Arrival for many wishing to make the most of the weekend is on Friday afternoon or evening (although you could opt for a night in your own bed and arrive Saturday morning if you prefer). Friday night is where the fun begins. The event village soon starts buzzing with the hum of excitement about the challenges that lay ahead – the weeks of training (or not!) will be put to the test tomorrow and so once the tent is set up it is time to kick back and relax. Whether its food cooked in your own camp kitchen or a stone baked pizza, fish and chips, some noodles or a steak sarnie from one of the food vendors, pre-race fueling is top of everyone’s priority list. Campfires are lit, people gather in the event village seating area outside under the stars or in the marquee and start to forget about the working week and their to do lists.
Equinox24 has a thriving online community centered around the Facebook group. Many people get to meet in real-life the people they have been sharing tips and chatting with online all year. Or for many it is chance to catch up with runners they met here previously and friends from home. There is the chance to enjoy some great live music, often accompanied by a drink or two from the vintage double decker bus bar. At 9pm it is time for the annual beer run! Down a drink on the start line and attempt a lap of the campsite. The runners are cheered by the crown of supporters who inevitably gather to watch the fun and (sometimes messy) finish before the winners are awarded the coveted trophies. After this the camp winds down and settles to sleep ahead of the big day.
Saturday morning and the camp awakes to the smell of bacon and coffee as excited runners make their final preparations and kids limber up for the kids run. This starts before the main race and 100’s of children (and a few parents) start on mass for the 1km lap of the camping field and never fails to raise a smile as the children tear off with beaming faces. The kids are treated to cheers all the way round from the tents that line the route and are rewarded with a medal and hugs from proud parents at the finish line. Before long it’s the race briefing for all the 24hr and day 10k runners and the crowds make their way to the start area to await the countdown.
The start area starts to fill with runners, both 24 hr and Day 10k entrants, and with the music and the nervous anticipation, the adrenaline kicks in. After the obligatory countdown from the crowd, the race begins at midday Saturday to the cheers of the excited spectators and team members waiting their turn to run a lap. The runners get their first taste of the soon to be familiar route. The course takes in some beautiful areas of the private castle estate, round fields, past lakes and with the beautiful views of the castle and rolling green countryside. To finish their first lap they will renter the campsite for the final kilometer to be cheered all the way round by the supporters lining the course with signs and cow bells and the occasional high five! At this point it is either the end of your 10k race, the end of your first team lap and you hand the baton onto your teammate, or if you are a solo runner, the first of as many laps as you can manage. Let the challenge begin!!
As night falls the team onsite start to crack the glowsticks which will be your beacons though the night. Headlights or torches are turned on and the course becomes a trail of bobbing lights visible in the distance and has a magical sense of thrill and anticipation of what the night-time hours will hold. At 8pm the Night 10k race begins and injects a rush of fresh enthusiasm and excitement to the course for one lap only. This can be many people’s first taste of nighttime running and with the 1000’s of headlamps, 100’s of glow sticks and the majestic Belvoir Castle seeming to float in the night sky illuminated on the hill over the glow of the campground below, this is a magical period of running that will be hard to forget.
Then the challenge of night time running starts to hit. For many this is their favourite part but it can test even the best runners. As the temperature drops and the body naturally wants to sleep, night time runners dig deep to find the physical and mental resources to push through and make it to the dawn. This is also the time that the support from fellow runners on the course means the world – and this is the kind of race where people really show up for each other. A well-timed kind word, running alongside someone who seems to be finding it tough after many hours of running or just asking how a fellow runner is doing – these small gestures really can and do mean everything to night-time Equinoxers. The marshals know this too and are extra vigilant and we make an extra special effort to keep an eye on all runners through the night. Our half way marshals are likely to brighten your night with some music and some treats to help those night hours fly by.
And what a reward you get for this night shift! Sunrise is spectacular and always a highly anticipated event with many team members desperate to be the one to get the sunrise lap. It is spectacular not only in the physical beauty of the sun rising over the castle estate’s misty lakes, green hills and woodlands but also thanks to the spirit-lifting, energy giving, morale boosting vibe it brings to runners and spectators alike. The campground awakens, there is a new electric energy in the air and we are in the final hours of the event. So now the countdown is on until midday. Over the morning one by one runners call it a day and come to collect their medal. Teams who don’t fancy #onemorelap cross the finish line together for that iconic finish line photo. Tears are shed, of relief, pride and pain, kids high five mum’s and dad’s, friends and family celebrate their own achievements, for many this is an emotional end to a long awaited and life changing challenge.
The emotion of these last couple of hours on the finish line is not to be underestimated. It’s hard to keep a dry eye when you see what it means to people. Whether they have run 2 laps or 20, each and every one has pushed their own limits. Some will have run for very personal and emotional reasons, we hear many stories of fundraising, memorial runs, comebacks from illness and injury, overcoming demons and roads to recovery. Whether they had the perfect race and build up or if they were battling injury, the weather, their own expectations – each and every runner feels like a winner when they cross that line. The medals are placed over your necks, milestone pin badges collected for 10,15 and 20 lap achievements and finish photos are taken. Whatever the reasons, this moment is what it has all been for, and it will not disappoint.
So as the final few brave one more lap (their right if they start the lap before the clock ticks over for midday) many finish the weekend with a celebratory drink, some food in the sun with their friends old and new and start to pack up camp and head home for some much needed rest. Those who have made it to the lofty heights of category winners stick around for the presentation, with the best of the best doing the ‘Equinox Shuffle’ onto the podium for that moment of glory of lifting a trophy. And that’s it. Reality beckons, bed is calling. As the crowds head home, Equinoxers dream of twinkling headlights, moonlit lakes, stunning sunrises and ‘that hill’. The reward is not the medal or the trophy. Ask any Equinoxer and they will tell you – it’s much, much more than that.