At the turn of the year there were two races high on my agenda. Man V Horse and Hope24. One has been my ‘to run list’ since I DNS’ed years back and the other was my running highlight of 2018. The fact that the two are a week apart didn’t really phase me. I believe I may have said something along the lines of treating Man V Horse as a long (hilly) training run with a medal. I was expecting to have heavy legs, but I wasn’t expecting was a mental fatigue hangover.
I had grand ideas about beating last years distance (by some margin), however the writing was on the wall before we even set foot at Hope24. It came about halfway around Man v Horse when, while suffering in the welsh hills, we began to make excuses for our performance a week later. We arrived at Hope24 knowing that a big improvement on the 55 miles we (Tom and I) ran last year was unlikely but we both wanted to try and get past it.
The weekend starts reasonably well, as we set up basecamp the legs feel good. Camp is constructed and we head over and collect our numbers. Once back we get changed and pin on our numbers ready for battle. After a quick warm up (by warm up I mean jog over to the portaloos for a pre-race poo). Once the load is lightened, we head over to the start line – for the purpose of clarity Tom did not accompany me in the portaloo.
As we get near the buzzer goes, we dive under the tape into the crowd of runners and cross the line, Hope24 2019 is a go. The course is different this year, and we cross the line going in the other direction. The course still loops around the camping field, just without the little dogleg to start. once past the camping area we cross the stream over the same bridge but turn right then left up a grassy bank – no more tarmac trudge – once up the grassy bank we enter a section of single track through some woods. After running this section a few times, it finally dawned on me we ran this section last year and I can confirm its was more fun running down it last year.
At the top we come out into a grass field before dropping along a gravelly double track along the near side (which we ran up last year to the wooded trail). We follow this all the way to the bottom corner of the field before running up the far side. Just before we do a complete lap of the field, we enter another wooded area via a little section of single track, before climbing up onto a gravel track. we weave through the woods for a while before taking a left and settle into in the same general direction for about a kilometre as the trail goes from gravel, to grass to ankle deep slime. We leave the woods then take a long, tightening right hander and drop back down into the woods. We follow a wide muddy path along side of Troy Brook for what feels like an age. The track rises and falls – while drying out gradually until we are running on gravel again.
We follow the same path for just over half a kilometre – it always feels further than that and by the end it feels a lot further – before we cross the brook on a single file bridge and continue in the same direction. We turn away from the brook and hit the last climb of the lap, which kicks off with a sharp ramp before easing in the middle section before rising again as you reach the top. As we round the corner at the bottom of the hill I notice a photographer at the top of the first ramp. I politely inform Tom he should continue running – resulting in the first race picture of me that I don’t actually hate! I am eternally grateful to the photographer for not staying there, as any further pictures would have made for grim viewing. Once at the top of the hill we go through a gate and out onto the top of a grass bank. We contour along it, gradually dropping down, until we get to the road.
Once at the road we cross it and enter the camping area, unlike last year there is no Prick’s Parade and we turn right and head straight to the finish line. Once the finish line is in sight both Tom and I begin to speed up. I don’t know who surged first, but once one of us did the other responded and so on until we are in a fully-fledged – all be it fucking slow – sprint for the line. Guess the legs must be feeling ok.
We adopt the same strategy as last year and pit in for a cup of coffee and a little to eat. We continue this for the rest of the afternoon; however, I find that as the day goes on my legs become less and less responsive. By the time we stop for dinner – after 5 laps – I have spent more time following Tom (and staring at his heels) than I ever have before. That’s not to say that I usually run in the front (but I like to think I do but Tom no doubt will passionately disagree), but we do tend to share the load on the front.
After dinner we head out for another lap with our head torches – my one regret from last year is not getting a lap in in the dark. This time its Tom’s time to suffer as we pick our way through the darkness. We finish the day on 30 miles – the same as last year, just finishing a bit later. After a beer and synchronization of alarms we retire for the night.
After a restless night the annoying buzz from my phone drags me from my slumber. I snooze the annoyance and lye for a moment – stuck between sleep and awake. Noise outside my tent startles me from my twilight zone and I poke my head out the tent to assess the days weather. I am greeted with rain that wouldn’t look out of place in an environmental disaster movie. I dart across to the group shelter we have been using as our kitchen/dining room/race nerve centre and put on the kettle while I get my running stuff on. Just as the coffee is made Tom joins me – weary eyed – and we have a cup and a bowl of muesli while waiting for the rain to pass, or even ease. The rain doesn’t usually stop us going out for a run – even if one of us has reservations the other is always on hand to offer the time-honoured advice to ‘dig a little deeper for a bigger pair of balls’. Not today, however. Today we had another cup of coffee.
After some time and a fair bit of coffee – by now its light and the wives have awoken – we notice the rain has eased to a drizzle. Me mobilise ourselves and, with a little nudge from the afore mentioned wives we are finally out for our first lap of the day. The lap goes by with no drama, or niggles, and we return to camp for yet more coffee. By now we have accepted that any chance of getting to our distance from last year is over – and as a result all urgency, although there was little to begin with – has gone.
After a bit more sitting, chatting and coffee consumption we head out for our final lap of the 24 hours. This time Sian and Hannah – who have both entered the hope5 – join us. It doesn’t go unnoticed that after a day of warm sunny weather they end up deciding to do their lap in the rain. The four of us walk over to the start line, where I am asked to get a few pictures of them starting. But before I can get my phone out they are off and running. I have to put on a bit of a dart to get ahead of them for long enough to get a photo. Once the photographer duties are out the way, Tom and I plod at our pace leaving the girls to run at theirs. I thoroughly enjoyed our last lap as we stopped to take photos, chat and enjoy the route without the pressure of trying to get another lap in, or the endless ticking of the clock.
We finished with 8 laps – 40 miles – which is a fair distance less than we covered last year. As much as the preparation wasn’t as solid as it was the year before – no spring marathon and a few niggly little injuries – I genuinely feel that mental fatigue had a bigger part to play. Last year Hope24 was the only target of the early Summer. Once Boston Marathon was done it was only Hope24. Trying to mentally peak again a week after Man V Horse was never going to be easy, and I knew I had to dip into my mental reserves to get around the Welsh hills. What I didn’t realise was how deep into these reserves I would need to go, nor that they wouldn’t be there when I needed them again the following week. The surprising thing was that it wasn’t the running that I struggled with, once out on course even on Saturday afternoon when my legs didn’t seem to want to play ball I could keep myself going. The issue came in getting to that point. Get out – especially in the rain of Sunday morning.
I certainly hope to return next year. It remains to be seen if any lessons have been learnt.