing!!
We did manage to meet up on various laps through the night. Lee just talked incessantly to everyone/anyone about anything, Bomber was his usual upbeat self, Darryl would just randomly break out into song, Daniel turned into a zombie like state (which you have to see to believe) and I was even grumpier that usual and only rallied when I got to the sweet tent. Don’t get me started on the random conversations that take place during the ten hours of darkness when you are sleep deprived and shattered!! There are some things a girl doesn’t need to know. Although discussing the colour of our urine and how salty our arms tasted were beneficial discussions to determine how much more water and electrolytes we needed to take on! By now things were tough, both Darryl and I had been nursing injuries in the lead up to the race and every step was painful, Daniel was hallucinating that Filbert fox was chasing after him and I was becoming paranoid at every noise behind me. It was a welcome relief to see sun break over the castle and the camp starting to wake, the smell of bacon cooking as we passed through. As we ended each lap the crowds at the finish line would shout out ‘one more lap’.
By the end of the 24 hour race Lee has gained a couple of laps on the rest of us and in his first 24 hour race covered 120km followed by the rest of us finishing on 100km each. A great result as it was also Daniel and Darryl’s first ultra.
During the course of the race (with the exception of Bomber!) we all vowed never to do anything stupid like this again!!! but as we sat back at camp having a post race beer, reminiscing on the strategies that went well and those that didn’t we knew we weren’t really done with this course.
By Sunday evening the entire group had agreed we would be back again next year……to go faster and further. Roll on #EQ2016