Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Dorchester Marathon 2018

Dorchester Marathon is an unusual thing for a White Star Running event in that it is almost entirely on road, rather than trails, however the signature White Star event elements are all there, including camping for the weekend, on site food, booze and entertainment and excellent aid stations out on the course. The race was on Sunday of the bank holiday weekend in late May and so I started off on Saturday with the usual family run at Frimley Lodge parkrun. Normally, on a race weekend, that would mean taking it easy and having a chatty run with Elinor, but we agreed that I would set up the Garmin virtual pacer for 26 minutes (close to her PB) and we would see what happened. She ran hard all the way and I kept pace giving encouragement until she smashed her previous best of 3 years ago by 55 seconds and sub-25 minutes. Even better news, was finding out that son Alfred also beat his PB of 3 years ago, shaving 2 seconds off to go 21:30 and only 12 seconds off my own PB. Brilliant! - I helped them celebrate by having a huge cooked breakfast.

I was looking forward to the marathon next day, my second with WSR, but was a bit wary about the weather forecast. On Friday it was saying there would be thunder storms during the race, on Saturday morning this had changed to raining all day, by the evening it had changed to raining all morning, but with thunder storms overnight. I got my gear together and packed the car thinking I had everything and set off following the sat nav which I had set to somewhere near the start/finish camp site, guessing I would see signs when I got close. I only lost about 20 minutes through traffic, spotted a WSR event sign and loads of Dorset county flags near the outskirts of Dorchester and was quickly directed to the camp site registration and then off to my pitch for the weekend. I had my tent up quickly and then helped out neighbours Claire and Marina with theirs as it was getting windy. 

I had probably seen Claire at other marathon events around the south of England and she had also been at the Ox races two weeks ago, but we had never met. She had brought loads of gear and quickly got a kettle going for tea. I had only brought cereal for breakfast and a few snacks and was hoping to find food on site. At around 7pm I set off to the big event tent to see what was on offer. There were a couple of stalls outside, but I went in to see what food was there, only to be told that it was all pre-booked only and only available past 8pm if you hadn't booked a meal. So no lasagne or sausage and mash for me and I went back outside to find a choice of pizza or chicken jambalaya. I went for the jambalaya, a kind of spicy chicken and rice with loads of watercress on top. It was a big portion and went down well with a pint of Piddle IPA.

The tent was about half full of families and the White Star team having dinner and listening to an old couple playing accordion and banjo ukulele for a bit of country dancing. I had my dinner and ale which were both very tasty and then went off to check my race kit for the next day finding I had forgotten running underpants and my glasses. So, a quick search found spare contact lenses in my race kit, so I would be OK with just an early night, and pants I had on would have to do (actually not so bad as they were for running and I had showered mid-day). I set my alarm for 6am for the 8:30 start and got to bed by 10:30, laying awake watching lightening flashes and listening to the thunder around the campsite. Fortunately it never got that close and I got a decent night's sleep.

Up at 6am, it was dry so I made a dash for the loos, then back for breakfast of muesli and banana and the rest of a pint of milk, before getting my race kit on.
I decided to go for a base layer, club vest, light weight arm guards, a cap to keep the rain off, trail running shorts with loads of pockets for gels, calf guards, toe socks as they help me avoid blisters and Hoka Bondi 4 shoes, which should be comfy all day for a road marathon. I got the tent packed away and thrown in the car just before the rain came down hard and then sheltered in the car or with Claire and Marina having tea in their tent till just before the start. 

I was going to wear my rain jacket for the morning run in the rain, but a last check of the weather forecast looked like it would just be raining for an hour or so, so I ditched the jacket and headed off to the loos of which there were loads and only a short queue, before lining up at the back of the marathon field and finding former club mate and now Stubbington Green runner Simon Gibbon and fellow SJ runner Lance King.

By now the rain had stopped and the sun had come out and we set off for what turned out to be a day of hot sunshine and not a drop of rain. So much for the weather forecast, but at least I wasn't carrying a jacket round with me all day! I remembered Claire had set off for the start wearing her rain jacket and hoped she had managed to leave it behind as, even leaving Cokers Frome Farm on to the road into Dorchester, it was heating up and humid with steam rising off the tarmac.

On the steady climb up the high street I first passed multiple 100 marathon runners Karen Summerville and Ruth Benzimra [aka PloddingHippo] for a little chat and catch up and then caught up with the green team from Stubbington including Simon. It looked like they were going to all run together and I thought I would join them, but after a few more miles I eased away at my own comfortable pace.

The course starts off crossing the River Frome, climbing up the High Street before turning south and then east to head out of Dorchester on gently undulating roads following the River Frome past Frome Hill, and lovely little villages of West Stafford and Woodsford. Here the course turns north through Tincleton, with a small hill up to mile 9 before the bigger undulations start to come in for the second half of the course. I made it to half way in about 2:18 which seemed sensible given the hot conditions and the hills to come.
WSR had us all taken care of with really nice aid stations with squash and water, sweets and savoury snacks and a cooling sponge. I was glad of my cap to keep the sun off and dowse in water to cool my head, and also the arm guards that acted as sun-block and felt very cooling with a bit of water to soak them. 

After mile 14 we were running alongside the River Piddle through Briantspuddle and Affpuddle and to another aid station at Tolpuddle around mile 18 where I was met by a former Sandhurst Jogger, Marian Eldridge. She was stood in a shady spot and I was happy to stop for a chat for a few minutes before setting off again.

The next two miles were a bit of a trial with no shade and a steady gentle climb on hot tarmac until we turned off oddly on to a concrete farm track. It's supposed to be a road marathon, but this change of surface was a nice little distraction whose purpose soon became clear when I rounded a corner to be met by the LOVE STATION.

This was just what I needed. First to be met by a lovely cold wet woman who offered me a "wet hug" and then squished two sponges of cold water down my neck. Then over to the barn with a band playing Handbags and Gladrags for snacks and drinks including some beer. This was my slowest mile, but with the heat, definitely one of the most enjoyable. Out of the farm we crossed over the A35 and the only time we were subjected to any road noise on the whole route, which is almost all on small B-roads closed to traffic and only a couple of miles where traffic was coned off from us. This made for a gloriously peaceful run in the countryside with just the wind in the trees and birdsong to accompany us.

To mile 23 and the last aid station with a sign claiming the road ahead to be the Last Big Hill. It certainly felt huge, but the views as we climbed up higher and higher were spectacular.

On the way down the other side I was jogging along entertaining cyclists battling the hill with a cheery wave and calling out to them "Come on, Well Done! You Can Do It! You're Nearly There!" With a mile to go passing the 25 mile sign I could hear the announcer at he finish line and with half a mile to go could see the turn in to the farm ahead with a small crowd of marshals and first aiders to show me the way. Then, as I made the turn for the last 200m, I got a call on my phone. I thought, "That can wait" and ran down to through the finish line crowds to the glorious sound of the theme tune to Super Mario Brothers! Quite a finish.

I finished in about 5:06 something, collected a lovely medal, a t-shirt and a handshake from the Mayor of Dorchester. I staggered around a bit wondering what to do next and found someone giving away free smoothies of ice cold watercress, spinach and mango; very healthy sounding, and also delicious. Then headed off to the car to get ready for the journey home - unfortunately that call I missed was to say there had been a fire at the in-law's house, so I had to go straight away. 
Here's the profile. It's a bit lumpy but the scenery was wonderful all the way round and even though it was hot and challenging, it was a superb event with great marshals, well stocked aid stations, the brilliant LOVE STATION and a really nice spot to camp for the weekend. They also have a half marathon which is also scenic (i.e. hilly) and also really popular.

Friday, 18 May 2018

White Star Running Ox Races - 11-13 May 2018

This last weekend I did my first White Star event. I had heard about their Giant's Head, Bad Cow and Larmer Tree events but never got in on time or they clashed with races already booked, but this year I hung on the phone one night in October while in a pub in SoHo to get my name down for Giant’s Head and, flushed with success, booked some more WSR races: The Ox, Dorchester and Dorset Invader. 

The Ox races came around in May after doing a marathon or ultra a month since January, so distance should normally be OK, but I had been carrying a hamstring and glute niggle for about 6 weeks and that had been affecting how I could run above about 15 miles – I couldn’t really pick my right leg up. So, arriving at race HQ at Rushmore Park west of Salisbury I was wondering whether it was such a great idea to have signed up for both the Dark Ox 10k on Friday night before the Ox 50 which would start at 7:30am the next morning - I was suckered in by the extra medal I would get, so the decision was pure vanity!

The race was set up a bit like Endure 24 with camping near the start finish area, which had Race HQ, a couple of food and cider stalls, and a big tent with sheltered seating and a TV which seemed to be set up for people to watch Eurovision on Saturday night. I had arrived at 4pm and drove through to the far end of the camp looking for my running buddy for the weekend Cove Jogger, Kelvin Gower. Once the tent was up we headed to race HQ to pick up race numbers and get dinner, a tasty lamb burger.

The first race of the weekend started at 9:30pm and head torches and waterproof tops were the fashion. There was a brief briefing which mainly warned people to take it easy and don’t fall over and noting where the beer stop would be. Off we went down a gentle cobbly slope and in only 400m I saw one of the quicker runners being escorted back to the start area with a cut to his head. 

The terrain was hilly with a few tricky stony descents, but time was definitely not a factor on this run, just getting around in one piece was important. I think a lot of people running were thinking the same and were running the next day or Sunday, so it was a steady chatty run on the whole, with just one Bambi-on-ice moment for me, coming down a muddy hill.

After just a mile we came across the beer stop where I had about a ¼ pint of Piddle IPA and a mile later we were at the excellent aid station known as the Love Station. There were lots of nice things to eat and drink – more beer, vodka shots or even water.

After six hilly, wet miles in a gentle 1 hour 14 I grabbed my medal, beer and biscuits and headed straight for the showers. These were OK, but unlit and the shower was more of a strong dribble than a proper drench, but at least it was hot and I felt much better for it. Then it was straight to bed by 11pm, remembering to set my alarm for just before 6 as the 50 mile runners were starting at 7:30 the next morning. 

After a fitful night’s almost sleeping and resorting to earplugs to block out the late night chat going on round the campsite I woke to a cool, overcast morning, found a loo with bogroll still in it and then sat in my tent eating muesli for breakfast. Kelvin got up and fired up the kettle and I had a cup of his weird chocolate orange flavoured coffee. 

On the start line there were about 80 runners, about half of which were doing some form of multi-race challenge, with another 10k (Light Ox) and Ox Half the next day. There was even a 12 hour race on the same course starting half an hour after our 50 mile run, which meant there was something for everyone over the weekend. After a briefing to tell us how many laps we needed to do (8) we were off.

My Captain America running top, appropriate for an ultra for the Cap's "I can do this all day" catch phrase.
And, bonus for this event!, it features a White Star.
The route was similar to the night before, but just over half a mile longer. Down we went for the first mile, then a short steep ascent before getting into a tunnel of trees descending again to come out by a pristine golf course. I had passed by this last night but didn’t see it at all in the rain and tunnel vision from my head torch. Passing the golf course the route went into a large stand of beech trees at 2 miles before the long straight steady climb on a grassy wide open chalk path up to the Love Station at 3 miles. I fuelled up on jaffa cakes, chocolate flapjack, crisps and little sausages washed down with a little squash and beer (at 8:30 in the morning!) 

From here the course turned down hill on a long sweeping descent before turning uphill on a long trail through pine woodland. After a muddy downhill section there were another couple of long uphill sections through old oaks with bluebells and wild garlic through route came out into a grassy field for a gentle run back to the start/finish area. Here there was just water at the aid station, which was OK for the first lap, but I knew I would need more later and I would have to use up the recovery food I had in my bag, bananas and a pint of milk.

Three laps in to the race and I was feeling OK but starting to get swollen fingers, a sure sign I was getting low on salt. I tried going to the loo to check urine colour and it was a bit dark, not too bad but it was time to start upping my water intake. At the aid stations I started having two cups of water and added a small beer at the Love Station. To avoid getting hyponatremia I also started taking a salt tablet each lap and this helped with the swollen fingers so that after a few more laps my hands were feeling OK again.

Going back to lap 4, half way, I noted that my Garmin was reading 27 miles. WSR events are notorious for their generosity with the mileage, so I was now prepared to be doing 54 miles, not just 50! At this point I decided I would pick up my walking poles. I had been walking up the hills anyway, but this was still starting to overstress my niggling hamstring and glute on my right leg. Using the poles took the load off my legs a bit, especially going up steep hills. They were pretty useless going downhill, though, so I just held them midway along on the descents to keep them out of the way while I ran. I checked the pace I could manage with and without the poles, walking up the steady hills and I was about 15 second a mile quicker with them and, even though I wasn’t used to using them, my arms weren’t tired at all.

Over lap 5 and 6 I was thinking about how close the cut off would be. We had until 7:30 or maybe 8:00pm to get out on our last lap. I wasn’t clear on this as the written instructions said 7:30 and the race briefing 8pm so went for the 7:30 cut off. I figured on having a good hour in hand, so I kept the time at the aid stations to a minimum, no sitting down just a bit of boogying to the music at the LoveStation. Fortunately my shoes stayed comfortable, without the need to even re-lace them and the little gaiters I had on kept out dust and stones. Lap 7 came along and finished with about 75 minutes till the cut-off.

The last lap was a fairly lonely affair as faster runners had finished their 50 miles and the 12 hours runners had mostly quit after 4 or 5 laps having done a marathon or ultra. But the course is well away from any road and the woodland was gloriously peaceful with just the sound of birdsong, woodpeckers and a cuckoo that seemed to have been following me round the course.  Approaching the Love Station I could hear the Kaiser Chiefs booming out down the long approach, not everyone's cup of tea, but having the beat to pace me up the climb was a real boost, as was the great reception by the Love Station crew.  Another little beer and snack and off again.  Reaching the crest of the last hill I caught up with a couple of women, one of whom was still to finish, then a crowd of her friends who were waiting for her. Then, after having walked the last 2 miles to this point and having nothing to gain but finishing a 13 hour race 30 seconds quicker, I got into a little race to the finish.

As I approached the finish line the marshals started ringing bells to warn people there was a runner coming in and this raised loud cheers and applause from the folks outside the beer tent which was great to experience. I finished 54 very hilly miles in 13:09:35, and shuffled off to race HQ to collect my medals, t-shirt and buff, and then find a burger and the odd experience of having my recovery meal in amongst what looked like a Mexican Day of the Dead themed Eurovision party.

My first White Star event turned out to be a great experience.  The Ox races are set up to provide something for everyone and have a great relaxed atmosphere.  Highly recommended and I'm really looking forward to my next outing with the Love Station team at Dorchester and then bringing the kids along to Giant's Head.

Leon the Runner challenge 7th April 2018

Phoenix Running's Leon the Runner challenge - Marathon #66 - was planned around my Sandhurst Jogger friend and long-running buddy Leon Hicks' 100th marathon, so it was booked well in advance. It was another run from the Weir Pub going upstream out and back just past Walton Bridge with 16 crossings of That Bloody Bridge for a marathon distance. To go along with Phoenix's penchant for movie related medals Leon had designed the medal around the Leon the Professional, Jean Reno/Natalie Portman hitman movie - basically the L for Leon was a Beretta pistol.

The run was widely advertised within our club and we had about 20 club members turn up to run from half to full marathon. Oddly we weren't the biggest club there as Northampton Road Runners had booked a coach full of places with several of their runners here to do their first marathon - possibly encouraged by the 7 hour cut off.

Part of the reason I like these events is they are so easy to get to for me, being only a 40 minute drive away. The new HUB athletics and football stadiums were open for parking which was only another minute's walk away from the usual car park and I had picked up my number in the Xcel Leisure Centre by 8:30. At 9:15 with nearly everyone arrived, we went out for the briefing and the now usual presentations of medals/certificates/T-shirts for people that have done the various marathon or half marathon challenges. Then, as a mark of respect and remembrance for Liam Whelan, a member of Barnes Runners and regular marathoner who had recently died, we walked in silence from the leisure centre to the start.

The start was packed with people trying to get their bags into the small tent/bag drop and this was a bit of a scrum, so I dropped my bag, got my Garmin fired up and stood near the start line. The start was a bit congested as people were funneled from the wide tarmac path on to the muddy wooded and narrow trail and some people chose to divert on road to run around the muddy section. I was fine with my Hoka Mafate semi-trail shoes, which had enough grip for the muddy parts.

After the mud, the usual concrete and mostly hard packed gravel with some cobbles by the recently refurbished Anglers pub, before tackling That Bloody Bridge for the first of 16 times.

The path west of the bridge seemed to have been relaid, but the gravel/clay wasn't dried out and had an odd texture like running on plasticine. Then past Walton Bridge to the turnaround point manned by a marshal with a road cone hat. 

The return was where this type of run comes into its own as I went past all the other runners coming behind me to waves and cheers, which continued all day. A real lift to the spirits, especially when my right leg fell off!

I had been carrying a niggle for a few weeks, a tight calf and hamstring that hadn't stopped me training, but slowed me down at parkruns. I got to half way in a decent 2:05 and then the hamstring started to play up making it increasingly difficult to pick up my right leg. This slowed me right down and I thought there's no way I'm quitting this run, but let's not be stupid and cause a proper injury, so I slowed down and started looking for people to chat to while jog/walking. I was caught by clubmate Blanche on our 6th lap and ran in the last 2 miles of the lap at 9min/mile pace to help her get a sub 3:30 nearly 20 miles, then had to recover for a lap walking with another runner for lap 7 before deciding 8 laps was enough today and running in to just scrape a sub 5 hour time.

Then it was just a case of waiting for Leon and the rest of my club mates to arrive at the finish. Finishing 100 marathons was obviously an emotional experience for Leon, so it was a good thing he wasn't called on to make a speech for a few minutes while we waited for some more people to finish.
The wait was worth it to see him get his vest and then tuck in to some cake.

Phoenix Running - Spring Marathon - 3 March 2018

Phoenix Spring Marathon felt distinctly wintery. In to March and having seen crocuses and daffodils in the week before my hopes for a mild and relatively easy training run building up for the Ox 50 miler in May were dashed by the Beast from the East and storm Emma combining to dust the south of England with a few inches of snow. Although this had the benefit of a couple of enforced days working from home including a couple of breaks for tobogganing with the kids, it looked like the Spring Marathon could be in jeopardy.

However, race organiser RiK Vercoe had ran the course and declared the course along the Thames between Walton and Hampton Court even prettier than usual and runnable and the local roads all OK. It was then left to people to see if they could make it to the event, with those that couldn't able to transfer to a later run - very fair in the circumstances. 

There was snow forecast on Friday night, so to give myself a fighting chance of getting to a main road on race morning I moved the car off the hill we live on to flat ground in the evening. I needn't have worried, as by Saturday morning there had been no more snow and the temperature was above freezing. I made it to the race HQ at Walton Leisure Centre just after 8 for a 9am start. 

68 people out of registered field of 150 managed to get to the event which was enough to attract the attentions of Sky News who had a crew on hand to do a live interview with Rik, unfortunately just after we had all set off on the run. Link (roll over me to see where I go)

The course is a mixture of tarmac and concrete paths and woodland and park trails all alongside the Thames. We headed off from outside The Weir pub going downstream with the river on our left and, keeping the river close by it's impossible to get lost. All the paths were initially covered with snow, and I thought this could have been a real problem if it was at all icy. I wasn't so much thnking about falling, but just the loss of traction and how much wasted energy there would be just keeping moving forward. 

The snow wasn't actually that much of a problem. It was like running on a loose gravel path and my Hoka Mafate Speed trail shoes provided enough grip. I combined these with gaiters so I didn't get icy slush dripping into my shoes and my feet stayed reasonably warm and dry for the day. 

I had started off the race with an idea of beating the last time that I did here on a similar course of 4:58 and set off from the front of the pack only so I might get on the telly (Sky News failed me!). We were quite quickly distanced by some very quick runners who seemed to be running 3 miles for my 2, and it wasn't long before I felt I was running mostly by myself at a comfortable 9:30 minutes per mile. I also had in mind that at my previous marathon I had run to about 13 miles without walking, so this was going to be another long training run and I had a target of at least 15 miles to get to.

The course along the river was pleasant, though I was concentrating on staying upright more than the scenery. We first pass Sunbury Lock, then the intake pumps to Walton water treatment works, Molesey Reservoirs nature reserve, through Hurst park and past Molsey Rowing club almost to Hampton Court Bridge, a distance of 3.25 miles and where the aid station was located. This was manned by two of my marathon running friends Leon and Davo. It was nice to see friends at the aid station but every time Leon saw me coming he moved the turn around traffic cone further away - what a joker! :-)

On the way back to the start I heard someone running behind me. We were going at the same pace and for a couple of miles I could hear their footsteps. At the start/finish aid station I grabbed a drink, cola bottles and a couple of Freddoes and set off again for lap 2 of 4, but rather than upping the pace to break the elastic to the guy behind I let him catch me up to have a chat; you can get to hear some interesting stories along the trail. Neil Addington was part way through running 105 marathons in 105 days raising money for mental health charity Mind. He had been given a 4 month sabbatical from his work building trucks and he told me about the friends he had who had suffered with mental health issues, one even committing suicide. We spent about an hour of the race talking and running together.

The weather seemed to warm a little as the race went on and the snow turned to slush after half way and then to mud on the wooded sections for the last lap. I managed to keep going with a brisk run-walk so I didn't have any really slow miles the whole race and finished in 4:48. 

Punchbowl Recap - Wardrobe Malfunction!

I saw an article on the BBC News website Link (roll over me to see where I go) and had a bit of a moment. Whether that's a eureka moment or just a forehead slapping "D'oh!" moment I'll leave you to decide.

At the Punchbowl Marathon you navigate round the course following written route descriptions. Sometimes you'll get something like "Ahd to 5-way Xing and TR 50deg" meaning you go ahead to a point where the is a 5 way crossing and then turn right heading on a bearing of 50 degrees from North.

Most of the time it's obvious which way to go, but sometimes the compass bearing is useful to check against, so I have a little clip on compass I got from Decathlon for £3. Does the job. Only this time it didn't and it was obvious the bearing it was showing was wrong. Then I thought, maybe my gloves have something to do with this? 

I was wearing gloves I got from Decathlon (again) which were fingerless with a flip over mitten to cover your fingers. The flip over bit could be held back in place with a magnetic fastening. Great gloves, really nice and warm and easy to use, but I think this magnet is what messed up my compass. 

Surely this is a massive error from Decathlon, selling clothing in the trekking section that could actually get you lost!?

LDWA Punchbowl Marathon - Feb 2018

The Punchbowl Marathon is another of LDWA Surrey group's challenge events. So, similar to last month's Winter Tanners it's either 20 or 30 miles of cross country trail following written route instructions with checkpoints at around 7 to 11 mile intervals. Unlike Winter Tanners the Punchbowl route is the same each year, and it's more of a traditional LDWA challenge event, in that there are well stocked aid stations with hot drinks on course and a hot meal for finishers, unlike the traditionally more basic Tanners. 

A month later in the year there is an hour more daylight and, as there are many more sandy trails on this course, it makes for less mud. This was also helped by some reasonable weather in the days leading up to the event and, although it rained the day before, Sunday was a crisp clear sunny day. 

The plan for this event was to run with my friend Leon, but he called the evening before saying he was probably not going to get home before 3am - he was crewing for our clubmate Max who was doing the 100 mile Arc of Attrition. So, I called up another running friend, Hannah, to share a lift with, who was doing the 20 mile route. Having done over 60 marathons and ultras, you'd think I'd have everything sorted in my race bag, but I managed to get 2 miles from home before realising I'd forgotten my race route instructions. I was a mile away again, when I realised I'd forgotten to put my contact lenses in. Flippin fuck it. That's not a good start.

I arrived at Hannah's with my phone ringing, but just 20 minutes later we got to the start at Witley, parked with no trouble and registered for the 7:30 start for walkers and slow runners. After finding spare contact lenses in my bag, getting in race kit and a bit more faffing I was ready to go about 5 or 10 minutes late.

The 20 and 30 mile routes are the same for the first 3 miles so Hannah and I shared the navigation, catching up with the walkers in the first mile.

This made for an easy start to the event, and though we lost quite a bit of time filing along single track paths, it meant getting to chat to quite a few people along the way and not having to pay much attention to the route description. 

That changed at Thursley Common with the 20 and 30 mile routes splitting and, with the wider trails, being able to trot past most of the walkers. Soon I was jogging along by myself with just a few other runners in sight.
Here I am smiling like I've got wind!

The route came to Elstead from the south and I had caught up with a few more walkers, so I got chatting again, not realising that the 20 and 30 mile routes had briefly rejoined and I was following some 20 milers. I thought the route looked wrong getting into Elstead but by the time I had backtracked to a main road in the village and got back on the route I had covered nearly a mile extra and with the late start, lost nearly 30 minutes.

After Elstead it was off to Puttenham Common and then the first Checkpoint at 10.7 (11.7!) miles at a little village hall in Puttenham. I took time to have a cup of tea and some biscuits and cake and pack away my light jacket as I was too hot. Out of the checkpoint and back to the main road, the instructions said turn right, but looking left I saw people running off in the opposite direction. "Just leave them to it", I thought. So, out of Puttenham and into another part of Puttenham common following part of the Farnham Pilgrim marathon in reverse and getting a little lost again, missing a fork in the path while following another runner - I must stop doing that and just rely on my own navigation! 

So far the going was reasonably good, not too muddy, at least not the sapping war of attrition that was the Tanners. The geology is different around this part of Surrey, with a lot more sand and sandstone near surface so there are sandy trails that drain well when wet. It was only 7 miles to the next checkpoint at Tilford and this came up quickly and almost as a surprise. The lovely half timbered village hall was filled with tea and tasty treats and I had another sort out of kit while enjoying cheese and pickle and lemon curd sandwiches. I felt a bit slower coming out of Tilford!

On then through Hankley Common golf course and the trails up to Hankley Ridge that skirts around the location of the James Bond's Skyfall lodge, before climbing up to Hankley Hill. After a quick descent I was into the long steady drag up to the Devil's Punchbowl. It's a pretty relentless cobbly path rising all the way for nearly 3 miles to get up to the view point where you then start to descend to the final checkpoint.
I was feeling very tired on this climb, realised that I needed to eat and get some more energy in me, but thought, I can't be bothered to take my pack off to get to my food. Lesson learned; I should carry some easy to get to food in a marathon belt for emergencies like this. 

I eventually got to the top, passed the viewpoint and walked and jogged round the sloppy silty mess that is the old A3 road in winter. Getting off the Punchbowl I stopped to chat to a runner who was sat by the trail, had a bit to eat and instantly felt better. Well enough to jog the next mile down to the final checkpoint at 26 (now 27!) miles. This is a pretty basic affair, just juice and nibbles set out by a barn at a small farm. 

4 miles to go then of undulating pleasant countryside with not much mud. The only real challenge being to fit through some tall but very narrow kissing gates before making it back to Witley.

It was a lovely day for this event. Pretty good conditions for winter and the sandy trails made it a much easier task than last month's Winter Tanners (9 hours 22 minutes of rain, snow, mud and hills). I finished in 8:03 which could have been closer to 7:30 or quicker without the fannying about at the start and getting lost. After a nice sit down, with tea a hotdog and soup and catching up with how Hannah's run had gone we headed home, still in daylight.

LDWA Winter Tanners - Jan 2108

So, another LDWA Surrey event for me and one I have done a few times. The intention was, for this 40th anniversary event, to do the 40 mile route with my mate Leon, but he had dropped out with a cold and then just two days earlier, my wife's mother had died. Obviously I wasn't going to run, but actually her death was expected (she had motor neuron disease), just not quite so soon. In the end we came to terms quickly with the fact the she was desperate to end her life before she was completely incapacitated and that she passed away without having to suffer for weeks and months more. My wife insisted that she was fine, was actually going to take our daughter to a birthday party that was planned for Sunday and I would just be home alone anyway. So, I thought I would get up onto the North Downs Way and have a moment's silence to remember her and some of the good times we had.

I knew from the previous year that it would be a mudfest with the weather we were going to get, so I told the man at race reception that I was going to drop to the 30 mile. I wasn't feeling on top form either, I was going to be doing this by myself and I had a hint of a throat tickle as well. I didn't fancy adding 3 hours of rain and mud in darkness to an already long day.

I got to the allotted car park in Leatherhead at 7am and was ready to go at 7:30 when it was just getting light.

This was a challenge event so we had to follow written route instructions to make our way between check points. I had decided that there was going to be not much running on this event and went for keeping warm and dry instead by wearing hiking boots, waterproof trousers and jacket with just base layers underneath. For most of the day this was a good choice , but for the first 2 hours I was too hot and ran without the jacket until the snow started to come down heavily. 

Navigation was fairly straightforward and I never got lost - I have developed a technique for running/walking with my thumb firmly held at the last point on the route instructions and it works nicely. The first section to checkpoint 1 brought us up on to the North Downs Way where we should have had nice views, but by an hour in it was just low cloud and sleet that we could see
This was followed by what must have been the worst section of trail run that I have ever had to endure. Two miles of thick mud, slippy mud and slurry with no view and just the roaring noise of the nearby M25 for company. I hope the route stays away from that next year!

After coming off the NDW I knew the lower lying land was going to be wet and that is exactly what we got, fields and fields of cow pasture pock marked with water filled hoof prints

However, I did manage to catch up with a couple of familiar faces including Kat McVicar (100 Marathon Club) and decided to spend a few hours with her chatting and keeping spirits up while not getting lost.

We split up after checkpoint 4 while I tried to make it back to the finish in daylight. The approach to Box Hill was arduous again, with 7 straight fields of mud to get us to the foot of the last big hill. Unfortunately there was to be no good view from the top as it was shrouded in low cloud.
It was an epic climb up with a route that just got steeper and steeper, first on tarmac, then gravel trail and finally straight up the steepest side of the hill on slick grass. I was expecting a checkpoint at the top, but in fact it was down a treacherous descent nestled for shelter near a hairpin bend in a road.

I paused here for a cup of tea before tackling the 128 steps up the next climb and on to the last few miles to the end. It took me a total of 9 hours 22 minutes probably only a third of it done jogging, the rest sliding around in mud. 30 miles felt like 40 or more on this route, but at least my feet were dry and free of blisters.