Last Saturday I had the pleasure of joining 1,900 runners for the Adidas Thunder run 24h race in Tamworth, Derbyshire. The weather was very hot, course conditions were dry and the atmosphere (like a festival) a lot different from other races I have done in the past. Unfortunately for me I made a decision that I never planned to but throught necessity had to.
The Adidas Thunder run 24hr race takes place in Catton Park and the course is a 10km cross-country circuit set in the picturesque Staffordshire countryside. The track twists and turns across varied terrain so you'll find yourself running from bogs and forests to steep hills and open fields. Whether you're running through the night with a head torch or whilst the sun rises, there's always a change of scenery to keep you on your toes. I met up with a buddy of mine Matt inside the solo runners camp area where we pitched our tent and supplies to be used for the race. We also walked around the area to see what was what and met up with a few other team runners from the Running Bug website which was very cool given that most of these guys I had only spoken to on the forums.
As we lined up at the start line the heat was stifling and my immediate thought was that it was going to be a battle keeping properly hydrated and core temperature controlled throughout the afternoon. The race organisers gave us our instructions, and at 12pm we were off. I settled in with Matt early on and set out at a very comfortable 9-10 minute mile pace. The aim was to complete the first four laps within a 1hr-1hr15min pace and I would try to eat something every 30 minutes and drink between 20-40oz of fluid per hour (more towards the higher number today due to the temperature). This plan appears very exact but to be honest I had done this a lot in earlier sessions and it worked quite well so I tried to stick with the plan as long as possible. One big difference from training was that I decided to run without a watch. I decided to do this a few days before as I didnt want to worry about pace but how I felt.
The course does have some undulation that I decided to hike but then it was a case of cruising the flats / downhills whenever they appeared. Around 60% of the course is through woodland which is great however due to the lack of rain the past week conditions were very dusty. This was something that would play a significant factor during the race for me later on.
The first lap went well clocking in at 58 minutes or so, I refilled my bottles, grabbed a 9bar and set off on the second loop. The next two laps went fairly well although the temperatures definitely kept the pace very easy (lap two 59 minutes, lap three 1:08). I was finding it a little challenging to keep on top of the hydration side of things although my fuelling was still going well alternating between gels and 9bars (both of which are great). I had noticed however that my 1000 mile socks were not giving me much pleasure due to the heat so I decided at the end of the third lap to change my socks and slip on some Injniji socks that I wore for the remainder of the event.
At the end of lap four I had been on my feet for 4hr 25 minutes yet I think due to the heat and loop format felt like a lot longer than that. During lap five I caught up with Matt and we chatted about the race, what parts we liked / disliked. I definitely hit my first low point here while I walked so I welcomed the company and made sure I ate and drank while I walked. Lap five turned out to be quite a slow lap (1:41) but I felt much better at the end of this than at the start. My stomach felt good but I decided to switch to more solid foods full time now (nutty 9bars and bananas). During this lap I had talked to a lot of different runners some very experienced ultra types others who were running their first 10k. Some of whose stories are simply amazing and it did help distract my attention of how i was feeling so thanks guys.
At the start of lap six I took out my Ipod, changed shirt's as I was soaked through with sweat, refilled bottles, grabbed another 9bar and jelly babies before marching out. The air temperature had started to drop yet my throat still felt quite dry which I thought was due mostly to still playing catchup hydration wise. Around the 5km mark of this lap I was cruising and was feeling very good that I picked up the pace significantly for a 2-3 km although this was probably not wise looking back but I just decided to go with it as I felt rejuvenated. Must be the jelly babies!
I came back in from lap six (1:31) and took out my head torch and long sleeve shirt ready for the night time running. I noticed that my throat was still sore and that my chest felt a little tight. Being an asthmatic I knew this well so I took my Ventolin inhalerto relieve it and within a couple of minutes felt better. This was a little worrying but I decided to get on with things, ate a peanut butter and jam sandwich (love these), refilled bottles and packed another 9bar into my waist pack before jogging out. Around the 4km point during lap seven my chest problems came back so I decided to walk for a bit, take my inhaler and see how things went as I was getting increasingly worried about this. While walking I noticed within the forest section how thick the dust seemed to be in my head torch light. It was then I realised that I had been breathing this stuff in all day! Now I know that during my taper I had suffered from a cold and cough which didn't help things coming into race day but I didn't think much of that until I understood how the dust might exacerbate things.
After battling it out during lap seven (1:25) I sat down at the start of lap eight not feeling good at all. I had only completed 7 laps in 9hr4mins and I had chest problems. This for me was not a good situation to be in and one I hadn't planned for. I decided to take a 45 minute break, had a cup of tea and 9bar before thinking about what I was going to do. Given that I wasn't spluttering all over the place I decided after much contemplation that I would attempt another lap and then review things as things progressed. Unfortunately after only a couple of kilometers into the lap I felt bad again. I walked for a bit and focus on my breathing but my chest didn't play ball. I knew then that I was going to call it a day at the end of this loop as I didn't want to contemplate the prospect of having an asthma attack on course. After 11hrs and 22 minutes I had pulled out of the race after only 80km.
I bumped into Matt back at the tent and told him of my decision. He wanted to know if there was anything he could do for me but I knew that apart from my lungs I actually felt pretty good. My chest had calmed down after taking my inhaler a few times. I decided to grab my gear, take a hot shower before getting something hot to eat and getting down to sleep with the intention of waking up early and leaving as soon as possible. When I woke up in the morning I was feeling somewhat hollow inside with some stiffness in the legs but nothing that prevented me from walking. I grabbed a full English breakfast and a cup of tea before packing up and heading to the car.
As I drove home I thought about my decision I had made the previous night and the more I thought about things the more I was content I had done the right thing. This seems a little strange to say this after a DNF (technically I did finish because it's a timed race) but given that I know the symptons of how an asthma attack starts I didn't want to come any closer to that prospect for the sake of my pride.
My legs recovered within 3 days after the event and I have been on a couple of short runs already so I am pleased recovering well from the 50 miles I did. I had many positives on the day (fueling, taking decisions on clothing, pacing etc) and the experience will serve me well in future events. I still haven't go over the chest cold although it is much improved now. I am not happy about having to pull out but I stick by the my decision as it's only running after all and there will be plenty of other adventures to come. I will be posting details of new races shortly although it's likely to be after my summer holiday with the family next week.