In 2013 I committed to entering the inaugural Equinox24 race almost by accident. As the sole member of staff at Frog Island I felt bad that, although I was volunteering at triathlons with marshalling duties, I was not competing in any races as my own competitive spirit gave way to the fact that my standard of swimming is just so, so poor (which I’ll be rectifying soon).
And so, when Johnny who runs triathlon organiser Racetime Events, said that he was putting on a big new race and there was no swimming involved, I committed there and then. When he revealed it was a 24 hour running race, well I’d already signed up both mentally and to other people. I couldn’t back out, so I turned up, had a go and did OK, placing 7th and completing 16x 10km laps in 22h50m.
Jumping forward to September 19th 2014 and things have changed quite a lot. I have caught the ultra running bug and have changed my lifestyle to such an extent that my wife, Adele, and I have moved to Scotland and are now driving back down to Leicestershire from our new home in the Highlands, which is almost exactly 500 miles!
Equinox fever had me in it’s grip and just 10 days into 2014 I was doing my first ultra of the year, the Country2Capital from Wendover to Paddington in London. Other races that followed included the Belvoir Challenge (DNF), Ashby 20 (PB), Bosworth Half (PB), West Highland Way Ultra (DNF), Great Glen Ultra and Speyside Way Ultra. I also had entered a few other races which I unfortunately did not start due to injury/logistical issues. I have had a bit of a see-saw year and I can definitely say that the mental battle of running is the hardest part. all that being said I was very happy with my preparation for Equinox and was confident of a good race.
Friday September 19th: 7am
Adele and I set off from our house, The Bothy, in our little Seat Mii. We await the result of the Scottish Referendum on the radio to see if we’ll be allowed back in after the race! Results are in and the ‘Naws’ have it. All that’s over to Adele and I annihilate the contestants on Pop Master with our combined musical knowledge! (I should point out that we are pub quiz mercenaries!).
After a short detour to Nottingham we arrive at Belvoir Castle and curse the fact that our car has lowered sports suspension on the ‘driveway’ onto the campsite. I was very surprised to see just how many people were already camped up and ready. This was going to be a BIG weekend. I marshalled our way down to the solo camping area and we jumped out. Before you could say ‘Baden-Powell’s on viagra’ I had erected our tent in super quick time and we went off for an explore.
Straight away I saw some familiar faces and had a nice catch up with Tina who was running solo, having been inspired whilst marshalling last year. We also chatted to race organiser Johnny, Steve H, Brett from Skechers, Robert from Ashmei and a couple of other folk before setting off for replenishment.
Last year I didn’t get ANY food from the caterers at Equinox and I wasn’t going to make that mistake this time, so Adele and I got ourselves a coffee and ordered a pizza…. and it was delicious.
Belly’s full, we turned in for an early night.
Saturday September 20th: 8-11.55am
We got up and saw a lot of new arrivals setting up their camps including my good friend Stewart Sale. We both did EQ24 solo last year and ran through the night together. Stew was just using an open tent simply as somewhere to leave his food and clothing. I lumped my stuff in with his. As he didn’t have anywhere to actually sleep I offered him the option of kipping in our tent should he need it.
A little while later and the three musketeers were complete when Steve Salter arrived, another 2013 soloist. Time for a pre-race picture. Steve had been very quiet on social media recently and I thought he might have ambitions of doing well…… if he could stay awake this year!
Coffee’s drunk, breakfast eaten and time was dragging and we all just wanted to get started. 11.30am came and the pre-race briefing completed it was time to head to the start line.
All assembled on the start line. The runners at the front were twitchy-they were doing the supporting 10km race and would be all done in 30-50mins. We were all in for the long haul. So soloists, pairs, small and large teams all lined up.
And we are off! At everything from flat out 10km race pace to a leisurely walk. Equinox really is a race for everyone. Last year I got caught up in the melee and really started a bit too hard. This year I came with a proper plan, with a schedule for each lap, which, if I managed to execute to the best of my ability, I was confident would put me in the mix come 24 hours time.
Although I start off steadily, very steadily, my heart rate is higher than is my target due to sheer adrenalin and the racing instinct. It’s very, VERY hard to keep forcing yourself to ease off when every fibre of your body wants to go for it, especially when you can see that your competitors are charging off ahead! However, I know that the vast majority of runners rarely, if ever, run further than a marathon so I’m expecting the early birds to slow up after 4 hours or so, whereas I am aiming to keep a fairly constant pace throughout the whole race. My schedule for the first 4 laps is 1h06m per lap, despite this I come in at 1h03m, 59m17s, 58m53s and 1h03m18s. It’s no effort so far and I’m feeling good. I tell Adele that I’m generally very happy and that I have some time in the bag.
It was great to be able to pace myself at the start as it meant I got to chat with new friends like Alexa and Sid before I lost the ability to string cohesive sentences together!
Things were going well and I was generally happy still. As predicted a lot of soloists had started too fast. Stew, Ade, Paul and a few others I knew had all gone zooming off ahead early on and I was now catching and passing them.
It was great to see Nicola and Elliot marshalling at the start/finish line and I mentioned that I was happy to them and had gone through the (1st) marathon point in approx 4h30m, not too shabby in a 24 hour event.
One of my friends, Paul Corderoy, is an experienced ultra runner and had finished one place above me, albeit by over an hour, at EQ24 last year. I knew that he had completed Challenge Weymouth the previous week to Equinox this year so was likely to be tired. Sure enough I caught him on the main tarmaced hill at 4km on lap 6 or 7. I pushed on straight through the water station at 5km onto the off-road section. That was a decent scalp to take, although with Paul having such a big ginger beard maybe taking his chin would be a better phrase!
At some point, I think around lap 5 or 6, Big Steve Salter passed me, which was annoying but not worrying too much as it’s such a long race and I was confident n my own plan. I had set myself a target time of 1h10m for these laps and was pretty much on the money with 1h11m02s, 1h07m44s, 1h06m18s and, due to a loo stop which needed a diversion, 1h19m11s.
By this point, and the aforementioned loo stop, head torches were already on and it was decidedly chilly too with some light drizzle. Now things weren’t as comfortable.
On lap 9 we were now well into darkness. One of the nicest things about this was somehow being recognised by the Team Shabba Runners who were camped at about the 1km to go point. As I ran by a shout went up “Are you Steve Pascale-Jones?”. I replied “Yes, that’s me!” to which I got the legendary response “WE’RE TWITTER!!”. Thanks guys, that really cheered me up as this was a bad lap.
Through the night I had a staggered schedule which I revised to a straight 1h20m per lap. Don’t forget that all lap times include any stopping to eat, drink, stretch, go to the loo, feel sorry for oneself etc. In terms of heart/lungs/legs I was still feeling really good, comfortable even, but an old enemy reared it’s head, or rather bent it double at the side of the course.
BLEEEUUURRGH…………. Yep, I was sick.
Nutrition in ultras has been proving my toughest challenge. When it goes right you don’t think about it or even notice it at all, but when it goes wrong…….. BLEEEEUUUURRRRGGHHH………..
Despite being sick twice, I still managed to complete lap 9 in 1h18m18s. Not to worry. I did think this might happen at some point. In ultras you have to expect problems. It’s how you handle them that matters. So I stuck with plain water to drink and not too much food and lap 10 seemed OK passing without major incident in 1h16m42s, still on schedule. Brilliant!!
But the storm wasn’t over. I managed to push on through lap 11 in 1h19m20s (on schedule) despite being sick again. Now I was starting to get a bit worried as I was barely eating so as not to irritate my stomach too much. It was nearly one in the morning. Even running 1h20m laps I was still getting through several hundred kcal’s/hour and needed some sustenance. Lap 11 finished, I popped into the tent, grabbed a couple of bits and carried on. Back onto the course, I tried to eat just one cashew nut and it came straight back up. No sick though as there was nothing left, just what appeared to be, by the light of my head torch, the lining of my stomach. Not feeling good now.
I pushed on anyway, but lap 12 saw me unable to take on any more food, little drink and I was ill three times. Of course I wanted to go on. But I will admit that I lost the mental battle. After running the last 40km in 5h30m on no food, in the dark and mostly on my own, I finished lap 12 in 1h34m54s after I spent a good 20mins battling my own inner demons which told me that I KNEW I could podium this year but that I should withdraw. Maybe I could have pushed on and recovered later on in the race. But it was 2:15am and the prospect of another 5 hours in the dark wasn’t looking too good, whereas the thought of getting into bed was. And so, after 120km and 14h14m17s of running I withdrew.
REST OF THE RACE
When I woke up, it was nice to hear just how many people were asking after me. For what it’s worth, I didn’t sleep too well and shivered all night, despite wearing all my kit and a fleece hat. Maybe withdrawing was the wiser choice this year? I was sad to see that the 2013 winner, Mark Dodgson had also had to withdraw, despite being near the lead, with a fractured ankle.
On the plus side, it meant that I got to enjoy the carnival atmosphere, eat some delicious food (3x breakfasts I think it was!) and meet with some great friends. Adele and I had a great chat with Robert from Ashmei and I bought an awesome new running shirt, whilst Adele got some socks. It was also nice to talk to Brett from headline sponsors Skechers Performance. If you still haven’t checked out their awesome range do so, you will not be disappointed. If only my stomach performed like my Go Run Ultra shoes I’d be winning races left, right and centre!
As the race drew to a close there were some determined performances from Stewart who bagged his 160km/100 mile target despite looking a bit like the walking dead and Steve S who crossed the line jubilant just after 11am on 19 laps. Unknown to him however Johnny, Adele, Steve’s wife Sam and I were all watching the timing board. Steve was in 2nd place, but the guy in 1st had already finished. Johnny barked instructions and we sent Steve off for another lap, meaning he was the only solo runner to hit the magic 20 lap/200km mark!!
And so Equinox ended for most on a big high (Steve, Alexa, Stew, Team Shabba, Team Cake etc) and for others on a bit of a low due to injury (Me, Tina, Mark D), but I’m sure that we all be back bigger and better in 2015!!
Bring it on!!