The following article was originally published last year on my family blog www.theleukaemiaconclusion.co.uk. It was so good that I felt it deserved repeating before I published this year’s race report of the same event. 😉
Imagine the scene: A blustery and dramatic day in a field in the south of Devon. One moment the sun is out and everyone is baking, the next clouds scud across the sky and rain hammers down in large drops. A man runs past with a grin on his face, he also happens to be wearing fishnet tights, a habit and a wimple. This is no Julie Andrews, she had much more attractive knees. This looks like an escaped convict who has been flushed out of the nunnery that he was hiding in. I’m not sure why he is in fishnets, but I’m sure that there is a good reason. You blink and rub your eyes, are you going mad? Moments later a man wearing a cowboy outfit and the rear half of a horse suit jogs past, also grinning. You give up and go home to take your pills, this can’t be right.
Welcome to the new live drama that is the Hope 24 hour race, raising money for the Charity Hope For Children. By the start of the race the organisers had dashed past their £5000 fundraising goal and at the time of writing I believe have surpassed £8000. This particular review is bought to you by the team called “Can’t Swim. Can’t Bike. Can’t Run.” But almost straight away we were given a new name: “Nuns on the run.” We had adopted a clergy based theme for our team and featured four nuns and one vicar.
- Richard “Julie” Andrews
- Stuart “Ron” Weasley (a hair dying mistake turned his hair vivid ginger!)
- Father “Ted” Kim
- Cam “Miss” Whiplash
- Shane “Whoopi” Goldberg
Dress in funny outfits, drink Doom Bar and run laps for twenty four hours. Finish somewhere between first and last place in the Hope 24 hour race.
The Hope 24 Hour Race
We assembled in Newnham Park with nearly two hundred other runners on the morning of the 10th May 2014, erected our tents, placed the keg (polypine) of Doom Bar real ale and prepared for battle. By prepared I mean climbed into our nun outfits, figured out how to put fishnets on (Stuart had stockings and no means to hold them up…rookie!) and pondered which shoes to wear. We agreed a team order and planned to run one lap each and keep going like that until something needed to change.
Stuart looked like a bootneck in a nuns outfit and couldn’t be mistaken for anything else. Shane looked faintly apologetic, and you can judge for yourself what I looked like. Kim was slightly underprepared, but Stuart happened to have a vicars white collar in his car?!? Cam meanwhile turned up ready to rock and had poured herself into a much more snug affair. She was the bravest of all of us, as she was new to our little group and had effectively turned up to spend the night in fancy dress with a bunch of people that she didn’t really know. I guess that by the end she probably knew more than she could ever have wanted to. She even bought along her little dog “Tink” too, an aged but friendly Italian greyhound.
The atmosphere was laid back and rather chilled out, which would possibly have surprised anyone new to ultra running. In my experience quite a few ultras are like that, with relaxed organisers and chilled out competitors. The organisers had laid on a food wagon (Express Catering), a massage tent (Running Matters) and a shop (MyRaceKit), much of which would be open throughout the night. They also had some decent music blasting out of the loud speaker system during normal waking hours, giving it a bit of a festival atmosphere.
There were more people than you might think in fancy dress. As well as us there was a YMCA themed team, a man in a dinosaur onesie, Wally Man and I’m sure a few others too. Everyone, whether in fancy dress or not, deserved a massive amount of credit simply for coming along and taking part. Those that truly stood out where the people donating their time to marshal and support the event. They were all excellent, enthusiastic and helpful. I could not of course fail to mention the heroic solo runners that plodded on day and night through rain and sunshine, while the teams endlessly dashed past them. At first I thought that they probably got a bit fed up of us all overtaking, but it soon became apparent that everyone had a massive amount of respect for the soloists and they got by far the loudest cheers and the most pats on the back as they made their way around.
The race itself
As the event started I took the first lap. The course featured around 200m of climbing throughout the 5 mile lap and really only had two hills on it, it’s just that you were pretty much always either going up or down one or the other. The exception being the last half mile which was pretty much flat. I went out way too fast and was fifth at the end of the lap. On the way I had managed to splash through a ford instead of using the footbridge after turning a bit too early upon seeing the sign. I was moving forward and didn’t want to slow down. Ever onwards!
I took the wristband (baton) off and handed it to Stuart and he ran off on his lap, meanwhile I headed back to the tent to refuel. I had never done anything like this before but my plan was fairly simple:
- Hydrate (coconut water)
- Refuel (eat Builders Bars, Chicken Burgers, lamb kebabs etc)
- Doom Bar x 2
- Sit down, chat, change shoes, lower the tone etc
The time whizzed by as one at a time we would head over to the start line to do our lap’s. The timing involved a bit of guesswork, but we managed to pull it off. Most of the transitions went smoothly. The Doom Bar slid down nicely and soon it was Shane’s turn. He headed out and I began to get ants in my pants as I would be up again next. I wasn’t nervous about running again, but I didn’t want to be late for the transition. Soon it was time. I put my wimple and jacket on and headed over to the portaloo. I emerged and just a few moments later I saw Shane running into the finish. It was a long straight section and the nun outfit could be easily spotted from a long way away. I removed my coat, grabbed the wristband and was off.
This repeated into the evening and everyone was putting in decent laps. Team morale remained high and the draught Doom Bar didn’t seem to be hurting our performance too much. The transitions remained interesting, particularly when I headed across to the portaloo before a subsequent handover, only to notice Shane tearing down the finishing chute. I ditched my jacket, grabbed the band and did a lap with a full bladder. I think it was my third quickest of 8 laps….
Throughout the night everyone was game to do a couple of laps each, thereby giving everyone about 4 hours of sleep in a turnabout fashion. Kim did her double first and the consensus seemed to be that the second lap was a bit of a “so and so.” I think that part of the problem was that we weren’t used to pacing ourselves for two laps, so probably went out a bit hard. Cam came into the tent some time after finishing her laps apologising for smelling of eucalyptus. She had done her knee in and gone for a midnight massage. It made the tent smell a lot nicer though, as up until that point it was beginning to get a bit ripe with stinky runners and damp kit.
When it came time to do my double, at about 1.30am I was loitering on the start line for a bit. I asked another runner if they had seen a nun and was told that there was one a mile back and he was walking. When Shane finally ran into view he muttered the words “it’s lonely and desolate out there” while handing me the wristband. He than sidled off towards his tent looking a bit knackered. I turned on my awesome Petzl Nao and started to run. After my recent foray into night running I was pretty relaxed about it. The Nao is a fantastic torch and there is a certain amount of peace that comes with running in the dark. I also like to stop occasionally, turn the torch off and stare up at the stars when they come into view. This added a minute or two onto my lap times, but it was worth it. After my first lap Stuart was already on the start line, so I hid the wristband behind my back, grabbed a drink and dashed off again. I wasn’t about to lose my chance of running a second lap in the dark 🙂 . As it turns out I managed to run each lap in an almost identical time once you factor in the drink stop. I was happy with that.
After my laps I headed back to the tent and managed a couple of hours of restless sleep before deciding that enough was enough. I got up, downed a tin of Monster Rehab, ate some muesli and set my personal fastest lap just after breakfast. I was breathing through my eyeballs by the end of it though and if you factor in what some others did then it wasn’t very impressive.
The day after the night before
In the final hours of the race we had one runner doing more miles between the tents and the loos than on the track thanks to a vicious attack of the runners trots. We had another out with a dodgy knee, despite doing yet another lap since blowing it and still smiling. One of our runners was finishing each lap looking practically suicidal, but was always ready to go when his turn came around again. One runner set an amazingly fast 32 minute lap at 3am and I’m not sure what I did, other than simply keep running. Oh, and changing my tights.
I have some interesting feedback for Blue Banana on their fishnet tights. If you are aiming for mileage then go for the skull and crossbones ones. They did 15 miles and were still whole. If you are a right tart then go for the pink neon as after five miles the crotch practically falls out of them. Does anyone else measure fishnet quality by mileage? The fishnets with the stars on went crotchless after 15 miles. Before you start getting an overly vivid mental picture of what a nun wears under “his” habit then please remember that I did have Compressport Tri Shorts on under the tights, so nothing was flapping in the breeze at any point in the race….other than the wimple.
Thanks to my team for all turning up and being such awesome sports. Morale was high throughout the event and everyone seemed to have a great time. This wasn’t one of those events where you finish it and say “never again.” We are all planning on coming back and doing it again next year.
Special thanks to Shane for giving up his last lap so that I could run our team’s final lap of the race, he was all set to do it when I went and asked him for it instead. This meant that I got to be the first and last runner for the team and put in around 40 miles throughout the race. Perfect practice for my next race which just so happens to be a forty miler.
Thanks also to the members of the Plymouth Triathlon Club. We managed to field a total of three teams, and quite a few members that weren’t running also turned up to cheer us on. It was great to see you all. I can’t finish this article without mentioning Shirley (Kim’s mum) who turned up and supported us throughout a lot of the event. Those three thermos flasks of coffee were particularly inspired and certainly helped keep my lap times reasonable into the evening.
Did I thank the organisers yet? Danny and his team did a great job and awarded our team with some extremely comfortabl Sueme Tree Trunks underwear. I’m not quite sure why we got them, but I have a feeling that it may have been for being the biggest idiots on the day….
Thanks also to those racers and their friends that took the time to pop their pictures up onto the Hope24 race event page.
If you have yet to run an ultra then what are you waiting for?
If you are new to The Leukaemia Conclusion then this is the place where I keep friends and family updated about my wife’s leukaemia as well as doing my bit to raise money for the haematology wards at Plymouth’s Derriford hospital. This year I am competing in a variety of events in fancy dress from sprint duathlons to ultra marathons to Ironman triathlons, all in aid of the Plymouth District Leukaemia Fund. If you can spare a penny (after donating to Hope for Children) then please do consider hitting the link to our Virgin Giving page on the top right of the page. So far I have raced this year as Wally (where’s Wally?), superman and a nun. More to come, much more 🙂