A Thunder Run disaster

20 July 2019

The rain held off for parkrun but, by the time we got back to Catton Park it looked as if the clouds were gathering. This was not good news for the Thunder Runners or for Kim and I who’d been planning to walk a couple of laps of the course for our Clarendon training.

It was still dry when midday came around and the twenty four hours of running began but the sky told us the rain would fall sooner or later. Rob and Commando set off in good spirits all the same. They were still adamant they weren’t going to take things too seriously this year. They swore there would be no back to back laps and no running all through the night. Kim and I weren’t convinced, we’d heard it all before. Once they got going we were sure they’d get caught up in the atmosphere and just keep going.

We saw them pass by at the beginning of their first lap looking happy and confident. We cheered them until they were out of sight then we sat in the gazebo and looked at the sky. We were both itching to get out on the course ourselves and start walking our two laps but, as were weren’t official Thunder Runners, we knew we’d have to wait until the fanfare of the first lap was over.

We expected them back within the hour but one o’clock came and there was no sign of them. Time passed and we began to get a little concerned. By ten past one we were standing at the barrier scanning the runners in the distance trying to spot them. Almost ten minutes later they finally appeared. Rob looked as if he was limping and Commando looked quite pale under his tan.

After they limped back into the camp and sat down they told us the whole sorry tale. They hadn’t got very far when Commando started having stomach issues. In fact, he said his stomach hadn’t felt right when he set off but he thought it was just the usual runners nerves and would settle once he started running. Then, somewhere up in the woods on the technical part of the course, Rob turned his ankle and bruised his foot. Between his foot and Commando’s stomach, they’d ended up walk running the rest of the course.

After we’d got them drinks we left them sitting feeling sorry for themselves and went off to do our laps. Of course, as unofficial participants, we couldn’t actually start from the start line and we knew there were parts of the course we wouldn’t be able to walk but we set off with purpose and were both quite looking forward to it. The first part of the course was fairly easy, although the weather was very muggy with the distinct feel of thunder to it. We passed through the campsite and then would up towards the trees.

When we started to climb things began to get tougher. The ground was muddy because of the rain and the first lap of runners had churned it up badly in places. The trail was narrow, steep in places and there were roots and pot holes to negotiate. This wouldn’t have been too bad if we hadn’t had to keep moving to the side to let runners come past. There were several trips and a couple of near misses when one or other of us almost fell. Suddenly two laps didn’t seem like such a good plan, especially as it was only going to get muddier and more churned up.

The views from the top were worth the climb but maybe not a broken ankle. For a while we walked beside fields on fairly flat high ground. It was easier going, at least until we got to the woods where I saw the ghostly mist last year. There were no ghosts this time but the trail narrowed again and we were back to the problem of passing runners and the feeling that we were going to get thrown off the course at any moment.

It was quite a relief to come out the other side and onto a wider track with no need to keep ducking to the side every few minutes. Now we could relax a bit more and enjoy the walk. We even found a dragonfly in the long grass.

We’d managed to get round a fair bit of the course before our nerve went. When it came to going through the gate and around the lake though, we chickened out. There were just too many runners and too many marshals. To make up the miles we headed across the road towards the car park field where I took so many quiet walks last year.

It might have been quite nice with the river and the swans but the rain chose that moment to start falling. This was no light shower. The heavens opened and within moments Kim and I were both soaked to the skin. My fingers were so wet I couldn’t even open my phone to take photos. We just put our heads down and headed back towards the tent as fast as we could. We fully expected to find that Commando and Rob had gone out on another lap but we found them sitting in the gazebo where we’d left them.

The rain continued for the rest of the day and into the night. None of us moved from the gazebo except to use the portaloos. Rob could barely put any weight on his foot and Commando didn’t want to move to far from the camp loos. It wasn’t the Thunder Run we’d planned but at least we had good company and we made the best of a bad job.

There were no night runs and, even though things had brightened up by morning, the ground was now so churned up none of us felt like going out to try another lap. In the end we just packed up our tents, took our rubbish to the bins and went for one last walk around the stalls. Once Commando and Rob had collected their medals it was time for the long drive home.

At the start Kim and I had been convinced The boys would get carried away and end up running lots of laps, just like they always do. Maybe they would have but this year the fates had different ideas. It may not have gone to plan but it was certainly an adventure and I’m sure we will laugh about it often in years to come.

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Burton Upon Trent, beer, marmite and rain

19 July 2019

Summer came late this year but, when it hit, it hit hard with weeks of high temperatures and high humidity. The thought of a little camping at Thunder Run in mid July was a bright spot on the horizon. Both Rob and Commando said they were going to take things easy this year, do a few laps but also relax a little. We didn’t really believe them but I still imagined Kim and I chilling in the gazebo in the sun, sipping cool drinks and walking a lap or two ourselves.

The last thing I expected to see when I checked the weather for this weekend was wall to wall rain. Rain and camping really don’t go together very well. There were a few hasty changes to the packing list, including my stout boots and our dry robes plus the removal of unnecessary skimpy t-shirts and sandals. It seemed this camping trip was not going to be nearly as much fun as we’d expected.

Yesterday, as we drove up the M3 towards Burton upon Trent in our hired van, the rain seemed to be following us. After more than a year driving an automatic car, the gearbox and clutch came as a bit of a shock to Commando but, thankfully, the windscreen wipers worked a treat. Sitting in the van for most of the day meant I didn’t get nearly enough steps in, even with a few very damp evening laps of our first night hotel.

This morning it was still mostly raining. Kim and I made the most of the hotel facilities, including hot showers and a lovely breakfast, while Rob and Commando went off to bag a good pitch in the solo area and put the tents up. Somehow I think we got the better deal.

Our next task was to drive into Burton and get supplies for the next two days. This was accomplished fairly quickly. As the rain was falling steadily and sitting in a wet tent was fairly unappealing, we decided to spend a little time exploring Burton before heading off to the camp site. Two previous very brief visits to Burton upon Trent had given me a tantalising glimpse of wonderful old industrial buildings and lots of history I’d love to have explored so I was quite excited by this prospect.

The little market town is the administrative centre for East Staffordshire and is known chiefly for brewing. Burton boasts eight breweries and is also the place where  Marmite is produced. For those who don’t know about Marmite, it’s a thick, vitamin rich, brown black spread used on sandwiches and toast in the main. People either love it or hate it. In our house CJ and I love it and Commando hates it. Anyhow, it was invented in the late nineteenth century by Justus Von Liebig, a German scientist, who discovered brewer’s yeast could be concentrated, bottled and eaten. The Marmite Food Extract Company was formed in Burton upon Trent in 1902. The yeast used to make it was a by product from the local brewery. 

Unfortunately, heavy rain cut our outdoor exploring short almost before it had begun. Luckily, before we got too wet, Commando and I discovered the Cooper’s Square shopping centre and ducked inside. Originally called Burton Shopping Centre, this indoor mall was opened in 1970 by Princess Alexandra, with a roof being added in the mid 1990’s when the name was changed.  We weren’t really in the mood for shopping but we were in the mood for staying dry so we wandered around window shopping and took advantage of the toilets while we were there.

In the middle of the shopping centre we stumbled upon a really beautiful bronze sculpture of a cooper making a barrel by James Walter Butler. The Burton Cooper was commissioned in 1977 and originally stood opposite the town market. When the Cooper’s Square shopping centre was refurbished in 1994, the sculpture was moved to its present position, despite quite a bit of local protest. I was very taken with the Burton Cooper, especially the expression of concentration on his face.

Eventually there was no avoiding going back outside, it was still raining and, as we’d come out of a different door to the one we’d entered, we weren’t quite sure where we were. Trying to find our way back to the place we’d started we walked around the outside of the building and stumbled upon another sculpture. This, I later discovered, was called the Malt Shovel and was by Andy Hazell. It was unveiled in 2001 and is a rather quirky thirty foot high stainless steel shovel with a human sized beer bottle cut out in the blade.

The wet paving stones below the sculpture were equally interesting. They were imprinted with miniature beer bottles and the chemical formula for the fermentation process. Unfortunately, there was a little too much H2O around for my liking.

Around the corner we were soon back on the High Street and things began to look familiar again. Then we stumbled upon Market Place running off to our right. Standing side by side with the modern buildings were some of the beautiful old red brick buildings I’d so admired on previous visits. There was also a small market selling lots of interesting plants. Of course we were too far from home for me to buy any but looking at them kept me amused. 

Behind the market was an interesting looking clock tower. A closer look told us this was the tower of St Modwen’s, the mother church of Burton. This rather angular red sandstone church was built on the site of Burton Abbey in 1719. The church was designed by brothers Richard and William Smith of Tattenhall but both brothers died before it was finished and the work was completed by their younger brother Francis Smith. 

Surrounded by greenery it looked like an interesting place to visit but the door was closed. Besides, we really needed to get back to the High Street and try to find Kim and Rob. In the end, although we did explore a little bit of Burton on Trent, and I did take a few wet photos of the lovely Victorian architecture, the weather and time meant I didn’t see nearly as much as I’d have liked.

We found Kim and Rob not long after we left the church. By now the rain was getting heavier and heavier so we decided to cut our losses and head back to the cars.

Our eight or so mile journey to Catton Park, Walton on Trent, where out tents were waiting took us right past the Marmite factory. I looked at it longingly through the wet window of the van, wondering if they did tours and, if so, whether they might give out samples? It rained all the way there, which made negotiating the very narrow bridge just outside the tiny town of Walton on Trent a little more tricky than it might have been, especially in an unfamiliar hired van. In the end we had to fold the mirrors in to get through.

It carried on raining all afternoon. We spent a great deal of it huddled in the middle of the rather windy and damp gazebo, trying not to get wet. The rain finally stopped just as the sun was going down. We went to bed wondering what on Earth the Thunder Run course was going to be like after so much rain?

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Wet, muddy and probably hallucinating

23 July 2017

The rain just kept on falling. There were a few slight lulls when Commando prepared for his first night lap. Each time he pinned on his race number, checked out his head torch and pulled on his trainers it pelted down again though. Rob went out with Kim on her evening lap because he was so worried about the conditions and two torches are better than one. The gloom, the rain and most of all the mud meant it took a ridiculously long time. The woods were especially bad, tree roots hidden under water and slippery mud. After a conflab everyone agreed it was just too dangerous, not worth the risk of a broken ankle or worse.  Continue reading Wet, muddy and probably hallucinating

The legendary Solo Dave

22 July 2017

When I got back to the tent Mark was already back and Tamsyn had set off on the next team lap. So far neither Rob or Commando had run along the final part of the course in front of our tents so I settled down in my garden chair to watch and wait. Runners were coming past all the time. My eyes were firmly fixed on the race numbers as they approached, white numbers were team runners red were solo. We cheered everyone who passed but the red numbers got the loudest cheers. A pair of solo runners dressed as a bride and groom came past together. Maybe they’d just got married? If so it seemed an odd kind of honeymoon.  Continue reading The legendary Solo Dave

Rain and the Thunder Run

22 July 2017

The rain didn’t stop. In fact it got worse and worse as the evening wore on. There was a brief interlude of almost dryness, just long enough for Pete the Meat to cook burgers and sausages on a couple of reluctant portable barbecues under the awning of Rob and Kim’s tent then it got so bad everyone retired to their respective shelters. We slept on our new air bed inside our new sleeping bags with the sound of rain pounding on canvas as a lullaby. It was a sleep broken by worries about floods washing us away. The name Trent is Celtic for strongly flooding and the river is renowned for it.  Continue reading Rain and the Thunder Run

A little camping adventure

21 July 2017

Way back before Vancouver, achilles tendon problems or RA, Commando entered a twenty four hour endurance race. For months Rob had been filling his head with talk of the Thunder Run and how much fun it was. Frankly, running a hundred kilometres or more in twenty four hours sounded anything but fun to me but, at the time, Commando was marathon training again and an endurance race sounded like an interesting challenge to him. He’d been talking about ultra marathon and endurance races for a while anyway so he didn’t need much persuasion.  Continue reading A little camping adventure