A lot of non-runners say to me that running is a cult. Look at the definition of a cult below and change the words ‘a cult’ and ‘they’ to ‘running’ and ‘runners’:
“A cult is defined as a group of people having practices regarded by others as strange. They typically have extreme dedication with excessive misplaced admiration for someone or something. It also involves regular acts of honouring to the set of beliefs or leader that someway involve physical assertion. They are built upon a strong community feeling around the cult’s activities which often involve group and solo rituals.”
If running is a cult then Endure24 is the yearly gathering to reaffirm your beliefs. Dubbed Glastonbury for runners it sees thousands come along with one clear and incredible aim; to see how far you can run in 24 hours around the five mile looped course. The course for the most part is on a beautiful, mixed terrain, hilly trail surrounded by woodland and lakes with only a small section of road at the start leading up to a beautiful view that guides you to the shaded trail ahead. It starts at midday on Saturday and runs through the night until the following midday. You can run in a team of up to eight or if you are superhuman; go it solo. I had enlisted two of my friends to join me and we went into it with little expectations and no real clue of what we were doing. Most teams do it the same way with one five mile loop, rest while your other team mates do the same and then you go again. Repeat until 24 hours are up. We had a different plan; Paul was aiming to run 30 miles consecutively, Mary was going for 15 miles and I was planning on doing 20 miles, sleeping and then do another 20 miles. For all of us these distances were a journey into the unknown.
One thing that none of us had expected was just how welcoming the event would feel (again, similar to a cult). Everyone was keen to offer us advice and beer while we set up our tents and chatted through our plan. As we wandered over to the start the sun blazed down and I knew it was going to be day on the struggle bus but talking to all the other runners helped me ignore my apprehension. I kicked off the first stint by our team, aiming to do four laps around the five mile course. What we all hadn’t quite prepared ourselves for was the amount of hills on the course, with the aptly named ‘Hill of No Return’ and ‘Heart Break Hill’ testing tired legs. On the first loop I ran up both, learning from my mistakes I soon took to running only the smaller one and walking the other to conserve my energy. The atmosphere while we ran was brilliant and made what would feel quite a repetitive loop always interesting. With cheerful bordering on bonkers marshals, a VW Campervan blarring out music and as night fell fairies appeared to help guide the way (no I haven’t gone crazy) the race really felt like a festival. Runners would offer one another constant support especially for those taking on the task alone, with shouts of “well done solo” ringing out long through the night.
As I finished my fourth lap I handed off to my next team mate, grabbed a massage and a bacon sandwich. My stomach had been cramping up during the last two laps caused by the unholy mix of gels and downhill running but now there was no motion hunger returned with a passion. After I had recovered, I found my other non-running teammate and we settled in along the course to offer support to those going round and to crew our teammate. The wonderful thing about doing a five mile loop with a team is that you don’t really need to carry anything as you can just grab whatever you fancy from them as you come round. We all agreed at the end of the event that this is a perfect first venture into ultra running because you have a crew with you so much of the time. Mary, finishing with a huge smile on her face (something that could not be said for either of the men) handed over to Paul and he ran strongly up the first hill and out of sight. Paul had been struggling with a chest infection for the week leading up to the race and was considering pulling out. We all agreed that just doing one lap would be an achievement and as he came round from the first lap it was plain to see that he was already struggling but with a gel and lots of fluids he carried on bravely. As night began to fall and Paul rounded is fourth lap he knew that he had to stop. With the darkness and his illness the route was becoming less of an endurance run and more a trippy struggle. With the blackness of night only being cut by head torches we called it a day, filled ourselves with food and tried to get some sleep.
At 4:45am I woke up. With twenty more miles to run I began the very slow process of getting kitted up in a small tent. With lycra and vaseline it was more like an Austin Powers sketch then a serious runner preparing to race. After taking far too long getting ready (and discovering that I had lost my timing chip) I began to run again. My legs were tired but surprisingly keen to get running. Having spent a lot of time preparing for marathons I, naively, hadn’t put any thought into training for back to back running. The body exhaustion began to hit, however, when I rounded my third loop. My legs now need to walk more than run but as I approached the awesome downhill section in the last mile my body picked itself up. This section of steep downhill with tree roots sticking out all over the place caught many runners out with some returning to camp with gashes on their legs but once you have mastered which side of the course to run on to avoid the obstacles you feel like someone who has found a shortcut in Mario Kart. Left, left, right, middle, left, left, right and a little hop and like the wind you are through having over taken the sensible people taking there careful time. The momentum carried me to the end and as the finish line drew near my two team mates joined me for the final few meters and we finished with a well earned hug. The two people I had the fortune to run with are two of the kindest and funniest people I know and having spent the last 24 hours struggling and supporting one another there are simply no words to describe how lucky I was to have them on my team.
After we had packed up our things and collected our well earned medal we did as Brits always do, we went to the pub. Over a lorry full of food we already began to plan for next year’s race.
The cult of Endure24 has got three loyal new recruits, come and join us next year and see what all the fuss is about. Trust me, it will be one hell of an experience.
Highlights: So many to list! A wonderful course, challenging for sure but the atmosphere and the support from your fellow runners make it worthwhile. Aid station at the halfway point was well stocked with gel blocks, energy drinks and water. The event felt so welcoming and more like a sporting event that you could just turn up and support!
Lowlights: If I’m honest I can’t think of any, my only complaint was that the caravan serving drinks closed at 11pm as we fancied a pint at 11:15!
Next Race: Compton Verney Half Marathon