Wendover Woods 50

November 6th 2021

It’s my final race of 2020, and part 4 of the 4 race Centurion 50 mile Grand Slam that I had entered in 2020. The Centurion team are organising a mass start for the Wendover Woods 50 mile event, as opposed to the staggered starts and virtual race briefings, so it feels like life is finally reverting to normality, at least in terms of trail racing. I registered and collected my race number – it has a red background, signifying I am running the final race in the 2020 Slam (black background for 2021 slammers, and white for everyone else).

After a short race briefing at 9am we walked the half mile into the woods to wait for the race start. There was definitely an atmosphere of excitement and trepidation, but we had all arrived too early and the 15 minute wait in the cold soon had people shivering and hopping about trying to keep warm. By the time we started running I was wearing gloves, buff and a hat, and my fingers were numb with cold.

The race is a 5 lap event around the Forestry England site on the edge of the Chiltern Hills. Wendover Woods is a relatively small site, but the route loops around while never crossing itself to make up the 10 miles, and includes several miles of lovely runnable wide trails, as well as some single track rutted with tree roots, numerous climbs and descents, and a selection of seriously steep (20%+) climbs. These are named and signposted on the route, presumably to taunt you as you struggle up, but they also help you keep track of where you are. The big climbs are:

  • Chiltern Scree-ming
  • Go-Ape climb
  • The Snake
  • Gnarking Around
  • Railing in the Years
Route map showing gradient and key points
Route showing gradient

I started out fairly fast, trying to warm up, and ran past the main visitor centre and onto the Gruffalo trail, only slowing to a more sensible race pace as I reached the Crossroads. The weather and trail conditions were superb, cool and dry, with the only concern being able to see tree roots and rocks under the fallen leaves. The fisrt big climb up Chltern Scree-ming wasn’t too bad, but i knew laps 4 and 5 would be tough. The hardest part is as you reach the top the trail traverses across the slope before you reach the top and I struggled with finding good grip. At the four mile log-jump I was steady on the descent. I ran this race a few years ago and fell at this point, so was careful not to take a tumble again.

The Log Jump descent

The next section is a lovely runnable downhill to the Hale Lane aid station. I didn’t stop on the first lap, but I’d made a plan to stop here to refuel, and try not to stop in the main aid station in the finish area marque, as it would be easy to lose time faffing about with a drop bad or even sitting to rest. The other advantage with refuelling at Hale Lane is there is a long uphill section after, so walking and eating makes sense here.

After the climb from Hale Lane, is the mile long Boulevard of Broken Dreams. This is a wide gentle descent and great to run along, before the next evil ascent. The Snake was a pleasant surprise. The Forestry team have recently installed a post and rope hand rail, so although it’s a long climb it is easier now you have something to hang onto and can pull yourself up. Next is the loop around the Hill Fort, and then a fast section down to Gnarking Around – another tough climb like Chiltern Scree-ming! My calves are still feeling it 4 days later!

One last tough climb up Railing in the Years (an iron handrail provides support), and the finish is soon in sight. Unfortunately you still have to run around the field and over a stile before the finish line. Lap 1 was quick in 1hr 43, and I was straight out for lap 2.

Lap 2 was uneventful and I still felt good and was moving well. I had a quick pause for a selfie as I ran past the Gruffalo, and stopped at the Hale Lane Aid Station for food, water and a quick chat with the volunteers – good to see Graham Carter out on the route.

Back in the marque after lap 2 I grabbed my headtorches from my drop bag and was quickly out. Race rules stipulate you need a main and spare headtorch when starting a lap after 13:00. I also took some extra gels from my bag, but I was mainly eating cheese sandwiches from the aid stations.

Lap 3 was much slower. My ankles started feeling very sore on the steep downhills. The log-jump was now a slow side step downhill and step over the log, but otherwise my legs felt fine and the uphills weren’t too bad.

The start of lap 4 was still in daylight, and I managed about half the lap before I had to put my light on. By now the steepest climbs were getting really tough – head down, hands on knees and plod upwards. However in some ways it felt easier now. The dark hides the scale of what you are climbing, and knowing lap 4 is well under way, I was now happy in the knowledge the end was in sight.

For the final lap we were entertained by the fireworks in Wendover. For the most part I could see them in the distance and hear the noise. However there were a couple of huge rockets that were very close, and the first one made me jump. It seemed to explode directly overhead as I ran down towards The Snake for the final time. After that is was two big climbs and the finish was in sight.

It is a huge relief to finally finish the slam. It was due to start in April 2020, but lockdown pushed the races back, and at one point it looked like all 4 would be run between September and November, but another lockdown meant NDW and WW had to be deferred to 2021. My aim in entering was to have a year to focus on the fifties rather than longer races, but Covid race postponements put paid to those plans, so it was just great to finally finish. Many thanks to the team at Centurion Running for all the work in putting on these great races, as well as the hundreds of volunteers who have been involved in the 4 events in the slam.

Overall I finished in 46th place. Although I slowed a lot in my lap times, I was also in 46th position at the first timing point at Hale Lane on lap 1, so my steady slowing is typical for this race and reflects how tough some of the climbs are.

Lap NumberDurationTotal time
11:43:291:43:29
21:56:313:40:00
32:19:365:59:36
42:31:358:31:11
52:43:5911:15:10

About the Grand Slam

I’ve run all of the Centurion 100 mile races, some of them more than once, and finished all of them. However until 2020 I had only entered two of the 50 mile races (SDW50 and WW50), and both had ended with a DNF. It was this poor record that I was hoping to improve and the reason I entered the Grand Slam. I knew I had been guilty of under estimating these races and not giving them the respect they deserve. They are all excellent races, and I really enjoyed Chiltern Wonderland as it was a new route for me, and some lovely trails.

The Hangman Ultra

Organised by the publisher of Ultra Magazine, The Hangman Ultra is a 54km (33.5 miles) trail race. It starts in the village of Longparish, Hampshire and follows the Test Way north to the Combe Gibbet, where you turn around and head back to the start. The race was Saturday 21st August.


The race briefing had been delivered via a Youtube video to keep things Covid safe, so after briefly visiting the village hall to collect my race number I was back in the car prepping for the race. There were only 45 runners so we had the joy of a mass start in the recreation field next to the village hall. It was raining before the start, so I sheltered under one of the gazebos, chatting to a few other runners. Just before 9 the rain started to ease off, so I ventured out for the start. It was fun to get back to real races after so many virtual events, or staggered start / time trial events.


At 9 o’clock we were set off, and I soon found myself running in a small group of 5 just behind the leader. I stuck with the group up the first couple of climbs, but lost touch on a slippery downhill section through the woods, and arrived at the first checkpoint in 4th place, just as the three leaders left.
The next section was good fast running, around some horse paddocks and then along a track through the woods. The climb up to Long Barrow was steep, but thankfully not too long, and then I was running along the ridge crest to the Gibbet. At this stage the three leaders passed me heading back down the trail, while I checked in at the aid station.

I pushed hard for a few miles on the downhill section and back through the woods, trying to catch the leaders, while greeting the runners coming up behind me. However despite my efforts, I didn’t see the group ahead, as they were racing each other for the win, and moving too fast for me to catch them. There were a few heavy showers during the return leg, but generally the weather was fine, although the trail was increasingly muddy on the return section from the rain and race traffic.

The trail was really well marked with Test Way pointers, as well as red flags put out by the race organiser, and I also had the route gpx on my watch as backup, so navigation was very easy, letting me just enjoy the run. It is a beautiful rural route, passing a number of thatched cottages and farms, and although there were a couple of hills it was all very manageable.

After my last race (NDW50) where I walked the second half it felt good to be running well and holding a reasonable pace for the full duration. I’ve changed my training recently, cutting back on running volume, but going to the gym for strength sessions at least twice a week. This seems to be working well as I felt good, and the drop in mileage didn’t seem to be a problem.

I finished in just over 5hrs (5:00:29), in 4th place, so a good result. The wooden finishers medal is great, and doubles as a coaster, so I had to try it out later on the Saturday night.

North Downs Way 50

Saturday 22nd May 2021. The Centurion Running NDW50

I was supposed to run this race a year ago, but Covid-19 put a stop to that. It was postponed to November, but following another lockdown was eventually cancelled. I had entered the Centurion 50 slam, and when the 2020 race was eventually cancelled I was offered a refund or to defer to the 2021 event and it would still be part of the slam. I choose the second option. Rather foolishly I didn’t check the calendar in any detail, merely to check I would be free. As a result I failed to realise it would be only two weeks after the Thames Path 100 which I had already entered.

I knew running a 50 so soon after a 100 would be stupid. I recover reasonably well after races but typically I would only run a few 5-8 miles runs two weeks after a 100, so I had only one aim – to finish. Time would be irrelevant for this event. I knew it would be hard going, but I didn’t appreciate how hard.

Nine years ago I had entered the NDW100 as my first ultra, and was planning on running with a friend, Rich Stewart. In the end he did not start but I did, so I knew the route. He had also entered this years 50 so we arranged to meet for a meal the night before the race.

The first 13 miles – all good

The weather on race day was pretty good. Cool and damp but not raining, and only a gentle breeze. After dropping a bag at registration and the obligatory photo at the NDW start sign we were off and running at 6:30. The first few miles are flat and easy running but I know the route and the serious hills don’t start until Box Hill. I was running with Rich and we were making good time, and paused for a photo at the top of St Martha’s hill.

My legs had been feeling good, but as we ran down the hill, I could feel pain on the outside of my left knee and couldn’t keep up with Rich. I did catch him on the flat though, and the uphill slopes were fine.

Miles 13 – 24

The route takes you along the ridge, so is relatively flat, and I was able to keep moving well. Great to bump into Allan Rumbles on this section and have a brief chat. My pace was steadily dropping and I was now limping as pain in my knee increased, and soon I realised I couldn’t keep up with Rich.  After Ranmore Common the route heads down on a paved track through the Denbies Estate. Normally this is a lovely fast downhill two mile section, but I was struggling and had to walk much of it. At the bottom of the hill I paused very briefly at the aid station to get some food and water, and quickly set off along the A24 towards the underpass.

Miles 24 – 31

Sadly the route over the River Mole was via the bridge rather than the traditional Stepping Stones path. I couldn’t see the stones, so I expect they were submerged by the recent rain. Next up is the steps to the summit of Box Hill. I was doing well here and even passed a few people on the slow climb up. I couldn’t bend my left knee much, but could step up with the right leg, then bring my left up, and so steadily climb. At the top it was much harder, as although flat the path was rutted, full of roots and i couldn’t trust my left leg to provide much stability.

I was feeling very low, but the support and encouragement of every runner who passed me was amazing. Every one stopped to check I was ok, and enquired what the problem was, and offered various remedies. I accepted a couple of paracetamol (thanks Dawn) and limped  on. The steps down were hideous. I had to grip the hand rail and side step down.   There was a short flat stretch by the road and i tried to run, but it was too painful, and not much faster than walking pace. The next couple of miles can be very boggy, but were not as bad as i had feared. They were slippery and there were puddles, but I have seen this section look far worse, so walked on. I calculated I now had 21 miles to the finish and 7 hours left to come in under the 13 hour time limit – 3mph or 20min/mile pace. Easy!

Colley Hill has never been a favourite, but my Suunto was telling me I was hiking at a 30 min/mile pace, and I was starting to think I had no chance of finishing. I considered dropping at the Reigate Hill aid station. If there had been a welcoming pub nearby I would have quit, but the event shelter didn’t look as inviting so I carried on.

Miles 31 – 44

I had sent Sarah a text saying I was very slow, and not to expect me to finish for a few hours. We had a quick chat on the phone, and I said I was going to keep walking until I finished or it was obvious I would time out. Now I was back on the flat I was plodding along at a consistent 17 min/mile pace so a finish looked possible, but I knew there were still a couple of big climbs and descents to get through.

I must have a looked fairly sorry state. As I crossed the A23 and turned into Rockshaw Road a van pulled over and the driver offered me a lift. When I refused he assured me he would wear a mask and it would be safe. Amazing to think those words have now become a reassuring sentence!

Runners were still passing me regularly and each and every one offered encouragement as they saw me limping along the trail. I was in and out of the Caterham Aid Station quickly, only pausing to pick up food and water.  I knew there were a couple of tough sections still to come and didn’t want to lose time. There is a steep downhill section that drops down towards the M25, and I had to shuffle down sideways again, trying not to slip on the damp grass. Finally I reached the climb up to the Botley Hill aid station. I made good time on the climb, again passing a couple of people and by now knew i was not going to time out.

The final few miles

There was a heavy rain shower as I left the Botley Hill aid station, but I didn’t bother with my rain jacket. It stopped fairly quickly and then I was treated to a succession of rainbows as various showers blew by.

With the end in sight, I managed to speed up a little, eager to get it over with and sit down. Eventually I saw the finish line just a couple of hundred metres away, but the path goes around the field, onto a road and downhill into the village before looping back to the line. The final downhill felt miserable and I was actually wishing for an uphill finish.

Finish – Knockholt Pound

I felt pretty broken at the finish and had to sit down for a few minutes before I could manage a smile for the finish line photo. I don’t think I have ever endured such a long death march to the finish, and definitely not one that was over 50% of the race distance. If positive splits were a thing to be proud of, this race would set some records!

NDW50_results

I already knew running a 50 mile race so soon after a 100 miles was stupid, so I’m not sure I learnt much. However starting early and then finishing so slowly meant I saw far more runners than I would normally, and reminded me of the supportive and compassionate nature of the running community. Thanks to everyone who helped make it a special, and ultimately successful day. Onward to Wendover Woods for the final leg in last years slam!

img_7011

The things we do for a shiny medal!

Thames Path 100

The question that kept running through my mind as i plodded along the muddy footpath beside the Thames is “why do i run these races?”

When i first started out running ultras the answer was easy; to test my endurance and find out if i could run 100 miles. Yes I can!

A few years later, the answer had evolved; how fast can i run 100 miles. Not fast enough to win, but i can challenge for a podium spot.

Now it’s not so simple. I’ve proved i can do, and do it in a relatively fast time, but now at 53 years old i’m at the age where i’m unlikely to get any faster. Yet here i am, dodging puddles of rain, mud, cow and goose excrement. The light from my head torch relecting off the eyes of the cattle snoozing by the river bank. While my body would love to settle back in a comfy armchair by a fire with a nice drink, my mind is pushing it onwards, caclulating how far still to go and what pace i need to maintain to hit a self imposed and totally arbitary target. I’m too tired to run constantly, but i refuse to walk to the finish, so i run for a few minutes, walk a bit, then run some more.

At Abingdon (mile 91) i’ve been moving for 17hrs 16minute. With 9 mile to go i decide to push and finish under 19hours. I’ll need to average just under 12 minutes per mile (5mph), which allows a few short walk breaks. Off i go, waved off by Jonathan, who has kindly offered to crew the last 25 miles as well as the fantastic aid station volunteers. The next couple of miles go well and i’m holding on, running low 12s – not a problem as i know i’ll speed up on the last couple of miles which are nicely paved.

Then the trail turns into an ice rink. I’m sliding all over the place on the mud, and nearly fall twice, eventually turning my ankle. Not race threatening, but a warning, so i opt for safety and hike through the field. As i head under the Oxford ringroad, my head torch starts flashing – low battery warning. It’s only 2 miles to go, and a paved footpath now, so i turn it off and jog in the dark using the moonlight. I can run again on this good surface, but i’ve lost too much time. Eventually i see the finish line lights, and turn my head torch back on, as i look eagerly for the gap in the hedge that will lead me into the final field and the finish arch.

Finished in 19:07:49

At the start i had an optimistic target of 18 hours, but a more realistic goal of getting under 20 hours, so i’m very happy with the result, and the fact i have collected no new injuries.

I started this with a question “Why do i run these races?”

My current answer

I love being outdoors, and i love the physical sensation of running. I also like a challenge, so ultra marathons are a perfect combination. 100 mile races in particular pose a challenge as you need to get everything right; pace, nutrition, hydration.

Many thanks to Jonathan Hodge for crewing, the Centurion team for managing another great race and all the volunteers for making it happen. Thanks also to Sarah for all the support before, during and after the race.

Thames Path pre race thoughts

Centurion Running Thames Path 100

Pre-race thoughts. Thursday 6th May

Not since July 2019 have i run a hundred miles and i struggled during that race taking over 25 hours to finish. Admittedly i got lost and ran over 110 miles, but it wasn’t great and so i decided to focus on 50 mile races in 2020. Of course most were then cancelled or postponed to this year. However thanks to working at home and virtual challenges (Centurion, Lakeland 100 and GVRAT) i had an epic block of training, and i love the hundred mile distance, so decided to enter Thames Path.

I ran this race in 2015 (report here) and it was perfect. My best ever finish and a new PB and more to the point i had enjoyed every minute. So coming into this years race i know it won’t be as good:

  • For a start there are the covid restrictions, so no mass start and i’ll miss chatting to runners pre race and in the first few miles. It’s possible i’ll barely chat to anyone all day.
  • The weather forecast is for a wet and windy Saturday, and no doubt it will be far colder too. I don’t mind running in the rain, but 2015 weather was perfect.
  • Six years ago i was far faster. I’d run a sub 3 marathon in October 2014 and still had that speed. I have no expectation of finishing as fast or fighting for a podium spot.

None of these things matter though. I love the challenge a long race brings. The challenge of adapting to the weather and how my body will react to the effort. The nutrition / hydration / effort balance is as much a mental challenge as a physical one. Every decision before and during the race is important and i’m excited to be challenging myself again.

My run-walk strategy worked like a dream in 2015, so i’ll be walking frequently on Saturday and hopefully still running frequently on Sunday as well!

Centurion Fifty Mile Slam

Part 1

It’s been a fourteen month gap between races, but somehow seems far longer. I’ve run plenty of virtual races and challenges in the last few months, and with no commuting to do, I’ve managed far more training miles, but this was my first real race – The Centurion Chiltern Wonderland 50.

This was originally supposed to be the 3rd event in the 50 mile slam, but with other races postponed this was the first event, and the only one where I had no idea of the route and likely trail conditions. As a result I decided to just turn up and wing it. The format had changed to have staggered start times with no mass start, so I had no race strategy, no pace plan or target times, but set a goal to run for fun and enjoy every minute.

Goal achieved – the race was superbly managed, the coarse was beautiful and the fickle English weather cooperated by delivering a sunny autumnal day with a gentle breeze to stop it getting too warm. It really was a fantastic day, and I am so grateful to Race Director James Elson and his team along with all the volunteers for making such a special race.

The start and finish is at Goring village hall, and I arrived at 7am, dressed and ready to run. After dropping off a bag with clean clothes for after the race, I had my temperature checked, started my watch and was sent on my way. I usually run alone, so while I missed the camaraderie of the massed start and the brief chats with other runners, I was fine just settling into a comfortable pace and following the famous red and white tape and Centurion arrows.

The route started on the road, but soon joined the Thames Path to Whitchurch, and then onto the Chiltern Way. Although I was still only a few miles into the race, the trail was clear with only a few runners about, so I could relax and enjoy the views over the Thames. The first checkpoint was about 10 miles into the race, and well organised: hand sanitiser at the entry, three separate tables with water, Tailwind and packs of snacks. I was lucky in that I never had to wait at any of the aid stations as the runners were well spread out. The volunteers were all friendly and encouraging, but with their masks on it was hard to recognise people so apologies if I didn’t say hello!

There were a few tough climbs, but nothing too serious. In fact the route reminded me of many of the local trails I train on. I walked the steeper sections, but it was all very runnable. The obvious exception though was the hill up to the Cobstone Windmill. There were a couple of others hiking up the trail, and I tagged along behind, pausing to admire the view.

I often have a mental low at about 30-35 miles and feel like quitting, but not on this occasion. I was thoroughly enjoying myself. When I left the checkpoint at Swyncombe (mile 33) I checked my watch to see how my pace was. My average pace so far had been just over 11 minutes per mile. I decided to not let it slip any slower and try and hold that pace or faster for the rest of the race. I’d been taking it easy, and figured I could work a little harder to battle the fatigue and finish comfortably under 9 hours.

Although Swyncombe is on the Autumn 100 route, the CW50 takes a different path, so it was all new trails until the golf course and then a few miles along Grim’s Ditch. I’d forgotten just how many tree routes there are on Grim’s Ditch, and nearly took a fall, but managed to stay upright, and soon arrived at the final checkpoint.

It was warm and sunny so I filled both flasks for the final 9 miles. A few miles further on was the toughest challenge. Running past the King William IV, there were people out in the garden enjoying a beer in the sunshine, and I was very tempted to stop for a quick pint (or 2). The view was fabulous, and it looked a great place to spend the afternoon.

I just had the strength to carry on towards Goring for the final few miles. Soon after I was caught by another runner – the first I’d seen for ages. We ran together chatting about races past and future plans, and before long were on the edge of Goring and running in to the finish.

I finished in 8:38:25. 24th place and 2nd in the M50 category. Vince Darley was 1st M50 in a record 8:27:24. Less dawdling earlier on, and maybe I could have bettered that time.

Part 2

The South Downs Way 50 had been rescheduled to Sunday 25th October, so was now race two in the series. I approached this race with a more structured plan and a target to go under 8 hours. I know the route well, having completed the SDW100 twice, although my only previous attempt at the SDW50 ended with a DNF – never underestimate a race, and start with an injury!

The weather on Saturday night was foul. I wanted to start at 6:30am so booked into a local hotel the night before, but got soaked walking back to the hotel after dinner. I was tucked up in bed by 8:30 just to try and warm up.

Sunday morning the weather was much improved. Still very windy (but from the SW) and no rain. I started just before sunrise at 6:25, but it was light enough not to need a head torch. After a few miles I was warmed up and starting to shed layers.

The aid stations were again very well stocked, and set up in the same way with 3 mini stations to get water and food. The Covid protocols do encourage you to get in and out of aid stations quickly, so I’m sure were improving my efficiency.

As I was approaching Botolphs, the wind picked up and it started raining. I managed to get my jacket on before entering the aid station. It’s a tough climb up Truleigh Hill, but with the wind at my back, not too bad, and the rain only lasted ten minutes. In no time it felt like I was at Devil’s Dyke and another aid station.

Shortly after Ditchling Beacon, I could see another squall coming in from the South West. Sure enough 5 minutes later the wind picked up, and I was hit by gusts of horizontal rain and hail. The jacket went on quickly as I picked up the pace, knowing i could shelter in the trees above Housedean Farm if the weather got really nasty. Fortunately it only lasted a few minutes, so I could slip and slide down the hill to the aid station at the farm. With half the race done and four hours on the clock I was happy with my pacing, but it’s another tough climb back to the ridge.

Southease aid station had a great selection of food. A couple of Arancini balls and some homemade cake in my pocket and I was off. This next hill is a killer, but I ran a fair bit of it, and then hiked the rest, enjoying the food I’d taken. The sun was out again now, so I enjoyed the run into Alfriston, although I was dreading the climb back out.

I have run the last 10 miles into Eastbourne on a number of occasions, but often in the dark, so it felt a little disconcerting. Maybe it was the fact I could see the hills, or even how slippery the chalk was in the final gully.

I arrived at the Trig point knowing I only had 10minutes to break my 8 hour target – not possible, but I wouldn’t be too far out. My final time was 8:10:33, 23rd place, and once again 2nd M50, and only 4mins 30 behind 1st place M50.

Parts 3 & 4

With another lockdown, the remaining races for the year have now been cancelled. However I have deferred my entries to next year, and the 2021 races will still form part of the 2020 slam. A race series that is normally spread over 10 months, looked like it might be compressed to just 3 months, but now looks like being a 14 month slam!

Many thanks to the team at Centurion for trying so hard to make these races happen, and I’m looking forward to finally finishing the series.

A medal and a hot dog

Battling the brambles Harold’s way

The little known true history of the Norman conquest. An expedition into the wilderness to uncover the real reasons the Anglo-Saxon army of King Harold were defeated in October 1066.

Background

King Edward the Confessor died on 5th January 1066 with no heirs. A council of Anglo-Saxon noblemen (the Witan) was convened and chose Harold Godwinson, Edward’s son-in-law, as his successor and he was duly crowned. However there were three other claimants to the throne – his brother Tostig Godwinson; Harald Hardrada the Norwegian King; William Duke of Normandy.

King Harold was anticipating an attack from William of Normandy, so was stationed with his army in the south of England.

However in the late summer of 1066 Hardrada lead a Norwegian army into England. They joined forces with Tostig and prepared to attack York. After defeating a small English army at the Battle of Fulford, they captured York.

Harold and his army headed north, making the journey from London to York (185 miles) in only four days, and catching Hardrada off guard. They surprised the Norwegian army and defeated them at the Battle of Stamford Bridge on 25th September. Both Hardrada and Tostig died in the fighting.

Harold’s victory celebrations were short lived. Three days later the Norman army of William landed on the beach at Pevensey Bay. Harold turned his troops round and marched back to London and then on to the south coast and into battle again at the Battle of Hastings. 500 miles on foot for the entire army in just 2 weeks!

Not since Pheidippides’ epic trip from Athens to Sparta and back and then to Marathon and back has such an endeavour taken place. Pheidippides’ heroics have been honoured in the equally epic ultramarathon “Spartathlon”, and now finally we have a race to honour King Harold and his Anglo-Saxon warriors. The 1066 100

The race is a collaboration between Richard Weremiuk and Mark Cockbain, and surprisingly, given their reputations, only replicates the final stage of the march. The 100 miles from London to the site of the battle of Hastings – Battle Abbey. No doubt they are still planning the full version: London to York, York to London, London to Battle…

The race start

The race has a 9am start so I was able to get a train into London and out to Barnes rather than pay for an expensive hotel. Registration was a two minute affair – no need for a kit check. The joint RDs wanted to keep it simple – no mandatory kit and only two rules: no pacing, no hiking poles. Chainmail, swords and battleaxes were not required, although a machete would have been useful – more on that subject later. The route was not going to be marked with tape, but there were new 1066 “Harold’s Way” waymarks, and a GPS file of the route had been shared with all competitors. We were advised we would need it. They weren’t wrong.

The start was Barne Elms sports ground, and to help thin out the field before leaving we had to do a lap of the cricket pitch before heading out onto the road. I had positioned myself in the vanguard. After a couple of hundred meters we joined the Thames Path. The route would have us follow this all the way to Crayford, some 30 miles to the East. Mostly the Thames Path is easy to follow, but there are a few sections where it diverts away from the riverside. Fortunately I work in London, and many lunchtime runs have been by the river. From Battersea Park to the Isle of Dogs felt like my home patch. I even ran right past the office after 11 miles.

Checkpoint One was 15 miles into the race at a primary school, and our first chance to re-provision. I had to stop and use the toilets – running in the woods you can go anywhere, but not so easy in central London. It was already warm and it would be another 20 miles before the next CP, so I filled the 1.5l bladder in my pack as well as two 500ml soft flasks for the front pockets. Did the Anglo-Saxon warriors have race vests, or just a pig’s bladder toed over the shoulder? Such questions would haunt me all day.

The bit in the middle

Straight after CP one I had to cross the Thames via the Greenwich Foot Tunnel. Clearly the race was taking a few liberties with historical authenticity at this point, but I suspect this part of Harold’s Way is now the A2, and not much fun to run along.

I ran most of the next section on my own, catching and passing a couple of runners along the way. It was flat and an easy trail down to the Thames Barrier, and then beyond before a rather dull concrete path looping around various industrial units, until finally reaching the Crayford marshes and heading inland along the Darent River. There were a few guys riding motorcross bikes around, and chucking up clouds of dust. Not something Harold’s boys would have been bothered by.

Checkpoint 2 was outside the church in Dartford, and I only stopped briefly to refill my flasks with water. I was running in third place at this stage, but already struggling with my longtime injured left Achilles, and taking longer walk breaks to try and manage the issue.

In Darenth village I had a very pleasant surprise. As I walked up Wood Lane, I saw my children shouting at me. I hadn’t expected to see them so early in the race, but Sarah had driven out to find me, complete with a hamper of fruit and sandwiches. She even had some ice, so I shoved some under my hat to help keep me cool. They offered to meet me at Istead Rise, another 5 miles further on, with an iced coffee. While iced coffee is also not strictly historical, Harold’s army did this journey at the end of September, not early July, and with no Global Warming to bother them i’m sure the weather was perfect.

When I reached Istead, they were waiting with more food and a delicious iced coffee from Costa. The next section was one of the most scenic of the day – through the village of Cobham, then the woods and Ranscombe Nature Reserve. As I jogged through the woods I heard a bellowing grunt from the undergrowth, which spurred me into a much faster run up the hill than I would normally try. A thousand years ago these same beasts roamed the land, and although I couldn’t see it I kept running hard despite the gradient. A picture of the beast is below…

It was only a few more miles to Rochester and Checkpoint 3 at the castle. Rochester Castle was built by the Normans, after Harold’s journey, so I’m sure when he rested here it was very different. Sarah and the children were here again, along with the CP volunteers. I picked up my headtorch, and more food from my drop bag, but only stayed a couple of minutes. I knew from here the route would follow the North Downs Way up to Blue Bell Hill, so was expecting a bit of a hike.

After leaving the NDW I had a couple of minor navigation errors. I had the GPX file of the route loaded to my Garmin, and was following it, but there were a couple of places where I took the wrong turn where the path forked, and either had to back track, or work my way back to the trail around the edge of a field. Finally I crossed over the M20 and turned down to Allington Locks. I’d asked Sarah to meet me here at the Malta Inn. Sure enough she was there, and my mother and sister had also come out to the pub for dinner and to meet me. There was also a group supporting another runner (Michael), who was now about a mile ahead of me in 2nd place, so a lot of cheering when I arrived.

I stopped to change into some fresh clothes for the night, and enjoy a quick snack. Sarah had ordered me a pint, and mum had a couple of pork pies for me to take. After stopping for 5 minutes I said goodnight to the kids as it was getting late. The beer was a DNF! A half pint would have been enough.

Running on the riverbank with a head torch on was attracting all the bugs so I had to go slow and breathe through my nose or risk a mouthful of insects. Someone was setting off fireworks as I ran through Maidstone town centre. They had a box full of them firing off on the footpath, but finished just as I got there, so I only had to deal with the smoke.

Crossing Tovil bridge there was an ad-hoc aid station, offering food and drink, and another surprise – the kids had persuaded Sarah to let them stay up a little later, so they were all there wishing me good luck for the night section – top crewing!

The night section

Leaving Tovil, there was a climb up the road, and my Achilles was throbbing again, so I walked up. I was having a bit of a low moment, when a cheery voice called out from a parked van, offering a cup of tea. I decided to stop and accept this offer. He was crewing for his wife Helen, and I’d seen him a few times on the route. Helen was apparently just behind me, and sure enough by the time I finished my tea she had arrived. We set off together, and it was good to have some company on the next few miles into CP 4 at Park Wood. Chatting helped take my mind off my injury worries and we made fairly good time.

I asked for another tea at the checkpoint, and told Helen I would catch her up. However when I left the CP, I almost immediately got lost. The directions I’d been given at the CP didn’t tally with the GPX file on my watch and it took a few minutes to work out where I was and get back on course. See below for my aimless wandering in the wood…

My route south via CP4…

Now on track I picked up the pace, trying to catch Helen. I wasn’t chasing for a race position, so much as wanting to run with someone for a while. A mile and a half further on I entered an orchard, keeping the hedge on my right hand side. Soon I saw a headtorch moving on a track below me off to the right. Assuming it was Helen I called out, but it wasn’t her, it was Michael who had gone off course and was trying to find the correct route. I climbed down through the hedge to join him and help work out where we were. Both our GPS devices showed us off the route, so we circled around the orchard looking to get back on the path. Eventually the dot on the watch screen intersected the line showing the route and we were on track. We turned right and broke into a run to make up lost time. Chatting away we carried on running for a good 15 minutes until we saw another head torch coming down the lane towards us.

Round the orchard and then north again!

We stopped him to tell him he was going the wrong way. He wasn’t. I couldn’t believe him when we said we were running north towards Maidstone, but after double checking on the Viewranger app on my phone, it became obvious we had rejoined the path in the orchard and then run the wrong way.

Slowly the three of us trudged up the hill. I think Michael and I were both feeling rather despondent. Our new buddy Chris, probably couldn’t believe he had made up two race positions so easily.

We continued on together for a while now. It started raining as we entered Staplehurst, so we stopped to put jackets on, and carried on. However the walk breaks were now getting longer and more frequent. You could say we were walking with short run breaks. All three of us had independently checked out the section from Staplehurst to Battle and knew is was a 6.5 hour run with fresh legs, so would be at least 8 in the dark and with 70+ miles in the legs.

There were no major navigation issues after Staplehurst. We had to stop and double check the route a few times, and were pleasantly surprised that a few hay meadows had been cut and the route was a little easier than when we ran it before. A few of the really nasty bits had even been changed – the route modified by sympathetic Race Directors! We arrived at the Sissinghurst checkpoint (CP 5) together, and only stayed a few minutes before heading out. The sky was slowly get brighter now, despite the persistent rain, and it wasn’t long before we could pack away the head torches. We were making slow progress still and starting to wonder why no one had caught us, when a pair of fresh looking runners came up behind us, and shot passed as we went through a hop garden.

The final stretch

The final checkpoint was due to be at Bodiam Castle, but we were told that because of the rain had been moved to the village hall at Sandhurst. The three of us ran in together at 7am. Only 12 miles to go! Michael told us not to wait for him, as he wanted to take a few minutes and sort himself out. Chris and I were about to leave when Sarah arrived. She had woken up early and heard the rain so driven down with fresh dry kit and a thermos. The racedrone tracker had helped her find me. Chris ran on while I took some food for the final stage and a fresh hat.

I thought I would catch Chris, but he was obviously enjoying a second wind and was out of sight. I ran the next mile or so, with no walk breaks but didn’t see him. As I ran down to Bodiam Castle I could see him in the distance making his way around the field over the river. I carried on towards Seddlescombe, and as I jogged down through a field towards the village, I heard a car passing slowly in the lane behind the hedge. A quick glance was enough to recognise the family car, so at the next stile I climbed over and flagged them down. Sarah and the children were in the car with a takeaway coffee. A Costa never tasted so welcome. It was only a mile to the village, so I decided to walk and enjoy the coffee, and I would see them there to return the empty cup.

I knew the last 3.4 miles from Seddlescombe to the finish would be grim. When I ran the section a month earlier it was very overgrown, and sure enough it still was. I walked most of it, ducking under brambles, trying to dodge nettles and thistles, but still getting scratched to shreds and stung to bits. The mad dash across the A21 was only slightly life threatening, and then more nettles before starting the climb up to Battle itself.

The final mile is a bit of a slog, up the hill to Battle. However I eventually made the climb and broke into a jog down Mount Street, before the final left turn onto the High Street. It was still very quiet in the town although it was after 10am by now. The peace was quickly shattered when my two children spotted me and ran down to greet me then jog the final few meters to the finish line at the doorway to the abbey.

With the best support crew

I finished in a time of 25hrs, 18 minutes in 6th place. This was my slowest ever ‘100’ mile race, but with the extra detours I took, it was also my longest ‘100’ mile race at 110 miles.

The End

King Harold died at the end of his ultramarathon. In fact so did Pheidippedes… these long foot races may not be good for your health! History tells us that Harold was shot in the eye with an arrow from a Norman archer. However history is written by the winners, so this established truth needs to be questioned and re-assessed. The account by William of Poitiers is very flattering about the strength and bravery of the Norman army. However this overlooked text from the Anglo-saxon chronicles is worth examining:

Harold was informed of this (the invasion) and he assembled a large armie and came against him at the hoary apple-tree. Much weakened by bramble and thistle, inflamed by nettle and sore of foot the armie rested atop Senlac ridge.

And William came against him by surprise before his army was drawn up in battle array. But the king nevertheless fought hard against him, with the men who were willing to support him, and there were heavy casualties on both sides.

Anglo-Saxon Chronicles- British Library

A recently discovered section of the Bayeux Tapestry clearly shows Harold and his army’s struggles to reach the battlefield, before their final demise.

Recently discovered fragment of the Bayeux Tapestry

Many thanks to Mark and Richard for putting on this race. While the terrain looks benign, it’s a tough challenge, but an enjoyable one. Thanks also to all the volunteers who make these events possible, and to the runners i met and spent time with on the journey.

GUCR – 2nd attempt

It all started so well…

Friday night after registering I had dinner and a couple of beers in O’Neills, catching up with the other runners before getting an early night. I actually managed a decent sleep before getting up at 4:45 for a quick breakfast, and a 5 minute walk to the start line.

My plan was to run easily for the first few miles, and I managed to rein in my enthusiasm and start at a 9 minute / mile pace, well behind the leading pack. I was entered as a supported runner, but my crew were not due to meet me until Hatton Locks (22 miles into the race), so I was carrying plenty of food, and taking walk breaks every 25 minutes to eat.

I arrived at the 1st checkpoint only 1 minute off my schedule, and only stopped to top up my flask with water. At Hatton Locks, the 2nd checkpoint, I saw my two children first and they jogged with me towards Sarah, who helped refill my flasks and provide some more food. From now on I would see them every hour of so, at various meeting points along the canal.

Then I got lost…

Not physically lost. My body was still running along the Grand Union Canal, but my head has taken a wrong turn and gone somewhere else. Normally I am very disciplined in a race, but I started taking random walk breaks, and even forgot the basics of eating and drinking properly. For some reason I just couldn’t focus on the process. It was a lovely day, and perfect for running, but a large part of me just wanted to be somewhere else.

It became a mental battle: part of me looking for an excuse to drop out; part of me searching for the motivation to carry on.

I told Sarah I wanted to drop but my explanation “I can’t be arsed” got short shrift and I was sent on my way.

At about the 60 mile point I tripped on a tree root, and after stumbling a few more paces hit the dirt face first. I picked myself up and wiped myself down with a buff. Unfortunately there was no real injury. A grazed elbow and bruised thigh was not the sort of ‘gory race injury’ that I could use to justify a DNF.

Mid race reset…

I arrived at Navigation Bridge and saw the children on the other side of the canal in the pub garden. Sarah was getting then some dinner. The met me on the bridge, and handed over a head torch, as it would be dark in an hour or so. Both Ian and Gill Thomas were at the CP, so I stopped for some soup and a chat to try and reboot my race.

Leaving the CP I was feeling better, and tried to get back into a regular run / walk rhythm. Looking at the splits from my Suunto, I actually picked up the pace here, and was looking forward to the night section. Generally I enjoy running through the night, and felt that if i could stay focused this could still be a good result. I was actually only about 45 minutes behind my target time, despite slacking off at every opportunity.

Milton Keynes came and went with no incidents. I lingered a little too long at Bridge 99, but my crew were taking a break to try and grab some sleep, and a hot cup of tea from the volunteers at the checkpoint went down very well.

I arrived at Soulbury Three Locks at about midnight. The path runs right in front of the pub, so there were plenty of people about, and one group of girls asked what I was doing. When I said I was running to London I’m not sure they believed me, but when the penny dropped they gave me some cash. It wasn’t enough for a train fare or taxi, so i’ll give it to charity.

Next stop was the Tesco at Leighton Buzzard where Sarah and the children were waiting. Again I made good time along the tow path, and arrived in good spirits. They had a pot noodle for me and some warmer kit as it was getting colder on the canal.

The next section is very rural. I was running along the tow path, dodging the frogs on the path and the moths that are attracted to the headtorch. One of the moths managed to get trapped between my glasses and my eye, fluttering around and nearly putting me in the water. Fortunately I managed to get my glasses off to free it and stop short of the water’s edge.

Lost again…

Marsworth Junction and I don’t get on with each other. In 2017 I spent 15 minutes trying to work out which way to go. This year I was determined not to make the same mistake, and approached it with a map in my hand, carefully following the marked route. I swear those maps are wrong. It doesn’t help that you have to swap from Map 4 to Map 5 at the critical section, but I finally made my way to the Checkpoint, but from the wrong direction after a detour via Watery Lane.

I stopped at the CP for a tea and Sarah had more hot noodles for me. My daughter was up despite it being 3am, and thought i had seriously injured myself. I had an orange stain all over my eye, face and glasses – Moth poo!

Cleaned up a restored I set off again.

The final drag …

Leaving the CP I was very stiff. Looking back at my Suunto data is looks like I sat there for twenty minutes. I walked for a while to try and loosen up, and then tried a gentle jog to catch the runner in front. I managed to catch Sandra and her buddy, but my left Achilles was seizing up, and causing me to limp, landing heavily on my right leg. I walked for a while.

Even a brisk walk was making me limp. I tried a few different strategies: shuffling jog, power hike, gentle amble… anything faster than 25 min / mile pace was an awkward limp. My mind might be back in the race, but now it felt like my body was giving up. I have history in this race (see GUCR 2017 for the full story), and it ended badly. My left Achilles had seized up, but I had limped on for 40 miles before quitting. In the end my crew had to carry me from the canal as I couldn’t even stand. I’d spent a month on crutches (with severe periostitis), and needed a six month break from running.

So I now had a choice: limp the remaining 40+ miles to Little Venice and risk another serious injury; walk very slowly and resign myself to another 18hrs

I plodded on for a while until Dudswell lock and bridge 138. I crossed to the right hand side of the canal and sat on the bench. It was nearly 5am, and I decided to throw in the towel. After phoning Sarah and asking her to come and find me, I took my pack off, lay down and promptly fell asleep.

Two days later and physically I was recovered. My race ending injury was little more than fatigue, and my only real issues were all in my head.

Crawley A.I.M. 24hr Race

We drove the short distance to Crawley on Saturday morning, arriving at 10:30 and soon set up our gazebo. Sarah was going to crew for me all night, while the children were staying for the start and then getting collected by my sister and mother later in the afternoon. There were plenty of familiar faces from Spartathlon and other races, so the atmosphere was very relaxed, and i was still pinning my race numbers on a couple of minutes before the start.

img_8718

At exactly 12:00 we were off. I was planning on running at a steady 9:15 minute/mile pace for the first few hours and had worked out that was 2:18 per lap. I was very happy to hit that number on lap 1, but it felt very restrained, and i had to focus on keeping the pace slow. 

The 6 hour race started at the same time as the 24 hour race I had entered, so it wasn’t long before the race leaders were lapping me. One of my goals was to try and be really disciplined with nutrition – to eat every 30 minutes during a short walk break, and Sarah had a detailed plan to what to offer up. The children were a great help here, running across to the infield and handing me a sandwich / gel / drink etc. For a while they were also counting off my laps each time i passed the gazebo… 90, 91, 92 etc. This was a little too much, but fortunately they soon bored of that game.

Time goes very slowly on the track. Every 400 meters you pass a large clock, and although i tried hard not to look at it, it seemed like only a couple of minutes had passed every time i looked up. Despite this things were not at all dull. The race was quickly getting strung out with the leaders pushing a few kilometers ahead on the board, but still never more than 200 meters ahead or behind. It was easy to fall into step with someone, share a few laps and a chat, and that really helped the time pass.

My right knee started getting uncomfortable after about 3 and a half hours. I had picked up an injury in training about three weeks before the race, so had backed off with my training – forced into an early taper. A diagnosis of bursitis triggered by tight quads was followed by some massage to loosen the muscles and ultrasound and icing of the knee. Everything seemed to be on the mend, but i’d not had a rigorous test until race day.

After four hours on we track, we were asked to reverse direction – as a track newbie i had no idea how this would work, but it was really simple. There were timing mats on the start line, and a couple of race marshalls stood on the line and asked us to loop around them and head back the way we came, staying out in lanes two and three until all runners on the lap had reversed. It was all very easy, and it actually felt great to have changed direction. My knee felt better and everything seemed to be fine again.

One of my goals was to keep moving at all times, and my only stop in the first 5 hours was a quick toilet break. I was taking on food and drink during walk breaks and never needing to stop. However, five hours in and my knee was getting sore again. With 30 miles run this is typically when I have a low patch. I regularly give up running for ever and this point in the race.

There was a first aid tent by the timing mats, so i decided to stop for a few minutes and get some treatment on my leg. Lindley Chambers was looking after the first aid tent, so massaged my quad to try and free it up a little before taping the knee. I told Sarah I’d push on for a bit and see how it felt.

Looking at the timing sheet i was running steady 2:20 laps at this stage, which fits with my memory of feeling much better. The six hour race was also keeping me entertained, as i could check the leader board and look out for the lead runners. Several had started to pick up the pace and push for the last thirty minutes, and there was even a sprint finish or two as the clock clicked on towards 6:00:00.

The weather had been cold all day. We even had a hail shower, but it only lasted ten minutes. However with my personal aid station never more than 2 minutes away I had manged to grab a jacket and stay warm and dry. However once the sun had dipped behind the leisure centre building and we were in shadow it was getting very cold.

Sarah bought me a hot noodle soup, and i kept moving – 30 minutes run, then walk and eat.  After seven hours on track my knee was sore again, and even feeling wobbly – like it would collapse on me. The strapping was now irritating and making it feel worse, so for the first time i stopped by my drinks table and sat in the chair to rip the tape off. I was starting to wonder if continuing was a good idea, but i wasn’t ready to stop.

There is also a 12 hour race at Crawley, and that was scheduled to start at 8pm. I saw a few runners arriving and getting set up, and knew it would be getting busy on the track soon. We were due to change direction again at 8pm, so i wondered how that would work with the race start, but again it was simple. At ten minutes to eight the race marshalls were back on the start line, instructing us to turn. Three minutes later we were all heading round the track in the traditional anticlockwise direction and a few minutes later the 12 hours runners were lining up on the outside of the track for their start.

Fifteen minutes later i decided to stop. The knee pain was back, but more significantly i could feel it was affecting my gait, both when running and when walking. The most obvious sign was a blister developing on my heel where i never normally get them, but also my hip was feeling the strain. I stopped and told Sarah that i didn’t want to risk further injury and would stop soon. I asked her to check the timing to see how many laps i’d done – 191.

No point quitting until i hit 200, so after a couple of minutes rest i was back on the track, and counting down the last couple of laps.

200 and done!

Quitting when i did meant we were home and warm before midnight.

Why did i DNF?

On a scale of 1 to 10 I doubt the pain in my knee ever exceeded a 4. However after GUCR in 2017, I am scared of getting an injury that will stop me running for any length of time. What made me decide to stop was the realisation that i couldn’t maintain a good running form, and the knowledge that limping to the finish would risk more injuries. There was also the knowledge that it was already really cold, and forecast to get worse. Asking Sarah to sit out in the freezing weather all night, while i smash out an epic performance is one thing, but this was going to be a slow miserable grind, and way short of any target i would be proud of.

Thanks to the organisers and volunteers for putting on a great race.

Photographs by Jon Lavis, Anna & William Barker

Sevenoaks Circular

This was the 44th edition of the LDWA Sevenoaks Circular, and i’m embarrassed to say it was my 1st.

The start was at 8am. After an early breakfast I left home at 7am and was parked up, registered and enjoying a cup of tea by 7:30. This event is so local I don’t know why i’ve never done it before. With a 24 hour race coming up soon, i wanted to have a good 5 hour run under my belt and get in some steady pacing. Obviously hilly and muddy trails are not exactly terrain specific training for running laps of a track, but are a lot of fun.

The start / finish is at at West Heath school, and after a short road section the route heads into Knole Park. I had been chatting to some friends at the start, but i was being more aggressive with my pacing, aiming for some early 8:30 miles before the route got too muddy so pushed ahead, just behind the lead runners.

After Knole Park the route headed out to the East into the open country side and dropped downhill to Ightham Mote and then Shipbourne Church.

Shipbourne Church

We then started to loop round to the south, across the Fairlawn estate toward Hildenborough. My daughter has her riding lessons here, so i recognised this section as we crossed Riding Lane and headed towards the A21. This is about the lowest point in the entire route, and i knew there were a couple of big climbs coming up, so i took a gel in preparation. I was running with a couple of other guys – one in long sleeved top and tights and the other in t-shirt and shorts. They were following the route on a gps watch while I had the paper route guide, so between us we had no navigation issues.

Perfect prep for the track

The second checkpoint was in the village hall in Weald, and then the route starts to climb up Wickhurst Road. I walked the steeper sections, and eventually reached the summit and then there was a long steady descent through Mill Bank Woods. A runner caught me here (red shirt man), and told me this was a good downhill stretch, and then flew off into the distance. The weather had been glorious all morning, with bright sunshine and light winds. However as i ran into Dryhill park it clouded over and started raining. This was the third checkpoint, and after topping up with some water, I grabbed a bag of mini cheddars, aiming to eat these on the big climb to Knockholt.  We had caught up with red shirt man at this point, and leaving this CP found another (T-shirt man) who was running towards us having gone the wrong way. Briefly there were five of us running together, but by the time we reached the A25 road crossing two had disappeared and I was back with the two guys i’d been with since CP2. Dashing across the main road was a bit scary, but we were soon running through Chipstead. I was surprised how tranquil the village seemed, being so close the M25/M26 motorways. Over the motorway bridge and then we ran towards Chevening Church.

The guys i’d been running with slowed for a walk up this gradual incline, but i carried on, knowing it was going to get steeper very soon. After the church there is a brief section across a field, and then it is steeply uphill to the North Downs Way. My legs were burning as I hike up here. I’ve done very little hill training this year (with Crawley and GUCR on the schedule it’s not been a priority) and paid the price. Eventually I was at the top, and joined the road into Knockholt.

The checkpoint was in the village hall and had some great looking cheese and tomato rolls, so i helped myself and set off to walk and eat. As i left I saw the guys i’d been with earlier running passed the CP, so called them back. I’d caught three runners in the CP, (red shirt man and two I’d not seen before) but they caught up with me as i enjoyed my snack and strolled down the road. However I started running again soon after and ran with them down the road only to see T-shirt man heading towards us!

Back on the North Downs Way and two of the runners stopped to walk, so now I was running with only red shirt man, and we were playing leap frog with T-shirt man. He was using his phone to navigate, and had done the Knockholt loop clockwise to our anti-clockwise, and was now heading down the field on the other side of the hedge to us. GPS is useful, but you still can’t beat written route guides.

The three of us ran into Duncton Green together and then through the nature reserve. As I caught sight of the Knole Acadamy (a large secondary school), i realised we were going back into the centre of Sevenoaks for the last couple of miles. While it was still rural and secluded I stopped for a toilet break, and then ran up to the main road. I could see red shirt man followed by t-shirt man, but they were powering up Bradbourne Road and I couldn’t catch them.

Although I had a vague idea where i was, it wasn’t until the route directions took me through a wooden door into Knole Park that I recognised the location. There was now only a couple of miles left, but all gently uphill. First through the park and then onto the road. I could see the two runners ahead, but hadn’t the speed to catch up.

Finally the school was in sight, and I jogged up the drive to the main building and the finish. I’d been hoping for 5 hours, but given the muddy conditions i was very happy with a 5:07 finish and third place.

P.S. I’ve been vague with names in this blog, mostly because I didn’t know the names of the guys I was running with. However after checking the results, I realised they were all called David, so using their names would not have improved the narrative.

1st place David in 5:06

2nd place David in 5:06

3rd place David in 5:07