The premise of the Conti Lightning Run is simple: teams of one, two or five must run as many 10k laps of a course around Catton Park in 12 hours. The individual or pair or quintet who run the furthest are the winners. I was part of a Men’s Running team that won this year’s event, running a combined 18 laps. For a change, I’ll let someone else do the writing. Guest blogger Mark Morgan-Hillam (below) takes up the story.
Boxing Day. I’m sat reading my Christmas edition of Men’s Running in the only room in the house where a bloke can get some peace and quiet on Boxing day. (I bet you read yours there too, don’t you?)
The page drops open as if by magic on an advertisement for the Conti Lightning Run. Or, more specifically, on a request from our esteemed Editor for potential members of a Men’s Running Conti Lightning Team. No point entering that though, eh? They must get thousands of applicants. Still, all you have to do is send off an e-mail. No harm done. So I reach down for the iPad – yes, still on the toilet, stop judging me, and fire off a mail which I hope may stand out from the crowd.
Fast forward to March. As I zip through my inbox deleting the copious junk we all have to deal with, I suddenly land on the name of David Castle. Hang on, I know him… “Mark, if you are still available, and fit, we would like you to be part of the Men’s Running Conti Lightning Run team.” I literally jumped off the toilet in excitement! (Yes, yes, there are other rooms in my house.)
Immediate excitement about the event and the potential for free kit was soon replaced by fear and dread: what if the rest of the team are loads faster than me? What if I pick up a stupid injury on a meaningless training run? What if the wireless isn’t strong enough to reach the downstairs bathroom?
The next two months fly by in a blur of extra training runs and, before I know it, we are assembled at the pre-race briefing at 5.40am on Sunday May 4.
The Conti Lightning Run is a 12-hour race over a country 10km course in the grounds of Catton Park, near Burton-on-Trent. Individual entrants mingle with pairs teams or relay teams of five runners. Here is what I knew about my Men’s Running teammates:
Euan McGrath – ultra runner, UTMB finisher, coach, a 30-miles-before-breakfast type of guy. Sub 36min 10k runner. FAST.
Jonny Muir – ex-journalist, teacher, author, bloody good 34 minute 10k runner. VERY FAST.
Pedro Upton – a one man running success story. Nineteen stone 12 months ago, now running 37.30 for 10k. FAST.
Euan Mathieson – a bit of a man of mystery, I don’t know his running background. But he’s in the Army, so he’s going to be knocking out 40 minute 10ks carrying a full pack, surely? HERO. STRONG.
Me (Mark Morgan-Hillam) – primary school teacher, just turned 41, very pleased with finally ducking under 40 minutes for 10k for the first time last year. MEDIUM PACED. NERVOUS.
6am – we’re off. Pedro’s up first as it was practically impossible to keep him caged any longer, such was his enthusiasm. Some 39 minutes later, he’s back with us second place; Army Euan is out next and returns looking strong with us still in second.
My turn next and finally, after all the anticipation, I’m out on course. The first half of the course is predominantly uphill with a substantial section of woodland weaving; the second half is predominantly downhill mostly on farm tracks. I’m pretty happy with breaking 41 minutes as I hand on to Jonny two minutes behind the leading team.
Saving Jonny and Euan Mc for legs four and five was clearly a tactical masterstroke as they both whip round in under 39 minutes to put us in the lead by 11 minutes after the first five laps.
And so the day continued; I had thought it would be a lazy day of hard running followed by rest and recuperation between runs. But far from it, I found myself constantly clock watching to ensure I was there to cheer teammates into the finish, offer encouragement where required, to cheer on the Women’s Running team who were also running well, and also to check on opposition times to keep an eye on our ever increasing lead.
As a team we managed to avoid all the pitfalls that can derail a team in an event such as this; no injuries, we stuck to our pre-race strategy, all of us managed to maintain lap times at our level without any major drop–off in performance and, probably most importantly, we didn’t suffer the one catastrophic lap which can blow your hopes out of the window in one go.
As we entered the last hour it finally dawned on us that we were going to win. Army Euan went out at 5.03pm and the only question was whether he would return in time to allow me a fourth lap. My heart was way more enthusiastic about this than my legs! Euan returned with an extra spring in his step in plenty of time and off I went on what amounted to a victory lap of honour for the team.
With the pressure off and the course practically empty, I enjoyed one of those magical runs where you remember why you put your trainers on in the first place. This will undoubtedly be the only time I will ever get to genuinely ‘win’ a race and the bond I felt with my teammates, who I didn’t even know the day before, was immeasurable.
We made sure that the whole team were there to join me as I descended into the start/finish area for the last time and we crossed the finish line together – a lovely moment to cap a magical day.