Saturday 28th June 2014
Back in January Jonathan Escalante Phillips (Cap'n JEP) sent some emails about 'A mad race for mad men' and a bunch of willing lunatics answered his call, signing up for the Mizuno Endure24 race. Fast forward to Friday night when a merry band of C&Cers: Cap'n JEP, Alex Eggeman, Istvan Jacso, John Ferguson, Dan Cade and Margaret Phillips (as support personnel) were joined near Aldermaston, Berkshire by Chris Darling (Cambridge Tri club and recent Kevin Henry winner), John Uff (formerly of this parish) and our super-sub, Istvan's friend Roland Kedves, who only 6 days earlier agreed to travel from Hungary to help us field a full team. Our team name was, fittingly after JEP's troubled winter: Achilles Heals.
The Endure24 is simple, a hilly 8K woodland trail loop, 24 hours (starting at noon on Saturday), whoever goes the furthest wins. Entered in the 8-man team event we had high expectations, these were rapidly checked by 2 factors: i) the great British summertime and ii) Datchet Dashers Elite team (thankfully not including a certain Dr Stevens). Prior to the race a 2 hr thunderstorm turned the pleasant woodland trails to slick mud and off the start line Datchet showed impressive speed to build a couple of minutes lead after only a few laps. Through the afternoon and evening the race settled into a nail-biting balance between our two teams, at any given point through the first 10 hours of hard running there was no more than 4 or 5 minutes between us, often the changeovers were separated by a handful of seconds.
By late evening the clear skies clouded over and more torrential rain fell; the trails, already muddy and cut up became swamps and one of the paths merged with the adjoining lake for a couple of metres. In spite of this and running by head-torch the Achilles Heals runners stuck to the task and maintained a relentless pressure on Datchet, meaning that by sunrise, and after 16 hrs of continuous running, the two top teams were essentially neck and neck.
As the muddy trails settled our plan to run conservatively early on paid dividends, our lap times stayed pretty constant despite seriously heavy legs, while Datchet started to drift; a 5 minute lead became 9 minutes became 15 minutes for Achilles and the reintroduction of some team mates after a much needed sleep break added fresh energy to the team. By 9am the race was essentially won, a 25 minute lead meant there was no way back for Datchet, and they settled their pace to conserve 2nd place and avoid injury. With a clear bright sky the laps ticked off until at 23 hours and 57 minutes of running, JEP sprinted up to the finish line and handed the baton to John Uff to enjoy the glory lap, the team's 46th and the only one where we would be uncontested for the lead.
The levels of commitment shown by every person in the field for such a Herculean task were truly humbling (one solo runner covered 120 miles!). Within the team everyone buried themselves for the collective and the pride we all felt for overcoming nature, fatigue and the (at times seemingly indefatigable) challenge from Datchet was the finest reward. A quick tally shows Jacso (6 laps or 48km), Eggeman (6 laps), Darling (6 laps), Uff (6 laps), Kedves (6 laps), Ferguson (4 laps or 32km), Cade (4 laps), Escalante-Philips (8 laps - 64km!!!) with an average lap time at a stunning 31:55 average (or <4 min/km). Chapeau gents, but especially the captain, who marshalled the troops expertly and pushed himself to the limit, such that he missed the end of the race being stuck in the medical tent getting his feet fixed.