July 19, 2017
I think I have something wrong with me.
A defective gene, or weird programming from when I was a child that constantly has me thinking…
Oh…I wonder if I could do that?
Even if the thing is completely ridiculous in its scale, or timing wise bang in the middle of a really hectic time, I still sign up.
But hey ho, thats how I roll…so I guess I should just accept it.
Last year my friend and fellow blogger Helen Tamblyn Saville asked if I would like to join a relay team taking part in a 24 hour race called The Spitfire Scramble, I had been doing other races in the spring so knew I had it in my legs…although the camping part I declined on, as I hate the rigmarole which comes with pitching and unpitching a tent.
So I rocked up on the Saturday met the rest of the team, did 2 laps of the 6 mile course, then went home (actually I went out to a friends 50th) and then returned in the morning for a final lap. It was a great experience (which you can read about here) and I can remember thinking,
I wonder if I could do it solo?
So I made the commitment out loud to the ladies in The Clubhouse the following day, and then set about getting a couple of teams to join me to for the 2017 race.
What I didn’t account for was the fact I would be so busy this year with overseas trips, or that I would have a bit of a problem with my knees…so by the time the race was upon me I was thinking
Julie you bloody idiot
I arrived on site on the Friday at around 2pm. The camping site was huge (different from the year before because the event has grown in popularity) I was the first from the TFTR ladies and I set about trying to pitch my tent. It was hilarious. I got out of my car spent 5 minutes trying to work it out and then got back in my car in a huff, this was repeated 5 or 6 times as I tackled the wind, the bad instructions and the fact I didn’t really want to do it by myself.
After about half an hour I spotted a random bloke strolling through the camp looking a little lost, so I asked for his help. Paul was brilliant. He basically just put the whole thing up for me, and then set about helping some of the other women as they arrived too. Next year I am hiring my own support team of hunky men…100%.
We had two teams taking part.
The Pink Team and The Purple Team, made up of women from The Clubhouse of all levels of ability. Everyone was a little nervous, I mean they only knew each other from our online running club and most had never met in person.
So Friday I night I left the camp and went home for a good nights sleep. I figured I would need it with what was to come next.
I didn’t get much sleep in the end, insomnia is a bitch the night before big races. But at least my body was rested.
I made my way back to the site in Hornchurch on the outskirts of London, and the team was in good spirit. We had about an hour before the briefings and then the 12 noon start.
I don’t think it actually hit me that I was doing it solo until I picked up my race number and saw how few solo runners there were, I guess we were a special breed of stupid. 13 women and 31 men, 44 brave souls determined to see what was possible.
The first lap was pretty uneventful. I fell towards the back early on but this was good for me. I didn’t want to go off to fast. I ran most of the route, but seriously there are bits you have to slow down and walk, with styles to climb, narrow pathways to navigate etc. Plus around 55 minutes in I was starting to be overtaken by folks on their second lap.
I managed to run 1.28 for my first lap which I was happy with. I slipped through the finish line and headed to camp for some fuel.
One strawberry Yazoo later and I was off again. I hadn’t really put a nutrition plan in place. I had been advised to eat little and often and to bring a range of easy to eat foods both sweet and savoury as you won’t know what you will fancy or be able to manage.
Lap two took me 1.38
I stopped again to change shoes as something didn’t feel right and I took on some fluids and had some hummus and tortillas before heading out again.
I had been listening to an audio book up until now. Living with a Seal, which was brilliant in helping me switch off the voices in my head. Lap 3 was much more of a walk and I could start to feel hot spots on my feet and pains in my hips. It took me almost two hours to get round.
The problem with the lap mentality, is that 3 laps doesn’t sound a lot…but actually we are talking something close to 17 or 18 miles here, further than I have run all year.
My original goal was to be able to run 7 or 8 across the 24 hour period, but that had been reduced to a goal of 5 when I realised a trip to Orlando the week before would have a major impact on my energy levels…I was seriously jet lagged.
I came off after lap 3 in search of a shower. I sat and ate some rice and fish I had prepared and it felt good to eat something proper. The showers were a bit of a disappointment…not sure why I thought a local schools showers would be that great….and it took at least 90 minutes out of my time getting the shuttle bus etc.
The weather had been a bit weird. We had rain an hour before, and then it was just a bit breezy and overcast. It was fine for running in, but not so great for hanging around in camp. I had to make sure I didn’t get cold. A jacket potato with cheese and beans saw to that.
At around 8pm I headed out for lap 4, and this was my favourite lap of all. The change of clothes, warm food and a bit of a break had done me the world of good. The route looked absolutely beautiful as the sun set, and the last mile of the lap required the use of my head torch which was very exciting. I finished lap 4 in 1.36.
I came back into camp with a renewed sense of enthusiasm. I was going to run through the night I told them. Perhaps I could cover 50 miles after all. They were all behind me, telling me they believed I could do it. The 2 teams had been doing their thing, sending off runners one at a time to cover the laps. It was quite hard for me to keep track with how they were doing, I had to focus on me.
It was around 10pm now, I figured two night time laps would bring me up to 6 laps = 36ish miles…I booked myself in for a 2.30am massage and then I would see how I felt about another lap before some sleep.
But it didn’t quite work out like that.
I had been really scared about the night time laps. I am scared of the dark. Scared of insects. Scared of my own shadow. My head torch was great though (only £3 from tescos) and I had a spare handheld one just in case. I started off well running the first 2 miles or so. After a bit I bumped into Steph from one of my teams. We decided to stick together. We jogged a few bits, but to be quite honest we had to stop to let the faster runners past so often it wasn’t long before we decided to power walk.
I was experience some serious pains in my hips by this point. The last 2 miles I was in agony and if Steph wasn’t there I might have sat on a bench and just cried. I couldn’t wait to get back to camp and to take the weight of my feet. I was delirious at this point too, unable to walk in straight lines and I was starting to get a little cold too.
We took just over 2 hours to do lap 5, there was no way I could do another. So I moved my massage to 6.30am and headed off for some sleep. It was like a military operation to get myself some shut eye. Lots of my ladies were up sitting around camp but I had no time for chit chat. I changed out of my wet clothes into some clean dry clothes, I put my compression socks on to help with my calfs, put ear plugs in, eye mask on and got into my sleeping bag and ten pulled my duvet over me…I couldn’t risk being cold.
My alarm woke me up at 6am. I had slept for 5 hours straight and I felt good.
A porridge pot and an awesome massage later and I was off for lap 6. I was running in shorts, with my knee tapping on show and bright pink compression socks. I looked a mess, but I didn’t care. Lap 6 was a combination of short bursts of running and some walking. My hips felt fine, now it was my hamstrings playing up.
The support on the course for solo runners was incredible. Almost everyone shouted encouragement as they run past, and a few stopped and walked and talked with me which was great. Two guys from East London Runners stopped for a bit on Lap 6, I think they were a little concerned…but I was feeling OK.
I think one of the worse things about a race like this is trying to work out the maths. At one point on Saturday evening I was adamant that I could do 10 laps, that I could make it 50+ miles. My heart and mind wanted to do it, but my body was saying loud and clear NO!!!
As the time ticks down, even if your body could do it, soon enough there isn’t the time to get many more laps in anyway. It is a strange beast. And if you let it your mind can destroy you.
I finished lap 6 at around 9am. There were 3 hours left.
As I sat in camp eating (again) I couldn’t make my mind up if I wanted to go out again. I knew it would hurt and there would be little running. I knew it would take me at least 2 hours to complete the final lap. I questioned who I was trying to impress, what difference one lap would make.
At this point the women in my team were starting to dismantle the camp. One of our ladies Tammy had her husband with her who had been a great addition to the team, helping out around camp. He offered to take my tent down if I emptied it out first…so that was the deciding factor.
I could run another lap or I could hang around and dismantle camp…I knew which one I preferred.
We headed out around 10.15 for a final Too Fat to Run lap, there was Liza, Steph, Kate, Michelle and I. We were in different states of pain. I knew I would only be walking and Kate stuck with me. We had a great chat the whole way round which helped take my mind off the pain.
At around the 2 mile mark I was trying to work out how much time we had left and if we would make it back before 12 noon. I had a panic that this 7th lap wouldn’t count if we didn’t. And I started to run. But I was in too much pain to keep it up for long.
I was starting to feel nauseous now too. I just wanted it over.
This lap seemed to go on forever. And to make it worse, the teams it seemed had sent their fastest freshest runners out for their final lap, so lots of runners were steaming past us making their final lap count towards their final team positions.
We stopped briefly for a team picture, knowing we only had about a mile to go.
The last stretch was horrid. I could barely walk. But knew I would be coming up to the finishing area soon. I managed to run the last 50 meters or so. It was OVER…I didn’t have to run another step.
7 laps 40ish miles…I’d done it…I can now call myself an ultra marathon runner.
Looking at the results today I am in awe at what was achieved by some of the other solo athletes.
Nate Filer had done 19 laps…19 flipping laps and for the women Erica Nagy had done 17…incredible.
5 soloists had also done 7 laps which made me feel brilliant in my efforts, and there were 6 athletes who did fewer than 7.
My two teams had managed 14 laps between them which is fantastic, running through the night supporting each other around camp.
Spitfire Scramble is an incredible race, but more than that it is an incredible experience. The location is stunning, the organisation seamless, and the support is unlike any other race I’ve taken part in. I would like to thank the organizers for putting on such and incredibly inclusive event, and for all of the shout outs they gave to Too Fat to Run, it really helped boost morale.
I would also like to thank the Too Fat to Run ladies for having the courage to sign up to this crazy challenge, and for showing such love and support to each other during the weekend. We will defo be back for another year with an even bigger team, and many of my ladies are now thinking about a solo or pair effort. So watch this space.
If you would like to join our online running club The Clubhouse and take part in regular race meet ups and socials click here for further information….how awesome does Mandy look in this picture??