Thunder Run Weekend
What No forks?

bus Thunder Run, whatever else it is, is a festival of running. Not like the World Cross Country Championships perhaps but a festival of running nevertheless.

Yes there are some very good runners involved who can knock off 19 10k laps in 24 hours solo, or 36 laps in teams of 8, lapping at 40 minutes through out the day and night. It also caters for those of us who are actually not that good at running but really like it. Those who aren’t so much interested in the times they do as the times they have.

That is not to say that the whole outfit is not very professional. The planning that goes into it is as detailed as the planning that goes in the any professionally run event. And just like every professionally run event that is organised by human beings there is scope for cock up. I am not going to include the showers not being opened a 12 noon Sat, when the race actually began, as a cock up. Those who have been pitching camp since 7 a.m. the day before may feel otherwise. However, it seems not having showers for the first 30 hours was planned and required an announcement to clarify the situation to the bemused contestants.

When Chris turned up at the Beer Bus eating a dollop of pasta and sauce, it was clear that someone somewhere had made a cock up. He had the tiniest wooden coffee stirring stick. Not the best way to eat pasta. He soon gave up and went for it using his hands.

Not a pretty sight. It was not long before he had sauce all over his face and all down his front. He seemed to enjoy every moment of it. Like a porcine creature in something thixotropic.

When he had finally finished and started looking round for some tissue, he burped (artistic licence) looked at me and said, “They didn’t have any cutlery.”

We have all been there. Everything on the tick lost has been ticked. All the pig have been watered and are ready to fly. You open the doors and kick the whole thing off.

You serve the first customer and they make a reasonable but apparently unplanned for request.
“Can I have a fork with that?”

The penny suddenly and painfully drops. Someone forgot to put cutlery on the tick list! Or even the tick list for the tick list! Dooh!

Time to send out to Morrisons, smile sweetly at your customers, start offering discounts and dig around for an excuse that drops someone else deeply in the thixotropic mire.

The Night Before The Race

drinking As any performance athlete will tell you, the night before a major sporting event is very tense. Now Thunder Run may not get even a passing mention on Radio 5 Live but for those of us who regarding doing a 10k in under 70 minutes as a pretty remarkable achievement and worthy of a Sunday roast to celebrate, this is the Olympics.

The main task of the night before is to sort out the running order. This is done under the influence and so involves several people all talking at once and all having the most important and completely different take on the situation. By the second bottle it was finally decided that the only consideration, having dropped from a team of 8 to a team of 7, was not who was the fastest or who wants to run at night and who doesn’t, or who wants to see the dawn come up or the dusk go down or to arrive at the finish at the precise moment of there mother’s birth exactly 65 years ago today. It was who wants to, or who can be persuaded to with thumb screws or nut crackers or through the threat of public humiliation, run a 4th lap. They must go first.

This left me in 5th. First run at about 4 p.m.

Then came the difficult question. How fast are you going to run it?

Well what factors do you take into account? Fuelling? The course? Motivation?

My last 10k time was 1hour and 7 minutes at about 5 p.m. in muggy conditions. The course was up hill for 5k then down hill the rest of the way. Thunder Run? Undulating!

OK add a few minutes to give me a chance of coming in a bit early and looking really good, so call it 1 hour and 10. Optimistic?

My second lap will start about midnight.

By then I would expect the fuelling from the night before to kick in. 1pint of Molly Thunderer cider, 1 pint of The Reverend “Thunder Thighs” Eaton, the best part of a bottle of Château de Thunder box (other brands are available) and the growing flatulence caused by the poorly BBQed belly pork. You are looking at 1 hour 20 ish.

The third lap, probably about 8:25 in the morning.

Motivation and self belief that are the difference between a medalling champion and an also ran. Or so they tell me. They are of course over looking the impact of basic ability in these things when they say that and so consequently should be ignored and barred from all forms of punditry.

By the 3rd lap there will be no motivation and self belief will be hanging by its finger tips with no hope of salvation in a Dr Who cliff hanger scene – to be contunied next week. If I can limp round I will be happy. Or rather not actually happy, more likely to be cursing any and everyone who ever had anything to do with getting me into running in the first place.

3rd lap? A 1 hour and 30 minutes also ran.

The Course

People have a lot to say about a 10k course after they first run round it that usually involves a B word. The word is most likely to end in ugger or astard. Occasionally they have something more positive to say about it, after all they are usually people who like running, but until you do it yourself you can’t really judge it.

Let me start by saying that the Thunder Run course is quite beautiful. Yes it is undulating. The first half being particularly undulating. And the first half of that being a bit of an ugger. Not that it is in the same league as the Round Sheffield Run, or the start of the Lymne Park Parkrun which starts on an astard of a hill which goes on for 3/4 of a mile before levelling off for a bit before taking you up an astard of a hill.

It is also a trail course, which means that the surfaces are variable, uneven and not meant for running on. This makes it feel harder than it should. Another thing that made it feel harder than it should was my training regime. Having got myself into what I considered the right condition for Thunder Run, I had chosen to spend my tapering week in the Isle of Wight eating and drinking for England and doing little else. This of course meant that my legs were relaxed. But so were my stomach, weight and general attitude to running. All this added together made what should have been a challenging, but fun jog up through the trees, an ucking wat of a start to the course.

Added to all this, it was hot. I am, like must British based runners, not used to warm weather. My warm weather training usually takes place in France in late August/early September and involves a lot of pate, cheese and the occasional glass of an interesting little local wine that you just can’t get in Sainsurbys or anywhere else for that price and generally takes place in a reclining position without enough sun cream on. Therefore staging the run in the first heat wave of the summer and a rather wet summer at that, was a little below the belt. No I am not saying that I’d rather have done it in a rain storm. That would have brought its own unpleasant challenges and list of swear words to describe the course not beginning with B, especially since I had forgotten my trail shoes.

The rest of the course runs through a mixture of woodland, fields and the camping areas for the event. There is wheat and barley ripening, winding tracks through the woods, sudden views across the valley, a lake and it keeps coming back to the camping areas and the gentle encouragement of strangers. Sounds idyllic.

There are of course a few moans as well. Firstly the hills and there are a few hills on the course. I have a rule when running. Always run up the hills. Not fast. In fact very slowly. But always keep running. Like all rules it is there to be broken. The Round Sheffield Run rewrote that rule for the day. But Thunder Run was not going to. It was going to be head down, small steps but keep running. Now in the presence of an over officious Olympic walking judge, doing the reverse of his or her usual judging, I may actually get sanctioned for not lifting, but it works for me and keeps me going up most hill most of the time. But when you are doing this and you are failing to make headway against a young woman who has clearly given up on all pretence of running. In fact she is pulling away from you. It then turns out that she isn’t event part of the event and is just using the footpath as a short cut to get some much needed plastic forks from Marrisons to the catering tent. Then you start to question the wisdom of your approach and breaking into a walk suddenly seems like a good idea.

Passing other people is generally one of the those little pleasures that keep you going through a long lonely run. This usually means crawling passed someone who is even slower than you, has sustained a minor injury or is sneakily looking for a quiet spot to spend a penny . It may be a little sad but this gives me a sense of achievement, which whilst being misplaced is at least satisfying.

With Thunder Run most of the passing is fast people flying passed slow people and there is a lot of it. In fact most of the fast teams are going to lap runners as slow as me at least twice during each of my laps. That is an awful lot of people flying passed me with most of them passing some comment intended to be friendly but which is ever so slightly patronising.
“Well done.”
“Keep it up.”
“You can do it.”
And even the classic “You are nearly there.” Which every runner who gains any degree of satisfaction from a sub 70 minute 10k knows, is a complete no no, even when you are nearly there.

My over all feeling about the course after my first lap was, it is challenging, varied and hard work. It is also a really nice course, at least for those of us with the prospect of doing it 3 times in 24 hours. For those solo runners aiming for 15 plus laps it must be soul destroying.

Thunder Run Slideshow
The Night Run

camp fire It was getting dark on the Saturday of Thunder Run. The camp fire had been lit and various Rebel Runners were gathered round sharing their growing and varied feelings about the night runs they all had ahead of them. There was an elephant in the room or rather sat around the campfire and that is not an attempt to be witty about the size of my stomach after a week of tapering. Then a runner returned from her lap and the elephant did whatever elephants in the room or round the campfire do when they no longer wish to be ignored.

The runner took a seat by the fire and said “I fell over on a tree stump, cut my knee.” The person next to her chipped in, “I fell over last year on a tree root. Couldn’t stop the bleeding.” “It seems that everyone is falling over,” said another, a nervous quiver in her voice.

Then an old hand took advantage of a pause in the conversation as they tried to get the elephant back to doing what elephant in rooms and around campfires do best and shut up about the thing on everyone’s mind that they don’t want to talk about, and said, “Falling over is part of the experience. If you haven’t fallen over you haven’t done Thunder Run.” The elephant pulled it’s chair a little closer to the fire and settled down for a long night of conversation.

It was just at the top of the steep wooded bit, about 1.5k that I went down. A bit like I’d been shot as I recall. The first thing I knew I was on the ground clutching at my leg with the echo of a rather loud expletive of the F variety still ringing in my ears.

There was so much time to think before the pain arrived as there often is. I thought about the technicalities of aborting my lap. I thought about the week ahead and how I would cope if I couldn’t walk. I even had a slight warm glow when I considered having to miss my 3rd lap and spend the rest of the night with a bottle of red by a nice warm campfire. But most of all I was aware that there was no one else there.

Not a soul on that part of the course. Nobody to have seen the fine and dramatic way I took the fall, rolling from shoulder to back and clutching at my left leg in such a fine Hollywood single movement. No retake required. But most of all no one to offer any sympathy. No one to give me a passing “You alright?” or “Nice fall mate.” as they sped off into the night.

Then the pain arrived. “Ouch!” There were a couple of additional words that don’t need repeating here.

I got up. It could take my weight. I walked a few steps. Not too bad. A runner went passed in a blur. “You alright Mate?” and was gone. “Think I’ll live,” I called after her in the darkness for the first of many times that night.

I walked about 100 yards before I made the decision to run again. It was only another 8.5k to the finish.

Now depending on your approach to this kind of thing I was either being very brave or very stupid. But I was here to run the thing, so that is what I did. I ran gingerly and slowly, but I did run.

The secret of getting sympathy is to let everyone know just how bad things are and then tell them that its not a problem. That you are dealing with it. The conversation would go, “You alright mate?” as they flew past.

My answer would either be, “Yeah sure,” with a hint of ‘I’m really in agony but don’t let that slow you down’, to it. Or if they were going a bit slower or even pulled up a bit I would give them chapter and verse. “I twisted my ankle at 1.5k but I’m still running,” with the suggestion in my voice that messages of sympathy and admiration should be posted on whatever social media outlet they use just as soon as they get back to the finish.

And so it went on until the 6k point when I decided to walk up the hill that had been inconveniently put there. I’m not sure if that was a mistake or the idea to run on a sprained ankle in first place was my only real the mistake of the night, but by the top of the hill my ankle was too stiff. Walking was the only option.

The last 4k were not pleasant. Walking takes longer. The surface appeared to have become even more uneven and the sympathy comments were becoming a little tiresome. If you are running slowly it is largely assumed that you are just slow and you tend to get patronising comments. If you are walking you are usually assumed to be out of your depth or just plain lost and as long as you step out of the way you are ignored or get a “Thanks mate,” for your trouble.

However, if you are walking with a limp you could be any one of the above or you could be one of the fast ones whose done his ankle in but insists on finishing the lap regardless. You could be a hero, who but for that one mishap could have found your way onto the podium, the local rag or asked to be on the front cover of Runner’s World next month, looking bronzed and Adonis like, in full lycra with a meaningful stare, just passed the camera and a flat stomach courtesy of photoshop.

To cover all eventualities the comments come as fast as the runners who fly past making them.
“Should I tell the marshals?”
“Well done mate.”
“We could get some transport down for you.”
“Don’t give up.”
“You’re nearly there.”

No one had the good sense to stop me and say, “Why don’t you just stop now.”
“Are you mad?”
“Its only a race.”
“You’ll do yourself more harm than good.”
But then I wasn’t telling myself that, so.

When the end finally arrived, I have to say it was welcome. My time? 1hour and 44 minutes. Hopefully my slowest 10k time until I’m 96.

guy's foot All that remained was to hobble to the campsite, open a bottle of wine and sit down for a long chat with an elephantine friend of mine about how until you’ve fallen at Thunder Run, you’ve never really done Thunder Run.

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