For just about a year I have been eagerly waiting for a certain event to start. Last year I was involved in HOPE24 a new event in Plympton, Devon. I marshaled the event because I wasn't sure if I was going to be working or not so didn't enter. I got such a buzz from the whole thing, I wanted to run this year for sure! That is how it all began.
Having got to know Danny Slay the Race Organiser really well over the year since, I wanted to help him as much as I can. The event isn't a commercial one, it's proceeds go to charities and not his pocket. He doesn't have a team of paid staff that help him create what I would call something extraordinary. So as I found out I was not working around the event I offered my services over the two days prior to help set up the course and the arena.
Danny wanted to spice the course up a little from last year, so made some modifications, but the main one was having the runners run it in reverse to the year before. This making the big climbs much different as was the downhills descents. Only a handful of people knew this so the runners returning for another beasting were in for a surprise.
|The course concept map (drawn by Matt Bisco, winner 2015)
Soon we were pretty much up and running and with runners starting to turn up to pitch their base camps for the event, I did so myself and making sure I had a prime spot in the Solo Camping area. Perk of helping with the course set up.
With my base camp set up on the Friday night, even though I only lived a couple of miles away literally I was going to camp that night as well, so I could catch up with friends coming down for the event before it all started. I hardly had anything to eat that day so when the Luff Bus a catering bus putting on food for the event (all through the night) turned up I had to sample some of it. Home made food is the best and that is what they provided in my honest opinion. I cracked open a couple of beers and sat down with Danny, Pete (Danny's sidekick) and a few others before finally turning myself in for the night and getting to sleep around 11.30pm ish.
|My Base HQ I think the biggest tent on the campsite
9th May 2015 the day of the race, 4.30am and my body naturally woke up, be it through excitement or because that's what my body loves to do to me sometimes to annoy me I don't know but it wasn't the way I wanted to start the day for sure.
Just down the road was my local parkrun PlymValley where I run direct. This was starting at 9am and as HOPE24 wasn't starting until 12pm, it gave me ample of time to fit a timed 5k event in before hand. Another event to knock off from the 37 I am doing in total. So the idea was to run both events. Event 14 of 37. I ran the parkrun at a leisurely pace and end still whilst doing so helped a fairly new runner beat her 5k personal best. I didn't hang around or too long after the parkrun I had to get back and get my self prepped ready to go for running around a course for 24 hours.
I prepped my kit and my food/supplies I needed for the 24 hours and waited for my support crew (one of my best mates Craig) to arrive and for the start of the event. The atmosphere was starting to buzz, with Pete banging out the tunes and doing the announcements and the weather which was horrible first thing now sunny and warm, the place was now getting electric!
I was also very privileged to be given the bib number 001, mainly because I was first to register, but in most races this number is given to an elite runner. It felt special regardless of the real reason it was given to me.
|My support crew Craig
Event 15 of 37 Hope24 an 24 hour Endurance 5 ish mile off road lap event.
I was joined on the start line by my Brother in Law Paul who I entered into the event for his birthday present (I'm good like that HEHE!) He hasn't run much recently since the birth of his son, and has never run further than 12 miles! So he set him self a goal target of 35 miles as he though that was a sensible achievable target and I set my self a minimum of 50 miles. I set 50 because for some 24 hour events I have seen and read this is a minimum to be classed a finisher. Having been ill for almost 4 months and with the way training and other events have gone, this was a smart target for myself. I was on the road to recovery but not 100% recovered from whooping cough. I was about 95%-97% recovered. So Paul and myself had our goals. For me to get to mine I had to go through Paul's so I thought it'd be good to have company for ourselves so I decided to stay with him and get him to his goal, then I would only need a to do a few laps by myself to get to mine.
|The Start (taken by Craig)
12pm Race starts as the hooter blows and now the party really starts! There are soloists and team relay runners setting off. The soloists all started and run the laps how they wanted. So if they wanted to smash out 8 laps before a break or do a lap then a break and repeat they could do so. The teams had 1 runner out on the course all the time, taking in turns. teams were made up of pairs, 3's, 5's and 8's.
So there will be around 170 out of the 460 odd entrants running around on the course pretty much all the time so me and Paul will never be out there by ourselves for very long time. Our first lap went well, with the plan of running the flats and down hills and walking the climbs to conserve energy, we soon smashed out two laps. We decided to have a good break after two laps and rested for about an hour. It was warm out there and I had caught the sun well! During the break Craig my support crew got me a coffee ready and got me any supplies I needed. This break was mainly snacks, I smashed in a banana which I dunked in Peanut Butter and some coconut water. I also had some flat coke a cola on the go as well. Craig also adopted Paul under his wing as Paul had no support crew so now looked after us both.
|My Mantra for this event ticking off laps as I went
The laps are a tough 5 mile course, with two 300 odd ft of climb hills and descents. You start in the arena where there is constant support, music and just great atmosphere you go out and into the woods towards the shooting ground, where there were a group of marshals there. I say a group because it was my wife, son Gethin who had that area named after him after last years event "Gethin's Gate" and my in laws. They set up their motorhome, music, water station and just provided the morale us runners need throughout the day, night and back into day again.
From there you headed up the first stonking hill climb after you passed through the muddy trail. At night I was freaked out by orange eyes which happened to be deers as they hopped passed. Once you got to the top of the hill, through the blue bell meadows, then head back down and around until you hit "Gethin's Gate" and the ultra marshals once more. This no was the 2 mile point and you soon head back towards the arena.
|The first climb pic doesn't show it very well (taken by Craig)
|Bluebell meadow (taken by Craig)
You approach the arena and the support goes mental once more as people you've never met are cheering you on. As a solo runner I seemed to get more support than I could've asked for. They had what appeared a little bit of respect for those braving out the solo attempts. Within half a mile later the lap soon took you over a bridge (where the noisy peacock lives) and to the second hill climb again of around 300ft of climb but this time the gradient was different. It was steep first then once at the top of the deer park then reduced into a long incline which felt after a few times never ending. It finished eventually when you got to Thomas the Tank Engine (a horse jumping obstacle). You knew then it was down hill all theway back to the arena. The down hill was a mix of off road track and a section of the only tarmac of the course. It was a killer especially on the feet as they were pushed down the end of your shoes.
|My self with Danny (Race Organiser) and Thomas
At the bottom you were greeted by another ultra marshal called Kevin. He was back for another year and the bridge by his marshal point was named after him. Again he was out there in the rain, sun, wind, and cold nights cheering, supporting and helping those that needed it. The guy is legendary! It's people like him and my family marshaling that make these events what they are.
|Kevin Guild (Captain Pink Beard)
Once you've crossed the bridge you are back in the arena with about just under a 1/2 mile left to the start/finish point. You are led past all the supporters once more as they are camped around the arena and you finish your lap.
|My elevation chart from the event almost 6,000 ft of climb in total
After my first couple of laps I took a 10 minute break and headed out once more. 3 laps were knocked off in good time, still running mostly with walking the inclines. After I nailed the 3rd lap I stopped for my first proper break. I took an hour, taking off my shoes and socks to let my feet breathe in hope to prevent swelling (this worked very well). I knew after marathon distance there was a good chance of blisters in parts of the feet I have had them in the past. So during this break I stuck some compeed on and started to vasoline my feet and toes up. I took on some snacks, wiped down my face from the salt crust that formed from the sweat during the heat of the day and soon got back out there for the 4th lap.
It wasn't long after 4th and into the 5th lap the sun started to set and Paul was into a territory he's never been before distance wise. Our chats were still going ok as we plodded away, but I started to feel cramp set in both my groin muscles. So my next big break I was getting a massage by Body Balance which were giving all the entrants massages throughout the 24 hours. Probably the most awkward massage I have ever had been it was needed and did the trick.
|End of Lap 4(taken by Craig)
Night fell and head torches were on and runners were settling for night time running. Some chose to get some sleep (those who smashed out a good mileage before hand or were feeling a bit ill) some like myself and Paul carried on with out sleep. The relays were still going but some of the bigger teams are able to get a good break before their laps. I had a visit from Jonathan Cousins, a friend from work who timed it right to catch me as I was just about to get ready to go out again. This type of random support really does help a runners morale in an event like this.
The music was turned down a little but was still going on through the night, I was on a good break again before my first proper night lap. I took my shoes and socks off once more. I was planning on changing my shoes from trail to road for a bit of comfort althought the woods were muddy I could cope as long as it didn't rain. My bare feet were cold so I put my little gas heater on. I then in my tired state thought "ooo I could warm the bottom of my feet up" So I raised my feet towards the heater. Within a split second I realised not a good idea as I had compeed on my feet which soon melted to my skin! Action support crew! I tried to peel them off but it had caused blisters underneath and was also peeling the blisters. So Craig had to cut them off the best he could and I stuck some more over the top. Doh!!!
|Finishing first lap of the night (taken by Craig)
As the night went into early morning the fog came in and soon it was like a scene from American Werewolf out on top of the second hill. I added an out layer to keep a little warm on the top of the hills which was just about right because I was little too warm in the sheltered areas in the woods.
During the breaks I took on more food, a couple breaks were long so had Spag Bol in a boil in a bag format. It was quick to cook and tasted ok. The food stayed down and seemed to do the trick. I also ate ready salted crisps to help add more salt in my intake. Coffee and cuppa soups were had and I also kept taking in the coconut water (natural isotonic). I was very pleased with the way my food and drink was going. I carried around in my Inov 8 Race Ultra Vest water in the bladder and two bottles filled with isotonic drink.
I was starting to feel a little sick on the hills now though, a bile type sickness. I kept it at bay drinking water as I went round but it was something I couldn't shift. I had learnt after the event I should've drunk milk!
By now I had got Paul through his 35 miles and now he was still going to keep me company to my target. We reached the 9th lap as morning broke and the fog was slowly going. As we hit the top of the second hill Paul turned to me and said "What the f*ck is going on with the trees? Are they moving?" "Don't be silly" I replied. I looked up and I too hallucinated seeing the trees do some weird shit! " Don't look at the trees! Don't look at the trees!" I said to Paul and focused on the track in front of me.
We finished the 9th Lap and had a good break. It was about 8am and I only had 1 lap to do by 12pm to hit my target. I could've fitted another 2 or 3 laps in but my mind was set on my target and with feeling sick on the hills my mind just didn't want to go up those hills more than I had to. I took a long break to recover trying not to fall asleep.
Craig was planning on keeping us company for the last lap but was really gagging to go. He was a nightmare because I know he wanted me to do more he knows I am capable of more. I also had my parents coming up as well, I wanted to wait to see them before I headed off too. This was the first time they have ever been to one of my running events and for them to see me finish this one was a really big morale boost.
10.30am came and I got up and went out! I saw my family marshaling before they packed up to see me and Paul finish. We made our way around the first half. Still runners praising our efforts as they passed us, just like they have done all through the event. Mutal respect was had by all.
We headed in to the arena towards the second and last hill climb. We past some some supporters who cheered me on. Then something myself and Paul heard really caught me by suprise and hurt me. "Walking solo is alright I suppose, it's easy" said one unknown supporter to another as I passed by. Tiredness kicked the emotions in and that upset me. I was already in bits what was the need for that?
It pissed me off, but it also drove me up that last hill. We eventually made our way back down past Thomas for the last time, and down the tarmac, I started to jog as I started to see Kevin at the bottom. I said thank you once more to Kevin and crossed the bridge into the arena.
I then thought I'll show those tossers, and picked up my pace. I said to Paul "Sorry, but I'll see you at the finish" and really started to sprint the last 1/2 mile. I was going for it. My back and feet were killing, I was holding back the tears. I was drained but I pushed and pushed all the way home!
I crossed the line, and collapsed. I gave it all. I was spent.
|Spent!! (taken by Craig)
|Me, my wife and son Gethin (taken by Craig)
Not long after Paul who had also got into a run, crossed the line, and I gave him a hug. We had done it.
|Me and Paul at the end (taken by Craig)
The Kit I used was X-Bionic Trick Top and Running Shorts, Sunwise Canary Wharf Glasses, Various pairs of shoes. I also tried out Black Diamond Z Lock Poles, they saved my knees on the hill climbs for sure. Inov 8 Ultra Race Vest which was a great bit of kit especially for this event and of course I wore a good selection of Buffs!
Now what made this event so special? It's not that the event's proceeds go to two great charities and not the pocket of the organiser. It's not that it's local to me, I would do it if it was up country. It's not because it was only £40 odd to enter. It's atmosphere, the course, the event as a whole, the team that created it and most of all it was the friendships that were made from it.
HOPE24 is not just an endurance event it's an experience like no other. To be able to run it with friends, to make new ones as well is something I am truly thankful for. I ran with my friends from TEAM BUFF UK, my running club Plymouth Musketeers, my fellow parkrun director Matthew Bisco who went on to win the event and break the course record with 135 miles (27 laps). The event attracted soloists and teams from all over the UK literally and I believe France too.
|Me and TEAM BUFF UK
It's one event, I will be not hestitating to enter again! I certainly LIVED IT, LOVED IT and RAN IT.
14th/15th May 2016 HOPE24 is in my diary put it in yours!