By Claire Minoprio
On Friday 22nd September I packed up my car with camping equipment full of trepidation and excitement for the weekend ahead but at that point I had no idea I was about to enjoy my best running experience to date. I was going to be part of a team of eight participating in Equinox 24 a twenty-four hour race comprising of 10km laps held in the grounds of Belvoir castle, Leicestershire.
It had all started almost a year earlier when I’d been inspired by tales of people pushing their limits and camaraderie and, if I’m honest, a weekend away with beer and food. Our team was made up of a collection of runners from Notts Women Runners- Selston Superstars, Kimberley and District Striders and other friends and family members. We were all Equinox virgins with variety of running experiences and all with different running goals. A vague plan had been developed prior to the weekend as to how many laps’ people were hoping for and when we would run but as the weather forecast began to filter through it soon became apparent that we would need to be flexible.
Communication from the race organisers had been excellent there was an Equinox 24 Facebook group which proved invaluable at answering questions, giving tips for newbies and featured regular Facebook live updates, there was a website, regular email updates and about a week before the event an App was launched which gave all the information you were likely to need about the event, exhibitors, links to social media and once the event had started a live results feed.
Camping at the event was free you could bring caravans, campers or tents and there was the option to hire glamping tents to accommodate the team. The site opened for campers at Noon on the Friday but as a result of the windy weather pitching tents was tricky, but all the runners and supporters worked together to help each other pitch. Already there was a real sense of community and with only a few broken tent poles between us we were soon ready to register.
There was a wide variety of tasty food stalls many of which were open throughout the Saturday night so that runners could refuel. The food was good quality, reasonably priced and all diets were catered for so whilst we had brought food to cook ourselves there was no need which was a bit of a blessing. There was also a bar bus open throughout the weekend! There was a good variety of exhibitors on site and all very willing to help or offer advice. Although I could have done with someone selling wellies!
On the Friday night there was a Beer run which involved running a lap of the camping field, approximately 1km after having a drink from the bar. There had been much discussion about whether or not to participate in this within our team however when the time came it was cold, wet and miserable so we elected to stay where we were and play games.
It became apparent on Saturday morning that myself and another team member weren’t very well. I was pretty gutted as I’d been hoping for four laps but only one lap had to be completed by each team member to qualify. I reluctantly dipped out of my first lap in the hope that by the time my second lap came round I would feel a little better. My fellow team members were really supportive and happy to be flexible there was no pressure for anyone to run especially as there didn’t need to be a team member on the course at all times. Fortunately I did pick up in time for my later lap and went on to complete three laps in total.
There were lots of children on site and there was a kids fun run at 11:00 on the Saturday which was a 1km lap of the camping field sponsored by Virtual Runner. There were medals for all children entered and trophies for the winners.
There was also a daytime 10km that started at Noon with the 24hr run and a night time 10km which started at 20:00 on the Saturday. There were lots of people who had elected to do the 10km race and spend the rest of the weekend supporting friends, family or other club members.
The course itself was a mainly trail; it started in the camping field and you were quickly led out of the field along a short tarmacked path into a farmers field were you ran the perimeter for approximately 1.5km, this was a tricky part of the course. While the earlier runners found it very uneven under foot and difficult to judge their foot placement, for the later laps the ground was less rutted but very muddy. The course then followed another tarmac path back towards the camping field for approximately another 1.5km, turning right before and heading down towards a bridge over the lake at the bottom of the camping field. Here you started a steady climb (about 50m elevation) past the second marshall point up to the water station just after 5km. From here there was the most amazing view over to the castle and down on to the campsite. I was fortunate enough to get the dusk lap and watching the sun setting behind the castle was fabulous. This was followed by a sharp grassy descent which was also quite hard to negotiate due to the terrain but was great fun. You were then faced with the hill referred to as, amongst other things, “That Hill”. This was a virtually vertical grassy incline with an elevation of 40m which by the end of the 24hrs was more like a mud slide. New for this year’s event was the king and queen of the mountain award for the fastest male and female up the hill in the various categories. Timing strips had been placed at the bottom and top of the hill and prizes were awarded for the winners. Once at the top of that hill there was a lovely meandering grassy descent back to the bridge and along the tarmac path to the camping field. The final kilometre was through the camping field where clubs and teams were cheering people in and offering encouragement, many had music and signs and kids were out with Haribo. There was a presence in the camping field throughout the night with supporters sat around fires and even at 03:00 were offering words of encouragement.
In order to coordinate the handovers we had a rough idea of individual pace and there was a strong team presence around the start line during the day. Throughout the night we used a messenger group to communicate handovers and look out for each other whilst out on the course many teams had supporters and runners taking turns to stay up and coordinate the handovers.
The nature of the course meant that there were lots of points where the runners passed each other going in opposite directions. The support and encouragement for one another at these points was great and I had quite a few shouts of “Go Kimberley”. There were three marshall points that were continually manned throughout the 24 hours. The enthusiasm of the marshalls was infectious and very impressive given the inclement temperatures. There was an ongoing party throughout the event at the drinks station with water, isotonic drinks and a variety of sweets available. Lots of people also had supporters that would arrive for a few hours at various points throughout the weekend to bring supplies and encouragement.
The course was decorated with glow sticks come dusk and the use of a head torch was compulsory after 19:00. Running at night was wonderfully liberating and seeing all the head torches bobbing along in the darkness was magical.
One of the things I most appreciated was that when you were out on the course no one knew if it was your first lap or tenth lap and I felt that this freed me of any sense of pressure. There was no pressure from fellow team members either, it was accepted that we were all pushing our individual limits and we worked together to support one another to do that. We had a team member who did one lap and others who completed 2, 3, 4 and 5 laps some producing very impressive times even in later laps.
On a more basic level the portaloos were regularly cleaned and topped up with toilet paper although there could perhaps have been a few more. The showers were really warm and effective and the queues weren’t too long.
Now I love a relay and I think the reason for that is the team work but prior to the event I hadn’t even thought of it as a relay race. I had no idea how much I would enjoy it and how much of a sense of community there would be at the event with all the participants and supporters working together not just your team mates. It was an amazing experience and an absolute privilege to be part of such and enthusiastic, supportive and inclusive team. Being our first time we were pretty relaxed about the entire experience but still came a respectable 35th out of 101 teams and had a riot along the way.
Now, entries for 2019 open TODAY (Mon 1/10/18) and we have already filled a small team choosing to raise the bar for next year and aim for 5 laps each.
I would urge anyone who’s tempted to give it a go be it as part of a large team, small team, pair or even solo. When I started running three years ago I never would have dreamt that I would been capable of something like this.