The Conti Thunder Run is the original 24hr trail race consisting of as many 10k laps as you can muster in 24hrs.
Held in the grounds of Catton Park, Derbyshire, it attracts thousands of runners each year and with the option of running solo, in pairs or relay teams of up to 8, it’s inclusive to all abilities.
This was my second time running this event – last years race report – and once again I’d opted to go solo. Ruth had also entered as a solo runner so we had the chance to share the trails and run a few miles together.
With RH100 less than 8 weeks away, I’d set myself a ‘soft’ target of 13 laps – 80 miles – with time on feet more important than split times. I’d managed 11 laps last year with time in hand – so 80 miles seemed a reasonable step up from the Ham & Lyme 100K (62 miles) I completed 3 weeks ago.
I drove down to Catton Park on Friday afternoon with the kids in tow. Ruth had left earlier in the day to set up camp and ‘secure a camping area’ for friends and fellow runners to pitch up as they arrived throughout the afternoon. As with last year, we were camping with friends from two local running groups – Lickey End Striders and Ryland Runners.
On the Friday evening, Ruth had entered the boys into the ‘Pyjama Run’ – a short fun run for under 12’s which was really well organised and a huge success with the boys – especially with medals and hot chocolate greeting them at the finish line.
After a good nights sleep, we woke to nice, cool conditions with the forecast for the next 24hrs more of the same. Naomi – Ruth’s sister – came to collect the boys at 10am which gave us enough time to sort our race packs out, get some food and drink on board and relax before the race got underway at 12pm.
Lap 1 – 6.2 miles / 10k
“…and we’re off!”
I felt relaxed going into the event with no real expectations. The route, although challenging, is varied enough with plenty of woodland, hard-packed tracks and elevation to keep you engaged. I appreciate 24hr events can be as much of a mental challenge as a physical one – but I also knew what to expect from last year and was very much looking forward to the challenge.
I set off at a comfortable pace, taking in the atmosphere and taking note of the slight route changes from last year – which seemed to take in more elevation – or at least it felt like it did.
Lap 1 complete. No issues to note.
Lap 2 – 12.4 miles / 20k
“let’s get ready to rumble…stomach issues!”
As with last year, our camp was situated 2k past the official start/finish line. This meant that rather than exit at the start/finish line and walk back to camp, it made more sense to run the first 2k back to camp and then nip in under the tape. Granted, on lap 1 it would be a 12k loop, but by the final lap you’d be rewarded with an 8k loop to finish – and other than messing with the official ‘lap times’ slightly, it didn’t cause any major issues as we were running solo – not part of a group.
I ran straight past camp after the first lap and felt relatively good at that stage. I’d been hiking the hills and running the flats – albeit at a conservative pace. I’d had the odd conversation with fellow runners in passing but was mainly running alone – not that this was a problem, I’m content with my own company out on the trails.
Half way round the second lap I started to feel a little nauseous and was suffering with stomach cramps. I hadn’t eaten anything of note but I slowed the pace and limped into the port aloo’s at the end of the second lap – disaster averted!
Lap 3 – 18.6 miles / 30k
“f’ck me, this feels harder than last year…”
I probably should have re-grouped at camp before continuing lap 3 but I wanted to stick to my original plan of staying out on the course for the first 4 laps. If truth be told, it was the wrong decision. I felt awful for the majority of lap 3 and my heart rate was excessively high for the level of exertion I was putting in – which was a concern. I pretty much limped around the route – questioning my life choices and convincing myself that supporting the other runners from the sidelines was a better use of my time.
I eventually made it back to camp to be told that Ruth was still out on the course – finishing off her third lap and was due back shortly. I sacked off the planned 4th loop and got some food and drink on board, whilst waiting for her arrival into camp.
Lap 4 – 24.8 miles / 40k
“Ruth and Jill saved my race…! “
Ruth came smiling into camp shortly after, ticking off her third lap. 24.8 miles done – she was doing remarkably well and on course to smashing her distance PB.
We decided to walk lap 4 together. Ruth had run the first three laps and was starting to feel the affects so decided to walk a lap to recharge the batteries. I didn’t need much persuading. I was happy to walk at this stage. We were also joined by Jill – Ruth’s running buddy who’d originally DNS’d at the last minute but thankfully managed to change her plans and join us for the rest of the race. It was a welcome boost for us all.
My nausea and stomach issues had subsided and it was nice to spend some time on the trails with Ruth and Jill – not worrying about lap counts, pace or getting lost in my own thoughts. I could also take – and hold down – some fuel and fluids.
Lap 5 – 31 miles / 50k
“thankfully, the legs still work…”
Ruth and Jill decided to get some food on board at the end of lap 4 so feeling relatively refreshed, I decided to head out and complete lap 5 on my own.
I’d been doing some mental math whilst walking the last lap and although the original target of 13 laps was unobtainable, I’d worked out that if I was to equal, or better last years tally of 11 laps – 68 miles – I’d have to stay out on the course throughout the night. I was in two minds at this stage so decided to see how I felt as the night progressed – a lot can change in the space of a couple of hours.
I managed to run the majority of lap 5 – my legs felt fresh and my head was back in the game. I got talking to a few solo runners in passing, many of whom were struggling with the humidity and were gearing themselves up for the night section.
Lap 6 – 37.2 miles / 60k
“sends shivers down my spine, body’s aching all the time….”
I grabbed a quick bowl of Pasta Ruth had put aside for me at the start of lap 6 before grabbing my head torch and heading straight out.
I ran the majority of this lap with Suzie – a fellow solo runner from Liverpool. This was her first 24hr race and she was also on her sixth lap – and well on course to achieving her 10 lap target. It was nice to have some company and being engaged in conversation meant that I soon forgot about any niggles or fatigue that I’d been experiencing up to this point.
Approaching the woods – we could hear a live version of ‘Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody’ blasting out in the distance. The ‘Party in the Woods’ was in full force – and was certainly an upgrade from last year’s ‘Robbie William’s – Angels’ rendition. It momentarily lifted the spirits – even if she completely murdered a true classic!
Lap 7 – 43.4 miles / 70k
“Nothing left to give…..in need of sleep!”
Lap 7 was my hardest lap – both mentally and physically. The night had set in and the terrain was difficult to navigate on already tired legs. Guided by the beam of my headtorch I made my way around the route – mostly walking at this stage – wondering why I was struggling so much compared to last year. I worked out that I was nearly two laps behind, feeling considerable worse and beating myself up about it.
The intention was to stay out all night but with every exhausting step I’d convinced myself this wasn’t sensible. Yes, maybe I could have forced myself to stay on the course but I had no doubt I’d be forced to ‘death march’ whilst averaging 2 hour laps – and my time would have been better suited sleeping and recharging the batteries.
I returned to camp at 2am – climbed into my tent and fell straight to sleep.
Lap 8 – 49.6 miles / 80k
I was woken just before 6am by Ruth and Jill who were preparing to head out for their first lap of the morning – they’d also got their heads down for a couple of hours rest.
I threw on some clean clothes, changed my footwear to more cushioned Hoka’s (to try and relieve the pain from some unwanted blisters and hot spots), grabbed a quick chocolate waffle and headed out for lap 8 – with a flask of tea in hand.
We walked the complete lap – the sun had risen and the mood had changed. We were all feeling relatively fresh – such a contrast to how I felt a few hours earlier falling into my tent! The support around the course was fantastic – both from runners and supporters alike – and wearing a ‘solo red race number’ brings with it extra praise and kudos – something which instantly lifts morale.
Lap 9 – 55.8 miles / 90k
“the legs are working….!”
I ran lap 9 with Clive which was a relatively relaxed, comfortable lap. To our surprise, we managed to run the majority of the lap – only walking to hike the hills. Even on tired legs, I find that when the conversation is in full flow you instantly forget about any niggles or exhaustion and you manage to support and pull each other along.
We bumped into Dylan half way round the lap and ran the remainder together. Again, it was good to have some new company and share our experiences of the last 24hrs on the trails.
Lap 10 – 62 miles / 100k
“victory lap…”I’m done!
I ran the remaining lap with Clive and we once again adopted a run/walk strategy.
Despite being both physically and mentally drained and nursing painful blisters on my feet, I couldn’t help feel sad that it was all over. No more laps. No more hills. No more support from fellow runners and supporters.
Thunder Run 24hr was over for another year.
We celebrated by meeting Ruth and Jill at the finish line to reminisce and share our experiences before heading back to pack-up camp.
Unfortunately, there had been some delays with the medals and t-shirts so weren’t available on the day – but they were posted out to all participants in the coming weeks.
10 laps complete – one less than last year and 3 short of my ‘soft target’ of 13 laps. Was I disappointed? Absolutely not. Thunder Run is about the experience. Camping with friends. Meeting new runners on the trail – whether they’re in it for a couple of laps or going for the course record – it really doesn’t matter. Everyone runs the same, challenging lap and we’re all supporting each other for 24 hours.
I’ll be back next year…