Nutter-in-Chief Laura Gale reports:
Bournville Harriers Fruit n Nutters. A laugh and a half in every mile.
The Adidas Thunder Run is a 24 hour off-road relay race against the clock. It is designed to test your tactics, endurance, speed and team work – all essential Harrier qualities. The aim of Thunder Run is for your team to complete as many 10K laps of a fairly hilly, off-road course as possible within 24 hours. The race starts at 12 noon on the Saturday and ends same time on the Sunday and you must have one team member out on the course at all times.
Expecting a few hundred crazy runners at this type of endurance event, we were shocked to discover a HUGE festival-style town of tents and camper vans – just not so much music, booze or tie-dye. There were thousands of runners, tents as far as the eye could see and the full array of camping styles. We were envious of the group next to us who had a glitter ball, but we were not envious of the RAF Cosford team who had exercise bikes – for when not running, naturally. There were fairy lights, campfires, inflatable sofas, paddling pools, swing ball, apple bobbing… A brilliant atmosphere!
Selling out within 18 minutes of the places going on-line Suz was poised at midnight back in October with her fastest finger and managed to sign up a mixed team of 8. The final line-up of happy teal campers consisted of Suz West, Mark Doudican, Helen Lawrence, Emma Hopkins, Simon Newman, Laura Gale, Jude Glynn & Steve Doswell.
We had planned our running order weeks beforehand over a pint at the Country Girl, and were simply going to run one after the other and aim to complete 3 laps each. Suz went first, so her approximate start times were going to be 12 noon, 8 pm & 4 am. As she was the first runner, there was the likely chance that she would be the lucky one who got to run an extra lap at the end! If your last-but-one runner crosses the finish line as late as 11.59 am on day 2 you can still send the next runner out to complete a final lap – just as long as they start before 12 noon.
The course was proper Harrier territory – something to get your teeth into with lots of variety. Steep hills, dark dense woodland, blinding open dusty fields, tree roots, switchbacks, adverse camber, speedy downhills, slippy gravel tracks, rewarding views.
The first part of the course took you out through the tents along a fairly flat grassy track, no time to get comfortable though as you quickly turned steeply up into some woods and twisted through an area known as ‘The Rough’. Chinking glasses and merriment slowly came back into earshot as the course snaked back through the campsite. Here you got tonnes of brilliant support and the distraction of looking at signs and weird and worrying cardboard cut-outs / effigies people had made. On the downside, later in the day, you also got tantalising whiffs of other peoples BBQs as you struggled with cramp and delirium. There were 2 Cannon Hill parkrun teams on this section of the course – the cheers from Hilary and co. were deafening! Other hardy BvHers had made up the numbers for these teams, so it was fab to see Rachel Partridge, Monica Baptista & Simon Goodwin at random times of the day & night.
The wooded sections were the most technical, so confidence, guts and a good set of core muscles honed during BvH Cross Country season were essential. As other runners gingerly picked their way through the trees, the Harriers were like sprightly mountain goats leaping from one root to the next, eating up each kilometer and picking off the runners in front. At around 6km there was a straight 100m uphill section called the Conti Climb. Between 6-7pm whichever team member was out on that section could have a go at sprinting as fast as they can up it with the fastest time winning every member of their team a pair of Adidas trainers. No new sneakers for The Nutters, but Steve Ellerton from one of the parkrun teams came a very impressive 3rd! My favourite point on the course was the 8km marker. You had a tremendous view in every direction, it was pretty much open and downhill from here and you knew you were heading towards pals at the 9k marker and the end of your lap. You could really start to ‘peg-it’ for home.
As darkness fell, the camp got quieter and more subdued. You could feel an aura of tiredness descend as the smoke from doused BBQs rose vertically into the still, warm evening air. The non-running Nutters were squeezed into Helen’s lovely camper van enjoying cups of tea. Runners now had to wear head-torches. As Simon ended his lap and passed me the baton, he also pressed a second torch into my hand and breathlessly said “you’ll need this” before disappearing into the night. Running with head-gear is quite an experience, but those 3 miles of practice with ours up the Lickeys definitely helped. Issues involved: too tight, too loose, incorrect angle, shining in your eyes and blinding yourself…, getting blinded by others, general drooping, ‘sweat-slip’, too dim, wrong setting (flashing, or having the red light on), dropping your head torch and the batteries falling out (Suz), trying to stretch the headband over a large sweaty ponytail mid-run and the band pinging off…. The additional torch was invaluable. Living in the city it is hard to imagine pitch-black, but this is what we were faced with, especially under the dense canopy of trees. My Aldi £3.99 0.5 candle-watt head torch was stretched to it’s limits. Anything outside it’s small, weak beam was completely dark. I was forced to adopt the tactic of lingering on the shoulder of a runner with a decent torch before I got too annoying, then overtaking and speeding towards the next light in the distance to repeat the process (idea for future rep session?). No surprise, Mark had the best torch in our team by far – and his night lap was his absolute favourite. This meant that unfortunately he had a crew of people like me lurking behind him and getting the benefits of his beam. I think he enjoyed it really. It was a special sight to see hundreds of dots of light like fire flies silently weaving around the course – made my hairs stand on end. The beautiful struggle!
Sunrise was glorious, and wrapped in a blanket I got up to see Emma pass the now dewy 9k mark at around 5am – she was still smiling and had had a brilliant run! As Camp Bournville came to life, there were bacon and egg sandwiches on offer, Jude’s melted jaffa cakes, the slight excitement that you only had one lap to go, and conversations dominated by tales of our night runs. It warmed up quickly with Steve having to put his Test Match straw hat on before 8am! This was only removed when it was replaced by his BvH cap (available in 3 different colour-ways from the kit shop).
Helen was our last runner to complete her third lap, finishing at about 11.30 am. We had obviously predicted this very early on – aided by our accurate time keeping and intense white-board action (Steve was chief time-keeper and pad & pen monitor). We could send out someone to run their 4th lap! Suz was super keen to clock up 40K despite extreme heat, fatigue and a serious lack of clean running kit. In an instant, for support, Simon whipped off his timing chip and stepped into the breach to run the last lap with her – what a hero! The rest of us, all in our very fetching Fruit and Nutters branded running kit, joined the pair during the final 1K of our epic team race and all 8 of us crossed the finish line holding hands.
Speed was important, but team work was vital. We witnessed other teams fall by the wayside (literally) through inadequate planning and poor team work. We had developed a slick system of fairly accurately predicting each others finish times, waking the next-but-one runner up through the night, swapping wash kits – so yours would be waiting at the finish for you (enabling swift access to the wonderful hot showers), recording our lap times and clock times on a white board, and being at the 9K point near our camp at the right time to cheer each runner on as they passed by, plus constant passing round of homemade baked goods (thanks Luke Doswell).
Our end result was: 25 laps in 24 hours 37 mins – the official results say 24 laps, but Mark forgot his ankle chip for one lap…. So ‘unofficially’ we came *75th* out of 228 teams of 8. Ain’t Nuttin’ Plain About Bournville Fruit n Nutters.
I must mention that as well as a mixed team of 8, there were other combinations you could enter as. The most bonkers and hardcore one being that you entered as a solo runner!!!! These runners had their own special camping area, and were allowed to leave the course for breaks and food. They had yellow race numbers and most had ‘SOLO’ written in big letters up the backs of their calves. They also had a certain ‘look’ about them – especially after about 5 or 6 laps…. a tired, shuffling, weather beaten, dusty, hollow, spaced-out look. Nuff respect for these runners – the winning solo male runner completed 20 laps, and the female completed 17 laps. Unbelievable!
For your £36 entry fee you get a quality Adidas technical t-shirt, a glorious medal, and you could have up to 3 nights camping. There was no restriction about who you brought with you, so any number of friends and family could show up and enjoy the holiday running event.
For full results and more info: http://www.tr24.co.uk/
Steve: “An immense experience. It was great to get to know you guys and gals better. Lots of good people at BvH but now my TR homies are special! I really enjoyed bonding in Camp Bournville and the fact we took pitching up at the 9km point to cheer each other on just as seriously as turning up for the handovers (apart from one lapse on my part – sorry Mark). I liked the way the headtorch went from being an alien contraption to becoming man’s best friend in the time it took to climb up into the dark woods. That night-time lap was possibly the most exciting 10k I’ve ever run in 30 years of hoofing. And I lost half a stone in a weekend! To sum up: Thunder Run? Terrible idea. Next year? You bet!”
Suz: “It was great! I loved all of it! The team was great and worked brill together. Crossing the finish line together was one highlight…. the previous 5.8 miles of that final lap didn’t go so well though … I’m recovering now in bed!”
Helen: “Crossing the line together was great. Also, focussing on getting to the 9k mark to get a good cheer! Team work in constantly calculating when to leave to hand over. Bizarrely feeling I was on holiday! Having the nutter tee shirt. Being with, and making new friends – I had a great time”
Mark: “I only did 3 laps and I’m wrecked. Can’t start to imagine how anybody could do 15+ laps”
Simon: “Feeling very tired now, should have booked the day off work! It did feel like a holiday, and best of all we all got on so well. Sitting around camp, lots of laughs no matter what time of the day or night it was, all in all a great weekend and I’ll definitely be signing up again”
Emma: “Me too. Took me a while to come round today. I loved it!”
Jude: “I think I’d second practically all of that amazing awesome experience! The mix of hanging around the camp interspersed with legging it as fast as you could around the course in the heat or the dark or when you were so tired, the care and support and oneness of the Bournville Nutters, the magic of seeing the headtorch lights bobbing down the hill, the lift of getting a cheer at 9k, the relief of successfully spotting Steve at the end of his laps and the HUGE relief of spotting Helen at the end of mine and passing that sweaty orange snap band baton, the general camaraderie of the whole place….I just want to go back!!! Just slept for about ten hours mind and quite a lot of me hurts- bizarrely including a pulled rib muscle from trying to get tent pegs out! Hope ur all ok today – huge huge thanks to Suz for organising this and everyone for being the most brilliant team. The support and friendship of you all kept me going! Thank u all- you’re the best Got a great tan and lost a few pounds too Next year? Yes please, please, please! Xx
1 running club
1 camper van
30 degree heat
26 showers taken
2 punctured air-beds
5 Bud Baldaro quotes
2 missing toe nails
58 bottles of water drunk
3 hours of sleep each, on average
15,000+ calories burnt
7 loom bands made (courtesy of little Doudicans)
8.5 bananas eaten
3 conversations about Aldi bakery items
2 conversations about the Stirchley underworld
2 head torch fails
12 cans of cloudy lemonade
19 insect bites
12 Facebook status updates (4G phones only)
1 lost car key
1 found car key
25 laps completed
250K total distance
0 camp arguments
8 runners who want to do it again next year