Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Spitfire Scramble Event Review

For the second year running I spent my weekend camped in a field with a group of relative strangers taking it in turns to run 5.8 mile laps of Hornchurch Country Park as part of the 24 hour team relay event that is Spitfire Scramble.

Writing up a 24hour event could well turn into a long progress, if you would prefer to read my summary of the event you can do so here.

As with last year I was competing in the event as part of UKrunchat's #teamred against the fearsome opposition of #teamblue.

Our team consisted in the end of 7 runners whereas #teamblue had their full compliment of 8 runners so already competitive advantage was theirs! 


Being a local to the event I arrived on Friday evening to get the task of setting up my tent out of the way. I arrived to a much larger campsite than the previous year which made it difficult to find the UKrunchat area. I soon found the right place and was ably assisted in putting my tent up by team mate Laurence and teamblue opposition Paul, my blue tent further muddying the waters of this team competition.

I had decided on the easy option of spending Friday night in the comfort of my own bed rather than camping for two nights, a decision I was pleased to have taken on Sunday after the lack of sleep achieved on Saturday night. So I returned to the campsite on Saturday morning to meet the rest of my team mates captained by Jen and the opposition for the weekend marshaled by Jeff. It was my second year locking horns with Jeff as we were both the sole survivors of the UKrunchat teams from Spitfire Scrambles inaugural race last year.

After the introductions and pre race photos and briefings were completed the race was soon underway at 12 noon and the gruel ling 24hours was underway! The thrill of these 24hour events is the unknown, how many laps will I be required to run? What will it be like running in the dark? Will the team survive the 24hours intact? Will there be injuries and dropouts? All I knew was that I was scheduled to run as the 7th member of the team with an estimated starting time of 6pm. 

So quite a difference to a normal race where you get up early, get to the race and bang your off! The first few hours were going to involve a lot of sitting, chatting, cheering, clock watching, eating and relaxing before my running got under way. 

The race soon sets into a rhythm though of supporting other team members as they either complete laps or start laps, then a debrief of how the lap went before a quiet period where the runner on the course completes their lap before the whole cycle starts again.

My lap came around pretty quick to be fair at around 5.30pm and by that time I was desperate to run! I figured that as my second lap would be at about 11pm in the darkness when I would have to take things easy I might as well go for it and go flat out rather than save something for a second faster lap. The problem was when I got underway I was pretty lethargic from all the hanging around and realised I had eaten far too much during the afternoon, an easy trap to fall into! 

I completed the lap in 45.41, my aim had been to rival my first laps time from last year which was 43.40. Realistically I knew I was not as quick as I was last year so I was pretty pleased to get within a few minutes of last years time.

After lap number one I had some pasta from the onsite catering, continued getting to know the rest of the team and enjoyed watching the bright summer sun head in for the night. Around 9pm I managed to grab about 45 minutes sleep before getting ready to run my second lap. 

Head torch at the ready I set out on my second lap in the darkness of night. My plan was just to settle into a pace that I was comfortable running at both in terms of pace and where I was confident of finding my footing on the uneven trail surfaces. I also decided to take on the giant Ingrebourne hill at mile 2 a bit gentler. 


The lap was brilliant despite it being at 11pm and having already ran a fast lap I felt brilliant and felt like I flew round despite the tricky underfoot conditions. A speedy run coupled with the magic of running in the stillness and peacefulness of night combined for one of my favourite ever running experiences. 

Getting back to camp I was conscious to try and keep warm and get some rest so after a Mars milkshake and a few half hearted stretches I climbed into my sleeping bag with my alarm set for 5am to be ready to get up and run again at about 6.

Although I didn't feel tired I was soon asleep it was just unfortunate that the sleep didn't last too long! Our tents were positioned alongside the course route about 50m from the changeover point which meant we had runners coming past at regular intervals calling for their various team mates in the change over area. It was pretty frustrating to be constantly disturbed but it was made bearable by the funny remarks and commentary from Paul in the neighbouring tent who was very amusing! 

The time to get up soon came and after a pain au chocolate and a handful of jelly babies I felt ready to run despite the early hour and the lack of sleep. 

Lap 3 was again an enjoyable experience as I was heading out soon after sunrise and the course felt peaceful with the day yet to begin. Again I ran a pace that felt comfortable, took it easy on the hill and tried to enjoy the route and the scenery. 

Both before and after the lap I was surprised with how well I felt, yes I felt tired and lacked a bit of energy but my legs felt good and I felt more than capable of running at a decent speed.

My third lap completed and it was still a way off 8am on Sunday morning! 

After the initial buzz of the run faded I definitely started to feel fatigued so I did what what I need to do eat and sleep.

The eating came courtesy of a brilliantly greasy and fatty bacon bap, bacon makes everything better!

Then the sleep followed shortly after with a 40 minute power nap in my tent.

By this time it was around 10am and the event was entering its final stretch, there were noticeably less runners running around and less team mates waiting for changeovers and signs of people starting to pack up camp.

I knew our team had time had enough time left for me to squeeze in my last lap as Sarah Jane didn't want to run another lap as her back was sore from all the running and sleeping in a tent so this meant I got pushed up the order and would have a chance to run lap number 4. 

It was great to see that satisfaction on runners faces as they came into the finish to complete their final laps, a grueling 24 hours of running was over and people could start to enjoy the rest of their weekends. The sense of achievement at the large number of miles ran by everyone was almost tangible as every runner completing a lap started to get cheered and clapped home as all of a sudden everyone seemed to have a beer can providing celebratory refreshment. 

Before I knew it I was waiting for outer teams penultimate runner Simon to complete his lap, the 24 hours had simply flown by! 

There was no pressure on Simon to complete his lap although he still completed a speedy lap and set me on my way at around 11.30 to complete team reds final circuit of the course.

I wasn't sure what to expect from my final run, I kind of thought to take it easy, enjoy the run, enjoy the scenery, take lots of pictures and ease my aching legs around the course. Surprisingly though I felt brilliant after the initial stiff and achy first few hundred metres so I threw caution to the wind and thought I would just try and blast my way around the course.

After a few miles I realised I was at least matching my first lap time so decided to push on and try and beat my time set some 17 hours earlier. 

I think it was somewhere around mile 4 when I heard the distant roar of the mighty spitfire and it wasn't long before I saw this majestic fighter plane soar overhead, a sight that will stay in my memory for some time. After coming in low over the start/finish area the spitfire circled to repeat its fly past and I was fortunate to get a great view of it banking and circling back on its self right over my head as I ran, a real spine tingling experience.


As I approached the finishing straight my UKrunchat team members were all gathered so we could run in the closing metres together. This prompted a Mo Farah style sprint finish from me as we all stormed across the finishing straight, it was a privilege to have run the last lap for the team and I even got to keep the slap wrist band relay baton as a souvenir! 

Getting my hands on the medal was now on the agenda, and what a medal it is?! A shiny silver outline of a spitfire, very fitting and very attractive, easily one of my most impressive medals.


With the running all over there were plenty of congratulations all round with team mates and fellow runners before plenty of post race team photos. 

So in the end I ran 4 laps composing around 23 miles with split times of 45.19, 47.37, 47.53 and 46.00 all on only a few hours sleep.

Unfortunately I faded away in the last mile and missed out on beating my first lap time. 

The final team results were somewhat disappointing for teamred as we finished someway behind the speedily impressive teamblue but we were really pleased with our overall finish of 17th out of 42 teams. 


The weekend was then all of a sudden at an end as I started to pack up and pack up my tent. Goodbyes were said and everyone reflected and agreed on what an enjoyable weekend it had been.

UKrunchat team members you were all awesome, it was great to meet you all and teamred will be back stronger and faster for 2016!

Spitfire Scramble you were bigger, better and more gloriously enjoyable than last year! A great event so well organised in a great venue, thank you for all the organisation from the event team and massive thanks to all the marshals for their cheery encouragement and assistance throughout the 24 hours. I hope to be back again next year! 

Hopefully this read will give you an insight into the action packed adventure that is a 24 hour team running event, a grueling mix of running and fun that quickly flies by in a blur of excitement, I would definitely recommend giving one a go!