Thursday, 21 June 2018

Endure24 2018 - A Festival for Runners! (Including Highlights Video)

Endure24 is a running event which until a month or so ago I’d heard only the odd comment about or seen on someone’s Strava feed. I had little idea of what the event was about. When I joined the Alton Sports Ambassadors program recently I was invited to an Alton Sports/Mizuno preview day at Wasing Park, near Reading, the site of the Southern leg of Endure24 (there’s a Northern edition at Bramham Park in Leeds at the end of June). We got to try out some Mizuno trail shoes and take them for a run around the race course, guided by Graham Johnson, Marketing Manager for Mizuno UK. During the course of the day Graham introduced us to the overall layout and format of Endure24. The event is a 24-hour team (or solo) race on an 8k off-road loop, with the aim to complete as many laps as possible between 12pm Saturday and 12pm Sunday on the race weekend. Teams range in size from 2 up to 8, either male, female or mixed. The course is a mixture of (a bit) tarmac, forest tracks and single-track (some a bit twisty and technical through the woods). The whole event is structured a bit like a music festival, in fact it touts itself as a ‘Glastonbury for Runners’, with fields full of runners tents surrounding the central race village. The race village has food, drink, entertainment and shops, as well as a giant fire pit for keeping warm at night! During the trip up to Wasing Park, Graham very kindly offered me a place on one of Mizuno’s three teams at this year’s event, so I got to give it a go myself…

The original plan had been to go with the whole family up to Wasing Park and camp together overnight on the Friday, but due to my youngest daughter have a suspected chicken pox outbreak it ended up just being me and my son Cameron who went. This turned out to probably not be bad thing as our campsite for the weekend was right next to the race village which was very noisy with the Friday night party in full swing. However, this being a running event, the DJ shut-down at 11pm prompt so that everyone could get the chance of a decent night’s sleep ahead of the race the next day. The upside of our camping location was that the race course went right past the front of the tent so we were immersed in the race for the whole weekend! 

Team Mizuno camp for the weekend
On arrival on Friday a couple of hours was spent putting our ridiculously big tent up (a mission on your own!) and getting all the kit stashed inside. I picked up some nice running kit from Mizuno for the race, including a pair of Wave Hayate 4 trail shoes which according to Mizuno are “Designed and built to give you both performance and explosive pace. The low-slung, aggressive lightweight trail shoe doesn’t compromise on grip or protection. The Michelin outsole gives you incredible grip uphill and swift movement for technical downhill runs” I’d never run in these shoes before, but had got on well with the Wave Mujin 4 shoes at the course preview day. Putting them on and wearing for a few hours told me that they would be fine for at least my first lap. As it turned out they were excellent and I wore them for all of my time out on the course with zero problems and plenty of grip on the loose surfaces. 

The race village (Friday evening)
Saturday morning dawned and it was time to start prepping for the race. You need to be a bit careful about what you eat and when over the weekend. It’s very important to keep fuelled up, but care is required to make sure you don’t end up going out for a lap shortly after consuming a bacon roll or the like! I made up porridge at our tent a good 3-4hours pre-race to ensure it was well digested by the time the race kicked off. Our teams were still in a slight state of flux up to an hour before things kicked off and we held a team briefing at 11am to confirm who was running with who and it what order! I had been given the lead-out position in team ‘Hayate’ running with Toby, Scott, Simon (all from Alton Sports), Tim, Rhys (both from Silva UK), Rob and Hannah (both from Mizuno UK). By this point the sun was out and warming things up rapidly so I opted for a light weight vest for lap number 1. Lining up on the start line, the DJ was pumping out Fat Boy Slim’s “Right Here, Right Now” and it was amping the field up nicely! Following the pre-run brief by the RD the gun was fired on the stroke of noon and we were off. 

The start line

Ready to go on the line!
The golden rule of Endure is to not run your first lap like a race, but it felt like one for the first 400m or so, the spectators (50/50 runners and supporters) were great and they carried the field down the finish straight and left up the road towards the trees. The course has 2 decent length hills, the first being less than ½ mile from the start, it soon brought the pace down. After only a mile or so I was joined by City of Salisbury runner (and Salisbury 10 Race Director) Stuart Holloway and we fell into a similar pace. Stuart was running in a team of 5, so definitely didn’t want to over-cook his opener. We ran round the rest of the lap together having a natter which kept the lid on our pace. Coming back into the race village we looped around the back of the solo/pairs camping area and our own camp site before closing the finish line and spotting the next team mate (Toby) to hand over the red wristband to. Lap 1 came in at 31:12 (6:25/M), given the amount of effort required for this I was hopeful that I’d be able to do the rest of my laps at a similar sort of pace.

As I was part of a team of 8 I then had around 4 ½ hours before my next lap was due, so I got some food and chilled out with Milly and the kids (Chickenpox scare turned out to be false so she came up with Isabelle before the start on Saturday morning). There was a nice kid’s activity area hosted by ‘Living Paintings’ a charity which published ‘touch to see’ books for blind children. There was also a couple of story time reading sessions in the big Mizuno marquee, so there was plenty for little ones to do. 

The family heading home mid-afternoon and I got ready for lap 2. At 4:30 I picked up the team wristband from Simon and set off on the course. My legs were a little cranky to start with but soon got going, it was still very warm, with the trees blocking any of the cooling breeze felt out in the open of the race village. Lap 2 was straight forward as I started to learn the terrain, although the second big hill of the loop (aka ‘Heartbreak’) was a lot tougher this time round and really sapped my pace. Lap 2 was pretty much the same as lap 1 time-wise in 31:07 and I finished feeling like I could manage a few more! 

Back at Alton Sports base camp in the Race Village I grabbed a pasta and bolognaise for dinner and hatched an over-night plan. We swapped Toby’s c.1:30am lap for my c.5:30am one, so I would do a double in the middle of the night but could then get to bed, have a longer rest and not have to lever myself out of bed quite so early Sunday morning.

Start/finish straight & wirstband handover area
By the time my 3rd lap came around at around 9:00pm it was well on the way to getting dark and runner lights were mandatory after 8pm. I’d brought a variety of head torches (and the odd MTB light) with me, all of which I’ve run with at some point in the past and hadn’t made up my mind which one to take out for my first dark lap. As it turns out I didn’t need to worry about choosing as Tim Young from Silva UK kindly offered me the use of one of their Trail Speed 3 headlights, which, at a maximum output of 800 lumens, massively outstripped the power of any of my lights! The only downside of the light was the chunky battery on the back, but the addition of an over-top strap and a back to front running cap made it secure enough to run with at speed. 

To start with I didn’t need the light on anything other than LOW mode as I ran up the tarmac of the first hill, but once on the dirt track and under trees I needed a bit more light so flicked it on to the twin LED FLOOD mode. The track lit up like I was driving in a rally car! This was a serious light…I alternated the power setting from LOW to FLOOD/MAX depending on the technicality of the terrain, the brightest setting was also handy to let slower runners I was coming up behind them, it was definitely more polite than shouting! By the end of the lap I was convinced this was the light I’d need later on when it got really dark…. Lap 3 wasn’t quite my fastest (31:3x), but it was definitely the best feeling so far, probably helped by the dropping temperature now the sun had set.

 Despite everyone’s natural assumption that their lap times would slow down as the event went on, we actually kept quite close to the predicted timings. The trick was to go find the next runner after you’d come in from a lap and handed over so that they had the heads up that they would need to be ready to get out on the course in the next 30-40mins. Between lap 3 and starting 4+5 I kept the food intake simple with a pot of instant noodles and a banana back in my tent. I also donned a couple of layers as it was starting to feel chilly (the noodles helped warm me up too). Despite it now been dark the temperature was still muggy for my third lap and I came back in really damp with sweat, so the big fire bowl in the middle of the race village came in very handy to dry my vest out! With most of the course being in dense woodland the temperature while running was still very reasonable, so I wanted to stick with my Mizuno vest which had been very comfortable and cool for the laps so far.

 At 1:28am Simon came back in to hand over for my ‘graveyard shift’ double lap. Now the Silva Trail Speed 3 light really came into its own, giving me the confidence to keep the pace up. Lap 4 was ok but slower than the previous three, Heartbreak Hill was definitely tough going this time round and it was tricky picking out the tree roots through the twisty single-track of the ‘Fairy Woods’. If lap 4 was an effort, lap 5 was a borderline slog, my legs were starting to go and I stumbled a few times on the looser sections. Two lots of ‘HB Hill’ in short order really sapped my legs and I struggled to rally them for the last mile and a half back to the finish. I got round the two laps in just under 1hr 6mins and was very glad to get back in to the finish and hand over to Tim. 

I rewarded myself for the late night efforts with a large slices of Rocky Road & Carrot Cake from the 24hour catering tent. A quick check of the live results table showed us as 5th large mixed team and then I bid Scott from Alton Sports goodnight (he was due out after Tim) and headed back to our camp. I gave Hannah (who was due out after Scott) a shout to make sure she was awake, made her a coffee to keep awake while running(!) and then got my head down just after 3:30am to the gentle sound of feet running on grass past the tent with the first glimmers of dawn on the horizon.
I was awake again just after seven, I’ve never been much good at lie-ins in tents! It was a greyish morning with a little mist in the air. Although I was not down to run until later in the morning (having skipped my early am lap in the rota) I was cautious with eating in case I had to get out earlier than expected. So I just had a couple of bananas and a good strong coffee while simultaneously watching runners finishing their laps and the Comrades Ultra marathon streaming live from South Africa. 

Breakfast+Comrades+Runner Spectating!
After doing as much kit/tent packing as possible (I had brought far too much stuff and a very big tent!) I got back over into the race village to check out how things were going. By and large our team was still running to schedule, with only one slight hiccup in the small hours with one runner finishing a lap and having to go hunting for the team member to handover to… A spot of lap schedule tweaking and I was down to run out last and 40th lap starting about 15mins before the finishing gun at 12pm. We were still in 5th place and, saving any major slow down/issue, looking likely to stay there. I took over the team armband from Toby at 11:43 and set off to see what my legs were now capable of. It took a few hundred metres for them to get into gear but then they felt pretty good, even going up the first hill! I ticked off a sub 6min mile three (nice stretch just before you hit Heartbreaker) and managed to get the next mile in 6:35, despite the hill. I ran in the last 0.8 of a mile at 6:06/M to clock my fastest lap of the weekend in 30:20.

Overall it was an amazing weekend, the whole event has a wonderful atmosphere. It’s really great for families too, whether just visiting for the day or camping over the weekend. The good weather definitely helped, but even if it hadn’t been I think it would still be a lot of fun (just need to bring lots of running kit). Many thanks to the awesome guys at Alton Sports and Mizuno UK for giving me the opportunity to experience Endure24, we had a great time as a team! Also thank you to Tim Young from Silva for the loan of the rally car like head torch! I’ll definitely be looking to come back for another go next year, I’m tempted by the idea of doing it ‘solo’ and aiming to get into the 100mile (20 lap) club…. 

To finish up on Endure24 2018, here's a little compalation of video clips from the weekend, including an attempt at an 'on-the-run' interview with Stuart Holloway of CoSARC & some of our first lap chit-chat!

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