Epic, Brutal, Relentless. Three words on the beautiful race medal that sum up the weekend perfectly.
For me this was really a weekend of firsts. First time camping at a race, first endurance event, first trail race, first time in a relay team, first time racing in a headtorch, first time I’ve seen a Blues Brothers tribute act at 10pm in the woods part way round a course!!!
The weekend had been a long time in the planning. I had teamed up with seven absolute legends and the aim was to enjoy ourselves and just let the running take care of itself, we had a plan but it was very much subject to how everyone was feeling.
I arrived at the event site at Bramham Park on Friday evening and met fellow team member Allison there. She’d driven up from Oxfordshire and had scoped out a prime camping pitch for us. Within about 45 minutes the main tent was up and we were already sharing plenty of laughs. Allison departed to her much more comfortable hotel for the night and I was left to eat cold pizza and check out the race village and facilities. The fire pit was glowing and DJ Ludo was spinning his tunes as I walked down to be pleasantly surprised by the ample supply of loos, showers and water stations. Even on Friday night the atmosphere was great and it set the scene for a fantastic weekend.
I managed to pinch bits of sleep here and there before finally giving in and getting up around 6.30am on Saturday. The smell of sausage and bacon permeated the air and the sun was already beating down. Within a couple of hours my team mates arrived from various parts of the country and we had several other familiar running luminaries visiting us in camp before the serious stuff got started.
At around 11:50am we headed down to the start line and Ben who was our first runner, I still don’t know how he even managed to stand up given his jet lag, joined the starters in the chute. There was a genuine mix of participants, hardcore solo ultra runners, fun runners, running clubs, pairs and team of friends like ourselves. At bang on noon the gun sounded and we cheered Ben off on the 5 mile course. The plan was to get everyone a lap in and see how we found it. Ben did a cracking job leading off and it seemed like no time before he approached the team handover zone to pass the wristband onto Col. We were all keen to find out what lay ahead of us, Ben’s verdict was to the point, “undulating”, was his summary, this was confirmed by the next couple of team members who went out, I was seventh out of eight in our team to head out and it was late afternoon before my turn came around.
Even at 4.30pm it was still hot. The course was indeed undulating, some of uphills were short and steep, some dragged, some were hellishly dusty. The downhills were mainly quite short and the course took you through some beautiful areas of Bramham Park. The wooded sections provided valuable shade as some of the more exposed areas felt like running on the surface of the sun! Under foot the paths and grass were mainly in decent condition although I did spot a couple of rutted areas and made sure that I committed them to memory knowing I would be going out again at around dusk.
In between running the camp was full of fun, laughter, games, napping and cake. It was basically a great camping weekend during which one of your friends disappears off and another returns every so often.
Suitably refuelled I went out for my second lap at shortly before 10pm. By this time the wearing of a head torch was mandatory although the sun hadn’t quite yet set. The open parts of the course were just about ok but I needed some illumination through the woods to make sure my footing was good. The temperature had also dropped off by this time and it was much more comfortable conditions than earlier in the day. Once I’d handed over I went back to camp, ate some extra large hot dogs, had a brew and bedded down to attempt some kip.
By this time the plan was to send out our runners on double lap stints to try and give people time to sleep. Full credit to everyone in the team who went out in the dark and put in some real shifts. My double didn’t come around until 7am on the Sunday by which time I had been awake a while and was ready and raring to go. Of my three stints over the 24 hours I enjoyed this one the most. I knew what to expect from the course, I paced myself well and I felt good. Two laps done and breakfast consumed it was time to start dismantling camp before we headed down to the finish for the finale.
In all our team completed a very respectable 30 laps (150 miles), ultimately though for me the running and the result were secondary factors in the weekend. For me it was primarily about spending time with some of the best people I have the fortune to know. The spirit in our team, and beyond, was fantastic, the support and encouragement were on another level and plans for next year are already in their infancy.
Finally a couple of thank yous, to the marshals and organisers for a truly great event, to my family for giving me time away to take part, to all the participants for being inspirational and last but by no means least to my squad, you are like my second family and I have nothing but love and respect for you all.