I’ll admit it now that I’m not a fan of the North Downs Way. I did it in 2014, with Hurricane Bertha for company, and it sucked then. There’s no way I’d do it if it wasn’t part of the Centurion Grand Slam and I so wanted that big buckle. On the positive side, I thought, however wrecked I am this year, I know I can do it as I managed to finish it the year before in horrendous conditions, whilst only having run once between beginning of May and the 9 August when the race took place.
My goal for this one was to do the bare minimum needed to finish in time and to minimise damage to my feet and body generally. I have a busy schedule in August/September:
- 8/9 August NDW100
- 15 August, Black Rat (32 miles)
- 29 August, Liverpool Leeds Canal Race, 130 miles
- 19/20 Sept – Tooting Bec 24 hour race
Ideally I would pull out of some of them but the ‘idiot chip’ which enables me to complete ultras in the first place was refusing to let me pull out of any unless I absolutely needed to. So that only strategy that I could think would enable me to at least turn up at all start lines, was to do NDW100 in as lazy a fashion as possible.. (but to try to leave at least an hour ‘leeway’ ahead of cut offs by last couple of checkpoints in case things went really tits up then as I wouldn’t want to get to the end but to be timed out)…
It is hard though to get motivated to carry on in an event when you’re taking it easy. Luckily the heat; generally horribleness of the trail; stupid hills and my lack of eyesight which makes going the right way difficult; made ‘taking it easy’ feel like hard work anyway so I knew this would be enough to get me to Knockholt where I’d be meeting Stu. Stu had indicated he might be persuaded to wear his 2XUs purely to keep me happy because he knows I’d keep going for days on end if he just goes in front wearing them :-).
It was lovely to arrive at race registration and to see the start of the Centurion race army in action. Lots of familiar faces, great smiles, and the knowledge that everyone there would be willing everyone to the finish.
Race briefing was at 5.30am on the Saturday. James Elson did his usual brieifng.. follow the signs; don’t go too slow; don’t moan it’s over 100miles; you’re not alone whether it’s your 1st 100 or if you’ve done several; etc. etc… I think he then asked if anyone wanted a quick gin and my arm shot up.
I was trying to remember as I set off what I had against the NDW and why I didn’t like it as a course.. in reality it’s less ascent than SDW but I’d do that again in a shot.. I soon remembered what I had against it:
- Underfoot there’s bits that are thick sand or hard stones that kill souls of feet.. running on both sucks.
- It’s very enclosed in places by thick trees which makes it very dark. My eyesight is rubbish especially in the dark and I did many a comedy stumble and could feel blisters forming on my toes as I constantly tripped over stones and tree roots.. so much for the ‘limit all damage to feet goal !’
- There seem to be loads of gates / styles etc. (though maybe less than TP?) and also lots of steps and steep downs that aren’t runable so it’s hard to get into a running rhythm as you’re constantly having to walk (well I am anyway).
- I know there’s a nice view to the side, but it just seems that you’re always looking away from the nice view
- There’s just something quite oppressive about it in places
- Oh and it’s about 5 or more miles longer than SDW (well apart from when I did SDW and added 8 miles on!)
I can’t remember all the lovely volunteers or friends I met on route so sorry if I miss some out.. Thank you to :
- Claire Turton and Phil – Claire’s cheerleading routing with pompoms was a definite pick me up
- Jamie Woods for his cheerful attitude at Botley Hill
- Nina Smith- chirpy as ever (can’t wait to track you online on T184!)
- Ann Bath and Glyn Ryman at Caterham
- Fiona at start
- Karen W for making my dinner!
- Jacqui Byrne at Denham enjoying her night in the tent :-).. I knew I’d make it once I’d got to Jacqui so was ace seeing you there
- All the finish line crew and of course to Stuart Marsh for his usual skilful photographs
I trundled along, got sticks out at Box Hill and kept them out until I’d gone past Reigate. I just wanted to keep it nice and steady in the heat and not wreck myself more than I needed to. I did find it hard to navigate as my left eye seemed to have an infection and it just meant everything I could see was really cloudy which I was finding quite tiring. MP3 was on but kept falling out of one ear. It was great to have a quick chat to some of the other slammers like Mark Evans, Stefan, Tom Farsides, Peter Dennison, Melanie Ross (sorry I kept calling you Fiona Mel!) and Bryan Webster (who knew the way and got to see how rubbish I am at following the trail).
I kept going with the aim of meeting Stu at Knockholt in about 11 1/2 hours and I think that’s roughly what I did.
Was lovely meeting with Stu (and yes he had his 2XUs on). I had to gently break the news that I was sticking to the ‘take it all nice and slow and do bear minimum to finish ok’ strategy which would mean I’d be walking all of the rest. In all honesty my hamstring was at the point of pinging completely and my back was very tight from nerve tension so running would have been risking a dnf on this race let alone messing up my body so I couldn’t do the canal in 3 weeks. He took it relatively well 🙂
It did ‘grate’ a bit knowing that I’d have to keep nice and slow and relaxed and let everyone go past me. Part of me wanted to race and push myself.. but I also wanted to be disciplined and stick to the plan of taking this one (and next 4 races) nice and steady and that this year was all about ‘completion’. Next year I’ve entered some real tough ones so would have to train hard to be able to complete them within cut offs and the next few races are about mentally preparing for long time on feet.
It was hard in parts. I realised that the NDW was not being kind to Stu’s feet either and I could see he was finding all the walking hard going too. I also found that going slowly was more tiring in some ways than ‘racing’ and I was falling asleep on my feet again. in the wooded section before Detling I found a nice tree branch to sit on off the trail and we both sat down for a while and turned head torches off. It was strange seeing a long line of people go past on the trail.. I counted over 35 before I thought I’d better get back up there again as I didn’t want the excitement of being tight for cut offs at the end. Stu was suffering badly with his plantar fascitis and was very conscious that he wasn’t doing himself any good by being out there and did say he shouldn’t have come. Although I felt a bit guilty (he didn’t want me to feel guilty and we both know he could have done just a shorter section with me), I was really glad that he was there (and the 2XUs).
So onwards to Detling. David Ross was there waiting for Mel – he said he was going to push her to get her going faster again and he was true to his word as about 5 miles later she seemed to shoot past at my usual parkrun pace!
It wasn’t as bad as I remember it past detling. Last year it had just been like a mudslide and I’d had to drag myself up the hills by just pulling myself up on the sticks.. and would often slide back down as much as I’d climbed up. Although the same stupid hills (both up and down) were there, they weren’t as slip slidey as last year…
The last 13 miles we took very slowly. There was the option of letting Stu off the hook (and stopping the damage to his foot) by leaving him at the checkpoint to get a lift to the end, but we decided we’d finish together and we could still take our time and finish the cut offs. In some previous ultras, I’ve sped up during the last 15 miles and have often ‘broken’ any pacer during that period as they’re tired from walking lots so then speed walking at the end has wrecked them and I’ve had to just carry on alone. But I really wanted to finish this one together with Stu with as little damage to both of us as possible…
We eventually sauntered over the finish line with just under an hour to spare.
I know that some people would think when they see how long I took, ‘wow, what went wrong.. she really must have had to gut that one out’.. but actually it was all sort of part of the plan. I did get major hamstring issues but I knew I’d get those as I’ve not really done much training this year and it’s really just been about completing races when wrecked (which will be a good skill to learn for some of the really trick one’s I’m doing next year).
Disappointedly, despite walking the 2nd half and using poles to reduce weight on feet, I did get blistering. I’d intended to try out gurney goo but had forgotten to bring it with me. I’ll definitely be bringing it to try out at LLC130.
Before and after popping…
Oh and just in case you want to see the blister popping operation itself