Endure24 Alternative Race Report

It seems I missed the boat by about an hour, as I just came to post my Endure24 race report only to find that Kevin Stone had beaten me to it! So rather than waste it – here is my take on the weekend’s fun:

Over the weekend of 30th June – 1st July three 26.2 RRC teams took part in Endure24 at Wasing Park Estate near Reading. Endure24 as its name suggests, is a 24 hour relay race with teams attempting to complete as many laps as they can of a 5 mile off-road circuit. The race starts at Noon on Saturday and finishes at Noon on Sunday so there is plenty of opportunity to run through the woods at night with only a head torch to illuminate your way and for Libby to start freaking out with “Blair Witch Project” related scenarios!

Taking part in the race were a number of categories for solo runners (i.e. nutters), pairs, teams of 3 to 5, teams of 6 to 8, and also categories for mixed teams, all male or all female teams, so there was plenty of competition for teams trying to win their category rather than the overall race. We entered three teams in the 6-8 Runners Mixed categories, with Team A having 8 eight runners and the B and C teams having 7 runners. It was decided in advance by everyone that we would field a stronger A team and then spread the other runners between the B and C team to make them fairly similar (and create some competition between them).

Team A was made up of: Grant Davison, Libby Marchant, Jack Holland, James Thurston, Steve Ramek, Ann Bath, Kevin Parker and Neil Parker.
Team B was made up of: Kevin Stone, David Pearce, Natalie Warren, Kevin Furlong, Krystal Newbury, Zoe Wingfield and Chris Wilson.
Team C was made up of: Javier Fuentes, Derick Wilkie, Nicky De Souza, Jon Wilson, Linda Grossman, Maria Cenalmor and Ricky Emery.

Wasing Park is not normally a campsite but provided great facilities with plenty of space for everyone’s tents and access lanes so cars could be parked next to the tents (and escape to the supermarket for supplies if required). Having  most of my camping experience from music festivals I was pleasantly surprised to find the loos were not at all horrific and showers were available in individual wet room style compartments, with virtually no queues. The generator did pack up a couple of times meaning there was no hot water but both showers I had were more like a sauna.  The “race village” also had a big catering tent which was open 24 hours, physios providing massages for a small donation (also all through the night), first aid, a couple of shops selling running gear and also a small bar.

Some 26.2’ers arrived on Friday night to setup their tents and “26.2 HQ” which was a big white marquee provided by Ricky Emery. Unfortunately 26.2 HQ only survived Friday night and the initial 26.2 briefing on Saturday morning before the winds tipped it over and complete disaster was only narrowly averted by David Pearce making a one handed catch to stop it destroying some nearby cars (which would have been a waste of the club funds!). The majority of us arrived on Saturday morning with Jack and Linda joining us later, who were still recovering from Jack’s birthday celebrations the night before. But he still ran the fastest lap out of all us!.

The weather wasn’t perfect as Saturday was alternately sunny (too warm), then windy and cloudy (too cold). Sunday seemed ok to start with but we got some rain for the last two hours of the race. Luckily the course was well drained so there were very few muddy patches or puddles, even after 500+ runners had run over it multiple times.

At Noon on Saturday the runners lined up and were off after a bang from a starting pistol that made everyone jump (a “3,2,1” warning would have been nice!) The solo runners (some of whom ran 100+ miles in the race) setting off noticeably at the back at a well paced slow trot. The course started on grass and then quickly turned onto a tarmac road for the first climb, then off onto woodland trails. The woodland trails were quite tricky as a lot are normally used for vehicle access, so you had a choice of running along one of the thin stony tyre track ruts or the uneven grassy bit down the middle, which was even more challenging in the dark. It was also a fairly undulating course which climbed and then dropped 106 metres, but also had a number of ups and down not included in that total. There was a fairly long steep hill at 3.5 miles which was fairly challenging mainly because it was at the point of the circuit where your early energy was starting to fade. After the dreaded hill it was pretty much downhill to the finish, running alongside a corn field on your right (which looked very pretty at dawn) then into the main campsite field. The final part around the campsite was also fairly challenging as it was all on grass and had a couple of those “Oh look there’s the finish, I’m nearly there” points where you are then sent off on a dog-leg detour loop away from the finish. The course was fairly easy to navigate with orange tape marking the major turns and with added glow sticks at night. Unfortunately on the first lap, someone had kindly moved one of the orange tape markers meaning that Grant and about 8 other runners went the wrong way. Luckily they were saved from getting lost by bumping into the lead bike and lead runner, although had they been ten seconds later it might have turned into a nice shortcut.

The “baton” each team uses for the duration of the race is a yellow rubber wrist band (like the charity ones) which is passed onto the next runner and everyone is chip timed to keep things accurate.  During daylight hours there were usually some 26.2’ers cheering in our runner at the changeover and we certainly had the best support at the event, with the commentator regularly saying “By the noise I think that must be another 26.2 runner approaching the finish”. This did also help break up the monotony of him commentating on every possible way the teams could pass the wrist band to each other in the changeover area though (“…and the Yaxley Runners don’t have a team member waiting, is the runner that just finished going to do another lap, or is this a deliberate tactic, oh here comes his teammate out of the toilet cubicle”!).

The rules state that each team has to keep a runner on the circuit at all times so the logistics of who should be where and when is another challenge. All of our teams opted for the tactic of only running one lap at a time, and the runner who just finished  a lap notifying the person who would be running after the person currently running (note: I hope that makes sense!) they needed to be at the changeover soon. The extra challenge of this was when the sun goes down and trying to remember who you have to tell and which one their tent is, then trying to wake them up without waking the whole campsite up. This worked pretty well for us, apart from one hiccup when (an unnamed runner) finished running at about 01:00 and went for a massage, forgetting to wake someone up. I was about to set out on my lap at this point and was greeted by a not so happy Maria who had to leave the changeover area to wake Nicky up. Poor Nicky was then roused from her slumbers and told “You have to run NOW”. After a good telling off by Maria, (an unnamed runner) made sure this didn’t happen again, and after experiencing this I ran my night time lap repeating “Don’t forget, must wake up Zoe” the whole way round!

The real fun of this event was when the sun went down and from 7:30pm to 7:30 the rules stated all runners had to wear a head torch or carry a hand torch. Most of us had head torches of different strengths (Zoe’s was so bright it looked like it was probably developed by the US military) and I personally opted for a head torch and hand torch. I’ve run the Round Norfolk Relay at night on tarmac roads before, but this was a completely different experience. As most of the course was in a forest it was pitch black and your head torch only illuminated a small area in front of your feet. If you looked up to see what was coming there would just be a wall of darkness and it was usually at that point you put your foot in a pothole. The darkness also made navigating the big muddy puddle at the four mile mark interesting, which even though I knew was coming I still managed to run straight into and get a shoe full of water.

Throughout the race the Reading Joggers A team was well out in the lead by a couple of laps but our A team were doing well, getting as high as third place and not dropping lower than sixth place. There was a TV screen showing the team placings, which were updated each time a runner crossed the chip timing mats and at some points there were only 30-40 seconds between the top teams despite hours of running. Fielding a stronger A team was a good decision as there was lots of excited chatter each time someone returned to our tents – “The A team are up to third place!”. As the 24 hours progressed fatigue and injuries set in, with the B team two runners down after all of them had run three laps, and the A Team lapping faster so they realised they were all going to have to probably run 5 laps (25 miles). By the morning the A team had overtaken the Sweatshop Team in second place and had built up a lead of about 6 minutes over them, so to hold their position everyone knew they had to keep running, right up until Noon Sunday. Neil Parker got away just before the Noon Sunday cut-off to complete a 37th lap for the A team and sealing second place overall. Despite their 45+ minute period of having no runner on the circuit in the night the C Team still managed to beat the B team by completing 30 laps and coming 19th overall, and the B team completing 28 laps and coming 23rd overall.

All in all a great weekend and a different experience that is well worth trying, even for people that hate camping like me. Having to “Run, Camp, Eat, Sleep, Run” over a 24 hour period certainly adds something new to a running event and I found that running 20 miles on 2 hours sleep was certainly a challenge. This was the first Endure24 event and seemed successful enough that the organisers will be running it again next year, so it’s a good alternative to the busier and more distant Thunder Run in Staffordshire. I’m sure I missed lots of stories from the weekend out of this race report so please feel free to email me and I’ll update it, or alternatively write your own race report!