In short, I was aiming for a long day on the Downs, and that is what I got.
Arriving in Farnham having stayed with some friends in Horsham, I was feeling relaxed and free of any anxiety that I usually have on a start line. There was no time pressure to finish- the time cut offs are lenient- and I wanted to use as much time as I could to be on my feet with Lavaredo kit and just enjoy the North Downs in all of their spring glory.
After registering I had chance to catch up with a few of the centurion crew- Drew, James, Nici and Claire, as well as Ian Brazier, Paul Reader and James Donald- a friend from Bath who I knew was on for a good time (he finished in 8th, under 8 hours which is a cracking time on this route).
A quick chat with Stuart March, a race briefing from James and then it was time for my sixth walk from St Polycarps down to the start line at the beginning of the 153 mile North Downs Way (has anyone done the 100 miler yet and carried on those extra 53 to Dover? Just gonna leave that out there…Mark Fox. Ahem).
I had made the decision to aim for five hours to halfway and then seven hours for the second half, but as usual I got carried away with the early pace and as it felt fine I went with it. I had in the back of my mind that my plan was to pretty much hike the second half anyway so if I ‘blew up’ by going off a little quicker than planned, then it really didn’t matter and might even help.
Aid station one at Puttenham came around as expected in just over an hour and I slowed to fill my bottles and thank the volunteers. I knew I was seeing the kids at Newlands Corner so was keen to push on and meet them on schedule at 10:30.
My pace was fine here and I chatted with a few runners here and there, which is unlike me as I usually get my head down. It was a totally different experience to pushing myself and as I arrived at Newlands Corner bang on half ten, I was smiling…even more so as I saw my son and daughter bounding towards me. We had a kiss and a cuddle, grabbed a bit of food and then raced them to the road crossing where they kissed me goodbye and went for a wagamama with the boss. It was great seeing them and Sol on the course and I really didn’t feel like the day was hurting where as Newlands Corner is usually that no-mans land where the legs start to hurt a tad, but you haven’t really made much of a dent on the distance. Today felt good and the weather was perfect.
I love the next section, 11 miles through the woods to Box Hill. It reminds me of being a kid and playing in the woods with my friends and the colours on the trees were amazing. It was one long green tunnel and we even had a brief rain shower which was very pleasant on a slightly humid morning.
My best time on this course was 10:11 in 2013 and here I got to Box Hill in 4:15, so I was slightly surprised to arrive in 4:32 this weekend. I had intentionally not been looking at my watch, but running to feel and I now knew I had banked enough time to hike the second half and still finish under 13 hours. However, I didn’t want to be under any pressure later in the race from the cut-offs, so set myself a 12 hour finish pace which was along the lines of run the downhills as hard as I could (get the quads as used to downhill damage as possible), walk the ups and hike the flats, interspersed with jogging now and then.
At the bottom of Box Hill I took out my Mountain King poles and was looking forward to having a good few hours practice with them for the rest of the day. No hill on this course lasts for more than 15-20 minutes max, so poles aren’t necessary by any means, but I also wanted to get used to running with them so there are no surprises come the last weekend of June.
The second half of the race was awesome. I spent a lot of time alongside Paul Spooner who is doing the 50 mile grand slam this summer. Paul is a very accomplished runner, having done over 100 marathons, but this was his first NDW50 so it was good to be able to tell him what was coming up. We were side by side to the final aid station at Botley Hill, where he went ahead and I decided to walk the last 7 miles (or 9, according to Ash on the aid station).
Very happy, I trundled over the line in 11:48- perfect pacing.
As I write this I have certainly learnt a lot. Firstly, no matter what pace you go at, the next day always hurts like hell! This was my longest run for a while and whilst I never felt like I was pushing myself, 50 miles is still 50 miles and the quads don’t like me very much today.
Secondly, I still have work to do on my nutrition (not just because of the massive gut in the race photos), but on race day food. I still struggle with solids and whilst I don’t have long until Lavaredo I would love to know how others get on with the likes of Tailwind. In hindsight I should have tried some on Saturday, but it didn’t occur to me until after.
Thirdly, whilst the day went well, Lavaredo is a different beast entirely. I need to drop some weight and work the hills relentlessly for the next month, before a gentle taper and a flight to Venice.
All in all, this weekend was everything I had hoped it would be. Centurion were awesome as always and the volunteers were everything a runner could ask for and more. Especially the bossy lady at Reigate Hill who only let me sit down for two minutes! Happy recovery to everyone who ran and I will see you at the South Downs 100 in four weeks where I am pacing Paul Reader.