Wednesday 30 July 2014

Thunder Run 2014: Trail training at its most fun

We all enter races for different reasons:  to get a PB, to run somewhere new, to test our mettle, because a friend tricked us into it after a few too many drinks (and then somehow found a reason not to run...), for a hard training run, or sometimes just for a bit of fun.  The Cotswold Running trip to Catton Park for the 2014 Thunder Run was certainly designed to be fun, but it also gave an opportunity for some of our regular volunteers to get involved in a long and exhausting run with friends.

We arrived on Friday evening, hoping to enjoy a relaxed evening of camping and scope out the scene.  As it was Friday, the M42 was particularly stationary, so instead we arrived, put up the tent, got everything unloaded, and promptly put our feet up.  The camp site was vast, so wandering around and catching up with people suddenly looked an exhausting venture compared to eating dinner and "planning" our race.  I attempted an early-ish night by hitting the hay at 11:30, but sleep wasn't on the cards.  Camping can be relaxing, but with several hundred people within easy earshot, sleep can be hard to come by even with earplugs.  Still, 4 hours sleep is better than none.

The race-morning mood was a bit of a mixed bag.  I had the first leg, so was quite focused on when/what to eat that would stay down on a very hot 10K run.  In total contrast, Mitch was not running until his graveyard shift, so was trying to keep from going stir crazy.  In between, everyone was somewhere between gearing up and enjoying a relaxed morning with family & friends.

Team Revolution: Jill, Mitch, Nic, Kurt, Linzi, Rohan, Caroline, Paul
The morning started warm and sunny, and made its way quickly to very hot (~28-30C).  Given my problems lately with overheating, I was particularly curious (i.e. concerned, worried, nervous, bricking it just a bit) about how I would cope racing hard in the heat.  I knew it would only be for around 50 minutes, but such trivialities don't really come into it when you've suddenly found yourself doing badly at something you did quite well until recently.  I made sure to get properly hot & sweaty in my warm-up, so that sudden exhaustion that comes when you start exercising in the heat was out of the way before the race.  I arrived at the start line already drenched and ready to race.

Eventually, the race started and I was off and running.  Amazingly, the vast majority of runners actually lined up roughly according to their expected time for the 10K lap.  I had guestimated my lap would take 50 minutes, but was planning to run on feel at something harder than 1/2 marathon effort but slightly easier than if I'd only been doing one 10K that day.  I found myself steadily working through the crowd and maintaining a fairly consistent pace of just under 5 minutes per KM.

The Thunder Run route is a bit hilly, but it's also very twisty-turny.  In some places, I'm sure we ran a mile to move 50 metres along the campsite.  The woody sections have plenty of trip hazards to keep you on your toes (or face), and the occasional tight turn to find a tree in the middle of your path certainly make for added excitement.

The atmosphere as we wound our way in and out of the campsite was electric, and it took a lot of concentration to avoid just blasting off with excitement.  I did occasionally have the chance for a brief chat with other runners, including Steve from our neighbouring club in Pershore.

The early afternoon sun burned hot, and I'm pretty sure the medical crew had plenty of heat-related illness to deal with.  After my first lap, I felt pretty wrecked, and it took about half an hour before people stopped looking at me like I might fall out of my chair at any time.  After a good stretch, a tasty light lunch, and plenty of fluids, though, I felt pretty good and enjoyed my turns as support crew & childminder.  Jill took the second lap, and paced it a bit closer to a full 10K effort, which resulted in an excellent first lap time (50'), but over an hour of everyone giving her that same concerned look.  After that, everyone else wound it back in a bit to avoid being the first in the team to properly pass out.

My race plan continued, with my 4x10K reps concept working much better than I'd expected, with less than a minute difference in the first 3 times.  After my 3rd (finishing at 1am), I neglected my post-lap refuelling in order to crawl into my sleeping bag, which seemed so inviting.  I felt the difference on my morning lap, and started to bonk a bit, which meant I dropped a couple of minutes when I couldn't really speed up through the final 5K as I had in the other laps.  I learned a lot about areas of my post-run recovery that I could improve on in my normal training weeks (like, actually pay attention to it like I did once upon a time).

For the others, the result was equally useful.  Jill and Caroline did their first ever nighttime trail racing.  Linzi got in some good tired-legs effort with a blast in her final lap.  Nic reconnected with racing (as opposed to running in an event), Rohan and Paul did one lap more than they had previously, and Mitch found out that he's still a bit tired after Endure 24 (duh!).

Most importantly, though, we also had a lot of fun.  The kids went home as tired as their parents, having had a weekend of camping, playing, cheering, and generally being a delightful distraction from aching muscles and blisters.  Caroline's husband, Andy, got in some running, and Charmaine seemed to spend most of the weekend walking with camera in hand (you can see her pictures here).  Next year, hopefully we'll be able to get a few more from EVRC to come out and make up some club teams.

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