As a follow up to a flat road marathon, Hope24 is a pretty special way to go about keeping the legs ticking over. Hope24 is a 24 hour, multiple 5 mile lapped race in the Newnham Park, just outside Plymouth. The aim is to do as many laps as you can (or want) within the 24 hours.
Not being brave enough to tackle something so far out of my comfort zone, which this most definitely is, on my own I formulated a cunning plan. I got Tom (who has quickly become my running wife, i.e. when I see a race I think I fancy I run it passed him for authorisation that either he is coming too, or I’m allowed to run it without him) drunk. Once he is a few drinks in, I planted the seed of doing it as a relay team of two. I promise you it wasn’t as manipulative as I have made that sound. After coming to terms with the idea of relaying it, it occurred to me (via my actual wife) that if we soloed it, we could run together, so I broached the subject with Tom – without getting him drunk first. So, it was decided, we are doing a 24 hour race as soloists. Shit got real.
The build up to Hope24 had been fairly ordinary. I had planned to train for this like it was another marathon, but my mileage has been hovering around the 18 miles a week mark. With no actual target to focus on I was just going out for a run when I fancied it, rather than working towards a goal. Apparently it’s just a bit of fun.
Over the weeks leading up to race day, I began to allow myself to daydream about what I might set as a target. 30 miles? More? Or just the ability to walk on Monday morning? Race weekend comes along way before I think I am ready, but there isn’t much I can do now; just suck it up get on with it.
We (as in the wife and I) arrive at Newnham Park a little later than we had planned, and found Tom already set up. We quickly put up our tent, but then have a three man battle with the gazeebo before collecting our race numbers and change into our running kit, and make our way to the start/finish arch. At this point I’m not sure how I feel, the usual pre-race nerves aren’t really there its just the journey into the unknown. I’m not sure what started the race. Could have been a klaxon, a gun or just a mild mannered “Go!”; but the runners in front started running so I went too.
We trundle off, conscious that it’s a long way to go, along the grass starting straight and round onto a gravel road which runs back the other way past the start/finish line. The first kilometre and a half is a flat affair as we turn and double back on ourselves as we go around the camping area, cross a stream and to the bottom of the first climb of the route. At this point we join the only bit of tarmac as the route rears up for the first time. The tarmac only lasts for 400 metres or so, but that consists of a ramp to start, before the gradient slackens and goes up again. We turn off the road and the gradient eases dramatically, it’s still a climb but it’s not much more than a false flat with a few banks along the way. As it is the first lap, and we are both novice idiots, we decide to go against the grain and run the whole climb (and subsequently the whole lap).
Once we reach the top we turn off the 4×4 dual track and on to a short stretch single track which weaves its way between the trees. Before the single track has really started we are taking a hard left and running up a gravelly little ramp to join another 4×4 track as we pass through the woods. We spend the next 500m or so running along wide tracks in the woods before coming out into a glade of massive ferns – it could have been a set from Jurassic Park, and I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a runner in front taken out by a velociraptor. Once through the Jurassic period we are back into the woods, but this time the trail is much tighter as we weave through older woodland, rather than the managed woods previously. This is a lovely quick section as we continue to drop down the other side of the first climb.
Once out of the woods again, we are back onto the forest tracks as we continue to descend further until we hit the final bit of woods on this descent. The best section was definitely saved until last as we hurdle rocks and tree roots, navigate tight turns plus a few short sharp climbs and steep dips to keep the legs awake.
Once out the woods we, once again, join a gravel road which we follow for a while, gradually climbing until we hit the second proper climb. It starts off with a short dig, before slacking off to a longer drag of a climb. Once we top out it’s an even descent to a tight right-hand hairpin and across the stream on a little bridge.
Once off the bridge, it’s up a little scramble up a rooty bank and along a track towards the finish line. Just as you can see the field that the finish line and camping area all that hope is torn away as the route takes a left hander up another short, but sharp, ramp. The hill then flattens and rises for half a kilometre. At the top we come out into a field above the finishing field. We contour across the field, gradually descending until we turn and drop down to cross the first gravel road and through the main camping area.
As our race progressed the back straight through the camping area as we approached the finish line was christened ‘The Prick’s Parade’ by Tom. This, he tells me, came from the way I, subconsciously, would speed up as we passed the camping area towards the end of the lap. I guess that makes me the prick of the parade.
At some point around the first lap I ask Tom if he has goal for the race and – serendipity would have it that – we both had the same internal secret target; 50 miles. 50 miles, when neither of us have really trained properly – we really are perfect for each other, we are both bloody idiots.
After a quick burrito and coffee stop we head out for our second lap. It starts pretty much the same way as the first as we run comfortably within ourselves, but as we get to the bottom of the big climb we have a decision to make. Walking in a race is an uncomfortable topic, and I have never chosen to walk in a race before. I have walked in a race before – after I had detonated at my first marathon and getting caught at the back of a group on a narrow, steep climb at a trail race – but it’s never been a conscious, tactical decision.
As we hit the bottom of the climb we slow and look at each other, slightly uncomfortably as I don’t think either of us want to be the one that walks first. It was me; I shut it down and walked first. Once we are off the tarmac we begin to run again and we run the remainder of the climb. We continue to run until we hit the second climb of the lap. At this point we shut it down again – with more awkward sideways glances. As we reach the top we both – seamlessly – start to run again. This, again, continued until we reached the last climb at which point we walked the steepest part and then ran again once the gradient had eased. We dropped down to the finishing field and I seemingly continued my proud ‘prick of prick parade’ tradition.
We continue the strategy of grabbing a bite to eat (and a cuppa) between laps and head back out, although these breaks began to lengthen as our discipline began to wane. As we go further into Saturday the laps seem to merge into snapshots of other runner’s backs and the odd incident. At some point during these transient hours, as we are making our way through a section of winding single track through the woods I hear the god awful combination of stumbling, swearing and other runners gasping. I spin around, half expecting to turn just in time for Tom to land on my face. Luckily for me, as I turn he appears to be half way through an advanced yoga position (while in mid-air) as he heads for the nearest tree. Somehow, and I still don’t know how, he manages to sort his feet out, not implant his face into said tree and carry on running – it seems barely braking stride.
We planned to get six laps in, then stop for some proper food and then reassess. We finished our 6th lap at about 9 o’clock and returned to find my – long suffering – wife, who was crewing for us, sat in the gazeebo chatting to another runner. We sit down, grab a drink and join in the conversation. The other runner did give us her name, but I’m rubbish with names at the best of time. She was using Hope24 as a training race for a 100 mile race later in the year. Even with my merging memories of the later part of Saturday’s events I remember being impressed by how fresh she still looked and how far she had already gone (I’m still massively impressed by her efforts). We finally got round to having food at all but 10 o’clock, once we had eaten our gnocchi it was getting pretty close to 11, so we decided the best course of action was a beer and bed (with a 5 am alarm call) rather than knocking out another lap. The one advantage, I think, to spending that time sat around chatting before eating was it gave us a chance to rehydrate which we might not have otherwise had.
After several snoozed alarms, I manage to get out of my sleeping bag before the (small) sensible part of my brain continues the snooze cycle. Bleary eyed I clamber out of the tent, expecting every fibre of my body to be screaming at me. I straighten up, have a stretch and put the kettle on. Regardless of how I feel, coffee will make it better – a lot better. Tom’s up, and thankfully looks as sleep deprived as I feel (and probably look). Somehow I don’t feel like a rusty robot; I daren’t try to touch my toes, but I feel amazingly good considering. Breakfast of burritos and coffee is chowed down and we are good to go. On a side note, I will try to remember that dinner type foods go out much better than breakfast type when you have to drag yourself out your pit at a disgusting time in the morning.
Gingerly we walk across the camping field towards the start/finish straight. I really am expecting it to take a lap, maybe even more, for the legs to free up and move in a way that even resembles running. After a couple of paces it felt good, not fresh as a daisy good but good enough to instil a bit of confidence that I would be able to keep going.
By now there is no more little looks of ‘Are we going to walk this hill?’ We continue to run the majority of the lap but the three big climbs are walked, along with the gravelly ‘hidden hill’ just after the first bit of single track.
I think it was at some point during the 8th lap where I mention that if we manage to ‘sneak in an extra lap’ we would have done a double marathon. This goes down surprisingly well – I think Tom had also had the same thought – and the goal post seems to have moved.
The rest of the 8th lap and the majority of the 9th go by without incident, until we reach the second stream crossing. As I try to bound up – in my mind it would be an elegant bound – the rooty bank back up to the gravel track. As I lift my right foot at clear the first set of roots I just catch my toes, and whether it’s because of the lack of sleep or the miles in the legs I can’t react in time. Before I really manage to process what is going on I’m on my hand and knees scrambling to get up the bank and back to my feet.
We finish lap 9 and head back to camp for a bit of food and recruit an extra member. Sian, my wife, had entered the Hope5 (which is a single lap of Hope24) and I had been looking forward to this lap all morning. We head back out and run the loop around the camping ground to the first hill. We stop to walk it. It’s at this point I realise how slowly we are now walking up the hills, as Sian walks up chatting away, I realise how hard it is to keep up with her. We get to the top of the tarmac and begin to run again as we turn onto the rocky track. We get about half way up and Sian rolls her foot off a rock, jarring her foot. After a bit of run/walk she tells Tom and I to, well, she told us to go our own way so she could pace it how she wanted to, rather than feeling like she had to force herself to push harder than she wanted for our sake. After a couple of prompts I give her a fist full of sweets and we push on, trying to get back in time to start the 11th lap before midday. I won’t lie, I felt like a bit of an arsehole for the remainder of the lap, but with a deadline looming we seem to get around the lap at a fairly respectable pace.
We cross the line with 13 minutes or so to spare. I dash back to the tent and make a couple of burritos and fill up my water bottles. We trot across the field and re-join the race in time to do the extra lap. As we do I see Sian coming across the grass bank above the camping field. I give her a shout and a wave, and to my relief she waves back. We continue to walk as we eat our burritos as Sian makes her way along prick’s parade and around the last bend. I cut across to reach her on the home straight and she looks like she has really enjoyed it. I watch her run off down the finishing straight, both proud as punch but also thoroughly relieved that she isn’t pissed off with me.
We’ve finished eating, but still walking. Without the time constraint still on us it suddenly becomes really hard to make ourselves run. We pick a point a few metres ahead as the point we start running. We hold a run all the way to the bottom of the tarmac hill and instantly drop back to a walk. Once off the black top we run/walk the rest of the way to the top. We try to run the flat and down hills, especially the bits through the woods. Once we drop out the woods we walk the flat to the second climb and begin running again on the other side. We then manage to hold a run all the way to the final climb, but this time we decide to walk all the way to the top, not just the steepest section – I say decide, we didn’t decide we just did.
We did, however, have the where with all to start running again before we came out onto the field above the camping field, just in case anyone was still there to see. We get across the field, and make our way along the prick’s parade for the last time. I tell Tom that when we get round the corner I am going to ‘go for home’ and dip him at the line. As we round the corner I feign to go and get no reaction from him, I guess he really did mean it when he said he couldn’t care less. We cross the line together, not quite skipping and holding hands but after pushing each other all the way it would have felt wrong to race one another at the end. I’ll have him next time though, I can only give him one bye. It’s a testament to Tom, that despite running together for the best part of 10 hours at no point did I have to resort to listening to my iPod – in fact I didn’t even carry it with me at any point. He is a seriously upbeat kind of guy – and I’m a grumpy old bastard that has a habit of getting pissed off by people I spend a lot of time with – and seems to have a vast array anecdotes for any situation.
According to my Garmin we covered the 86.58 kilometres in 9 hours 43 minutes and change (moving time rather than total time – total time was 22:36:47). To be honest if I had been offered that on Saturday morning I would have bitten your hand off at the shoulder, so I really should be happy with how it all went. I am hugely proud with how Sian got on with her first race. Especially as she was worried that she would finish last. She didn’t but more importantly she loved it – and doesn’t hate me for leaving her. We have also talked about racing together again, which is a right result.
All photographer (other than the last two) taken by AG Images