I’m so flipping tired as I write this that I’m fully expecting to come back to it in a few days and have to do a mammoth edit so it makes sense. I’m not on drugs just incredibly and deeply tired after a cracking weekend in the depths of the British countryside for a running festival with a couple of nights camping thrown in for good measure. It was the long-awaited Adidas Thunder Run at Catton Park and The Boy (along with 4 mates from the running club) had been talked into a team way back in the spring. I say festival, it was a 24 hour endurance race where they ran laps of 10k (or multiples thereof) for 24 hours from noon on Saturday to noon on Sunday. All through the hottest July on record and through the night. They say mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun – in this instance there were approximately 2000 mad Englishmen (and women) with their dogs in the midday sun and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
It has been said that runners are a uniquely friendly bunch, eager to talk to other runners and supporters with little encouragement and it would appear that this weekend was no exception. We had arrived on the Friday night to set up the tents and have a little bit of a chill out before the madness started and we arrived at the site as the sun was setting…and discovered we had forgotten to bring food. Or at least food that wasn’t needed for the runners. A short stroll to the running area solved the food issue and we settled back at our camp area for the required tea, coffee and nattering. Part of the appeal of camping for me is the complete need for anything that we do on a day-to-day basis. Sitting outside at midnight with the tiny gas camping stove on, with like-minded people and a fleece was about as close to being on a proper holiday as I’ve had in a while…and it was bliss.
A surprisingly good night later and we were up and getting ready for the start. When I say we, the team were working out who was running first at midday, the supporters were alternating between being too flipping hot, having a sit down, eating, peeing on sticks (the dog) or feeling relieved that we were not running in 30C. Supporting is serious business…and it needs chips I discovered. Chips make everything good. As we watched the start of the race stream past us, I couldn’t help but feel a bit emotional – it was a hell of an atmosphere to be immersed in, despite the sweltering heat and pervasive scent of Deep Heat, sweat and sun cream. As the other Tom ran past, we cheered and started the cycle of chaps running around a bloody big field.
Much later in the afternoon, the daughters of the runners/supporters and I were crashed out under the gazebo, the dog was too hot and we were all getting a little bit, well, fed up. Not because of the runners and not because of the camping. It was, as most people have experienced at some point, too bloody hot to even talk. The girls had discovered the river across the other parking area and had taken the dog down to cool off the day before and suggested a return trip. Given that the run was now in full swing and we were HOT, it took about 2 seconds to agree and we took off. The original aim was to have a paddle, get the dog in to cool down and then head back. What we ended up doing was wading up-stream to a wider but calmer section and going in with my clothes on. Very quickly, I gave up any last shred of inhibition and stripped to my undies, took the plunge and swam out to the deeper part of the pool. It was an excellent introduction to wild swimming – and something that I’ve never been brave enough, until now, to try.
As I lay on my back, floating in the cool green water, I realised that these 4 teenage girls that were chatting away with me and making me laugh so much I very nearly drowned, were giving me the best “holiday” I could have asked for. I was never as outgoing or as confident as them at the same age and I wouldn’t have dreamed of stripping to my undies and getting in a river for a swim. I was a very antisocial teenager, preferring the company of horses or a book instead of my peers. At 31, I was able to be a teenager for the afternoon and it was awesome. Admittedly, I wouldn’t go back and be a teenager again if you paid me, but that little bit of fun was pure bliss.
The weekend trundled on, interspersed with tramping up and down a flipping big hill to cheer on the team at the 5k, 9k and other points, with the dog making friends and passes as he went. The evening runners began their laps in the still oppressive heat and eventually the sun set. The Boy had his next run at 11pm and it was with military precision I was loaded up with water, Kendal mint cake, a head torch, the dog, the girls and some cereal bars (these were for me…supporting is hungry work). As he set off into the night, I was again amazed with how many runners were out there, soloists trying to complete as many laps in 24 hours as possible, teams for charity and teams like ours, just for the sheer hell of it. As midnight arrived, the dog and I found ourselves at the 5k water station, waiting for The Boy on his second lap round. It poured, a welcome relief for the very hot runners. It was a surreal point, marshalling by default of positioning, handing out water and words of encouragement to the runners. The Boy finished at 1.30am, tired, sore and more than a bit ready for bed.
Whenever I go camping, I end up losing things. Be it a sock, a dress or something else altogether, it is the one guarantee. This time, after I bundled a shattered dog into his tent and made coffee, I realised I didn’t have my car key. Cue a police style search, conducted by head torch and eventually a tired and beyond caring “fuck it”, we tumbled into our tent after waking the next runners and handing over head torches. Whether we slept or just fell unconscious remains to be seen but 4 hours later, we were awake again. The Boy had to bow out, the tumble in the woods the previous lap had made just walking very painful. A hasty rearranging of runners and we strolled to be the support for the final couple of hours. The atmosphere hadn’t changed from the previous day, if anything it had become even more supportive. The soloists now resembling zombies, the teams down to the final reserves – it was an awesome race to support.
At noon on Sunday, it was over. The team ran a total of 26 laps, 260km or approximately 160 miles and were placed 16th. The tents were packed up, the rubbish deposited, the cars stuffed with soggy kit and tired people. It had been a brilliant weekend; of friends old and new, of laughing and pain, of wild swimming, outside eating, rain and sun and support and fun. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything and I’m so glad I was part of it. The team is already thinking about the challenge next year, with a bigger team and more planning. Will I be involved? If they’ll have me, without a doubt. And I’ll be making a return visit to my river, where for an hour or 2 I was a teenager again, with the friends I always wished for.