The appeal of lapped races

White Star Running Cider Frolic

A lapped race is one that consists of multiple laps of a short-ish course, rather than the course being one big loop, a point-to-point, or an out-and-back. There is often a very generous time limit, such as 8, 12 or even 24 hours, during which a runner or team of runners will complete as many laps of the course as they can (or as many as they want to).

Some lapped races are running calendar classics already, such as the Mizuno Endure24 – which calls itself ‘Glastonbury for runners’ – and the Conti Thunder Run, both boasting thousands of runners every year.

Love to lap?

The idea of running laps doesn’t appeal to everyone. Bring up the prospect of lapped races in some running circles and you’ll hear the familiar moans and groans. ‘Laps? How boring!’, some will say. Mention that someone ran their first marathon on a lapped race, and you’ll occasionally hear sniggers and suggestions that, somehow, it’s ‘not a proper marathon’.

It’s true that lapped races are markedly different from other running races, but it is in their difference that their appeal lies. Put together a running team for a lapped race, and what you actually have is a camping holiday with five of your best pals. When it’s your turn to run a lap, you have the rest of your team there to encourage and spur you on, and to have a slice of cake waiting for you when you get back in.

Lapped race veteran Vicki Jones says: “I love them because it’s a way for me and all my running mates to get together, have a laugh and help each other to run some really incredible distances. On my first lapped race the furthest I’d run previously was 5K, but with the encouragement of my team I ended up running over 12 miles! It gave me a huge confidence boost, and since then I’ve run half-marathons, marathons and am currently training for an ultra”.

Andy Palmer, race director of White Star Running, which organises epic trail races in Dorset and Wiltshire, has been running lapped races – which he has named ‘Frolics’ – for years now, and loves them: “We found that running clubs will organise teams among themselves, and they’ll get quite competitive about it. You also get guys who come along and want to have a few beers and just muck about, but you get people who are very competitive. Some of the solo runners are a bit hardcore!”

Making the most of the laps

Nick ShorterNick Shorter (pictured), who ran Endure24 as a solo in military gear to raise money for Support Our Paras, says: “Endure24 as a solo really was like running with a team. Carrying my heavy army bergan, and running in boots, I was slow. It was obvious I was doing it for charity so I was pretty much never alone over 24 hours. People came to speak to me, and we shared a few slow miles. Everyone I spoke to was very positive. It looks awful but it really was a lot of fun. The continual loops were fine too, you obviously lose count pretty quick, but at least you know what’s coming up and never have to check a map. The only time I was alone is when I started a fresh lap at 23:50, whereas everyone else had stopped – I think I was the last to cross the finish line after that lap. It really is a low-stress, low-risk way of entering into ultra distances, where the only cut-off is that after 24 hours you just gotta stop”.

So, what are the things you should look for in a lapped race? “You need a really nice venue,” says Andy. “If you look at our race the Ox Frolic, it’s tough but it’s very scenic. The area changes from farmland to deep woodland to grassland, then back to farmland. You’ve got a real mixture in there, and even after you’ve done 4, 5 or 6 laps, it always feels like you’re somewhere slightly different each time.

If you sign up as a solo, it’s up to you what you want to be. You can go nuts, be really hardcore and just run and run and run, but you could also have it as your first-ever race, or a way to up your distance in a race where you know you’ll be looked after. There’s lots of people coming into running now who’re coming from Couch to 5K and who can’t run a half-marathon yet, but maybe they can if they have the time and the support, and it helps enormously to build confidence”.

Here to stay

So why does a snobbery exist in some quarters around lapped races? “I think there’s a slice of the running world who consider that something’s only a proper race if you’ve run absolutely flat-out and killed yourself and got close to the edge of your endurance or speed or both,” Andy says. “And that’s a worthy opinion, but not everybody thinks that way. Times are changing now and it’s not all about getting PBs and being really competitive”.

However you feel about lapped races, they are here to stay. Whether you want to run 75 miles in 12 hours, or complete one lap in your first-ever race with all your friends cheering you on. Sounds pretty great to me.

East Farm Frolic