The Spitfire Scramble is a 24-hour relay or solo race covering multi-terrain in laps of 5.85 miles. I’ve been to spectate for the past two years and watched the event quickly grow in size. Taking place just a 10 minute walk from my home, it’s fantastic to see a local event gaining popularity and attracting runners from all over the country.
This year I decided I’d be a runner rather than a spectator and signed up to a team from my triathlon club. Havering Tri actually entered four teams of eight runners, so we had a strong presence in club colours at the race.
There’s an interesting history behind the race venue, hence the spitfire theme. Hornchurch Country Park was formerly RAF Hornchurch during World War II and many spitfire missions were launched from this site. The surrounding area was all part of the RAF base- in fact my home was the marital quarters of the senior pilots during the war. I’ve grown up around the county park and spent many hours walking, running and playing in these fields. As Lisa mentioned on her blog, it did feel slightly odd to be setting up camp in the local park!
My team decided to add a little fun into our race and run in fancy dress! We went for a triathlon theme with the first lap as ‘swimmers’, the second as ‘cyclists’ and the final lap simply as ‘runners’! We loosely based our schedule around the idea that a lap would take each runner an hour to complete, with the order going Sean, Laura, Kevin, Paul, Amy, Mike, Me then Dave.
Being the 7th runner in our relay team meant that my first lap wasn’t until 5.45pm, so I had the afternoon to relax and enjoy the atmosphere on camp. We congregated around the switch over point to cheer in our teammates. I also caught up with friends from UK Fitness Bloggers , Havering 90 Joggers and team Scrambled Legs. During the afternoon, we were treated to a flyover from a spitfire plane.
Lap 1- 1:05
The afternoon flew by and soon it was time for my first lap in fancy dress. Putting on a sweat soaked inflatable rubber ring and armbands was really unpleasant! It felt very awkward running with a tire around my waist- I was almost hoping it would get caught on a bramble bush and deflate. My elbow was sore from chaffing against the plastic but I had to laugh at how ridiculous I looked. It attracted plenty of positive support from other runners, marshalls and spectators.
Miles 1-3 follow a dry, dusty gravel path up Ingrebourne Hill with very little shade. I was soon struggling under the hot sun and alternated between walking and running. I knew I’d be slow but hoped I wouldn’t let down my team mates. The course takes you through woods and farmers fields with bridges, gates and hills to negotiate- it’s definitely what you would describe as undulating.
Coming back onto camp, the route takes runners behind the tents so teammates can spot you approaching the finish ready for the switch-over. I was glad to be done with my first lap and have the evening to relax. I took advantage of living so close and popped home for a quick shower and change of clothes. The gnats descended on camp as soon as it got dark and we all got eaten alive despite using plenty of bug repellent.
Lap 2- 1:11
I was looking forward to the night lap as the drop in temperature meant running would be more comfortable, plus we had ditched the inflatables! We were supposed to continue the fancy dress theme by wearing cycling helmets for our run, but the idea fell by the wayside thankfully!
I borrowed a head-torch from Amy, clipped some LED lights onto my kit and carried a hand-torch. Mike passed the baton to me at 1.40am and I set off for my second run.
Immediately I noticed that it was difficult to distinguish the gradient of the terrain and I had to place my feet carefully to stay upright. The challenge was to stay alert and aware of my surroundings. The course veered off to the left after half a mile and I followed it round thinking I was on the right track. Before long, I realised I’d taken a wrong turn and cut out an entire section of the route. So much for thinking that I knew this park inside out- I couldn’t believe I’d got lost! I back-tracked and eventually got back onto the course, but at the expense of adding an extra half mile onto my run.
Getting over the frustration of taking a wrong turn, I got back into a rhythm and plodded on with the rest of the lap. The marshalls were amazing- full of smiles and encouragement even in the early hours of the morning.
Far from being scary, I found it exhilarating to run in complete darkness. The woods and fields were very peaceful with just the sound of the breeze in the trees and the crunch of gravel under my feet. Occasionally I’d see the light of another headtorch and a runner would pass me. Around halfway, a woman ran past telling me that Mo Farah had won the 10,000m- I’d felt disconnected from the Olympic coverage over the weekend so it was great to get this update.
Back onto camp and I passed the baton to Dave before heading back to my tent for a few hours sleep.
Lap 3- 1:14
My third and final lap came at 9:45am. The weather was warming up, but it wasn’t quite as warm as the previous evening. By this stage, I was exhausted and sore which meant that I walked a lot more than I would have liked. The third time I’d ran the route meant there was no danger of getting lost this time.
Finishing this lap brought my total distance to 18 miles- the furthest I have ever run!
Runners are allowed to start their final lap at the latest 11:59am before the course officially closes. It was uncertain whether Dave would make it back in time for our team to complete 25 laps. Sure enough, he came sprinting down the finishing straight with seconds to spare. Sean grabbed the baton and headed out for the final lap whilst we packed up the camp.
After around 45 minutes, Sean was back onto the finishing straight and the whole team joined him to run the final 100m rounding off a fantastic weekend. Our team came 27th out of 47th with 25 laps completed in 24:47:43.
Overall an amazing weekend, superbly organised with a friendly atmosphere. Spending time with my tri club is always a recipe for fun, hard work, laughs, support and achievements.
Have you ever done a relay race? Have you ever run at night?