The Inaugural Spitfire Scramble 24 is London's only 24 hour event

This weekend was the first year for the scramble at Hornchurch Country Park, in the London borough of Havering. 

Runners can either, enter solo, as pairs, three to five or teams of six to eight. 

Myself and close friend Helen Gittens decided on a pair rather than solo, as neither of us has sampled a 24 event. 

As newbies we wanted to test the waters, and after seeing some coverage on Twitter, we jumped at the chance to come along to the Spitfire. 

So team The Hare and the Tortoise will be trying for the most laps in 24 hours. 

Helen is running at least five laps for her boys #CONCEPT who will appear on the X-Factor this weekend. We are all so proud and excited for all her hard work, and the boys finally getting the chance to show their true talents. 

This weekend was ideal, as I decided against running UTMB this year after looking at the logistics and costs involved. 

The Hare and the Tortoise!

During World War II it was Home of RAF Hornchurch, an airfield crucial to the RAF's Battle of Britain campaign and the launch site of many a Spitfire mission.

No24 for my first 24 hour event

" You and your squadrons will tackle a
5.79 mile course, that winds through the paths, trails and tracks of the park and the neighbouring Ingrebourne Valley.

You’ll run on tarmac paths, gravel trails, up a winding hill and along farm and woodland tracks, with changes of scenery, varying gradients and the dying of the light to challenge your running credentials "

-Spitfire Scramble

After arriving at Hornchurch Country Park in plenty of time, as recommended from instructions. We found a good parking spot near the camping site. 

We spot Gosport Road Runners Keith and Ange Elshaw glamping it up! Surprised to see us and excited, we accept the kind offer to use the team tent, table and chairs for the weekend as they have plenty of space. Keith and Ange are running as a team pair.

Thanking them and heading over to registration, we then see Nici Griffin, also known from the Centurion team. It is good to see a familiar face. 

She is running solo and plans to reach a new goal. 

We collect our race packs which contain race numbers, ankle chip, competitor wristband, finish tee and a neon strap for teams to use as exchange. 

Spitfire Scramble starts with a countdown and burst of some hundred runners sprinting over to the fields.

A total of 220 competitors will run as part of teams, pairs or solo today. 

The grass is thick and lumpy for a short while, before heading left then onto a small path towards the first marshal. A clear marker and tape leads us into a small wood. Uneven tree stumps here, so need to be cautious for future laps...

Another left, following the arrow, then out from the trees and passing a small pond with ducks. Marshal no2 and a right turn down a tarmac path, before heading left across an open plain and picking up a gravel track. This track winds down almost a mile until reaching a larger pond, then up a gradual winding slope, reaching a stoned memorial at the top. 

The view across to central London and Canary Wharf can be seen from the distance. The track leads down to a marshal, which is the half way point, with water supplied here. I am thirsty already so have some before heading under a fence and across a large field. Lumpy grass again, then once at the gate, crossing the route from the first pond, it is straight ahead along the bending path. 

Following this then a short steep slope before a right turn at the arrow and over a bridge. The track becomes gravel again and has a slight gradient until reaching the next left turn. 

Passing some horses and then over another bridge, two steps over. A long, flat stretch of track field, until reaching some woods.

Turns come quickly as the track leads downhill, before crossing a third bridge. We follow the winding path until reaching the playing field and kids playground. Then to the big field start again and I can hear all the other runners cheering as we come in for hand over to our teams. 

Helen is waiting and shouting at the ready and has left me a sausage and some black coffee from the catering guys. Helen purchased a £20 wristband for the hot food supplied.

She sprints off with a huge grin on her face...

Lap one is complete and many more to follow...

The Hare starts the first lap

A little quick to start but I got wrapped up with the excitement of it all. I have about an hour, depending how quick Helen comes back in. 

We are planning on one lap each for now, unless Helen needs a little longer to rest between them. Being the Hare today it gives her much less breaks between starting the next lap, so later I will run two at a time.

Just a few of the running supplies for 24 hours

Soon enough the time flies by and after catching up with Keith, Lucy and the other Gosport runners, it is time to meet Helen for change over...

Ange has already run past the start for a lap (she is running three) so Helen must be behind soon enough. 

She comes in an hour and 15 minutes later looking strong and happy. 

Slapping the neon strap to my wrist I run along on for the third lap...

Here comes the Tortoise

The weather is staying dry and breezy, which when we stop gets rather chilly in the open field. But once running it warms up nicely. 

I take an S!Cap salt capsule half way through this lap and plenty of water. 

The clouds stay thick in the air and it feels rather humid. The track around the ponds is warmer with midgies and flies lingering about. 

Dog walkers, families strolling and cyclists are still using the park along the route. Most are clapping and cheering us on when we pass. 

Soon enough I come up the path through the playground and back towards the start, where Helen is waiting to start the fourth lap. 

London on the horizon

About an hour and 20 minutes later, and after some coffee, nuts and plenty of water Helen comes up to the start and to change over. 

With hands on her hips and out of breath, "go for two laps Lukey Duke" she says....

So off I go again....

LAP 5/6
Still feeling strong and able to run a good pace, but perhaps a little slower than the faster first lap. I manage a steady 8:00min/mile around the first lap and a similar pace for the next. I am carrying my Salomon SLAB-5 vest now for my water and extra buff, battery and olive oil.

The sky stays cloudy and moody with the feel of rain in the air, yet it doesn't come, just a cooling breeze into the early evening. Photographers are dotted along the route capturing us in action. 

The marshals change over frequently and some are part of teams running also. So the directions they give to the runners is repeated again and again, which gets a little tedious, as I already know the route.

I smile and thank them, or reply with a "cheers" and thumbs up...

After finishing the 2nd lap and running up the familiar path towards the cheering runners and spectators, I see Helen grinning and waiting to start the seventh lap of the day....

I have a good hour or so to refuel on cheese, olives and avocado, then coffee before Helen arrives back again. It is the first time I have felt hungry since starting. I change my cap and tech top into fresh ones, as the humidity is causing me to sweat more than usual. 

Ange has now finished her laps and Keith is out on the route aiming for five laps continuously.

An hour and 20 minutes later Helen arrives in good spirits and ready for a cuppa...

She is having way too much fun out there it seems! 

LAP 8/9
It looks like it could get dark early tonight with this thick heavy cloud over us. I have my head torch on now for the night section. 

I did pack my Luna sandals for later in the day, but my Merrell trails seem comfortable enough and have plenty of grip.

Once I reach half way it does clear some and I can see blue sky for the first time today. 

I start to loose count how many times I've seen the same solo runners today, as I come round to the first bridge. I over take at around the same spot on each lap and come to expect to see these runners like clock work...

Keith is running well and enjoying himself, he jokes he will not have finished this lap and I will be on my next one already....

After the last bridge and the playground, then up the path again to the start. Helen is waiting nearby to check if I need anything... She has grabbed a small burger (just the meat) and a black coffee. I munch on the burger and take it with me. Passing on the coffee for now.

Thanks see you soon H...

The next lap is around the same pace, perhaps a little slower. I come on in to meet a waiting Helen. She too has her lights on ready this time.  

I have so far run six laps, making this nine in total for team Hare and the Tortoise.

Like an excited kid at Christmas Helen heads on out down the track, for lap number ten....

I change my running cap and tee again. Then pull on some arm sleeves as the wind is getting cooler already.

LAP 11/12
By now the glow sticks are hanging up on the marker arrows, and white chalk is drawn over those lumpy tree stumps. 

This is helpful and much needed now it is getting darker...

My legs start to fatigue by the second lap and I march up the slopes this time. I catch up with Keith who is having a walking break, he is in good spirits but with a sore hip and back, so is taking it easy for now. 

Nici is still out doing her solo laps very well and still smiling, although not quite her bubbly self as feeling the boredom set in...

Change of clothes again

I lose myself in my music which helps distract the same old scenery and track but also passes the time quicker and keeps my pace steady. I am finding the starting and stopping with rest breaks difficult to deal with and my muscles start to recover each time Helen is running. 

The discomfort of starting a lap all over again is quite uncomfortable on my aching legs, and it takes a good ten minutes to get back into auto pilot. I am only used to running long without stopping, this technique is all new to me...

My head torch has been fading rapidly so I will need to change the PETZL over for the next laps. 

I have plenty of rechargeable batteries for later too.

Day becomes dusk

Coming around the corner up the familiar path again to cheering runners and crew. i can see Helen waiting with her head torch and hi-viz vest on. 

She doesn't look best pleased. When I went to the car I sat in the front to use the mirror as I had a fly in my eye I needed to remove. I shut the door and locked the car.....well I thought I had?!

I hadn't and the light stayed on draining the car battery!......CRAP! 

I just want to be swallowed up by the ground right now...

Nothing we can do about it this evening. Helen will call out the RAC in the morning before the event is finished.

I feel so stupid but also gutted this will effect the end of our race. 

I have now run eight laps in total, and Helen has run four. 

I warm up in Keith and Ange's huge porch/tent, nibbling on my nut/seed mix and drinking hot coffee. Ange is keeping me company and is concerned about Keith carrying on. She wants to run instead.

Another hour and 30 minutes until Helen comes back in. Her slowest lap so far. I tell her how sorry I am, and hope it can be fixed in the morning.

With a battery change in my head torch I am set for another lap. I think I can only manage one this time as really flagging, and an hours sleep is much needed...

LAP 14
I change into a fresh tech tee and wear a buff around my head as all my caps are now damp and wet. The temperature is cooler tonight but very humid, so everything is getting so wet.

I hydrate with NUUN in my water and another S!Cap salt capsule, trying to take one every two hours. 


The night section passes very quickly and soon enough the sky turns lighter and the clouds reveal a warm glow across the horizon. 

Dawn is almost here...

Running buzz on the night shift laps

Once I come into the start again, I am ready to have a bite then shut my eyes for a moment. Helen is not here so must be resting. 

At the tent, Helen is all wrapped up in a blanket the size of an elephant and fighting her eyes from closing. She is feeling the cold in damp clothes.

I tell her she should rest and go out later in the morning. I can't do another lap yet until I've had a doze, so Helen decides to head on out in 30 minutes or so...

Keith finished his laps and is now tucked up asleep with Ange. She will run again in the morning.

I change again and eat some cheese and energy mix I made earlier. 

Helen gets ready to head out and gives me the blanket to stay warm. 

I get settled and nod off until she reaches the first bridge, when she text to say so. 

I know this will give me 30-45 minutes. The next text she is back and in the catering tent already. 

I nooded off again...

LAP 16/17
I throw on my arm sleeves, gloves and my race vest to go meet her. I refill my water from the big tank supply and drink some hot black coffee with Helen, before I head on out for more laps. 

Helen says she may go out for one last lap but will see. She is cold to the bone and just wants to get the car battery up and running again...

I go on my way shuffling down the grass until I wake up and find my feet again...

It takes me a long time for my legs to loosen up as sleeping has made them all tight and stiff again...

Early morning lap

Once half way and seeing daylight again, I start to feel more awake and running is not so difficult. The light keeps me mentally alert. 

For the first time I walk the slopes and inclines. They feel much steeper than they actually are...

There is much more activity through the park this morning with many dog walkers and early morning runners crossing our path.

I come into the start to see sleepy team runners emerge for their morning laps. 

The buzz starts to pick up again for the last 4 hours of the Spitfire Scramble.

Helen is settled and happy she has run six laps for the CONCEPT boys. She makes calls to the RAC to help with the car. 

LAP 18
After warming up with some fuel, coconut water and choc coffee beans. A change into dry gear, I am ready to do one last lap of the day. 

I do not have the energy in my legs for two, after a few hours sleep I am still exhausted and aching in my legs.

The other Gosport runners are up and about eating breakfast now. Lucy asks how we are getting on, and is impressed we have stopped very little throughout the night...

I check the leader board before I head off again, and pleased to see that the Hare and the Tortoise are in the lead! 

My last lap

I catch up with Nici on the route, she is making great progress and on target for her goal. 

I can only manage a slow shuffle/walk once I reach the slopes and inclines at halfway. I drink a few cups of water at the pit stop and the team are very impressed I'm still going at it strong. 

I thank them for the support and that I have enjoyed the event. They would like to see me back again next year! 

That depends on other commitments and the tortoise....

Team trophies

I go through the woods one last time, the ground is damp from the cooler and humid night. The grass wet and soggy. Back through the playground and arriving  at the finish to quite a crowd of runners and spectators. 

Helen is not here so I go look for her.

I have run twelve laps in total and Helen has run six. We have reached 105 miles. I covered 70 miles and Helen has reached 35 in the last 24 hours.

I sport an RAC van coming through the park entrance. Helen has gone to the car to meet them. 

I change into my warm finish clothes and have some coffee. 

I can hear Helen laughing with the RAC chap when I arrive at the car. She is in happy spirits once again. The car is fixed and the engine is running. 

We just need to keep the engine running for an hour. So it looks like we have finished our running. 

I carry all our bags and supplies back to the car whilst waiting. 

Finished 18 laps in 24 hours (105 miles)

We catch up on the last day of the event, as we haven't seen much of each other. If it wasnt for the car needing a jump start we could of added another lap each easily enough...

Very happy with our results for a first attempt at a 24 hour event. We didn't think we would do this many or match the solo winner, coming in first for mixed pairs.

In 21hours 37minutes the Hare and the Tortoise reached 18 laps.

I completed 12 laps (70 miles)

We hand in our chips and collect our medals and a trophy each. Helen has not stopped smiling as she has never come first when running before, she cannot wait to come back again next year!

Depending on which weekend held in August, I would like to run the Spitfire in 2015. I have plans to attempt the T184 (hopefully) which is the end of August.

Team Hare and the Tortoise 1st place

A very Happy Hare and Tortoise.

Once we take many pics and chat to all the team and organisers involved, it is time to get on the road and head back to Brighton. We stop off for a much needed breakfast and coffees with cream on the M25. 

Once home we crash for three hours sleep, including Helen, I finally wore the girl out!

I was very impressed with the Spitfire for the first year and it all seemed to go along smoothly enough. the route had a little of everything and although it did feel tedious at times, the turns and varied terrain kept it interesting enough to pass quickly. 

I would prefer a few more eating choice,s as not all of us are running on high carb, foods, Helen made the most of the catering supplied but I didn't think £20 for sausages, burgers, jacket potatoes and beans warrants it. 

The sausages were nice and I made use of the coffee.

I always prepare by bringing my own NSNG supplies and tend to make up with a big meal once I have finished running. 

So until next year........ to reclaim are titles!

Ultra Luke

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