Online shopping, online dating, online banking. There’s not much you can’t do online these days. One thing that had never crossed my mind was that I would become part of an online running team for an event that would see us running round in circles all night long, through dusk, dark and dawn. Covering 85 miles in 12 hours with two strangers I’d found online.
Well, they found me really.
“Anyone fancy being part of a team at the Ultra 12 on 18th/19th July in Pangbourne near Reading? I’ve paid for a team of 3 ladies but it looks like the other 2 are going to have to drop out… It’s a 12 hour event from 7pm to 7am on a 5 mile circuit.”
It was one evening towards the end of May when this message popped up on the ‘Did You Run Today?’ (DYRT) Facebook group. I was immediately intrigued. I’d never entered a team running event before, and never taken part in an overnight race either. Not one that involved running through the night, in any case. I had a look at the event website, where the various options that you could choose from (50 mile, 50 km or 12 hour) were advertised as being suitable for ‘casual runners’ and ‘those looking to take part in their first ultra race’. When I returned to the initial post, another DYRT member, Teresa, had already signed up. I left a tentative response underneath hers. Not quite ready to commit, but not wanting to miss out on the third place in the team.
After sleeping on it, I decided to go for it. I was in the middle of training for a 100-mile event in June, and thought it would be perfect to turn my attention to something a bit different afterwards. I didn’t train for Ultra12 specifically, except for a practice run with my head torch (which I later found out, after posting on DYRT upon returning from a rather dark outing, can be tilted down so that it illuminates the ground rather than pointing straight ahead. They’re a useful bunch, those DYRTers).
Sara, who posted the original message, Teresa and I chatted a bit on Facebook before the event, and Sara explained that she had already registered the team name ‘Running Mums.’ Well, at least it applied to two out of the three members of the reconfigured team!
The day before the event, my partner and I drove to Pangbourne. It was possible to camp the night before, so we decided to make a weekend of it. The event base was in Beale Park, a wildlife park by the side of the River Thames. We located the field where the start and finish area was set up, and found a spot for our tent at the edge of the field. There was only a handful of other campers that night. It was starting to get late, so we decided to head out to fuel up for the next day. The friendly Race Director, a Pangbourne local, recommended an excellent pizzeria to us, and off we went for the obligatory carb-loading session.
The next day, more runners started pitching their tents, but there was still plenty of space in the field. Quite a few runners seemed to have brought their families along with them, which made for a friendly and inclusive atmosphere. It was a beautiful day and we headed off to Beale Park for a wander around the wildlife park. I knew that the route would be passing through the park later on, but there was no sign of it at all during the day. The whole event was a low-key affair.
Teresa texted to let me know she had arrived, and we went to meet her in the campsite, and helped set up her tent next to ours. Together, we went to the registration tent, where we were handed our t-shirts, race numbers, and a wristband that would function as a team baton. A while later, Sara arrived, and we discussed our team strategy: we’d start off by simply taking it in turns to run a lap each, and see what happens!
After a bit of a delayed start, the first runners were off, and Sara was the first to do her lap. 38 minutes later, it was time for Teresa to take charge of the wristband and do her 5-mile lap. I waited anxiously at the changeover point, not wanting to set off too fast on my first lap, but when Teresa appeared and it was finally my turn, I got swept away and somehow ended up smashing my own 5-mile PB! And so it continued for the next 12 hours. Our laps ranged from 38 minutes to 49 minutes and I think we all found the early morning sessions the toughest. The other runners, my supportive partner (our unofficial time-keeper), and the knowledge that Sara would be waiting for me at the changeover point really helped spur me on.
Looking back on it now, the night is a bit of a blur and the laps all merge together in my memory. However, some distinct moments remain, such as sitting around the campfire chatting with other runners and their families as I waited for my next lap, getting lost and ending up running the opposite direction to everyone else (I subsequently had to overtake the same people I’d already overtaken about 5 minutes earlier – I’m still not sure what happened there), the sense of relief every time I saw the fairy lights in the forest section (only a mile left), and my sense of wonder and amazement at the runners doing the 12-hour event (as well as the 50km and 50 mile events) solo!
There was a computer system set up to keep an eye on the scores for each of the teams and competitors, and I was thrilled to see that Running Mums were storming ahead in our category of ‘Female teams of 3-4’. Our plan of simply running and seeing what happened seemed to be working!
12 hours later, we’d managed to clock up an impressive 17 laps, or 85 miles. And that was enough for us to secure our position as first place in our category, despite there only being three of us, and despite us having only met on the day of the event! Even though we were all absolutely shattered, we waited around for the prize-giving ceremony in the morning, where we were presented with our trophy, and I was overcome with pride. In that moment, when I was posing for the photograph with my two team-mates, I felt truly thankful for the power of the internet: for bringing us together, connecting us, and enabling us to achieve something amazing together.