The Equinox 24 hour race is a running event, set in the grounds of Belvoir Castle in the Leicestershire countryside. The course is a moderately undulating 10k loop, featuring both concrete and grass sections which takes you from the events centre around the beautiful Belvoir estate via the hills above the village of Woolsthorpe. There are several categories for solo runners and teams of various sizes and the aim is to complete the most amount of laps possible in 24hrs.
Teams must run in a relay, with one person on the course at a time, handing over a ‘baton’ to the next member of their team after competing their stint of one or multiple laps. Hardy solo runners must simply keep putting one foot in front of the other with very little rest for the full duration of the event to stand a chance of winning.
Before I go on to talk about how things went for us, I would like to pay tribute to the organisers for setting up an excellent and enjoyable event. They were a really friendly team and this seemed to rub off on the competitors as there was a great atmosphere of mutual support throughout. The people, the weather and the surroundings were all fantastic and rarely have I enjoyed an event as much as this.
The six of us entered the large team category and only one of us had competed in an event like this before so whilst we are all competitive people, I think we went into the event looking forward to the new experience rather than expecting to make an impact on the leader board. Whilst clearly not as punishing as doing it solo, running hard for 10k and then trying to re-fueling and recover for 4 hours before going again presents its own set of challenges and I was really interested to see how this went.
Before we started at mid day, we were all discussing how we should be conserving our energy and running smart but I think this almost totally went out of the window for all of us on our first laps with the excitement of competition threatening to take over. The gaps between runs seemed to fly by and before we knew it, late afternoon had arrived and we were preparing for our night shifts. It was around this time that we suddenly realised that we were in third place and I think we were all as surprised as we were encouraged by this. However, as most of the other large teams were made up of 8 members and we were 6, we suspected that this position would slip as time went on through the night.
As head torches were switched on and we ran through the darkness, we were greeted by a full moon and excellent conditions. We moved within 30 minutes of the leaders into second place and although our bodies were starting to creak, our spirits were high. I don’t think any of us managed to sleep much between laps, I personally lay wide awake in my tent with feelings of sleepiness only setting in just before I was due to get up and do it all again.
By the morning, we were all pretty fatigued with a few injuries starting to creep in but our times remained mostly consistent. We were in good spirits, our changeovers were going well and we were pulling away from the team in third position. I ran my first lap of the morning at around 7:00am and the sight of the rising sun over morning mist and Autumn leaves was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen and I’m not ashamed to say that it brought a tear to my eye.
By mid-morning we were still going strong but we had lost ground on the lead team. Each of us had run more laps than them with less rest and this was starting to take its toll. Whilst we were still happy and increasing our lead to the team in third place, we became aware that we were going to finish a lap behind the leaders. The potential indignity of this spurred two members of our team onto something special in the last moments of the race. We had all completed 5 laps at about 11:20am and one of our fastest runners, Jay, volunteered to run the last lap (his 6th) that would take us through to the finish. Realising that we would finish a lap behind the leaders, Sam, another one of our faster guys, decided that if Jay came back before the 12:00 cut-off, he would go out again so we would have ran the same number of laps as the winning team.
We waited anxiously as the minutes ticked towards 12:00, wondering whether Jay would make it back in time. At 11:58, just as we had declared that it was all over, Jay came into view and I ran to meet him to explain that if he could kick for the finish and get back in time, Sam was going to do another lap to match the leaders. He kicked and I ran with him to the changeover point with less than 30 seconds to spare, completing his lap in the fastest time of the six he had done and he handed the baton to Sam. Despite the fact that we had no chance of overtaking the leaders, this was now about pride and when we cheered Sam over the line after he completed our final lap it became one of the best sporting moments I have personally witnessed and I felt privileged to be involved. Never did second place feel more like a win.
Full credit to the Wigston Phoenix running club who won our category. Whilst I have mentioned above about our relative lack of team members, their times were consistently faster than ours and I’m not sure we would have beaten them, even with two extra members. Their win was certainly well deserved and we really appreciated their humility and good will at the finish.
Thanks to Wayne for organising our participation in the event and a special congratulations to Rich (in the white T-shirt in the picture at the top of this post) who did exceptionally well to finish 8th in the solo category.