The Equinox 24 Experience 2016

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castleThis weekend’s event was something so very special! Where do I start? Probably by explaining what the event is for readers who don’t know, before going into my experience and how I eventually faired.

What is the Equinox 24?

The clue to the event is in its name “24” which denotes how long the event lasts, 24 hours! It is a 10k course partly on tarmac and partly on fairly uneven muddy fields. There is a hill in each lap which on its own isn’t too bad but after 12 hours it starts to get to you and by 24 hours seems like an impossible mountain. The event is set in the beautiful grounds of Belvoir Castle in Leicestershire. A truly wonderful setting with the castle as the backdrop to the event which is magically lit up all night while we trudge round the grounds with our head torches in the dark. The event starts at noon on Saturday 17th and finishes at noon on Sunday 18th September.

The aim of the event is to complete as many 10k laps as possible within the 24 hour period. This can be done in teams of 8, 5, pairs or “Solo”, which was my challenge. There was a wonderful atmosphere about the place which had large groups from different running clubs from all over the country, either camping, glamping or in motor homes all gathered in a field under the gaze of the castle surrounding the start/finish inflatable arch. As well as the necessary race HQ and Registration there was a handful of stalls selling fish & chips, burgers, noodles and pizza so no reason to go hungry. To top it off for those who like a drink, there was even a double decker bus which had been converted into a mobile pub.

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Why?

I had entered the event because I was looking for a new running challenge. Until now I hadn’t run for more than 6 hours or 40 miles in 1 day. I wanted to test myself and I liked the idea to see just how far I could go in 24 hours and also see if I could run 100 miles in that period. This was always going to be a mammoth step up from the 26.2 mile or three and a half hour running I had become accustomed to.

The game plan was, ideally the win the race….only joking. No, the game plan was to try and run for the whole 24 hours and hopefully complete the magical 100 miles. The question also begged, could I run further in 24 hours and to that I had no idea. Really the whole thing was an experiment and maybe that was part of the reason I wasn’t nervous about the event.

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The event start

We came on the Friday evening so we could get set up in our Collins family glamping tent. The night hadn’t been that good with wind and rain hammering on the tent. The Saturday morning was also cold and wet which made breakfast not the most pleasant. Luckily it dried up just in time before the race start at noon.

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As the event start time approached, I got changed and prepared to run. I felt perfectly calm and composed, not nervous at all which I found surprising considering this was something so outside my previous experience. I can only put this down to my mental focus, with goals but at the same time I was comfortable in the knowledge that knew I would only manage whatever I could.

The plan was to eat each lap as well as drink. There was one water station at the far end of the course which was like an oasis and I religiously used every lap taking at least 1 cup, sometimes 2 and twice 3 cups, depending on how my body felt.

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During the first lap I ended up running alongside a soldier who was running with an army back pack on. We go talking and I was compelled to ask him how much his back pack weighed. I was astonished when he said 18kg! As the event unfolded over the next 24 hours I passed him numerous times but I was filled with admiration for what he was doing and gave him as much encouragement as I could.

Pace

Early in the race I knew my pacing would be very important. During a marathon I have it off to a fine art and can control even and negative split races very well. Obviously this time I was deep into the unknown. I decided to start with 10 minute miling, which is relatively slow for me but I was still concerned would be far too fast for this event. During the early laps I was actually happy to walk and chat with some of the runners, it both made time pass while still moving forward but slowed my pace which I believed was the right thing for me to do.

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As the first few laps passed I becoming aware that I was finding it an effort to try and run at a slower pace than what I’m used to. It was almost as if it was more tiring to go slower. The problem was I knew if I went faster then there was no way I could manage 12 hours never mind 24 hours. I persevered with a combination of slower running and walking the hills. I had been told on numerous occasions by many ultra-runners that the must do rule was to keep going forward and not to stop.

As the hours passed what I also noticed was while running I sweat and got wet then when walking I would dry. This lead to my getting warm from running, then cold from the sweat and then warm again once the sweat dried. So another element to the event was managing my temperature and clothing.

Food & Drink

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Nutrition advice I was given by seasoned ultra-runners was to keep eating regularly as well as drinking. A runner roughly burns up 100 calories per mile so that is 600 per lap. For this reason, I planned to eat something every lap as well as drink. The first couple of laps consisted of jam sandwiches (I suppose it was lunch time). Through the afternoon and early evening I moved onto flapjack and caramel slices. I still wanted to replicate meals so for evening meal I had the Collins Support team get me a burger. It was lovely, I enjoyed eating it slowly over 2 miles. As it got dark and tiredness crept in I used a couple of caffeine gels to help keep me awake. Into the morning and I had a Kellogg’s breakfast bar followed on by more flapjack. Oh, how could I forget to mention the regular intake of Jaffa Cakes? To keep hydrated I used Pura Performance Products by Team Nutrition. A mixture of Pura Charger 180 for electrolyte and hydration and Pura ReCharger Chocolate for protein.

If you’re interested in finding out more about their products follow the link below:-

www.teamnutrition.co.uk

Head Torch

Some months ago I bought a head torch which had been recommended by a friend and previous Equinox 24 Solo runner. But due to a persistent string of commitments and the long light summer evenings I hadn’t had one single chance to give it a proper try while out running. All I had got round to doing was making sure it was put together properly and fitted my head comfortably but I had no idea how it would cope for 10 hours. Luckily for me the fit was good and I had no problems. My only major problem came from the first set of batteries which weren’t full charged and didn’t work properly, meaning I ended up following a kind lady runner for the best part of a lap so I could share her precious beam of light until I got back to our tent to change the batteries. During my winter training runs I do sometimes run off road in the dark and can cope quite well. I don’t think this was possible on this course with some awkward, lumpy field sections and tree cover to negotiate.

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How did I cope?

The first 5 laps (50k) went by without issue which so they should if I was to get anywhere with this race. After about 6 hours my legs started to get tired and I started wondering what they would be saying to me if they could only talk. It would probably have been something like “Hey you, what do you think you are doing? We have run more than a marathon and should have stopped by now!”

By 10pm it was a different story, I was tired and had been running for 4 hours longer than ever before and mentally knew I wasn’t even half way. On the positive side I knew I was ahead of schedule if I was to complete 100 miles but I also knew I would slow. The question was by how much and would I still get to 100 miles or even finish the 24 hours.

In the early hours of Sunday morning I hit the land mark of 100k with a time of 13 hours 45 minutes. Although very tired this gave me a mental boost and I knew I was well over half way.

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The grounds of the castle had no lighting. The only light was around the campsite from the flood lights at the start/finish and the many camp fires which were kept burning all night. For the rest of the course we were in the dark. All the runners had to wear head torches and seeing the runners along the course reminded me of traffic on a road.

As it approached 4am I was feeling, not just exhausted and sore from the run but tired. I was increasingly struggling to keep my eyes open and my running started to wobble. I was getting worried I would fall. At 5:30am I made my usual pit stop at the tent and contemplated, should I have a little sleep? It might help with the tiredness but I might oversleep or stiffen up too much to continue. In the end I decided to have a 30 minute rest, set my alarm on my mobile and lay down. Thankfully the alarm woke me at 6am, I got up immediately in fear of falling back to sleep. I took an energy gel and crawled out of the tent. The legs had significantly stiffened up and it took me about 2 miles to loosen them up again. The risky pit stop had paid off, I was up and moving again and the rest had cured my heavy eye lids.

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The night’s sky cleared and the moon came out. It was a lovely sight lighting up the fields, the ornamental lake and the castle but it also got cold. I put on my jacket and gloves. A typical autumn low mist formed and hovered above the fields, which was a pleasant distraction from the fatigue I was feeling.

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The sun came up just as the light on my head torch started to fade as my third set of batteries drained. It was nice to discard the head touch and be running in the dawn sunshine. Day break also seemed to give me a lift and make some of the tiredness go away. This was something I had been told would happen and was so pleased to feel the experience.

I seemed to have settled into a routine of 1 hour 30 minutes per lap. I didn’t seem to be able to run any faster but also wasn’t slowing. I had wondered how long I could have kept it up for but for this race I didn’t want to find out. I had mentally planned to stop at noon and there was no way I was going to run for any longer.

The family had woke and were out supporting again which was a massive boost. The sun was warm and I removed my jacket, thermal and gloves. As the weather got hotter I was even more relieved the finish was at noon or I’d have had to think about wearing sun cream and worrying about dehydration.

Support and organisation

The support out on the course was brilliant. The marshals were so friendly and fun with some of them dressing up. All the runners were so supportive of each other. The atmosphere around the start/finish and the campsite was superb from all the spectators and the team runners who were waiting their turn. About half the runners were in teams and the other half were running solo. Printed on all the race numbers were the words “Large team”, “Small team”, “Pairs or “Solo”. Everyone on the course who saw a “Solo” runner would cheer “Come on Solo” it was the most wonderful support. We were made to feel so very special. One of the camps even had a leather chair, now that’s what I call camping!

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I was so impressed and proud of my family this weekend, they were not only fantastic support but it was their first time camping…well glamping. They all seemed to enjoy the experience. Lucas was eager to get water and help with the stove, Abbey managed to cope with the bugs in the tent and Yuk-Lam handled missing her home comforts. They were superb encouragement and a great sight to see every 10k.

I want to thank the Equinox 24 organisers and marshals who were all so friendly, helpful and supportive. The whole event had simply the most fantastic atmosphere, there is no way I could have expected more.

Endurance Running?

Until this event I thought regular marathon running was endurance running but this event has made a marathon feel like a sprint. Funny how everything is relative. Regular 5k runners think marathons are the ultimate.

For me running a marathon has been about running and getting the pace right. This event has been about much more. Balancing out running and walking. Thinking about eating as much as hydration. Clothing to keep body temperature constant. The head touch for the night session. Probably my biggest problem was my natural running pace. My natural marathon pace is just too fast for long ultras and running slower doesn’t seem to come any easier for me. Maybe this is something I would have to work on if I was to do more ultras but at the moment I don’t think that this is me. Certainly this type of long ultra-running is a different type of endurance and needs lots of planning and preparation as well as training.

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Result

Distance completed; 16 laps, 100k or 99.5 miles (so I ran round the field after the finish to make the full 100 miles).
15th place out of 234 solo runners.
Time 24 hours 11 minutes 10 seconds.
9000ft of climb.

What’s sore?

Most sore are my quads, I think “That Hill” did them in!
I kept applying Vaseline but still got plenty of chaffing…..say no more.
Didn’t get any blisters but tender balls of both feet, again I’m going to blame the two sharp downhill sections on “That Hill” each lap.
Right ankle swollen and once again it’s the fault of the nasty camber in the field of the sharp down of “That Hill”.

Strangest sore area are both my fore arms. After about 10 hours firstly my left forearm became sore, I thought I had banged it and it was bruised. A few hours later the right arm went the same way. I’ve never had this before but then again I’ve never used my arms in a running motion for so many hours.

Would I do it again?

It was a wonderful experience and fantastic challenge which I’m so glad to have attempted and achieved but would I really want to do it again? I love running but like to run at a marathon pace and feel long ultras might take me too far away from this. I’m not eager to say I’ll do it again but it is also not out of the question. For now it is time to rest and recover and take pride in my shiny Equinox 24 medal with my silver pin for running over 15 laps. I suppose I could come back and try for 20 laps and the gold pin?

If you feel like sending me a donation to the charity I’m supporting with this race, the Brathay Trust then please follow the link below. The Brathay Trust work with school children at Wigan council’s outdoor centre’s at Low Bank Ground and Hinning House near Lake Coniston and disadvantaged, young people from across the North West.

www.JustGiving.com/Malc24

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