“It’s only five miles and one hill” I said at dinner, the night before the race, to my newly met team. Words that would haunt me for 24 hours from noon the following day. The five miles part was true. The one hill… not so much. I’m still not entirely sure why I thought differently. There were two hills and they were brutal.
Danny, brilliant ultra runner and man behind Hope 24, said to me later, “it’s a hard course, but come on Bozena it would be boring to run on flat over and over again“. The logo of the event flags kept screaming “flat is boring”. I can assure you, flat or boring, the course was not!
…Last lap. Walking up the second hill with another runner… “Surely at some point someone added a few meters to it”. We could barely walk up to the top 😉
Hope 24 is a roughly five mile route on a variety of surfaces but mostly trail with over a 100 metres of climb. The race could be run as a solo runner or as a team of 2, 3-5 and 5-8. The idea was to cover as many laps in 24 hours.
I was in mixed team of six. There was me, Mel, Dan, Duncan, Steve and Billy. We came to this event to run but above all to have fun, lots of fun! However, deep down I wanted to break my own record and run passed 15 miles mark. I wasn’t entirely sure if this was doable. Such a big team meant lots of waiting time between turns. Wandering around the course was a way to pass the time.
I met Elisabet Barnes, female winner of Marathon de Sables 2015 (6 day – 156-mile race across the Sahara Desert). A truly inspirational woman that was more than happy to chat to me about racing, training kits and preparation for one of my main goals. My first ultra.
As I said above, time easily passed by. My turn to run came fast and soon I found myself at the transition area. Transition area is at a start. Teams change over to let other members take their turn. I saw Mel turning the corner and within seconds she handed me the wristband and off I went to run my first lap.
The course was beautiful. Dry weather and even some sunny spells, made us feel very lucky. As I took the first corner the course led me through beautiful grassy fields and through a rifle range. There, a party van was parked. Beside it were the best cheering guys ever.
I entered the woods. The course continued through a bluebell forest and straight up to the first hill. It was steep and long but I managed to run up to the top. The first and only time I actually managed. The course continued. All downhill through a beautiful and fresh green part of the woods with several twists and turns.
I love running down hill. I am able to let go of the fear of falling and let my body and gravity do the work. I was flying… A few runners cheering me on… 🙂
This was another beautiful thing about Hope. Every runner you pass by, or they pass you by (and there were lots who passed me by)…… talks. “Well done!”, “Keep going!”, “Great effort!”. It doesn’t matter if you’re fast or slow, if you’re young or old. We are all doing the same thing!
Back to the course. I was now at the 2 mile mark, going past the tent fields. My team cheering. Others clapping. I felt amazing. Like I could run forever. I passed the river and turned left to the fields. Then I saw it. The monster hill. The hill that would make my legs feel on fire. Everytime I thought, “I’ve done it! I am at the top!”, I was offered more hill. Realising that I am basically just about half way to the top. It was brutal but it was a challenge I was ready for. I would run as much as I could. At that point, I would stop and I’d speed walk. One runner found me at the finish line and asked me “How did you do it and still look so fresh?”. I realised that I need to train harder and longer. If I do this, I will be able to achieve so much more.
Hope24 gave me hope. It also gave me huge satisfaction. The view from the top of the massive hill was stunning, but running down that hill was really exhilarating. “This could be fun.”, I thought to myself. It was steep and it was on road service but I went for it all in. I was going so fast that in fact I really had to break hard to stop at the bottom and not to miss the turn and avoid running into Kevin. Kevin, a pink bearded volunteer was pointing me in the right direction, and non stop for 24 hours he would be there encouraging runners with fun and cheery comments, and a pink beard.
I crossed the last bridge and I was now running straight home. I could see the finish line and Billy waiting for me. I passed on my wrist band and send him off to explore this beautiful and exciting course. Rinse and repeat. I would run this route 5 more times including twice in the middle of the night. The beauty or the curse of these events is that the more you run the course the more you know it. You learn every puddle and every stone and every hill and it is up to you to embrace it and enjoy it or dread it and hate it.
The night run…
I had never done it before but I was excited. I took my torch and an extra layer of clothing, and off I went. It was dark and the course was only lit in a few places by glow sticks. There were less runners too. It took me some time to get used to running in darkness with only a small beam of light coming from my head torch. Every rock under my feet seemed bigger, every puddle deeper, every sound louder but one strange thing… the hills. It was as if some of them were hiding. Because I could not see them, I ran up more of them than at day time. I would only realise that they were there once I had reached the tops. I loved it, it was the first time I had to focus only on what my body was telling me. Without distractions from the world around me. Without distractions from my brain antecipating which part will be tough and how much effort I can or cannot put in.
Soon the sun had risen, and with it the countdown of the last few hours of the run. I ran two more times. At 8am and then again at 11. I couldn’t help but feel sadness that it was done.
Running through the finish line was emotional, people were cheering, smiling and congratulating each other. I could hardly believe that I had just ran 30 miles. It was an achievement like no other for me. It was my first ultra and I absolutely loved it!
I wasn’t that bothered with my times, but to my surprise out of the total of 6 laps, I ran two laps under 45 minutes, two under 50 and two laps during the night under an hour! With that I am very happy.
So how do I feel about Hope 24? I don’t think I have enough praise words in my head. It was tough and brutal at points, but that made it beautiful and interesting. The event was extremely well organised. The volunteers were simply the best and did not stop cheering runners even for a moment. Food and massages were available throughout the night, music kept us going when we wanted to stop, and smiling faces of other runners made this a fantastic event that I will be proud to come back to.