Friday, 1 August 2014

Adidas Thunder Run

One email was all it took. How did I fancy joining the Men’s Running Magazine team for the Thunder Run in two weeks’ time? I was in!

I’ve done a huge variety of running events over the decades but this one was like a breath of fresh air for me; a 24 hour relay over a 10km technical trail course – how much fun was this going to be?

The team assembled through Friday evening and Saturday morning, ready for the noon start, using the transfer window to bring in Ronnie from the Women’s Running Magazine team and passing Jon across to make two mixed teams, though in reality the two teams acted as one big happy family for the duration of the event.



The final couple of hours before the start were basically spent trying to stay cool and avoid getting sunburnt as we formulated a battle plan. Stuart, our whippet, was elected to run first leg with the hope of getting us off to a good start, using his 2:40 hour marathon pace – he didn’t let us down, recording a sub 40 minute lap time and, more importantly, being in a position to give a detailed account of the course to the rest of us.
What a course it was. It incorporated every element you could wish for in just 10km; fast flats, steep climbs, sharp corners, technical rough sections, I could go on…

Paul took over the baton next and coming off the back of 18 marathons since February, stamina was never going to be a problem. By now, the heat was getting serious and the finish area was strewn with sweaty, red faced runners trying not to contemplate the fact that they would have to do it all again in a few hours.

Within the hour, Ronnie was off onto her first lap, buying into the spirit of a team full of male bravado, hitting the first few kilometres hard and using her Parkrun speed to great effect. At around this time I realised I had probably made a bit of a mistake in that I was psychologically up and ready for a noon start and wouldn’t actually be running until about 3:30pm – schoolboy error! It was time to get race head on again.

Martin was next up to the plate, again from a marathon background, the technical trails would bring a smile to his face and his previous experiences in events similar to this would stand him in good stead. I liked his long term goal to complete 30 marathons by the age of 30, especially as he only has two years to complete the task – fighting talk!

My turn. Thoughts of making my first lap a steady one went out of the window as soon as the baton was on my wrist. By 3km I was just having a mild panic, thinking I had gone way too fast but just at that moment I hit the first of the technical sections which were a joy to run and got me back in the groove. This seemed to be the pattern for me on every lap; struggled on the fast sections, happy bunny through the technical, wooded bits. I could feel the lactic acid coming out of my ears over the last 2 kms but finally got in just over the 40 minutes barrier and passed on the El Capitano, Euan.

Euan has great experience, not only as a runner in just about every discipline possible, including these 24 hour relays, but also as a coach and this would show through during the weekend as he mixed the “hand on shoulder” approach subtly with the “zip up you man-suit and get on with it” attack (or was that just with me?)

Now this is where things got interesting as we were a team of 6 in a category for teams of 8, meaning that we would each run more laps than our competition and have less recovery time between each lap. Initially, I didn’t think this would be too much of a disadvantage but as the hours went by it proved to be.



We were now settled into our routine with the only major mishap being a fall by Stuart, leaving him with some “road rash” of which a cyclist would be proud. Each runner had about 5 hours between laps to rest and recover, though it did feel strange to catch an hour’s sleep in the middle of a race. Times inevitably slowed during the night, more due to the technical nature of the course rather than fatigue, but sunrise was, as ever in events like this, welcome and a great rejuvenator.

In the latter stages of the race, we decided to swop the order round a little to make sure that our faster runners would all run five laps. This seemed a good idea until Euan and I had make do with only 1:30 hours recovery time on our last lap – this was not pretty and I had to dig deep on this last lap. My only consolation was that Euan was suffering just as bad as me and it was his idea.

Martin had the honour of the anchor leg, bringing us home in 19th place out of 228 teams. What a spectacular atmosphere at the finish, music, commentary, cheering, shouting and lots of mutual appreciation particularly for those solo runners who had ploughed a lonely furrow for 24 hours.




I would like to thank my team mates who made this such an enjoyable experience; the highs were high and the lows weren’t really that low. Thank you to Men’s Running for inviting me to join the team and to Adidas for supporting such a fantastic event.

I'm trying to make some improvements to my general nutrition and specifically my racing nutrition. Supporting me in this endeavour are Mountain Fuel Nutrition who have a very holistic approach to this - after my first two hour conversation with the team, I had a much better understanding of what I require and, with their support, I'm trying a number of new strategies which will, hopefully, make a difference to both my training and race performances.

To help me keep track of my progress, I'm going to put some details down of my nutrition and we can see what happens over the next year (this is very much a long term project - there is no quick fix!).

During the Thunder Run, it was important to take advantage of the 20 minute window, straight after finishing a lap, to get some kind of a recovery drink into the system. I went for a gentle jog for 10 minutes, sipping 250ml of soya milk and Mountain Fuel Recovery. The mantra I was advised to follow was "sip - swill - swallow". As it was so hot, I continued to sip either water or Mountain Fuel Extreme Energy drink, but taking my time (an hour to finish a bottle). After about an hour, I got some "food" in me; trying out a thick broth soup and some bread, porridge and Mountain Fuel Morning Fuel at different times, all easily digestible. I had to work hard to avoid stuffing in the things I wanted like chocolate, crisps and Coke. What I was trying to avoid was a sugar spike followed by a crash before I went our running again. As I was told; "feed your body, not your brain" - give your body what it needs to preform best, not what your brain wants simply to activate it's pleasure centres! I also nibbled on some home-made flapjack consisting of just about every nut and seed you could think of and without any processed sugars.

Apart from my last lap, after the very short recovery time, my times were pretty consistent and I certainly felt good energy-wise. What was noticeable, was that I thought far more about what I was putting into my body and felt positive that I was doing the right thing (feed your body, not your brain) which may very well have had a psychological impact on my performance during the event. Now, this was the perfect event to start this project with as I had time to think about what I was doing - it will be interesting to see how "we" tackle a full-on ultra race where I don't have the luxury of 4 hour pit stops!

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