Saturday, 1 July 2017

LC24 - Cutting It Fine

This was the 3rd year The Warriors had taken on the challenge of racing from Twickenham to Cardiff, with the aim of finishing within 24 hours.  There were some old faces and some new faces, mainly due to injuries, and as usual, it wasn't until the week before the race that everything was in place and all the new runners had their registration transferred.

Other than Phil and Mark P (the London contingent), the team met at the Devizes Rugby Club at midday and headed up to the M4 for London.  After a brief stop at the services, we arrived in Twickenham by mid-afternoon to an already busy marshalling and starting area at Kneller Hall.  In 2016 there were 34 teams, in 2017 there were 42.

What goes on the bus..

We booked in and awaited our briefing.  Mark P and Phil arrived, were introduced to the new team members and caught up with old friends.  It was time to get ready and before long we called for our brief.  Hoodies and team kit handed out we stepped outside to be given another brief on the trackers used during the race to pinpoint the team's runners.

Team brief

Tracker brief
The first stage of the race is for all the runners, a simple loop around the Kneller Hall sports field (which includes a short army obstacle course) before the first stage runner sets off.  As with last year, we sent off the stage 2 runner on the support bike with the stage 1 runner so they could swap at the checkpoint without the need for the minibus to work it;s way through the Friday evening traffic.

Ready to set off  -  160 miles 
Dan and Peter warming up!

At 5.05 pm we set off, the loop around the field being little more a light warm up for the 1st stage runner.  Matt checked the tracker in at the checkpoint and then set off at speed with Sam on the bike in his wake.  The rest of us boarded the minibus and headed to checkpoint two, battling our way through the rush hour traffic with the aim of getting to the checkpoint in Hayes before the runners - no mean feat.

Hard life on the canal.

The checkpoint is accessed via a 7-minute walk around the Tesco car park and over the canal bridge and we arrived in plenty of time.  We watched the live tracking site from my phone and worked out that it was updating every 5 minutes.  Very soon Sam came into view with Matt at her side, a slick handover and then Jo set off at a great speed along the canal path for 8.3 miles to Slough.  The checkpoint in Slough is a Sainsbury's car park and it was already filled with team mini-buses when we arrived.  As the team's runners arrived they were cheered through by all the teams waiting for their own runners.  Jo appeared at pace and we checked in before Ian set off on his 4-mile stage along the main roads to Maidenhead, and to the checkpoint in yet another store carpark (very handy for fresh coffee and food).

Waiting for Jo to arrive.
The next stage, Maidenhead to Henley, is 12 miles and has a long big climb (11 miles of the 12) before dropping sharply into Henley.  We split the stage between Mark P and Andy as it was Andy's furthest run to date, Mark set off first.  He arrived at the handover point with the climb taking it's toll before Andy set off at a great pace.  We bundled back into the minibus and headed off to Henley to find the new checkpoint and look for a parking space.

Henley at twilight.
The sun finally set as Andy arrived at the checkpoint and handed over to Malcolm for 3.8 miles of muddy track through fields and woods to Peppard Common.  The checkpoint was dark, even with the minibus lights and head torches, but Malcolm arrived in good time and managed to avoid the ditch that had managed to trip a few runners in the last few yards to the checkpoint.  Peter set off into the dark, the route he had run the past two years, with a head torch that could be used to guide spacecraft down!!  His 8-mile route is described at difficult and follows deeply rutted tracks with plenty of water before working his way through an estate on the outskirts of Goring.

Waiting for Peter in Goring/Streatley.

Peter arrived and passed on the tracker to me.  I had run the route before and knew what was coming, but I had not tried to run it at pace.  I set off through Streatley and found my way onto the Ridgeway easily, climbing slowly for 3.5 miles before a 2 mile decent and then climbing again for the remainder of the 8.7 miles.  I ran solo and used common sense to follow the track but other race markers on the Ridgeway had thrown a few teams.  Eventually, I could hear the cars on the A34 and passed under it where I could see the checkpoint - this seemed like an optical illusion as no matter how hard I ran it didn't get any closer!!  I finally arrived at the (affectionately known car park) Dogging Site and passed on the tracker to Dan, who sped off into the dark at an unbelievable pace for a 12.5-mile stage along the Ridgeway.  I had managed to keep the pace at 9 min/mile so was happy with my effort.  I had a quick wet wipe wash, slipped on some leggings, a hoody and sank into my seat for the long drive to the next checkpoint at the Uffington White Horse.

Heading to checkpoint at the Uffington White Horse
Access to the Uffington checkpoint involves parking in a busy car-park with lots of minibusses and sleeping individuals, then walk 200 metres in the dark to the Ridgeway path.  This time of the morning (around 2:30am) the body is trying to shut down and trying to sort out runner issues and ensure people are in place for the next stage can be extra hard work.  Dan stormed into the checkpoint and handed over to Phil for his 8 mile stage, which includes navigating off the Ridgeway at the correct point and heading to Wanborough on the outskirts of Swindon.

On arrival at Wanborough Mark O set off on the last stage of the first half into Coate Water Park.  On arrival, all the runners then need to do a simple loop of the lake - yeah.  A lot of tired runners and a missed turn meant the team ran an extra half mile.  A team that followed us would not be told that they had made the same mistake and as we returned to the correct path they continued off into the distance, away from the checkpoint and minibusses!

Daybreak at the end of the Coate Water Park fiasco
As we ran through the trees to finish the group stage around Coate Water Park daylight was starting to break.  Mark P took the tracker and headed out across South Swindon to the John Lewis car park near M4 junction J16.  The changeover went without hitch and Matt set off for Royal Wooton Bassett, a 5.3-mile route he had run for the past two years and knew very well.  Matt's current phenomenal form ensured he arrived in excellent time to the checkpoint, a small industrial site car park.  This was Matt's second stage completed and could now start to relax.

Ian set out from Wotton Bassett on an 11 mile "undulating" mixed terrain course to Malmesbury.  For Ian, being an ultra veteran of many years, this was not a mammoth task.  As he ran we arrived at the leisure centre, where showers and food were available.  At this point, I unpacked and set off my self-heating pasta meal, grabbed a strong cup of coffee and cleaned myself up ready for the day ahead. We were doing okay, around 40 minutes ahead of schedule.

Malmesbury Leisure Centre
Sam set off on her second stage towards Didmarton, this 9-mile route is a continuous uphill stage over the multi-terrain.  Malcolm accompanied her on the bike with the intention to swap at the next checkpoint.  The route was harder than expected and when they finally arrived at checkpoint 16 Sam was extremely tired, but took the cycle and followed off behind Malcolm as he headed out on his 12.5-mile stage.

The minibus arrived at the next checkpoint in Thornbury where we bomb-burst to get more food and coffee.  Then I got a phone call from Ross, the organizer, to inform me that Sam was unable to continue cycling and could we find her!  The tracker, which should have pinpointed the runner had the location as Coate Water Park and was no use so I dispatched the minibus back along the route while a few stayed waiting for Malcolm to finish.  I then spoke to the team that had passed on the message to the organizers and found out exactly where they had seen Sam and relayed it to the minibus.  As we waited Malcolm and Sam came into view, going as strong as ever!  I recalled the minibus and Mark arranged a lift to the next checkpoint in case the minibus was late.

Thornbury - deciphering the Chinese whispers 

As Peter set off for services by the Severn Bridge, 5.5 miles away, the Chinese whispers unfolded. It turns out a runner had collapsed, not one of ours, and messages got mixed.

We quickly headed off to the services, where Mark O was already waiting and waited for Peter to finish.  He finished tired and battled the last few miles.  The hand over went swiftly and the team pushed on to the far side of the Severn Bridge where I was next up.

Dan relaxing by the Sevren Bridge

Mark O handed over the tracker and with the initial guidance of Ali, who had run this section the past few years, I headed off road towards Caldicot Castile.  The initial part of the course was straight forward and the trail clear.  I ran with a few other team's runners as we passed through a golf course and dodged a landing ball by a few feet.  Then the route went rugged! The overgrown brambles, stinging nettles and branches made the next mile a true battle, eventually ending on a track and then road.

The next few miles into the castle were flat and fast with the stage ending approaching faster than I expected.  I quickly handed over to Jo and watched her disappear off along the path out of the castle grounds.  Her 6.3 mile section was yet another route of road and trail that finished in Magor, just South of the M4 where she handed over to Dan.  Dan shot out of the checkpoint, surprising other team runners and ourselves!

Although getting slightly lost, Dan still powered into the next checkpoint at Newport before passing on the tracker to Mark P for the 9 miles through Newport's Duffryn housing estate, cross country and finally climbing the last mile into St Mellons.  This has always been a tough section.

By now we had lost some of the 45 minutes we had gained over the past hours and everyone knew we had to finish strong to beat the 24 hours.

Phil set off on the 3-mile stage between St Mellons and the outskirts of Cardiff, while the minibus turned and readied itself for a quick get-away Andy and I went to the checkpoint to wait for Phil.  The trackers were all over the place and we had stopped using it to pinpoint our runners and I walked half a mile back down the route.  Eventually, a tired looking Phil came into sight, I took the tracker and sprinted to the checkpoint and handed over to Andy who shot off towards the centre of Cardiff.

In 2016 the traffic had been so bad around Cardiff that the runner covered the final 3 miles well before the minibus and had to wait for the team to complete the final 100 metres group stage.  Today the gods were with us and we parked up in Sophia Gardens, on the banks of the river Taff, and were able to get everyone to the checkpoint as Andy steamed into view.

Andy racing in to the park

As a team we ran abreast around the final, short stage and crossed the finish line in 23:47:13.  Once again we had beaten the magical 24 hours and were issued with sub-24 t-shirts along with our medals.

The 2017 Warriors Team - Matt Charlton, Dan Piper, Ian Harryman, Mark Portman, Mark Owen, Ali Bisatt (driver), Mick Farrar, Jo Farion, Malcom Scott, Phil Zaloum, Peter Jefferies, Sam Landergan, Steve Bowker (cycle support), Denville John Newton (driver), Andy Stanley

Finish Line!!

The Warriors 2017

Beer and Cake
Farewell for another year.

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