Monday, 20 May 2013

My first Ultra - The North Downs Way 50

It was a bit of a chilly morning as the sun was still working out if it wanted to get up or not. We arrived and thankfully found a parking space not too far from the school where registration and the starting line was. Once inside two tables and a stage could been seen at the back of the hall. I made my way over for a kit check and to register, filled out my details on the back of my number and nervously made my way back outside for some air.
I had decided to wear my Montane jacket and trousers as there was still a little bite in the air. I was trying to get my bib number onto the leg of my trousers when we were called for the race briefing. With the briefing over we all made our way to the start and already I had a lot of interest in why I had chosen sandals.
Little bit of banter later I realised I hadn't turned my watch on and we only had 30 seconds to go!

Starting the NDW50
8 am. Watch error.
I started at the back choosing to trot along and talk to people to settle my nerves a little. 1.4 miles later my watch finally found me and I could see we were bouncing along at a nice 12m/m, wonderful!
3 miles in and Mr Sun had decided it was time to get up and burn away the morning haze. Things were hotting up.
Getting closer to the first aid station at 6.8 miles I really needed to get the extra layers off as it was going to be a beautiful but humid day.
Aid 1 - The guys I had been chatting with left me with a cheery "see you at the next hill!" I never did catch them again as my silky kit changing skills turned into some kind of circus performance costing me a lot of time. The long sleeve top got stuck on the watch, everything fell out of my neatly packed bag leaving me to fight with it like some stubborn deck chair that doesn't want to stay up. Finally I was changed into shorts and t shirt, my number re pinned on my leg again. "Right, now to just pull this elastic and hook that to....*TWANG!*" The hook came off of my bag! I ended up taking at least 5 to 10 minutes at that station and ran off with stuff still in my hands!
I think I was one from last at this point but I didn't care, I knew it was going to be a long day and all I had to do was not quit and I wouldn't be last!
Aid 2 came and went without a hitch and found that I was an hour ahead of the cut off which was very welcome news.
Aid 2 to 3 I knew would be tough but I didn't know just how tough. It is the only stretch that has a longer wait for aid. Every other point is around 6/7 miles between stations. This one was 11.5 and pretty much all up hill.
St Martha to Box hill has to be one of the toughest, soul sapping 11.5 miles I have ever done. You just climb and climb and climb then you find the stairs! Up and up and up and up it just seems to never end. Once you have finished one set of stairs you turn a corner and obviously go UP another draining hill before more stairs! On and on they go before ANOTHER set of stairs! I honestly thought we were going to find some glamorous gates when we eventually found the top with a bearded man holding a diversion sign saying "its not your time yet! That way for the North downs!"
Mercifully the stairs and the hills stopped briefly enough to gain some kind of composure before I got to the next aid station. 24 miles in and I could really see why people would drop out at this point. That section was tough but we are far from done yet and I think that can play on your mind.
Box hill to Reigate hill. 24 - 31 miles
I had been running by myself for hours when I looked at the pocket in my vest to find my bank card wasn't in it!!! I stopped and looked around but had to just bite my lip and keep running. No way was I going to find it, so angry at myself for not putting  it in a better pocket I pushed on hoping to find someone to keep me company for a bit.
I saw a lot of people enjoying this stunning trail but it took me a long time to find another numbered runner. I was however joined by a couple of people at different times who were out training for the other events and I owe them a little nod for the company. Thanks guys!
Reigate Hill!! Finally and quietly I could call myself an Ultra runner! 31 miles and I was greeted by my wonderful parents screaming and clapping as I came across the bridge and headed for the aid station. Reigate hill was the first aid station I volunteered at last year and it was a real turning point for me.
My dad grabbed me a coffee as I explained to the crew and my mum at how brutal the last bit was and that I wasn't sure I would even make it here on time. The crew were amazing and told me I was 40 minutes within the cut off. Re energized, I covered my feet in Vaseline and threw on my Toe Toe socks for a little more protection. My mum chucked a stick of butter in my coffee with a look of confusion but I said "I will explain later, thanks for the butter!" 
Off again on the road to Caterham!
Some of the views I came across were stunning! Beautiful hills, flowers and animals made me briefly I forget how far I had already come.
I met some wonderful people on a canal boat who were giving cake and jelly babies to the runners!!! You guys are amazing and made a tired runner very happy! Ran with another guy for a little while as he was training in the same direction then we parted ways and I headed for the next station.
I was met by wonderful crew once again at Caterham (38 miles) where I chowed down on everything in site and they even had a little bit of music on! By this point my Garmin had died so I had no idea of how I was doing. They told me I was still within 1 hour of the cut off so I had made up some ground somewhere! The next wonderful bit of news was the next station was 5 miles away!
The 5 miles to Botley hill felt really far and had some really tough sections but I gained a lot of ground and just tried to keep my mind on it being 5 miles and not getting close to 40!
Botley hill at last! (43 miles) Just 7 miles to go and I had 2 and a half hours to do it in!
The wonderful crew hooked me up with some water and food and off I went to try and get this done. I was getting tired but was pushed on by the thought of that finish line getting closer with every step. My feet at this point were a little tender to run on so I just picked my ground. If it was really really stony I just walked fast, softer ground I ran, hills I walked up and ran down. I pushed on and on hoping to see some indication of how far I had to go.
I had got into some kind of autopilot for the last maybe 2 miles and was pulling some ground back with some good consistent running, checking over my shoulder as I really didn't want to be the very last person and I knew maybe one person was behind me. I came up a gentle hill and came across the guy that I had been walking the stairs with at Box Hill!!!! I couldn't believe it! I asked if he was OK and he said "yeah, go on without me" and he told me we had done 46.5 miles. I thanked him and wished him luck for the rest of it then I took off with a little boost that I had actually caught someone! Sorry dude but it is a race after all! ;)
I started to find signposts for Knockholt Pound and it made me smile each time I read one. Every gate, I checked behind me, nope not with me yet! Push harder! Across the next field, still nothing. Keep the pressure on, not long to go! Field after field I pushed on waiting to see that big inflatable arch.
I went through a gate and I could hear shouting and see flashes of light from my left, I looked across the field and could see the finish line!!! Unfortunately the finish line was on the other side of the field and over a hedge and all of my markings were leading me away from the finish!
I headed around the top of the field and eventually came to a road, turned left and made my way down the hill. Past the pub and village green where the finish was last year, left up a little hill and I could see a man with a clipboard.
I turned left into a car park and was joined by a crew member who ran halfway up the hill with me towards the beautiful blue arch! He said to me "I shall let you get your glory!" turned around and ran back down. Thanks dude!
13 hours 11 minutes and 3 seconds after leaving that school in Farnham, I crossed the finish line to screams and cheers and had finally realised my dream of becoming an Ultra runner!

Thank you to everyone who came out to see me you guys are amazing!
Huge thank you to the crews you guys were a light in the dark and made the race what it was!
At last but not least....never underestimate the power of a jelly baby! ;)

Thanks for reading guys and below are a couple of pictures and my finish video!

Run, Read, Rediscover, Repeat


Mind your ears when you watch the videos my mum was a little happy!

                                                                           31 miles!
50 miles in sandals and my feet are still pretty happy!


  1. Congrats on a job well done!

    Glad to see there were no injuries, and that you remained mentally strong throughout. Enjoy your glory ;)


    - James

  2. Thanks James! I did find the next day that the tendon on the top of my foot was very sharp and I have a very tight hamstring so I am resting at the moment before I pick my next challenge! ;)

    Thanks for reading!