Race Report by James Fishburn
Over the weekend a group of Marsh House runners made the annual pilgrimage to Catton Park to take part in the Conti 24hr Thunder Run. The race consists of teams completing as many laps of a testing off-road 10k course as possible in 24 hours. There was a surprising result for one of our teams, changeable weather throughout the weekend and an endless stream of camping related innuendos.
The race starts at 12 noon on Saturday, but the event starts much earlier as the campsite opens on Friday morning. The expeditionary force from Marsh House was made up of the three-team captains; James Fishburn, Dotty Harris and Allison Rae plus their enthusiastic assistant Catherine Hanley, who met up at Tibshelf services before travelling in convoy to the event site near Burton upon Trent. They arrived around 11:30 and marked out an area big enough for the 17 tents and 4 gazebos that would form a little piece of Billingham in the midlands for the next 2 days.
Throughout Friday the first green shoots of teamwork appeared as everyone collectively set up camp. Poles were placed in the correct holes as the first tents were erected *snigger* and everyone was impressed by the size of Darren’s (you were warned!) tent. By early evening most of the camp was set up the team made their way to race HQ for the, now customary, last supper of Pizza and beer. The squad then retired to bed, in hope more than expectation, of a good night’s sleep.
The faster team reflected its name, I put all my eggs in the Cleveland Way, with less than half of the runners who had claimed victory in the Cleveland Way relay available for this event. The other two teams, BMHH Dotty’s team and Allison’s Avenging Angels, were both unable to field the full complement of 8 runners and had to settle for 7, as other runners were unable to make it. A couple of familiar faces returned to the Marsh House fold with Emily and Mark Fox stepping in as late replacements. Nick Leggot, a friend of theirs, also stepped in as a replacement and was promptly dropped in at the deep end in the fastest team.
Friday’s weather ranged mostly from drizzle to heavy rain, so wellies were the footwear of choice on the wet grass. Overnight there was a couple of very heavy downpours (or so they sounded under canvas). This led to some sizeable pools of water on the roofs of the gazebos, one such pool coupled with a gust of wind meant that Pat Keane was the only person to get a shower on Saturday morning. The teams all headed off to breakfast at a local beefeater under a bright blue sky though.
After breakfast, there was only a couple of hours until the race start. Up to this point, James Fishburn had been whining about potential (phantom) anaemia, that he was in the worst shape he had been in for 3 years and that this was probably the weakest team he had ever assembled for the TR24. He had raised some eyebrows in the camp when he plumbed for a third beer on Friday night, as in years gone by, he’d been uber-competitive and tried to fire his team up to be same (much to everyone’s amusement). Normal service was resumed following some time pacing around listening to headphones and James came back to camp and declared that the team didn’t know the quality of the other teams and he was going to put himself on the line to give the team the best possible opportunity to place well and he expected the same from his teammates.
Sarah Roe, Darren Ansbro and James Fishburn lead out each of their teams on the first leg in cloudy but dry conditions, though unfortunately, that wouldn’t last. Within a few hours the heavens opened in truly tropical style. No-one brought an Ark, but the club gazebo had made its annual outing, providing safe refuge for those not on course to enjoy a hot drink whilst wondering what had made them think this was a good idea. Those on the course got a good soaking with Ian (Coach) Harris proclaiming that the woods had 2 inches of standing water and to make matters worse, the rain had ruined his hair.
As day turned into night and the course into slop, runners kept on lapping and everyone got a turn in the mud and the darkness. The rain had stopped by now, but the course was cut up badly. There was a ray of sunshine though as the faster team were sat in 3rd after 14 laps completed.
The fast team performed beyond all expectations. Andy Love was awesome, consistently putting in the fastest laps on the team. All of the other members of the team played their part too. James, although not on top form, was still able to produce modest times and Stephen Roe was at home in the tougher conditions, performing particularly well during the night.
Chris Jefferies was every bit the competitor, running within seconds of his first time on his last lap when he knew the possibility of a podium was alive.
Nat Snell not only knocked out superb times on the course, but he also covered the same distance (if not more) taking photos of everyone during his ‘down’ time.
Nick Leggot produced the most unexpected performance though. After his first leg, he declared that he had only ever run on the road and that it had been the hardest run he’d ever completed. He then proceeded to produce outstanding times expected more of a seasoned fell runner.
The design of the TR24 course is the worst fit possible for a man of John Gray’s frame and stature. Rarely flat, it twists and turns through narrow woodland paths, strewn with tree roots but it is a testament to John’s mentality that he was able to grit his teeth and return excellent lap times for the team.
Helen Adamson is one of the few women able to step up and perform at the level necessary to drag a team up the standing at TR24 and she again proved that she is happy to take on all conditions and perform fabulously in the face of it. Without a runner like Helen, a TR24 team of 8 has no chance.
The fast team eventually finished in 5th, completing 31 laps the same as 2nd, 3rd and 4th with a mere 23 minutes separating all of them. This was a fantastic result for the team who would have snapped your hand off for a top 10 finish on the eve of the event. Everyone should be immensely proud of their achievement.
Allison’s Avenging Angels followed Darren with Emily and then Mark Fox. Emily managed to secure bragging rights in the Fox household with the faster time by the smallest of margins – 5 seconds! It was brilliant to have them both back in the BMHH family and would be wonderful to see them at future events.
Ian Harris followed them and promptly got soaked in the torrential rain, although this isn’t the first time Ian has fallen foul of conditions at Catton Park. Two years ago he fell in horrendous mud and was left looking like a chocolate dipped Viennese whirl.
Julia Ansbro joined her husband in Allison’s team and performed brilliantly with a smile on her face throughout the event, even when conditions were at their worst.
Jeanette Gratton again took the event in her stride, few if any of her contemporaries would be able to come close to her performance at such an event.
Allison Rae was again an integral part of the entire BMHH TR24 effort. Without her, we wouldn’t have been at the event again. Allison was disappointed with her running performance, but this event is about much more than performances. It is about getting everyone together and having a good time and she made sure that happened.
Darren not only lead the team out he also brought the event to a close for BMHH, although the records will show otherwise… there was some confusion in the Ansbro tent before the last leg because they only had one chip. Darren was convinced that Julia must have misplaced hers, unfortunately for Darren, the commentator always announces the last runners as they cross the line. It must have come as a surprise to Darren as he gee’d up the crowd and milked the applause, running down the home straight, that the PA system announced Julia Ansbro was coming in for Allison’s Avenging Angels – well done on the running Darren but be careful with the blame game in future! Allison’s Avenging Angels finished in 80th out of 184 teams, another great performance.
Dotty’s team were led out by Sarah Roe who proved again to be a formidable competitor, a testament to which is that she only slowed by 3 seconds from her first dry lap to her second muddy lap, remarkable.
Rosie Dawson was next up. Rosie has been suffering from injuries since her last marathon, but she was able to step up and prove again that she is top class in this format. Throughout the weekend Rosie’s spirits were sky high and she seemed ever-present in the camp to lift everyone else’s.
Pat Keane proved once more that age is just a number, clocking some of the fastest times on the team again with a smile on his face even when a gazebo-roof full of ice-cold water fell on him as he tied his laces for breakfast.
Kirsty Alderthay returned to join BMHH on loan from Stockton Striders (along with Julia) and delivered some excellent running during her time out on the course. By her own testimony, she had a tough leg that took her past midnight with some technical difficulties resulting in her running quite literally in the dark, but she was able to get out again in the morning and produce a third fast lap.
Catherine Hanley was back for 3rd year at the event and a 2nd year running. Despite having not run a single step since the Cleveland Way a month previous, she was able to complete her three laps, all in road shoes even when the course was almost ankle-deep mud in places!
Kathryn Walker returned to the event and brought a resilient mentality with her, being one of the few that were not fazed by the turn in the weather and in fact running faster in her first muddy lap than she did in any lap during the dry 2018 event. Dotty’s team was rounded out by Dotty herself, who found herself in a tough spot during the night unable to eat because she felt so ill. Despite this, she was able to pull herself around and set off on a lap at 4:30am. Dotty is another fundamental part of this event and it wouldn’t be part of the BMHH calendar without everything she brings to the table. Dotty’s team finished 91st, in the top half of all teams in the category. Another marvellous performance.
The camp was bolstered by a few of the none running team members who were on hand to help lift runners’ spirits with support and sustenance. Big thanks to Joanne Love, Becca Dawson and Helena Keane with a special mention going to 3-year-old Eliza Fox whose Friday night rain dance brought much needed comic relief. Having a toddler in the camp definitely added a new dimension!
Apologies if anything has been missed. It’s a long event and this report is probably already long enough.
The TR24 2019 was another superb event and without doubt, we will be looking at the event or a similar one for 2020, keep an eye on the club Facebook page and we will post about any future plans.
Nat Snell’s Photos: http://bit.ly/30Pgu1M
Official Photos: http://bit.ly/2SwdEff