Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Review : Equinox24

It's one in the afternoon and I can barely keep my eyes open as I make my way southward on the M1. I'm tired but elated. I've just spent the weekend with a wonderful group of girls, acquaintances and new friends, in a field, eating odd food at odd times, running laps and getting very little sleep. It's been truly wonderful. It's been Equinox24.

As you'll know if you've been following my blog, this was the first of my new set of challenges to raise money for Hospiscare and I took great pride in wearing my charity vest on my first lap.
Excited and rocking my Hospiscare vest
The aim of the game is to complete as many 10k laps in the grounds of Belvoir Castle Estate as possible in 24 hours, alone or in a group with as many as 8 people. I took part in a team of five, which made it no less challenging I can tell you. For a long time I only had Alex and myself in the team.. plus three empty spaces. Gradually I managed to find three other equally crazy ladies who were prepared to join The Dynamos. None of us had met each other before the event.

What should have been a 3 hours journey ended up taking 5 hours and I finally arrived in the dark and the drizzle, nose pressed against the windscreen. having spent the last 30 minutes convinced I was lost in a maze of country lanes. Cheryl and Michelle had already scored a camping spot so I quickly threw my tent up and tried to orientate myself in the huge field that didn't really seem to contain very many campers at all. Raven arrived even later than I did having had an even worse journey but many hands made light work of getting her pitched and we all turned in for an attempt at a good nights sleep.
Belvoir castle on the morning of the event 
We woke to a foggy but dry morning and the sounds of campers making breakfast. Conversations with strangers were struck up over bacon and egg sandwiches and mugs of tea and acquaintances were made whilst brushing teeth. It's one of the things I adore about camping, everyone's really friendly and no one thinks anything of wandering around in wellies, PJs and sweatshirts. Alex arrived about two hours before race briefing, in time for us to decorate our campsite, dish out race packs, get into our running kit and apply face paint. It was nearly time!

I knew that a large contingent of RMR ladies, Team Bear members and other assorted twitter personalities were taking part and I managed to meet up with a few at the race briefing, which was just as well because there wasn't much opportunity to socialise afterwards. The brief was short but informative, covering a few things that hadn't been in the comprehensive info pack, and then it was time to join the start line. As team leader of sorts I was running first whilst everyone else had to hang around in camp getting nervous.
Team in camp
And we were off! The course is approximately 50% tarmac and 50% grass/trail around the estate. It was well signed with markers every kilometer, well marshaled and really pretty. There's a lake with some very loud geese and gorgeous views of the castle. There was talk of a hill, a long steady hill between kilometers 3 and 4. What we hadn't been expecting was the B*****d hill at kilometer 6... After the 5km point you turn to run through a field. The path starts going downhill quite steeply and the thought occurs that what goes down might have to come back up again... and there it was, a hill that brought all but the truly hardcore to a walking pace. I decided to see it as an enforced rest point. It was certainly a talking point. In fact it was where, on one of my later laps, I got talking to a chap in a green kilt who made me laugh by laying on the ground in front of me. I later found out this was @MarathonMan_UK. I may have a bit of a crush...

Before I knew it I was rounding the corner for the last kilometer around the camp site, waving to a few people who kindly cheered me on and pushing for the change over point. Garmin stopped, slap band passed over to Alex and a sigh of relief. One lap done - and seemingly a PB to boot! The four hours between laps went surprisingly quickly. By the time I'd got back to camp, freshened up, and had something to eat it was time to look out for Alex coming back. Three hours to go. Merchandise purchased at race HQ and cheer Cheryl back in. Two hours to go. Another cup of tea and cheer Michelle in. One hour to go. Fresh kit found and changed into, over to transition to warm up and look out for Raven coming in... lap two is go!
On the start line
And so it continued, into the evening and through the night. Being organised with wet-wipe showers and putting on clean kit to sleep in meant I could get almost 3 hours rest and not have to get into cold kit. Taking a proper airbed to sleep on was probably the best thing I could have done; comfort is key! During the night when people started to suffer we all pulled together and changed the running order slightly so as to always have someone out on the course. I won't forget Raven, without hesitation, offering to go back out just an hour after she'd run, to cover one of Alex's night laps.

Running in such darkness was a new experience for me. I've run in the dark before but it was "urban dark" with the ambient orange glow of street lights. Running in almost pitch black was thrilling and beautiful. The course was marked with glowsticks, the castle lit in spooky orange, stars and a sliver of moon were bright in the sky and there were times where I was almost totally alone, the only sign of life a sparse line of bobbing head torches in the distance. The course was only slightly slippy but the B*****d Hill was even more treacherous and the pot holes seemed to suddenly open in front of me. It was during the night that the marshals really came into their own; still there, still cheery. The halfway water point had a stock of gels and oat bars and one lovely lady who was waving an LED stick around as if it was a rave. It occurred to me, at 4am, that I was still really enjoying myself. Sure it was a completely bizarre situation and the bobbing of my head torch was making me feel slightly queasy but I was having a fantastic time. Running. In the dark. And the fog. And the cold. At 4am. Mad.

Race HQ at night was also something else. During the day there was music, a bouncy castle and a lot of buzz. After dark it became more subdued but the sense of camaraderie was far stronger. Organisers Johnny and Laura were still very much present (I don't think they sleep for over 48 hours) as was the massage guy, who apparently hadn't stopped since noon. The pizza van eventually closed and the cafe stand also finally admitted defeat, leaving out pasta pots, snack bars and drinks with an honesty box. Someone appeared with a box of beers. Solo participants still got a smattering of applause each time they crossed the finish line and there were tentative questions asked about how many laps had been completed so far.

Fuelling was a constant battle. It's hard to know what you'll want to eat and rather than rely on the on-site catering I took my own food; a huge stash of all sort of things. There comes a point though when you're just not hungry for anything, let alone another chocolate recovery shake. I made a point of having a shake and something solid after each lap even though my stomach felt really unsettled but it was worth it for the stable energy reserves.
Cheese and onion pasty for breakfast... such is the diet of the 24hour runner!
We were generally blessed with the weather. I think there was an hour or two of rain during the early hours and of course fog but otherwise we were lucky. Sunday morning was bright and sunny and it felt like a joy to be running. Still. Again.
The castle on Sunday morning
It was over all too soon. At 11am, as Cheryl completed her last lap, we decided to call it quits. I toyed with the idea of doing one more lap but I could tell everyone was about done in and my knees probably needed more than an hour before taking another B*****d Hill battering. Besides, I'd done 5 laps/30 miles which was what I'd set out to do. Timing chips were swapped for medals and the obligatory group photo taken. Cars were packed, goodbyes said and we went our separate ways. The hot bath and cosy-ness of my Equinox hoody when I got home were bliss.
Team Dymanos with our well earned medals
I'm still on a high, and ravenous, three days later. I've barely left the comfort of my hoody and my stomach is still not quite back to normal but DOMS seems to have passed me by. Would I do it again? Yes! Would I do anything differently? Maybe take slightly less food, slightly more sports bras and many more photos. I'd run that extra lap too. Or maybe I'd attempt it solo... Question is now am I an endurance runner or an ultra runner?

Thank you so much to Johnny and Laura, to my team mates, to all my RMR and twitter friends, to anyone who talked to me on the course and to everyone who has donated so far. It's been brilliant. It's been Equinox24.

Best bits of Equinox24
The organisation
The marshals
The race t-shirts
The loos and showers being kept in such good nick (all things considered)
The camaraderie

The worst bits of Equinox24
The B*****d Hill
Trying to find the site in the dark
The laps coming up as 5.9miles on my Garmin

My Equinox24 in stats
Lap Start time Duration Post run fuel
1 12 noon 56:40 FGS Chocolate shake, pasta, cake
2 5pm ish 55:58 Chai Latte, quorn pasty, protein flapjack
3 10pm ish 01:03:11 FGS Chocolate shake,  pasta
4 3:40am ish 01:06:30 FGS Chocolate shake, jack oat bar
5 08:45 ish 01:01:09 Apres hot chocolate, cheese & onion pasty

The "Best Day Ever" t-shirt just *had* to be worn

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