Thursday, 19 May 2016

North Downs Way 50

Day 13612
This was a perfect race. Everything came together. It was a beautiful day. The scenery was jaw dropping. The company was excellent. The course was brutal. I finished in a time I was delighted with. My second race organised by Centurion, and they rightly deserve their reputation.
I had dithered for ages about what to do about transportation and accommodation. It was my daughter's first birthday the Monday after, and my wife was somewhat unimpressed with my planning in booking the race on her birthday weekend. We arranged that they would go to her parents in Claygate and I would meet them there after the race. I first thought about getting the train and camping, but logistics were all tricky. The nearest campsite was 3 miles from the start, so should I bring my bike, etc. Then my friend Sue offered me a lift to the start from home. She had run the race last year, and is a superstar of the greatest proportions. Once I'd considered I had to accept, and she picked me up from my door at 5:45 on a Saturday morning. Sue you are an angel.
We got to the HQ in Farnham a little before 7. I registered and Sue stayed for a little then headed off for a bit of Parkrun tourism. I met up with a friend Pete from work, a much faster runner who was training for SDW100. Soon James Elson gave the race briefing and warned us that the race would be more than 50 miles so no complaining! With that concluded, we trundled off to the start.

A horn blew, watches were started and we were off. The initial section was through wooded trails out of Farnham. The runners were quite bunched and there were lots of funnel points where we had to slow to a walk. I took all these as early opportunities for careful pacing. I ran with Pete for a couple of miles, but soon bumped into another chap Kev who was running his first ultra. Pete ran on ahead and Kev and I would chat away the next 30 or so miles.
Traditional Didcot Runners Jazz Hands
The people you run with can be such a big part of your experience. One of the things I had found odd about SDW50 was that I hadn't really got to know anyone. A big part of running ultras is the social element and then I had run for 10 1/2 hours largely in my own head. I enjoyed it but it was not what I had expected. NDW50 was to more than make up for this.
Kev was an utter character. He had not run more than a marathon, and was undertrained due to an unanticipated extended trip to Australia. He had bets with various people on the outcome, including his wife, who had promised to iron his clothes every day for a week should he finish. He had taken part in a number of crazy challenges and was being crewed by a mate who would turn up in a big 4x4 at the crew meeting areas. He was planning on running the NDW100 in August: this was really a training run.
We exchanged life and running histories and the miles flew by.

One of the extraordinary things about Kev became apparent a few miles in. He was an avid Twitterer and had an astonishing memory for names and faces. Despite this being his first ultra, he recognised almost everyone running round us, sometimes to their bemusement. Then, to my complete amazement, he started recognising other people on the NDW walking or running the other way. This was a bit spooky. I began to think he must have a chip in his head feeding him info. Pretty cool stuff. He did work for a satellite company. Far out.
The miles literally passed without me noticing. Every few subjective seconds my watch would beep, and another mile would have gone by. Delightful running. A bit before Box Hill we started encountering another group and particularly a stylish lady named Marina. We leapfrogged each other a bit for a while. Kev obviously knew her and the people she was with. And their pets. He loved dogs and gave every dog we passed a big fuss. Top man.

Kev and Marina
The stairs at Box Hill were pretty impressive. I think Kev was starting to feel it here. I also started getting some pre-cramp twinges and knew I would need to run my own race to get by. We ran with Marina some more on and off, and made it to about 35 miles I think. Kev managed to activate a speed sign for cars - 12 mph pretty impressive. However he was starting to flag also so with regret I wished him well and pushed on. I think this was the right decision as my legs fettled out and I had no more cramp signs for the rest of the race.
Continuing alone, fruit in hand
Running up another enormous climb, I paused to admire the view and saw Marina running a few metres behind me. She caught up shortly and we then ran most of the rest of the race together. Marina was an impressive runner who had strung together marathons on adjacent weekends a fair bit prior to the race, including Brighton, London and Paris if my memory serves. She had done a few ultras but not NDW.

The second half of the race was significantly harder than the first, undulating pretty constantly, with plenty of steps and tree roots to challenge tiring legs. The views however were absolutely staggering. I tried to keep up with photos but probably fell behind a little as I tired. I was so pleased with my fitness overall. I kept moving, relentless forward progress as the saying goes and felt strong until a couple of miles before the end.

Checkpoint time was minimised, in no way a reflection on the outstanding and delightful volunteers. Apart from half way when I did a sock change and re-grease, I was in and out like a rat out of an aqueduct. I stuck to firm favourites: watermelon and other fruit. I discovered cherry tomatoes - little juice explosions. A few crisps and cups of coke kept me moving. This generally worked outstandingly well. The only change I would make is to eat a little more energy dense food. I ate all my peanut butter and jam sandwiches by 30 miles and then didn't eat much else other than fruit. I did enjoy one of 33Shake's energy gels - lots of seeds and stuff you add water to, which was superb. When I bonked at mile 49 a bite of energy bar - impossible to eat at this stage but I somehow got it down - revived me for the last mile. However I had told Marina to run on and it would have been nice to finish together. For longer races, Ridgeway and others (?!?!) I will need to make sure I keep taking in fuel. Still nearly perfect is not too shabby. The other remarkable food story was Marina's sister who surprised her at a checkpoint with a box of pineapple. I was quite jealous, but then when she popped up again later in the race Marina waved me over and I gratefully filled my face with juicy sweet goodness.
As I said Marina went ahead about a mile before the end. My watch had died at mile 49 so I was flying blind timewise but knew I was doing OK. As the energy bar got into my blood I ran the last lanes into Knockholt Pound. Rounding the corner to see the Centurion finish I felt strong and glad. Not as emotional as some other races, but so full of positive energy. The crowd around the finish gave me a lovely roar in and I finished traditionally with hands in the air. 10:16:26, in the first half of the pack. Better than I could have hoped for. Marina met me for a hug and we got a picture.

Marina had finished a few minutes before me, Pete in 9:47 and Kev in an outstanding 11:15.
One I'd stopped I started feeling cold so quickly went to the hall with an amazing volunteer who got Marina and I hotdogs and drinks while we got changed.
I said my goodbyes, got on the bus to the start and made it to Claygate for the birthday party on Sun.
I loved this race. I think I'd like to do it again. I might even try the 100 one day.
Update: Kev had received some ironed goods on Monday morning, though it seemed optimistic that this would continue throughout the week ;)

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