Insomniacs Challenge

From Dusk till Dawn isn’t just the title of a Robert Rodriguez film written by Quentin Tarantino, it is some people’s idea of a good time to be out running. There are events and events companies out there that cater for this type of lunacy. The Insomniacs Challenge, held by On The Whistle is one such event. Held at the picturesque Staunton Country Park the aptly named Insomniacs Challenge allowed 43 foolhardy runners the opportunity to run from dusk till dawn. A 4.6 mile loop around Havant Thicket had been marked out and we had 12 hours to run it as many times as we wanted within that time frame.

I was one of the 43 that took part in this challenge. I had a plan, I had 12 hours to run as far as possible. What could be achieved in that time. I’m no stranger to lapped endurance events so I sat down and formulated a few different plans of attack. 12 hours is a long time and to go into it without any sort of game plan isn’t the best of ideas. Based on 4.6 mile laps, I knocked up some rough calculations to have some ideas in the back of my mind before starting.

Absolutely zero chance of happening…

  • 14 laps = 64.4 miles
  • Each lap 51 minutes. 
  • 11:10 minute miles

Ambitious but unlikely…

  • 12 laps = 55.2 miles
  • Each lap 60 minutes
  • 13 minute miles

Possibly doable…

  • 11 laps = 50.6 miles
  • Each lap 65 minutes
  • 14:13 minute miles

Quite Likely

  • 10 laps = 46 miles
  • Each lap 72 minutes
  • 15:38 minute miles

So with a rough strategy worked out the focus changed to food, drink and kit for the night.

On The Whistle always lay on a good selection of treats that runners like at their aid station for their normal 6 hour events. For this event, along with the usual fare they also laid on a hot food and drink option. A catering van was lined up to arrive during the course of the evening to supply us with hot food, soup and drinks to get us through the night and see the morning in. 

Registration opened up at 5pm which gave me time during the day to have a power nap and ‘fuel up’ ready for the off at 6pm. As usual none of this went to plan, a cinema trip in the morning put paid to my lie in. I managed to try grab some kip at about 2ish, I had a fitful doze and ended up waking up at 4pm, having a shower, scrabbling around trying to find some kit as I’d obviously neglected to sort any of this out beforehand. Got to love a last minute panic. Then a hurried trip to McDonald’s as I’ve not eaten, there’s nothing in the house and I’ve got to eat something. Big Mac, Fries and a Latte and maybe a few nuggets are the staple diet of pro-athletes aren’t they?

On arrival I collected my number, finished my latte and mcnuggets and started prepping myself (albeit badly) for 12 hours of running. I’ve definitely become too blasé about race prep of late, I really need to address this going forward. Going through my bag I ensure that stuff I need for later on in the night is ready, such as ensuring the batteries in my headtorch are fresh and that clean kit and plasters and other such things are readily available. Obviously I ended up pinching batteries from a fellow runner as I’d failed on that score (thank you Pauline), I’d forgotten to pick some up on the way, what a dick move. After the nipple chaffing incident at Endure 24 I’d done some slight prep before hand, I’d shaved off some chest hair to make applying plasters a bit easier and had gone for some waterproof plasters rather than the not so easy to remove Rock tape! I hoed that this would be sufficient in this area.

This time around I hadn’t made any arrangements to run with anyone prior to the off. There’s a lot of familiar faces in the field so we’ll just see who I fall into step with and go from there. Just before the off we are called to the start line for the pre-race briefing. This is the usual thing you come to expect at these races, very informal, plenty of witty banter and good humour all while delivering the important details we need to know for the journey ahead. Course information, food information, aid station details, course safety and so forth. With that done it was time to run, 6pm ticked over and we were off “on the Whistle” as a group with everyone one in high spirits.

The course is a 4.6 (ish) mile loop starting off at the top lawn in Staunton Country Park dropping down a slope and taking us down to the entrance to Havant Thicket. This part is a big gently undulating loop around and then back the way we came. It’s all hard pack trail and gravel track but has some tricky camber in places and can be tough underfoot. There’s roughly a mile and a half of out and back where you get to pass and encourage other runners later on once the pack has spread out a bit and people have found their pace.
The first lap I take far too quickly, as is normal for me, going off too quick like a complete idiot, but in my defence I’ve only run once since the 50k I’d completed 6 days earlier and I was itching to get going. I drop in alongside my friend Max Sendall from Bosh and Simon Langley from Portsmouth Joggers and we get chatting, as you do on these things. We inadvertently form up into a trio and start knocking out the laps together. The plasters that I had applied to protect my nipples came off after the first lap, rubbish, and chaffing started becoming an issue towards the end of the second lap. I changed my shirt at that point opting for my purple parkrun volunteers shirt as that’s quite comfortable and more forgiving on the old pink bits. This seemed to do the trick. Conversation ranged all over the place though often interrupted by the terrible stomach issues I started having after 15-20 miles. Rather embarrassingly I was suffering from some world class wind! This had happened previously at Endure, but nothing of the magnitude that I was suffering from this time! I’ve never known anything like it, it’s either going to have been the really bad pre-race meal or the cocktail sausages that I’ve grown fond of as an aid station snack! I need to address this going forward as it was horrendous, funny but horrendous at that same time! I’ll leave that there as I’ve been told off for oversharing and this could probably class as that! You don’t need all the gory details.

Body issues aside the miles were just flowing past and time was ticking along, we had managed to slow ourselves down as we had started way too quick and were knocking out the laps in about an hour and ten. Nice and steady, do a lap, high five other runners going the opposite way, take on food and fluid at the aid station, repeat. At about 9pm or thereabouts we were instructed to grab our headtorches as it was going to get dark. As darkness descended the forest section became an entirely different place, we saw plenty of wildlife on our travels around the Thicket, a family of deer, rabbits and los of different birds, there was ever a lesser spotted flasher at one junction, but we won’t talk about that!

Thoughts started turning to hot food as the night drew in. It was so so nice to tuck into a bowl of lasagna and wash it down with a sugary coffee after many hours of running. I can’t remember what time we tucked into this but I remember it being practically perfect timing for our group. We rocked up to the aid station, jumped in the queue, grabbed food and coffee and consumed it in under 10 minutes. There was a bit of faffing as I’d noticed there was a massacre going on at the front of my shirt. No, I’d not dropped food down it, but instead found that my nipples had been victim of some sort of brutal bloodbath! Noooo!!! I stripped off my shirt, cleaned up all the blood rather tentatively, applied some body glide and donned a tight base layer top and whacked another clean dry shirt on over the top. This would see me through to the end with no further bothers and I wasn’t going to overheat now as it had become a fair bit cooler.

On we plodded through the night, racking up another lap every hour or so, laughing and joking through till dawn. There were laps where we walked a fair bit, but it’s all about relentless forward motion. Just keep moving, just keep moving, ever forward.. The numbers started to thin as people either flagged or reached their own personal targets. That’s the beauty of events like this, you’re really only competing against yourself, seeing how far you can push your mental and physical limits.

Having completed 10 laps I was having a wobble, I had plenty of time available but was hurting bad so was considering calling it a day. Max called it a day at that point having scored a huge distance PB, furthest she had previously run was 34 miles and here she’d smashed out 46, simply fantastic. Simon had continued on as wanted that 50 miles and I stood there like a plum umming and arring about life. I was encouraged by all at the aid station to get some hot food down me and another coffee and then decide. I grabbed some breakfast, a nice hotdog and another sugary coffee and contemplated my fate. If I were to push on not only would it probably put me into the top 5, it would also net me a best time for 50 miles by quite a margin. With hot food and coffee circulating in my system the decision was made, I was going for it and turned and ran down the back slope for the final time.

I ran pretty hard to catch up with Simon if I could as he had a 10 minute head start on me, I knew he would be walking a fair amount so was hoping I’d catch him. As this was my final lap at 50 miles was looming I threw everything into it. This was probably bloody stupid and I will probably regret it as my left leg, mainly shin, had become swollen and sore at about 40 miles. I was hurting, but I was on for an 11.5 hour 50 mile time, I had to go for it. I ran solidly for about 2.5 miles, running the hills and inclines we’d previously walked to save energy and reeled Simon in. I caught up with him and urged him forward as he was walking. We pushed on as it was getting close, I was running out of time to crack the 50 in the time I wanted and worse still battery power was low on my Garmin! Last thing I wanted was for it to run out before we’d completed the lap and rung the bell. On on we pushed, closer and closer and made it! We hit 50 miles at 11 hours 28 minutes, knocking almost a full 45 minutes off my previous best! Insane, having a 50 mile PB is one thing, but beating it by that margin is something else. Also, as with most runners, I know I can do way better than that next time. That’s the 3rd time in two months I’ve run 50 miles or more, I’m starting to understand the distance a bit better now.

For me now finishing the lap was just a formality. I’d decided at that point that Simon was to punch out first. He’s much faster than me on shorter distances and had helped bring my pace up. I’m much more used to longer stuff so slowed him down so he wouldn’t blow up. It worked well and I’m not so sure I would have hit sub 11.5 without having him along for company. It turned out that we came 3rd and 4th place overall, Simon 3rd place and 2nd male finisher with me finishing 1 second behind him in 4th place and 3rd male finisher! Not bad for a big lad!

I do enjoy these endurance events, I’ve completed 6 hour, 12 hour and 24 hour ones now. The 12 hour one is definitely a good test of the mettle, the 6 hour ones are a great way to start running long and the 24 hour event is a beast! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it’s amazes me how far you can push the mind and body.

As for On The Whistle, thank you guys for putting on a great little event. The fairy lights out on the course were a nice touch. I enjoyed this one from start to finish, the atmosphere at the aid station and put on course was just fantastic. I won’t be running the next On The Whistle event, Why Not Run, which is also being held at Staunton Country Park. I might be along to help out and cheer people on though. I’m having a bit of a break now as I’ve cracked out 4 ultras and one marathon in the past two months or so and need a bit of rest and recovery time to sort out my shin/ankle issues. I’ve covered a lot of distance of late, a marathon, a 50k, two 50 milers and a 70 miler is somewhat excessive for roughly two months of running. I’ve pushed myself a bit too far and have to reign it in a bit, as painful as that will be it is the right thing to do or I’m going to end up completely. Token and out for a long time. You have to listen to your body and also the people around you who know more about these things. I’m still a newbie when it comes to ultra running, I’ve run 5 or 6 now and still have a lot to learn.

So I’m the mean time I think I’m going to focus on diet and strength as well as learning how to swim again, it’s been years since I swam and I’m rubbish at it now. This will take my mind off running, or at least that’s the hope. Don’t worry, there won’t be any chance of me going down the triathlon route, I just need to keep up with fitness and drop a bit more weight. I don’t think that 105kg is really a suitable weight for an ultra runner!

Until the next time!

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